Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Arlene Hershgold

My friendship with Arlene started out when 'the woman across the street' came over to introduce herself to my husband and me that July day of 2010. Crossing the street to shake our hands with a big welcoming smile is an unusual an activity in greater Seattle. Seattleites are known for 'minding our own business,' a euphemism that can come across as just plain indifferent or snooty. 

Within a few weeks of meeting her, I learned that Arlene was originally from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, which let me understood immediately why she was so friendly to us. That's just what Wisconsinites do! Almost forty years earlier, I had been amazed and thrilled to be greeted by neighbors when my family moved into our Wisconsin home in Wauwatosa. Friendly neighbor reach-out was something I was completely unfamiliar with as a Washingtonian. Even though Arlene had lived in Boston, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, she had that friendly Wisconsin beginning.

Within just a few months of being acquainted, I sensed that she and I were going to become good friends. Her wit, curiosity, and engagement with current events made her always interesting and fun to be around. When Jay was diagnosed with his rare form of cancer, Arlene with her nursing background really understood his limitations and prognosis--and without being cloying or sentimental provided support for both him and me.

After Jay's death, Arlene and I got together frequently to chat. As a woman who'd been on her own for a number of years, she was helpful and inspirational to me, the new widow. She was expert at navigating condo ownership, and was a great model for managing a solo household. She was a real life saver for me with her support and insight, not to mention her sense of humor.

When she sold her condo and moved to an adjacent suburb, I missed her as a neighbor, but she was--by then--a good friend, and we got together regularly. Whether it was to talk about what we were reading, share a meal, or just laugh/moan about politics and the antics of our fellow humans, we always had a wonderful time together. We especially enjoyed meeting at inexpensive restaurants for dinner.

In the past several years her health began to degrade, but she was determined to persevere. In her own words: "I'm not giving up!" But then the pandemic arrived, complicating everything for everyone. We didn't see each other for more than a year, and as life would have it (or, in this case, as death would have it), we never made it to the other side of our social isolation. Regularly catching up on the phone, we were counting down the days until she was 'fully' vaccinated (less than two weeks beyond her second shot) during our last phone conversation April 4. We agreed I would visit her apartment to enjoy our first in-person visit since February 2020. But . . . that didn't and will never happen. Arlene died April 13, 2021.

The saddest thing about losing a friend when there's no service or celebration is having nobody to tell how much you miss that person. Of course I wrote condolence notes to her sons (neither of whom I know, although I've heard a lot about them over eleven years), but it's not the same. Not the same as physically gathering with others who are all feeling the common loss. A wonderful aspect of a celebration of life or a church service means that friends of the deceased who may not know each other can offer support just by gathering together. Arlene had lots of friends, but I know only the neighbor-friends she left behind, not her dozens or other friends. And, of course, we both were pretty much beyond the 'party years' when we entertained groups of friends. Lots of people pooh-pooh the idea of a commemorative event after death, but survivors truly have need to talk about their deceased friend and, in so doing, they comfort each other. And that's the underlying motivation for this post. I want to share with anyone reading this how much I will miss Arlene. 

Just looking at her photos here made me smile. Arlene was an accomplished and remarkable woman, a devoted mother, adoring grandmother, hiker, adventurer, WWII buff, fashionista, humorist, and intellect. She stayed current on world events, which she peppered with wisdom and perspective. I loved and admired her, and will miss her always.

RIP, dear Arlene. 

1 comment:

jkoarts7345@gmail.com said...

Hi Sallie
Read your blog about my cousin, Arlene. I had not heard from her for many years, and As I started to update the family geneology, started looking for her or her sons. Glad that she had a good friend, so thank you for writing about your friendship.
Her cousin, Joanne