Yes, it WAS a Wonderful Life!

Imbolc, 2006. L to R, Moira, Beryl, Jenny, and Yrs Truly


Looking back, it strikes me as odd that my 33-year-friendship with Beryl began when I met her friend Jenny, rather than with Beryl herself. Jenny, a sharp-tongued Scorpio, worked at the advertising agency where I’d just been hired as a proofreader. Gradually we became friends, and soon Jenny introduced me to her best friend Beryl, who was a polite, petite, and quiet Virgo, in contrast to Jenny’s more flamboyant personality.

Each lived in a small house in Arlington, Virginia, but somewhere around 1990 Jenny and Beryl decided to buy a house together. They found the perfect house, half a mile from the Metro station and nicely situated at the end of the street. Jenny was to occupy the upstairs, Beryl the downstairs.

“Beryl and I have often bemoaned the fact that we’re not lesbians,” Jenny told me once. “It would have been so convenient.”

Both Jenny and Beryl were divorced, with Jenny occupying the role of aunt to Beryl’s son, Gareth. The two had met as young career women in Washington, DC. They worked during the day, of course—both as typists for the federal government—and explored the many delights of living in a big city. After a while it occurred to them that California might be more to their taste than the sleepy Southern city of Washington, so they quit their jobs, traveled to Los Angeles, and explored life there. But it didn’t suit them after all: for one thing, the West Coast was too far from Jenny’s family in Pennsylvania and Beryl’s in Kentucky.

At one time both were heavily involved in Civil War reenactments in nearby Virginia. Jenny put her sewing talents to good use making costumes, and Beryl met the man who was to become her husband.

By the time I met Jenny and Beryl, they’d gone through a lot of phases, from Buddhism to New Age to Wicca. In the end they accepted Deity as neither male nor female, although as leader of our Dianic circle, I insisted on invoking Goddess. I’d had enough of male deities! Our Circle of four—Jenny, Beryl, Moira, and me—stayed together for many years. Somehow, we always ended up celebrating Imbolc and Beltane at my house, and Samhain and Summer Solstice at theirs.

Jenny retired early from work and devoted herself to the role of chatelaine. Beryl, who had a very responsible and well-paid position with the federal government, finally retired because Jenny wanted to travel. With Jenny driving, they visited every Presidential library in every state except Alaska, Hawaii, and Texas. They simply could not bring themselves to visit Texas because they disliked Dubya so much. Somewhere in those busy years they went to Scotland with two friends and drove around to historic sites.

Every October they went to Virginia Beach to relax and attend New Age seminars. They were much struck by the works of Edgar Cayce: sadly, it looks as if some of his “visions” may come true, such as New York City’s being submerged one day.

After Jenny’s bout with cancer, they decided to sell their house and move to a continuing care community. They had 11 months of good times before life began to go downhill. Jenny suffered from aphasia, and from there progressed to Alzheimer’s. She had to move to the Memory Care part of the community. Beryl visited her almost every day, and when I visited Beryl we’d stop by to see Jenny.

It is extremely sad to see someone so vibrant deteriorate in such fashion. Jenny had traveled to Russia on her own no fewer than three times, including one journey on the Trans-Siberian railway. Even though she grew up in the 1950s, she couldn’t believe the Russian people were fiends from hell in human form, as promulgated by the anticommunist sentiment of the time. She worked as a secretary for various think tanks, which paid for her evening classes at college, eventually achieving a bachelor’s degree: a considerable achievement for someone born poor.

After Jenny died, it took Beryl several years to clear up her financial and personal affairs. Then disaster struck: the pipes that carried water burst in the apartment over hers. Water came through the ceiling and flooded her bed, so she and others on her floor had to be rehoused in a motel—not a very nice motel, either. Beryl came down with pneumonia and spent a week in the hospital. By the time she was allowed to return to her repaired apartment and a new bed, she had developed full-blown COPD.

The last time she and I had a proper visit was February 28, 2020. The next day Covid quarantine struck so I didn’t visit again for a long time.

Mostly we communicated by that old-fashioned method, email. She was comfortable with it, and of course it allows one to say far more than texting does. We recalled the days when we lived in houses and met for lunch at our favorite restaurants: first, Vie de France, which had indescribably delicious soups, and later at La Faisane, a cozy restaurant where one can learn French if one stays in the ladies’ room long enough.

We also talked about all the rituals we had held over the years, the fun trip to Reading, Pennsylvania, where we went shopping at the outlet stores, and our Samhain trip to Columcille. The highlight of that visit was the standing stones, so reminiscent of the stones at Callanish and Stonehenge, erected thousands of years earlier, across the sea.

“We were happy and we didn’t know it,” I wrote to Beryl, and she agreed.

Do we know when we’re happy? Is happiness always an evanescent emotion, of which we’re only half aware when we’re experiencing it?

After Beryl became pretty much homebound, with morning and afternoon caregivers to help her dress, shower, and get dinner, I looked for funny cartoons on Facebook and sent them to her. Eagerly we watched the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes in the spring. One year, when American Pharoah (sic) won the Triple Crown, we emailed each other in all caps: DID YOU SEE THAT? She was from Kentucky, so she really loved the horse races.

In October 2023 I asked Beryl what the happiest times of her life had been. After a couple of days, she wrote back:

“I loved my last year of high school when I edited the school newspaper. I loved getting away from home and finding out what else I could be.

I loved being young and single in DC.

I loved the early years of my marriage and later, of motherhood. Like you, I loved the traveling we did (but not always the camping out).

I was happy surviving a separation and learning who I was again as one per starting a new ‘career.’

Jenny and I had a few good months at Lochinvar Lakes before everything fell apart. And now I’m just in survival mode.”

It was somehow a fitting coda, although I didn’t realize it at the time, that in December, Beryl wrote:

“I called a friend, Lauren, whom you may remember lived next door to us. She was doing okay, and she told me that our old house is now empty and being sold. The friends of hers who bought it from Jenny and me and have lived there since we left seven years ago, found another place to rent not too far away. Lauren thinks it will be torn down and rebuilt as a McMansion, no doubt.

Hearing that made me remember all the good times we had in that house, and how much we enjoyed the rituals, the tea parties, the other occasions we shared there. More nostalgia.”

When I wrote to her that I’d been feeling quite ill after Christmas, she wrote back:

“I think Christmas has just been too demanding and too hard on us this year. I hope you will soon feel better.

I’ve been feeling ill, too, though none of my symptoms are the same as yours. Yesterday was the most uncomfortable. As usual my breathing was not great, and then I went through a lot of Kleenex. I slept for an hour in the afternoon and got very little done.

Today I have felt better, and the aide who was here this morning was very helpful, as was the aide for the evening. I’m too tired to run on. I’m recording the Kennedy Center Honors to watch another time.”

She was never to watch those Kennedy Center Honors on TV. In the wee hours of the next morning she was taken to the Emergency Room, where she was treated for several different conditions. She seemed to be doing better, and the doctors were hopeful that she could go home, but it was not to be.

On Sunday, New Year’s Eve, not knowing she was in the hospital, at a few minutes past 9 a.m. I wrote:

“Hi, Beryl! If you write out the date the way Americans do it, 12/31/23, you quickly see this 1-2-3-1-2-3 sequence of numbers. I can’t believe it’s already the last day of the year.”

According to her son Gareth’s email a few days later, Beryl died at 10:30 a.m. that Sunday morning. He was told, he said, that her passing was peaceful.

In my six years here at the Gatsby Woods Home for the Aged I’ve met some wonderful people and consider them to be friends. But they’re not best friends, the kind who know all about you and like you anyway; not the kind of friends with whom you’ve had a shared history going back more than 30 years.

I miss Beryl. I still want to describe incidents that would make her roar with laughter; I still see funny cartoons that would elicit a grin or at least a wry smile from her. I still want to dash to my laptop and email her, asking, “What did you think of that?

But I can’t. It’s been two months since she died. I feel as if there is a great big black hole in my heart, one that can never be filled. “What is remembered lives,” they say in the Craft of the Wise.

Beryl, my friend, yours was a life well lived. Long may you live in my memory. And as we used to end our emails to each other—hugs, love, and blessed be.



About Diana in NoVa 35 Articles
I'm quite literally an old Witch. In my spare time I follow politics, write fiction about those who follow the Pagan path, keep house (not terribly successfully), and hang out on the Moose, Facebook, and sometimes the Great Orange Satan. I'm a nanny-granny to three adorable grandchildren and the granny of two who are quite grown up. Sisterhood is powerful!


  1. {{{Diana}}} The problem with the Isles of the West is that they’ve never installed phone or email services there. Although the folks there can sometimes see & hear us, we seldom see or hear them. (It must be very frustrating to be a ghost & still have people here.) The best I can say, something you know well already, is that while we never get “over” losing folks we love we do get used to them not being around. Mostly. Healing Energy. Moar {{{HUGS}}}

      • She is. We’ve been taught so firmly not to believe that our conscious minds block us from hearing/seeing most of the time. But when we’re asleep or tired or concentrating on something else, sometimes our subconscious minds give us a faint echo of what they are hearing/seeing. {{{Diana}}}

      • I did! I am glad I waited to read it because I needed quiet time to not just skim it. The story brought tears to my eyes; I am sad that her end times were not more peaceful with the illness caused by mismanagement so unnecessary.

        You were blessed with a great friendship filled with many memories and thanks to your chronicling skills, ones that are written and shared. You should continue to write emails to her and not send them but instead imagine how she would have replied!

        I have to admit that I was relieved that Jenny had not turned into “a decorative belt hook or clasp worn at the waist with a series of chains suspended from it” in what sounded like a ritual gone bad! The other definition of “chatelaine”, the mistress of a château, sounds much better!

        Thank you again for sharing!

        • Thanks for reading and commenting, Jan! Sometimes I’ve thought of collecting the huge number of emails we exchanged over the years into a single volume. Perhaps I’ll do that if the day arrives when all my other work is finished.

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