Confession about Betty

When I first moved to London, I was shocked at the state of student accommodation (at least for my college). However, I was very lucky to find a spacious room with a bay window in the beautiful neighbourhood of Golders Green.  I lived in the house with my landlady Betty, who was then in her 70s, but whose love of life, humour and vivacity placed her somewhere in her 20s, very close to my age.

Betty told me so much about her life, her family, about being Jewish, about war-time in Britain.  We shared a deep love for films and music, for literature and for laughter.  She gave me so much companionship that I never felt lonely in a big city and foreign country for a minute, even though I was going through some personal turmoil at the time.  She gave me so much and all she asked in return was that I keep my non-kosher food  on a separate shelf in the fridge from hers.

Old handwritten letters
Old handwritten letters

I only lived in her house for 8 months or so, before I set off to do my fieldwork abroad, but we remained friends.  I introduced her to my future husband, then to my children.  I kept moving around and kept inviting her to my new homes, but she was getting more and more reluctant to travel. We kept in touch sporadically via phone and birthday cards or Christmas and Hannukah.  She was not on email, of course, and I gradually lost the habit of letter-writing.  Fortunately, I did go to visit her in 2011, just before relocating to France.

This weekend I received a small card in response to the Christmas/Hannukah card that I had sent to Betty in December.  It was from her sister, Sybil, to say that Betty had died peacefully in her house in Golders Green in the summer.

I find myself writing through tears. Tears of sorrow for the loss of one of life’s great originals.  But also tears of guilt that I have been so bad at keeping in touch, that it took me so many months to find out about the death of a friend.  Ah, yes, the usual excuses apply – the distance, the busy-ness, the cost of international phone calls – all those easy little white lies that slither off our tongue like maggots.

But when it comes down to it, there is nothing more important than your friends, than the people you love.  Make time for them.  Because some day it might be too late.

Bless you, Betty, and thank you.  It has been such a privilege to know you. RIP.

15 thoughts on “Confession about Betty”

  1. Marina Sofia – I am truly sorry for your loss. I’m hurting for you. And you’re right; we never know what’s going to happen. That’s why it’s so much worth the time it takes to write, to pick up the telephone or send an email…..

  2. Ah, that’s a very moving post. I don’t think you should feel bad though. People come and go and we can’t keep in touch with everyone all of the time. At least you both shared that special period together. She sounds like a lovely person.

  3. I’m very sorry for your loss, Marina. I have found, in the last week or so especially, that life is very short. A friend of mine from college passed away suddenly leaving his wife (who I also knew in college) and two teenage children. He was only 44. Since his death, a lot of us who were a part of the same college group have gotten back in touch over FB. You will be in my thoughts and prayers. ((((hugs))))

      1. It certainly does. You said something in one of the other comments that I was surprised about as well (that it has affected me so much). There have been a lot of other things going on in my life, and when I heard about this other person’s death, I just started reflecting on my life and what’s really important.

    1. I was shocked at how much this affected me, given that she was not family, not my age, living far away etc. Sometimes it is not the most obvious people in our lives, the ones we see day in, day out, who have a lasting impact.

  4. I’m so sorry for your loss, it sounds like she was a very special person in your life. You’re so right when you said to take the time to visit friends and stay in touch because one day it might be too late. Life doesn’t wait for anyone but it’s so easy to shuttle things like a visit or phone call to the back burner, especially if we have to go out of our way to do it.

    This was a beautiful post that I know had captured just a small fraction of the love and friendship the two of you shared. Thank you for sharing this with us. I’m sure Betty knew how much you cared and she understood. Real friends are those who don’t question why they don’t take more priority in your life, they’re content with and appreciate the time you give and pick up where you last left off.

    1. Thank you for your sweet attempts to assuage my guilt, but I do wonder, did she really know? It’s all too easy to assume that our friends know and understand, but, like a plant, they still need our frequent love and attention.

  5. I understand your feelings of loss. This past year, I’ve found about about the loss of three friends with whom I lost contact. It’s made me sad to say goodbye and mad at myself for not staying in touch with them. But, I do think that there is often something ‘seasonal’ about life – we reach into each others lives for concentrated periods of time to learn from each other, to support each other, to love one another. Ultimately, I know we’re grateful to have met these dear people and to have had what seems like only a few moments of their time. They live on in our hearts.

    Thank you for this lovely post of remembering what is important. Hugs, Marina.

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