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Ellen’s Wonderful Visit

January 6, 2013

On Wednesday, January 2nd, we had a wonderful visit.

Four years to the day after my dad slipped into a coma before he died on January 6, 2009 (4 years ago today), his childhood sweetheart, Ellen Hardiman Manning, came to my mom’s house for a visit where we made a new friend with one of my dad’s old friends.

I’ve already recently posted a story about Ellen when I wrote about her birthday in HBD, LN. It tells about how my dad remembered his grade school sweetheart’s birthday each year and made sure that his wife and children did too.

My dad and Ellen hadn’t seen each other since gradeschool when my dad’s family moved away from St. Dorothy parish to St. Ethelreda parish on the southwest side of Chicago when my dad was about 14 years old.  Ellen had moved away for many years living in Minnesota and California.  But my dad did see Ellen’s mom from time to time over those years so they would occasionally get updates about one another.

When dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2008, he reached out to connnect with Ellen by phone.  Incidentally, Ellen’s own husband was dying at the time.  She remembers chatting with dad and connecting like old friends do as if the years didn’t separate them.

When dad died, my mom reached out to Ellen to share the news of dad’s passing and share stories about him and their relationships with him.

In recent years, mom has been sending birthday card’s to Ellen on her birthday.  Ellen said she so appreciated being remembered by my mom on her birthday. 

Ellen was in town from California over the holidays and Ellen and mom corresponded to plan a meeting between them, my brother and I.  Mom invited Ellen over to her house.  My brother, Michael, two of my children, me and Ellen’s sister Mary were there with mom and Ellen for the visit.

Ellen said she pulled up outside the house in the car and was a little anxious about meeting us.  We had never met each other before.  We were strangers.  What would she say?  What would we talk about?  Would it be awkward or uncomfortable?  Ellen and Mary braved the uncertainty and approached mom’s door.

After a warm welcome and hugs, Ellen and her sister, Mary, sat down and talked with us.

Almost immediately, she wondered about the circumstances of her being here with the wife and children of a boy she knew over 50 years earlier in gradeschool.  She questioned why my dad might have remembered her and spoken so affectionately over the years to his own wife and children about her. 

Ellen shared that all she could think of was that she remembered sitting on a couch and asking my dad as a kid in around sixth grade about what happened surrounding the death of his father when my dad was only eight years old. 

My grandfather had died suddenly in a diving accident at Long Lake in northern Illinois on a family vacation in 1951.  He left behind my grandmother and seven young children between the ages of 14 and 2.  My dad witnessed his father’s death.

Ellen said that my dad shared with her what he witnessed of my grandfather’s death, and he cried as he told her. 

Ellen, a former teacher, thought that it may have been the first time dad spoke about the event.  She said back in those days they didn’t have grief counseling and support systems like they do now, and difficult things and losses were not talked about and stuffed emotionally.  Her simple question to her young friend resulted in a sharing and a bonding that resulted in a deep emotional connection and affection as he opened up about his experience and loss.

I imagine that was only part of it.  Dad talked about liking Ellen throughout gradeschool and writing her notes when he was in as early as 3rd grade.  The later connection about his dad’s death was only part of an affection he had for her.

Ellen also shared stories about the old days and how their families were connected.  When my grandfather died, the people of St. Dorothy’s parish would reach out to and support my grandmother in raising her seven children.  She said her mother and my grandmother were close. She shared a story that her mother was a woman of prayer and believed in the Miraculous Medal and shared one at my dad’s boyhood home to help bring peace to their troubled home.  Incidentally, as she was telling this story, I had my hand in my pocket holding a Miraculous Medal that I keep there and pulled it out to show her.  I have kept the medal with me in recent years praying for a miracle of healing in my own troubled home.

It was easy to see what dad would like about Ellen.  She is still a lovely woman, and was a gracious guest, eloquent conversationalist and warm human being during her visit.  Ellen sat next to my mom on the love seat next to the Christmas tree they shared stories about my dad, including the story about The Infamous Christmas Squirrel Story.  It was beautiful to see two of the loves of my dad’s life sitting together warmly sharing their affection for him even four years after he slipped into a coma and passed away peacefully.  Dad always found some of the best people to make friends with over the years.  In a moment, I realized he also had impeccable taste in his attraction to the most beautiful women to love.

I shared copies of the blog posts I wrote about her famous birthday and the eulogy I wrote and read at dad’s funeral mass with her and her sister. I shared a few one-on-one moments with Ellen and she was attentive, kind and warm.

We took a picture with her to capture the moment and commemorate her visit.  Here she is with me, my mom and brother.  My mom is holding a high school picture of my dad in a frame (left) with a high school photo of her next to it (right).

Ellen Hardiman Visit

I just noticed now while writing this that there is a crucifix that appears over Ellen’s right shoulder between me and her in the picture.  We didn’t plan that, it just worked out that way.  My daughter, Tess, took the picture of us.  Maybe in her artistic and poetic gift, Tess designed that element of the photo.  Or, maybe Dad or the Lord did.  Either way, we no doubt felt their presence among us that wonderful, miraculous and memorable evening.


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