I saved his letters, 301 typewritten pages, all single spaced, all caps.
“SHAME ON YOU!” the first began. “YOU MADE ME CRY. I’M EIGHTY YEARS OLD AND YOU MADE ME CRY.”
Ray Redican wrote this to me on Dec. 24, 1993. On Dec. 26, when it arrived in my mail, I picked up the phone and called him. This is the way our friendship began and the way it endured. He wrote and I called.
I got a lot of letters back in the day when people wrote letters. I read them, answered them, and saved them thinking that one day I’d sit and read every one of them again.
I kept them in cardboard boxes, in the basement, not a good way to store anything. The letters got damp. The ink ran. The words blurred. One day, I threw them all away.
All but Ray Redican’s. His survived because they were never in the basement. They lived in a file in my office. He wrote so often that I didn’t bother to store them.
A few weeks ago I sat down and reread them. It took hours but COVID-19 has given me hours. I read his single-spaced all-caps words and there he was again, this old man — but not much older than I am now — writing with such love about his wife who died when his twin boys were young, about his quietly brave daughter, about World War II, and about his own personal wars. “You know more about the inner me than I have ever shown anyone,” he wrote.
Ray Redican. Say the name and he lives. That’s what someone said to me the other day. Say a person’s name. Tell a person’s stories. As long as you do this, that person lives.
Lois Anderson. She died a few weeks ago. A woman who owned a tour company in California, my husband’s friend, but mine, too.
When I’d go to conventions as just the wife, she made a point of including me. She was smart. She was successful. But most importantly, she was kind.
We visited her once in her sprawling Palm Springs home, not just the two of us, but with our three little kids, too. She packed her freezer with Baskin Robbins bubble gum ice cream and pralines and cream. She made hamburgers on the grill. My kids remember the visit though it was more than 30 years ago.
Lois Anderson. Say the name. Tell the stories.
My son-in-law said the other day that he has lost nine friends since this epidemic began. Not all from the coronavirus, but some. All buried, all dispensed with. Mourned in private. No collective remembering. No shared grief.
This is one more thing that COVID-19 has taken from us, saying the names and telling the stories, celebrating and grieving together.
We send cards. We write our condolences on Facebook. But there is no comfort in this. No period at the end of a sentence. No real recognition of the end of something.
Donna Morrissey died of COVID-19 in May, Donna Morrissey who is most remembered for her work with the American Red Cross.
But I say the name Donna Morrissey and remember a pretty young girl with a hundred-watt smile and a night a million years ago at my cousin Linda’s. It was a girls' night and Linda had hired a fortune teller, who sat upstairs in her husband Danny’s office. We all took turns walking up those stairs to learn about our future. We giggled a lot. The fortune teller never mentioned a pandemic.
Donna Morrissey. Her birthday is Tuesday, Oct. 20. She would have been 52. I say her name and tell her story and this keeps her alive.
Death takes everyone, eventually. Disease. Accidents. Old age.
Bill and Ann MacDonald. They were married 66 years and died within hours of each other on July 8. These are words from their obituaries: “They couldn’t bear to spend a single night apart.” They loved each other. And it showed.
Arnold Kaplan. He knew the words to and the composer of every song published before 1950.
Dick Kelley. He was a gentleman and a gentle man.
John Hughes. He was generous and kind and a good and loyal friend.
Death took them all in different ways. But it is COVID-19 that has put the celebration of their lives on hold, pushed to later, after the virus is controlled. So many goodbyes have not been said. So many stories are still to be told.
There is no hugging in our coronavirus world. No sobbing in each other’s arms. No raising up on eagle’s wings.
But we can still say the names. And we can still tell their stories.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at email@example.com.