My husband and I bought our first little home right around the time that I turned 21. It was a cute little brick rambler, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a sprawling backyard situated in a cul-de-sac in Mesa, Arizona. I was only two months away from giving birth to our first baby, Adam was a full-time student, and I felt like we'd joined the ranks of adult responsibility.
We found out where our new ward would meet, and walking in that first Sunday was different. This was a real ward, it seemed. All of our previous wards were transient wards, filled with college students and young couples biding their time in apartments until moving on to the next phase of life. People came and went so frequently that we never really felt like we knew anyone at all, with a few exceptions. But this ward, this ward was comprised of families young and old, big and small, all living in houses. There was a permanence, and a feeling of settling in and making a home here.
I remember one Sunday, walking the hallways with my white-tighted, thunder-thighed baby Lyndsay who didn't want to just sit quietly and allow her parents to listen. A woman with a bright smile and the kindest eyes approached me. I knew who she was, as she and her husband held leadership positions in the ward, but I had never had the chance to really talk to her. Her name was Marianne. She oodled my baby. She had five of her own, but they were past the delicious baby stage, and apparently, she wasn't. She loved my little Lyndsay, and Lyndsay loved her too. Lyndsay reminded her of her oldest daughter, Mary Jo. Marianne could always elicit the biggest, gummiest smiles from her. That was it. That was how we bonded. Over my chubby, cute-as-can-be baby girl. And I was drawn to her.
Marianne was full of life and light and wisdom. We chatted for long periods of time on the phone, about her missionary son, her about-to-be married daughter, and her three younger kids to whom she was completely devoted. She had twinkling eyes, filled with so much love, and she had a way of making me feel validated and understood. I looked to her as a model of wifehood, motherhood, and homemaker extraordinaire. Marianne's home was warm and inviting. She literally always had cookies fresh from the oven, and she was famous for her homemade rolls, which she would bake by the hundred for ward and family parties.
Marianne was called as the Relief Society President (the women's organization), and she called me as her first counselor. I was completely overwhelmed. I was not even 22. But Marianne believed in me, and under her wise leadership and mentoring I learned so much about how to love and serve.
Marianne was very attuned to the Spirit. She was one of those women who would literally call you up one day, out of the blue, and say, "What's going on? I cannot get you off my mind." And you would burst into tears because at that very moment you were on your knees pleading for help from God, for some kind of divine intervention in your life. She was an angel like that for me on more than one difficult occasion. She sat on my couch and cried with me when I learned that my parents were splitting up, and she'd never even met my parents. She was that kind of friend.
One day, she knocked on my door and handed me a gift. Inside was a framed quote on beautiful ivory embossed paper, which read, "For thou art an elect lady. Keep my commandments continually and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive." It came at a point in my life where I was having serious doubts about my worth. She knew, and she wanted to be sure that I had a reminder that no matter what was going on in my earthly relationships, I had a heavenly relationship that would never falter.
I loved Marianne. We ended up selling our little house, after Adam's college graduation, another baby and a decision to move up to Show Low so Adam could start a real estate business with his father. Marianne and her family moved away shortly after that, and I lost touch with her. She started a kindergarten-ready program and continued to serve in the Church. Her children started getting married and having families of their own. At each stage of my life, she has never been far from my mind. My heart reached out to her so many times, but I could never find where she was to reconnect. I know she would have been devastated upon learning that my marriage had ended. I know she would have prayed with me and held me and cried with me. I know she would have loved to hear the juicy details of every boyfriend that came and went during those in-between years, and I'm sure she would have been thrilled to know that I had married again. She would have loved my next squishy baby for sure.
I really missed her. I Googled her, but with no luck. I asked around, from time to time, but everyone knew someone who knew how to get in touch with her, and then I didn't follow through. But just a few days ago, another friend from that ward way back in the early days of my grown-up life, found me on Facebook. A new last name and everything! Amazing! It was a thrill. Her kids are grown now too, two married, one on a mission, one in college, her little one that was born when Lyndsay was is entering high school. We caught up on all of that, and then I asked her if she knew how I could find Marianne. "I have missed her," I said. "I would just love to reconnect with her. She had such a profound influence on my life." And then my friend told me that Marianne had passed away, just a few months ago, after a short battle with cancer. I sat there in complete shock.
Gone? She's gone? How can that be possible? How did I not notice that the world is a little less bright? Memories came flooding through my mind of things that she'd said to me, things we'd talked about as she mothered me along. I could picture her dresses on Sunday, her cookies, her rolls, the smell of her house at Christmastime, her kissing on my baby Lyndsay and giggling.
Not fair. I needed to talk to her. I should have tried harder.
I looked up her obituary online, just to be sure. It doesn't even seem possible, but there she was. I guess she finished what she was sent here to do. A job well done, that's for sure. How grateful I am that my path was carved parallel to hers for a time, and that we could reach across and hold hands. She is a woman that I aspire to be like, and will never forget.
I wonder if heaven takes requests for Guardian Angels? Because I'd pick Marianne.