Mother/ Daughter Bond
Holly Starkman: 57, married, 1 child, psychotherapist and adjunct professor
Best friend of 25 years: Marcia Golden, divorced, 2 children, school psychologist, committed suicide in 2013 at age 86
“I don’t know that people really recognize the depth of a friend’s loss and, not that it’s gender specific, but I think for women, because women tend to be more relational than men in general, it’s a very significant loss.”
How did you meet?
I graduated from the Hunter College School of Social Work in 1986. I met Marcia at my first full-time job as a social worker at Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in Brooklyn, New York. Marcia was the school psychologist there. She had many years of experience; I was just beginning my career as a social worker. We were on a team, which included the two of us, the special education coordinator and several other educational specialists. Marcia and the special education coordinator were in one classroom and my office was set up in a tiny closet-like space. I made a bit of a fuss about the arrangement: I looked around the school and found a music room that nobody had been using. It had little practice rooms that I thought would be perfect for our team. So I went to the principal and suggested she move us there, which she did. Marcia was furious. She really sneered at me, she had been very happy to be under the radar in her little classroom where nobody bothered her, and now we were all going to be together. She was pissed off. That’s how our friendship began.
Once we all settled in, she realized it was definitely a better office arrangement. After that initial conflict, we were drawn to each other very, very quickly and became friends. I was about 27 and she was maybe 57. We had lots of shared interests — our work, literature, art, theatre and food.
On Fridays we would go to a local Sicilian restaurant called Joe’s of Avenue U. We would delight in mussels and red sauce while discussing books, theater and film. We both really enjoyed the pleasures in life. We both loved yoga. I had been aware of Kripalu in Lenox, Massachusetts for several years; Marcia was too. We started to drive up together once every couple of months for a weekend of yoga and to take some time for self-care from our sometimes-stressful work.
What was the friendship like?
She was two years older than my mother and was very motherly to me. My own mother had some pretty serious limitations and so I think I was drawn to Marcia because she provided me some of what I felt was absent in my own life with my mother. And in some ways the role I played for her was like that of a daughter — a daughter she had fewer conflicts with than she had with her own children.
I found her to be a wonderful role model, a real feminist who really took care of her business. She did the things she wanted to do and went the places she wanted to go. She was strong-minded in a positive way that I admired very much.
We shared a love for writing. She wrote poetry. I would read her work; she would read my work. Marcia was a confidant and a mentor. There weren’t too many things we didn’t share with each other.
When Marcia retired, she was fortunate as the New York City Board of Education was granting, as an incentive, two extra years towards retirement. She took it. Soon thereafter, while at Kripalu one weekend, she said, “I think I am going to skip lunch and go shopping.” I thought, are you kidding me, lunch here is so good. We met up in the afternoon at a yoga class and I said, “What did you do, did you buy any clothes?” She said, “No, I bought a house.” She was like that. So she retired and moved there. That’s where she lived until the last year or so of her life when she decided to move to La Jolla, California.
Several years earlier, her daughter moved to Lenox to be near her mother, but their relationship was sometimes difficult. Her daughter would reach out to me and ask me to convince Marcia to do certain things. She’d sometimes say, “She’ll only listen to you Holly, why don’t you tell her she shouldn’t move to California, that’s crazy.” Marcia was 85 years old and she was going to move to a place where she knew no one and I thought it was a little bit crazy too. But I also understood that was how she wants to live out her years. I respected her choice, and that’s what she wanted at that time in her life – to be in a warmer climate and part of a like-minded community of older adults.
Marcia thought the warmer climate would help her have a better quality of life. I would speak to her every couple of weeks and it sounded like it was quite an amazing place, very beautiful assisted living residence and very comfortable. Ultimately, I think she did settle in a little bit, but she found it wasn’t the climate that was the problem. It was living in her body that was causing her distress.
Describe how the friendship ended.
When Marcia committed suicide in July 2013, it was a very, very planned decision. Everything about it was very planned. She was always exceptionally organized and so she was in her death as well. Afterwards, I felt so sad that I didn’t get to say goodbye, but then I realized she was in her own pain and she wasn’t thinking, “Well, gee, I’ll call Holly before I kill myself.” But it was really, really hard. I have mixed feelings about her taking her own life, but I also feel like it took a lot of courage for my friend to do what she did and to make that decision.
After Marcia died, I received a card from her that she wrote just before she took her life.
I hope getting this will not be upsetting to you, but I had to let you know what a joy our friendship has been for me. It’s funny; while I have no idea where I am going, I see myself as going somewhere and then missing you. I know what I am doing would be seen as the “easy way out” and maybe it is, but I hope you won’t judge me because truly this is no life. Each day brings more noticeable weakening, more loss, less desire to live. It’s time to go, have a wonderful life.
I have to say, in all my sadness and shock about this terrible loss, I was overjoyed to get that card. Receiving that in the mail helped me to feel so much more connected to Marcia and it affirmed my own feelings about our treasured friendship.
How did you cope with her loss?
I have a lot of love in my life, but there was nobody like Marcia. I feel blessed that we had that connection. I don’t know if people really recognize the depth of a friend’s loss and, not that it’s gender specific, but I think for women, because women tend to be more relational than men in general, it’s a very significant loss.
I have an envelope where I keep all her cards and also a photograph of her, which I love. I like to wear a necklace of Marcia’s that her daughter gave me soon after she died. And when I walk on the wooded trails near my house I sometimes talk to her. I feel like she is with me, kind of like what she wrote in that card: “I don’t know where I’m going, but wherever it is I know I’ll miss you.” I miss her a lot. I don’t think that will ever go away.
I hope that wherever she went, I get to be there too with her at some point when it’s my time. I find solace in the belief that we will connect again somehow.
Is there anything else that you'd like to add about your friendship?
I like this poem she wrote because it reflects her sensitivity and self-awareness.
When Life was a classroom,
I found in books
What others knew
And I had forgotten.
When life was a journey,
I found the beauty
That was hidden
In my minds eye.
When life was a wonder,
How I found wonder,
Itself a cause for wonder.
Now that life is dying,
My newborn self reminds me:
Consciousness is the whole,
And I am forever a part of it.
–by Marcia Golden, April 14, 2011
Before Friendship Dialogues was a gleam in founder Ellen Pearlman’s eyes, a group of over two dozen women answered her online plea for women who had lost a female best friend. Ellen is eternally grateful to all the women, including Holly, for opening their hearts to her and sharing their personal stories of love and loss. It was through this process that the seeds for Friendship Dialogues were planted. Thank you!