Genealogy Mentor

Susan (left) and Carol

Susan Louer: 73, married, 3 children, from Brooklyn, retired teacher for the deaf

Best friend of 22 years: Carol Gohari, married, 1 child, science teacher and genealogist, died ... unknown causes

“It’s like you’re almost scared to reinvest in another person especially as one gets older.”

How did you meet?

My husband Jules and I were on sabbatical and we went to LaGuardia Community College to take some classes in New York history. Carol was in the same program. At the start, people made introductions and she mentioned that she did genealogy. I had always wanted to do that. So we talked and we started to become friends.

We had lots of things in common. We both were overweight, liked the same clothing, liked LeSportsac, loved Harry Potter movies (we saw all of them together and we read the books together). We took trips to Boston, upstate New York. We spent lots of time enjoying each other’s company and we felt most comfortable talking to each other. She had a good laugh and a very good sense of humor. We went to museums. We both liked mysteries, and so we shared lots of books back and forth between the two of us. Sometimes we socialized as couples, and Jules and I got exposed to Iranian cooking (her husband was from Iran), so that was another great bonus of the relationship.

What was the friendship like?

Carol was a science teacher who became a stay-at-home mom. When she went back to work, she became a lab assistant. She had a very strong science background and she was very organized. She taught safety classes for OSHA. She was a very straightforward, committed person and that helped in her genealogical research.

She became my mentor in genealogy. She published articles in genealogical magazines and she was picked every year to go to a special meeting of genealogists in Washington. The research used to be so much more difficult. You had to use microfiche. She would start a project and then have me finish it so I could learn the process. At one point we were stuck with someone with a German last name, and we thought her maiden name was Beasley. Then Carol found another document where her name was spelled differently. Once we checked that out, we were able to get one of my family lines back into the 1630s. The family came from England, went to Boston and then went to develop a town in Connecticut called Stratford. It was pretty exciting to go back that far!

Describe how the friendship ended.

She had been feeling tired and unwell. Then she had a check-up and they found the blood cancer. They did transfusions for about four or five months and she was doing pretty well. But they took a trip to her daughter’s house in Pennsylvania, and the first night they were there, she woke up and she said, “I don’t feel right” and so her husband took her to the hospital.

She went from not feeling well to pretty sick. I called the hospital and she said, “I feel so sick,” and that was the last thing she said to me. Her husband called the next day and said, “This is the end.” I was in shock. How could it be the end? I never really got good information about how it happened. I’m not sure her husband asked or really knew. It was so fast. Sometimes it’s better to not to know, I guess. If there was something wrong, what can blame do?

How did you cope with her loss?

I cried and cried, everything made me cry. For about two weeks, I was really bad. They had an open casket and they asked me to speak at the service, so that was a really, really hard thing to do. But I managed to get through it.

I had this yellow pad that I had written the speech I gave on and I started to write down all the things I couldn’t say to her anymore. Such as: “I’m watching the new series about Endeavor, knowing that you would have really enjoyed seeing the young Inspector Morse.” So I have a couple of pages of things like that that I wrote down for myself because I couldn’t really accept that she was gone.

Three months ago we replaced our house phones, so her number is gone from my house phone. So it’s these little steps, but it has taken me so long to know that I can’t call her, and there are so many times I want to tell her something. That’s a really hard part because part of a relationship has to do with the accessibility of the person and the common interest and sharing when you have that moment. She still comes up on my Facebook friends because I think on Facebook you live forever. That’s something different that people didn’t have before Facebook, that the person is still there on this one level.

Carol’s loss certainly reminds me that we only have today. We both assumed we had so much more time to do so much more. I have been struggling with trying to get all of her genealogical research in one place and every time I think that I have it set up there is a kibosh situation. So that hangs over me as something that I need to accomplish. It is my responsibility to her because her husband and her daughter are not interested in it. But she did incredible research. Every once in awhile I get going on it and I think that I’m going to organize it.

I think that I’ve done less talking and being with women since she died. It’s like you’re almost scared to reinvest in another person especially as one gets older. I am 72, and my husband is 79, and we’ve seen quite a few people die already that were acquaintances or friends. So I think I am less friendly since that time. Periodically, I say, “Well, maybe what I should do is go to a new experience and meet a new person.” I was thinking like a for friends. I’ve met new acquaintances, but nothing has really clicked in the same kind of way.

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 Susan, 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!