Some people are important to us, not because of the direct impact they have on our own lives, but because of the role they play in the life of someone we care about. For me, one of those people was Bethel Darrow Jarvis, who passed peacefully in her sleep on Thursday, April 2. She was 91.
I knew Bethel as Grandma Jarvis, the beloved, doting grandmother of my best friend, Melissa. I met her on the very same day I met Melissa for the first time. It was June of 1982, and we were in the women’s restroom at the Colonia Theatre in Norwich, having just emerged from the matinee showing of Annie.
It was fate, I think, that when Grandma Jarvis called “Missy,” I answered. And when my mother called “Melissa,” she answered. The ensuing friendship has lasted for three decades and counting, through every curveball life has seen fit to throw our way and is still going strong.
I have always been fascinated by the relationship between Melissa and her grandmother. A little jealous too because, having lost both of my own grandmothers before I was three, I never had the chance to experience that kind of bond.
And what a bond Melissa and her grandmother shared!
My friend’s childhood was a tumultuous one, and her teen years even more so. Through it all, Grandma Jarvis was one of the few constants in her life. Her anchor through good times and bad. And she remained her closest friend, confidant and champion until her last breath.
Grandma Jarvis was the one who bought Melissa her first Barbie, and set her on the road to being a serious collector. The one who organized her childhood birthday parties. The one who (along with Grandpa Jarvis, of course) swooped in just about every weekend to whisk her off and lavish her with love and attention. No matter what else was going on in Melissa’s life, they always made her feel safe, special and incredibly loved.
Grandma Jarvis was also a role model. And not just when it came to collecting Barbies. She worked in the same factory for well over 50 years before her health forced her retirement. (Sometime in her 80’s, if I remember correctly.) By her example, she taught Melissa the importance of independence and hard work from a very young age. These are lessons Melissa definitely took to heart. She was the first of my friends to get her working papers as soon as she came of age.
Over the years, their roles may have changed – with the caregiver becoming the one who needed to be cared for. But Grandma Jarvis never lost her independence. Melissa made sure of that.
In the end, Bethel died just as she lived. With the same steadfastness, independence and confidence of purpose that I have always so admired about her. I believe she went to bed that night fully aware that it would be her last on this earthy plane. She had said her goodbyes and was ready to move on, at peace with the fact that life would go on for those she was leaving behind.
Perhaps what she didn’t realize was how much richer that life would be as a result of her influence and her memory.
To Melissa, her beautiful daughters, her father and the rest of the family – I send my heartfelt condolences as they lay this wonderful woman to rest.
May you rest in peace, Bethel.