My circle of elders is dwindling. As of Sunday evening, the circle is minus one more. Marilyn Russell, age 93, passed peacefully from this world. Marilyn was the mom across the street, the mom who pulled our wiggly teeth, the mom who made us feel like she loved us as much as her own kids. She made red velvet cake and always had cookies on hand. Although Marilyn had three sons who were into hunting and sports, she had a most excellent collection of dress-ups. My daughters and nieces all have great memories of the weddings they’d stage, with Marilyn being the groom and/or priest. None of the girls wanted to take the boy roles and the actual boys were nowhere to be found. When we were around, Marilyn was always present, and she loved hearing about our interests, especially as we grew older.
When I was eighteen, I left the small Nebraska town where I grew up. The world called me elsewhere, particularly to Arizona, to fulfill my life work of creating Awakening Seed. I moved to the desert far away from the Midwest, yet I carried more of it with me than I realized. As I’ve grown older and become an elder in my own right, it’s evident how powerful those early influences still are. Marilyn was a significant early teacher.
No matter how long it had been since I’d last seen her, whenever I returned to Nebraska she graciously welcomed me home. She always called me “Honey” and was one of the best listeners I’ve known. My life had its periods of turbulence and, regardless of where I was or what I was doing, she received me with open arms. Marilyn was genuinely interested in what I was doing, what I was writing about, and consistently expressed how proud she was of me. One of my favorite evenings with her was during a summer full moon. We sat outside and talked for hours and hours, telling each other stories we’d never shared before. Marilyn always made me feel accepted for who I am, no matter how divergent my path was from my upbringing.
The last time I saw Marilyn was Mother’s Day. She was frail, and living happily in the nursing home. Just as she had done at 49 when her husband died unexpectedly, she embraced her life for what it was in that moment. Although at 90 she fiercely held onto her independence, still living in her little house, when life shifted and she moved to the nursing home, she accepted it with appreciation and gratitude. She couldn’t say enough kind words about the friendly staff who kept checking on her as we talked.
The main thing I learned from Marilyn is always to look for the good in people and life. If I can live the remainder of my life with even a fraction of the open-heartedness she did, I will feel gratified. And if I can inspire the younger people in my life with the level of kindness she expressed to me, I will know I’ve made a difference. She certainly did.
for more about Marilyn: