Best Gram’ Ever

After four decades of companionship, the transition to solitude is unimaginable

By Mike Jopek

I am fully aware that the house is about to get very quiet. Those words of solitude a friend recently said as I left his grieving home. His wife and our friend passed. The loss aches our hearts.

Sorrow moved my instincts to head to the broom closet and start the vacuum cleaner to break the silence. I wanted to turn on the volume for the muted baseball game on the TV, but I knew they learned to watch sports silently.

Uncomfortable, I smiled awkwardly and said in my most steady voice, “I’ll catch you later.”

For anyone who’s spent four decades together in companionship, the transition to solitude must be unimaginable. I cannot begin to yet understand what lies ahead. Gratefully, friends and family make it easier.

Our friend got her wings. She was the unifier of the family, a true matriarch who raised four boys to become men of character. She was the conversation, the reason, and the bond for all things good. And many loved her.

Recently, I’ve spent days visiting local hospitals. From my observation, the hospitals in Whitefish and Kalispell have amazingly caring and professional staff. I’m impressed by their compassion.

Serendipitously, one nurse informed us that she too was a Nurturing Center baby. Our friend had previously rocked her, like the baby whisperer for which she was known. Now this young, incredibly professional and caring nurse was rocking our friend.

Our friend designed and wrote the curriculum on early childhood education at the Flathead Valley Community College. Her programs provide students with the theoretical and practical knowledge needed to create environments to maximize the development and learning potential of all young children from birth to age eight.

Throughout her days our friend attended college. A life long learner, our friend spent decades learning, earning multiple prestigious degrees in childhood education. She had a hunger for learning and worked hard to achieve her goals. She too started her higher educational pursuits in community college.

All that while, she raised her boys and worked a full-time preschool job. She was an achiever who believed in better days ahead. Like so many before her, education, family, and hard work was her chosen path.

Without people like her, its unlikely the Early Childhood Center would be at FVCC. Thousands of lives were influenced by her teachings on developmentally appropriate education.

I have no words of solace for those who inherit great loss. We mourn together. We’re taught the ways and mimic familiar patterns of kindness, compassion and understanding.

The Flathead honored our friend last week. Love is not easy to put into words. Given that magnitude of testimonials rolling in these passing days, I’m overwhelmed with how well her students put their feelings into words.

There was much about our friend that was tremendously inspirational. She said what she felt in her heart. She was no nonsense, yet warm to everyone. She was true to her convictions and right in her ways.

Her life was babies, toddlers, kids, students, sons, grandkids, family, friends and husband. She loved people and lived an honest life. Like any true mentor, she had a plan and influenced many. Those examples make us better people.

It’s now our time. To all her students and to those who learned from our friend over a lifetime, believe and say why not. It’s your time to inspire the next generation of babies to students. Like our mentor, make a difference in children’s lives.

In lieu of flowers the family established the Marlyn James Scholarship at the Whitefish Credit Union. Early childhood education was our friend’s life work and it was her passion. It’s one worthy legacy to leave for the next generation.