Many years ago, my mother and some friends were out shopping. One of them needed shoes so they all came along. They were just sitting there chatting, joking and laughing, as they always did, while one of them was fitted for a shoe. When they were about to leave, the clerk said, “I hope you ladies aren’t offended but you remind of The Steel Magnolias.” They were not offended. They were delighted. And they have been known as The Steel Magnolias or The Steels ever since.
So what is a Steel Magnolia? The steel part obviously means they are strong. The bond among them is like steel in its strength. They have helped one another through the challenges of motherhood and marriage. They have bolstered each other through sickness and sorrow. My father had cardiac arrhythmia and the doctors decided stopping his heart and then bringing it back would be the best course of action. He would technically be dead for a few minutes and there was a chance they would not be able to revive him. I remember standing in a circle, holding hands with my mother and some of her Steel friends, praying together as we waited just outside the room, within earshot of all that was happening. A circle of strength, faith and love. I also remember one ebbing the tide of pain following my miscarriage. She used just three words. It was all she needed because the look in her eyes told me she knew exactly where I was and what I was going through. One of their greatest gifts is that they do not try to fix everything. They simply steel themselves and stand with you through the storm.
The magnolia. What does that part mean? Magnolias are beautiful, unique, fragrant trees. When I think of these women, the thing that stands out for me is the way they smile and laugh when they are together. Like the fragrance of a magnolia bloom carried on the wind, their joy carries far and wide. The strength and energy they bring to each other is like the root system of a tree holding them upright, providing nourishment and strength, bringing beauty to all who surround them. The way they simply ARE with each other resonates beauty.
Webster’s dictionary defines friend as, “a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.” The word seems so small to me. It hardly conveys the magnitude of this sort of relationship. These women are branches of the same tree. Growing together. Relying on one another. Caring for all of the branches and flowers among them. The relationship itself an entity. Living and breathing. Life sustaining. A living friendship.
Yesterday, one of these flowers fell. She lost her battle with leukemia. She went peacefully and we know she is at rest. As they say, funerals are for the living. Those of us left behind have to move forward. Yet, the void she leaves is huge. I have known many people who have died. I have been to more funerals than years I have been alive. But, aside from my grandparents, this is the first person who was so consistently a part of my life to die. These women have been a constant part of our lives. Present for my mom’s pregnancies, at our births, baptisms, schools, games, graduations, college, college graduations, first jobs, careers, weddings, our own pregnancies, miscarriages, our children’s births and their milestones. One of The Steels (my Aunt Mimi) said, “I will so miss her. We have talked almost every day for the last 40 yrs.” That amounts to 14, 600+ moments with one another. That’s it, right there! The best word to describe a steel magnolia: CONSTANT. All other ways to describe them involve constants. Constantly beautiful. Constantly strong. Constantly there. Constantly loving.
And now she’s gone. 14, 600+ moments and, still, not nearly enough. Things are fresh. The sorrow new. I know she is no longer in pain. I know she is home in Heaven. Most likely, already scoping out the best place to play cards with her friends when they arrive. But, my goodness, it hurts. You will be missed. I note that I am just a spectator to this incredible friendship. I can not imagine how my Steel mothers are feeling right now. I see their heartache. It is raw yet beautiful. In some weird way, I find myself hoping I will have the privilege of feeling that sort of pain one day. If I do, it will mean I have been lucky enough to have had such an indescribable friendship. And, if I find myself so fortunate, it will be because these women taught me how.
Thank you, my Steel Magnolia mothers.
May you rest in peace, Mrs. Z.