Culver City Observer -

Bon Voyage to a Beautiful Soul Mary Tyrer

June 13, 1916 – June 13, 2016

 

It's the small things that hurt the most when loss occurs. I sob as I sit here at the computer, knowing I'll never again hear Mary ("Toni") Tyrer, my dear, vibrant, whimsical friend for 50 years, my roommate, hero, mentor, second mother and Rock of Gibraltar, firmly say, "Take a break. I've made you a cup of tea and a snack."

Her health began its sharp decline in April and we started home hospice June 6, quickly followed by my hiring a caregiver agency 24/7 when her condition rapidly plummeted. I wanted her at home so she'd feel secure and comfortable in familiar surroundings, reassured by my constant presence.

I'd never drawn her portrait, so I did the accompanying sketch in May.

"You made me look too young," she said. "The hand draws what the heart sees," I replied.

Toni died on June 13, her 100Th birthday, and she called it. On June 5, while dozing, she raised her right arm toward the ceiling and started humming.

When she woke up I asked if she remembered the song she'd been singing, and she replied,

"It's my song, one I wrote:

'The day that I was born is the

day that I am gone.'"

For months she had looked forward to reaching the

century mark, and my strong-willed friend achieved that goal a long with the peace she sought.

Toni, who was born in Chile, was not well known or famous but she was a person of tremendous wisdom, quality and kindness who had a positive impact on everyone she met. In Chile she was a champion swimmer on her university swim team, principal of a boys' school, and also taught Chileans

English and Americans Spanish during a stint at the Anaconda copper mine.

She had a gift for languages: Spanish, English, Ladino, Portuguese, French and Italian. Additionally, she infused her writing with sensitivity and created wonderfully realistic drawings, talents I appreciated and related to as a fellow writer and artist.

After moving to the United States in the 1950s

Toni found work in the banking industry. We met when a friend took me to a party over Thanksgiving weekend in 1965. It was very crowded and, as I juggled a glass in one hand and a plate in the other, I saw an open seat next to a woman on a small couch.

She graciously invited me to join her. As we chatted I noticed a Ten Commandments charm around her neck. When I asked if she was Jewish and she said yes, I started talking to her in Yiddish.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I don't understand what you're saying."

"How is that possible?"

I ignorantly responded. "How can you be Jewish and not understand Yiddish?"

She then started talking to me in another language and when I asked what she was saying, her answer was, "How can you be Jewish and not understand Ladino?"

Whoa! I thought Toni handled the situation brilliantly, putting me in my place in the classiest way possible. I could see this was a very special person and one I wanted to get to know, so I apologized, suggested starting over, she agreed, and our friendship took root. I learned that Ladino is spoken by many Sephardic Jews, just as Yiddish is by many Ashkenazi Jews–a revelation, since I had not even been aware that there were Jews other than Ashkenazi.

I call her my hero because she literally saved my life. On Dec. 2, 1968 we were crossing the street at twilight. Her sharp eyes saw a car heading directly at me. Suddenly she was facing me with her hands on my chest, pushing me back. The car struck us both and, had it not been for her quick and selfless action, I would have been directly under its wheels and a goner. She received out-patient treatment and visited me daily by bus after work and on weekends during the couple months I was hospitalized.

Toni nursed me through various illnesses and surgeries, including cancer.

When I do the Relay for Life next year I will walk in her honor as she was the one who put me in touch with the American Cancer Society after my diagnosis in 1991, nursed me to recovery, assisted me with fundraising for my walks, and was always my cheerleader. She loved the American Cancer Society for the help it gave me.

I won the friendship sweepstakes when I met this once-in-a-lifetime friend.

She was interested in everyone. Her fan club included bus drivers and people who worked in the market where we shopped. She would always

trade quips and anecdotes with them, and she knew all about their families.

When Toni wasn't with me they'd always ask, "How's your friend?"

She was a voracious reader, propelled by a quest for knowledge. She prized independence and transformed her walker into her magic carpet.

"Believe in yourself," was her constant refrain as she inspired and encouraged others and me to become our best possible selves. Funny, wise, caring, adventurous and brave–all parts of the special blend known as Toni.

Since she could so eloquently convey so much with so few words, I'll close with a poem she wrote years ago after a friend died. We shared it with others who have lost loved ones, and it will serve as Toni's personal goodbye (she did not want a funeral or memorial, and had made arrangements for cremation and scattering at sea):

MY TIME HAS COME

"In memory of friends gone ahead"

My time has come to go home.

Let me go in peace and happiness.

I have lived a full and happy life,

You can't imagine how much richer

Because I knew you.

Cry if you must

But be honest and realize you cry For yourself.

You are afraid of the loneliness you will feel.

You are wrong.

You will never be alone because I am part of you

And that part will always be with you.

All you have to do is look into your heart

And we can talk and be together.

Let me go.

I am happy and fulfilled.

I am at peace and feel no pain.

I have finally come HOME.

 

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