The Story of a Friendship

by Linda Owen

Deirdre was my friend, and a great friend at that. How does one describe a friendship? I’ve been pondering this since Deirdre’s death.

Friends are attracted to each other because of similar interests or ideas. They are a source of affirmation of who we are, just as we are. And they are a gift from God as a help for us to keep on going.

Deirdre and I met back in 1972 when we were both assigned to Marian Centre, our house in Edmonton. Deirdre was there to continue her studies as a public health nurse, and I was the stew cook.

But we got to know each other with paintbrushes in our hands, literally, when we took a night class together in rosemaling, a decorative painting technique from Norway.

Deirdre already knew how to paint and was quite proficient, and I was a beginner. I caught on to it, and, ever since, whenever we have been assigned to the same house, we painted together.

Deirdre’s techniques were different from mine; I guess you could say that we each developed our own style. But we were both prolific. I cannot imagine my life without a paintbrush or Deirdre’s either.

Deirdre’s paintings showed her ability to observe detail and to perceive. She was really present: to the scene, to the person in the scene, to the conditions. She found the beauty there, she reflected on it, and she communicated it.

Deirdre could not stop creating, and that didn’t just mean only painting. She constantly had something in hand—knitting, sewing, crocheting, needlework—and she was good at them all.

Deirdre gave her life to serve the poor, and she was consumed with that service. She had had her own suffering and was not afraid of theirs.

At Marian Centre, she would be seen doing little “personal care” services for the men who came to our soup kitchen: like washing someone’s sore feet, changing bandages, and making sure someone had proper footwear. Since many of these men walked the streets all day, these were no small services.

Later on, when Deirdre worked as a public health nurse in the area around Combermere, she was involved in many daunting situations.

Even now, many years later, people remember her. Running into her at the store in town, they would be so excited to tell her news of their lives. Many of them she had nursed or even delivered.

And she remembered them. When I was working with the elderly at Madonna House, Deirdre would sometimes take them out for a ride. I would go with them, and she could tell you who lived in practically every house.

Midwifery was her passion, and she loved children.

There is a school in Liberia, West Africa she supported in many ways over the years. It probably would not exist without this support.

Deirdre also kept in touch with missionaries all over the world, especially with those working with poor and abandoned children. For the past several months when she could not use her right arm, I helped her with her correspondence, and I could barely keep up with it all.

When I informed these friends of her death, the responses were so beautiful. A bishop from South Africa, for example, wrote, “Her service to the poor of our area will not be forgotten.”

But mainly, when I think about Deirdre, I don’t think of all the admirable things she did. I think of her as my friend—the one who challenged me, the one who comforted me when I was in distress, the one I played Scrabble with, the one with whom I could share a cup of tea.

Once Deirdre said to me, “Linda, you try so hard. Maybe you could consider relaxing a bit.”

Hmm … maybe that’s the thing about friendship. Maybe it’s all about relaxing a bit with someone you love. To be able to relax with someone that way is a big gift.