The Lifeline of Friendship
–By Deborah Armstrong Connolly–
I was raised in a privileged life. A happy childhood in a sylvan Denver suburb, a University of Colorado education, moving to LA where I followed my artistic curiosity and ending up working for Industrial Light and Magic – the Star Wars people. I met my future uber-talented husband, Jon, and fell deeply in love, moving to New York City – to 5th Avenue, no less – where we had a commanding view from our 12th-floor apartment over Central Park. Our daughter Kristen was the magic in our lives.
Those early years were golden. I got a job as an advertising copywriter and quickly rose in the agency. Special effects techs weren’t on the East Coast yet. Jon transitioned from his movie-advertising agency to writing screen plays. Several movies were made. He was considered a word wizard. We had the brass ring.
At first, the change was subtle – almost imperceptible. Calls to him from Hollywood became fewer and farther between. He went from being an “A-List Writer” to people barely taking his calls. Then I was laid off from my advertising position as part of a merger.
I went back to my creative roots and became a jewelry designer. But it was a slow build. Money became tight. For years, I juggled funds, trying to make ends meet. The one consolation was that we were living in our nest egg – a huge home worth millions in the toney town of Greenwich, CT.
Or so we thought.
When our adjustable mortgage came due, we couldn’t refinance for a lower rate. Suddenly our house was under water, the nest egg was fried. And Jon was in complete denial, refusing to even discuss the matter.
By this time, our daughter had married and lived in LA with our grandchildren. Most of our closest friends had moved away and I felt cut off and isolated. I was scared, desperate and alone in the decision-making.
So when an old friend and my maid of honor offered to rent us her apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area, I leapt at it. Through several stressful estate sales, our lives, furniture, and memories were paraded out of our house with their new owners. Most everything was gone, practically given away.
Jon refused to transition. It wasn’t that he hated California, it just wasn’t Connecticut. The more friends I made, the more morose he became, drinking himself into oblivion to drown his pain. Now I was the one in denial, hiding his addiction. I sought therapists, Al-Anon, meditation, lots of physical exercise – anything to help. Our primary care physician told me I did not have the authority to check him into rehab, only he could do it. But he refused because he was sure all he had to do was “move back to Connecticut and things would be fine.”
I knew that wasn’t the case. My brilliant husband had given up on himself.
Then came the double whammy.
Just as Covid-19 was changing the world, my husband’s cough – misdiagnosed in Connecticut – turned out to be Pulmonary Fibrosis. Now he was locked in his tiny California prison with no escape. Any fantasy of moving back to Connecticut was lost. In his mind, it was a death sentence. We went to a doctor for a follow-up. He checked him into a hospital with a raging urinary tract infection. But Jon believed he would be released in a few days, sweetly promising we would be okay once he got out. He knew he had to change and said he was willing to do the work. Through our tears, I was so hopeful.
But as sometimes happens in the hospital, he got pneumonia. Jon died after four excruciating weeks in the ICU.
The funeral in Connecticut, the endless paperwork, the sympathy was all a blur as I plodded through this numbing nightmare. His pension was cut off and at 72 years old, I no longer had his benefits. I had my meager business, which had been all but crushed by Covid. All I could think of, in despair, was where do I go? How do I go on? What is to become of me?
Then, the miracle.
Two days after my husband of 35 years died, close friends who had been living together in nearby Berkeley, California for the past year invited me to move into their large home with them. I gratefully accepted. It was like the universe had swept me up and embraced me. Of all my roads, all my scenarios, all my years in therapy plotting out the possibility of this very moment of life on my own, I never could have imagined this outcome. I can honestly say, “I stuck the landing,” like an accidental acrobat.
There are now four of us living together in our 60s and 70s: me, two sisters and a former colleague and friend. Over the last 18 months, I’m discovering communal living isn’t hippiedom anymore. It is dynamic living and life changing. I had initial fears, including a lack of privacy and that the energy of four women living together would be suffocating. But we’re fine. I go back decades with this family of sisters and they all knew my husband, his antics and his stories. We toasted him over Thanksgiving and joked that no one was happier than he that I ended up here.
Living with these women is emotionally, psychologically, economically and ecologically brilliant. Even our grandchildren get along. We share cooking, meals, bills, tasks and are living in a grand home high in the Berkeley hills that none of us could afford on our own. Our house teems with laughter and generosity.
As the world opens up after Covid, so have I. My business is climbing back and I have my own studio space carved out of a storage area. We had a blowout birthday celebration because three of us were born in April, followed by a visit to Maui. I also took a spontaneous trip to Morocco with other friends.
I cannot stress enough the value of the friendships and connections one makes through life because, if you are lucky, they are the people who will pick you up when you are lost. I am so grateful – and oh so privileged.
BIO: Deborah Armstrong, 72, has been creating exquisite jewelry since 1996. Her jewelry has been featured in many top fashion magazines and is worn by celebrities including Halle Berry, Jennifer Connelly, Faith Hill, Sharon Stone, Diane Sawyer and Vanessa Williams. She is even on the Supreme Court worn by Justice Sonya Sotomayor. You can find her work at www.deboraharmstrong.com. Contact Deborah through her website to subscribe to a blog about communal living by dynamic agers aka Golden Boomers. Jewelry to Match your Lifestyle phone: 203-253-3506.