Now that my busy month of June has come to a close, I am back in full swing on all of my projects, including Letters from Marilyn. Where we left off last time, Marilyn had written her last letter home. She died suddenly on September 28, 1953 at the age of 21. While her cause of death is uncertain (my theory is a brain aneurysm), it is clear that she was loved by many.
Today's post focuses on the many condolence letters that were sent to her family after her death. As her death was 63 years ago now, many of these letters had been written by people who are also no longer living. I will try to share them the best I can, but for privacy, I am choosing to omit names and information where necessary.
Joan M. maintained a steady stream of letters to Jennie, perhaps trying to fill the void of Jennie no longer receiving them from Marilyn. Sadly, Joan passed away a few years ago, before I had an opportunity to reach out to her. But she too is remembered in the kind words she wrote to Jennie. Other letters include those from the Strommens, her roommate at the time Arlene, and many more.
October 6, 1953 from Lydia, a family friend: You are in my uppermost thoughts and prayers everyday - ever-mindful that only God can give you the strength you need in these difficult times. I think of the phrase - "when it's hardest to pray, pray the hardest." We can't understand how, but God is able to help.
October 7, 1953, from Arlene, Marilyn's friend and roommate senior year: It seemed strange to come back to the dorm and live in a different room with a different roommate. But it is also wonderful to know that Marilyn is singing praises above, where there are no cares at all. We can't help but feel lonesome without her, but I'm glad we can trust in God's promise that He does what is best for those He loves.
October 12, 1953 from Joan M: I have learned that lonesomeness grows. I was so used to telling Marilyn everything that I seems I find myself wondering who to go to. I hope it isn't selfish, but it's just something a person can't help.
October 16, 1953 from Leland Sateren, the Augsburg choir director: We have, to a certain extent, gotten back to routine again. But, and I know I don't have to tell you, Marilyn's being away leaves a terrible gap here. I don't know whether Clair told you or not, but on her last Sunday, she attended church where I direct choirs. I was told that she had been deeply moved by the whole service. And by strange coincidence, one of the numbers the choir sang was a new number of mine - so new that the choir was singing it from manuscript. As soon as the number has been published, I want to send you a copy, partly because that number now will always be associated with her. So far as I know, it was the last choir music she heard. As a composer, I can tell you that a chain of events like this stands as a tremendous challenge. With kindest regards to you.
A note about this entry: Sateren had also written to return the dues Marilyn had paid to be in the choir. The check, for $1.50, was still enclosed and had never been deposited by Iver or Jennie. And Marilyn wrote about this choir church service in her last letter, which was in update 14.
October 13, 1953 from Gladys Strommen, Clair's wife. Clair was the general manager of the choir and Marilyn often babysat for the Strommen children. Joan called and it was another reminder of you folks. I've had you all on my mind a good deal today. It was only 2 weeks ago today that Marilyn passed away. In some ways it seems so long and other times it seems such a short time since she was here in our home. We certainly miss her telephone calls and her visits.
October 18, 1953 from Joan M: There are so many things I think of each day to tell and ask you. I don't see how I'll ever get used to life without Marilyn. We had done so many wonderful things together. You had a daughter to be proud of. She was one of the few students in college who was ready to meet her God. It seems that at first I was too stunned to realize, and now each day it becomes more vivid that my best friend is gone.
[the letter goes on to talk about some audio choir recordings done of Marilyn singing, and a few movie reels] Harvey has movies of Marilyn he had taken last spring. She had on the white dress she had gotten for Christmas two years ago. I just thought that I'd let you know these are available at your asking. I have heard so many comments that you would be proud to hear. Probably in time we can exchange our thoughts and questions, which gives us a wonderful memory. I have also thought of the convulsion last spring. At the time I was very concerned. But the nurse and doctor felt that it was related only to fatigue from exams. But it seems as if you're always concerned about someone sick when they're close. We can discuss it later.
A note about this entry: I read this section about Joan saying Marilyn had been to a doctor for a "convulsion" and instantly went back to the spring letters looking for details. It seems Marilyn didn't mention it to her mother, only that she had been feeling "under the weather." I don't even understand what "convulsion" means and have went looking up answers in medical encyclopedias, etc. But medicine in the 1950s was very different to now, and I'm not sure I'll ever have an answer.
I am going to stop here for today. There are about 85 pages of condolence letters, but as previously mentioned, I have a hard time reading them. I made it through about 30 pages today, which is an improvement from last time. Tomorrow, July 5, would have marked Marilyn's 85th birthday if she were still here with us. She might not walk with us, but she certainly lives in our hearts.