Thirty nine years. That’s how long we were friends.

I met Carol in 1983 when we moved to Ohio for my husband’s new job. I also needed a job, and someone had given me their name and number. She was responsible for continuing education at The Ohio State University. Yes, Ohio State University. When I asked why THE, I was told, “that’s their official name.” Kind of like Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, I guess.

When I finally contacted Carol, I found a lovely woman with an accent straight out of the Bronx. Writing it down, she told me she was originally from the New York metro area and grew up in New Jersey, so we had a lot in common. We also shared bagels, although she told me that Ohio wasn’t exactly America’s bagel capital; However, there is a place in Columbus near the airport called Block’s that has been around for about 55 years and does a great one.

It also turned out that Carol was just living in the same neighborhood where we had just bought a house, so in the days and weeks that followed, we walked back and forth a lot, often bonding around of bagels. I could only eat one at a time brushed with salted butter; Carol, who was a tall, thin person, dried them one after the other, as if they were M&Ms.

Life takes many turns and we didn’t stay in Ohio, eventually returning to the northeast. Carol stayed until it was time to retire, then happily escaped to Hilton Head, where she enjoyed golf, bridge, quilting and making new friends. and of course we visited as often as possible. Miles can never destroy a true friendship, and ours was the ultimate proof of that.

About seven years ago, while vacationing in Australia, Carol had an accident that left her back, already badly compromised by degenerative osteoporosis, a shattered mess. She went to rehab at a nursing home in Cincinnati to be near her two sons, but her condition worsened and never left congregate care. Still, we visited occasionally and always brought bagels to snack on together. With each visit she had grown much older and weaker, cognitively not as sharp as the PhD we had originally experienced, but the scathing sarcasm and sense of humor still remained.

Carol passed away on March 31 of this year. Her family, spread across the United States from New Jersey to Oregon, decided it was best to honor Carol’s wishes and not have a formal burial. A Celebration of Life was therefore planned in June, and I had to be there. I knew it would be joyful and uplifting, it would be good to see her sons, Greg and Steve, and I would love to hear everyone’s stories about this great woman, my lifelong friend.

I ordered a flower arrangement to be placed on the altar of the Unitarian Church where the celebration would be held to honor our friendship, but I knew it had to be different. So, working with a talented florist in Columbus who “got me”, I ordered a large arrangement of bright sunflowers interspersed with bagels.

My flight was scheduled just after 5:30am with a plane change in Detroit, which allowed me to arrive in Columbus well in advance for the 11am service. However, when I arrived at TF Green just after 4am that morning, there was the terrible word posted on the Delta board: “Cancelled!” How could it be cancelled? Didn’t Delta know how important it was to me to be there? I was not alone, however. Hundreds of flights were also canceled across the United States that day. No driver available.

I returned home discouraged, alerted Carol’s family and found the celebration was being broadcast live. So, at 11 a.m., I sat at my computer looking at a huge, smiling photo of my friend hanging above the altar about 707 miles to the west; and for the next hour and a half, I listened to Carol’s favorite music, laughed and cried at the stories told, and felt like I was there. When the camera stopped for a close-up, my eyes fell on a bright, sunny arrangement of sunflowers cheerfully sprinkled with large bagels. Not only did it light up the altar, but also my mind.

I may have missed the plane, but I never missed our connection.

Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 20 years, including her “In Their Shoes” articles. She can be reached at [email protected] or 401-539-7762.