Friendship, Everlasting

Residents share a lifetime of memories together

Helen and Thelma

Besties reunite at Mariner’s Point

For the past year and a half, Thelma Merrill and her husband, Richard, have lived at The Village at Mariner’s Point in East Haven, Connecticut. The property and surroundings are pristine and the care top-notch, as the staff has always been generous and kind.

All has been well. Then, just over a month ago, things got even better.

Helen DiVerniero arrived.

To say Thelma and Helen are friends is an understatement. In fact, to fully appreciate how meaningful it was for Thelma to receive the news that her bestie, Helen, would be coming to live at Mariner’s Point, you must go back a few years.

Well, about 75 years.

Their story begins in Branford, Connecticut. Two 12-year-olds beginning junior high at the same time. They seemed to like the same things. They started doing school activities together. They went over each other’s houses. Thelma remembers that Helen had a great sense of humor.

There was also St. Mary’s in Branford, the Catholic church where both young girls would embrace and cultivate a faith in God that would guide them through tragedy, triumph, and everything in between. Helen – who would lose her husband Owen in her 40s – calls her Catholic faith, “the backbone of my life.”

Older picture of women in show“We all have problems,” says Helen. “Without faith, without something to believe in, I don’t know what people do.”

After their school years, Thelma and Helen would remain connected. Both took jobs at Southern New England Telephone. A fellow worker would drive them each day. The Branford to New Haven carpool arrangement cost them each $1 dollar per week.

Soon enough they would meet the loves of their lives – Owen for Helen, Richard for Thelma. Helen and Owen had five children. Thelma and Richard had four. There were birthdays to celebrate and activities to attend. Always, there was a friendship that simply never wavered. It only grew strong with each passing year. They did what friends do – and they challenged one another to try new things, like splashing around a pool for early morning water aerobics.

For a time, Richard’s job took he and Thelma to Illinois. The friends spoke every day.

“No matter where we lived, we were always close,” says Helen.

When Owen died unexpectedly, Thelma and Richard returned quickly to Connecticut to comfort Helen and the children.

Today, Thelma and Helen are a model of friendship at Mariner’s Point, where Thelma cares for Richard, who has been sick. To have a dear friend, like Helen, to lean on provides her with immeasurable comfort.

“I don’t know what I would do without Helen,” says Thelma. “Anytime I have a problem, I can go to her. She is like my sister.”

Megan Padden, program director at Mariner’s Point, sees beauty in friendship – and a tangible benefit in terms of health and wellness.

Two women hugging“Friendship is so important,” says Megan. “Sometimes a program we offer may not be why a resident is attending, but, more importantly, who they are attending it with. A sense of camaraderie, of companionship – that connection is important to one’s self worth and overall well-being.”

There are milestones yet to mark. Thelma and Helen turn 90 soon. Both say there is so much left to do – and they very much plan to do it. To be together, well, that just makes it all so special. The years have afforded them perspective – a deeper appreciation, perhaps, for the incredible bond they have shared.

“A girl needs her girlfriends, and I’ve got mine, thank God,” says Helen.

Thelma feels blessed. Thinking about it now, she marvels at their journey.

“I can’t remember us ever having a fight,” says Thelma.

With that, they share a laugh.

To read more about this story in an article published by Shoreline, click here.

The Village at Mariner’s Point