In the days after Jane Krumrine was diagnosed with COVID-19, her dearest friend Susy Brandt would FaceTime with her.
A nurse at Dunwoody Village would dress in full-body protective gear and hold up the phone so Krumrine could see the woman she knew since childhood.
An 82-year-old with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and reduced mobility, Krumrine was vulnerable. Yet she’d smile as her friend reminisced about their travel adventures — to Italy, to East Africa, to New Zealand. She would nod or grasp her nurse’s hand to show she understood.
Then around 2 a.m. April 17, Brandt got the phone call: Krumrine, her lifelong friend, had died.
It was a devastating loss.
For most of 80 years, Jane Krumrine and Jessamine “Susy” Brandt led charmed lives, almost inseparably — socializing together, traveling together, going to church.
The two met as toddlers in 1939, shortly after Brandt’s parents bought a house in Merion on Raynham Road, four houses down from the Krumrines. The girls’ nannies would take 2-year-old Jane and 3-year-old Susy for walks. They fed the ducks in a neighborhood pond, picked violets, rode their bicycles together.
As they grew older, their families became close; Brandt still refers to Krumrine’s father, a former bank executive, as “Uncle Charlie.” Krumrine, who described herself as “an only child of only children,” became an honorary Brandt.
Five days a week, the girls took the train together to go to their separate high schools, Krumrine at Baldwin School and Suzy at Agnes Irwin, and when they weren’t in class, they chatted on the phone incessantly. At University of Pennsylvania and Vassar, they spent time together when they had vacations.
After college, they returned to their family homes and pursued careers. Krumrine was a public relations executive who could be tough. Brandt was an elementary school teacher who tended to defuse conflict with humor.
Both eventually inherited their nearby childhood homes. Both dated but chose not to get married. Still, they had each other as best friends.
Like her parents, whose parties were featured in The Inquirer’s society pages, Krumrine threw great affairs. Sometimes, guests would parade out the front door, donning hats from the women’s collection (from top hats to those shaped like flower pots), and march down the driveway in through the kitchen door, singing and carrying whatever was handy — vases or candlesticks.
For Krumrine’s 50th birthday, Brandt and Scott Tuttle, another longtime friend, planned a surprise party on a vintage dining car rented out for special occasions. That meant convincing Krumrine to come to 30th Street Station by conjuring a fake meeting with a friend on the platform.
The surprise was almost ruined when an electrical failure shut down all the trains, and their friends — hiding throughout the station in the pre-cell-phone era — remained stranded until the power issue was resolved. Finally, it pulled into the station with a banner: “Welcome to the Jane Train. Happy Birthday Jane,” and her friends emerged.
But it was their trips together that brought Krumrine and Brandt the closest: They had traveled on 45 adventures to at least 17 countries by the end of Krumrine’s life.
On one voyage to Southampton, England, with friends from Krumrine’s job, the ocean liner got caught in a high-wave storm. On one roll of the ship, all the dresser drawers tumbled out. On the next roll, Brandt, who was in her nightgown, fell and landed in one of them.
“Jane, instead of being helpful and seeing how I was, was hysterical [with laughter] and goes next door and gets [her friends] and says, ‘You have got to see this. She’s just fallen in her drawer,’ ” Brandt recalled.
Brandt and Krumrine made friends from around the world through these trips and Krumrine’s later career in New York at a global insurance brokerage. When the guests came to Philadelphia, the women would tell them about Philadelphia history as they drove through the city bickering about historical details. Back at her home, Krumrine put yellow sticky notes on everything so her guests would know what they could or couldn’t use.
In the mid-1980s, Brandt convinced Krumrine to try Overbrook Presbyterian Church, where she’d been a member since childhood. Krumrine would then ferry Brandt to church in her bright-red Mini Cooper, eventually parking in a handicapped space near the side door when it became difficult to walk long distances. She would rest for a moment on one of the pews near the entrance, then walk to the friends’ favorite spot four rows in front of the pulpit.
In October 2018, when the women had both reached their 80s, they sold their homes in Merion and moved to Dunwoody Village, a leafy, suburban continuing-care retirement community.
Brandt was the catalyst, telling her friend, “Jane, I know that I’ve got to move in. I can’t deal with these steps anymore.”
Krumrine said, “Well if you’re going, I’m going.”
Dunwoody had two first-floor sunny apartments available, but they were far enough apart that the women bought motor scooters to visit each other.
When they moved in, Krumrine was using oxygen at night to cope with her COPD. But problems quickly escalated. Krumrine had to carry oxygen with her everywhere. She started using a walker. By the fall of 2019, she could no longer go to church; it was too hard to navigate the 125-year-old building.
Then, possibly as a result of her osteoporosis, Krumrine spontaneously fractured two vertebrae. That forced her to wear a brace and to move to Dunwoody’s skilled nursing unit in December 2019.
Krumrine now needed oxygen 24 hours a day and had trouble keeping her balance. She also became increasingly forgetful so she kept her phone and calendar close. Even with memory problems, she never forgot a birthday or anniversary.
“Oh God, she was worried about it. [She’d say,] ‘What is happening to me?’ This was a woman who liked to be in control and she couldn’t be,” Brandt said.
Brandt visited Krumrine almost every day. They would read and chat. Krumrine still devoured the New York Times, The Inquirer, the Main Line Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times.
But she grew more agitated over time. “Why can’t I go out with you and have a drink?” she would ask Brandt.
Namkee Choi, a gerontologist at the University of Texas who has studied depression in nursing home patients, said that for people with a close bond, sudden separation is the “end of the world.” Even if they are in the same facility, it makes depression more severe. Medical problems, including COPD, can worsen, she said.
On March 11, 2020, on a visit to Krumrine’s room, the women discussed the alarming new coronavirus and Brandt’s recent trip to Florida. But eventually Brandt had to return to her apartment.
“Why can’t you stay with me?” Krumrine pleaded. “I’m just miserable” being alone, she said. Brandt promised to come back the next day. But after she left that night, the skilled nursing unit closed to visitors for coronavirus precautions.
That would be the last time they would see each other in person.
Over the next month, Krumrine’s coughing worsened, and she eventually tested positive for COVID-19.
When the nurses could accommodate her, Brandt called. Sometimes she would reminisce, sometimes she would pray. Every time she tried saying the Lord’s Prayer, she’d break down and have to ask the nurse to finish.
The two had their last conversation about eight hours before Krumrine died. “We love you,” Brandt told her. “We love you. And everything is OK. You’ll be alright ...”
Because Krumrine didn’t have immediate family, it was Brandt who would be making all the calls and arrangements, working with the executors to sort through Krumrine’s room. They offered the heirloom furniture to friends, and Brandt saved some mementos for herself: two pairs of clip-on earrings; a strand of pearls; pads of ever-present sticky notes; and seven scarves — paisley, flowered, polka-dotted.
Krumrine had made her funeral plans about 10 years earlier, leaving a folder of instructions: a graveside burial service, a church memorial, a party. The party was most important.
With the pandemic restrictions, Brandt and Adam Hearlson, their minister, organized a Zoom service to remember several congregation members who died during the pandemic. More closure came in June, when Brandt and friends were able to have a burial service at West Laurel Hill Cemetery. There, her urn was lowered into the grave and Krumrine’s friends dropped red roses on top.
Brandt went first, walking slowly from her folding chair with a cane, pausing for a moment before letting her flower fall.
A memorial and party will hopefully take place in May, what would have been Krumrine’s 84th birthday.
Shortly after Krumrine’s death, a group of her closest friends began “Jane meetings” on Zoom. They were initially held every week at 5 p.m., when Krumrine would have her Dewar’s scotch and soda. Now the first Tuesday of the month, they are a highlight of Brandt’s days.
This month, 12 friends gathered, including a senior at Haverford College, someone whose parents and grandparents were close friends with Krumrine. Another participated from Germany. Several were in London. Most attendees met through Krumrine’s legendary parties, where she liked to connect people.
Are there any Jane traditions or stories people remember from Thanksgiving?, Brandt asked.
They recalled how she forced second helpings on people. “Now you must do your civic duty,” she’d say. And how well stocked Krumrine’s pantry was, marked with yellow Post-it notes.
Like on most meeting days, Brandt wore her old friend’s scarf. This day, it was green-and-white polka-dotted.