Pauline Chorna, Annie Hrynchak, Anna Baran, and Nellie Handiak shared similar paths in life. They all immigrated to Canada from a historically communist region of Central Europe, were all born near the turn of the 20th century, and were all tasked with raising children during the Great Depression. But the thing they most have in common is in death — they’re buried next to each other in the same funeral plot, under a tombstone marked with their names as well as a single word: “FRIENDS.”
According to the the Toronto Star, the gravestone has been a source of intrigue for visitors of the cemetery. So a reporter with the publication set out to find out the story behind it, tracking down their living family members to get a sense of the remarkable friendship these four women shared. No one knows exactly how the women met, but according to accounts, the women spent their time at a Carpatho-Russian cultural center, where they got involved with their community and politics, and most importantly, played cards. They enjoyed their card games together so much that, at some point, they decided they wanted to do it forever.
One day during the 1960s, Nellie Handiak called her daughter and told her not to worry about funeral arrangements. “She said, ‘You don’t have to worry about paying for my funeral,’” her daughter, Jeannie Lindo, told the Star. “She told me they went to Prospect Cemetery — her, Annie, Anna Baran, and Pauline — and they bought a cemetery plot.”
Indeed, Prospect Cemetery records show that Handiak purchased a plot for the women in 1968, and specifically requested that the friends be laid to rest side by side, not stacked on top of each other.
When Pauline Chorna, who was the oldest of the group, died in 1977, she was buried at their shared plot, which was marked by a headstone that read “FRIENDS.” Annie Hrynchak died in 1993, and Anna Baran followed three years later in 1996. Handiak went ten years without her beloved friends, a time her daughter described as “lonely.” Handiak was buried with a deck of cards.
Their families understood their decision to be buried together. “They went through a hard time in life and they relied on one another to help each other, to make life more livable,” said William Baran, son of Anna Baran. “And they decided to maintain that relationship through death.”
Lindo described the decision as “hilarious,” speaking of it with admiration. “I was quite taken aback,” she recalled. “My mother was old-fashioned to a point. Where did she come up with this? It’s usually all family, family, family, right? … But they were so forward-thinking that they decided to forget their children and grandchildren and whatever. They said, ‘We’re just gonna do this,’ and they did.”