Loving and Losing Sylvia

It was 1982. Freshly graduated from the theatre program at San Jose State University, I had just landed my first theatre job. Feeling both excited and terrified, I also felt entirely out of my league. That’s when I met Sylvia.

Sylvia Muzzio

With Sylvia in the San Jose Rep costume shop, November, 1982

If you follow the money, you won’t find it in the theater. San Jose Rep’s small costume shop occupied a couple of classrooms in a vacant elementary school, in an unremarkable part of town. Yet between those walls, magic happened.  Under Resident Costume Designer Marcia Frederick’s guidance, Sylvia Muzzio, Marcia and I crafted some of the most extraordinary costumes you’ve ever seen.  We were three  creative women working in very close quarters, yet we always got along.

Sylvia mentored and mothered and minded the shop and taught me about theater and life along the way. She personified warmth and care. I shared things with her that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with others. Her open nature and gentle soul invited you in. It was a gift at the time, though it took age and maturity to fully grasp how special she was.

Sylvia nurtured her children, her grandchildren and those of us lucky enough to be part of her circle. She always wanted the best for people. She was modest and unassuming, but honest and direct as well. I loved her.

While I was in an unhappy relationship in those early years at The Rep, Sylvia told me that I needed to find an Italian, someone warm and affectionate (like her). When years later I met and married Mike Francini, I enjoyed recalling that memory with her. “Sylvia,” I said, “I found my Italian.”

Sylvia Muzzio

The four of us gathered for the first time in many years in 2010. Alys, Jim, Marcia and Sylvia

Marcia Frederick, Sylvia Muzzio, Alys and James Reber

Marcia Frederick, Sylvia Muzzio, Alys and James Reber, Founder of San Jose Repertory Theatre, November, 2013

Sylvia Muzzio

Sylvia and Rick share a laugh at a reception for The Snow Queen, November, 2013, San Jose Rep

Sylvia had a year of major health problems, hospitalizations and treatments, then seemed to miraculously kick every last one of her ailments to the curb. I saw her earlier this year for lunch, and though frail, she was upbeat and engaged. I started one of those “let’s get together when you get back from Shasta” emails and hoped to see her again this fall.

Sylvia Muzzio

With Sylvia and Marcia, 2015

Marcia called me on Monday to let me know that Sylvia was gravely ill. Sylvia and Marcia have remained close friends for many years. It came on suddenly in the last two weeks.

I spoke with Sylvia for the last time Wednesday morning. She was groggy from her pain medication, but she knew who I was and said it was good to hear my voice. She died this morning in her sleep.

And so I weep.

Death lies on her, like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.

Romeo and Juliet (1597) IV, scene 5, line 28.

Goodbye dear friend.

60 thoughts on “Loving and Losing Sylvia

  1. Someone like Sylvia holds a big chunk of your heart and it feels like it will stop beating without that chunk. You will grow a new chunk and she will hold it with her through eternity. The missing is the hardest part. I am so sad for your pain. I will hold you in my thoughts and hope you find some ease. Hugs,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lisa. Though it’s naive to think any of us will go on forever, it’s still such a shock when those we love go. It’s that magical mystery of time. We have to make the best of it, because none of us know what lies ahead. Thinking of you. xo

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  2. Age and maturity really do have a way of putting perspective on things; it really came across how special Sylvia was and this post is a beautiful tribute to her. A piece of her will always live on in you. I’m really sorry for your loss.

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    • Thank you, Sara. The quote “Youth is wasted on the young” has been rattling around in my head a lot this week. I wish we could figure out life a bit sooner, but age and experience can’t (and should’t be) rushed. You would have loved her. xo

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  3. It has been a great pleasure to come to know Sylvia through you Jeanine. You are both creative people. Your family is a testimony to both your parents. She was a sweet lady who loved her family. We send our love ❤️ and condolences to your family.

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    • Thank you, Lynn. I lost touch with Sylvia during the “middle years”, but thanks to Facebook I was able to find her via her son. From there we resumed our friendship this last decade. Seeing her a few times a year, chatting by phone, exchanging cards for our mutual October birthdays, I’ll miss it all. She will live on in my heart. xo

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  4. So very sorry for the loss of your friend. I think we all have that one special friend in our life, Thanks for reminding me that I need to reach out to mine. She lives far away and we only see each other every year or so, but I would be devastated if I lost her. Sending hugs to you.

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  5. Alys, what a wonderful tribute to my Sylvia. This most certainly will be put into Sylvia’s memory book. Often Sylvia would reminisce about the working relationship you guys had in the Costume Shop. Thank you so much, Dave

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    • Dave, you and Sylvia were beautiful together. You raised a wonderful family, and as teachers and mentors, your love and care extended out to many others. It will be hard to move forward without her by your side, but I know all your children and grandchildren will be there to hold you and love you and share in all the goodness Sylvia left behind. Arms around all of you. Thank you so much for commenting during your time of grief.

      xo Alys

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  6. I’m first of all so sorry for you personal loss. From what you’ve shared, she was well-loved by others and a greater community will also feel diminished by her passing. I enjoyed reading about your theater connections and it is clear that through Sylvia’s friendship and mentoring you have enjoyed some truly joyful times. I know you will hold her in memory, and I’m glad you shared a little of her “light” to us.

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    • Thank you, Debra, for your beautiful words. Sylvia shined her light on many. Friends are sharing beautiful remembrances of Sylvia on Facebook and several have commented here as well. It will be good to spend time with her family early next month. I can’t quiet believe she’s gone. xo

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  7. “The tide recedes but leaves behind bright seashells on the sand. The sun goes down, but gentle warmth still lingers on the land. The music stops, and yet it echoes on in sweet refrains…For every joy that passes, something beautiful remains.” Anonymous
    I can tell you had a very close friendship with Sylvia. I hope the lovely memories you have will be a comfort to you in the dark days you have without her. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

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  8. Alys, wasn’t Sylvia wonderfully prescient to have told you to go find your Italian – maybe her planting that seed gave you permission to end the bad relationship and go in search of the good….. We have people in our lives at certain times who bring us such wonderful gifts, who guide us and mentor us and love us – it seems Sylvia was such a one for you in those early days at the Rep. I am glad you knew her and loved her so well. I am sorry for your loss, but she will live on as long as so many people hold such loving memories as you do. xoxo

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    • Pauline, she was. I have no doubt she gave wonderful advice to many over the years. She was kind and wise and such a good listener. Her family is close and has remained close for a lifetime. It will be hard for all who loved her to move forward in her absence, but as you say, her loving memories will live on in us all. xo

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  9. Alys, what a beautiful tribute. So sorry for your loss. Reading it reminds me our own amazing Eliza Chugg. Miss her every time I walk into Hugh Gillis Hall. So many amazing theatre women

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  10. Alys, Thank you for your beautiful tribute to Sylvia. The sadness that comes with her loss will hopefully give way to the remembrances of all those happy positive and exceedingly warm memories of time with Sylvia. We all will miss her and send our love to her magnificent family and her wonderful friends. With love, Nancy (Dave’s cousin)

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    • It’s nice to see you here, Nancy. My heart goes out to Dave, who has had the most amazing life partner in Sylvia. I know they are a tight knit family, and that they’ll be there for each other. Love to you, Alys

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    • Thank you, Kerry. One of the great ironies of writing about a dear friend after they’re gone is wishing you could share it with them. I’ve had that cross my mind several times in the last few days. You would have loved Sylvia. She had a heart for arts and crafts. She had her own pattern company for a period of time. She had a small business selling craft components to senior care homes, and of course all those years in theatre. She even crafted a few prototype puppets for Jim Henson just before the Muppets took off. She laughed easily and had a twinkle in her eye. If you knew her, you loved her. I’m ok. I get teary, and I let it flow. I’m okay, but each morning I wake she’s the first thing on my mind. It will be good to see her family in a few weeks. xo

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  11. A loving heart feels the pain of loss deeply and this I know, is you. Sweet Alys, I’m so sorry you’re friend is gone. Sounds like you were able to say your goodbyes and how fortunate for that. We’re coming to an age when sadly, goodbyes will be more frequent. But there’s also an abundance of really good things too. Kids in college, shorter work weeks, time to travel with friends. Life is a precarious balance, I hope you will find it in these times my dear. With love for you xo K

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  12. What a beautiful tribute, Alys. I share your thoughts on how warm and comforting Sylvia was to everyone who was lucky enough to meet her. Every time we spent time with her, she treated me and my son Michael like we were part of her very large family. I’m sad that I had not seen her in years, but we did talk a few times, and shared messages through my son and Facebook. She will be missed, but I’m sure will be watching over all of us!

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  13. Heartfelt sympathy and huge hugs, Alys. I am so very sorry. It’s easy to see why Sylvia is such a treasure to everyone she knew. Hold tight to those special stories and memories, Alys. Quiet moments will bring even more tender memories, so I think Sylvia will always be a special part of you. What a blessing that you followed her advice and found Mike!
    Sending much love. ♡

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