On Friendship

4101860183_4188305f46_oby Beth Burrell

Last month my mother had surgery, and as we headed to the hospital she handed me a handwritten list of about 15 names of friends to call afterward. Later while she was in the operating room, I pulled it out to divide up with my sister.

Together we looked at each other and kind of groaned. We have to call all of these people? My mother is nearly 80 so no surgery is minor, but this was not life-threatening. As it turned out, I made three calls, my dad two, and my sister emailed a group of eight women who with my mother meet regularly for food and camaraderie. They call themselves the Julliets (Just Us Ladies Into Eating Together), and fortunately she’d listed their email addresses.

Afterward when my mom was home, many of these friends called or stopped by. I knew my mother would do the same for any of them. The experience brought to mind one of my own friends and her work.

This friend whom I’ve known since our sons were babies (they just turned 25), works with older women in Philadelphia. Friendship, she said, can be life altering. It’s what gets many women out of bed in the morning, brings them laughter, affirms their choices – allowing them to move on after the death of a spouse, their own illness, personal loss, or family strife. There is no one circumstance but there is one fact: Friendship means survival.

I asked my mother about this, now three weeks post-surgery. She’s since caught up with all of her friends. My mother uses a computer (sparingly) and her cell phone, but she prefers a real conversation, on the phone or in person. Thinking about her friends, especially those who have lost their spouses, my mother said she treasures them the older she gets. “If we didn’t have women friends, who could we depend on?”

In most cases, women outlive their husbands. At Supportive Older Women’s Network, where my friend is director of programs, women who are homebound can join ‘call’ support groups where once a week, they talk with one another and share experiences. They may never meet in person but they become close and depend on one another. The groups can become surprisingly intimate precisely because members don’t see one another. Any Infirmity or impairment melts away, and women feel supported unconditionally.

Two such women decided together to spend a recent New Year’s Eve together on the phone, both watching the ball drop in New York’s Times Square, sipping their own bubbly ginger ale.

As women age, they also rely more and more on friends rather than family for advice – peers who have experienced something similar – who can offer wisdom objectively and without judgment.

I see this in my own life too. Friendships feel more supportive and cooperative, less competitive than when I was younger. About six years ago, I began working with three other women to produce a report on school guidance programs at our local middle and high schools. The four of us clicked professionally but also became so close that when our ‘work’ was over, we kept finding ways to meet up. We now walk weekly and have become our own guidance group for each other. This time together feels sacred. I’m sure many women share this experience.

Last summer, an old friend traveling briefly through Philadelphia called to say she had an extra hour at the main train station. Could I grab a coffee? I hesitated. The day was already overloaded (including two trips back to that same station later in the day). I wavered but ultimately made the trip and didn’t regret it. I hadn’t seen her for years, but we managed to pick back up right where we’d left off the last time.

I remember as a young girl complaining to my mother in the car once about something a friend had done; I don’t recall the details. My mother heard me out, and said a bit impatiently, “To have a friend, you have to be a friend.” I had no idea how this related to my complaint. But it stuck with me, nevertheless.

As she recently recovered from her operation, I had to admit that I’d enjoyed catching up with the friends I’d called for her, all of whom I’d known practically my whole life. I’m grateful she has them, and that they have her.

Beth head shotBeth Burrell is a journalist who has worked primarily in daily newspaper reporting and in school communications producing parent newsletters. She currently freelances from her home in Merion, Pa., just outside of Philadelphia.

 

 

 

Image: And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter and the sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed by Caroline via Flickr

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4 thoughts on “On Friendship

  1. I’m 60 now and am fortunate I live near most of the girls I grew up with. We see each other frequently and kept each other young at heart and laughing, even through the tears.

    It has alwasy astounded me how we as women can connect immediiately. It can be a casual conversation started at the park or store and within minutes, we can be sharing the most intimate moments in our lives. What would we do without our girlfriends.

    Loved this and so happy your mom came through her operation. Please tell her I LOVE the term JULIET <3

    • I told her, Mary! Thanks for your note. She shared the piece with her fellow Juliets. You are right about women connecting so naturally in all kinds of places and times. I’m glad you have friends nearby you’ve known so long. That’s wonderful. Thank you for reading.

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