We all have a best girlfriend. The one (or two) you call to gripe to when your husband, boss, random stranger does something supremely annoying, who has a glass of wine and a willing ear at the ready when you have to get away from your daily routine, or when your kids come home with lice and you need someone who is willing to comb through your head looking for nits (yup, this happened) – there are virtually no limits. But this isn’t about my best friends this is about my mom’s best friends, Bonnie and Sue, and how they influenced me so very deeply as I grew up.
My mom is a product of the ‘60’s and all the peace, love, and hippie culture that goes along with that. As a working woman with a career in healthcare, she was also on the front lines of the feminist revolution led on by amazing pioneers like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan among so many others whom we hear little of today. But these well-known names weren’t the only women who battled for equality at protests and signed petitions to politically and socially advance women’s rights. My mom and her friends waged a quieter war – one on perceptions about women, sexuality, the workplace, and motherhood itself, that took place in the form of conversations in their kitchens, on the beaches of the Jersey Shore, in department store dressing rooms, and anywhere else that else they pleased. These were the conversations the formed my outlook – my early perception of the world and my place in it.
They were career women – Bonnie was a physical therapist with her own practice, and Sue a passionate reading teacher who worked with children in the very poorest areas of Philadelphia. Both were married, with varying degrees of happiness in their marriages – Bonnie’s leading to divorce, while Sue and her husband were able to get past the rocky parts. Bonnie had children and Sue was content with the parade of kids that marched through her classroom door each day – instead, she had cats. Bonnie was spontaneous, showing up at the front door with a pitcher of her secret-recipe Margaritas, Sue was always late (hours, not minutes), eventually arriving without apologies. They were my mother’s soul sisters. They knew precisely what to say to make her laugh, or get her talking, and that level of friendship also extended to me. I was their child too, in a way, they were the “aunts” that knew no boundaries – the people who would ask the questions that my mom couldn’t, who opened doors to conversations that might have been emotional dynamite between a mother and daughter. The ones who could say just about anything to me and I would love them because I knew they always had my best interests at heart.
From them, and through them, I learned about friendship – the honest, I-will-be-there-for-you-at-2am kind of friendship. Listening to their struggles, I learned that relationships are hard, and despite your best efforts, sometimes it’s better to end a marriage rather than continuing down a dead end. I realized that the workplace isn’t always fair to women, even in “women friendly” professions like healthcare and teaching – they provided examples of how to stand up for yourself and be strong. They taught me so many things – too numerous to list – but most of all, they taught me the value of friendship, how to joyously laugh through the good times, how to hold your friend and let her cry it out when it sucks, and how to just get on with living when you really have no choice but to do so. This is what your daughters are learning from your relationships right now. This is how you learn to be a friend.
Two years ago, Bonnie was diagnosed with lung cancer that spread to her liver, brain, and lymph nodes. I watched as my mom and Sue nursed her when she was sick and were there physically and emotionally until the end a year and a half ago.
Last weekend, Sue tragically passed away in her sleep – heart failure, the doctors said. Sometimes, her doctor told her husband, the heart skips a beat and doesn’t re-start, and she slipped away.
Losing both of your best friends in their mid-to-late 60’s is not easy. I can see how much this is affecting my mom and it’s devastating to her. She has many other friends, but it’s not the same. These were the women who knew her best, the ones whom she held in her deepest confidence, her buddies, her partners in crime. No one will ever be able to take their place – in her heart or in mine.