Best Friends Forever
Francine L. Baldwin-Billingslea
It took a cross-country move and a bout with breast cancer to make me realize and appreciate the value of true friendship.
I grew up in a small New Jersey town where you knew everybody and friendships lasted for life. Once we grew into adulthood, moving away usually meant moving into neighboring towns, but the majority of us never moved too far from our family, friends, and comfort zones, so when the corporation that I worked for offered a relocation package, I knew that it was going to be a challenge. But I had no idea of how much of a challenge it was going to be. I also didn’t know that out of sight would also mean out of mind. I moved to Atlanta, Georgia with well wishes, promises of visits, keeping in touch, and believing in my heart that their word was their bond.
For the first two years, I was so busy working, readjusting, settling in and going back home to visit that I hadn’t realized that it was mainly me keeping my word. In the interim, a bond had formed with the people I had relocated with while I reluctantly made new friends; I had become quite disillusioned and disappointed with my old ones and their excuses. Time and distance will change a lot of things, but it’s not supposed to change true friendship.
Although my co-workers and I had worked together for many years, it was a different kind of friendship than what I had with the people I grew up with. But now that was changing. They were the ones who were becoming my close and true friends.
Back in our home plant, for almost twenty years, I walked passed Martha’s, Elnora’s, and Pat’s work stations to get to mine, we’d smile, wave and yell out our hellos, good morning’s and good nights to each other and nothing more. We never conversed or socialized. As a matter of fact, I felt that we didn’t have anything in common, and I guess they felt the same. We were simply co-workers.
However, after we relocated together, my, my, my, how things have changed. We found ourselves calling each other, going out to dinner and plays, shopping, riding back and forth to work, meeting each others´ families and exploring our new territory together. Our friendship began to grow, unfold and develop with no demands, no expectations and on our own terms without us even realizing it. We just accepted and enjoyed each other for who we were and we found that we did have a lot of things in common. We confided in each other about our lives, plans and struggles without the fear of it being told to others. We gave our advice and opinions, and we dealt with and ignored each others´ faults and shortcomings. We saw, gave, received, found, and valued the strength in our new friendship without any effort, and we were genuinely happy for each others´ growth and accomplishments as we bought new homes, developed other friendships, slipped into other meaningful relationships and once again, became independent from each other. But now, we weren’t just co-workers, we had become friends.
In January of ‘03, I was diagnosed with stage II, invasive ductal carcinoma - breast cancer. Being so far from home, sick, and having my elderly mother with me, I was filled with apprehensions and uncertainty, but to my surprise, my friends went above and beyond their call of duty as friends, not just for me, but also for my mother. I never had to ask them to do anything for us, they did what they felt needed to be done, and it was always on time and always the right thing to do. It wasn’t just the phone calls, the visits, the cards, gifts or flowers; it was the love and concern that they showed from their hearts. It was the tears, the words and the time that they spent with us. It was the way they made my mother laugh and forget about my illness, even if it was just for the moment. It was the way they took turns visiting her and making sure she was okay when I was hospitalized. They never said it, but their actions let me know that we were all in this together. It was their sincerity, the thoughtfulness, the prayers, the look in their eyes and their heartfelt hugs that let me know that I had the best support group ever.
I read where a study from Stamford University found that late stage breast cancer patients who had a circle of close friends and confidants had a better chance of survival than those who didn’t. Helen Keller wrote, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” I have personally found both of these to be true.
Yes, I had my mother with me during that very arduous time, she was truly my best friend and I don’t know what I would have done without her. But there’s just something special about having girlfriends and true friendship in your life, the non-superficial kind, the kind that doesn’t make us friends just because we grew up or work together. And it’s not the out of sight, out of mind kind, it’s the kind that’s brought together by fate and kept together by love.
With the help of my friends, which I consider as gifts that were given to me years ago but just recently unwrapped, I got through one of the scariest times of my life.
They say good friendships help us to live longer and could possibly add years to our lives, and because of the tons of “Aha” moments that my friends gave me, I must agree. There are many emotional and physical benefits in having good friends, and I think there will come a time in all of our lives when we’ll see and experience the difference between friends and just plain old associates.
All in total, my friends and I have known each other for over thirty years, and it’s now been close to fifteen years since we’ve relocated, and many of us, besides Martha, Elnora, Pat and I have really gotten to know each other. Carol and Teresa has since been added to the list, and each one of us at some point in time has had to go through or overcome some type of personal battle. And we’ve fought them together, not out of obligation, but out of love. It’s funny how life has a way of bringing the unexpected and extraordinary into our lives, especially when it comes to people, and I think that it’s more than fitting to call the five of them my best friends forever.
There have been quite a few times when some of the girls talked about moving back to New Jersey. I hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does, I wouldn’t hesitate to go cross country to be there for them. After all, it took a cross country move to bring us together. And besides, I would do it simply because they are my friends and I love them.