I just addressed a pink envelope with a pink Aster flower stamp and put in a birthday card with pink cheery blossoms to mail to my friend Jane. She loves pink, she loves her family, she loves her friends and I love her.
The first time I noticed her was when we were sophomores in high school and she was swearing “like a sailor” in the kindest voice while eating peanut m & m’s with her friend. I was intrigued because the only swearing I had heard was when my parents were angry. We ended up sitting near each other in Senior English class. That’s when we became friends. In the spring, before a pop quiz, I asked her if she wanted to be roommates in college. She had planned to live at home, but I asked her anyway. It remains one of the best questions I have ever asked in my lifetime. She said, “yes.”
We went off to college in 1970 and we left our suburban naïveté and exchanged it for young adult realities. Panty raids gave way to SDS riots, and women’s rights and race riots brought conversations neither one of us could have imagined. Her boyfriend lived out of town and almost went to jail for using a fake credit card that allowed them to talk without long distance phone charges. My boyfriend suffered manic-depressive disorder before we understood what that meant. He was either physically and verbally abusive or charming as a prince. We were catapulted into new realities. One thing never changed, and that was our care for one another.
We put down a deposit for an apartment off campus for our junior year. A month before school began I called to tell her I had transferred to a university out west. I needed to get away from that boyfriend. I left her speechless and without much of an apology. I was desperate to get away. She forgave me and we wrote often.
Since then we have never lived near one another. Wherever I have lived and made new friends, my friends have known about Jane. She has visited us at all the crazy places we have lived: a cabana hut in Florida, an attic in Pennsylvania, a garage in Michigan, a farm house in Indiana, two houses in Colorado and our current one in Washington state.
Her parents were ten years older than my parents. I traversed realities of aging parents first with her. Her father was a well-known homebuilder in our community. The last time I saw her father was at their latest family home building development. He had had a stroke and was thirty pounds thinner and walked slowly and regally with a cane. He cried when he saw me and I cried too. After his stroke he “wore his emotions on his sleeve.” He still had that smile I had always loved and the sparkle in his eyes was there, but oh my, he was a shell of the man whom I had known before. “Good-bye, Mr. Barry, I am so glad I got to see you again.” I couldn’t quit crying as I got into Jane’s car.
I remember the last time I saw Jane’s mother. I was home visiting my parents and she said, “let’s go by and see mom.” I walked into her beautiful childhood home that her dad had built and her lovely mother was in silk lounging pajamas and probably weighed eighty pounds. Her fulltime caregiver was with her and her smile was just the same as that first time in high school when I met her. I got her caught up with our children and my husband’s current teaching position trying hard not to cry while noticing Mrs. Barry’s frailness. Tears welled up in my eyes as they always did when I was around Jane’s mom. This moment seemed etched in stone given the gravity of this possible last meeting. “Good bye, Mrs. Barry, I am so glad I got to see you again.” I always knew that her parents’ mortality would be the forerunner to my parents’ passing.
Jane is the best storyteller I know. Yes, it’s true; she is as good as my husband. Okay, I’ll give them a “tie” for storytelling. I wasn’t able to go to her parents’ funerals but we’d talk on the phone and I’d feel a part of their final days, deaths, funerals and grieving.
Our freshman year in college, when Jane’s grandmother died, I heard her father tell Jane that he was taking her mom on a trip after the funeral because it would be good for her grieving. It was a sentence I never forgot. When Jane’s mother died, we took her to Hawaii with us.
I remember the final times Jane was with my parents. My father was in a hospice care facility for nineteen days. Jane and I talked every day. The last time she visited my dad he was unable to speak or smile but she talked to him, hugged him, and said, “Good-bye Mr. Gilbert” in the same tone of voice she had since high school.
I remember the last time she saw my mom. Jane picked me up to take me to the airport and I kissed my mom good-bye and opened the door to make a “fast track” to Jane’s car. My mother was in her robe and disoriented with dementia. I never knew what she would say, so to protect myself, I thought I’d spare the two of them meeting.
My mom exclaimed, “Well, I want to say hi to Jane.” So I held her hand and helped her out of her kitchen chair. We walked carefully across the patio of my childhood home to the driveway. In the thirteen months since my father had died, my mother had aged tremendously. Her disorientation was shocking to me. When my mother saw Jane, she smiled a smile I hadn’t seen the whole time I had been home. They hugged and talked briefly and Jane said, “Good-bye Mrs. Gilbert” in the same voice I had heard since high school. It was their last time to see each other.
I miss those sentences we used to say so simply to one another’s parents. It is an odd thing when they are no more.
Jane’s birthday is not quite on Valentine’s Day but close. My husband is my beloved, but she is too. Our hearts and stories deeply wed in love. I have loved Jane longer than my husband. She is one of the greatest gifts of my life. “Happy Birthday, Jane! I love you.”
Becky Allender lives on Bainbridge Island with her loving, wild husband of 36 years. A mother and grandmother, she is quite fond of sunshine, yoga, Hawaiian quilting and creating 17th Century reproduction samplers. A community of praying women, loving Jesus, and the art of gratitude fill her life with goodness. She wonders what she got herself into with Red Tent Living!
So excited to hear Jane’s reaction!!
Sent from my iPhone
Jane was very surprised and she said it was her first birthday she cried on! Grateful you can call her your friend too.
She said it took her breath away! She was VERY surprised.
Lovely comments about a beautiful friend. Jane is one of the most cheerful people I know. It was good you had and still have her as a friend.
It is wonderful that “I still have her.” So mindful of the ache for you without your dear Judy L.
What a beautiful story of true friendship. A gift of a friend like Jane is priceless in this world. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for your kind and very true reply.
Thank you “fellow” Becky.
Beautiful the way you write about the joy & sorrow that co mingles in your precious friendship with Jane. Gotta go find some tissues now.
Thank you Gail. This life holds so a lot of that!
What a sweet reflection of love long lived, Becky. I can’t help but compare it to my recent time with my best friend from Jr. High. Dina and I were thick as thieves, but somehow lost track of each other after High School. Fortunately I found her again about twelve years ago, and it’s now as if we’d never parted. She’d married late like I did, and her dear husband was a believer, though she was not. In the past several years, however, the Love of God as manifest in Christ has converted her unbelieving heart, and it has been so lovely watching her grow, and being able to share the fellowship of not only a kindred spirit, but a true believer.
I spent last Saturday at her lovely home at the ocean in California. Her daughter and mine yakked their heads off, commiserating over the challenges of life as believers in a world of high school foolishness. Her husband, she and I spent hours on the couch that morning drinking coffee and going round and round with stories and tears and smiles. I shared what I’ve been doing in Chicago with them, and they joined me in telling their own stories of grief and glory. The sweetness of their love sustains me.
What a treasure love is. Thanks for sharing, my friend.
I assume you know how lucky you are to have both a Barry and Gilbert in your
So fun to hear about your friend and reconnecting. And even your daughters getting along! Joy! Yes, well said, Gilbert and Barry….priceless.
Loved these words about a long distance friend; especially the visits throughout time and stages of life. Beautiful. I feel longing.
Thank you Vanessa for your kind words. Aging is indeed an odd reality. Friendships are a ballast that gives meaning to the madness.
Love, love, LOVE this story Becky!! I have a “Jane” that I have known since we were 14 and she held my dad’s hand as he was dying and spoke to him of Jesus’ great love for him. My father was a professed agnostic but as she was telling him this, he had tears streaming down his face. I will never forget this picture in my mind and it brings me great comfort especially when I am missing my dad. Thank you so much for your beautiful story as it made me all the more grateful and blessed for my Jane.
Dear Laurie, thank you for your kind words. I loved hearing about your longtime friend with your father. A memory of holiness! We are indeed rich women?
Wow Becky- I read this at work.
what wonderful warmth and love shines through this.I was brought back to Trinity Methodist and seeing your family every Sunday at church in your pew.It doesn’t seem possible that we have both lost our parents. I have patients come in and they are bringing their parent or even grandparent and they are our age.There are times that the unfairness of my loss is hard to accept.I try to breathe deeply, and pull forward memories of my parents , grandparents and brother.Thank you for this warm moment.
Dear Glenna, I too remember your parents every Sunday. Also, remember the birth of your younger sister and watching her grow up. Life’s journey is pricelessly wonderful and horrific. Death was not the original plan and I long and look forward to seeing my parents after Jesus hugs me first! Love to you, Glenna, thank you for taking the time to write.
Wow, what a special friendship. I had tears of joy flow as I read this. Thank you.
Thank you Claudia. Thank you for your tears of joy. Tears…ah, they really are a gift.
This is just exquisite storytelling, and so honoring to your friend and each of your parents. So glad to have met you at Jubilee and to have had you introduce me to this space. Blessings.
Dear Nancy, wow, what a surprise to see your comment. Thanks for reading the entry. I look forward to reading your writing when I depart the glory of Naples with our friends! Thank you for your kind words.
Oh Becky, makes my heart long for a friendship such as this.
Robyn, you are a brave and candid woman. Thank you for your vulnerability. Your heart longs for what is good. Blessings to you.
So much time has passed and you have moved to multiple cities and this friendship has endured, I love that. To have such a friend over decades of time is a tremendous gift of beauty. I found myself holding with gratitude the friendships I have that weathered time and change.
Oh, so true, Tracy. So true. We need to stop and remember. You know the multiple city drill!
Such a heart tugging story you shared here Becky. I absolutely loved what drew you to Jane 🙂 The life, memories, pain, and joy shared here stirs such deep longing in my soul. Thank you for your words.
Thank you. Yes! It was a brilliant moment of intruigue with Jane’s long hair and bangs … the two just didn’t line up and I am grateful we landed in English class together. This life truly is full and deep. Blessings to you.
“My husband is my beloved, but she is too ” – enough love for both – each one offering rich gifts !
It felt a bit outrageous to say that…but my husband was fine with it when he read it.