‘FOREVER FRIENDS’ ADD JOY TO LIFE
By NANCY PATRICK
I recently celebrated my high school reunion for the 1968 graduating class of Abilene High School. I surprised myself by my own anticipation and emotional reaction to this event. The actual weekend far exceeded my expectations. Although some of us had stayed in the area and seen each other throughout the years, most had had no contact during those 50 years. I admit shock when I saw 68-year-old people whom I had last seen at 18 years of age. Fortunately, I had the wonderful experience of reconnecting with several close friends from those days, the experience prompting me to think about the importance of intimate, lasting friendships that sustain us through a lifetime.
One of those special friends for me is Sandie Sherrard Bergeron, who has been my friend since second grade. We grew up in the same neighborhood, went all through school together, got married one week apart, and have stayed in touch over the years in spite of living miles apart.There is something very sustaining about a lifelong friend. Sandie knows all about me—as a child, an adolescent, a young adult, a parent—and yet the two of us have remained friends. Friends like Sandie who know all about the other person resemble spouses who stay married to each other even after finding all the warts. When Sandie and I visit, the years evaporate as we pick up a conversation as though it began yesterday.Sandie and I have remained friends throughout the journey of life: childhood, adulthood, marriage, children, deaths of parents, and now, our senior years. Although we have lived what I would call average lives, our relationship has enriched both our families.
God sent another special friend to me many years after our school days. Judy Elliott and I had attended high school together though we had not been close friends. We went separate ways after graduation, and I did not see her again for two decades. Through a series of events, I began teaching a women’s Sunday school class which Judy joined.At age 42, Judy discovered a malignant breast lump. She then began a journey on which I accompanied her and greatly learned from her. Judy fought her disease with every option available to her: mastectomy, chemotherapy, maintenance drugs, and alternative treatments. After a brief remission, she had a recurrence: again—chemotherapy, radiation, and drugs.Her third recurrence in as many years devastated her friends, yet she kept fighting.Judy’s continued interest in life and those around her amazed me. Judy never wallowed in self-pity; on the contrary, she came to Sunday school as long as she could endure the pain. Judy taught me that whatever my problems, I had tomorrow to face them. The last three weeks of Judy’s life allowed time for her and her friends to express their love and say their goodbyes. Remarkable to the end, Judy Elliott Killough died at the age of 45.
Another friend who made a significant impact on my life, Kathye Wallace, attended the same women’s Sunday class Judy attended. Our friendship lasted only three years.A very large, sanguine woman, Kathye never met a stranger. When she entered a room, everyone else stopped talking because they knew Kathye would have stories to tell. She never seemed to have a dull week, partially because her job as a social worker placed her in charge of many troubled teenaged girls. Since she never had children of her own, Kathye became a mother figure to dozens of girls. Kathye’s enthusiasm and zest for life made her an integral part of our Sunday school class. She attended Judy’s funeral with all of us. Nothing could have prepared usfor Kathye’s own funeral three weeks later after she suffered a fatal brain aneurism.The women in the Sunday school class never quite recovered from the loss of two of our
most intimate friends, but we did learn that God gives us great treasures through friendship, which weaves the very tapestries of our lives.
I met another long-term friend in 1980 when I attended a welcome breakfast for Cooper High School’s newly hired teachers. Although Sally Carthel was several years older than I, neither of us knew anyone else, so we gravitated toward each other. After the meeting, we went to lunch together, and I learned that Sally had moved to Abilene to begin a new life after leaving a difficult marriage. She brought with her only the essentials to set up the barest of housekeeping. Her courage greatly impressed me.I have now known Sally for 38 years. She has mentored me in both my personal and spiritual lives. Many times she has offered her counsel in matters that saved me from doing some pretty stupid things. She has enough years on me to see some situations more discerningly than I do. She has a spiritual wisdom and faith that I lack. She has remained a true and faithful friend through our families’ tragedies and triumphs.
“Deborah” represents the women’s Sunday school classes I have taught in various churches over many years. Deborah, an Old Testament judge when women seldom held positions of authority, fittingly, represents wisdom, authority, strength, and endurance.
The network of female friends in my life has blessed me greatly. Authentic friends provide an outlet through which women can share their common concerns: marriage, jobs, children, friends, emotions, and fears. Friendships with no masks can save us from despair. Even when no one has an answer, the ability to unburden ourselves offers great solace. I will always thank God for those friends who have enriched my life by living theirs.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing.