Making the case for girlfriends (If I could talk to my mother today)

I would have girlfriends today if for no other reason than that my mother didn’t, and I viewed her life as lacking in that one very important way.

Of course I think of my own mother this time of year, and I remember sadly the way she died.  ALS is a scary ending.  She was already widowed by then and was lost without him.  Those years before she left us are difficult in memory even after more than a decade.  During that long time of being bedridden, no girlfriends came to visit.

And not a single solitary girlfriend crossed my mother’s threshold in all the years I lived at home.  Her husband and her work were everything to her.  She talked about school chums, but I never met any. 

Maybe her own mother would be the closest she had to a girlfriend, if by that you mean telling each other nearly everything.  But there was more competition there than support and I wouldn’t want  a relationship like the one they had – not with a friend and not with a mother.

At the end of her life, her accomplishments were (I hope) what she had as comfort.  Professional colleagues phoned – singers and musicians and fellow evangelists.  But no girlfriend called.

It’s not because we’re going to die eventually that we need girlfriends.  It’s not just so we have them available for bedside vigils. It’s because of the ways they help us live.

Everything is easier with girlfriends and when the going gets rough, even if a girlfriend can’t make the trouble go away, her presence makes it better.  Boyfriends and husbands and other relatives can be a comfort, but perhaps because the language between girlfriends doesn’t require translation, understanding is immediate.

Not just for mothers, but for all women, I wish us more time to appreciate girlfriends – both old and new.  For anyone who’s lost a girlfriend – through moving or death or attrition of any kind, go find a replacement right away.

Ó Anita Garner 2009


What does “Aging Gracefully” Mean Anyway?

I just came back from spending the weekend with a girlfriend in a nearby town.  (Yes, we still call ourselves “girlfriends” after more than three decades of adult friendship.) When we have a girls’ weekend, we talk constantly, eat out, critique every movie, TV show, book and nutrition plan we’ve heard of, and inevitably, the subject turns to how it feels to be this age. 

Becoming a grandmother isn’t what made me realize I’m aging.  It started when my last parent passed.  That’s when I first listened to whispers of my own mortality.  Every morning, one of the whispers says, “Better get moving.  Get to doing.”

Occasionally I don’t feel all that graceful when I wake up and parts of me don’t work as well as they used to.  (Knees, I’m talking to you.)  At first I’m ticked off, but by the end of the day I ask myself, what did you expect?  Things aren’t brand new anymore.

I learned nothing from my upbringing about aging gracefully.  My mother’s only advice about the passing years was to encourage the use of more moisturizer so boys will like you.  She considered all men potential boyfriends and in her teens she married a man who, through some combination of mercy and grace, turned into a grown-up husband who behaved like her sweetheart all the days of their lives.  He raised his wife along with us kids while she clung tenaciously to the role of teenager, even in the face of some gritty realities.

When I got my first mailer from AARP, I jumped right into their arms.  There I was coasting along in the vague category of ‘somewhere past her mid-forties” and as long as my grown daughter wasn’t around, nobody knew for sure.  Then came that AARP card and full disclosure set in.  It felt like a kind of freedom.

I asked my mother once on a particularly significant birthday, did she feel any different?  She said what we’ve all heard a million times, that she still felt 18 inside.

I’ve had several significant birthdays of my own since I asked her that, and now I know what she meant.  And she was also right about the moisturizer.  Much more of it is required.

Most days I don’t care whether taking good care of my skin (I still do it) makes anyone like me better, because another surprise benefit of getting older is that it doesn’t matter as much what somebody else thinks.  I wish my mother had allowed herself that perk.

During this latest girlfriend weekend, we agreed that aging doesn’t feel like a cause for despair, but instead it feels like a gift, something we get to do if we’re lucky. Aging gratefully is something I wish my mother had understood.  

Ó By Anita Garner 2009