Getting to the Nitty Gritty

Girlfriends and the meaning of life

When given this opportunity to write about friendship I started to think who my friends were now and who had been my friends over the last 60 years... a daunting task...  a little analysis revealed that at any one time I seem to have between 6 to 8 close, usually female friends, apart from a relationship with a husband, partner or lover.

Only one of these friends, Judith now a retired Doctor who still does locums in Aboriginal communities where she is much loved, goes back to my childhood and she has remained a constant, important presence in my life despite all the moves we have both had. I can still remember how she came to be my friend way back in 1956.

She was the only child of German Jewish refugees known then as ‘refos’ and when she arrived at my Presbyterian school she was definitely an outsider. Not only that, she had a chronic digestive illness that required her to spend most of her lunch hour on her own eating slowly. I had one other close friend then, and when I saw frail and sickly Judith day after day sitting alone outside the Principal’s office, I invited her to join us. We didn’t care how long it took for her to finish her lunch and soon we were a trio!

Judith was a close friend all through school, and although we did not re-unite until after both of us had finished University and started our families, our friendship was renewed and has blossomed over the years as we shared so many travails and joys together. She was both my children’s doctor and my mother’s during her twilight years and they had a close relationship.

I met another friend of 35 years when I took on the task of teaching her disabled son (now he would be diagnosed as Autistic). He became functionally literate and I gained another special friend, one of the strongest and scariest women I’ve ever seen in defence of her son and those like him. And she never stops telling me the truth even when it is not too palatable. Over my lifetime so far I realise many of my friends have come via shared interests and passions and often I took the initiative to search them out.

My three year Hakomi training was a rich harvest for friendship and several people remained my friends after the training was completed. One is still a close friend even though our lives do not give us as many opportunities as we would like to be together.

Some years ago after one of the lowest periods of my life, I joined a group of women writers, all strangers to each other, on a trek and camping trip in the West MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia led by a wonderful facilitator/writer whom I knew through her writing workshops. This amazing group is still functioning well today using a group email link where we all write about our lives with honesty, panache and humour, and we also visit each other whenever we can.

A similar thing has happened with my Acappella gospel choir which I joined knowing no-one. We probably see more of each other than some members of our families and we share many aspects of our lives as well as our love of music, singing and performance. One former member of that group, another psychologist, remains a friend with whom I share supervision and personal counselling.

All of these friends have taught me the secret ingredients that keep such friendships alive apart from shared interests: loyalty, kindness, acceptance, honesty, humour, insight, fun and the ability to get over the inevitable bumps and lumps of relationships with grace. However I learnt the most about friendship from two special women who died all too soon, after we became friends. And in both cases I had the bitter sweet privilege of speaking about each of them at their funerals.

I met Joy a woman in her early fifties, in remission from serious cancer, during the Hakomi training. This is part of what I said at her funeral not long after the training ended.
People wait for the big moment, the great event, and forget happiness comes from building steadily on small daily events of life. People wait for that special moment to express love and forget that love springs from thoughtfulness expressed every day. People wait but waiting is the future, and now is always the time.

Joy knew this in the way she lived her life even in the shadow of death. So many of her friends have mementos and memories of her unfailing thoughtfulness. The scarves, the beanies, the bookmarks, the Chenille rug she knitted for another member of the Hakomi group, Annie, whose baby sits on it every day. In typical Joy fashion when she gave it to Annie she said, mischievously, Its yellow chenille I don’t know why I did that- much giggling- I suppose you will not thank me it will come off on everything when you wash it.

When she joined the Hakomi Psychotherapy training later that most of us I know she had misgivings thinking that a bunch of therapists would not accept her as she was a Hakomi client but not yet a practising therapist. And in the way of groups it took a while. She was determined to learn in this process and learn she did- more than all of us- she learnt who she really was, how she had become that way and what really mattered to her and she shared her forthright ideas with friends and family often with daunting accuracy.

Yet her love of harmless gossip and fun was never far away. Neil another member of Hakomi training group and I shared many happy days in the Seminary with her where we stayed during the training. We were the boarders and developed a special bond which had much to do with Joy and her spirit of fun and optimism. She saw bull shit sooner than most and was not afraid to say so but never in a way that was hurtful. It was much harder for her to acknowledge and express her own needs and feelings- that was one of the many things she learnt during her Hakomi experience and she did this in her own characteristic way- simple, authentic and direct.

I met Kaye, my other special friend, through another group of creative women when I was living down the far south coast. She had a large group of friends and colleagues and was much loved, respected and active in her local community.

The following is some of what I said about Kay.
My most potent memory of Kay is the way she opened her door and greeted you on the threshold. She would stand back a little, head tilted, and arms wide open, a smile covering her face while with a laugh she clasped you in her embrace saying, Come in Come in, Narelle, it’s so good to see you. Her great gift was to make all her friends feel special. You felt as if you were the most important person in her world at that moment even though you knew she welcomed all in the same way.

I grieve for the fact that my friendship with Kay was cut off cruelly before it hardly began. And yet maybe its very brevity and the fact that most of our time together was when she was dying meant we wasted no time with niceties and got to the nitty gritty. I immediately liked her strong presence and sense of fun. We clicked and quickly our friendship developed into sharing life experiences, many of which we had in common, both good and bad. She was, in her sixties, still an attractive and sensual woman, and I also liked her guts and her steeliness when she was challenged. Apparently one of her friends said- when hearing of her illness-You can’t die yet- I’ll never get to win an argument with you.

Kay and I did not always agree but we could have robust and honest discussions. And as I journeyed with her in her illness we found that this was valuable for both of us. Kay knew before anyone else that she was not going to see the year out. When she came out of the doctor’s room that day only six months before she died, she looked at me with a wry smile and said, Bugger bugger bugger. She approached her dying with directness and courage even though she had a lot to fear- more in the way it might happen as well as the prospect of losing the most precious thing we all have- our life and the people we love.

As she contemplated what she might like to do before she died I was struck at how simple her list was- a bike ride with the bikie club, a re-union with her girlfriends, a horse ride, precious times with old and new friends, the odd glass of champagne, and being with her family right up to the end and she achieved all of these...

Like others I sat by her bedside and sometimes I read to her the cards from her friends of all ages, children included. I noticed how people thanked her for her many acts of kindness and for the practical help that Kay had given them. She gave of her time and bounty to the community that she loved so much.

And yet for all this generosity, for all her talents, real achievements and her strength, like most of us, there was also a vulnerability, and for Kay this meant there were times when she was assailed with self-doubt which sometimes spiralled into depression. Characteristically she overcame this and helped others do the same.

My last memory of Kay was when we had a final drink together. Jenny her sister told me that Kay had previously reprimanded her for serving her a drink in a plastic glass, so that this time she arrived in the bedroom with two of Kay’s special crystal glasses. The one for Kay had plum juice with only a little red wine as by that stage she could hardly eat or drink anything. I helped raise the glass slowly to her lips. She took a sip and then another. She looked at me with a grin and said, Shit this is good.

And the same could be said for my friendship with Kay and all it taught me.

Posted on 13 August 2013 in - Temenos Journal - Friendship

Narelle Scotford

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