The Girlfriend Site Logo
Oh no!
It looks like you aren't logged in to The Girlfriend community. Log in or create a free online account today to get the best user experience, participate in giveaways, save your favorite articles, follow our authors and more.
Don't have an account? Click Here To Register

A Woman's Extraordinary Find After A Tragic Loss

Here's a look at a beautiful but unlikely friendship.

Comment Icon
photo collage of 2 ladies with long friendship
Courtesy Karen Romanelli
Comment Icon

I had just turned 11 when I went to my first wake. My older twin brothers lost their best friend, Sal, suddenly. He died of a heart attack at only 15. None of that made sense. He was just at our house — he was always at our house and I tagged along with the three of them enough to know that there were plans to build a go-kart this summer. Kids don't die when there are go-karts to build.

My mom, Joan, was already with Sal’s mother, Martha, by the time I got home from school. They were in the beginning of their friendship. They met at a neighbor’s barbecue and just clicked. It wasn’t hard to click with my mom. She was magnetic. People were drawn to her warmth, her selflessness. Martha was drawn to Joan.

In her husband Tony’s arms, with Sal’s older brother Joe nearby, Martha sobbed into a Snoopy pillowcase. My brothers were outside on the dock where Sal’s dingy sat empty and tethered. My mom was in the kitchen, cleaning. I had a view of Martha and Sal’s pillow. Every so often, she let out a loud wail that would burst the silence and then sob into the pillow again. This was not the first time she suffered the loss of a child. Five years earlier, Martha and Tony lost their daughter Carolee, who was only 24. Tony just kept holding her, I imagine, like he had done before.

Sal died on June 1, 1981. By the time school was out, I had spent most of my free time visiting Martha. My brothers had a paper route and Sal’s house was on the route. Without ever discussing it, we made Sal’s house our last destination. We didn’t just toss their paper on the driveway. Instead, we always walked in and kept Martha company.

Sometimes, the boys left to go home, walked Sal's dog, Spike, or sat on the dock, but I would stay. Most of my time there was spent the same way. Martha and I would sit in the back room, a den with wood paneling, a shag rug and a small TV on a cart only a foot away from us. There was no remote control, just a big silver dial with about four or five channels. Martha would ask me if I wanted to change the channel. I hardly ever did. She held my hand the entire time I sat with her. I held on right back and never minded the tight squeezes. I knew she needed me there. So I always went back the next day.

I remember my mom searching the racks of a clothing store for when “Martha gets out.” When I pulled a pink or purple top as an option, she'd shake her head no and find something black. We piled the counter with an array of black clothes and brought them home to Martha. Sometimes, she and Tony would venture to our house for coffee and Entenmann’s cake. Visits of respite. The nights she came over, I'd make my way to sit next to her, sometimes squeezing onto the same chair. Martha would pull me close, kiss my head, hold my hand and shout to my mom in her shaky-pitched voice, “Joan, can I keep her?” My heart would melt every time this happened and to be honest, as the youngest of nine children, a little part of me took joy in that far-fetched possibility.

I watched how my mom sat and listened to Martha, especially when she would say, "I miss him, Joan." I paid attention to their words, their comfort and their relationship. Despite having a mailbox full of her own troubles, my mom held Martha close, protected her and did her best to assuage her grief-stricken friend.

As their friendship grew, mine and Martha's friendship grew, too, regardless of our 45-year age gap, and together, we unknowingly began to fill our own voids. Born on the same day, March 7, we blew out our birthday candles together. Martha taught me how special it was to be a Pisces, how important it was for me to be happy, and, when I started to date, to not settle for less.

My unique friendship with Martha lasted 41 years. Forty-one years of hand-holding, birthday cake sharing, checking in and guiding. When my family surprised me with a birthday party, she was the surprise. Having lost my mom only a few years before, I sobbed seeing my Martha.

Our friendship may have started because of a terrible loss, but in the end, it was all about gains. My young heart learned early that being a friend simply meant one thing — showing up. I gained an unwanted but valuable lesson in grief. Painful crying into a Snoopy pillowcase grief. Suffering a loss doesn’t mean you have to stop loving. Imagine if Martha did that. Stopped loving. If she had let her twice-shattered heart harden, then whose hand would I have gotten to hold for an entire summer?

Looking back on those days, me nuzzling up close to her, I can hear Martha's voice with that slight tremble, asking, perhaps half joking, if she could keep me. I guess, in a way, she did get to keep me. How lucky were we that we both kept each other?

Do you have a close friend who is much older or younger than you are? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Relationships