After living through something of an extended state of emergency since March 2020, it has become even more clear to me — and to many — who’s in my ride-or-die crew. I wouldn’t be where I am today without great friends in my life. But even though I know that, I often forget to say thank you. And maybe you have, too.
And that’s why The Girlfriend launched a Gratitude Contest in late 2021. We asked you to write a brief essay about how the power of friendship, whether with one friend or a circle of friends, has transformed your life since March 2020. We received a mountain of wonderful essays. Below are the top three winners of Visa gift cards totaling $1,000, $500 and $250. Plus, I included an additional eight or so essays, just because it's so fabulous to celebrate friendship! Congrats to all!
Tina Rogney — First place winner
I've never been more grateful for girlfriends than this year. In July my beautiful 19-year-old son passed away unexpectedly. When tragedy strikes, people respond, but the way my best friend, Marnie Karels, and my cherished book club reacted wrapped me in immense kindness and friendship. Our son and family love to cook as an expression of love. He enjoyed cooking at the homeless shelter, community harvest dinners, and was looking forward to hosting an omelet bar at church the week he passed away. You can imagine how important it was for us to have a special meal for his celebration of life. Enter my dear girlfriends! When asked if they would prepare a meal made with love to serve 400, their answer was an emphatic YES without hesitation! Their compassion didn't end there. Three months later, on the eve of his birthday, I looked out my window and what I saw took my breath away. Our home was surrounded by hundreds of luminaries. My husband choked back his tears, as mine flowed freely. The luminaries enveloped us in a huge embrace, assuring us we were remembered and loved. Throughout these months, my best friend connected with me almost daily; silly or sentimental text messages, and thoughtful phone calls. She put my needs ahead of her needs day after day. She lifted me up, held me, loved me. Recently, she invited us on vacation, her treat. The offer was so kind, and our gratitude so complicated, but we accepted the gift. Although recent changes with the pandemic have made the trip uncertain, the gesture remains undeniably caring. This year has reinforced the importance of girlfriends, their sheer power to help you through life's greatest challenges, and provided a reminder of how much I have to be grateful for despite my heartache.
Elsa Maria Garcia — Second place winner
I have much to be grateful for including a close group of girlfriends, but today I’d like to share with you the one person with whom I spent the most time with in 2020/2021 — my friend and colleague, Mitssy. Outside of work I was only visiting my parents to deliver food once a week with a quick wave from the driveway; work was the one place where I got any interaction with others. Being in a hospital (we are both managers in food service), we were blessed to be able to keep going to work while others had to stay shut in at home. At the same time, hospital life was totally changed. You hear all the stories about the doctors and nurses, but there are others behind the scenes who go unseen. We were together at least five days a week, often for 14 hours a day or more.
Mitssy and I already had a strong friendship but during the last year we both went through a lot and it brought us closer. Pre 2020, we often made last minute decisions to catch a movie, head to happy hour, or go see a concert; we shared the ups and downs of our lives. I lost two aunts and a close cousin last year, none to COVID-19. Mitssy was there to support me through those losses. I had my own illnesses and Mitssy was there checking on me. She took it upon herself to start each work day by sending the management team a daily motivational quote. During the 2020 holidays our team was struggling with the fact that one of our own was in ICU due to COVID (we lost her New Year’s Eve). Mitssy set up décor and helped ensure we still managed keep our spirits up. All of this and more make me forever grateful.
Cindi Clarke — Third place winner
In 2020, my husband left me for his pregnant girlfriend and meth. I moved from Wisconsin to West Virginia in November, to be near my sister in Virginia. I work from home and my job moved with me.
In April, I became ill, and in August I was told I had stage four colon cancer in my liver and lymph nodes. The doctor said there was a slim chance I would survive even with chemo and surgery to remove parts of my colon and liver. I spent two months making end-of-life arrangements for myself while waiting for insurance to approve confirmation biopsies.
In August, my 1999 truck got a flat tire. All four tires had dry rot and would need to be replaced right away. Tires and other needed costs were going to be more than the truck was worth, especially if I wasn’t going to live much longer. I sold it for scrap and paid medical bills.
But I needed to get to appointments, and had no friends in the area that I could ask for help. I posted a request on a community Facebook page asking if anyone could give me a ride to an urgent appointment that week.
Nancy F. responded, and took me to appointments including a colonoscopy over an hour away. I joined a church within walking distance. Mike H. and Ann D. also helped me get to appointments, grocery stores, and pharmacies. Mike drove me six hours roundtrip for my liver biopsies, sleeping in his car while I was having the procedure.
In mid-October, I finally got some good news. Biopsies taken from three different organs did not show any signs of cancer. I am feeling blessed and grateful for a miraculous healing and the amazing new friends I have made.
And a few other amazing stories of friendship:
In 2017, I was newly single, and unsure about the direction of my life as a ‘middle-aged’ woman who should be relegated to the background.
In 2012, I joined Meetup in search of like-minded men, women — anyone who could help fill the void that existed as I accepted my new state of affairs. I attended happy hours, spade games, and even a five-course dinner. But, unfortunately, nothing caught my interest.
Then, in 2017, I decided to join Black Baby Boomers Just Want to Have Fun. I’m intrigued! I’m a Baby Boomer! I want to have fun! Maybe this group would be what I needed to bring me back to the fun woman I used to be before my heartbreak. So, without knowing exactly what to expect, I ventured out to meet these ladies and see if we had anything in common. I was a newly minted-in-denial-baby-boomer in search of life after 50, I was all in. After all, what did I have to lose?
The first event that I attended was a brunch at a cute spot in lower Manhattan. The host was a gracious and recently retired woman with more energy than any woman my age or younger. We laughed, talked about life, men, and even shared a few heartwarming stories about love and loss. I found myself attending more events — dinners, Star Wars movies, off-off Broadway plays, weekend trips to Atlantic City, Washington, DC, a Disco Cruise, and even a burlesque show! Oh my … I think I may have found my tribe!
In 2020, our lovely host planned a cruise to Alaska. Then COVID-19 came upon us, bringing shut-downs, quarantines, work-from-home directives, and canceled travel plans. But that didn’t stop our host from finding other innovative ways for us to connect through video chats, virtual games/entertainment, and movie nights.
I am grateful for the members of Black Baby Boomers Just Want to Have Fun and I am appreciative of the host, whose time and dedication kept us together during this difficult time even when we were apart.
Marguerite (Molly) Mahoney
There once was a woman named Molly whose life was forever changed with the budding of a priceless friendship. The time was March 2020. Molly was completely submerged in debt. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. Then one rainy day a miracle occurred. By accident, Molly happened to meet a very special person where she resided named Jan. Her prayers had finally been answered. As they visited with one another, they began to form what would become an everlasting friendship. Molly and Jan had bonded for life. My newfound friend helped me through my financial storm. She gave me money, food, necessities for my car, and figuratively gave me the blouse off of her back. I am eternally grateful for her kindness, generosity, compassion, friendship, and, above all, her love.
Rachel Kramer Bussel
I used to live in New York City, where I met my friend Twanna in my early 30s. We quickly became friends who could talk all night, go on road trips and travel together (even though we once forgot our hotel's address), and laugh about ourselves. We've both since left New York — me for suburban New Jersey, her for Washington, DC. Before the March 2020 lockdown, we'd already started monthly Zoom calls to discuss our respective businesses, mine as a writer, editor and writing coach, hers as an entrepreneur specializing in nonprofits.
Our calls are usually a mix of business and personal details, jumbled together in the way of longtime friends who are open to sharing their most intimate secrets with each other. There were many times last year where I felt totally isolated. Despite living with my boyfriend, the lack of in-person interaction with any other humans felt daunting. What was the point of professional success if I couldn't enjoy it by traveling or going out at all? Talking with Twanna helped me focus on both my immediate next steps and a hopefully brighter future ahead. Planning our businesses’ growth while recognizing how far we'd each come from jobs that didn't suit us helped buoy me when I couldn't fathom the idea of writing, let alone teaching others how to write.
Our friendship has been full of fun and sometimes ridiculous moments, like getting locked out of our Curaçao hotel room while hanging out on the balcony, or the time I mistook cows for horses (trust me, they were far away). We've also had our share of disagreements that could have ended our friendship, but didn't. I'm so grateful to and inspired by her, both when we talk, and from afar when I cheer on her successes online.
How can I express my gratitude for Linda in 300 words? Linda and I met 17 years ago at an employee Christmas party held for our husbands. Despite our age difference of 20 years, we were instant “Kindred Spirits”.
We met for a walk that weekend. Our “walks and talks” became a weekly tradition that spanned many years. We “walked and talked” our way through my traumatic divorce, the death of my parents, her daughter’s battle with cancer, the loss of pets, and more. COVID-19 hit and life changed dramatically for both of us.
Linda retired early. She and her husband moved in with her daughter, hours away. I left my banking career and moved near my daughter, also hours away. With our walks no longer being possible, we offer support and inspiration to each other by telephone and email.
I was floundering, not wanting to return to banking but not knowing what I did want, except it needed to be meaningful. Linda called one morning, very excited. She had been reading a fiction book where the main character was a Death Doula. Linda said about halfway through the book, it hit her like lightening. She thought, “This character IS Sherry! She embodies everything Sherry is, and has done for people.”
I started researching and realized that my banking experience with Estate, Trust, and POA accounts combined with years of personal experience as an unpaid caregiver for family which included helping them die the way the wanted, was part of what a Death Doula does. I became a certified Death Doula. This never would have happened if not for Linda. Linda gave me a wall hanging that reads “She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” I read this daily.
Since the pandemic began, my mom has been my best friend. We both work from home and we have become occasional co-workers since March 2020. She is always just a call or text away to help with whatever I need. I became pregnant with my first child in March 2021 and she was instrumental in keeping me sane. I went through severe antepartum depression and she always knew what to say when I wanted to give up. When I went into early labor, she was right there and ready to help whenever I needed anything. She was also present for the birth of my baby girl. I don’t know how I would have gotten through that tough time without her by my side. As a new mom, I often need help and she has agreed to work from my home while I get the hang of being a new mom. She is the best woman on earth and I am so grateful that she is my mom. I wish to be even half the woman she is for my daughter.
March 2020. The exact date was March 12th, 2020. The world as I knew it changed. I was going through a divorce, living on my own for the first time in my life at age 50. I had people around me all the time to fill an empty void in my life. Suddenly, the world closed in and became very small. The dozens of friends and family became a select few. Over the next year, I lost my brother, I sold my house and figured out how much my close girlfriends meant to me. They rallied. They helped me pack, moved me and helped me start my new life, all during a pandemic and in spite of their own family issues. My friends had family members pass, lost jobs, went through divorce, homeschooled kids, and took care of parents. Yet they continued to show up. My daughter’s wedding was postponed three times. A destination wedding when no one wants to travel. Yet they wouldn’t miss it for anything. Once again, they were there. They put their lives on hold, arranged for pet sitters, babysitters, and husband sitters, and traveled to Disney for a week. Day one of the vacation I broke my ankle. Crutches and a wheelchair for the mother of the bride. They drove me, pushed me, and took care of everything. They made sure my daughter’s day was special and never missed a moment to fill in for me when I had limited mobility. These girls showed up for me time and time again. And then they made me even more grateful for showing up for my daughter. I didn’t know it was possible to cherish five ladies the way I do. Grateful does not even come close to describing how I feel.
In March of 2020 I was coming off six weeks of leave from having a hysterectomy. I had watched every show available and read every book on my must-read list. I was ready to jump back into the world and I did for two weeks before the first lockdown hit Michigan. March was supposed to be a time of birthday celebrations, bucket list trips and brunch. Instead it became cancelled plans, working from home, and me staring at my now empty calendar wondering what comes next.
The early days of lockdown became me clicking "add to cart", rediscovering my love of carbs (man how I missed cupcakes), sleeping and having the occasional panic attack. You get the picture. I was clearly managing things very well so thank god for my partner in life and for my friends. We checked in, we made sure we each had what we needed and more importantly we created a little pod. You may have had one yourself. A small group of friends making sure you were taken care of. That was us. Simon and his husband Kyle. Shana, Tom and their two girls. My partner Kirk and me. Our pod — which was really Simon, Shana and I with the grand ideas to hold movie nights, try out new wines, have game nights or puzzle parties, and have dinners where we introduced ourselves to the spectacular Julia Child.
We checked in sometimes hourly and overshared on Marco videos. We bonded over the most ridiculous things, ate delicious meals, devoured a lot of meat and cheese, and more importantly helped each other navigate a time where we were not sure what would come next. We were the little pod that could. Two extroverts, an introverted-extrovert, and our families making it work a million texts at a time.
The message started with an apology. No one wants to share bad news via group text. It went on to say that their 13-year marriage was over. “I can’t talk this evening. It is too fresh.”
Texts of support filled with heart emojis flooded the thread. In side messages, a plan to order chocolate-covered strawberries was hatched. Our group text displays as, “Sassy & Powerful AF Mofos” in my phone. Since March 2020, this name has proven to be especially apropos.
We met in honors classes in junior high. I don’t think we’ve changed much in over 35 years. We’re the same lovable nerds, except now we drink and swear freely. In the real world, we are a pediatric oncologist, a boarding school teacher, a speech pathologist, and a dietitian-turned-writer. But, in our digital ecosystem, we are still awkward 12 year olds.
Steven delights us with his culinary masterpieces. Chelle offers words of encouragement. Jess always has the perfect meme. I’m the self-appointed astrologer and DJ, sharing the latest planetary happenings and “dance ditties".
The pandemic forced us all to experience painful endings to the lives we once knew. In addition to the sudden divorce, there was financial loss, the end of a career, the illness of a beloved grandmother, and having a parent unexpectedly move in.
Together, we learned that sometimes what gets stripped away was meant to go. The end of a marriage turned into the beginning of a beautiful love story. Careers were reimagined and family bonds were strengthened. Personally, I fulfilled my dream of writing and publishing a book.
Although the pandemic has created great loss, my heart feels unexpectedly full. I know that no matter what life throws at me I have a group of Sassy & Powerful Mofos just a text away.