After Your Mother Has Died There Are The Irreplaceable Friends

I was born this month, 49 years ago, which makes May a very, um, approaching-50 sort of month for me. Thank goodness I still have the emotional intelligence of a 17 year old or I’d really be in trouble. I’d actually love being where I am in life, if my body wasn’t shape-shifting. Sarah Gilbert Fox's mother, the lovely Betty Gilbert.This metamorphosis into being a real woman is daunting, because now I realize that I have to solely rely on my dapper charms (of which I’m lacking), my academic genius (of which there is an astronomical dearth) and my powerful intuition (which so far has fired up like the engine of a Pinto about twice in my lifetime). As my eight year old daughter says, “It’s not fair, Mommy.” And you know what? She’s right. That proverbial “It” – life – really isn’t fair, but that doesn’t mean we have to get all victimy about it. It’s all about attitude (finally, something of which I am not lacking!).

Instead of looking at my body and thinking, “Ewww, I’m turning into my Mother,” I look at my hands and remember the way her hands looked when she danced into a room. “Tra la!” she would say, upon entrance, her arms out wide. Nary a time did I think, “Ewww, look at her body.” I always just thought about how wonderful she was – how marvelous her zest for life – how tremendous her unconditional love.

I was so blessed to have had Mom in my life for as long as I did. And as monumentally sad as it was to lose her, I’ve been lucky enough to have extraordinary women help fill the gap she left.

Women can be tricky, but when you find the ones who have let their defenses down — (because that’s where all that cattiness comes from anyway… vulnerable women who aren’t yet confident of their worth) – when you finally find a woman who loves you, that’s a true gift.

I think about my best friends: Anne, Denise, Katie, Jamie, Jennifer, Lynne, Margaret, Tracy. They are all so important to me.  And one not more important than the other.

I think to Lynne and how we hated each other on sight, but somehow we managed to finagle our way into each others lives. She’s the one who leaves “mystery” Mother’s Day presents at my front door, raids my house with her kindness when I least expect it (and most need it), and remembers the small things in life, like bringing my husband cookies for his birthday. “You know, Sarah, Bill really loves his cookies.”

And when I get on the phone with her in the middle of the night to wail-and-rail about how “it isn’t fair,” she’s the one who says, “you’re right. But I’m going to stay on the other end of this line and be here for you.” That’s my Lynnie. Even though the cookies she brings Bill are, perhaps, are the worst cookies ever put on this planet (“Give them to the dogs,” he says), she’s always on the other end being perfectly there for me.

I think about how my husband is now in a facility suffering from Alzheimer’s, and how, when he didn’t want people to know yet, I could speak with Anne and be assured that she kept my secrets; and how Margaret, her sister, sent a check for Billy because she knew I was struggling.  When other people kept asking if they could help (and I kept refusing), Margaret went out and brought a sweet card, wrote out a check, and sent it. I’ve known Margaret since she was a spirited red-head in elementary school and she chose me to be her friend – or I chose her… and if I chose her, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Katie and I met on a plane to Morocco and we’ve been up and down the United States to see each other many times – and many more times we’ve cried to each other over the phone about some really horrid tragedies we’ve experienced.  She flew to DC last year to cook our first Thanksgiving meal in our first house and she made the entire meal herself.  My mother died over 20 years ago and, until last year, nobody had ever made me a Thanksgiving meal.

Denise…she’s always, always there for me.  When I call about my kid, my car, my husband, she’s there.  She was the first one in my life when I moved here, and even though we don’t see each other every day, I pick up the phone and call her and there she is. We’ve had important talks that have pulled me through – and continue to pull me through – some of my hardest times.  I know if I need a fast save, Denise will be the one to save me.

Jennifer is my newest best friend.  She’d probably cringe to know she’s being labeled as best friend now, because we haven’t known each other that long.  But how long do you have to be friends with someone before you peg them as one of your life-time keepers?  Hopefully it’s the heart that knows, because my heart has a lot of really good things to say about Jenn.  She and her husband, Tom, walk by our house every day with their dogs.  More often than not, we flag them down and pull them into our front yard so their dogs can go leashless and we can all relax and talk about, well, everything.  Yesterday, because of Jennifer, we invited anyone in the neighborhood who walked by with a dog to come into our small front yard.  Because of Jenn, we ended up with a whole slew of new friends, and nine dogs that, well… whoops!… there went the tulips…. trampled.  And you know what?  I can’t imagine a better way for those tulips to have met their untimely demise.  Because in their place, grew fond memories and new friends.

And Jamie… the woman who published my novels and — when she became sick right after my mother died — made a very careful call to tell me so, because she knew how much her illness would affect me.  One time we were fossil hunting on Edisto Island and I asked her, “If you could describe me in one word, what would that be?”  I was sure she’d say “humorous,” but instead she said, “compassionate.”  It was one of those life-changing moments. She saw through my needing to entertain side to my who-I-really-was side.  She taught me about myself and continues to teach me.

As for Tracy, I’m not sure why we’re friends, because I’m not sure how she put up with me in the beginning.  She was my first boss, and within the first week, she was ready to fire me!  But she stuck by my side and we built a magazine together and have since ventured into other areas, as well.  Where I could care less about fashion, Tracy is practically Jackie-O.  Where she drives the fancy cars, I’m just happy to drive anything — or take the metro.  But where I’m weak in life, she’s strong, and she’s taught me to be stronger.  Plus, she overlooked my not fitting in and helped me to tailor my creative ways so I could fit into the more organized world in which I stand.

Lynne used to tell me, when I’d ask her, “How come so many women don’t seem to like me?” — “Sarah, you’re a lot of person.  You’re funny, pretty, dynamic.  It takes a strong woman to like you.  The ones who don’t like you are weenies…. but, in fact, you have a lot of good women friends.”  And she’s right.  I do.

When I look at my best friends, I see a line of strong, vibrant women — a seemingly powerful fortress surrounding me in spirit.

As did my mother.

Nobody will ever replace my mother.  But then, nobody will ever replace my friends either.  They mean the world to me.

If I have one wish for my daughter, it’s that she, too, has a life filled with the same.