Women — we need our girlfriends. Whether biological or not, girlfriends are an essential part of our lives.
My first girlfriend
My first girlfriend was Roberta. I was 4½ years old and it was my first day of school — Bais Yaakov kindergarten. This was my first experience being away from my mother, and I don’t remember what I thought or whether I cried.
But I do remember this. As I got on the school bus, two girls were sitting together in the second seat on the right. The older one said, “Do you want to sit with us?” She scooted over, making room. “My name is Ricka. This is my sister, Roberta.” As it turned out, this too was Roberta’s first day of kindergarten.
Roberta and I were friends for many years. I spent numerous hours at her house. Her family was so different than mine. She had two brothers as well as her sister. They were a noisy, happy bunch, always lively, always shouting. My family was quiet and extremely dull in comparison.
Though Roberta and I wound up in different schools by 7th grade, the friendship survived for a few more years. We lost contact in college.
In September 2020, I saw Roberta’s obituary on the Sol Levinson & Bros. Funeral Home website. She appeared happy and carefree in the posted photo, which was comforting. No husband or children were mentioned in the obituary, only her siblings. I regretted not seeing or speaking to her since high school. The funeral was private and no shiva was held due to COVID-19. Communication with the family consisted of posting condolences and memories on the Levinson website. I did so, hoping the family remembered me.
High school and college
In high school I put together a core group of girlfriends. However, except for one, those friendships didn’t last. At the University of Maryland I began making long-term girlfriends. Some were older; some were younger. Age didn’t matter anymore.
A special adult girlfriend
About 17 years ago, when I worked at Sinai Hospital, I met a co-worker, also named Eileen. Sometimes you meet someone, and you immediately feel compatible and bonded. That was how I felt about Eileen. We were Jewish Baltimore girls and had many friends in common. She was like an older sister. She looked out for me and knew the ins and outs of hospital politics. We often spent our lunch hours together, working on the crossword puzzle, exchanging recipes or just gossiping. When the weather was nice, we ate at our desks and then took a walk in Cylburn Park across the street.
Eileen was the social worker for Sinai’s Cancer Institute. Among other responsibilities, she led the hospital’s cancer support groups. Her upbeat attitude and propensity to laugh and have fun was an asset for the patients.
Unlike other work relationships, our friendship extended beyond the workplace. Eileen was divorced and lived alone, and liked to keep busy by going to plays, movies and festivals. I was often her “date.”
I left Sinai after three years, but we kept in touch. One day, as I sat in the office at my new job, she phoned. “I have a mass on my ovary. It’s most likely cancer.”
My reply, “S–t!” There was nothing else to say. We both knew if the diagnosis was correct, she was in for a long, hard battle. How ironic that the Cancer Institute’s patient support social worker had a cancer with a terrible prognosis.
Eileen underwent surgery and chemotherapy, but the disease had progressed to Stage III. She asked for privacy at this time, to be with her grown children and her closest friends, and I respected that. The last time I saw her we met for lunch. Her spirts were good but tinged with sadness. Shortly thereafter, Eileen was admitted to hospice; she died a few days later.
Levinson’s was crowded the day of her funeral. She touched so many lives in her 56 years. And though much time has gone by, her voice and her laugh are still in my head.
Thank you, girlfriends
I know girlfriends have kept me sane over the years. Your sisterhood is so very much appreciated that it is hard to express what you mean to me. Whenever I’ve needed someone to lean on, a shoulder to cry on or someone to share good news, one of you has been there.
So, thank you to my sisters, biological and not, who have been my rocks. They include but are not limited to: Roberta, Eileen and Laura (may they rest in peace), Margo, Fran, Ilene, Heidi, Belle, Rachel, Debbie, Toby, Linda, Karen, Belle, Janice, Ann, Andy, Janet, Annette, Nancy, Phyllis, Evy, Harriet, Sonia, Bess, Shelly, Betys, Beth, Edie, Helen, Fagie, Barbara, Bette, Pam, Selma, Sylvia, Joyce, Abby, Miriam and Adrienne. Please forgive me if a name has been inadvertently left out. All of you are precious to me.
Read more by Eileen Creeger.