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Having just posted a pondering on the friendship of a lifetime, I find myself once again viewing the subject of friends, but in a rather different light.

As a recap, you will know that, recently, my Nonna’s dearest friend died. Nonna had spent days caring for her friend – cooking for her, dressing her, even sleeping beside her should she wake in the night. She shared love. She comforted. She was simply there for her friend.

I cried when I heard how Nonna had lovingly held her friend’s hand as she died.

Their friendship touched me deeply, and I viewed it with admiration and awe.

So it was with great sadness that I became aware of a new breed of friendship currently circulating – one on the opposite side of the spectrum, and one that is most definitely required in order to be popular, socially acceptable and one who can boast of many “friends”.

It goes something like this:

Like for a rate: You like me; I rate you out of 10.

Like for a like: You like me; I tell you (and the general public) what I like about you. It will be trivial, shallow, perhaps not even true – but hey, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

Really, it’s a win-win situation. We both deposit to the general “feel good” bank, thereby qualifying us to deposit and withdraw compliments, flattery and self-made character references. We both get to display the best aspects of ourselves (genuine or fake – it doesn’t matter), affirm our gushingly fulfilling “friendship”, and ensure that everyone else is bombarded with the fact of our mutual worth and value to each other and the world in general.

In this light, a friendship is something we can critically look over, estimate the worth of, and ascertain whether or not it strokes our ego and therefore whether or not we will nourish it.

Friends are those people who are only worthy of the word because they scramble and scrounge to drop into our laps the most adulatory of ratings and saccharine of compliments.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I wasn’t aware that we cultivated friendship as a mirror in which to preen.

So what is true friendship really? What is the difference between these two examples of acquaintanceship?

One version makes friendship something that drives an 82-year-old woman, still weak from recent heart surgery, to care for an ill, pain-ridden friend, and to ride for 2 hours on public transport so that she could hold her dying friend’s hand.

The other makes friendship something that must be earned, maintained and mercilessly weeded until it bears flowers coloured in our own brilliance.

Is this for real? Are we as a generation content to define friendship under these terms? Conditional? Subject to self-promotion? Prone to two-faced fawning?

Do we really believe that others must earn – and keep on earning – their status as our friends?

We focus on peer-approval, peer-pressure, but don’t offer genuine peer praise. We are self-conscious, self-satisfying, self-seeking in our choice of friends.

But in the end, our friendship to others is as wholesome and satisfying as a meringue – sickly sweet, but no substance…

I can’t get over the beauty and wonder and realness of Nonna’s friendship. I am inspired and challenged and so very grateful that it’s not too late to make the change. To have, and to be, such a friend.

Unconditional in love, uncaring of selfish and mocking opinions, genuine.

Selfless, serving, seeking to build up others and not myself.

Standing as a mirror by which others see their own worth as a person.

Rating a true friend as one who has no need to be rated in anything else.

© Emma McGeorge


The Friend

The friend placed her hand gently in her own. It was a comfort and a surety, even as she felt the life draining from within her.

She knew her candle was flickering, and that soon the flame would be extinguished like the disappearing gold of the sunset. But her dearest friend was here, holding her, loving her.

Quiet peace stole over them both. Warmth and love flowed between them. A thousand memories passed between a simple squeeze of the hand, a silent tear rolling from the friend’s eye.

They did not need words or actions. A friendship that has spanned 70 years needs no more reassurance than the simple presence of being.

They had faced a war together, and lived. They had thrilled over soldiers’ stories, giggled at mutual pranks, shared fears and dreams and the joy of life. They had run and played and danced. They had laughed and cried and fought and made up and hugged away hurts as only true friends can.

When love took them in different directions, the friends parted with genuine sadness, but knowing that theirs was a friendship that would span time and distance equally. They did not know that 50 years would pass before they saw each other’s faces and felt each other’s embraces once again.

The years flew by. Children were born and grew. Grandchildren skipped along as well. Joys and sorrows swirled across both their paths, and all the while, gradually, quietly, age took its toll. Only their friendship stayed fresh and young at heart.

But now, her time had come. Her life was nearing the end of its long and vibrant journey, and her soul ached for rest. For weeks, her body had been painful and uncomfortable and slow. Her days were long, and though friends and family were nearby, loneliness and fear threatened to overwhelm her.

Once again, the friend proved that theirs was an unconquerable friendship, spending hours talking with her, sharing with her, and giving her the simple comfort of her presence. She brought her tea, bathed her, helped her dress – bringing tender care and allowing her to get through each difficult day with dignity and grace. There were tears and anguish; there was laughter and frustration. Above all, there was unconditional love.

Her heart ached with gratefulness and swelled with the knowledge that, even as she faded from this world, she was special and cared for and loved.

The friend held her hand. It was a comfort and a surety, even as she felt the life draining from within her.

The grip was gentle yet firm. The friend was sorrowful but strong for them both. Her heart ached with gratefulness and joy and the sadness that hung in the shadows. Yet it could not drown the love that charged the air, nor conquer a friendship that had lasted a lifetime.

For theirs had stood the test of time and distance and life’s relentless course, and won. Nothing could ever break such a bond, and even death could not rob the beauty and strength of a friendship that was constant and true.

These precious moments were relentless being drawn to a close, yet even now her friend was here. And she knew without a doubt – here was a true friend.

She felt herself drifting away, floating, remembering, dreaming.

“Piera – it’s Francesca.” That dear, unmistakable voice fluttered into her consciousness. She made an effort to open her eyes. “It’s Francesca. I’m here. I’m here for you.” The words fell gently into the air between them.

She dragged her eyes up to her friend’s warm gaze, where tears were trembling in a face that was wrinkled and worn and beaming with love. With all her remaining strength, she gently squeezed her friend’s hand in return.

She closed her eyes and smiled, her hand clasped in the palm of her friend, her soul wrapped in the embrace of their hearts. She sensed the unspoken love, heard the silent prayers.

The friend held her hand, and softly, sweetly, the peacefulness led her away…

How do I know that such a friendship existed? How do I know that a friend could mean so much?

Because the friend is my grandmother. This was her friend’s story. And it is her story. And thus mine.

Dedicated to mia cara Nonna, with love

© Emma McGeorge