On our first trip together in January of 1999, we were all relatively in the same places in life. Some were newlyweds with new careers, one of us with a toddler and a baby. We were each starting new adventures and figuring out who we were and where we wanted life to take us. We knew we wanted a chance to get our group together even though our lives were taking us in different directions. We were so excited that we actually made a girls weekend come together instead of it just being another idea with great intention but poor execution. The idea was born a few months prior as a way to still get together now that all the weddings and the 10-year high school reunion were over.
Little did we know that we had just started a journey that would last for 18 years.
One year turned into two, then five, then 10 and along the way, we've been given this gift to be part of each others' lives. The milestones many women have in their 30s and 40s, we were able to celebrate, despite the fact that we are spread out all over the country. We arrived each year with our stories, updates, and struggles in life and always left with some new ideas and perspectives.
As the years have gone by, the location has changed and the topic of conversation changed as well. At first we discussed job promotions and new careers, husbands, boyfriends, babies and babysitters and sharing helpful tips about raising those babies along with the good, bad and ugly of motherhood. Now we still talk about all of that plus - second husbands, retirement dreams and having teens. We've also heard that same friend who was once giving us a glimpse into what motherhood was like, now describe the feeling of being an "empty nester."
As the years pass, this amazing gift of friendship continues to grow. Sometimes we'll go a year without talking and yet we pick right back up where we left off the minute we gather. We carve out 4-5 days, push the pause button on our lives at home and come together to laugh, cry, laugh more, share and listen to what the others are facing in their day-to-day. We have been deeply affected by tragedy, hardships, and tough times that have happened to some of us over the years. The death of a spouse, the passing of a parent, divorce and now cancer.
It was late August and I had just been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I thought about not telling the girls, perhaps I could save it for the trip in January, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted and needed them to know. I wanted them to experience this with me, even without physically being there. I knew that if one of them were going through this I would want to know immediately.
So I began dialing.
I was stepping into their daily routines unexpectedly, a call coming through to them in the midst of their workday, their appointments, their carpool and each of them knowing when they saw my number on their phones in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday -- as opposed to an email or quick text -- that they needed to pick up. Something must have been up, and it was.
I had such wonderful, beautiful, encouraging and supportive conversations with each of the girls and felt so happy. I told them after my initial hesitation and we kept the conversations going via email. In part, one friend wrote:
"In the back of my mind, I knew this would happen to one of us. I knew that one day this would be something our special sisterhood would be faced with. So when you called, of course I was overcome with sadness for you, but also felt overwhelmed with sadness for US because the day I dreaded was here and it's here way too soon and it happened to you."
This year our chosen destination was Florida and as I made my way from the cab to the lobby of the condo, I knew everyone had already arrived and were upstairs waiting for me. I felt a little anxious. I noticed in the elevator that I actually had butterflies in my stomach. I couldn't put my finger on why, certainly a lot of excitement, and anticipation, but looking back I realized that along with my excitement about the weekend ahead, I wanted and needed to see the girls again. I wanted to see their faces and let them see mine so that they could see that their friend is still the same funny, bubbly friend they've known for 30 years.
The only difference now is that she has cancer, and she is going to be fine.
When I walked in and saw their smiling faces -- I felt it right away. I felt free. I felt like that freshman in high school again. Ninth grade English class, leaving school to go to Burger King, hanging out in the locker area. It all came rushing back to me just as if we were all back in those hallways again. They didn't say or do anything in particular, that's the beauty of lifelong friendships, they didn't have to say a word. Just being in the presence of these beautiful women that have been part of my life for 30 years made me feel like that high school girl again, with nothing but promise and my whole life ahead of me.
I knew that this trip -- our journey together -- that we've been adding memories to for the last 18 years was just what I needed to feel like myself. I knew that everything was going to be OK.