Most of us thankfully can depend on family members to support us day in and day out during the worst of times. How many of us have at least one great friend who will do the same?
Last week I spent time with Jack and Bobby, a pair of 74-year-old buddies whose friendship started in second grade and never waned. Now Jack is dying of pancreatic cancer, and while he has a loving family, the visits from his old buddy cheer him the most. My story about their friendship was published in the Marlborough Enterprise.
Like the Kennedy legends with the same first names, Jack and Bobby were often inseparable. The brotherly bond between the two men – a bond that has stayed strong despite competition from their large families, busy careers and many other commitments – got me thinking about how our childhood and young adult friendships evolve as we grow older. The bonds that we forged so long ago never go away, but they become rusty and forgotten as other relationships and commitments divert us. The occasional email or holiday card reawakens fond old memories – the whispered secrets at a pajama party, the long sob-fests following a heartbreak, the rum-soaked revelry at a shared beach house — but we tend to move on when the Christmas cards are thrown away and our lives intervene.
That didn’t happen for Jack and Bobby. I think one reason is that they both stayed in the same community except for the time they served in the Marines. But there’s something more: both frankly admit that the pain of being in troubled families made them cling to each other emotionally from the beginning.
Both spoke of the need to escape their parents’ drinking problems and fighting at home, when they were just little kids. Bobby said they both had plenty of other friends, but Jack was the only one who understood what he was going through. As the years went on they remained there for each other – chipping in for gas, doing home improvement projects together, serving as honorary uncles to their growing families, helping each other to be better fathers because they wanted their own kids to have a better family life than they did.
And in their twilight years, they drove each other to the hospital for surgeries, checkups, chemotherapy. Over the past few weeks Bobby has been sitting beside Jack’s hospital bed, sharing stories about boot camp and making him laugh.
If we’re lucky we have buddies like this in our lives. I feel blessed to have my own great friends, some of whom go back to toddlerhood. Others are our neighbors, book club friends, college friends, work friends, terrific adults we met when our children became friends. We trade gossip and child-rearing tips, watch the big game together, bring them casseroles when they are sick, pick up their children at school when they’re stuck. We are there for each other.
Still, no matter how great a friend we try to be, we can always be inspired by the depth of Jack and Bobby’s friendship. It was forged in their childhood pain and it has sustained them in good times and bad over more than six decades. It will continue even after Jack draws his last breath.
Jack’s daughter Jeannie says, “We take good care of him but there’s nothing like the emotional support he gets from Bob. We value him as a dad but having Bob here validates him as somebody else.”