I often send cartons of her favorite Oreo cookies (a minor addiction in the cosmic scale of abuses.)
It’s hard to believe we met in1990 when I hired her to photograph the New York collections. As Fashion Editor of The Tampa Tribune, I felt more like “Ellie Mae Clampett” in Manhattan. Not to worry – Barbara showed me the best places to eat, to shop and how to navigate the subway system. She was a lifesaver both in front of the camera and behind it.
Few friendships are able to move from the office or the classroom, to hospital rooms and funerals. This one made those transitions easily.
After my mother died, the first (and most beautiful) mass card I received came from my Jewish friend, Barbara. Years later, I drove to Deerfield Beach, Florida when her own mother passed away. Together we cleaned out a condo and got it ready to sell, placing memories in trash bags and boxes, between glasses of wine.
Impossibly, Barbara was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1997 but remained undaunted. She didn’t like to discuss it and – a couple of wigs later – she continued to shoot photographs, to travel and to dote on her darling daughter, Shane.
I found my way to their New York apartment on September 11, 2001 following the attacks on the World Trade Center. Even terrorists, it seems, couldn’t diminish the benefits of laughter and a heart-felt hug.
I’ve learned the reason for this: In The Tending Instinct, author Shelley E. Taylor writes that this need for community with other women is biological; it is part of our DNA. Taylor’s book reveals a variety of studies covering cultural factors, decades of research, anecdotal references – even ties to the girlfriend concept in the animal kingdom. A stream of fascinating facts help define why women are more collaborative, less competitive and, above all, why we need our girlfriends. Consider these findings:
Longevity – Women who marry have the same life expectancy as those who don’t. However, women with strong female social ties (girlfriends) live longer than those without them.
Stress – Women don’t have the same, classic ‘fight or flight’ response to stress that men do. According to the research presented, women under stress have the need to ‘tend and befriend.’ We want to tend to our young and be with our friends. Time with our friends actually reducesour stress levels
More Stress – A study conducted by the UCLA School of Medicine found that when we’re with our girlfriends, our bodies emit the “feel good” hormone oxytocin, helping us reduce everyday stress. By prioritizing our female friendships and spending time with these friends, we take advantage of a very simple, natural way to reduce our stress.
Though we always have lived in different states, Barbara was just a phone call away to help me through tough situations like hurricanes, financial struggles and relationship changes.
What did we talk about? Who cares?
It was her presence at the other end of the line that mattered: reliable, loving, listening and caring. What would I do without her?
As women, we sometimes need to be reminded what being a girlfriend means. Too often it takes an illness or loss to hit us with the realization that good things – and good people – don‘t last forever…Once in a while we simply need to take the time to think about our friends, stop and thank them for all that they add to our lives.
Barbara lost her battle with cancer last January and today will be difficult for many of us. Still, I intend to celebrate her birthday and to honor the woman who gave so much of herself to so many friends……….perhaps with a bag of Oreos?