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Friendships Helped My Mother Conquer All the Highs and Lows of Life

True friendships will last longer than relationships and safely carry you through life's turbulences

By Ronke BabajidePublished 27 days ago Updated 27 days ago 8 min read
Top Story - May 2024
Friendships Helped My Mother Conquer All the Highs and Lows of Life
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

My mother had three best friends. All three were named Edith. All three were nurses. They remained friends their entire adult life.

Last autumn, my godmother, Big Edith, died on my mother's 80th birthday.

On a beautiful sunny day with temperatures way too high for October, I chauffeured my mother and Little Edith to Big Edith's funeral in her hometown, near Lake Neusiedl.

As I sat in the funeral chapel looking at the urn and listened to the hired funeral orator talk about her life. I understood she was gone, and a part of my mother was gone with her.

My mother fled to Vienna at the age of 18 to escape the confines of her hometown and her abusive father.

Her dream was to become a nurse. Sixty years ago, few women dared to dream of becoming a doctor. She met Big Edith and Little Edith — named according to their respective sizes — when she began her training at Vienna's General Hospital.

Their life-long friendship formed in that sprawling, spacious, 17th-century compound in the quiet parks under majestic trees.

One of the inner courtyards of the old AKH that is now a university campus — wiki common license

My godmother, Big Edith, came from a small town near Lake Neusiedl. She had a son born out of wedlock — a scandal of epic proportions at the time.

She married the first man willing to accept that illegitimate child. He was an alcoholic and abusive father to her son. Their relationship was far less successful than her career.

When she retired, she was the head nurse in the eye ward of the AKH.

Little Edith came from an even smaller town in Lower Austria. She was the youngest of five sisters. In her large family of thrifty, hard workers, Little Edith learned to keep her desires frugal at a young age. A mindset that she kept all her life.

She was always a great — but talkative — companion to my mum. Always happy to accompany her to every imaginable activity. Even to the belly dance classes I taught for a while.

My mother's dream of a nursing career ended two years into her training when she accidentally became pregnant with my elder brother. Instead, she went on to a career as a full-time mother of four biracial children — another epic scandal in Austria at the time.

But her friendship with Big and Little Edith endured.

When she was pregnant with her third child — my younger brother — we moved into a two-room apartment in the 16th district. This is where she met Edith number three.

Edith Popp was a pastor's daughter from Germany. She lived on the same floor as us, was also a nurse and also pregnant with a son. A happy coincidence.

To distinguish her from Little and Big Edith, we called her Popp Edith for the rest of her life. During the four years we lived in that little flat, she helped my mum take care of us. And the other way around.

They remained faithful friends all their lives. In recent years they saw each other almost every day. Until Popp Edith suddenly and unexpectedly died in her sleep on Big Edith's 83rd birthday three years ago.

My mother and the three Ediths forged a lifelong bond.

A bond that was stronger than their marriages. They became each other's family far from home. They shared each other's secrets and wins and helped each other through hard times.

In old photos, my mother and the Ediths — young women in their early twenties — look so much more grown up and stylish than I can ever hope to be.

Pointy heels, pencil skirts, hair teased up, and white gloves — sophisticated.

In one of these pictures, Big Edith, dressed and styled like a model from a fashion magazine, is holding me in my christening gown.

My godmother and me at my christening (image from my private collection)

She loved to tell and retell the story of my christening. How heavy I was and how the priest wouldn't stop talking.

Until she was afraid, she'd drop either me or the unwieldy baptism candle.

And how my 13-month-old brother answered the priest's questions in his high, piercing voice. "Do you believe in Jesus Christ, our Savior?" ""Yes"," "Do you renounce evil?" "Yes, yes."

The priest and the elderly congregation present in the church, for reasons that are unclear to me to this day, found this hilarious.

The priest had less humor when it came to naming me. My parents had decided to give me three typical Yoruba names: Aderonke, Olubunmi, and Obashola. All three names have significant meaning, as is our custom.

But the priest objected to baptizing me with three heathen names.

He insisted that I had to have three Christian names as well. They settled the matter by giving me six names. Aderonke, Olubunmi, Obashola, Edith, Maria (that's what the Ediths called my mother) and Emmanuela.

The patron for my sixth name was my father's good friend at university, Prince Emmanuel of Liechtenstein.

I'll always be grateful they didn't name me after my grandmother Herta or my great-aunt Hilde. Two names that would have made the burden of bearing six names even heavier.

You'll be surprised to hear that my six names are due to religious zeal, not racism. The priest who baptized me was also from Nigeria. This is the story I like to tell about my baptism.

When you're a child, your parents' friends are part of the scenery. You don't question your relationship with them. You don't wonder who they are. They're just there, woven into the tapestry of your life.

This is how it was with the three Ediths. They were there.

In every memory of every celebration in our lives, there's at least one Edith. Or two or three.

The Ediths are in the photos from my parents' wedding and my father's graduation.

My parent's wedding day (image from my collection)

In the albums of our birthday parties, in the pictures of my graduation, and even in visits to the parks of Vienna. The Ediths are in the photos of my mother's 50th birthday and my brother's 50th birthday.

In almost every story my mother tells about the past, there is an Edith.

I never knew a world without them in it. And I can't imagine my mother's world without them.

They were always close by her side — except for the years she spent in Africa.

When I was eight, we left the little flat in the 16th district and moved to Nigeria.

My father had completed his studies at the University of Vienna and was raring to return and be part of the change he envisioned for his country. So my mother bravely moved to a country she'd never seen, with four children, without the Ediths.

Staying friends across continents must have been hard. There was no internet and only spotty, expensive phone connections. But they did.

They communicated via those thin airmail letters that no longer exist, just like the rotary phone.

Even when they were not physically close, they remained close in spirit. Whenever an emergency arose, they helped.

When my grandmother died of cancer, and my mother flew home to bury her, they were at the graveside with her.

When she was rushed to Vienna to save her eyesight and had no insurance, they ensured the best doctors at the AKH treated her for free. That was the power of their friendship.

When she returned to Vienna 13 years later, they seamlessly picked up where they had left off. They continued sharing every detail of their lives — including the hard ones.

A husband who drank. A husband who was mean and violent. Alcoholism passed from father to son. Womanizing. Divorces. Parents who died, a son who died, and children with mental illness.

Through all of life's tragedies, they were there for each other. In good times and bad, in sickness and in health. They were part of each other's story — inextricable.

I have come to realize that I know so little about my mother.

And about these three women who are so much a part of my mother's life that I find it hard to imagine her life without them.

My memories of them are bits and pieces of things I saw or heard in passing and never bothered to ask about. Like a child, I assumed they'd always be there.

But, the Ediths are leaving one by one. And it feels like they've decided to leave the world only on auspicious dates. Popp Edith died on Big Edith's birthday, so we'll always remember one and the other together.

Now, my mother's birthday is also forever a celebration of life and death at the same time.

My mother rarely talks about her feelings or shows them. She hasn't said much about how she feels about losing two of her Ediths. In the face of her inability to express or voice her emotions, I had a hard time finding my own.

When I heard the funeral orator, this stranger who didn't know her, wax lyrically about her life in meaningless but well-crafted sentences. When he mentioned their 60-year friendship. A friendship older than me. That was the moment I found my grief.

It was a selfish grief, but maybe grief is always selfish. It was more a fear than a grief.

The fear that my mother will be next.

The realization that her time is short now. I grieved for my mother. And for her friendships.

My mother and Little Ediths at Big Edith's funeral (image from private collection)

Little Edith is now the only person left who bore witness to my mother's life — the only person who knows her deeply.

I don't know her that way. How can I?

Children don't know their parents. We only see the relationship we have with them. We may know what they expect from us, how we can make them happy, and what kind of parents they were to us.

We take their existence for granted. They are. But we don't know who they are.

That knowledge is for the people who were there.

For the people who knew them before we existed. The people who knew them when they were young, when this life they've lived was still a hope, a dream. The people who walked with them.

The Ediths knew my mother like this. And my mother knows them.

If you're lucky, you'll also have friends to whom you don't have to explain yourself.

Who immediately know how you're doing or what you're referring to. Who are familiar with all the details and secrets of your life. Because they lived it with you. People who are as much you as you are.

Every Edith dying hits a little harder. Not because their death is a reminder of my mortality but because they are my mother.

What remains of your life when there is no one left who was there to see you live it? Who lived it with you.

Who are we without the people who fill the gaps in our memory with theirs? The people who can still picture us as we were. Without the wrinkles and the pain.

Who remember us fresh-faced about to set out on great adventures. And who went along for the ride.

When they go, they take our life with them.

The memories, the conversations, the highs and lows. The stories we can't retell in meaningful ways to strangers. Our old stories are nothing to the people who weren't there. They might as well never have happened.

That's my grief.

The feeling that my mother's life is diminishing with every Edith's passing. Taking her story with her until she no longer exists. Until all that remains is a little old lady who has a hard time expressing her feelings or showing anyone who she is.


About the Creator

Ronke Babajide

Woman in IT, Natural Scientist, Life Coach, Speaker, Podcaster, Writer, Founder

Host of the “Women in Technology Spotlight”

Creator of "The Queen Bee Hive"

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Comments (6)

  • Linda Goodman22 days ago

    congratulations on your top story!

  • The Dani Writer23 days ago

    I wanted to have the time and space to really savour this story, so I waited. Truly glad I did! It is such a luxurious read expressing unfiltered perspectives from childhood's eyes and is a validation of the glories of friendship often less marketable in today's societal focus on romantic love/business partnerships etc. An oft remembered song from my Mom and girl-guiding days: "Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold." Friendships are invaluable. It cannot be overstated. Children do generally take their parents for granted. We also think they'll be here forever. Mine are now both Ancestors and I look back with 20/20 vision. The time we have with them is never enough and in the context of existence is less than a second. Part of the lesson (at least for me) is to prioritise what is truly important and not what the world says should be. Preserve their legacies while they live and let them know about it, and after they are gone, demonstrate their princ up please so that they live through you. Thank you to the heights for writing and sharing your story! I will never forget it. Top story kudos!

  • Fantastic writing.

  • Jasmine Whitmore23 days ago

    Congratulations on your Top Story!

  • Anu Mehjabin24 days ago

    Your reflections on lifelong friendships and loss are deeply moving. And congratulations on your top story🎉🎉🎉

  • shanmuga priya24 days ago

    Truly inspiring. Thank you for sharing . Congratulations 🎉

Ronke BabajideWritten by Ronke Babajide

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