Childhood Pals

Jeanine (left) and Nicole

Nicole Galeto: 39, married, 2 children, school crossing guard

Best friend of 27 years: Jeanine Walsh, married, 2 children, stay-at-home mom, died ... leukemia in 2015 at age 38

“Best friends are so important because they are your confidante, they are the ones that you can tell your deep-darkest secret to and know it’s not going to go anywhere.”

How did you meet?

When we were 12, we met at the orthodontist’s office and started talking a little bit. Then we both ended up at the sleepover birthday party of a mutual friend. After that, we started hanging out. By the time we were in tenth grade we were inseparable.

Jeanine had long brown hair and was always smiling. She had a great laugh; she was great fun. We got along well together and never really butted heads. When we were looking for trouble, we got in trouble together. One time when we were 16, my parents had a party and we snuck some beers into my room. We were hanging out, drinking with a bunch of friends, but then, after the party, I forgot to throw the bottles out. My mom found the bottles and I got grounded.

What was the friendship like?

We lived within walking distance of one another. I was on Belmont Avenue and she lived on Glenda Drive, right behind West Babylon Junior High School. Our parents would never drive us anywhere. They’d say, “You’ve got legs, you can walk” or “You’ve got a bike, you can ride.” So we would meet each other halfway and then I’d walk to her house or she would walk to my house. Both of our families had Sunday dinners and we both always had pasta and sauce. We’d tease each other: “My mom’s meatballs are better!” “No my mom’s meatballs are better.”

We grew apart for about two years after high school when I had a long-term boyfriend. We still talked a lot, but we didn’t hang out as much. Then when I broke up with the boyfriend, Jeanine and I reconnected and we had a lot of good times. We would go bowling, to bars and clubs, hang out at the beach in Southampton, play volleyball. When I got pregnant at 22, it kind of put a monkey wrench in our fun.
When I was pregnant, she worked at an ice cream store and I craved strawberry shakes. Any time I had the craving, I’d go and see her and and she would make it for me. We’d watch movies, hang out, or go out to dinner together. Jeanine was a really good listener and a truly loyal friend. She was always there for me when I needed to talk to her. I don’t have that with anybody now that she is gone.

When I was having a hard time with my husband and we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye, she would help me through. I don’t remember the specific words she would say, but she would always tell me that my husband and I needed to work together to figure it out. She was like a therapist to me; I would do the same for her. When she was lying in the hospital and had all the stuff hooked up to her and couldn’t hear me, I would say, “Who is going to call me now and complain about your husband? You know you have to call me, and complain about your husband just like I have to call you and complain about my husband.” Before she got sick, we would always go back and forth like that: “Oh, I can’t believe he is doing this, he is driving me crazy.” Now I don’t have a friend to share that with.

Describe how the friendship ended.

She was at a Girl Scouts meeting three years ago and mentioned to a friend that she had bruises all over and didn’t know why. Her friend told her she had go to a doctor. She went to emergency care, and the doctor said she needed to go to the hospital. At the hospital, they did a blood workup and found out that she had leukemia.

It was rough going through all her treatments. Her spirits were low; she wasn’t the happy-go-lucky and easy-going, smiley person that she used to be. When she came out of the hospital, and her immune system was weak and she couldn’t go to stores. When the kids came home from school, they had to shower before they could be with her. She said she felt like a prisoner.

When she started feeling better, she could go out again and do some things, but not everything she liked. She couldn’t go to the beach, which she loved, because she couldn’t be out in the sun. Things were better for a bit and then this past summer she noticed that her hands were starting to hurt again. The doctor did a test and, sure enough, it was back. She went into the hospital at the end of September and she never came out out. I wanted to be there, but she didn’t want anybody seeing her so sick. Finally I said, “This is crazy. I need to see you.” So she allowed me to come, and after that I saw her quite a bit unless I was sick or the kids were sick.

The last time I got a text from her was December 26. After that, she wasn’t coherent anymore. She was very sick and on a lot of heavy drugs. Two weeks before she died, her sister texted me to tell me how sick she had become. I needed to see her. Jeanine was trying to fight, but she took a turn for the worse, and I went to see her to say goodbye. I stayed hours crying my eyes out.

How did you cope with her loss?

I never had a tattoo, but I went and got one in Jeanine’s memory. I like it because I feel like she’s with me every day. Jeanine’s favorite summer drink was a sweet tea, a firefly mix. So, I got a little firefly tattooed on my wrist.

I also go visit her at the cemetery. It’s weird, because I talk to her when I am at home, but when I get to the cemetery I don’t know what to say. I cry on the way there and then I cry on the way back. This morning I got out my yearbook and I was reading the letter that she wrote to me when we were in high school, and it made me laugh and cry at the same time.

I have best friend charms that we both had, she had half and I have the other half. I have her wedding picture that’s up in my bedroom. Those are things that I have of her. I wish I had kept some of the notes that we used to pass to each other in school. My husband really has been my rock.

Best friends are so important because they are your confidante, they are the ones that you can tell your deep-darkest secrets to and know it’s not going to go anywhere. They are the ones that if you’re feeling down they are going to bring you back up. When you’re struggling through life, they are the ones that are going to help you through it.

Before Friendship Dialogues was a gleam in founder Ellen Pearlman’s eyes, a group of over two dozen women answered her online plea for women who had lost a female best friend. Ellen is eternally grateful to all the women, including Nicole, for opening their hearts to her and sharing their personal stories of love and loss. It was through this process that the seeds for Friendship Dialogues were planted. Thank you!