Cynthia Rothstein: married, 3 children, from New York
Best friend of 35 years: Naomi Neft, married, 2 children, a lifelong New Yorker who joked that Bloomingdale’s was her summer home, died ... from breast cancer in 2015 at age 74
“Naomi was comfortable and she was a comfort. I think so much of what we like in a spouse we can appreciate in a close friend. There was a very deep connection, a bond.”
How did you meet?
My daughter Lori started kindergarten in 1979 at PS158 and Naomi’s daughter Debbie was in the same class. The two girls became fast friends and then Naomi and I became fast friends. We spent so much time together we became like extended family. In fact, when Naomi died her daughter Debbie told me that I was like a second mother to her.
Naomi was very friendly, warm and interested in connecting. We had lots of good conversations and shared interests. In those early years, when the girls were in school together, we saw each other just about every day during the week because we were either picking up the girls at school or from play dates or going to meetings at school or to after school activities together. When we worked on projects at the girls’ school together Naomi was a very good partner because she was so smart and optimistic. In those years, a lot of our focus was on raising a family, but we also talked about books, went to the theatre, to museums, to lectures, to dinners out—all the typical social things.
When the girls went to different middle schools, we continued to see each other often, probably two to three times a week. And even in later years, we continued to see each other a good deal. We also spoke on the telephone all the time, so there was never a sense of, “Gee I wonder how Naomi is,” because we were always in touch. It was just a constant connection.
Naomi was the friend who I would turn to with questions, problems, issues or decisions. I could bounce anything off her and I knew that whatever advice or guidance or point of view she would express would be intelligent and helpful. She was non-judgmental, so I was comfortable discussing anything with her. She could be a fun friend, a supportive friend or a wise friend, she just offered all of it. She had an ability to see very clearly what the issues were and what made the most sense. Of course she talked to me about what was going on in her life too. There was balance. She would say, “You are the perfect person for me to ask this question” or “I know you will know the answer,” which is pretty much how I felt about her.
Naomi was comfortable and she was a comfort. I think so much of what we like in a spouse we can appreciate in a close friend. There was a very deep connection, a bond.
What was the friendship like?
We did a cookbook together, Recipes for Our Daughters, and from the beginning I thought it was a wild and crazy idea and would never happen. She was really optimistic and said, “Of course it’s going to happen, it’s a great idea and we’ll find a publisher.” We worked on it for a very long time and ultimately she was right. The lesson I got from her is optimists, in addition to going through life in a more wonderful way, often are right. I have tried to live with that message.
When our agent submitted our proposal to ten publishers, she included tins of cookies that we had baked from recipes in our cookbook. Naomi and I baked and baked and re-baked to get perfect batches for those ten tins.
As I reflect back, it really astonishes me that we didn’t have any difficult moments when we were working on the book because it was a huge amount of work and it was very frustrating at times. But Naomi was incredibly easy to work with, whatever we were doing, however long it took. That was certainly a situation that could have tested a relationship and it didn’t.
Describe how the friendship ended.
Initially when Naomi became ill, we were shocked. She was shocked. I was shocked. It was devastating news, but she did what she had to do and got excellent, attentive, aggressive care. We felt that she would be fine and she continued to live her life; that was pretty much her philosophy, doing what you need to do and getting on with life.
I would speak to her a couple of times a day when she was more homebound and when her voice sounded cheery, we talked about upbeat subjects. She would occasionally reveal some darker inner thoughts but for the most part, she tried to stay in the cheery part of the world, the world that included her family, her kids, her grandchildren, what everybody was doing.
Josie, Naomi’s long-awaited granddaughter, born a month before Naomi died, was a BIG deal. Everyone was so thrilled when they learned Debbie was pregnant with a girl. Though Naomi adored her two grandsons, Theo and Luke, who are wonderful, she had always hoped Deb would have a daughter and be able to experience the unique joys of the mother/daughter relationship. Naomi did a lot of preparing and enjoying in advance of the birth: she knit a blanket, bought the first outfits and toys. Though it is especially sad that she couldn’t have a lifetime of enjoying her granddaughter, Naomi, being Naomi, enjoyed what she could to the fullest.
Just a couple of weeks before she died, she called because she knew that my younger daughter and I had been venue shopping for her wedding site. I still have a very cheerful message from her on my answering machine wanting to know how things went. Her being so positive actually made it easier for me. I’ve often thought that people who have problems or are ill and handle it well themselves, make it easier for those of us who are there for them.
She became more seriously ill about four days before she died and she went into the hospital. As it happens, I was in Disney World with my daughter, her husband and my grandchildren. I was very worried and I was constantly checking in. She wasn’t able to be on the telephone at that point so I was in touch with her husband, another friend or her daughter Debbie. When we got home Sunday evening, I knew she wasn’t doing well. Monday morning I got a phone call that if I wanted to come and say goodbye I should come over. I had a long conversation with Naomi when I got there. I don’t really know if she heard any of it, but I like to think she did. Through the years I always said things to Naomi that expressed how I felt about her and how terrific I thought she was, but in that last conversation there were certainly more personal things that I said that would have been more difficult to say under normal circumstances.
How did you cope with her loss?
It’s only been a couple of months since she died, and I miss her tremendously. I can’t really fully wrap my head around the fact that she is not here. So there is still this sense that I’ll see her, that she is away but she will be back. I think about her every day and there are always things I want to share with her. Something happened recently and I just ended up calling David, her husband. I said, “David, when this happened I said I must call Naomi and so I am calling you to share it.” Obviously I have my husband Jerry and my children and other very dear friends to share things with, but I still want to share the good stuff with her and get advice about the tricky stuff. She gave such wonderful advice.
I don’t think there will ever be another Naomi, but I think what that best friend brings to your life is something that you can continue to find in other places. When I think about other women I am very close to they are not Naomi, of course, but they do bring richness and closeness to our particular relationship. No one will ever be her and I will always, always miss her and what we had, but I’m hoping I will keep other good friends close because those relationships are extremely meaningful, necessary and important to me.
I knew a lot about Naomi’s other friends, occasionally we would see those friends if there were a big party or a group dinner. We all felt somewhat connected through Naomi and recently one of those friends got in touch with me and we got together for lunch. I realize those of us who were part of Naomi’s world still want to stay connected and I can’t explain exactly what the phenomenon is, but it may be it’s keeping her alive through our being together sharing our Naomi stories and reflecting about her. We feel a need to stay somewhat connected because of her, and as a tribute to her.
Is there anything else that you'd like to add about your friendship?
NAOMI’S CHOCOLATE CHIP-BROWNIE COOKIES
Naomi loved to cook and she especially loved desserts! Among her favorites and most popular were her chocolate chip-brownie cookies which everyone loved. Her grandsons, Theo and Luke, were her biggest fans and they, and any other children who visited (including my three-year-old granddaughter, Gemma), usually left her apartment munching blissfully, as only children can, with chocolate chip cookie crumbs all around their mouths.
MAKES ABOUT 50 COOKIES
Six 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, margarine, or a combination of both
1 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs, or 5 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups flour
One 12-ounce package (2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips, preferably Nestle
½ cup chopped pecans
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Grease 2 cookie sheets.
3. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a microwave oven, at 50 percent power, for a few minutes. You can also melt them in a heavy saucepan over very low heat, or in a metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir to combine.
4. Add the sugar and mix well.
5. Stir in the eggs and vanilla extract, followed by the flour, chocolate chips, and pecans. Mix well.
6. Drop by large spoonfuls onto the cookie sheets and bake for about 10 minutes, or just until the cookies have set.
7. Allow the cookies to cool on the cookie sheets for several minutes before transferring them to wire racks.
TIPS AND TIDBITS
These cookies are delicious and especially easy to make because you need only one bowl and do all the mixing by hand. For a special treat, use them to make “sandwiches” with vanilla (or your favorite flavor) ice cream or frozen yogurt. You might even want to top each “sandwich” with a drizzle of chocolate syrup!
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 Cynthia, 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!