In 1977 the ‘new girl’ came to sit at my 8th grade language arts table. New kids were very rare in Pekin, and I immediately saw my chance to befriend someone who didn’t know just how un-cool I was and invited her to sit with me and my friends at lunch-- a friendship seed was planted.
We both agreed our high school years were not that memorable. We survived Pekin High with the help of our little circle of friends but were happy to move on. During high school and college we planted some roots, we kept in touch, but were just friends.
In early ‘85 we had about a 2 hour phone conversation out of the blue. Sherry called to tell me she was in luuuv with this guy named Chuck. And the main thing I remember discussing even then, at age 22, was that she was making a heart-shaped brownie for Chuck and his daughter for Valentines Day. This idea intrigued me. I made a mental note that Sherry was someone I definitely needed to spend more time with.
Spring forward to fall of ‘88. I was a lonely mom of an 8 month old living in the Chicago suburbs. Sherry called to tell me she was pregnant. With the conception of Melissa our true friendship began to grow and blossom.
Mind you there was no email or free long distance in the early 90’s. We talked on the phone incessantly. We wrote letters continuously.
We knew everything about everything -- and our husbands didn’t really care for that. I knew how much baby Melissa hated peas but loved pears. She knew which stores I had credit card balances at and what I was planting in my annual beds.
In any argument I recounted to her, she ALWAYS took my side, and I did the same for her, even when we knew the other one was in the wrong. That is a priceless quality in a friendship.
We’ve known each other 33 years, and we’ve been best friends for 21. For 21 years she was more like my sister than any sister probably is. We were each others’ therapists. During the period of our friendship I like to call “The months of $100 phone bills”, we told our husbands that we were actually saving them money – that it would cost much more for a real psychiatrist. Talking and sharing was what kept us sane and got us through the hard times. The boring times. And the many, many good times.
I think in the coming years that this is when I will miss Sherry the most--when I experience a joy or a sorrow. I got a call just last week that I didn’t get the job I was hoping to get and my gut reaction was that I needed to talk to Sherry, immediately. And I realized that if I could have called her, I would barely mention the job interview. What I needed was to hear her describe the chicken and rice casserole she was fixing for dinner that night. I wanted her to talk to me about cutting out daffodils from construction paper for her class. That would bring my world back in balance. That would make everything ok again.
When I spent time with her two weeks ago she couldn’t speak or move. But she could laugh and cry. Her friend Cathi made her laugh that day, and I made her cry. One of the very last things I said to her, was “It’s gonna be ok….. It’s gonna be ok.” She kept crying and I kept saying it. That is what we did for each other.
You might think from listening to me that all Sherry cared about was her friends, but OH NO. It was always clear to me where I was on that totem pole, and it was friends are friends but FAMILY is family. So after all these years, this is what I know for sure about Sheryl Deener Bankes.
I know that THE most important thing in Sherry’s life, her finest goal, was to be a good MOM. She planned and schemed and organized and read and researched and trained and workshopped and prayed and worked and worked and worked at the goal of being the best mother possible. Nothing else consumed her as much as that did. She was beyond protective of her two little chicklets, and had a zero tolerance policy for criticisms of Chelsea or Melissa. Her pride in Melissa and Chelsea was in her very cells and came out in everything she said or did, along with her love for them…..And her plans for them. Her very specific detailed plans for them…
The second thing I know for sure about Sherry, is something we have in common. We feel that God was really on his game when he picked our husbands for us. Sherry always felt extremely lucky to have met and fallen in love and married a really wonderful guy. My Chuck and her Chuck think that all we ever did was complain about them in our long letters and phone calls. And in the days of crying babies at we did our share of complaining. But we also talked a lot about other friends and their husbands and how on earth did we get so lucky to find men like ours?
Sherry admired you Chuck for being a fantastic dad. For not usually complaining when she had to go to book club or bake 50 cupcakes for MOPS. For going along with her elaborate family vacation plans just because you knew it was what she wanted. Everyone who knows her, knows she felt she had won the ‘who gets to marry the best guy’ contest.
And watching and hearing how you held her life together, in the last seven months especially, was truly inspiring. I’m a pretty critical person at times--she and I have that in common-- and I never found one darn thing you could have done better or more thoroughly or more lovingly. You and her parents and her sweet girls were truly there in sickness and in health, which is a wonderful thing to witness and will be a hard standard for the rest of us to live up to.
I’ll end with a bible verse, one she and I both loved : “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13. I live by this verse…but I have also had a back up plan for many years. It was “I can do all things with Sherry, who strengthens me.”
She was my strength and I will miss her always. Until I see her again in heaven.