A friendship across barriers of age and illness

Ministry worker Jane Knowles (63) and oncology nurse Melanie Bogle (30) have been friends for 12 years. This is the story of their inter-generational friendship.

Melanie’s Story

I remember first seeing Malcolm and Jane working in the church office when I was involved with high school ministry. A short time later, the pastor at the time prayed for this beautiful couple, as Malcolm had been diagnosed with cancer. I remember being moved in my heart and feeling quite emotional. I wrote a letter to let them know I was praying for them and that was when our friendship started.

There was a really precious season early on in our friendship when I would go to the Queen Victoria market weekly with Malcolm and Jane; a little adventure to purchase beautiful fresh and organic fruit and vegetables. It was during this time that our relationship really deepened and strengthened, as we learnt more about each other and had shared experiences.

Even in the middle of her grief and after sharing many tears together, she would always take the time to ask after me

A significant period in our friendship was walking with Jane during the last months of Malcolm’s life and then in the months that followed after his passing. Our friendship of ‘three’ became a friendship between the two of us. Our relationship grew through the grief and has continued to deepen since. I am so privileged to have walked this journey with Jane; I am a much better person because of both Malcolm and Jane and their influence in my life.

Jane is incredibly thoughtful and has a beautiful interest in others. Even in the middle of her grief (at losing Malcolm) and after sharing many tears together, she would always take the time to ask after me; she was genuinely interested. She is unbelievably selfless. Her life is filled with the many people in whom she has invested in and loved.

I remember being particularly inspired when she took time (after Malcolm had passed away) to seek God and really study the word and what it means to be a disciple. She didn’t allow her grieving to turn her away from Jesus. I saw her pressing into God more than ever.

Her decision to take this time with the Lord to heal and study his word (before further potential ministry) inspires me to this day. Her heart is so pure and her godly example is one that I want to emulate.

We have the most wonderful of times together. We often have a coffee (me) and a herbal tea (Jane) together at a little place in the country. We made our way there every time I went to visit. We play card games, go for long walks, and love to cook new and exciting recipes together. There was even a time when we tried our hand at Pilates with a video, which was rather humorous! We also have a favourite little vegetarian place for dinner where we have many special memories (both Jane and I, and also when Malcolm was with us).

We have made a quilt together (mainly Jane but I helped) of different items of Malcolm and Jane’s clothing. At those times of working on the quilt, we would share memories together of times spent with Malcolm (and also earlier stories, as different material would lead to other memories).

Jane has journeyed closely with me through some difficult times in recent years. I have never felt judged by her in this time. I never felt like a project or as someone to ‘make better’. She has seen me at my worst and loved me through it. She has been selfless in her prayer, encouragement and even came to stay with me for a time.

My life is so rich because of my friendship with Jane. She is a trusted friend and mentor, and an amazing prayer support. She has left a beautiful and indelible mark on my life. I love the definition of indelible: ‘making marks that cannot be removed; not to be forgotten or removed.’ The things she has taught me and our many fabulous experiences will never be forgotten or removed from my heart.

Jane’s Story

In 2001, our pastor prayed for Malcolm in church, as he had been diagnosed with cancer. Following that service, Melanie wrote a beautiful letter to Malcolm and put it in our pigeon hole the following week. She took the first step towards our friendship.

Yes, there is a 33 year age difference between Melanie and me, but we don’t see that our age makes any difference to our relationship

My first impression of Melanie was that of a young woman with a beautiful smile and a tender and caring heart. As time went by I realised that she was also a very godly young woman who wanted to honour God in all she did. She was willing to go out of her way to love a much older couple who were struggling with a life-threatening illness.

When Malcolm was having chemo treatments in the city, Melanie came too, to share the experience with us. She was training to be a nurse at that time and was interested in learning what she could about Mal’s treatment and sharing the journey with us. It was precious to us to have someone make such an effort to join us on our difficult journey.

In the months that followed, when Malcolm was quite ill, Melanie was our most frequent visitor at home; she endeared herself to us with her friendly and caring ways. A year or two later, when we moved to the country, Melanie came to stay often. She loved to come and we always looked forward to her visits.

In those days it was always ‘the three of us’ and we enjoyed long chats over meals in the courtyard and walks to the local café for coffees. After Malcolm died, Melanie continued to visit and stay with me in our country home. Now it’s just the two of us. Although we miss Malcolm in the mix, we still have a lot of fun together. We still go for walks, drink cups of coffee at our favourite café and really enjoy playing racing patience until late at night. I used to win in the early days, but now she’s much greater competition and wins more often than I do! We also love to cook together and watch inspirational Christian DVDs.

I decided to make a quilt out of all of Mal’s shirts and mine after he died. It was a big project, but Melanie decided she’d like to do it with me. Each time she came to visit for a year or so, we had fun cutting and positioning and putting it together, sharing memories of Malcolm as we went. Now it’s on my bed and reminds me not only of Malcolm, but of the lovely time Melanie and I spent putting it together.

Over the last couple of years, Melanie has been struggling with a pretty tough relational issue. Because of the depth of our relationship and some big storms I’ve weathered in my life, I believe that God has allowed me to walk through a tough season with Melanie with some depth of understanding.

During this time, Melanie has been an inspiring example of someone ‘living in the word’. She has reminded me of the importance of putting God above all else in our lives as I have seen her come out triumphant.

Living in the country and away from Melanie’s home in the city meant that it took plenty of effort to get together. We both lead busy lives, but we put in definite dates to spend quality time together whenever we can. Now that I have moved to the city, we see each other more often and we’re both happy about that.

God has given me a real passion for young people and an ability to communicate with them and walk alongside them. For me, life without younger people in it would be missing a very important ingredient.

I do believe that God wants the church to be family. Families are made up of people of all ages because He knows we can encourage and build each other up across generations.

Yes, there is a 33 year age difference between Melanie and me, but we don’t see that our age makes any difference to our relationship. We consider that our friendship is just like any other of our friendships. We are totally at ease with the age difference. I’m sure if I end up in a wheelchair, she’ll still come and take me out for walks to the café for a coffee and long talks.

Melanie is a beautiful young woman that I feel so privileged and thankful to be able to spend quality time with. She values my contribution to her life. As I do hers to mine!
She keeps me up to date with the latest Christian music: “Jane, listen to this! I love it!” as she plays a new song. My husband, Malcolm, said of her once: “Encourage her Janie, she’s a real gem. She’s one of God’s beautiful children. Maybe He’s sent her to us for us to encourage, for you to encourage, to walk along the path of life with and share in those things that are going to be meaningful for her in her Christian walk.” What a privilege that is.