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Xavier Magazine | October 1, 2014

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The X Factor

By France Griggs Sloat

They call it Thirsty Thursday.

On the first Thursday of the month, everyone who is within driving distance meets at a bar, a restaurant or one of their houses and they catch up on their lives—marriage, babies, family, memories.

It’s a tradition that had its beginnings in Brockman Hall, where the core group of women first met and cemented their status as best friends forever. Sounds corny, but these women mean it when they say forever. They’ve already proven it. One of the friends was Ali Nunery.

When Nunery, a 2002 communication arts graduate, was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer in March 2011, the group rallied, taking turns sitting through chemotherapy treatments with xugirlsher, spending evenings at her house and helping with Olivia, her 1-year-old daughter. They put on the over-the-top birthday party Ali wanted for Olivia’s first birthday with everyone dressed in pink and purple.

Kerry Murphy, a regional development director for Xavier and one of the group who graduated with Ali in 2002, was the stoic one. “I knew it wasn’t going to be a good thing. I’m even-keeled and the least emotional of all the friends, so I had a realistic approach and was most prepared to lose her. But that didn’t make it any easier.”

She offered to shave her head when Ali’s hair fell out, but Ali said no. Murphy stayed overnight with her once at the hospital. “It was like a sleepover. She asked me to bring candy and ice cream. We talked and watched TV and fell asleep.”

The end came in early November. Ali went to a Halloween party on Saturday, dressed as a witch. On Sunday night, she went to the hospital. The next Thursday was a Thirsty Thursday, but Ali worsened in the afternoon and they all gathered at the hospital, including Jackie Ziarnik, who flew in from Chicago, and Mary Beth O’Mara, who drove up from Louisville.

“Everyone was able to get there around 5:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m.,” Murphy says. “She was conscious. You could talk to her, but there was no response.”

At 7:30 p.m., they got a call and learned she died. But they were together, so they cried and talked and told
stories about Ali.

“I don’t know what it would have been like had we not been together,” Murphy says. “It was important to know someone else felt the exact way you were feeling and you didn’t have to bear that burden of grief by yourself. We all lost the same person who meant so much to us.”

Losing one of their own has made them even closer. “We were infinitely lucky to have her in our lives,” says Amber Schutte. “She is still very much part of our group.”

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