I was in high school and really just trying to navigate my social world that had impending adulthood starting to stare me straight in the face. Meanwhile, the girl next door (literally) was dealing with a trauma that I couldn’t even begin to grapple with. This girl next door had been my best friend since we met when she was in 5th grade and I was in 4th grade.
For those that are doing the math we have been best friends for 31 years. We grew up in circumstances that really led to lean on one another so much that at some point the lines became drawn and she became my family. My family accepted her as a daughter and vice versa for her family.
But when we were both in high school her mom became very sick. She ended up with a brain tumor that was cancerous. She watched as her mom slowly and painfully lost her life. She suddenly was riddled with adult decisions that no high school student should have to worry about. Things like paying household bills, making sure the house is kept up and everyone is fed.
I will be the first to admit at time the amount of “adulthood” she had to deal with I struggled to relate to. I wanted to worry about things like what my boyfriend and I were doing that weekend or what movie I was going to next. While she is trying to get more hours at her job to make a house payment.
This best friend and I who grew up with one another, vacationed with one another and spent almost every waking moment together when we could suddenly were on two different planes. Our friendship had withstood out of state moves, parental divorces, friendship breakups and friendship make ups. But this was a hurdle I struggled to even want to cross over.
I remember talking with her about how sick her mom was and feeling so out of my depth I would change the subject to the Algebra test I just bombed. She would follow with a story about barely passing classes because she is working so many hours. My response was always silence. What could I offer to that?
When her mom did pass and the blur of the days that followed I felt a tremendous grief that is so hard to explain. A grief so heavy and is so hard to explain. Decisions were made for me during that time. I lived about 20 minutes from her and my parents and grandparents made the decision to have me spend with the week with my grandma who lived about 10 houses away from her. I would walk to her house, or she would walk to my grandma’s. My grandma would make sure she was fed, had a place to crash and love.
I remember clearly the day of the viewing and my mom coming into town and getting me. I asked her and my grandma what my role was during this. They had simple, but oh so important words. Be there. So I did. For 48 hours, I followed her cues. I let her tell me what she needed and most of the time it was nothing. She needed me to listen when she could be a teenager. We laughed about boys, or girls and the people that showed up. We gossiped about stories that were happening all around us. Then 2 minutes later she was swept back into her grief and I was just there. But I grieved too in a different way. I grieved because my best friend had suffered such an incredible loss at such a young age.
I mean her mom was special to me, she taught me about wearing bras and was doing youtube challenges before YouTube was even a thing. Harken back to taking us to a farmers market (before they were even cool) and convincing us to not only try, but to whom could eat the most sour of gooseberries. What followed was the most amazing gooseberry pie that I can still taste in my mouth to this day. Road trips, boys, bras and a healthy way to live life. I grieved for all of that, but really I grieved for all that my best friend lost and would be without.
But she was grieving for all of the things she would not and all of the things that she should be able to. How could I even begin to understand that? But I was there. I am there. And now we are in our early 40s and she is staring in the mirror looking at her grief in the face as she nears the age when her mom passed. She is in pain again. An unimaginable pain as her son nears her same age when she watched her mom lose her battle. Again a grief I could never understand and honestly feel helpless to do anything about.
I tell you this story not to spread sadness. But instead I tell it because life circles around like that. I see it coming back around staring me in the face. I saw it yesterday as I sat next to a previous student who is very dear to me at a funeral. A funeral for her best friend’s mother. Everyone involved means a lot to me, but I sat next to a girl who was me so many years ago.
My mind was suddenly flooded all day with the “what I should have dones” and grief that my best friend has to feel this incredible loss over and over and over. It isn’t fair and it isn’t fair it happens to anyone. Love works like that you know? I want to step into her life and I want to take some of the pain of this loss.
I realized though that this life journey is long and difficult and that as I sat there and stared my own mortality in the face that this life journey I have been making with my best friend is 31 years in the making. She probably knows me about better than my own husband. That counts for so much. All of life griefs for both of us there is one consistent factor and that is that we have one another.
Love will win. Love always wins. Even with grief. -MR