I lost my best friend to cancer nearly four years ago.
When I think of her now, I still am sad that she’s no longer here, but I also find comfort in my memories of her. I keep a photo of her on my desk at work, because it is there that I find myself thinking of her most. We met while working at a job where we sat together back to back in a shared cubicle. We only shared that space for three short years, but we continued to have a connection via work even though we moved on to different departments. Her illness kept her away from her job for many months, but we regularly chatted about the ins and outs of working there even until the last time I saw her alive. Right after she died, I would sometimes come across an old coworker or situation that I know she’d understand, and I’d have that moment of confusion where I thought I could call her up and share a laugh. This happens less frequently now, and instead of reaching for the phone by mistake, the moments give me pause and a sinking feeling in my stomach where I think, “She would really have enjoyed hearing this.”
Recently I was at an evening work function at a fancy property where we had once acted in a murder mystery event together. Memories came flooding back, and I desperately wanted to reminisce about her and the fun times we had there years ago.
She knew she was dying and began to prepare for the inevitability of death a long time before it came. This gave her a chance to do whatever she could to leave behind a legacy for her two daughters. She recorded herself reading stories and singing their favorite songs. She wrote letters for them to read at milestones and birthdays. I joined her in spending hours scanning old pictures to make photo books for her family. Even through all of this preparation, I don’t think I accepted what was truly happening. I doubt that’s uncommon, but I do wonder if I would have done anything differently had I fully embraced the reality of my last moments with her.
One of my favorite things about her strength through battling cancer and anticipating death was how she began making a point to tell you that she loved you. It was never common in our friendship to be that outward about how we felt about each other. Our friendship was strong, and she was the kind of best friend I shared everything with, but I didn’t regularly tell any of my friends that I love them. It actually kind of made me uncomfortable at first, possibly because I wasn’t letting myself accept what was truly happening to her, but I rolled with it because it seemed important. I spent a few hours visiting with her a few days before she died. There was no sign that it would be the last time we would ever be together, and other than our now normal exchange of “I love you” when I left, neither of us did anything differently. As I reflect back on that evening, I now know that was the perfect way to say goodbye. I think she knew how important she was to me, because I showed her that by sharing friendship. I didn’t need to draw out our final goodbye to get what I needed out of our friendship, and I don’t think she did either. Instead of a teary emotional goodbye, she left behind her strength, laughter, memories I will always have, and she taught us all a lesson in how to lose someone and carry on. The sadness I feel when I think of her will never disappear, and I will never stop missing her, but I don’t feel empty in any way.