Brand building through storytelling

When my best friend died

Every October for at least a quarter-century, my friend Val and I would book dinner for two to celebrate our birthdays—hers on the seventeenth, mine on the twentieth. We invited no one else to join the party, where we drank to the milestones in our lives. Through the births of her kids and the deaths of our parents, through homes bought and sold, through crazy-making jobs that enthralled us until the next challenge came along, we never missed our annual outing to the restaurant of the moment.

Ross Val PhotoOur first spot, long gone, was a 70s-style pleasure palace, all tropical greenery and vaulted glass. Our last one featured exposed beams and a martini bar lined with twitchy-looking hipsters young enough to be our children. All the laughter in the place came from one table: ours. Val studied my face with the intent curiosity I had treasured since we first became friends in our 20s. Then she asked, “Why do women obsess about getting older? Look at how good life is for both of us. We love our work, we love our families. We’re full of life. We’re beautiful.”

She had just turned 56 while I, at 57, had undeniably reached my late 50s. We were old enough to know who we were and what we valued. Each of us had watched the other come into her own. We dressed like ourselves, not like vacant-eyed models. That night Val had chosen a filmy scarf in her customary leaves-and-branches palette, and a long unstructured dress that would be just as becoming on her eightieth birthday, which of course we would celebrate together.

She was the constant in my family of choice. Every woman has such a family, a network of friends who can be more replenishing than kin, and whose presence in her life attests to years of devotion. You don’t just make friends; you keep them, one guess-what phone call or soul-baring confidence at a time. Yet the reality is that you can’t keep a friend forever. Unless you’re Thelma and Louise, barreling over a cliff together, every longstanding friendship ends in sorrow. One of you will die and the other will mourn, a life-changing but invisible journey that casts you adrift from the woman you were with your friend.

I learned this the hard way, as every woman does. Until recently, I never noticed that card shops brim with specialized condolence messages for every close bond except friendship. I didn’t question the presumed hierarchy of grief, in which friends rank last. When people in my circle lost parents, I sent hand-written notes. When they lost friends, I said, “I’m sorry.” I didn’t understand that “sorry” doesn’t cut it. The few who do understand are those who have been there. As one woman recently told me, “I got more sympathy when my cat died than I did for the death of my friend.”

Last October, Val and I did not go to dinner. Just as I was wondering where to book our table, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I trusted that she’d have a remission, and then another after that (isn’t cancer a chronic illness these days?). I thought of all the friends who showered her with support-who ran errands, cooked dinner and sent enough notes to fill a stationery shop. If love could sustain her, she would live. She died in four months.

When I found the e-mail breaking the news, I wanted to beat my fists bloody against the locked iron door of our friendship. How could it be that spiteful, treacherous people were still going about their business while Val, who had countless friends and not one enemy, was cut down in her prime? What about her husband and children, the youngest still in high school? What about the trip to Paris she’d been planning? And the book she’d just barely completed, working with one hand because the tumour had disabled the other? What about me? Facedown on the floor, I sobbed for my friend and for the part of myself that had died with her.

I thought I knew what it meant to face the death of a loved one. By the time I turned 40, I had already buried both my parents-my mother, at 67, being the more dismaying loss. It seemed outrageous that the world should go on without her in it, the steadfast guide to every passage in my life. From my first sanitary belt to my first sleepless night with a colicky newborn, my mother showed me what to do. When her own mother died, she showed me by example how a good daughter grieves: plan the funeral, empty the house, gather the family photos. By cruel coincidence, my mother died of a brain tumour, five months after diagnosis. A freakish way to go, I figured. Surely I had seen the worst that death could do to me.

For 18 years, I felt immune to the kind of grief that empties the mind of everything except longing. I wept for three friends who died too young, and whom I still miss, but none of them had doubled as my personal historian. That role belonged to Val.

When we met as fledgling journalists with more ambition than polish, I flirted with the notion of starting a fiction magazine. Then I looked at the risks and forgot the whole thing. Val remembered, and spoke of it often. A dream that I’d dismissed as laughably naïve was in her eyes endearing just because it had been mine.

Now she was gone. At my corner grocery, the usual crowd heaped their baskets with asparagus and California strawberries as if nothing had changed. They asked the usual question: how’s it going? When the truth burst out of me, they said, “I’m sorry.”

A few days after Val died, I went looking for the white cashmere sweater that I’d worn at our last birthday dinner, when she exclaimed at our beauty. It wasn’t in its customary spot, or anywhere else I might have stashed it. I phoned two cafes where I might have left the sweater draped over a chair. I kept digging through the same drawers, as if the sweater—and Val—might reappear.

I eventually gave up on the sweater, but not on Val. I phoned her old number at work, hungry for her lilting voice on the recorded announcement. How many times had I dialed that number to set up a lunch date, knowing she’d likely break it because of some last-minute crisis commitment or other? “What do you mean, you can’t grab a fast lunch?” I would ask. “You’re over 50 and you need to get your boss’s permission?” I replayed those conversations in my head as the phone rang and rang. At last a canned female voice informed me, “The person at this extension is not available to take your call.”

Not available. It sounded so implausibly cold, as if my vibrant, funny friend had never existed. Even harder to believe was the fact that I, a rational grownup who scorned the very notion of an afterlife, had just placed a call to Eternity. I didn’t actually say, “I miss you.” Still, I hoped that Val could hear my thoughts. Good God, was I losing my mind?

I posed the question to an expert—my friend Marla, who had lost her lifetime confidante some 18 months earlier. “I still listen to her last voicemail message,” Marla told me. “It’s a digital thread that binds me to her.”

I was not Val’s best friend, although she was mine. In the past, I had sometimes felt jealous of the friend lived across the street from Val, and who power-walked with her every morning. Then I’d kick myself for being small-minded. If I’d wanted a daily conversation with Val, I could have tried phoning every day, the time-honoured girlfriends’ ritual that has never suited my reserved nature. I savour friendship in deep, intense bursts, with time for reflection in between.

That was just fine with Val, who kept a special place for me in a life that overflowed with friends. Her memorial service drew hundreds of people, including dozens I’d never seen or heard of. She had Birkenstock friends, jeans-and-nose-ring friends, and friends in designer suits with important-looking jewelry. Some had bonded with her in boardrooms, others in the top-floor bedroom of her teenage years, where they used to scribble slogans on the walls. Yet we all had one thing in common: we treasured Val.

It no longer mattered who had been her best friend, if she ever thought in those terms. She had been the best friend of many, whose stricken faces told the story. I belonged to a community of grief. That night I sent a condolence note to Val’s neighbour. Although I had not shared those morning walks, I knew how profoundly she would miss them.

It suddenly struck me, with a pang of regret, that I don’t have a single photo of Val and me together. This is what comes of never carrying a camera. Yet I see her image everywhere. All over the city where we made and kept our friendship, I pass the haunts we shared. The outdoor café where Val told me, with mingled delight and astonishment, that had met the man she intended to marry. The nondescript office building where we had been magazine colleagues, cheering each other on when our stories were cut or our efforts derided by a grizzled old-school manager who had no use for women. The ravine where we once walked all morning on the hottest Saturday of the summer. The rest of the world had sought refuge indoors, leaving all that green glory to us. In our sweaty shorts, we felt like queens. I always thought we’d go back to the ravine. “After my vacation,” I’d tell myself. Or “When Val has finished her book.”

I hold fast to these moments, although they make me sad. If I could forget my friend, she would not have been the marvel that she was. Now that my memories are all I have of Val, I need to meditate on every one, to set them in my mind like heirloom stones in a necklace. Her small pivotal kindnesses, forgotten years ago, come back to me as if they happened yesterday. Once when nothing in my life was working out, a florist rang my doorbell with a gift from Val—a white orchid. Long after it withered, I kept the orchid on my desk. The sight of it gave me hope. A good ten years later, thinking of it has the same effect.

These memories ground me. They tell me that my world, while profoundly and irrevocably altered, is not broken after all. I am still the woman who was beautiful with Val that night in October. With luck, I will grow old while she, in my mental photo album, will remain forever 57 (and looking at least 10 years younger). Yet the part of me that laughed with her still listens for her voice. Sometimes I know what she’d say.

Last month, for instance, when my husband came home with a guidebook to Paris, where Val should be going right now. “Our next trip!” he said. At first I wouldn’t open the book. Still numb with loss, I wanted to hide from the world—until Val gave me an imaginary talking-to: “Are you nuts? Of course you’ll go! Don’t lose this chance!” I’m going to Paris. And my friend will be with me.

Biographical note: Val Ross, best friend of many, was an arts reporter for the Globe and Mail and the award-winning author of many books, most recently the elegant and witty oral history Robertson Davies: a Portrait in Mosaic, which she completed against great odds just before her death. Click here for my earlier post “Two bowls of soup: in memory of Val Ross.”

First published in More, Canadian edition, September 2008, as “LosingVal.”

 

Posted by Rona



Previously posted comments:

Comment
Carol Harrison
October 19, 2008 at 1:01PM

I’m sorry for the loss of your best friend, Rona. I’ve never had a best female friend, unfortunately, not even my own sister. I consider a best friend, female, someone I can tell anything to, who will listen, a woman I have more in common with than not, someone I can talk to without criticisim, ok…if it’s constructive ’cause I’m considerably sensitive, without judgment, we would have respect for each other. There’ d be virtually nothing we couldn’t talk about.
My sister is my sister, not my best friend. We love each other unconditionally but each have our mental/emotional/psychological health problems so there’s things I can’t talk to her about….phobia plays a big part in this.
I’d like to know that kind of relationship….having a best friend. I wish the significant other person in my life, was my best friend but we have to agree to disagree, agreeably.

Reply
Rona Maynard
October 20, 2008 at 4:04 AM

Carol, thank you for your good wishes. You’re one of many, many women who wish they could be closer to their sister. My sister and I both know the feeling. I used to envy sisters who could truly be each other’s best friend. I’ve since realized these sister pairs are the exception rather than the rule. No wonder friends, our family of choice, are so important to women. You sound wistful when you speak of the role friendship has played (or not) in your own life. I’m sorry about that, but if you can envision the kind of relationship you’d like to have, you’ve already taken the first step toward making that vision a reality.

Comment
Carol Harrison
November 01, 2008 at 12:12PM

Dear Rona,
I don’t know WHAT happened to your e-mail newsletters to my gmail account, they just sort of disappeared. The article you wrote about you and your mother, I now have my mother’s picture available for you to post.

Carol

Comment
Christie
February 18, 2009 at 5:05PM

Dear Rona,rnI am probably a lot younger than your average reader of your story. I am twelve years old and completely happy. I have a friend, let’s call her Diana. I have known her since daycare. We experienced growing up together. When I was six or seven she moved a street away from me. Now everytime we want to hang out all we have to do is call each other up and meet exactly half way, we measured in foot steps last year and calculated the exact half point. We race to the middle every time. Anyways, she is now at my school this year, a year younger than me but we are only 6 months apart. It’s funny because her older sister is a year above me at the same school. Well she is friends with people that I know and is always talkin about them. It feels like bringing us together is bringing us apart. We are going to my house in Georgia this year for a week. We already have gone for a week and have had the time of our lives. She is my true sister and I love her to death. I would like to apologize for. What has happened with your friend Val. I can truly sympathize for you because I can only imagine how hard it is for you to lose her. I truly hope that you can find little ways to bring her back into your life with memories. Even though she is not with you in flesh she will always be in your mind. I have had my share of death, too. My dad died when I was six. The one thing that I truly regret about it is that I didn’t cry. Of course now I cry but I didn’t at the time. I felt so bad. I can still remember looking out of the hospital window into the parking lot and trying to cry but I couldn’t. Well, I hope that you reply because it would mean a lot to me.rnThank you!rnLove, rnChristie

Reply
Rona Maynard
February 19, 2009 at 10:10 AM

Hi, Christie. I loved your story about measuring the halfway point between your house and your best friend’s house in footsteps. You’ll both remember this for the rest of your lives, and so you should! You’ll make many other friends, of course, but I think it’s our first friendships that teach us what this friendship business is all about. At least, that’s how it was for me. I still treasure the memory of a friendship I formed at age five. Six is awfully young to lose your father, and I’m sorry about that. As for not crying, I expect it was just too overwhelming. Thank you for writing, Christie. I’ll remember your comment.

Comment
Christie
February 22, 2009 at 5:05PM

Haha I remember we walked up the entire hill counting numbers and here mom drove by and looked at us like we were crazy. Which we are. But we don’t care about what people think of is because that’s the best way to live.

Comment
Christine
October 05, 2009 at 2:02PM

I just read your article.. Oh the tears. Two of my best friends since 5 years old were killed last month in a car accident. I was just looking around the internet for hope… help … and reassurance.. I dont suspect I will ever get over this huge blow, but I just wonder if it will ever get better. If this relentless pain and sorrow will go away. IF this black cloud type feeling over my soul will leave. I thought I felt pain with the passing of my grandparents, aunts, uncles. But I really had no idea ….this is so much. Every day I literally feel ill. Sick to my stomach. I beg and plead with God to just bring them back, but they CANT come back.. and I cant even begin to believe or accept why. Im just so sad , depressed and alone. I cling to the memories the countless memories i have with those two beautiful people, and honestly at this point thats what still motivates me to keep moving on. Thank you for sharing your story . And know there are others out here.. feeling just as you do….

Reply
Rona Maynard
October 06, 2009 at 4:04 AM

Dear Christine, I’m so sorry. The death of a friend cuts especially deep because friends, unlike elders, are part of our intimate lives—the people we dream and grow with, confiding at every step of the journey. It’s hard enough to accept that one friend is gone forever. And here you are with your double loss. The most helpful thing I can tell you, for what it’s worth, is that you need lots of time to mourn. Don’t expect to bounce back in a few weeks or months. My friend died almost two years ago but I still think of her almost every day. Every time I feel a wave of sadness rising, just slightly lower than the time before. Increasingly the missing is balanced by gratitude for having known this extraordinary woman. For more than 30 years she nourished me with her presence. She still does.

Comment
shelly davis
March 21, 2010 at 9:09PM

I was looking on the internet to see if I could find some way to come to terms with my best friend’s death. He was just such a joy to be around and so much fun. It hurts me so bad I feel like I’m going to lose it..that is what’s left of my mind. We were friends through good times and bad….oh I will miss him so. I just want to make the pain to go away. What can I do ?

Reply
Rona Maynard
March 22, 2010 at 4:04 AM

Welcome, Shelly. I’m so sorry to hear about your friend. The missing comes through every word of your comment. And yes, I do have a suggestion. Savour your memories of this irreplaceable man. Visit the places you enjoyed together (I think of my deceased friend every time I take a walk around our favourite parts of the city). Get together with other people who loved him and tell stories about him. You’ll cry but I predict you’ll also laugh. You’ll be connecting with that part of you where he still lives. You might also consider creating a memory book in his honour, consisting of the eulogies, people’s stories about him and treasured photos. There are companies online (e.g., mypublisher.com) that will print these books on demand–they can be pricey but are really worth it. Two people who loved my friend Val produced one for her and I’m deeply grateful for their efforts. Turning the pages, I learn things about Val that I somehow never knew during her lifetime.

Comment
Sommer
June 13, 2010 at 8:08AM

My best friend died 4 days ago. He was such a huge part of my life. We met 9 years ago, dated for 3 1/2 and remained best friends until the end, even though I had moved away 5 years ago and only got to see him a few times a year. I talked to him almost every day. My brain is having a hard time processing the fact that he does not exist in my world anymore. That my phone will never say his name at the bottom of the screen when it rings. That I will never have another conversation with him. That I will never see his beautiful eyes again. Maybe it is so hard to believe because it happened so fast- he died only 9 weeks from the day he found out he had colon cancer. I am comforted by the thoughts that he did not suffer for too long; that he lived a wonderful, full life; that he shaped my life and my personality for the better with his love and support and I will forever be influenced by this wonderful person. And I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the majority of his last month with him, holding his hand. But the comforting thoughts do not come that often at this point. I just mourn the emptiness in my life, and the life he will never get the chance to live, all the things he aspired to do that will never be realized. He was only 51.

No one understands what our relationship was, how much he meant to me, how you can love “just a friend” that much. I’m in a daze, can only think about him, and googled “my best friend died” out of a need for connection, and came upon your page. Thank you for telling your story about you and your friend Val. For giving us some comfort, too.

Reply
Rona Maynard
June 26, 2010 at 9:09 AM

You’re right, Sommer. Your friend’s impact will always be with you. And of course this makes the longing for his presence even more acute. How can someone so vividly present in your mind be so utterly absent to the rest of the world? I’m so sorry for your loss.

Comment
Sommer
June 13, 2010 at 8:08AM

My best friend died 4 days ago. He was such a huge part of my life. We met 9 years ago, dated for 3 1/2 and remained best friends until the end, even though I had moved away 5 years ago and only got to see him a few times a year. I talked to him almost every day. My brain is having a hard time processing the fact that he does not exist in my world anymore. That my phone will never say his name at the bottom of the screen when it rings. That I will never have another conversation with him. That I will never see his beautiful eyes again. Maybe it is so hard to believe because it happened so fast- he died only 9 weeks from the day he found out he had colon cancer. I am comforted by the thoughts that he did not suffer for too long; that he lived a wonderful, full life; that he shaped my life and my personality for the better with his love and support and I will forever be influenced by this wonderful person. And I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the majority of his last month with him, holding his hand. But the comforting thoughts do not come that often at this point. I just mourn the emptiness in my life, and the life he will never get the chance to live, all the things he aspired to do that will never be realized. He was only 51.

No one understands what our relationship was, how much he meant to me, how you can love “just a friend” that much. I’m in a daze, can only think about him, and googled “my best friend died” out of a need for connection, and came upon your page. Thank you for telling your story about you and your friend Val. For giving us some comfort, too.

Reply
Rona Maynard
June 13, 2010 at 8:08 AM

You’ve come to the right place, Sommer. I’m so sorry about the loss of your friend. I know you’ll always miss his grounding presence in your life. Then again, I predict you’ll continue to find bittersweet pleasure in your memories of him, as I’ve done with my memories of Val. There’s something oddly consoling about missing someone because the experience reminds us of the lost person’s huge role in our lives and renews our gratitude for having known, however briefly, a soulmate.

Comment
yvette johnson
October 20, 2010 at 9:09PM

i am so sorry for the loss of your bestfriend, i can say i know how you feel. i lost my bestfriend of 32 years, buried her 2 days ago. it still hurts so bad. i have lost a piece of myself. we where alike in so many ways. she left behind 5 children and a husband. i stay in contact with them and talk often because they are an extension of her. i miss her so much and i am trying to focus on the wonderful times in our childhood and youngadult hood onto now, she had alot of stress issues which allowed her to have blood pressure issues with affected her heart and she had to get a pacemaker, she got some new meds after the old ones stop working as well and ultimately these worked to well and sent her bloodpressure super low and she could not breathe nor be resusitated, it was sudden and it was fast, all in 3days after taking the new meds. because it was sudden is why it is so hard for me to except, we were planning a trip together for her to come see me in cali.

Reply
Rona Maynard
October 27, 2010 at 5:05 AM

Hi, Yvette. How you must miss your friend. The suddenness of her death, on the brink of a visit you’d been planning with high hopes, makes it all so much harder. Celebrate your memories of this special woman whose heart and mind held so much of you. And give yourself plenty of time to mourn.

Comment
Jerris
November 10, 2010 at 10:10AM

Rona: rnrnThank you for writing this article. My best friend died and your words have been the only provision of condolence. rnrn

Reply
Rona Maynard
November 11, 2010 at 8:08 AM

I’m so sorry. Glad I could offer some comfort.

Comment
ali
January 09, 2011 at 12:12AM

Thanks for your post..I just lost my best friend…and like you, I know he had many close friends, I wasn’t the only one, but he touched my life, I still hear his voice, can imagine how he would respond in conversation..it’s really hard letting someone like that go…I can only think that I have more to do with my life, I want to impact people, help others, make it worthwhile… his happy go lucky vibe will always remain with me…

I wonder, if at 57, you know yourself much more than I do now, at 25. I’m struggling with my identity, with making the right decisions. Did you experience such struggle? I try to accept the wisdom of those older than me….

Thanks for the post, it’s nice to know someone else has experienced a similar loss, and survived and kept going….

Reply
Rona Maynard
January 09, 2011 at 2:02 PM

Hi, Ali. Welcome to my site. My first thought about your comment: as long as you can imagine your friend’s response in conversation, he’s very much alive in your heart and mind. Not across a table where you want him, but a consolation nonetheless. In my experience the 20s are a tough decade. So much to work out with no memory bank to inform your difficult decisions. By middle age, most of us can look back on past dilemmas and what we learned from them. Life doesn’t exactly get easier (in part because people start dying on you in significant numbers), but grappling with what it throws your way is not so overwhelming or discombobulating.

Comment
Nicky
February 15, 2011 at 2:02AM

Rona: I’m sitting in front of my computer balling my eyes out. I’m 19 and lost my best friend(who was a year older than me) in august 2010. I can’t seem to compose myself right now, because reading your story…. wow… the people around me are starring really hard as they think something is wrong… It’s been 6 months now… and I thought I could deal with it, but coming back to university without her with me is the most painful thing ever.. It was always the two of us.. We were life’s Ying and Yang.

I still remember the day everything happened, we were sitting in our spot at university, and I told her that we should go home. She kept delaying because she was updating her facebook status. I never bothered to look at what she posted, I just told her “It’s never going to fit”. She looked back and said “I’ll make it fit”. Eventually we were in such a hurry to go we left, and I still didnt take a look at what she posted. On our way to our lift (We also travelled together), I decided to wake two steps in front of her… I remember her laughing at me just as I tripped on the concrete, as we got into the lift, she looked flusterd. I thought maybe her blood sugar was low, so I asked her if she wanted a sweet and she said no. I knew something was wrong when she started vomitting, I quickly phoned her mom, and as I did she said”I can’t feel anything” and passed out… At that point I still thought she was going to be okay as we rushed her to her mom. I had her head on my shoulder ,and I kept checking her pulse. She had never passed out before..She had never been a sickly type.. She was out cold.. When we got to her house I left her saying “Please be okay “…

That night my phone went crazy with calls.. I just threw my blanket over my head and sat there… The next morning I got a phonecall from a friend whose mom had happened to be her nurse.. She went into a coma when she was with me. She had anuerysm and all that time I KNEW NOTHING.. The doctor said that even we could have done nothing even if we knew. During that night she had two asthma attacks(which she never had before)… I went to see her at ICU, and when I got to her bed I cried and cried and cried… My best friend just layed there… I begged her to wake up.. but she didnt… … about 2-3 hours later her heart gave up, and she died…

I was in utter shock..the funeral was painful beyond words.I stood at her coffin and cried… and cried … and cried… Her mom took my hand and said “Nicky”… she didnt have to say anything else… It felt as though I was just hit with a bus.. After the funeral I blocked myself from the world.. How could I let her die… I kept telling myself it was my fault. She was everything to me, she thought my thoughts, and was the no.1 person who believed that I could do anything. Its hard looking at our pictures … walking through the corridors alone.. we did everything together… it was always just her and I against the world…

Now… I feel like a lonesome nobody … I went onto facebook the night she did… the status that she updated just before everything happened was the justin beiber song “never say never” and it said

See I never thought that I could walk through fire.
I never thought that I could take the burn.
I never had the strength to take it higher,
Until I reached the point of no return.
And there’s just no turning back,
When your hearts under attack,
Gonna give everything I have,
It’s my destiny. I will never say never!
I will fight till forever!
Whenever you knock me down,
I will not stay on the ground.
Pick it up,rnAnd never say never.”

I read those lines over and over… It’s like she already knew.. I miss her each and every second.. Its like I have this whole in my heart. Somedays I don’t want to even think about me being in my 20’s,30’s and 40’s… How can I without her here? Everything I look at reminds me of her… and even though I know I should remember the amazing times we had, I can’t help but cry… I just wish she was here.. I just want to her that voice of hers and give her the biggest hug in the world…

Like Val, she was the most caring/loving person in the world. I sometimes ask God why he took her so soon.. Of all the people I knew she was the one who deserved to live a full life.. I even wish that it was me that went instead of her…. I know they say that time heals all wounds… Does it really? Thank you for sharing your story. I really needed to get this off my chest

Reply
Rona Maynard
February 15, 2011 at 5:05 AM

Dear Nicky, I’m so sorry for the loss of your large-hearted friend, for the life she never had a chance to live and for all the adventures you two should have had to look forward to. No, time does not heal all wounds. I always cringe when someone unthinkingly repeats this cliche. People are not replaceable, and to suggest that we can stop missing a loved one is to diminish the specialness of that person. What does happen over time is a gradual softening of the grief. The memories become less agonizing and more celebratory. One day you’ll be able to look at photos of the two of you and feel grateful for the life-expanding moments you shared. But of course you’ll continue to wish there could have been more. With deepest sympathy, Rona

Comment
Diana Ellis
March 18, 2011 at 1:01AM

I will be back to read it later. My best friend died almost a month ago now. I cant go here yet. I am lost.

Comment
Abby
May 17, 2011 at 1:01AM

Dear Rona, I’m deeply moved by your story. And I lost my best friend last month. She got cancer 2 years ago, during these times, we once thought she could live, but we lost her in the end.She is a very kind girl, with beautiful heart and appearance, she is 25, and so do I. We met in high school, she is much taller than me, and we both like walking around the playground after class. I can tell her everything, family,relationships,study,everything. And we sleep together and talk all night long. We laugh a lot. She always courage me to be strong. But then we go to university in different city, she is still in our home city. we can only contact on internet and meet on holidays. What makes me feel so bad now is that we didn’t have group photo since we depart, and when I recall the old times, it feels hurt that it’s always she do stuff for me, think about me, care about me. I just enjoy the feeling that she’s grate and I’m happy with her. I hate myself so much that why did I choose a university so far away from her? Why din’t I care about her more that what I’ve done? And it is her birthday 3 days later, I rally want to do something for her,but I don’t know what to do. Sorry about the English cause I’m a Chinese girl. Hope I can get your reply and welcome to China one day! May God bless you and your friend!

Reply
Rona Maynard
May 18, 2011 at 11:11 AM

Oh, Abby, I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. I know how you’re going to miss her. I also know that if she could read what you’ve written here, she would say, “Don’t blame yourself for what you didn’t do, be glad for what you did and shared with me when we were together.” Your friend loved you and wanted your happiness. Remember that. By the way, I have visited China. What a rich, fascinating country you have!

Comment
Maria
May 17, 2011 at 12:12PM

Rona,

In hopes of fnding a way to help my husband I came across your page. I too have a best friend and know how importants those special moments are and for that I am very sorry for your loss. Unfortunately my husband also lost his best friend just shy of a month before out wedding in a car accident, he was supposed to be his best man. We’ve been married for 5 months now and everything is still fresh. His laughter is rare, he’s quiet a lot, I often feel like I’m living with a roommate not a husband. I know he tries to be more cheerful and sometimes he will tell me he worries for his best friends parents for their loss, he wishes he could change the fact that he died and misses him often. I feel horrible at times for feeling a bit jealous that my husband occupies a lot if his time thinking about him, dwelling in what happened, sometimes I feel he feels guilty, I know he’s a bit angry too. I want to try to help him but I don’t know exactly how and I don’t know how not to feel left out or unattended. I feel like this should be the best year of our lives and while my husband griefs for his friend, I grief for the man my husband used to be before this happened. I miss my flirty, happy, thoughtful, loving, husband, back then…boyfriend/fiance he used to be. How can I help him be who he used to be?

Reply
Rona Maynard
May 18, 2011 at 11:11 AM

Maria, I’m so very sorry. The best thing you can do for your husband is get him professional help for the depression that has taken him away from you and from the world of the living. I can’t overstate how important this is. You cannot solve this illness in his mind, any more than you could remove a cancerous tumour from his body. Depression is treatable–I’ve survived it myself. One more thing: the first year of marriage is not the best year of your life. Marriage should deepen over time as you prove your love by seeing each other through trials as well as joys. Good luck to you both.

Comment
Mei
May 29, 2011 at 10:10PM

My friend had died today…..and i’m very sorry for your friend…..i don’t know what to do but cry…..this is my first time experiencing a person died in my family i hate to experiencing it!

Comment
Dewayne Miller
January 09, 2012 at 2:02PM

I came across your article when I was looking for something; anything really, that would help me understand why it’s so hard to believe that my best friend is gone. He had multiple disabilities–some he was born with and others that developed later.

We first met in 1990 when I worked as a staff member at the program he attended. Twenty-one years of lunches, day trips, long weekends–or just hangin’ out at home. Twenty-one years with the one person in my life who asked nothing of me except that I let him be a part of my life; and now its over.

He died last month. I went to the funeral–I cried–I look at the pictures–I think of the times we shared (even the bad ones ’cause they were a little bit better going through them together). But somehow I just can’t really accept it. The crazy thing is, this is the kind of thing I would normally talk with him about. And he would just sit, and listen, and let me talk–ramble for as long as I needed–without judging–or looking at me funny–or telling me what I should do. . .

Guess, in a way, you just did that for him–Thanks

Reply
Rona Maynard
January 28, 2012 at 9:09 AM

Hi, Dewayne. I’m sorry for the loss of your irreplaceable friend, who gave you what all the best friends do–total acceptance. Sometimes the best thing one person can do for another is just listen without judgment. Your friend did that for you. Pass it on.

Comment
Carole Friedland
February 28, 2012 at 6:06PM

I am crying now over the loss of my best friend who was my friend for over 40 years. You expressed exactly how I feel. I wish I had one of those happy pictures of the the two of us together, but we never took such a picture. I want to call her and tell her how much I miss her. She always made me feel better. Thank you for writing this essay. I feel less alone.

Reply
Rona Maynard
February 28, 2012 at 7:07 PM

Carole, I don’t have a “happy picture” of my Val and me, either. Not the kind anyone else can see, anyway. But there are lots of pictures in my head. I’m sorry you’ve lost such an old and treasured friend.

Comment
Corrie
October 04, 2012 at 8:08PM

Thank you for this article Rona. I too, in desperation googled about a best friend dying and your page came up. Now I don’t feel so weird. I’ve had grandparents die and some older family die but this time it really hit me hard. Naoko was my treasured friend. The funny thing is we only knew each other almost 5 years. She and I met at our son’s kindergarten school orientation and I just knew we were going to be friends. She had liver problems and I never knew her to be completely healthy. Maybe that’s why our friendship was so intense. We kind of knew time was short. She died 10 days ago and it feels like a life time already. I feel fine one moment and the next I feel like someone stabbed me in the heart. Then I will dream about her and it’ll be nice for a moment and torture the next. I wake up sad and I go to bed sad. During the day I put on my brave face and do what is expected of me. I’ve started to think I’m not normal because the reaction from others are “oh she was just a friend, then?” Like I’m not supposed to be grieving. My husband keeps asking what’s wrong like he doesn’t know. Like I didn’t already tell him the day before or the day before that- what’s wrong with me. I also feel like all those sorries or sympathies I told everyone is worthless. I don’t think I’ll ever say that to anyone again unless my children get hurt. I have faith and know where she is and that is comforting that I will see her one day. In the meantime, she left a big void in my life. I will miss her more than words can say! Thanks again. In some strange way this helps to know that I’m not the only one with a knife in the heart.

Reply
Rona Maynard
October 08, 2012 at 6:06 AM

Corrie, you are absolutely not alone. That “knife in the heart” you feel for Naoko has stabbed so many of us. More than four years after my friend Val died, I still have moments of acute missing. One day Hallmark will make condolence cards for friends and the world will start to get the message that the loss of a friend cuts deep. I’m so sorry you’ve lost Naoko.

Comment
Dewayne Miller
November 15, 2012 at 7:07AM

Hello Rona. It’s me again–I want to thank you so much for this article, and for posting the responses. Reading them has been helpful for me. I’m sure they’ve helped others, and I hope those others include you.

December 8th is fast approaching–nearly a year since my best friend died Generally, I’m feeling better. Over the years I knew this man as my “client”, my coworker, my teacher and my dearest friend. I won’t say that I have accepted his absence from my life; rather, I have recognized that part of him will always be with me.

Reply
Rona Maynard
November 15, 2012 at 9:09 AM

Lovely to hear from you, Dewayne. I do indeed feel expanded by the comments posted here from people at various stages in their grieving. They remind me that the stab of missingness is part of what it means to be a grown-up human.

Comment
Hayley
December 29, 2012 at 4:04PM

I met my best friend many years ago when I was 19 and she was 18, we became firm friends and I saw her every week at least twice but often more, we would go out to clubs together and have so much fun, even when we met our partners and had children we still made sure we saw each other and spoke on the phone daily. During the summer we would take our children to the park for picnics, in the winter we had play dates at our homes. In December 2010 my best friend had tummy problems, doctors discovered a lump and upon Investigations they told her she had colon cancer which had spread to her lungs, they gave her 5 years to live. We were both devastated but made plans for the 5 years we had. She even moved into a house on my street. In April 2011 I discovered I was pregnant, I had a terrible pregnancy and was in and out of hospital with severe sickness and lack of movement, throughout this and despite her chemotherapy she would phone me and offer support and to remind me of the things we could do after my baby was born. 2011 was a bit of a blur to me and flew by, my daughter was born in December, it was only then that I found out how sick my friend had become, she had hidden the truth from me so I didn”t get upset at the end of my pregnancy. The sad part though was that she refused to see me all through January 2012 no matter how much I tried to make contact, to this day I do not understand her reasons, I was told her body became weak and she got pneumonia and a flu bug, she didnt want any germs to be passed onto my baby, in February she called for me to go to the hospice, I went straight away and spent some time with her, she wasn’t making much sense by this point but she knew I was there, she asked me to go back the next day and as much as I hated seeing her there I promised I would! The next morning she died, she was 30 years old. It’s now been almost a year and each day is the same, it’s painful and I feel so alone, I don”t want to make new friends because they are not her, nobody understands me like she did and nobody could ever compare. My best friend had an amazing heart and lived for her 2 boys, she was funny and pretty and confident, everyone loved her. Each day I pass her house and I feel like I’m being punched in the stomach. I am angry at god for taking her, I question why? Why take her? Why not take the bad people in the world and let the good ones live? I ask her to make a sign that she can hear me but she never does. I wonder if I will ever be happy again without her here? I have my partner and family who tell me my life must go on but I’m not feeling any better. That’s my story, sorry it’s long and thank you for reading it. Sorry If there are mistakes, I am using mobile Internet with word prediction.

Reply
Rona Maynard
December 31, 2012 at 11:11 AM

Hayley, what a special friendship you shared with this generous-hearted woman. I don’t wonder that you miss her so profoundly. No one will ever replace her but I think you’ll find that new friends offer different gifts that deserve to be treasured.

Comment
Juliet
January 23, 2013 at 4:04PM

I’ve been trying to explain here the loss of my best friend of 25 years and find there is so much to say that I can’t write any of it. Nothing I write does justice to our friendship. My heart is broken. I keep deleting what I’ve written as it would take a book to write about our friendship. I wish I could express how much it meant. She was the only one who really knew me, we knew each others bad bits and good bits, the bits you’re ashamed of and proud of. It’s been 2 months since she passed, diagnosed and gone in 8 weeks it still doesn’t seem real. It’s a bad night tonight I needed to talk about her.

Reply
Rona Maynard
February 05, 2013 at 9:09 AM

Hi, Juliet. I am so sorry. And I hope you’ll give writing about your friend another shot. Don’t judge your words–that’s the last thing your friend would want. Why don’t you try writing her a letter, and another and another after that? Tell her how you felt about her, what’s on your mind and how you remember her. Don’t delete anything–keep your hand moving. (If you’ve been keyboarding, you might want to try pen and paper.) I got this idea from a friend of mine whose husband died suddenly. She’s found it helpful. I think you would, too.

Comment
Jessica
July 20, 2013 at 4:04PM

Hi, Rona. I will start by saying what you have probably heard a thousand times before.. I’m sorry to hear about your loss. Death boggles my mind a little bit when I think about it. I can’t imagine the day I lose my parents or a close friend. Although I understand death is a normal part of life, you have all my sympathy.

I am eighteen years old. I have this exact page bookmarked on my search engine. The link sits right below the search bar where you type in a URL. I occasionally click on it on accident and go back up to re-type what I was originally searching for. I hope you don’t take that offensively.. I clicked on it on accident today and decided I re-read the page to try to remember why I bookmarked this specific page. I remember going through a tough, depressed stage in high school about two years ago. I think I was searching for advice for friendships because I felt lonely and forgotten by my good friends during that depressed stage. Re-reading your story has brought up old memories with a childhood friend I no longer speak to. Our parents were friends in high school, she was born seven months before me, but was there at the hospital the day I was born. We grew up together, we were like sisters I think. I’m not sure what a sister is like, I have an older brother. We knew each other very well. Our families were each others’ families. We were comfortable with each other, our friendship was a natural part of me. During high school, we had more arguments and long periods of no communication than we probably should have. I will try to cut to the chase, as I know I am rambling. She had a little boy last fall at the young age of nineteen. We were still friends up until about March of this year. I think the pregnancy changed her quite a bit more than I had expected. I know I changed a lot as well. I have matured, taken on responsibilities most eighteen year olds don’t typically have, I’m a hard worker. I think we just really grew apart.

I still think about our friendship often. I miss our memories but looking back now I see a lot of why our friendship came to an end. She wasn’t a very good friend at all, nor was she a very good person. I’m not God, I really don’t have any authority to say who is good and bad but I now notice now how much I put up with from her. rnrnI heard the other day that she is burning bridges with everyone who has cared about her, she is very hostile towards her family, and that she is basically on a downward spiral. As much as I really, strongly dislike the person I now understand she is, a part of me really hurts to hear about her not doing well.

I think our friendship has run its course, but the white orchid that Val sent you when you were having some troubles in your life has inspired me. I think I’m going to sit down and write a long letter to her and send it along with an orchid. I think I will reminisce about all our memories, inside jokes, and ‘life changing’ moments. (high school was so dramatic haha) rnI think I will also tell her all the little things she did that hurt our friendship. And I will admit to any of my faults. But don’t get me wrong, I won’t be doing this out of rudeness. I want to send a farewell, get some closure, and also give her that ‘hope’ message that you got with that orchid.

Our friendship may be over, but no one should ever feel ‘hopeless’ without anyone showing care so I think this will be a good peace maker. Thankyou for your story, have a good day.

Reply
Rona Maynard
July 20, 2013 at 5:05 PM

Thank you for writing, Jessica. I’m touched to know that my story about Val has not only stayed on your mind but inspired you to reach out to someone who’s struggling. May I offer a word of advice for what it’s worth? In your letter, stick to the positive–those private jokes and life-changing moments that made you care for this young woman and still make you care for her today, despite all her flaws. This way, you open the door to a sense of peace for both of you, and maybe even a reconnection down the road (you’re both young, after all; much can happen in a decade or three). By dredging up old hurts, you risk closing that door. Let kindness be your guide and good things are likely to follow. I wish you well.

Leave a Reply

Stay up-to-date with Rona.

To see what’s on my mind these days, friend me on Facebook.

Miss my old site?

Visit the archive to find your favorite blog posts and Chatelaine editorials or browse my published articles. Sorry, I’m not blogging anymore.