I lost my best friend- suddenly. People thought sometimes we were sisters; I suspect some people thought we were lovers. We weren’t; we were best friends- and what a special relationship that is.
She had my spare set of keys. We knew we could count on each other for holidays. We had daily phone calls, and checked in on each other. And emotionally I felt known. She saw me through my twenties and thirties. She knew my worries, admired my strengths, and tolerated my quirks. We spent one evening, laughing as we wrote “truthful” ads for a dating site, referencing our not so attractive traits- for example, my unrealistic expectations of people and self absorption, her “hypochondria” and wish to control her environment and everybody in it. We could laugh about our faults (except during those times our relationship got tangled in them).
I don’t want to suggest that our relationship was always easy. There were difficult times when we didn’t feel close, or actually didn’t like each other: when one of us had met “the man of her dreams” while the other was dusting off from a recent disappointment; when the guy I was interested in confided his wish to date her (anddid- for a year); when I was worried that her other friends were more important than me; when I left to immerse myself in a six month sabbatical. Yet somehow our friendship endured.
I knew her well. On that Thursday morning, when I hadn’t heard from her and I got a message from a friend saying she hadn’t shown up for lunch, I instinctively knew something was wrong… She ALWAYS picked up the phone.
And something was terribly wrong. She had died of a sudden heart attack. Within hours, her best friends and close family congealed and began taking care of her, her pets, and possessions. And we took care of each other in our grieving. Sometimes in conversations, our group of single friends would voice the fear that our passing would be insignificant-that we would die alone and with no one really caring. But as soon as people began to find out what had happened, she was surrounded by care and love (from friends, family, building employees, coworkers). As one of the bereaved, I was surrounded by concern as well. I was fortunate that members of her family and those who knew us, recognized the significance of this loss, and couldn’t imagine what I was going through.
Our group of friends operated powerfully during this time, taking care of each other in our grieving. We shared our knowledge of her, and several of us bonded in a deeper way out of this loss. Being single was a powerful force in our connection; we knew her in a way that some of her family and other friends who were partnered didn’t; because we had shared our unique experience of life as single people and friends who really relied on each other.
It’s ironic that when I had been in the throes of a lonely time, imagining that no one would even show up at my funeral, she laughingly reassured me that I definitely mattered- and she would make sure to throw the biggest and best party ever. Sadly, it was I who ended up throwing one of many parties for her. Coming from a traditional family, with strong pressure to marry, she sometimes doubted her value as a single woman with no children. She would have been amazed at how loved she was.
I have gone on to create other “best friends”- and because I was left alone without a best friend for a while, an appreciation for the confidence that comes from knowing you can rebuild your life on your own, with more casual friends that you develop along the way. Nonetheless, our special relationship has remained with me. Often we think that we have to be in primary familial relationships (partners, children, siblings) to feel powerfully bonded. But our friendship had a depth and significance that helped me become who I am.