There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about her. Not once or twice, but many, many times.
I was not ready for my best friend to die unexpectedly in late July. Yes, she had been very sick and hospitalized for much of the three prior weeks, but no one ever said she was in danger of dying. She had “this issue, that infection, this problem” that her doctors were addressing.
While I was very worried, and prayed constantly, I always figured she would get better.
Then she didn’t.
I’m still trying to figure out how I am handling this loss, since I never really thought about her dying. At least not right now. I had thought about it when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, but 15 years post cancer – I wasn’t really planning on not having Terri around.
It’s fair to say she wasn’t planning it either.
So that brings me to November. Four months after she died. And I am still puzzled by how I am dealing with this incredible loss.
Why am I worrying, you may ask? Because I don’t cry. Because I haven’t curled up in a fetal ball and refused to eat or function. I don’t feel dysfunctional – in fact, I have been highly energized to cook, clean, organize, pay bills, read and all those things I seemed to try to wedge into my life when I worked full time at two jobs – one as a journalist and the other as a small business owner.
What is wrong with me?
I worked with Terri almost every day from 1986 to 2012, at which point our corporate bosses decided she should “retire.” It was devastating – to her, to me, to our staff, to our community – in my estimation. But that’s another story for another day.
She and I not working together never really changed our friendship – since we spoke almost daily unless one of us was on vacation.
What did we talk about?
Politics, government, people, our children, decisions, failures, successes, worries and joys. Food, alcohol, wanting to get high but forgetting to do it after so many years of its illegal status; money and not enough money. Friends. Enemies. Hopes and dreams.
There wasn’t an important event in my life I didn’t share with her first. Because she was also my boss, my editor, there were also things I shared with her that no one else knew that I knew or she knew – “off the record” things, because she was the best secret-keeper I knew. And she helped me on a regular basis decipher what those secrets meant and how important they were or weren’t.
She mentored me and guided me as an investigative journalist and stood solidly behind me when the shit hit.
If I screwed up, and I acknowledge that I did screw up on occasion, she knew it and didn’t hold it against me. She didn’t give me a free pass – but she encouraged me to accept it and learn from it. Or told me to just suck it up and move on.
She read everything, remembered most of it, and kept it for future reference. Except her medical journey, which I traveled with her from the day of her cancer diagnosis until the last year of her life. I was her medical historian, her memory and went to every doctor’s appointment with her in 15 years until the last few months, when I was dealing with my own health issues.
I even talked her in the last hours of a particularly awful day and promised her that, in the morning, I was going to find her a new doctor to replace the one who treated her so badly that day.
Instead, she died.
So why do I keep on functioning like I did when she was there to talk whenever I wanted? Why do I not feel like the wind has been sucked out of me? Instead, it is just this little whisper, every day, that reminds me, “Terri’s gone; Terri’s not here.” It whispers to me as soon as I wake up, and repeats and repeats.
Last night, when I laid in my bed waiting for sleep to come, I thought about it yet again.
Did I not miss her? Was I not as good of a friend as I thought I was? Was the loss going to hit me like a ton of bricks unexpectedly, like everyone tells me?
Then I realized. I do miss her and my plans for my life have been changed forever.
But she is still here.
In everything I do, I hear her voice telling me if it is good or sucks. Every time I question my next decision, I can see her saying she knows I will make the right choice or deal with it. All the things in my house she gave me showcase her love for me and her strange sense of humor.
We were best friends for 34 years and I’m 66. That was more than half of my life. We shared so much time together, I think I stored some of it in my very being. If I live another 34 years without her, I will be 100. And she will still be my best friend.
So, it’s OK that I don’t cry and that I still live, laugh, love and say and do stupid things. It’s OK that I still feel a twinge of surprising loss when I want to call or text her, but I don’t crumple; It’s OK that when I drive by her house, I am able to turn the corner and keep driving.
My loss is forever, but so is our friendship. I can see her in her two daughters and her son and I can continue to love and care for them as I did her.
I will read the books I kept from her collection and hang her cross-stitch art and keep her in my mind and heart.
Today, ironically (which Terri always said was my favorite word) I can feel the tears as I write. Damn it – words were alway our shared weakness and strength.
In the early years, when I couldn’t tell her how upset I was about a decision she had made as my boss, I would write her a letter. It was so much easier to lay it all out in words without emotional interaction or interruption.
As we grew older, I was able to express those feelings verbally, but if it got really heated, she would say, “you’re not going to write me another fucking letter, are you?”
Sorry, Terri. I guess this is one of those letters – to you and to me. Because the only way I know how to let it all out is to write.
And that’s OK.