National Best Friends Day, a day to celebrate those amazing people in our lives who have held our hands through the darkest point of our lives and celebrated our greatest achievements with us. By all accounts, this day is a time for gratitude and acknowledging the invaluable gifts and lessons we learn through loving and losing friends.
Last year, I suddenly lost one of my closest friends, whose birthday also happens to land on National Best Friend’s Day. One day I was at her house helping her put up her Christmas tree, and a few days later she was gone. I could not wrap my head around what was happening. Seeing the joy that had been in her daughter’s eyes suddenly replaced by dark circles, evidence she had cried a river and seen too much. Her Papa worked hard to keep her life as normal as possible, and it was an honor to watch such unconditional love in action as he helped her navigate the world without her Mama.
I kept trying to understand what the lesson was, why did we all have to say goodbye to our beautiful Jennifer so soon? I prayed and cried and still, my question went unanswered. I am not sure we will truly ever know why she was taken so soon, but I do believe there are lessons about the value of friendship, and gratitude that many of her closest friends have learned as they have been grieving in her absence.
As Robert Southey wrote, “The loss of a friend is like that of a limb; time may heal the anguish of the wound, but the loss cannot be repaired.” I have never found a more relatable quote that describes loss and friendship, I felt like someone cut my heart out, then lopped off one of my arms.
As I have moved forward, I have gained a new appreciation for life and the relationships I have. I am uncertain if I will ever feel completely whole again, but I have found ways to feel close to her when I feel especially empty and ways to acknowledge her contributions to my life and the world. There are lessons we can all learn from loss, and I hope that what I found helpful can aid you in your own journey towards healing and inner peace.
The most important lesson I learned was forgiveness, I had to look inside my heart and forgive myself and let go of the misplaced guilt I was carrying. I struggled for months with the knowledge that the night she passed I was supposed to visit her, the thought that I could have helped her somehow ran through my head constantly. Logically, I knew better than to assume guilt for the death of another person, but when emotions and grief are involved, logic often goes out the window.
I had to work hard to accept that no matter what I had done, my friend would have passed away – and that was hard. Forgiving myself for not being with her and letting go of those negative feelings helped me move towards a place that allowed me to start to process her loss. I can now think about her and share a funny story without breaking down, but rather giving a laugh and tear running down my face – because the pain never goes away, you just learn how to live with it.
Her loss also taught me to value the people in my life and make time for them. You never know what tomorrow will bring, and to lose someone and wish you had spent more time together is a gut-wrenching feeling. I suffer from multiple chronic illnesses, and it can be hard to coordinate plans with friends and family due to my symptoms. However, I have worked hard to coordinate plans that work with my body and my loved one’s interests so we can spend time together.
It’s not always easy, and sometimes schedules don’t allow for the visits we wish we could have – but having her ripped away from me when we started to have more time to be with each other, it made me realize the time we have is precious. We should spend what we can with those who make us feel joyful, loved, and appreciated.
Conversely, I have learned the importance of putting distance between myself and those who are toxic. She was never afraid to let go of someone if their presence in her life was not serving her or her daughter, and in life, the time we spend on this Earth is such a blessing why would we want to spend an extra minute with someone who causes us pain? Often, the ability to separate from toxic individuals is challenging, and it was not always simple – but she had learned its importance and passed that on to me.
Maintaining positive energy within my life has become a priority, especially because that was her priority at the time of her passing. I watched her beam with joy and pride and her plants blossomed and her gardening business began branching out within our community. On our last visit together she pointed one potted plant out to me, it had a fancy name I cannot remember, and exclaimed, “Look, it has a baby!”
Not being a plant person, I could not relate – but her excitement was infectious and drew me in. Now, I am a dedicated plant Mom to a Christmas Cactus and succulent that has thrived in my care since November. Watching the plants’ leaves reach towards the sun as they have grown, I believe I know understand the pride and excitement Jennifer experienced as she grew and propagated them.
Aside from being an essential healthcare worker, being around animals made her so happy and brought her calm and peace. One summer, our camp director asked if she had come back to help care for the barn animals and she was so proud – especially because it was when she’d realized she wanted to be a Veterinary Technician. Our love of animals and saving them was one of my favorite traits we shared and perhaps what makes it most fitting that I inherited her cats.
They are the funniest cats I have ever had and make me laugh every second of the day. Our big 15 lb. boy will step on my fiancé’s face, but never mine in his quest to access the window. Both cats cry as if a murder had occurred starting at 4:30 am as they seek out their wet food, and when it’s 11 pm our little girl starts crying and running from us to the bedroom – a signal we should be in bed with her NOW. They have helped me heal, shown me love, and given me a piece of my girl that is living with me every day.
I will always cherish my friendship, even in the loss of my friend’s life. We never forget those who have left us, and we look for them in flowers or sunsets as we pass through life. Her daughter will forever be a reminder of the fierce spirit she had, and I will continue to be grateful that I was one of the few people in life she trusted her with. You see, you learn so much in death, mostly you realize you meant so much more to a loved one than you thought because you have the time to sit and reflect upon every interaction, hug, and request asked of you.
I learned cats are medicine nobody can prescribe, the higher the dose, the more effective they are for the healing process. I learned life is delicate and fragile, friendships and family should be cherished, and joy should be maintained at all costs. Amidst deep loss and heartache, find your joy and hold onto it as you embark through the muck and darkness of grief – it will guide you home.
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