Almost two years ago I lost one of my best friends to breast cancer.
I remember the phone call when she told me she had breast cancer. She wasn’t even 40. She was a single parent to two beautiful little girls. Without a doubt, we would fight this. And boy did she fight.
I remember celebrating her remission. She had done it! And she had done it with determination and grace.
I also remember her calling me and sharing that her oncologist’s office called and wanted to see her the next day. She knew what that meant. She knew it wasn’t good news.
I went with her and held her hand while the doctor told her that her cancer was back, which also meant it was now terminal.
There were more treatments, more tests, more scans. And then, eventually, over time and over countless ups and downs, hopes and prayers, I lost her.
In truth, I lost her about six weeks before she was actually gone. The last few months were hard. There were seizures, and she started losing mobility. Communication got a lot harder. When I visited, she seemed not to remember that I had stopped by just a few days earlier.
But it mattered to me that I was there for her. I showed up. And I kept showing up even when she went into the hospital and was in a coma. I still showed up and talked to her and held her hand and kept hoping for her, for her girls, for her family.
Then came the day when I showed up to say goodbye because I had a feeling she would leave us pretty soon, and I wanted to make sure I said all I needed to say. I held her hand and looked at my friend who no longer looked like herself and told her it was OK to let go. I told her I knew how hard she fought and that I knew she was so, so tired. I told her I’d make sure her girls knew what kind of woman she was. I told her I loved her and I would miss her and thanked her for being such an amazing friend to me.
And then I just stood next to her in silence holding her hand because sometimes all you can do is be there.
After all the words have been said . . . just being there is enough.
I think it was two days later, I was sitting at work and got the message from her mom that she had gone to be with God. And while it was so sad and hurt so much, I believed she was finally at peace. She didn’t have to worry that every headache was a new brain tumor. She didn’t need to worry about finding the energy to still go to work. She didn’t need to take an obscene number of pills every day for her treatment and then more pills to combat the side effects of those treatments. All the anxiety and stress and pain she felt were gone.
And that is when I learned I sucked at processing grief.
I put myself on a timeline. After the funeral service, I had a suck it up mentality. I literally asked my therapist how quickly I could get through the stages of grief and get it over with. She asked if I thought it was realistic to get over eight years of a friendship with someone in only a few weeks. That made me pause.
Then she asked me if I could get over it quickly, how would that honor the friendship I had with my friend?
Another pause. A deep exhale.
It doesn’t honor our friendship . . . not at all.
I was looking for the fastest way through grief. I wanted to get it over with, to put it behind me and move on.
I didn’t want to forget my friend. I just didn’t want to sit in the pain of losing her.
Because it hurt.
But that didn’t honor her or our friendship. So I chose to be brave, to ride the wave of grief, and just hold on.
I learned to acknowledge it — acknowledge all the feelings — every memory, every tear. If I heard a song that made me cry, I didn’t fight it. I leaned into it. I gave myself permission to cry and to feel sad. Yes, giving in to the sadness sucks, but sometimes the only way out is through.
The grief eventually became less painful and over time it morphed into a form of gratitude.
I’m grateful to have had her in my life for the time I did. I’m grateful she was the first person to hold my son. I’m grateful I got to bear witness to the way she lived her life with determination, strength, and courage. I’m grateful for the example she set as a mom. She defined unconditional love for her daughters.
And so I learned that grief is not something to rush through just because it hurts. The fastest way to get through it is to stop fighting it. Sit in it. Feel the sadness. There’s beauty in honoring your loved ones.
Keri taught me that.
Originally published on Medium