Grieving the loss of a friendship.
I can’t listen to the song “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler without crying. I know the song is associated with a movie and the movie is sad, but that’s not the reason for my tears. This song reminds me of my best friend. It was “our” song. We even had our very own version of the song that we sang while playing in her camper and eating our favorite lunch: Macaroni and Cheese (not original – but the wheel-shaped macaroni).
I’m told we met while we were still in diapers; we went to the same in-home daycare. Although I don’t recall the exact moment we met, I do have the best memories of those days. She was 9 months older with gorgeous thick long blonde hair. She was painfully shy and quiet. I had stick-thin dark brown hair and made up for her shyness by always being the boisterous mouthpiece of our friendship. We grew up in the safe confines of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and we did walk to school, uphill (3 to be exact) in the cold, driving snow. We were only five or six years old at that time, but our friendship was cemented in those walks. I specifically remember how we grumbled if anyone joined us on our walks, it had to just be the two of us. In those elementary school years, our friendship had ebbs and flows. We would argue (she once threw a green plastic cup at my head and connected beautifully) but we would always come back together as if no time had passed.
Tragedy struck both of our families at different times in late 1995, and that’s when we truly became inseparable. Our friendship was no longer occasional – we were together all the time. We counted the days we didn’t see each other in the summer of ’96 – it was a total of 5 days and she wrote me a letter for every day we were apart. I went on vacation with her, she came along with me. I had a massive crush on a guy that lived down the road from her and we spent countless hours outside just waiting for him to drive by and wave (he almost always did!). Those summer days are what stick in my memory: journaling, reading, blasting the Steve Miller Band, and just being.
In high school, we both had high school sweethearts for the majority of the 4 years, but our friendship was strong despite us spending the majority of our time with other people. She was the person there to help me through my first heartbreak and showed me the meaning of true friendship: she was truly there every single time I needed her. This continued into our adult life. She moved to a different state for college and remained in that state after college. I stuck closer to home but eventually ended up in Green Bay. Long phone conversations and visits sustained our friendship. If I had a dream about her, it meant she needed to hear from me and vice versa.
I first began to feel the cracks in our strong foundation in 2015. At the time, I wasn’t sure why we weren’t connecting as we always did. Something just felt different in our communications, the timing, the subject matter, something. This continued for the next two years. There were fleeting moments when I saw our old selves, but they were fewer and farther between. Both of our lives went through drastic changes and we were clearly no longer going through them together as we always had. Our friendship came to a screaming disastrous halt in 2017.
In 2018, I went through two catastrophic events in my life. As I moved through the aftermath, I always had this nagging feeling that something was missing. I had been through a lot and dismissed the feeling as part of the process I was going through. The feeling persisted. I realized my life was missing her. I have so many good friends that I am grateful for every day, but they aren’t her. They haven’t known me for 35 years. They don’t know that something is wrong before I tell them. I felt like I needed her at a visceral level. I couldn’t let it go. There was a hole in my life, and I wanted her back to fill it.
Although we did try to repair our broken friendship recently, unfortunately, the damage was done and it was too late.
I’m finally getting to the point here, I promise. I had to learn that what was happening to me was grief. I was grieving the loss of this friendship – this almost-sisterhood. I had naively assumed we would come back together as we always had in the decades before. I didn’t know that I would experience the actual grieving process over losing someone that is very much still here.
Acceptance is also a big part of this. I think we just have two different lives now and we can no longer relate to each other as we are now. We were clinging to the friendship we had for thirty years and it just doesn’t make sense in the present tense. I think I needed that one last try to make sure what I was thinking was correct. I don’t want to blame her, and I don’t want her to blame me. We have grown.
We just didn’t grow together.
I will always consider her my best friend because she is the best friend I’ve ever had. There’s no replacing anything we had – and that was just one more lesson I had to learn and another part of grieving the loss of the friendship. She will always hold that spot. I can’t fill that hole.
I must be grateful that I experienced a friendship like this in my life and I think I appreciate my current friendships even more now. I had to learn that it’s possible to grieve something that isn’t a death or a break-up. I can look back at our friendship with happiness and joy; not anger.
These memories are why she is, and always will be, the wind beneath my wings.
You might also like Jenni’s article Mom Worry.