It's a funny thing when you experience the first significant loss in your life. And by funny, I mean sad. You really have no idea how it’s going to affect you. For me, it was three years ago, when my dad, Marty, passed away. I was 49.
I had a full year to prepare for the inevitable and yet it’s really impossible to prepare. My father was riddled with kidney cancer and we all knew that it was just a matter of time. To make the end as comfortable as possible for all of us, my siblings and I visited Marty and my mom every weekend in Manhattan, and tried to make it as normal as we could pretend. In the beginning, we’d all make jokes to try to puncture the tension in the room. Marty always loved a good joke.
I realize that this story is not unusual. Death is part of life and what we did is what most loving families do. What I didn't see coming when I lost my father was that, at the same time, I would also lose my best friend.
Thank God, not literally.
I had known Jill nearly all of my life. In fact, I often said she was more like a sister to me than a friend. We had gone through just about everything life throws your way — together. Sleep-away camp, college, marriage, the birth of our children, her moving to Florida, an affair, divorce and now death. We would talk every day, sometimes even twice, particularly when my dad was ill, because after 30 years of sharing our lives, that's what best friends do.
"How's Marty doing today?” she’d ask. “How are you doing?" I would cry and we would laugh about how we were just doing cartwheels in her living room yesterday, two 12-year-olds without a care in the world. Life is funny that way.
And then, some months later, the fateful call came from my older brother. Marty had taken his last breath. The funeral would be held on Sunday. I did what I always did when I needed a shoulder to cry on — I called Jill. "Hey, my dad passed away tonight,” I said, choking back tears. “When will you be flying in?"
There was a moment of silence. "Um … uh, I don't think I can come to New York right now," she said.
I wasn’t sure I had heard her correctly. My mind was reeling. "Why?" I barely managed to ask.
Jill explained that her family was taking a private jet to the Florida Keys, which was about an hour away from where she lived, to celebrate her 25th anniversary (and her parents’ 50th), and everyone was expecting her on the flight. How could she let them down? She didn't think it was right to meet them there a few days after Marty’s funeral since they had been planning this special getaway for quite some time.
"Oh, OK," I said. "Have a good time?" I was already at the bottom of sad and numb, and this news was like opening up a special trap door that dropped me further down a black hole. It was at that moment that I knew I had lost two of the most important people in my life — one without my consent, the other of my own volition.
Jill has tried to reach out to me a number of times since, but I refuse to let her back into my life. I know the right thing to do is to forgive. To let bygones be bygones and for both of us to heal from this terrible wound. That’s what adults do, isn’t it? That’s what we taught our children — be the bigger person; "to err is human; to forgive, divine."
But something (pride, stubbornness, hurt, pain: take your pick) prevents me from being the bigger person. Maybe I’m not really an adult yet. Maybe I'll never be quite so divine.
I keep asking myself, “Why should I forgive her?” If you can't count on your best friend in the world to be there for you when it matters the most it will ever matter, then what type of a friendship was it in the first place? I just don’t know anymore.
We all know that you can’t pick your family, but you do choose your friends, and you can love them both with all of your heart. I no longer choose Jill, but the truth is, I miss her and my dad every day.
This is the latest in a series of stories this month about how we cope with various types of tragedy and loss.