My vision of old age, version 1: My best friend and I will still be shooting each other texts full of inside references that only we understand – but with bony, arthritic fingers. We’ll be chatting on park benches and mall benches, or at home re-watching “The Office” (US version) for the 100th time over wine and cheese and Granny Smith apples and Cheetos. We will love each other’s grandkids the way we loved each other’s kids. And we’ll embody the Golden Girls-type memes with sayings like, ‘We’ll be the crazy old ladies getting in trouble in the nursing home.’
My best friend used to say that women need close, lasting friendships because statistically, they outlive their partners. So women rely on each other for the long haul for emotional support and company.
My vision of old age, v2: A dark void. Me sitting on all the benches alone.
What changed? I lost my BFF. Not the temporary way I occasionally lose my keys and my patience. My best friend died of cancer at age 36. By the time she was diagnosed, the cancer was very advanced, stage IV. Her abdomen was “riddled with tumors,” as the doctor in Boston said. She had not recognized her symptoms or had brushed them off. That’s so easy for a mother to do. (Feeling tired and run down? Easily explained, right? Because – kids.)
Not Moving On Is Not an Option
I won’t get into how unbearable it was to think about the young daughters LK left behind. Or her mother missing her. Or watching her suffer in 1,000 terrible ways and having no power to stop it.
After my best friend died, my life went on, as a mom’s life must. But the loss hit me periodically like a couple of sumo wrestlers jumping on my heart in unison.
As a mom – as a woman – you do what you’ve gotta do. But it’s harder and a lot less fun without your closest friend. A BFF can also ‘get’ things a spouse likely doesn’t, such as the heavy emotional and mental load women tend to carry. She’s your safety, your person, the one you just trade a quick glance with and instantly know what each other is thinking.
Fun, Adventure, Comfort, Confidence: The Miracle of Best Friends
The value of this anchor friendship also seems clear when I observe my teen daughter. Her ABF (allerbeste Freundin, or very best friend) moved to another town just as their whole class switched from elementary to middle school, and my daughter started at a specialized school in a third town. Friendships shifted between kids who were split apart, some of them forming new bonds quickly and others not. It seems that a girl without that solid, trusted allerbeste-friendship is a bit adrift at sea, with her confidence and sense of security dropping a notch. A go-to source of fun and partner for adventures is missing, too.
For me, my BFF was one of few people I could simply, comfortably, effortlessly be with – talking, travelling, doing something fun or doing housework, or doing nothing much at all. She had also supported me in every way through extremely hard times, and I comforted her as no one else could, too. And we knew – thought we knew – that we were a guarantee to each other that we would never be alone – not even as white-haired, wrinkly old broads asking for the senior discount at the movie matinee.
Look Out, It’s Friendship 2.0
What I also didn’t see coming were fresh waves of sadness, later, for an unexpected reason: One day it suddenly seemed that I had a new best friend. It was kind of a shock and I was unprepared for it. I’d known people whose grandparents, parents, spouses or siblings died, but no one who lost her best friend. I didn’t realize that forming a new, deep friendship would flood me with memories of her and make me feel disloyal – like I was cheating on her, replacing her. There’s no doubt whatsoever that she expected her husband (or any widowed man) to marry again, without much delay. But what was the plan for me? That we never discussed. Would she have pictured me with a new BFF? Honestly, I’m not so sure.
It knocked me for a loop to feel vulnerable and unfaithful like this. As a result, BFF friendship 2.0 has weathered a few little storms. But that’s as good a test of friendship as any, I guess.
Here’s to Us – All of Us
I now sometimes talk about my old BFF with my new friend – over pizza, at playgrounds, when texting during the kids’ naps. Even better, BFF 2.0 asks about her. And our toddlers share snacks and hugs and say, ‘I love you.’ They’re li’l BFFs in training.
So now, my new vision of old age, v3: I’ll be sitting on the bench at the park or the mall with my dear new friend. And we’ll be raising our cups of prune juice to all the rich friendships we’ve been so fortunate to have.
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