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The Difficulty in Getting Over the Death of My Best Friend

The small steps I've taken to repair the hole in my life.

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photo collage of two female friends emerging from book with pages shuffled behind them
David Weissberg
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My best friend died last year, the kind of best friend you speak to daily and share most waking thoughts with.  

Though we lived 200 miles apart, we faithfully reported by phone and email on the good, the bad, the personal and the professional, the funny and the annoying, the sons and the grandkids. 

I met Mameve (pronounced May-Meeve; named after two grandmothers, Mamie and Eva) 43 years ago in an adult fiction-writing workshop when I was 27 and she was 36. We recognized something in each other’s short stories that made us mutual fans, the only two classmates standing under the banner of romantic comedy.

We kept at it.  Once we both had a few stories published I got an idea—let’s combine them, 14 total, the published and the unpublished.   

We’d title it Awfully Nice Women, and we’d find an agent! We did. But after a few submissions to publishers, the agent had a new plan: separating the stories and submitting just mine for now. She said she’d break the news to my coauthor herself. Well, she did worse than that: She mistakenly sent the happier, Dear Elinor note to Mameve.  

It was a major test of character, friendship and generosity. What other writer wouldn’t let dividing the stories result in fracturing the friendship? Disappointed for sure, she could’ve been angry; she could’ve railed at the agent and at me, but the bond miraculously deepened.

Our husbands humored us and got along fine. Our sons had sequential birthdays, November 14, December 14 (her two) and January 14 (my only). We called ourselves their honorary aunties.

After I abandoned short stories to write novels, I nagged her to do the same, and lobbied hard for a particular story of hers to be the first chapter of a novel—if only she’d write it!  She did, protesting all the way. Could she write a novel? Would it be any good?

The finished novel, Mail, was smart, funny, romantic and perfect—and editors thought so too. Abandoning my own work—and life!—I sat by the phone, as different publishers bid furiously on Mameve’s manuscript. What a week! What joy and relief!

The editing and cheerleading were a two-way street. I sent her every chapter as I wrote it and she did the same. 

We’d test-run emails by each other, usually ones with some bone to pick, the unstated questions being: Does it have the right tone? Does it get my point across?

Everything in our two lives was covered and confided. When I started dating 18 months after my husband died, Mameve had a figurative front-row seat. My first call, after my first date with the eventual Significant Other, was to Mameve, who heard, “This one is different.”  

She was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer on, of all dates, January 6, 2021, one COVID-isolating year after the death of her beloved spouse after 55 years of a joined-at-the-hip marriage.   

She was inconsolable for the remaining eleven months of her life, with cancer on top of widowhood on top of a pandemic.   

When I told her that my next book would be dedicated to her, she protested. I’d already dedicated two to her, hadn’t I? I said, “Too bad. My mind’s made up.”

Both of us knew, neither acknowledging it aloud, that this would be a posthumous dedication, “to the memory of … ”  

Her sixth and last novel, prophetically titled Minus Me, was published the same month her cancer was diagnosed.  She’d outlived the short, dire prognosis of six to 12 weeks, and lived another year.  

My last visit to her Cambridge, Massachusetts, home was two weeks before her death at 79. Her breathing was a trial; she despised the oxygen tank and its tubing. She repeatedly said she wanted it to be over. She showed me which of the many rings on her fingers would be going to which grandchildren and asked if I’d I call the obituary writer at The Boston Globe when she died.

I knew when I kissed her goodbye that soon life would go forward Minus Mameve.   

I take small steps toward repairing the hole. I tell my sister and my significant other things I preface with “OK, this may not interest you, but pretend you’re Mameve.”  

A few weeks after she died, in emails cc’d to her sons, their wives and her surviving sister, I suggested we employ a hashtag, #WISTM, which stood for “What I’d send to Mameve (or Mom).” It was needed, because she spoiled us, almost always answering the phone on the first ring—a reflex that misled us into believing that she’d always be there.

I thought I was adjusting to the loss, but at the five-month mark, I had a dream, which, if dramatized in a movie, would be cut as too convenient, too on the nose. In it, Mameve and I were on either side of a spiked, wrought iron fence. We were holding hands through the rails, and I was stroking hers. I was telling her random little nothings while thinking, She doesn’t know she’s dead

When I woke up, I’d lost ground, mourning-wise, adjustment-wise.

Now, 10 months in, I’m still wired to think Mameve when I see or hear or read something up her alley, be it a photo of a grandson, a flea-market find, or just to let her know that I’m catching up on the PBS series Call the Midwife.

Recently, I sent some happy news to a friend, apologizing with, “I hope you don’t mind the crowing. There is such a hole with Mameve missing. We always shared each other’s good news.” 

This friend, who also knew and loved Mameve, wrote me back, “I am honored to be filling that hole. ANY. TIME. I mean, if someone on the street says, ‘I like you!’ you tell me that too.” I smiled. What a lovely answer. What a gift. What a great place to begin.

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