Yesterday I found out on Facebook that a friend of mine had died. I didn’t understand what I was reading at first; I had just read a post from Bethany early that morning about how one of her newborn twins was a great sleeper and the other up all night. Suddenly a mutual friend was writing what looked like a goodbye. I went to Bethany’s wall and people were writing “rest in peace.” It made no sense. Until it did. But how could it be true?
Bethany was only 34, a year older than me. She had a sudden heart attack due to spontaneous coronary artery dissection, a very rare event that is more common in postpartum women. She was a mother of five children, including twin girls who are two weeks old today. On Saturday she was fine. On Sunday she was gone.
Bethany was my first friend. My first best friend. We met when we were just toddlers – our parents later told us that she used to call me “the little girl with the yellow hair.” We were next door neighbors all our lives until we moved out of our parents’ homes. In the picture above we are standing in my backyard and behind us you can see her house.
In the early days, we were inseparable. Every day we were at each other’s house or playing outside together. We played House a lot, and I was always the Big Sister while Bethany was Mommy to her baby dolls, because she was a year older, but also because she just was the mommy. She was one of those little girls who was always nurturing and maternal, born to be a real mommy some day.
I remember one time we had to spend the day apart for some reason. We agreed that at a certain time we would sit by our bedroom windows, which faced each other, and play Dionne Warwick’s “That’s What Friends Are For,” which we had each taped off the radio. I remember gazing out at her house, so sad to be separated for a whole entire day.
I still have that song on tape, along with the theme to Punky Brewster and some tape recorded conversations between us when we about 5 and 6 years old. There is one part where she asks what’s on my finger and I tell her it’s a cardboard ring, and she cracks up laughing. She had the BEST laugh.
When we got a little older, we made other friends at school, but we were still great friends, still together all the time. We made up dance routines to every one of the songs on the soundtrack to Stand By Me. We had sleepovers.
Then one day our parents had some sort of falling out, and said we were not to play together anymore, and we obeyed. It was hard to lose my first best friend, but by then we had lots of other friends, and we moved on, and eventually grew apart, as kids do.
During senior year of high school Bethany passed me a note on the bus. It said that she still cared about me and wished that we were still friends, and she was inviting me to come to her house and spend time with her sometime, if I wanted to. I did want to, and I did go hang out. But it was awkward, because so much time had passed we didn’t really know each other anymore, and at that age we were different… I was a rebel without a clue, but Bethany was the same as she ever was – sweet, open, loving.
A few years ago Bethany reached out to me again, finding me on Facebook and reigniting our friendship. Right around that time, she and I and some mutual friends from way back in school were all pregnant, but I lost that baby. Later, Bethany was pregnant again, and lost her baby around the beginning of her second trimester – she named that baby Alex. I spoke with her on the phone then, wishing to lend her support in any way I could, answering questions, telling her where to find the support group that had helped me.
Friendship in the age of Facebook is a funny thing – and so is loss. I haven’t seen Bethany in many years and chances are I never would have seen her again, since she had settled in Florida and I in Nebraska. It’s strange though, because there is so much intimacy to an online friendship when you are part of their everyday. Building that on top of our shared history, I felt that we were connected again. And yet I know that that sadness I feel over losing her – so suddenly, it doesn’t seem real – can’t compare to the grief that the people who really knew and loved her, held and hugged her, laughed and cried with her, must be feeling.
This is the thing that seems so unfathomable about losing Bethany – she was such a beautiful person. If you met her as an adult and you were kind of a cynical person like me, you might think, no one can really be that nice. But I knew her from the beginning, and I knew she was genuine. She was always that way. She cared deeply, she loved everyone, she reached out to people, she was kind. I keep looking at the messages people are posting on her Facebook wall now, but I can only stand to read a few before it’s too much. It is just so unfair that her five children not only lost their mother, they lost an amazing mother, one who loved them with such an abundance of joy that it seems impossible she could have been taken away from them, and from the world.
I’m still not sure I really quite believe it. But I will remember her every day.