The Hospice nurse suggested she had one, maybe two, more months to live. I knew this was coming, but I was not ready. But when would I be ready to lose the woman I call my BFF—Best Friend Forever?
She and I met in high school chemistry class. We passed notes to each other and sang the same wrong words to Phil Collin’s “In the Air Tonight.” We enjoyed preparing for prom way more than the prom itself. She is the one who has explained life’s little subtleties to me. In many ways, she has been my stronger self.
I remember falling apart sophomore year in college. I drove many of my friends away, demanding too much from them. But not her. Not my BFF. When I showed up at her dorm room in tears, she held me, cried with me, and listened to the recap from my recent therapy session. She also rescued me when I was out way too late at night and needed a quick French braid in order to be presentable for a choir performance.
The author of Still Alice brought Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease to the big screen. Lisa Genova, a neuroscientist, wrote a touching story about a university professor who, at an age we don’t normally expect, developed Alzheimer’s. I interviewed a 40-year-old man on my radio show who also had Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease. He described how exhausting it was, going from one doctor to another, trying to get an accurate diagnosis.
When my friend started showing symptoms, we had each turned 50. Both of us were feeling more forgetful than usual and more emotional than normal. Another radio show guest I interviewed was a medical doctor specializing in hormonal changes. I was thrilled to interview her, and couldn’t wait to call up my friend to report, “I think we’re both going through perimenopausal changes. Not to worry!” We spent a lot of time on the phone talking about natural supplements that could help, and whether or not we should seek hormone replacement therapy.
Then on one of my visits, my BFF asked if I wanted a cup of tea. I watched her hold a cup, take out a tea bag, look back at the cup, and then at the tea bag several times, before finally placing the teabag in the waterless cup. The simple act of making a cup of tea had become a confusing task. As I watched her, I thought to myself, “Oh crap…this is not just hormonal changes….”
When she eventually received the diagnosis, she was already struggling with finding words and making change from $20 bill. At one point a woman approached her in a store and said, “I love your jacket; where did you get it?” My friend just stared at her and I jumped in and said, “Oh you’ve had that jacket for a long time.” I looked at my friend, “I don’t remember where you got it,” I continued, nodding at her while holding her around the waist.
Like she filled in the blanks for me, explaining what certain phrases or words meant, I was now responding for her, helping her “be normal” in a world that doesn’t know how to recognize a young person with dementia who may not be able to respond.
My dear friend died Aug 17 surrounded by her family. I was in the air, returning from taking care of my mother in law. My goddaughter picked me up at the airport and tenderly told me of her mother’s passing. I was able to say goodbye to my BFF’s body and help wrap her body in a sheet. Another layer of grieving now begins.
I will miss her tremendously. Her father recently said to me, “Thank you for your years of friendship with my daughter.” I am grateful that she chose me as her BFF.