Most people meet their best friends at school, at work, or through a mutual friend. But I met one of my best friends at a very unlikely place: my bereavement Group.
It was the fall after graduating high school and I had decided to take some time off of school to finally address my grief surrounding my father’s death. I had gone to bereavement Group the previous year but didn’t return after a particularly hard session. It was easier to simply avoid the problem at the time. But now that I had finally graduated high school and realized I finally needed to address my dad’s death, I finally committed to attending bereavement Group.
And so, at my first meeting I sat on a couch across from two other women who were in their twenties, two middle-aged social workers who led the Group, and on the other end of the couch was a girl my age. She was about my height with tan skin, her long dark hair pulled up into a messy bun on the top of her head. She wore leggings and a t-shirt with countless bracelets stacked up her arm. She was fairly quiet the whole session and I really didn’t think we’d have anything in common. I felt like we had come from two very different worlds.
I had grown up in a “non-traditional” family, being raised by my mother and grandparents until I was ten and then by my single father until he died when I was seventeen when I then moved in with my maternal grandparents in another town. I learned during the session that she, on the other hand, had grown up in a “traditional” household with two married parents and two younger siblings until her mother, like my father, got cancer and passed away. Now, she admitted to feeling like she had taken the maternal role in her family and could no longer be a regular teenager. I had rarely felt like a teenager even before my dad was sick since I had grown up quickly due to my mother’s mental illness and didn’t think that we would ever be able to connect.
But as I continued going to Group throughout the year, I slowly came to learn about this girl. Her name was Kaitlyn and despite being shy about her feelings, it was obvious that she was a fun-loving and spirited girl who just needed to learn to trust in order to open her heart to someone. Considering the loss of her mother, this came as no surprise.
One night, as I left Group and rushed to my car in the cold winter’s air, Kaitlyn caught up to me. I had mentioned in Group that I just started going to community college for the spring semester. She attended the same community college and asked how I was liking it. Suddenly, I was telling her about things completely unrelated to my loss. In an instant, we became people who had lives outside of bereavement Group and it felt liberating. We exchanged numbers and planned to hang out after our next Group meeting.
After the next meeting, we drove to an ice cream place in town. Despite the freezing weather, I got an ice cream sundae with extra hot fudge (because after talking about your dead dad for an hour and a half, you really deserve one) and she got a chocolate shake. We walked up the street to a pizza place and she got a slice of pizza. Sitting across from each other, we talked about silly things: a boy that asked me out on a date, her plans for spring break, what our other friends were like. It was such a relief to spend time with someone my own age who had gone through the same kind of loss as I had and not talk about it. Finally, our losses didn’t feel like our entire identities. We left that night agreeing that we would continue the tradition of going out to dinner after each Group meeting.
And so every Tuesday after Group, we drove to the local diner and had dinner, talking about things in our lives that most of the time had nothing to do with our loss. When we weren’t together, we checked in on each other regularly, knowing the challenges that the other person might be facing that day from their feelings of loss. We constantly made sure the other person knew that we were there for anything the other needed. We did silly things like sending the other person a picture of their celebrity crush or leaving them a note on their car at school to make them feel loved even when they didn’t always feel that way in other areas of their life. Every time we met up we almost always had something special to give the other person: a new CD, a DVD, or a friendship bracelet. Kaitlyn made me feel like a priority in someone else’s life. I can only hope that she felt (and feels) the same.
When the summer came and our Group ended, it would have been easy for our friendship to dissolve since we no longer had the excuse of going to Group to bring us together. But after becoming so close, that was impossible. Despite our busy schedules, we regularly made time to get together and have dinner and see a movie. After so many dinners and desserts I came to be known as the Cheesecake Queen and after I couldn’t eat any more Kaitlyn introduced me to frozen yogurt, for which I will forever be indebted to her.
At the end of the summer, we both went away to different colleges. Again, it would have been easy for us to let our friendship slip away, especially considering the distance we were from each other. But that was simply not going to be the case. We contacted each other almost every day, supporting the other in the challenges she faced and sent cards for every occasion and some just because. We counted down the days till we were reunited and when we saw each other over winter break, it was like no time had passed at all.
We still talk almost every day and we still make sure to send the other person little messages of how much we love them. Kaitlyn has taught me how simple it can be to show someone you care. You don’t need to send telegrams with roses and jewelry. Sometimes all it takes is a simple, “How are you?”. Instead of constantly telling the other person how I feel, I’ve learned how to show it.
Our friendship has proven that out of tragedy, love can grow.