How my best friend saved me after I lost my mother

Gigglers, remember last December when we asked for your stories of best friendship for our Tale of Two Besties contest? Well, we’re super excited to announce the finalists and grand prize winner. We’ll be counting down our runner-up besties stories, and on February 18th will announce the winner—plus reveal the ‘A Tale of Two Besties‘ cover! Check out Dani Johnson’s story below.

“I don’t know how to live in a world without my mom.”

To this day, I have no memory of speaking these words. But my best friend, Kelsey, does. And as she had done so many times before, that day she bore witness to my grief, my fear, my hopelessness, and my terror.

My mother committed suicide on June 12, 2013. I was home sick with pneumonia when I got the call from the hospital chaplain to “Come. Come now.” And so I went. I called a cab and I went to the hospital and I was there to see my mother take her last breaths. I didn’t even know she was in the hospital before that call. When I arrived, the chaplain encouraged me to say my goodbyes, but I’m still not sure if I believe she heard them. I hope so. I hope she knows how much I loved her.

I stepped out to call my loved ones. The loved ones that weren’t present. (Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Isn’t that what happens in the movies?) I didn’t know what else to do. One thing that sticks with me is that both my father and my sister left the hospital while I was making these calls. I don’t hold that against them; they were in the throes of their own grief. I remember so vividly the chaplain coming to find me, tucked away just outside my mother’s hospital room, and informing me that my father and sister had left. I remember that I was the last to see my mother’s body, the last to hold her hand, the last to tell her that I loved her. I remember walking out of the hospital, holding my phone as though it were a talisman. Holding it as though it were my best friend’s hand.

I don’t remember who I called first, my best friend or my partner. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Kelsey was the first to arrive, the first to tell our boss (we worked together) about my loss, the first to cry with me, the first to hold me, the first to feed me. I remember she brought me macaroni and cheese, which is what my mother always
made for me when I was sick. I remember it tasted like nothing—and food continued to taste like nothing for the days and weeks that followed—but I didn’t say anything because the gesture was so thoughtful and so kind.

I remember Kelsey offering her support as I wrote my mother’s eulogy. I remember her tearing up as she read it, and trusting that I’d done a good enough job. I remember her offering to read it on my behalf if I was unable to do so at my mother’s memorial. I remember standing up to speak at my mother’s memorial and seeing her front and center, seeing the tears in her eyes, and feeling comforted and validated by her grief. Comforted and validated by her hug afterwards.

In the days and weeks and months and years that followed, Kelsey has never shied away from talking about my mom. She has never changed the subject or tried to make me feel better about what happened. She has listened, and been present, and been real. And on June 14, 2014, exactly one year and two days after the death of my mother, she joined me on a 17 mile overnight charity walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Between the two of us, we raised over $2,000 for suicide prevention research and programming. She had recently injured her leg playing soccer, and still she walked 17 miles through the streets of Seattle from dusk until dawn with me (with a leg brace to boot).

My best friend was a lifeline during the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Although I myself have never contemplated suicide, I don’t know what I would have done without her. I don’t know that I would have had the strength to move to a new city, to move in with my partner, to start a new job, to start a new life. I don’t know that I would have had the will or desire to conquer my own depression. And while I would not hesitate to return the favor, I hope that I never have to. As I said while fundraising for the AFSP overnight walk: I walk in the hope that you never have to. Kelsey has been there for me through the worst of times, but she has been there for me through the best of times, too. I know now that our friendship can survive just about anything, and that in all relationships there is a natural ebb and flow when it comes to giving and taking. I’ve taken a lot from my best friend in the last two years, but I can’t wait to give it back tenfold.

This essay was written by Dani Johnson.

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