When my best friend, Candy, died of Ovarian Cancer, I felt as if a piece of my life shattered like a fragile antique mirror. Frame still intact, I found myself going through the grieving process with each shard cutting deeper the sense of loss I felt, reminding me of her absence. Unlike her family, which was flooded by the love and support of friends through their grieving process, I was on my own – an outsider. It was more difficult by my promise to Candy that I would forever celebrate her life by embracing my own. My solution was to go into denial. Sure, I realized she was gone, but I continued to talk about her in the present tense. Pushing her death out of my mind, I pretended to be normal, pretended to move on, pretended that I was OK. But I wasn’t. I felt desperately alone. Even though I had a magnificent network of girlfriends to lean on, it wasn’t the same. How, I thought, could I still feel so alone when surrounded by so many friends? I didn’t want to replace Candy. I just wanted get through the invisible pain, the profound loss and intense loneliness. I remember praying to God, asking him to come and be with me…to help me…to comfort me.
He sent Launi instead.
A friend to both of us from years before, Candy and I had hired Launi to manage our business, Perfect Solutions, a company that made hats with human hair bangs for Cancer patients. Although friendship overlapped into our business relationship with Launi, she ran in a totally different circle of wonderful wacky women. That’s one reason why I was so totally taken off guard when, so many years later, out of the blue, she called me late one night, about 11pm.
“Wanna go to Hawaii tomorrow?” she said. Before I could stop myself with some logical reason not to, I said “Yes” There was silence on the other end of the phone. “Really…you’ll go? Don’t you want details?” “Nope,” I said, “just tell me what time to be at the airport.”
As an airline employee, Launi was prone to go on spontaneous trips but always struggled to find someone who, at the drop of a hat, would go with her. When I said “yes” I think she was as surprised by my answer as I was.
Six hours later, leaving our husbands at home, we were sitting in first class, headed back to my home turf… my comfort zone… my paradise… Hawaii. We talked, we laughed and we cried the whole way. Although we had never been really close over the years, we knew enough history about each other that all we had to do, as we floated in the crystal waters of Waikiki, was fill in the dirt. We both unloaded on each other. She was struggling with her own uncharted future and I had my own storm brewing. Six days later, at the end of our trip, we were two wacky women, clinging to each other as if our lives depended on it. Looking back now, we both realize, they did.
Where had this relationship come from? How could the two of us bond so closely in six days, when in all the years of knowing one another, we had never been more than casual friends? I jokingly accused her of hiding — she accused me of not looking. I think she was right.
I had been so close to Candy, especially during the last seven years as she went through her cancer, that I had blinders on. Between my husband, a house full of kids, my business and Candy, my life was full, challenging and rewarding. Then all of the sudden, I had an empty nest, my business was growing faster than I could keep up with, I moved 3000 miles away, and my best friend died. Put that on a stress meter and its no wonder I kept the blinders on just to cut the glare from my life exploding around me. Convinced that denial was the only way to survive on my own, but knowing it wasn’t a mentally healthy option, I had prayed that night as a last resort. (Why is it that it seems we only get really serious about prayer when we hit rock bottom. There is a lesson to be learned here…) Since I was crying so hard as I prayed, I wasn’t listening. So God talked to Launi instead. She listened and spontaneously picked up the phone to call me. The rest is history.
My relationship with Launi is as different from my relationship with Candy as night and day. Candy had been my friend, my mentor and my confidant. She was my biggest critic and the president of my fan club all rolled into one. My relationship with Candy was one of profound growth. She pushed me to be my authentic self. She expected great things out of me and settled for nothing less. I am who I am today, personally, professionally and spiritually because of her. Of this there is no doubt. I will forever love her and be grateful for the time I had her in my life. How blessed I am to have had a friend that was so hard to say goodbye to.
Launi, on the other hand, accepts me as is. No apologies, no excuses and no judgments. She doesn’t care if I slip into a state of stupidity or rise to the top of the world. It doesn’t impress her either way. She just likes me. Me, with all my faults and all my fame; all my baggage and all my potential, she likes it all the same. She laughs at me and with me. Cries with me and for me. But my favorite thing about Launi is that after all the good and bad I throw in her direction, she sifts it all out, keeps only the good stuff, and then with a breath of kindness, just blows the rest away.
Today, despite the fact that we both live at opposite ends of the country, Launi and I have intertwined our lives so that now there is no separating us. Grateful that our husbands tolerate our need for frequent visits and daily phone calls, they know that without each other, we’d both drown in the echoes of our own confusion. And like that day on the beach so long ago, when life threatened to tear us to shreds, we still anchor ourselves to each other and ride out the storm, lifting each other to higher ground. Through it all we have formed a bond stronger than either of us ever imagined. Far more than mere friends, we are sisters-by-choice…a most sacred kind of sisterhood…and together, we thank God we have each other.