I was 27 years old when my best friend, Breanna, passed away from cancer. She was 27 too. Cancer took hold of her without warning, and a little over a year later, she was gone. She was the person I could call at 2 AM to talk about nothing with, the person who used to show my photo to guys at bars to tell them how amazing I was (Yes, she really did this. Mortifying much?), the person who knew literally every single deep, dark secret about me (and vice versa). The person who just understood me in a way that no one, not even my husband, has ever understood me, was permanently and irrevocably gone. My best friend of ten years. I was shattered.
About a month later, my husband and I packed up our life and moved across the country. We made excuses for why we decided to make such a huge life change (or at least, I did), but looking back, I just wanted to run away. Nothing about life after she was gone made sense to me, and I thought a clean slate would help me understand a world where she didn’t exist anymore.
Though we were living in a beautiful home (with a tree orchard!) in sunny California, I was in absolute hell. The palm trees and perfect weather did nothing to help my heart heal. I tried yoga. I tried green juice. I tried bullet journaling. But after years of living away from everything and everyone I knew and trying all I could to help get out of my funk (besides like, going to therapy and actually working through my issues), I began to realize that, by moving away and trying to channel my grief through other things, I was only delaying my journey. I hadn’t even packed my bags yet.
So my husband and I moved back to our home state in hopes that returning to familiarity and family would help. Two months after the move, I was pregnant.
While we were elated to be expecting, there was a bittersweet taste to every pregnancy milestone. I couldn’t call my best friend with the announcement that she was going to be an aunt. She wouldn’t feel the baby kick through my stomach. She wouldn’t be at the baby shower.
And she would never get a baby shower of her own. She would never get to experience motherhood — something I knew she was very much looking forward to one day. That Bre would never be able to take advantage of all of the life that I (and everyone else who knew her) continued to experience made me angry and confused and bitter.
When my daughter was born, I named her for Bre. Eila Breanna was born on a warm July afternoon.
Since I’ve become a mother, the loss of Bre reverberates in my heart in a much more complicated way. I’m still trying to figure out exactly why that is.
Is it because I know how much Eila would have loved her? Is it because I feel her spirit whenever Eila lets out a giant belly laugh or dances when there is no music playing? Or is it because Bre is not here to watch Eila grow up? That we won’t get to grab coffee and watch our kids play together at the park?
Is it because I dream up the nicknames that I think Bre would have given my daughter because she literally gave everyone she knew multiple nicknames? Is it because I don’t have my best friend riding next to me through this messy and wild experience called motherhood? Maybe it’s all of the above and then some. Maybe it’s just because even though the days continue on, the pain of the loss remains.
The pain of losing someone never goes away. You just learn to live with the loss.
Though she is no longer here, I do everything I can to make sure she is alive in my heart and in our home. We keep pictures of her — happy, healthy, and beautiful — on the walls and fireplace mantle. She’s in photo books that my daughter looks through constantly. We talk about her and tell stories.
By talking about the loss and really living in the grief alongside being a mom, I’ve found healing. I made space for the grief while continuing the journey of being a mom and raising my own little girl.
I know that when the time comes, and Eila experiences grief for the first time. I can take what I have learned from losing Bre, the hurt and sorrow I have carried, and walk alongside her, guiding her through the pain and confusion and anguish. I can explain to her that the sadness she feels is because of the love she gave. Queen Elizabeth II once said, "Grief is the price we pay for love." I will tell her that even though loss hurts, it’s worth the pain because of how special the love is.
I have found that the sting of Bre’s absence softened a bit. I have learned to manage through the harder days when her absence feels especially painful because even though your best friend has been dead for five years, you still have to make snacks and take your kid to the park. There is an essence of “you need to suck this up and get it together for your kid” that comes with grief and motherhood. It’s in the quieter moments, after she’s asleep or playing quietly, that I can have my own time of sadness or reflection.
The balance of being an adult working through loss and being a mom working on trying to get the whole parenting thing right is tricky, but as long as I am open to the waves of grief, take the hit, and dry off — I think I can get through this life, as a mother, with a hole in my heart shaped like my best friend.
Katie is a contributing Scary Mommy writer covering parenting, celebrity, and viral moments.
She has written content for Distractify and Cuteness as well as personal essays for Thought Catalog and Clean Plates. She has a degree in English from North Central College.
In her free time, she’s hanging with her 3-year-old and husband, planning their next family trip, and watching restocking videos on TikTok.