I used to live by the old adage “everything happens for a reason.” I felt that if I didn’t get the grade I expected or the job I wanted, it wasn’t meant to be. Likewise, if I ran into someone I had been hoping to see unexpectedly at the grocery store, I believed it was fate. In my younger years, I found comfort clinging to the idea that there was a higher, divine purpose to our lives.
But then my best male friend from college, Jason, died of brain cancer in 2006 at age 27, and on April 1, 2015, I lost another one of my best friends, Rachel, who died suddenly during a routine medical procedure at age 35.
I was completely devastated when Jason died; he was my first friend at college, funny and sarcastic as hell, and fiercely loyal. His death crushed me. How could there be a God when He let cancer ravage my 27-year old friend? I wondered.
Then two years ago, Rachel died, her sudden loss leaving another gaping hole in my heart. We had only been friends for three years, but we were already soul sisters. Once again, I grew angry with God. How could He do this again–take another young, beautiful life full of promise away?
Rachel and I had texted back and forth that morning from the hospital before her procedure, so needless to say, I was completely shocked when her husband called early that afternoon to tell me why she hadn’t responded to my “Hey, Rach, how did it go? How are you feeling?!” texts.
Rachel was gone.
Though I knew in my heart her husband wasn’t lying to me and could hear the agony in his shaking voice, I wanted desperately to believe it was a sick April Fool’s joke and that someone would say, “Just kidding!”
But it wasn’t a joke.
Though Rachel had been dealing with Crohn’s disease since she was 9, she wasn’t sick at the time of her death. She was undergoing a routine medical procedure; it should have been an out-patient thing, no big deal. She and her husband were in the process of adopting an amazing little boy, and she had her entire life as a mom ahead of her. It had been her dream to become a mom–and that dream was coming true. Career-wise, she was an insurance agent who was kicking ass. She had a million friends–to know her was to love her. And her parents had just moved here a year prior from Chicago to be closer to her and her growing family.
Both Jewish girls who married goys, we had a ton in common. We met in Zumba class, where we discovered we had a shared obsession for fitness and Lululemon. We had both dealt with the deaths of our (other) best friends only a few years prior. We’d both overcome disordered eating and body image issues. We were both extremely close to our families. We both loved Sonic’s crushed ice and had similar taste in jewelry, and even had a friend in common (#JewishGeography). Our younger brothers both lived in Santa Monica, our moms were both named Sue, and we both were far more culturally Jewish than we were observant. We felt like we’d known each other our whole lives–living proof that you don’t need to know someone forever to be that close.
And now I’m approaching two years without her. It still doesn’t feel real.
In a strange twist of fate, her memorial is Saturday–the same day I’ll be boarding a plane to Puerto Rico with my family for spring break. I debated changing our flight by a day because it felt … wrong … to travel on her memorial. But knowing Rachel, I feel she would not have wanted that. Instead, I’ll say the Mourner’s Kaddish for her, and I will travel in her memory, because that is what she–a selfless person who loved the world–would have wanted.
After all, this is a girl who would literally give you the clothes off her back, who could tell when you needed a hug just by your tone in an email – and come to your house with a present “just because.” She had every reason to complain about her lot in life, but instead put her energy towards the positive, toward following her dreams in spite of the obstacles in her way.
And this is a woman who–though she couldn’t conceive herself–genuinely celebrated every moment of motherhood with me. From the day I told her I was pregnant with my son, to the day she died, she was there every step of the way, cheering me on even when she, herself, was knee-deep in a challenging foster-to-adopt situation. In fact, when she found out we were having a boy, she came over with matching blue and pink puppy dogs for my daughter and unborn son – today, they still know them as their special lovies; “the puppies from Rachel.”
Two years later, the pain of loss is still acute. Sure, life has gone on–it has to, right?–but it isn’t the same. I long to see her name appear on my phone. To hear her laugh as we called each other “Agent Doxey” and “Agent Henriquez” for our incredible sleuthing skills. I still wish I could get a notification that she snapped a silly selfie, or to bump into her at Target (as we often did), or to meet at the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange (our favorite lunch spot) for French onion soup, turkey pitas and gossip. I wish we could still wrangle our girls together for a fro-yo date, or to go dancing way past our bedtime. I miss our texts and emails. I miss her counsel, her wisdom, and her positive attitude.
I don’t believe everything happens for a reason anymore, and I am still mad that two people I love are no longer here.
But here’s what I do believe: I believe people come into our lives for a reason. I believe they teach us something. Though I didn’t have her in my life for long, Rachel’s legacy is a lifelong one: of selflessness, of strength, of perseverance and of unconditional love.
And her legacy lives on in her son, as Rachel’s husband was able to officially adopt him seven months after she died, right after he turned three years old. I just wish he could have known his mom, his amazing mother who saved him from a life of uncertainty, gave him a loving home, dedicated every fiber of her being to him, and who was taken much too soon.