Yesterday marked four years since my best friend Jackie passed away from a brain tumor. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about her. I may not reflexively grab my phone to text her anymore, but I always think about how she’d react to current events, how much she’d laugh at my kids, and how amazingly proud she’d be of her family.
I’ve started several paragraphs about her today, but I’ve found myself unable to finish a sentence. So I thought I’d share something I wrote four years ago, something that I feel really explains just how much she meant to me.
I have written my name on the closet wall of every room I’ve ever lived in. It’s my own little way of saying, “I was here,” as if etching my name in several locations guaranteed me a sort of permanence – a literal mark on the world. When I was moving out of the apartment I lived in with Jackie, she walked in just as I put my pen to the paint. “What are you doing?” she asked me. I explained, and she laughed at me and said, “You’re crazy. It probably gets painted over!” Then she grabbed my pen and wrote her initials above mine with a heart.
I remember the moments I met most of my friends, but I don’t remember meeting Jackie. I think it’s because I’m meant to feel like I’ve always known her. We never had an awkward “get to know each other” phase, we just had friendship. And a good one – one of the best. It was easy, it was loving, and it was pure. Even when we’d fight over who had to take out the garbage (a ridiculous fight that we had entirely too often), we always fell back into our comfortable relationship. Even when we were on opposite sides of the country, or opposite sides of the state, it didn’t matter. Our friendship was as solid as they come.
It’s easy to be there for your friends in the good times, and there were many, many good times to be had. But it’s said that the ones who are there in the hard times are your truest friends. During my rocky pregnancy with Madeline, Jackie was there. She checked up on me often with calls and emails. When I was put in the hospital, she came down from San Francisco to visit. When I was told Madeline was going to be delivered almost twelve weeks early, Jackie heard the news first, because she was on the phone with me when the nurse told me the news.
Her strong support continued during Madeline’s rough time in the NICU. She asked for updates and pictures. She wasn’t horrified by the wires and monitors attached to Maddie, and after every new picture she declared Maddie “gorgeous.” Jackie was my first friend to come over after Maddie was released from the NICU. Jackie walked in and announced, “Time to meet Auntie Jackie!” From the moment my girl with the bright blue eyes looked at my girl with the bright green eyes, they were bonded.
Not long after, Jackie’s brain tumor was discovered, and it was my turn to be there for her. Perhaps because of everything I’d been through up to that point with Maddie, Jackie knew I could handle the dark stuff. She confided in me her desire to beat the disease, but was honest with her fear that she probably wouldn’t. The mere idea that she might not beat cancer seemed absurd to me. She was Jackie! She wasn’t ever going anywhere – we were going to grow old together.
When Madeline suddenly died the following year, Jackie was there the next day. She laid in bed with me while I slept, and comforted Mike when I couldn’t. She took care of my family, and helped plan Maddie’s service. She did all this during a chemo week, which meant she was suffering massive physical side effects to go along with the emotions she was feeling over losing her little buddy. She made sure I never knew about her discomfort, and I didn’t for many years. I only knew that Jackie was there for me when I needed her most.
Losing Madeline made me realize that death isn’t just something that happens to other people, and I remembered Jackie’s confession that the odds were against her beating GBM…in fact, it hit me like a ton of bricks. But if Jackie wasn’t wallowing, I couldn’t either. I adopted her “live in the now” attitude. We visited each other when we could, talked often, and texted almost daily. We weren’t physically close, but emotionally we leaned on each other like never before.
When Jackie learned in February that her cancer had stopped responding to treatments, her first worry was her family. You all know by now that I have an amazing family, but you should know that Jackie’s is equally wonderful but much more massive: loads of siblings, a dozen nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles and cousins, and her fabulous parents. She wanted to fight for them; she wanted to live for them. She cried about leaving them, and I cried about her leaving me. But she firmed her chin and started experimental trials with the hope of not only gaining more time, but of helping find a cure for brain cancer.
Jackie’s final days were not unlike the rest of her days: she put her concern for others ahead of her concern for herself. She apologized for not being able to care for herself. She furrowed her brow when we were sad around her. She even managed some jokes to make us smile. It is mind-blowing that anyone would think about anything other than themselves at the end of their life, but that was the true essence of Jackie. Her love for others was even more vast than the love others had for her, which is amazing when you think about just how many people love her.
Jackie never felt the need to graffiti her name on plywood to leave a mark, but she never had to. The way she lived and loved and dedicated herself to finding a cure for cancer has guaranteed that she won’t ever be forgotten – and that’s not even considering the impact of the Jacqueline Oswold Chair in Systems Biology. But even without any of that, her name would be etched on my heart the way our names were once etched on my closet wall ten years ago:
forever and ever and always
There’s nothing I can say that will take that hurt away, of course, but I am sending you good thoughts and energy. I’m glad you have so many happy memories of her. Jackie sounds like a wonderful person and the best of best friends.
Brain cancer sucks. We just lost a colleague at work to it on Monday, he was only 28.
So sorry you lost such a wonderful friend.
My heart aches for you. You can clearly feel the love for your friend Jackie!
I have followed your blog for years and have read about her often it just now clicked that Her diagnosis was a GBM. My mother was recently diagnosed with a grade 4 GBM. So I have learned more than I have ever wanted about this terrible brain tumor. I’m not sure what the future holds for my mother, she had surgery in June and has just over a week of her daily 6 weeks of radiation left then hopefully we will know more before she starts stronger chemo. I hope my mother fights as hard and stays as strong as Jackie! What an inspiration.
What a terrible disease that I wish no one had to go through. Not your Jackie! Not my mother.Not the many others that are bravely fighting.
Rita A says:
It’s so hard to lose FRAMILY (friends that are family). I am so so sorry that you had to lose such a big part of yours Heather. I can see Jackie!’s light through your writing so I can only imagine what how intense it was in her presence. How lucky are you to have been blinded by it!! And on a side note I never miss an opportunity to put out in the universe a GIANT EFF YOU CANCER!! Stinkin’ mo-fo… that won’t stop until we find cures. Fight on warriors!
Beautiful, heartbreaking and heartwarming. Thank you for sharing and allowing us to read about the essence of a truly amazing young woman!!!
Keeping you, your family and Jackie’s family in my heartfelt prayers. Sending you loads and loads of comforting hugs.
I can’t remember if I read this four years ago (loyal blog reader), but reading it today has touched my heart. It is evident how much Jackie meant to you, I’m sorry for the pain you have with missing her. She sure sounds like an amazing person!
GBM is vicious – it took my grandfather. But even crueler when it takes someone so young who didn’t have a chance to live her life.
I am honored to “know” and remember Jackie, your beautiful friend, because of this blog.
I am so sorry.
The two of you were so lucky to have each other as best friends. Two kindred souls wrapped in a big heart.
Marjorie Steele says:
wow 4yrs already. I read this post 4 yrs ago and it still brought tears to my eyes today. Thinking of you all. Jackie! sounds like such a wonderful person and I am sure she is hanging out with Maddie up in Heaven. I think you should get that tattooed!
I can’t believe it’s already been 4 years since Jackie! passed. Sending much love to you, Mike, and all of Jackie!’s family and friends.
She was a remarkable person
I love this post Heather. Although I never met Jackie, I feel like I know her from all your beautiful stories about her. We should all be so lucky to have a friend like her
Jennifer T says:
Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing again.
Thinking of you and Jackie today. Your words brought tears to my eyes. xoxo
A beautiful post then and now, Heather. Thinking of you and of Jackie today.
Oh Heather, this is just about perfect. May we all be lucky enough to have one friend like this in our lives. Sending you a big internet hug today.
Heartbreaking. I lost my best friend to a rare muscular disease nearly 9 years ago. We had been best of friends since we were little girls. You never get over that kind of loss. Big hugs to you and cheers to friendships!
LD's Mom says:
Reading about your special friendship with Jackie gives me chills. What a blessing. You keep both Maddie and Jackie’s spirits and memories alive in a meaningful way for all of your readers. Much love.
I can’t put into words how sad I am when I read Robyn’s posts. All I can continually do is thank you and her for teaching me how to be a better friend to those who have suffered loss and have to keep living. Strength and love will always be yours.
It sounds like Jackie was a wonderful woman and friend. You have kept her memory alive through your writing. I think we all hope to have (or be) a friend like Jackie was.
I just love her. I wish I had known her in person but getting to know her through your stories will have to do. So happy for you that you were blessed with such a strong friendship. You two were lucky to have each other. I only wish she could have stayed longer to grow old with you. You two would have made quite the pair of ‘little old ladies’ sitting on a bench together somewhere. Or doing a Zumba class. Whatever.
As always, thanks for sharing your heart.
Best Assisted Living Facilities says:
So Sorry for your best friend!However, she is not here, but I know she will always be in your memories.