The Shapes We Mae

ELASTIC GRIEF: On Breaking Up with a Best Friend

Friends & LoversLily MyersComment

 by Caroline Catlin

Image by Gabriela Indivero

Image by Gabriela Indivero

Two years before the last day we spoke, my best friend wrote to me about grief. 

We discussed monuments, how foolish humans are, to build from stone and pretend we can place our hurt inside of it. As if sorrow could be kept stationary. As if we could carve out a time to feel between the hours of 2 and 4 pm, or only on our lunch break, or whenever we go to a new city on vacation.  

We laughed at that, at the silliness of grief so big it needed its own home. Perhaps, I said, two lovers and three jobs from now, we’ll call each other and cry over a thing we should have forgotten. 

Yes, she’d laughed, perhaps we will. 

I think there are some things in life that will always make your eyes sting.

These days, months since the last time I spoke to the aforementioned best friend, it is not the loss of her that still gets me, rather the memory of moments in which we believed such loss was impossible. 

Moments when we, newly in college and on our own, sat cross-legged on sticky dorm room floors and ate spicy ramen and drank too sweet strawberry wine and felt like every beginning was ahead of us. I say this now, not as a person who has stopped having beginnings, but rather as one who realizes that they come slower as you enter into the later stages in your life. That the thing no on really tells you is, there are a whole lot of endings too. 

My best friend and I “broke up” for a variety of reasons, none of which really matter. What does matter is the way that we, as loving and learning people, hold this particular kind of grief in our conversations and our minds. What matters is the space we give it. What matters is we allow ourselves to build this kind of grief a home. 

Recently, cleaning the kitchen with my housemate, I stopped mid retelling of the more complicated, messy parts of the saga of losing my best friend. The hurt was washing over me, and I needed a minute. My housemate, being the kind and generally uninhibited person she is, responded by yelling something along the lines of shit, friend break ups suck so much!

She went on to say how in romantic relationships, there is usually the underlying agreement that the two of you might, at some point, not be in each other’s lives. If things don’t go well, there is an ending that will happen. Everyone enters into the love knowing that. But with friends? That’s not how it’s supposed to work. 

Which, I think, is what is ultimately so harmful and disorienting about friend break ups. We all know they happen. If it hasn’t happened to you, it’s probably happened to someone you care about, a friend of a friend. As much as we might want to place blame on ourselves, or on the person who has left, the truth is – sometimes, friendships just end. And when people leave, when we lose this much – we feel grief. 

I have a friend who passed away from cancer a little over a year ago. The grief I feel over losing her is an entirely different beast. That grief – that is a deep scoop, left empty within my chest. That is the word hollow walking around all on its own. That is sickening. Maddening. 

This grief? This is elastic. Thin. It snaps back, and stings, but doesn’t incapacitate me. My ex best friend is still alive and well, out there somewhere in the world, hopefully doing the things she needs to in order to be happy and full and growing as a person. Even though the future we had discussed, a future in which our partners and our children were as intertwined as we once were, is not possible, I still can hold onto the immense gift that we do each have futures, even if they no longer overlap. 

There is a lesson to be learned from this kind of grief, from the reality that sometimes we lose friends just as often as we lose lovers. Perhaps the lesson lies simply in learning that life is a twisting and tricky thing, and sometimes, things happen in ways you can only agree to disagree with. Or perhaps, as I prefer to believe, the lesson hasn’t arrived yet. 

That maybe, my now ex-best friend walked out of my life for reasons that will make sense to me when I’m good and ready. That on a different day, with all kinds of new, I will get finally get it. I think that’s the trick at the heart of it all, whether you are breaking up with a lover or a friend, or a parent, or a sibling. 

Whatever form loss and grief has taken, whether hollow or elastic, small or sickening. I think the trick is to walk right back into it. To wrap yourself in the hurt, and let yourself feel it for as long as you need to. To give thanks that you got to learn and love in the first place, until finally, it eases enough to start over again. 

Two lovers and three jobs from now, maybe I’ll still be wishing I could call my once best friend. But more likely, I’ll be on the phone with someone else, saying, remember the time grief felt like a rubber band? Remember how I thought it seemed all I had left were endings?

And perhaps, then, the person of the other side of the line will laugh and say, yes, of course, and then, remember, all the beginnings that followed? 

Yes, I might say, how lucky am I?


Caroline Catlin recently graduated from Wesleyan University, where she majored in psychology and independently studied photography and writing. Her work has been published in places such as The Huffington Post, GERM Magazine, and TheEEEL. Caroline hopes to one day combine her love of art with her passion for working with children who have experienced trauma in order to help them heal through creativity.