Last month my best friend died. That looks so strange, and no matter how many times in last few weeks I’ve been forced to say it out loud it doesn’t seem real. I don’t want to rehash the details. (Something else that I’ve had to do too many times.) It happened suddenly, with no discernible cause, claiming not only my best friend’s life, but her ten year old brother as well. The loss is devastating and defies words. It reminds me that life can often be stranger than fiction.
During the first few days of the incident, the hardest thing to deal with was all of the questions. Everyone wanted to know how it happened, why it happened, and asked me as if I should have the answers. I didn’t. I still don’t. Then, in the clumsy, well-meaning way that we comfort the grieving, people said: as terrible as this is, maybe it can inspire you to write something great from all of this.
I didn’t want to write it down. I don’t want to make permanent something that is so horrible and feels like a nightmare that I will never wake from. Yet, this is permanent and nothing change the reality of it. She is gone, and I am still here.
So instead, let me tell you about our friendship and why my life is forever changed without her.
She was my writing partner. When I was up late agonizing over a scene that didn’t flow right or an idea that didn’t seem plausible, she would be there to encourage me and give me feedback. We would read our work out loud to each other and brainstorm our ideas for hours on end. We were writing a story together. I don’t know if I will ever have the strength to finish it, but I consider it to be some of my best work. I always envied the natural, humorous style of her dialogue and she envied my way with description and suspense.
I always considered her to be a better writer than I and I’m saddened that the world has lost a writer that it will never know.
Without her, I wouldn’t be N.J. Ember. When I had the idea of writing under a pen name she was the first person I asked for an opinion about what it should be. I threw around a few different names, then a few different variations and finally, we settled on N.J. Ember. I liked it for a number of different reasons, but mostly because one day in our someday future my pen name with be alphabetized to sit close to her own. It felt important and special at the time.
I think it was Stephen King who wrote that a writer should write for an ideal audience of at least one person. She was that person for me. I knew that if I could get her to connect with whatever I had written, I was doing a good job. I valued her opinion and perspective, and without it I feel lost. She was so important to me that she even inspired certain characters in books that I’m writing. At least, in that small way, I can keep her spirit alive.
I’m writing all this not just to share with you, but to give you some advice that I’ve gleaned from it all:
- If you have a best friend that you love as much as if they were your sibling, if they contribute something to your life that no one else does, stop whatever you’re doing and tell them. Now. This minute. Hug them. Cherish them.
- If there’s something you feel that you are being called to do, don’t wait forever to do it. Don’t let life or circumstances stop you.
- No matter how small, insignificant or unloved you feel that you are, you’re wrong. You’ve touched the lives of some people in ways that you don’t even realize. You’re not alone.
- Focus on being present as well as thinking of the future. You don’t know what you might miss otherwise.
- Anything that seems important at the time can be rendered meaningless in an instant. Sometimes it is better to let things go.
Writing anything at all has been difficult for me lately. I still have days where I have to stop and pull myself together. I hope that I can live better, a little braver, and with more kindness than I did before. As much as I miss her, (and always will) and even though this is something that part of me will never recover from, I’m trying. I’m going to work to fill my life with stories and moments that would make her proud. To write stories that she would love, and hopefully, that you will love, too.