real life

'Sometimes people betray you so badly.' How I lost my friend, Becki. Twice.

She’s been gone for a couple years now, but for me, she left over ten years before that. I’m thinking about her now because once in a while she comes up in my mind when there’s something that happens and it reminds me of her. This time, it was the untimely death of a member in our family. Just like her, our family member’s life has been cut short by cancer.

My friend, Becki, was 49 years old when she died a couple of years ago. We were only two months apart in age. I found out from her daughter, who contacted me through my son, to let me know she had terminal cancer and she hadn’t much longer to live. You see, when I got that phone call, Becki and I had been out of touch for almost 10 years.

When I think about the friendship we once had, it was one of those close sister relationships. I met her in nursing school and we became fast friends. We spent a lot of time together, going through our classes and studying. We graduated nursing school together in 1991. Most people part ways after uni, but we stayed friends. We got our first jobs, worked together, had babies, celebrated holidays and raised our children together. Any life problems I had, I’d run to her for support. She was my rock. I loved her and I loved her kids as if they were my own.

Then we decided to do something stupid together. We decided to start a business. That f*cking business.

It was an opportunity that landed in our laps because of our specialty of nursing, so we ran with it. It was successful, and the bigger it got, the more it divided us. She started a slow burn of sabotage against me. She avoided me by not coming in the office when I was there. She started hiding the financials from me. She made business decisions without my input. She bullied and sabotaged me in little ways, from changing out my computer one day without my approval, to negating my supervision of our employees. I slowly built up resentment and disrespect for her, while trying to figure out how to better an impossible situation. Every day there was a different kind of hell I had to face in that business.

Then one day she and her husband confronted me. They insisted I give up a portion of my part of the company to her husband, because she didn’t want him to be left out of this cash cow we created. This would give them control in the major decision-making, and she made it very clear that I was outnumbered. Instead, I gave all of it up to them with a meagre buyout, shut the door behind me and never spoke to her again.

Not until her daughter called me 10 years later to tell me she was dying.

When Mamamia’s Briony Benjamin was diagnosed with cancer, she wanted to share a message about the value of living. Post continues after video. 

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She wanted to see me, her daughter said. That’s how it is with people who are dying, they want to say goodbye one last time. I’d already said goodbye to her many years before, and the months after that were so painful for me. The first month I cried in bed and couldn’t pull myself out of my despair. After that, it was a slow return, finding myself another way to make a living and a new set of friends. I eventually moved on and made a new life for myself. A great beautiful life that I worked hard for. I’d even forgotten about Becki.

It was one of the most significant and painful losses I’ve ever experienced. Now I was being asked to do it again. The residual bitterness I had inside me towards her needed to heal, and this was my last chance to do it.

My boyfriend and I drove up to her home on a bright autumn day. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been this nervous, and I needed his moral support.

I knocked and waited, heard rustling behind the door and then it swung open, with Becki and her daughter standing there, her husband in the background. They smiled and welcomed me in, I introduced my boyfriend to all of them, then he kissed me on the cheek and told me he’d pick me up later.

The door swung closed and there I was, alone with Becki and her family for the first time in many years. She had three daughters, all were children when I’d last seen them. Her middle daughter, the one who’d called me, had grown from a cute little girl to a beautiful young woman. I grieved a little bit, remembering how close I’d been to all of them and how I’d missed seeing them grow up. Her husband looked the same, and I found it interesting how we don’t really change much in our midlife.

Then I turned to Becki. Having been a hospice nurse, I could see the tell tale signs of her body dying just by looking at her. She looked like she’d aged 30 years. Her skin was ashen and her belly was bloated from the cancer. The life seemed to be slowly draining out of her.

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She gave me a hug and told me how glad she was that I came. We started chatting about a lot of different things, and that’s when I recognised her and our friendship. It’s true what they say, when you have a real friend, it doesn’t matter how much time passes, when you get back together, it’s like there was no time at all.

Although it was effortless to talk with her, I didn’t automatically ease back into a comfortable companionship. I was guarded and protective of myself. This was a woman who’d betrayed my friendship and trust. Here she and her family were, without ulterior motive, welcoming me into their home, being friendly and kind and treating me like one of their family… again.

All of those feelings I’d had toward her for so many years didn’t seem like they mattered anymore. A lot of time had passed and here she was in front of me, she was dying and her only focus was on the people who were in her life.

After an hour, she got fatigued and needed to lay down. I laid in bed with her and talked. “Why didn’t you ever call me after you left?” she finally asked me. “I told you that it was up to you to talk to me, but you never did.”

It was true, I was filled with rage when I left work for the last time that day long ago. I told her I never wanted to speak to her again. She told me that she wouldn’t call me, but if I changed my mind, to call her. I never did. From my perspective, she and her husband got what they wanted; the entire business, which was more important to her than our relationship.

She couldn’t have both.

It was then I realised that her perspective was something completely different from mine. It was more benign, and she was perplexed that we never continued a relationship afterwards. I saw that her feelings towards me were different than mine towards her.

But then again, she wasn’t the one who was betrayed.

“It doesn’t matter” I said, “I’m here now”. She smiled and gave me a big hug and a kiss. There was no point in rehashing the devastation I’d experienced in our friendship. Even our business, their business, no longer existed, having shut down after a failed attempt at selling the company right after I left. I didn’t know the details. It didn’t matter.

I left that day only after she made me promise to come back and visit her. And she asked me to bring homemade chili.

I went home and thought more about our history. Did I feel regret over us not being friends for the past 10 years? Should I have forgiven her and called her at some point, and restarted our relationship? I thought hard about these things.

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All I can say is, sometimes people will betray you so badly and create such a toxic environment, and even though they may not see what they’ve done, the best thing to do is move forward without that person in your life. Regardless, I realised that things had changed for us and it was similar to a divorce. I no longer loved her like I had in the past. I’d chosen never to see her again. It was the right decision for me and I don’t regret it.

The next time I visited, she was delirious. I handed over the chili that I knew she’d never eat, then I gave her daughter some reprieve from her caregiving. I played nurse for a couple hours. I turned her, gave her water, fed her pain medicine and attempted the impossible task of making her comfortable. There was no chatting or catching up. But there was a renewed connection as I took care of her physical body and worked to ease her pain. It was what I’d done for years, and now I was doing this for a person over whom I’d had such conflicting emotions. I had to strip all of my biases and get raw with this situation. There was no future for Becki. Her present was all that mattered.

Isn’t this true with all of us? We never know how long we will be here on this planet, and all we have is right now. I needed to stop living in my past life of “us” and come to reality of the now.

This was our now.

I brushed the hair away from her face and kissed her on the forehead. She finally fell asleep and I slipped out the door with goodbyes to her family.

That was the last time I’d see her.

She died at home in January 2016, surrounded by her family and in peace.

As I look back on the whole experience, with her reaching out to me in her last stages of life, she gave both of us the opportunity to heal. She was always brilliant about things like that.

Now when I think about her, I don’t think about her betrayal. I think about us being in college together when we were young. I remember baby showers, exchanging Christmas presents, and taking the kids to haunted houses for Halloween. I remember us laughing together and I remember the little things about her, such as purple tulips being her favourite flower. Which is why there’s a picture of purple tulips in this blog, dedicated to her memory. And I fell in love with our old friendship all over again.

Rest in Peace, Becki.

This story originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission. For more from Michelle Jacqua, you can follow her on Twitter and Facebook

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