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What Death in a Chosen Family Feels Like

Today would have been my friend's 41st birthday. Polly passed away seven years ago in a car crash. She was 33.

I was in a quiet disbelief that weekend as I put together a book filled with photos of her that I had photocopied and made into booklet and gave out at the memorial service.

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I listened to music a lot as I sat at my computer working on the pamphlet. "Sara" by Fleetwood Mac kept coming up.

I had always envisioned Polly getting married under twinkly lights and, as I stood directing her memorial service in Los Angeles, I realized we had all gathered under twinkly lights to mourn her. It was a screwed-up version of my vision.

I stood looking at all of these sad, crying faces, and I felt bad that I was not crying. I led the service and got in a tremendous fight with my husband afterwards.

That Summer I started cutting my hair back à la Britney Spears. I kept envisioning how good it would feel to be in a room of glass, where I could let go and smash everything.

A friend sent me an email which offered me a lot of solace and insight into my confusion. This friend had also lost her big city soul sister when her friend was 27. It, too, was an instant death.

My friend said, "You might feel confused, guilty and ashamed at how much your loss consumes you but keep in mind this was your friend whom you starved with in this big city. This is the friend you clung to and talked about the dysfunctional families you were happy to leave back in the state you left them in. This was your chosen family. You can grieve Polly. It is a deep loss."

I loved Polly like I love a family member.

Chosen family.

She was my chosen family.

I don't come from a big family that gets together all the time. I have a mentally ill parent, and I was figuring out in my early 20s that I was going to lose more friends if I treated them the way I was treated by my parent. I made a conscious decision to stop.

Polly and I had our moments, as all friends do. We fought over dresses, punctuality and other things.

What I loved, though, was that she was the person smiling at me when she knew I was throwing around a bit to much bullshit at a party. She was also the person smiling at me when I was floundering, trying to be normal at party.

Recently, I found a picture I have looked at quite a bit but I hadn't realized, there in the corner, was Polly. She's looking at me, laughing and smiling. It was at my wedding, and I was doing the "Jewish Chair Dance" as I called it at the time. My Christian Midwestern friends and my husband's Jewish East Coast people all dancing our asses off.

I loved Polly like I love a family member.

Yet, I got to choose her.

I'm grateful that I had it and mourn its loss nearly daily.

I had a year of profound mourning and maybe then some. I certainly miss her daily, but I also think she'd smirk at me if I tried to use her death as an excuse for me not trying to make the most of a day.

Losing a good friend is surprisingly jarring. For awhile I thought I shouldn't feel so bad, her family must feel devastated, clearly they are and were. That email from my other friend allowed me to grieve and recognize that, just because we weren't blood, we loved each other and were there for each other because of choice.

The email also affirmed for me that my ties with Polly were indeed very strong and, just because she was dead, just because we were not technically family, it did not take away what we meant together.

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Our bond as artists, young women in a big city navigating around sharks, circling casting call notices in Back Stage West, doubting our talent, pushing each other if we hadn't auditioned in awhile, using each other for our projects—supporting each other—was real.

I'm grateful that I had it and mourn its loss nearly daily.

If you have a friendship like this, count yourself lucky and cherish it.

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