By Julie Katz, Forever Friend
August 2nd, 2014
I met Abby in 6th grade, on the first day of middle school. We went to different elementary schools but I had heard of Abby Freeman. She was a legend, even in elementary school. I still remember how cool she was on the first day of 6th grade. She was chewing gum. She had a confidence and a coolness that I had never seen before.
We were in different social circles in 6th and 7th grade. It was in 8th grade that we became good friends. We were paired as lab partners in Ms. Sefarian’s 8th grade science class. Abby and I were both initially skeptical of each other. I thought she was too cool for school and definitely to cool to talk to me and she thought I was too much of a nerd and a teacher’s pet to be a suitable or fun lab partner. But we realized quickly that we had misconceptions of each other. Instead, we were instant friends. We had a very fast and wonderful connection and wound up getting into trouble multiple times with Ms. Sefarian for talking to each other during class. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Abby and my friendship was so multi-layered and spanned more than 25 years. We were close friends in high school – she excelled in theater and I was involved in music so our interests overlapped. In high school and especially in college, we always had adventures together. We would stay up all night partying at Harvard, when she would visit me in college, and at NYC, when I would visit her. We vetted each others’ boyfriends (including Merlin) and partied with each others’ friends.
One of my very favorite memories of Abby took place the night before my wedding. Abby and Merlin walked into the party, lighting up the room, as always. As Abby and I embraced, she immediately said into my ear, “I’m pregnant” (with Owen). She was wearing a big magenta flower in her hair and she was absolutely glowing, like neon. I couldn’t have imagined a better wedding present.
As luck had it, we both wound up moving to CA. She moved to LA and I moved to the Bay Area around the same time. We got to see each often because I came to LA frequently to visit family. She and Julia also came to visit me and my daughter – a mother/daughter visit my daughter and I will always cherish.
Abby and I got married during the same summer and we had kids very close together. We continued to share so much – a deep friendship, related on so many commonalities – marriage, motherhood, and California.
Unfortunately, Abby and I also shared a diagnosis of breast cancer. I was diagnosed in April 2012, almost exactly a year before Abby was. After a year of treatment, I remain fortunate to be cancer-free and healthy. Abby and I had two very different diseases. I was very fortunate that the tumor was caught early, was not aggressive and my outcome was very good. Abby’s disease was relentless, chemo-resistant and very aggressive. It broke my heart when Abby told me of her diagnosis and that her case would not be as treatable as mine.
I also remember thinking, right when she told me of her diagnosis, that no one more than I was going to be able to relate to her experience and to be there for her like I was. This was the only silver lining of just having lived through breast cancer treatment myself. It was a gift that I could and would be there for my dear friend in any way I could.
We spent a lot of time together this past year. She was a focus of my life. We texted almost every single day and visited often. Through her brave battle and suffering, Abby was the same wonderful person, mother, wife and friend that I’d known for all these years. She was so present, so kind, so insightful, so spiritual, imaginative, creative, thoughtful, patient, beautiful, and loving. Everything she always was.
I’d like to end with a quote by David Harkins, a 20th century British poet and painter. I chose it because I think it embodies Abby’s eternal spirit.
“You can shed tears that she is gone,
Or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she’ll come back,
Or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her,
Or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her only that she is gone,
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind,
Be empty and turn your back,
Or you can do what she’d want:
Smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”