My Forever Friend
I hope they have cronuts in heaven. A few months ago, I was visiting my friend, who had just been gifted a delivery of delicious cronuts (the love-child of a donut and a croissant) and was telling me about them. “Have you ever had a cronut? They’re amazing! Heaven better have cronuts or I’m not going,” she joked. We laughed as we played out the scene. There’s Saint Peter at the entrance to heaven, unlocking the pearly gates with a magnificent flourish. “Welcome to heaven. The angels are singing your praises. We have long awaited your coming,” he says, gesturing her to enter. “Um… one question,” my dear friend Heidi would say. “Do you have cronuts?”
When we laughed at this mock scene, she was already dying of brain cancer. My friend Heidi died only a couple of months later in January of 2023, at the young age of 45.
Heidi was my first friend, my best friend. We knew each other as babies. Our families were close, and we saw each other all the time. She was the one who made the happy times happier. She was the one who felt both familiar and brand new every time we were together. I was a shy, sensitive kid, and she was a bouncy, tender-hearted girl filled with life. We loved planning adventures, playing games, and telling stories. Sometimes we pretended we were rich hotel owner sisters, with the world at our feet, Michelle and Diane Summers. When we were together, we lived in a fantasy world where anything was possible. Her imagination and her zest for life fascinated me.
She had a deep and abiding respect for life. She loved the people, the animals, and the nature all around her. She loved exploring her little world. She loved the people in her life and talked about them like they were rock stars. Everything about life was food for her. She loved her family and hated to be away from them. Everything in life was fresh and wonderful when I shared it with her. She always had some new mystery or scheme up her sleeve. She was dramatic in her own childish way, and I loved it.
When I think of her, I think of the way she held the lid over the Kraft mac and cheese water to get it to boil faster, her house with all the nooks and crannies where we would sit and talk, our joint love of ice cream, the way she gently held her favorite teddy bear as if it were real, the way it felt when she would hug me, the way her eyes lit up with the promise of any new adventure. She lived her life with her whole heart. She was a backyard, homemade, life-is-magical kind of kid.
During childhood, her family owned a lake house. It was her kingdom. Animals, ducks, trees, crayfish, even the seaweed on the lake was beautiful to her. I was the one who feared crayfish, didn’t like the smell of seaweed, and slipped on the rocks in the creek. She was the one who loved adventures in the woods and wasn’t afraid of getting dirty. I sometimes think she was a fairy, a forest sprite, who got lost in the real world and became human for a time. Maybe she was never meant for this world.
She was eager to participate in my schemes and plans. We used to pretend to be Madonna and Cindi Lauper performing in front of screaming audiences on the stage of my bed. We used stay up in my family room during sleepovers talking and making each other laugh. We made craft projects out of puff balls and sold them to our family members at our outrageously overpriced gift shop in the basement of my house. Halftime during my family’s Superbowl party was our biggest sale day of the year.
As we grew older, we grew apart. For a couple of years, we went to the same high school, but sat at different tables. She sat at the table full of down-to-earth, sporty type girls, whereas I sat at the table of girls who were shy like me. She made friends easily. We still hung out, went to the mall, and talked, but childhood was over. For her, growing up was just another adventure to explore. While she was out experiencing life, I was dealing with epilepsy.
I always thought that when I finally became a grown-up with a pocket full of confidence, poise and all the answers, we would get the magic of our childhood friendship back again. What I didn’t realize was that grown-up friendships take a lot more work, but they are much more worth it. We did get together every now and then, and we always laughed as if no time had passed. We always said we’d be friends forever, no matter what life dealt us. She reveled in all her experiences. Every new struggle made her stronger. Every year was a victory. While I was struggling to find my confidence, she boldly claimed hers. She lived her life on purpose, and I always admired that about her.
We did reconnect in a profound way over the past year when she was struck with brain cancer. During some of her darkest days in the hospital, she called me and left a poignant voicemail that broke my heart. She said she was scared and needed her best friend. I called and talked to her. I saw her as soon as I could. But to be honest, I was terrified. How could my childhood friend, that delightful forest sprite who loved life, be suffering?
I always took it for granted that she would be around for the rest of my life. She even promised me when we were kids to be my best friend forever, and I was going to hold her to it. I foolishly thought that God would always give us another tomorrow. This is one of the first times God took a close friend away whom I wasn’t ready to give up. I keep thinking this past year has been a bad dream. I still don’t quite believe it. I can’t believe I saw her decline. I can’t believe I sang a song to her as she lay in her casket at the funeral. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and find that Heidi is still with us and that God has given me one more tomorrow.
Heidi Liebert Fine loved her life. She lived fully, not perfectly, but fully. She loved her family, reveled in every new challenge, always looked to the bright side of things, strove to become a more compassionate and better human, and never stopped laughing.
She is on the other side now. I wish I could extract from her some bit of wisdom that will make sense of everything that has happened. Maybe if I study the subjects she did or do the types of things she liked to do. But no, each of us has our own version of living. Each of us has our own view, our perspectives, our delights, and our own fears. She mastered hers.
What I learned from Heidi: Live on purpose. Live like you’ll die someday. And never say “no” to dessert.
Dear God, please have cronuts in heaven.