I met my best friend back when we were in senior high. He was a fine-looking boy with shy smile and unique name. His parents named him Wayang because they both had a great interest in Indonesian puppets. His unique name was the first thing that attracted me to him because, just like his parents, I love wayang stories.
I instantly clicked with Wayang the first time we chatted, although we had very different personalities. I am an enthusiastic and live-for-the-moment kind of person, while he was more reserved and introvert. On second thoughts, those different personalities may have been the things that brought us together. As they say, opposites attract.
We became inseparable during our high school years. I knew all his deepest secrets and he knew all my habits – good and bad. We went through all the wows and lows together. He was there when I had a devastating break-up. I was constantly at his side through his parents’ divorced. I knew him like the back of my hand and vice versa.
Then, as cliché as it was, I fell in love with my best friend. I fell in love – to quote novelist John Green – in the way you fall asleep: slowly and then all at once. We began officially dating in the sophomore year of university. I could not be happier. I mean, what could be better than dating your best friend, right?
We dated for about a year and a half and it was the best time of our lives. We laughed and learned many things. We brought out the best in each other. We even made plans for our future together.
Unfortunately, life had a different plan. About 18 months after we started dating, Wayang passed out while working on a mock-up building – he was studying architecture. When the results came out, he was diagnosed with heart cancer, an extremely rare form of cancer caused by a tumor in the heart.
No one saw that coming because Wayang always looked so healthy and fit. He exercised regularly and played many sports, from squash to football. He ate organic food before organic food became trending hashtag in Instagram. So the news shocked everyone, especially me.
The first time I heard that terrible news, it felt like it was me who had been diagnosed with cancer. I felt like I would pass out and throw up at the same time. I felt beyond miserable. I was angry. Why him? He was Mr. Nice Guy who never hurt anybody.
But then, I realized I had to be strong for him. He needed my support more than ever.
Thereafter, our lives changed. Dates turned into doctor appointments, movies were replaced by chemos. Wayang lost so much weight because of the chemotherapy. He was nothing but skin and bone. But I never heard him complain, not even once. He was so tough throughout the whole process. He even encouraged me and his mother every time he saw us looking glum.
On Aug. 18, 2009, three months after being diagnosed with cancer, my best-friend-slash-love-of-my-life passed away. After all the struggles and painful treatments, he finally won. Now, the cancer could not hurt him anymore.
Even if I kept saying to myself that passing away might be the best thing for him, the pain was almost unbearable. No words could express my feeling at that time. I cried myself to sleep every single night. Although I had prepared myself to lose him, it still felt unreal when his heart stopped. Losing love is like organ damage. It is like dying and you will never be ready for it.
According to American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, when we are dying or have suffered a catastrophic loss, we all move through five distinct stages of grief. We go into denial because the loss is unthinkable; we can not imagine it is true. We become angry with everyone and also with ourselves. Then we bargain. We offer everything we have. When the bargaining has failed, we fall into depression, despair, until, finally, we have to accept that we have done everything we can. And then we let go and move into acceptance.
During his life, Wayang taught me many things. He taught me selflessness. He taught me patience and determination. He taught me how to be grateful at all times. Through his death, I guessed he also taught me one final lesson: how to let go.
I thank all my family and friends for always being there for me through all those five stages of grief. It has been a roller-coaster ride of emotions, but I have grown and learned a lot about letting go. Just as Wayang wanted. For that, I am eternally grateful.
“Sometimes God’s blessings are not in what He gives, but also in what He takes away,” my mom said.
“They say you have to start over. But life is not a board game, my dear, and losing a loved one is never really starting over; it is more like continuing without.”
So Wayang, you know you will always have that special place in my heart, but here I am today, ready to continue my life without you.
Albertha Dita is a banker based in Jakarta.