Even when it is completely expected, the loss of a friend hurts so badly you wonder if the hole in your chest will ever be filled with something other than tears. I know – in my head, because I lost my dear dad two and a half years ago – that eventually it does, for the most part. Most of it becomes filled with great memories, although there is always that little bit of pain that will make you stop and hold your breath for a moment, as you struggle to go on in a world that doesn’t have your loved one any more.

I met Katrina when I started working at Mervyn’s in Mountain View, California. She was the nicest, most hardworking person and we became friends. Over the years our friendship had its ups and downs but in the end, it lasted twenty-three years. I am lucky and honored to have known this courageous woman, with her gentle sweetness and unlimited love for her family. You see, Kat never wanted fame or glory, wealth or power, she just wanted to marry her sweetheart and have lots of babies to care for. She did the first and had three sweet, amazingly well mannered children with him. She taught them those manners while her husband was away in the military much of the time, and I gave her many props for doing such a great job. I will always remember bringing my oldest over when he was a couple of months old, and Kat’s youngest saw he had no shoes (it was very warm) so he went and got his doll’s shoes and brought them “for your baby” — and seven years later, he is still a kind boy who plays so nicely with my son even though they’re 3 years apart.

As ALS began to take her body away, bit by bit, Kat never lost her grace, courage, and smile. Another Mervyn’s friend and I started to come over for “munch brunches” every month, we’d bring tasty treats and chat and eat, laugh and share for a couple of hours. When Kat became unable to eat solids, we would bring something to drink instead. She loved having me rub her arms and legs to help with the nerve pain that was a constant. I loved to give her manicures, she and I always loved burgundies and plums, and during our chats I would always throw in a few swear words to make her smile.

One of the last times we talked, I was asking her how her husband and children were doing with her worsening condition. I always made sure that if she needed to talk, she knew she could just unload with me. I have to thank Steve for that. He told me, maybe she wants to talk about it but doesn’t think people want to hear about it. So I asked the tough questions and she answered candidly. But that one time, she turned it on me. She asked me, “and how are you doing with my condition?”. I looked up because I was rubbing one of her hands, looked at her beautiful, caring eyes, and completely lost it. I thought that shit only happened in the movies. Noooooo. I started to sob, and made her cry too, but I told her how important she was to me, that I would miss her terribly, that I hated ALS, that I had a list of people I would prefer to have ALS instead of her (that one made her smile), and pretty much sobbed out my love for her for the next five minutes. Through her own tears, she told me “you’re my sister.”

I know, Kat. I know. And you were mine. And like I mentioned that day, my Wednesdays and Fridays will be empty now. No more sweet kitty Kat visits for now. I know we will meet again, and you will be able to breathe as deeply as you wish, and fly free of all that horrible pain. We’ll have sundaes for breakfast, I promise, I know that was your favorite. You gave me that cupcake holder and told me it was “so you won’t forget me” — you silly, silly Kat. How could I ever forget you? From our Mervyn’s breaks racing to the bakery for carrot cake, to spilling an entire 40 oz. cup of soda at the chiropractor’s office, to your love of “purple stuff” (a Peruvian dessert), to our favorite movie, The Cutting Edge, to manicures and massages and everything our friendship was, and more, you will always be part of my life.

I will miss you forever, sweet friend, my sister of the heart, brave warrior princess (your own words, and so true) who looked ALS in the eye and said “you won’t take my spirit”. And it never did. Love you lots, Kat.