• The death of my best friend permanently bonded me to her family, even when my own didn't understand.
  • Her family helped me channel my grief into action.
  • Over a decade after her death, I'm still in touch with her family.

I stopped believing in God, became an alcoholic, returned to God, signed up for a gym membership, and even wrote poetry. I've coped with the death of my best friend in all sorts of ways. Yet she remains simultaneously one of my most cherished and anguished memories, and I've never quite managed to deal with grief in a way that ends it. 

My family's inability to understand that Sam's death in high school was not supposed to happen made me feel alienated from them. I saw her mother, April, fall apart at the funeral, and until then, I had never felt closer to another person besides Sam.

So after the reception, when April and Bob welcomed any friend of Sam's to visit any time, I went after I got Sam's initials tattooed on my inner lip in a basement by a stranger without a license but the proper machinery. They didn't react proudly, but April made dinner for me and Sam's other friends who were already there.

She had never met me before, not even at the funeral, but she embraced my sorrow like her own.

People didn't understand our relationship

I began dedicating my weekends to visiting Sam's parents. Outsiders labeled it a phase. As it continued until my senior year, my friends and family refused to understand it. My mom accused me of doing drugs at their house at one point. They didn't understand why I wanted to spend so much time there. 

It wasn't until I became an adult that I understood that being surrounded by Sam's loved ones enabled me to channel my grief into action — whether by laughing at a memory or reflecting on something I didn't know about her. 

Jill Cohen, a family grief counselor, said that was because it's jarring for a teen to experience the death of another teen.

"It's also the first death they have experienced, and they don't know what to expect after a death or what grief looks like and how to navigate it," Cohen said about most cases. "So they prefer and take comfort within those with the shared experience."

I understand comparing my loss to Sam's parents' appears narcissistic, but mourning someone doesn't manifest into an emotion you can measure. Through interacting with them, I learned you could share it.

Cohen compared my relationship with them to a cancer support group.

"Strangers come together to share what 'outsiders' don't understand about the experience. They often make very long and lasting and close friendships based on their shared experience," she said. 

She emphasized that it's helpful and recommended to have this type of support. It offers an opportunity to exchange coping tools and safely express all kinds of emotions.

Witnessing April arrange to construct a permanent memorabilia wall at Sam's high school or raise funds for Operation Smile in her honor filled the emptiness I desperately feared would become linked to Sam's name. I waged war on anyone who threatened me with moving on, so when April succeeded in getting a street sign in Miami designated as Samantha Jade Trebbi Avenue, I elected her commander in grief.

Eleven years later, April recently messaged me a picture of the bottom of Sam's wooden desk while she was cleaning. On it, Sam carved the names of her top five crushes. I would have been flattered to be No. 4 if two of my brothers weren't listed ahead of me. But it's the sacredness of interactions like this that keeps me bonded to her parents, most likely until it's my turn to carry Sam's torch.

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