“My Heart Will Always Hurt”: How I Honor My Childhood Best Friend Lost to Cancer

Karen Cordova lives in New Mexico with her husband and 2 children. She is a writer who aims to tell stories of inspiration that might help others with whatever they may be going through in life. You can follow Karen on Twitter.

One day when I was 7 years old, my mom was on the phone talking to someone for a really long time. I thought it could have been a friend or one of my many tías. When my mom got off the phone, she called me from my room, where I had been coloring.

I climbed onto my mom’s lap on the couch, and she told me that a friend of hers was coming over tomorrow with her daughter, Socorro, for me to play with. She told me that Socorro was sick.

“What’s wrong with her?” I asked.

My mom said, “She has cancer. Her hair has fallen out, and she only has 1 good eye.”

Wow,” I thought. “No hair and 1 good eye?

I asked my mom what cancer was, and she said that Socorro’s blood was sick, and she had been sick since she was a baby. My dad and Socorro’s dad were both in the U.S. military, and Socorro’s family had moved to our base in California because we had a huge hospital with doctors to help treat her.

The next day, Socorro and her mom came to our house. Socorro had no hair and a patch over 1 eye. She was little and skinny and had cords coming out of her chest. I looked at her and said, “Do you want to come color with me?” I was coloring inside an empty box from my dad’s new lawnmower. “OK,” she said, and I grabbed her by the hand to go color.

From then on, we played together every single day. Socorro and I became very best friends. We did everything together. We played, colored, and dug in the dirt. We would pretend we were girls from WWE and beat up my dad all the time. Socorro loved how my dad played with us. My mom always had a look of panic on her face because she was always afraid my dad would “break” Socorro.

Socorro was also a prankster. One night when she was sleeping over, my mom told us to get our pajamas so she could change us for bed. When it was Socorro’s turn, my mom picked up her shirt, and Socorro yelled “Ouch!” My mom got scared because Socorro had a tube coming out of her belly for food. Socorro started laughing. We all did, except for my mom. She didn’t find it funny at all.

The day everything changed

Socorro always had her gramma and tías in town from New Mexico because of her cancer. Her gramma always played with us. She made me feel like she was my gramma, too. Whenever Socorro’s gramma came to down, we were excited.

One day at school, the intercom in my class came on, and a voice over the speaker told my teacher to have me walk home with my friend Jennifer. I was super happy because I liked playing with Jennifer, but I was also confused. I never went to someone else’s house after school since my mom was always home.

I don’t know how long I was at Jennifer’s house. But my mom arrived at her house, I was surprised to see Socorro’s gramma there, too. I was excited to go play with my best friend. Plus, her gramma was here, too! My mom was really quiet on the walk to Socorro’s house, which wasn’t very far. My mom stopped, lifted me up, and hugged me tight. Then, she told me that Socorro had gone to heaven that morning. I didn’t quite understand what was happening because I had just seen her that day before I left for school.

Socorro had gone to the doctor to have her platelets checked. Socorro told her mommy that she was tired, so her mommy told her to lay down and close her eyes while they waited for the doctor to come in. Socorro closed her eyes, but she never woke up.

“God was ready for her,” my mom said.

I didn’t know how to be ready to let her go. There was no warning. No one had ever explained to me that God could take her at any time. “What is happening?” I thought. “What do I do without her? How do I go on without my best friend? How could God make my heart hurt this much?”

Coping with the loss of my best friend

My whole world shattered that day. I cried all the way to Socorro’s house. I cried so much that my dad had to come and pick me up while my mommy stayed with Socorro’s mom. At home, I laid on my bed and cried until I fell asleep. Only sleep would make the crying stop and the pain go away.

A few days later, I was sitting in my mommy’s lap at Socorro’s memorial at the base. My heart hurt like nothing my 8-year-old self had ever experienced. The pain was unbearable. How could God take my best friend without warning? All I knew was that my best friend was in heaven, and I was never going to see her again.

The memorial was beautiful, but I started crying, and the tears would not stop. Socorro’s dad came over to us and asked my mom if she needed him to take me outside to calm down.

“No, thank you,” Mom said. “I will take her.”

And we left.

After the memorial, they took Socorro back to New Mexico to bury her. In the years that followed, when we would go to visit my grampo in the same town, my parents would always take me to visit Socorro’s gravesite.

How losing Socorro has impacted my life as an adult

I am now an adult, but Socorro is still very much a part of my life every single day. Her fight to live taught me how to be brave and never take life or any of my relationships for granted. I have mourned Socorro’s death for more than 35 years, but I still honor her today by keeping her memory alive. My dad and I talk about her often, and my children have grown up knowing about her. There is a picture of her and a picture of the 2 of us in my house. We visit her often at the cemetery and leave her gifts. We also donate money to support other children and families going through cancer.

This story was hard for me to tell because I held on to the pain for so many years, but putting the story into words and sharing it was therapeutic. My heart will always hurt, but I know that Socorro is not hurting now, and I am OK with that. Time does heal wounds, even for those who have lost someone to cancer as a child. But writing or keeping a journal can help with the pain.

I found it helpful to talk about Socorro often, even when it hurt the most. Her life meant something, and even though she is not here in person, she is a hero. She faced one of the hardest experiences anyone ever could. If you are in a similar situation, speak to your loved one and make their life meaningful to those around you, because their lives mean something. 

I believe God takes the best angels, and even though he took Socorro, she will always be my angel in heaven. Every time I go to her gravesite, I always make sure to tell her I love her and to wait for me in heaven.

The author has no relationships relevant to this content to disclose.

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