How To Be Thankful While Mourning A Best Friend

One of my closest friends died suddenly on Sunday, four days before Thanksgiving. As I struggle to figure out what to be thankful for during the hardest time in my life, I’m reminded of all that she did for me — and for everyone.

I was kind of hoping they would cancel Thanksgiving this year.

I know that’s selfish, but on Wednesday, when I watched one of my best friends get buried, her loved ones wracked with grief, the thought of sitting around a table and talking about why I’m thankful over mashed potatoes felt like the punch line of a fucked-up joke. And so the idea of focusing on gratitude when there is so much pain in my heart strikes me as absurd.

But Thanksgiving isn’t canceled. And though my body aches with the loss of someone who has been central to my life for the past decade, I know that I do a disservice to my friend by focusing solely on my pain instead of on all of the wonderful things she brought to my life — to so many people’s lives. The truth is, I had Roxy Roknian as a best friend and confidante for 10 years, and I am a better person for it. As hard as it is to celebrate the holiday, I am so, so grateful for that.

With our friend Matt, November 2004.

Facebook: louispeitzman

At my 20th birthday party, September 2006.

Facebook: louispeitzman

 

I met Roxy when I was 16. We met through a mutual friend and became something close to inseparable, even though we went to two different schools. It was not an easy time for either of us. High school rarely is for anyone, but we were two people who didn’t just feel uncomfortable around our classmates — we felt deeply uncomfortable in our own skin. That is an impossible anxiety to escape: There was rarely a moment where we felt good about ourselves or our place in the world, and when you’re a teenager, it’s hard to imagine that won’t always be the case. Before therapy — when I only really had Roxy to confide in — I came to believe we were fated to a lifetime of low self-esteem and endless anxiety. But hey, at least we had each other.

Roxy and I both struggled with depression through the years. We helped each other as much as we could, but mental health is a personal battle, and it’s not one that’s easily fought. But I’m thankful that I can say we were able to move past at least some of our demons. Roxy in particular found an inner strength neither of us thought possible at 16. Even at her low points, she was able to love herself, and to appreciate and admire her body. She did not have the easiest road — her depression was more crippling than mine — but she knew that she was beautiful.

Maybe that doesn’t mean a lot to everyone, but it means the world to me. Perhaps you’d have to have listened in on our phone calls, talking about how much we hated what we saw in the mirror, and how we felt our bodies made us unlovable. You’d have to know how often we tried to lose weight and failed, how we learned to dress to blend in because it was scary to stand out. I am still working on feeling OK with myself — it is an ongoing process — but over the past few years, Roxy was an inspiration to me. She learned to be bold and dress the way she wanted simply because it made her feel good: The fact that she looked amazing to those around her was beside the point.

What’s truly amazing is that Roxy didn’t stop at feeling better about herself. With her equally badass friend Caroline Shadood, she started the blog Broadist in 2011. Here’s the mission statement from the FAQ: “Broadist is a personal style blog that aims to promote radical self acceptance by addressing broader bodies and minds — starting with our own. We want to continue to learn how to value ourselves, and help others do the same. We want to look and feel maddddd fly. Most of all, we want to a part of the conversation.”

Roxy and Caroline accomplished their mission statement, and I don’t only mean the part about looking fly. By sharing photos of themselves and a diverse set of women, Broadist challenges the mainstream perception of what it means to be beautiful. I still don’t really know what to wear, ever — and I’m sure Roxy would remind me that I don’t need to limit myself to black, just because conventional wisdom says it’s slimming — but I appreciate that there is a space for people who don’t look like models to dress well, look great, and feel good. While I wish Broadist had existed when Roxy and I were teenagers, I’m incredibly grateful that it exists now. The dominant images we’re confronted with day to day continue to perpetuate an unrealistic standard of “normalcy,” and I know if Roxy were still with us, she would never stop fighting that.

I need to remind myself of the eye-opening work Roxy did because if I don’t, I will get lost in my sorrow. It’s easy to remember that she’s not here and fall apart — but there is comfort in knowing that even in her short life, she was able to mature beyond what she ever expected and to carry that personal growth on to those who could benefit from her message. Especially now, as we give thanks, I need to find something positive to hold onto, because how else am I supposed to make it through the day in one piece?

I will never stop missing her, but I will also never stop being proud of her. At her funeral, Roxy’s mom read one of her posts on Broadist, in which Roxy wrote about training for her first 5k run. She had posted a photo of herself after a long run that she initially didn’t want to include, because, in her words, “I look like such a dork.” But instead of focusing on that, she found beauty in the photo: “Reframed, I see a big smile and the rush of friends, doggies running in the woods, and endorphins.” Her conclusion made me laugh through my tears:

“You don’t have to take things as they are. It might be momentarily uncomfortable, but feel around in the darkness of your insides and find a slightly more accepting way of looking at what’s around you. Maybe I’ll think of it as a hug-shaped frame. It might be cheesy, but so are nachos and I fucking love those.”

Those are important (and yes, hilarious) lines that say so much about who Roxy was. The sadness lingers, and while I know I’ll continue to mourn Roxy for a long time, I’m thankful that she left so much to remember her by — not just for me, but for everyone touched by her words.

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