Amid all the chaos and disappointment of COVID-19 related event cancelations late last week, I got a stark reminder of what’s really important.

As I arrived at work on Friday morning, my phone rang. I had barely put my stuff down and hadn’t even logged onto my computer. It was my daughter. I answered the phone the way I usually do when she calls me at work: I’m at work. Through a shaky voice and tears she told me that a boy from New Jersey who went to college with her best friend in North Carolina had DM’d her to inform her that Ann – her best friend in the whole wide world – had been in a car accident. I asked for details, reassuring her that everything would be alright. As parents, isn’t it always our belief that we can make everything alright just by willing it to be?

She forwarded me a link to the story of the accident from the local media which he had sent her. It didn’t look good. Seven college kids in a jeep. T-boned by a tractor-trailer. Two dead. The rest hospitalized. No one had been identified. Ann would be one of the survivors! We remained hopeful. Then she called back. I heard her say, “It was Ann” and my heart broke into a million pieces.

Since we moved to Chicago and the girls started college, they were down to seeing each other once or twice a year, but Ann was the girl my daughter texted, FaceTimed, or Snapchatted daily. The void will be monumental.

They had attended camp together since summer of ‘09. Their friendship was solidified after my daughter’s dad died in 2014. Perfect timing. And she became a member of our little family. She was this amazing kid, with the sunniest of dispositions and a radiant smile that would light up the darkest day. She was a star athlete and in some respects they were very different, but complemented each other perfectly.

Perhaps because we moved when my daughter was 7, she missed out on establishing that one special lasting friendship early. “I was jealous of those kids who had a friend that went on vacation with them,” my daughter confessed this weekend. Then Ann came along.

In the summer of 2015, Ann spent father’s day weekend with us in Montauk. Then my daughter spent a vacation with her family later that summer. Then came the Lollapalooza trips. As a gift for my daughter’s sweet 16, we flew out to Chicago and I treated them to all four days of the music festival in Grant Park and five nights at the Wyndham. When the car service sent a stretch limo to pick us up at O’Hare, I won a lot of extra points with these girls.

Whatever the dynamic was between them, they allowed me to be part of it. On the first Lolla weekend they set up “family gc” so we could all remain in contact with one another via text. If they had a disagreement, I was privy to the back and forth. When my daughter met Kurt for the first time, Ann did too! As we walked to the restaurant for bunch, Ann snapped a picture of us that remains one of my favorites. Ann sent it to me in the group chat. My daughter responded, “Gross.”

They asked me for advice and often treated me like one of the girls. I never forgot I was the parent though. I remember one time the girls were up to some shenanigans and I lectured them, “I love you and would be devastated if anything ever happened to you!” I made sure Ann knew I meant her, too.

Ann was funny and smart and brought out the best in my daughter. I loved the times I spent with them. Lollapalooza weekends became their thing. We went back again in 2017 and the last 2 years Ann came to visit us in Chicago. Last year we did a road trip to Milwaukee and I made sure we took her picture with the “Bronze Fonz” (Ann had a cat named Fonzie).

At the end of that week, I dropped them both off at O’Hare to make the trip back to New Jersey where they could spend some more of summer vacation together. I never saw Ann in person again. I talked to her a few times during my daughter’s FaceTimes and Ann texted me on Christmas. She was thoughtful that way. My daughter talked to her just a few hours before the accident. I told her I’d go to Lollapalooza with her this year if she wanted. She said, “I hope it just gets cancelled.”

My heart is broken for Ann, her family, and my daughter. If anyone deserved NOT to lose their friend like this it was her. As a parent, I am frustrated that as hard as I tried to protect them all these years, I am now powerless to fix this and take away the pain.

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