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Befriend Me: Where to Go When Your Parents Are Gone

Suzi kept calling me. Kept befriending me. I’d stopped dating her brother, and I’d met her only once. She lived 2,100 miles away in California. Yet she remained my supportive friend.



I thought about this last week because Suzi died. She died on March 22. A few hours after I learned the news, I realized she died 10 years to the day that I met her.

Wow, what does that mean? Probably nothing, but it took me back a decade, to what was happening in my life and to what Suzi then meant to the brokenness I was experiencing.

I thought: Maybe Suzi was one of those people God sends to stand in the gap. These friends bridge the span between our need and our supply. They bridge the gap illness and death creates between us and the parental guidance we need.

Older, Wiser

Suzi was a friend, not a parent, but she gave me guidance I needed.

She was 16 years older than me. I met her a few weeks after her mom died. She flew to Houston for a memorial service. I flew there to be with her younger brother, Jeff, in his time of grief.

But my relationship with Jeff was already fractured. When he introduced me as his girlfriend, I was surprised. He’d already made it clear we were free to pursue others. But I wanted him.

We argued in Houston. He was supposed to pick me up at my hotel and nearly two hours later I was so ravenously hungry I decided to walk the highway to Taco Bell. He arrived as I opened the door. He did not understand why I was angry. He did not apologize.

I did not know at the time that he decided to give me “one more chance.” And I also didn’t know two years later that same month, I would get married – to another man. To a wonderful man.

But before my life turned around – or maybe in part because of it – Suzi gave me perspective.

She called, and we talked at night while I sat in my car outside Mom’s home. I couldn’t talk to my mother anymore about everything – about my lost love. She was dying of the same disease Jeff’s mother died of, emphysema, and my drama stressed her out. She’d lose her breath just listening to me. But Suzi was one of the people I could talk to. She stood in the gap.

She revealed I was part of a pattern that Jeff was continuing. She helped me understand it wasn’t me. I really needed to know it wasn’t me.


My relationship with Suzi was forever tied to Jeff but developed beyond it. I admired her devotion to her large family. I liked how she never seemed depressed despite health problems.

She landed in the hospital in a coma in 2014, five years after my mom died. Suzi’s family braced themselves for the worst. I prayed for Suzi many times. I prayed for a miracle.

She still was in the coma when Jeff killed himself in June of that year, three years after he’d gotten married. His estranged wife announced his death on Facebook.

Suzi recovered. I nearly cried when her daughter called, told me to hold the phone, and the next thing I heard was Suzi.

One of the last times I talked to Suzi was while I was in Chicago last year. I was at a publishing conference to sell my memoir. It’s about the healing that followed a trifecta of grief –the death of my father, the deterioration of my mother’s health, and the demise of my relationship with Jeff. She called again as I waited to board a plane home.

She always seemed interested in my life. We talked again later, before fall.

The Definition of Family

Suzi’s niece, Felicia, who is closer to my age, called me about Suzi’s death. Like Suzi, she had included me in the family though I had not married into it. I told her I’d never understood why Suzi latched onto me.

Felicia is a very deep soul. She’s a thinker. She called me the next day and left a message on my answering machine. (Yes, I still have one of those.)

In so many words, Felicia said she’d figured out why Suzi and the family had “embraced” me. They’d wanted to show me I was valuable whether or not Jeff recognized it or not.

I had been wounded. This family took me in as a friend, or perhaps as something even closer. And after their work was finished, after I was all patched up, they still kept me. And I kept them.

In the end, the definition of family isn’t written in blood. It is defined by who treats us like family. Who treats us with kindness. With consideration. With phone calls to check in and chat.

As we lose our kin, these are the people who stand in the gap.

Who are the people in your life who have stood in the gap? What did they do to sort of parent you? To nurture you? To help you through the loss of your parents?

Copyright © 2017 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Roxie #

    I love it. Words can not express how emotional I just was to read those lovely well written words about my father. Thank toni and you are the best……


    March 28, 2017
    • Thank you, Roxie. Knowing your mom, I’m sure blessed many people.


      March 28, 2017
  2. Linda Glover #

    What a beautifully written tribute to a seemingly beautiful woman who filled in ‘the gap’ when you needed her most. Just lovely, Toni…thanks for sharing.


    March 28, 2017

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