For many months, spanning a good year or two, I had been saying to my good friend – R – that I would be heading up North to see her as soon as I could find a convenient time. Each time, she had said how good it would be to see me and how much fun we could have – not that I needed her to tell me that. I always had fun with R. She was the kind of special friend with whom I could meet up with, even on those occasions when we were both feeling a little blue, and we could have each other howling with laughter within minutes. She had a special way of making everybody who came into contact with her feel at complete ease, usually with her stellar sense of humour, and realism. There was no pretense with R, she just was who she was, and I loved that about her.
In 2014, after all those threats to go up and visit, I finally got to see R again. However, on this occasion, it was not in the way I would have expected. Instead, it was as she was in a wicker casket being carried through a church, draped in pink roses surrounded by dozens of people shedding heartfelt tears. There’s nothing quite as surreal as that; and the consequent struggle to comprehend how somebody with such a bright future ahead of her could suddenly be no longer here. No longer could I expect any reply to my text messages. No longer would I see her post updates of her life on Facebook. Most cuttingly, I would no longer have the option to meet up with her for one of those beautiful sessions where we would just drink wine together, contemplate life, and have a good old giggle.
In the immediate weeks following R’s sudden death, I struggled a lot. All I wanted to do was be amongst other loved ones and give hugs, but even when I was in those environments, I was often unable to muster up the words I really wanted to say, as I felt they would seem so out of place in the context of whatever it was we would be doing. There’s a certain apprehension associated to getting “deep”. It’s not always welcome. Everybody knows that life can be brutal, and often the last thing we want to do is think about it. We just want to be frivolous and fun, and not have to talk about or even acknowledge life’s more serious side. I agree with that completely, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than being spontaneous bouts of silliness and acting like anything but a 29 year old, but sometimes I think there’s a danger there, of important things being left unsaid because they don’t tie in with that fun and frivolous lifestyle we try to lead in the face of life’s struggles – like work, finances and of course, bereavement.
I do not regale these emotions for sympathy from whomever may end up reading this. I have toyed with the idea of writing about this for a while; often giving in to the fear that it could be misconstrued as such. In reality, this is an experience most people will go through at some point in their life, and I write this post only to highlight the lessons I have taken away from R’s unfortunate passing in the hope that it may encourage others to think. And perhaps one of the main lessons has been to be open and honest about feelings. Don’t be afraid to speak up, even if you feel that what it is you have to say may be considered out-of-place to your surroundings. Hence, I am going to post this entry regardless of what others think of it. I wasn’t to know that R was going to die. If I had, I would have most certainly found the time to let her know how much of a positive impact she had had on my life, and how much I saw her a bit like an older cousin-like figure – not somebody I would see or speak to every day (in more recent years anyway), but somebody with whom there would always be a lifelong and unquestionable connection there. Now, I just wish I’d said those things to her anyway, regardless of how strange they may have sounded. They could have contributed to one more smile that she would have had in her life.
What I also learned from all of this, is the value of simplicity. We – every single one of us – already have the only things in life we need. Our problem is that we are often so consumed by everything else going on in our lives that when challenged by the inevitable we often feel as though we need something more. All it takes is for our phones to break, or for us to step into one of those abyss-like of hidden puddles, and we become swallowed up in the intrinsically meaningless, cursing away at what is in reality nothing at all. Strip away the luxurious waste and you’re exposed only to what’s important. I used to think it was a shame if I didn’t have anything exciting planned for my free-time. Now, I really quite appreciate those moments when I can just sit still and listen to music I enjoy and look at old photos of Canterbury on the internet. Similarly, I used to be really keen on getting to meet lots of new people and forming numerous new acquaintances. Now I’m far more interested in continuing to cultivate meaningful relationships and share good experiences with those already in my life, so that I can give them the time and energy which I never got round to giving R in those final few months. Time is finite, but effort is not.
I also often think how much worse the whole situation would have been if I had – for any reason – been on bad terms with R when she left. Nobody ever intends to fall out with people they care about, but sometimes it can happen – actions can be misinterpreted, or little things can frustrate, and it manifests in a needless distance between two people. Even with somebody I liked as much as R, it would happen, and I can recall one particular incident that was over something as trivial as a bag of potatoes and 20p. Again – just be honest and open with somebody you care about if that happens. Too often, people consider ignorance to be the solution to something like this; it’s not. All it does is keep an issue afloat that needn’t be there at all. Discuss it, and just move on. Or if you’re not comfortable discussing it – just re-calibrate your perspective and shrug it off. Keep it simple.
R’s passing and the following weeks spent trying to come to terms with it all were very hard, but I have come away with a sense of appreciation which perhaps was not as paramount before – an appreciation for the smallest and simplest of things… because really, that’s all we need…and maybe we need to question the perceived indispensability of the things that get in the way of that… I just wish more people would realise this…
Song of the Day: Wild Nothing – Chinatown
Every now and then, I stumble across an amazing piece of music…