I knew from the title of the email that it was going to be bad news. I just sat in front of my computer letting the tears fall.
Isn’t it funny how we can feel an instant bond with some people? We don’t have to see them that often, but when we do, it just feels right and you can slide back into the conversation you left open from the last time you saw them. Easy, effortless and completely natural.
We set the world to rights – a shared passion for politics combined with a similar sense of humor meant that we always finished our discussions howling with laughter. I was very aware that their life had not been easy and that they struggled with depression, anxiety and loneliness. They had so many amazing qualities – kindness, intelligence, curiosity, bravery, warmth and compassion, but this was not enough to lighten the bleakness and sadness they sometimes felt. They had prepared a list of people to be informed in the event of their death and included me on this list – this ‘thoughtfulness’ was just so ‘them’ and it made me smile through my tears.
The loss of someone you care about leaves a gaping hole. The pain of this loss leaves you with a permanent ache which changes in intensity as you go about your routine. The moments when you fully focus on your loss, the ache changes to a punch, which leaves you gasping to breathe.
In this Covid era, we are not able to physically get together to collectively mourn the loss of loved ones and share our sorrow, which makes it so very, very hard.
The ache for my friend is tinged with sadness, because I would have loved to have given them a different story, a different middle and a different end, like one of the books my children had where you could mix-and-match the different fairy tales to create a unique adventure. In my story, my friend would never have felt lonely, blue or sad and they would have been surrounded by light, love and laughter.
The older I get, the more I think that life is a complete lottery. Some people seem to have charmed lives while for others life just seems one long dark tale of misery and despair. It is not fair, and it is not right. I rage at the injustice of it and want to howl in fury when I see someone’s resilience being chipped away by a series of unfortunate life events, or watch people give up and curl into a ball as the blows rain down on them.
“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.”
I keep returning to this quote from Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and if I had a wish, I know exactly how I would want to use it. I would set myself up as a “Super Hero Protector” of the good, the gentle and the brave and prevent them from shattering into pieces.
I’d have a “sociopath” detector to protect the gentle from being taken in by people who ultimately destroy them. I’d use a dark crystal to balance the sunny optimism of the good and help them make better decisions and I’d take the brave to one side and persuade them to wait for reinforcements before hurtling off on their own down a dark alley to save the world…..
And yet. I possibly do a huge disservice to my friend and everyone who has not had the kind of life we would have wished for them. It is ultimately their tale to tell and it should not be changed in their absence. It is arrogance on my part to want to rewrite my friend’s story as I am sure that if asked, they would not have wanted to change a single sentence or a single page of a life that they very much loved.
So in a world that alternates being breathtakingly beautiful with periods of loss, darkness, injustice and pain, what can we do?
Our role is to tell their stories and celebrate their lives while doing everything we can in order to ensure that future stories with different endings emerge and flourish.