I wrote this several weeks ago. It’s taken me a while to work out whether or not it’s right to share. I still don’t know. I’m sharing it for now.
Eight days ago a dear friend of mine died.
She and I were part of a group of women who have all known each other since we were 12, 13, 14. We have stayed good friends all of this time. These women are deeply important to me. Individually and collectively they are part of how I understand myself. We are straight and gay, mothers and not-mothers, partnered and single. We have each experienced deep loss in our lives and also great joy. We have met up often, in smaller groups and pairs, and all together every few years. In those moments the time between does not exist. The decades of our friendship, amplified by our number, somehow alter time – creating time that is a spiral not a line, the single moment that holds all the other moments, the physical space (very often by the sea, by water) where our connections come together as one.
Within this group of friends, the friend who has died was, for me, the other not-mother. She understood my loss at not being a mother as I understood hers. All of our love and concern for each other in this group of friends has translated across many differences, but sometimes it is nice to know someone you love understands a difficult thing from their own experience as well as from their friendship.
In the 43 years we have known each other there have been different groupings within the wider group. Each of us had a vital and personal relationship with the friend who has died, each of us has both a specific loss and a wider loss that is about the group of friends we have now become, the group from which this amazing woman is missing, will always be missing. We already knew how lucky we were to have a friendship of such longevity, we already knew it was rare and special. This loss is a profound loss because it fractures that group as well as our individual friendships with the friend who has died.
I am in London and all of the other friends are in New Zealand, they went to the funeral and stayed together afterwards, I have had joint conversations with them early in my morning, late in their night and vice versa. Never have I felt the thirteen-hour difference more painfully. We are all lost, in shock, uncertain – and yes, we have the privilege of feeling this loss and shock and uncertainty together. While I have found it particularly hard to be physically so far away and am all too aware that this loss will not be fully real to me until the next time I am standing on the land and swimming in the water of Aotearoa, I am also grateful to have been able to feel at least a little part of the funeral and mourning process that my friends were able to begin together.
There is another element to this loss, one that is harder to share, because of the secrecy and shame our culture attaches to it. Because of wishing and hoping it were otherwise. Because of the stories our culture tells about certain deaths, that some deaths are ‘good’ deaths and some are not. That some deaths can be grieved publicly and some not.
Our friend chose to die, she took her own life. I believe, much as I wish with all my being that she had not done so, that this was her choice. Her life, her choice. This is not the first time that someone I have known and loved has done this, but it is the first time someone so very close has done so. The first time I am truly asking myself could I have done more, been more, what else was there I did not do, was my friendship a good enough friendship?
I am, I’m sure we all are, trying not to torment myself with these questions. It feels almost disrespectful to make her death about my loss and my fears. And I’m human, so of course I am doing so, anyway.
I wish she had not made this choice. None of us expected it. If there were warning signs, I did not see them. Our friend was planning and working towards, investing in, a future. Our friend was deeply loved. Our friend is deeply loved. Loved by her family, by her old friends, her work friends, friends from the widest of circles and the tightest.
Quite often I write blogs to try to make sense of things that I cannot quite get hold of until I write them out of me. I am not able to make sense of this, not in this writing, not in any way. I suspect I may never make sense of it.
It is nonsensical that our beloved friend will not laugh and dance and play with us again. That her fierce and whole-hearted passion is missing. It is nonsensical that our love and the love of so many others for whom she mattered so much was not enough to keep her with us. Our friend lived an amazing, passionate, compassionate, strong, powerful, wild, supportive, generous and kind life. She was fierce in all the best ways. It is heartbreaking that we will not have many more years of her brilliance. That she will not have many more years to shine, to bring such joy to others, to find her own joys.
The dichotomy is clear – I want to honour my friend’s choice, and I believe that different choices can be possible. I have known other choices be taken, in my own and others’ lives. I have no wise things to say, no suggestions to help others experiencing a similar loss, but I’m going to include some links in case they might be useful.