It was 8am in the morning. I was blurry-eyed and I had half an hour until I needed to catch my bus to work. I’d overslept. Again. I grabbed my phone as though I had all the time in the world (an illusion I am guilty of living under every single day) and I noticed I had a message on the Facebook page for my blog. It was from the husband of a friend to tell me she had died.
Would I write some words to be read at her funeral? She thought highly of me.
It was 8am in the morning when I began to cry and I didn’t stop until the next day. I sat at my desk at work secretly crying. I cried on my walk home from work. I’d never met my friend in person but she was ingrained in the everyday existence that I call life. I miss her. She was my friend and I had known her online since I was about 16-years-old.
I have thought about her and her family every day since her death.
I usually find myself thinking about her during my 20/20/20 breaks at work. My optician insists that every 20 minutes I should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds to rest my eyes. I look at the trees outside of my office window, they surround the building I work in. It’s a concert hall and it is built on grounds that used to belong to the school next door.
The grounds that are now the foundations of the concert hall were once taken care of by a groundsman. When I was a child that groundsman was my grandfather and I have very-basic-yet-real memories of going to work with him and walking among the greenhouses and sheds that once stood where my office now is.
My granddad died last November.
Something I have learned from all of this grief is that it’s easy to be haunted by the ghosts of those who were once with us but no longer are. It’s easy to cling on and find meaning where there is none and it’s hard to let go. Yet we have to let go otherwise we risk living under the illusion that we have all the time in the world.
Strangely (some would say) I made an impulse purchase of a book called Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty and I began reading it shortly after my grandfather died. I’d amassed enough points on my reward card for a free book (or ten) and the cashier insisted I pick one up “as a christmas gift to yourself”. It was 1 month after my grandfather died and 1 month until my friend would die.
I am pleased that I read the book though because it confronts the subject of death with a truthfulness that, although at times is harsh, is right. Is deserved.
Simon Davis interviewed Doughty for his Vice column. Davis writes about death a lot and it’s good because we humans are at risk of ignoring our mortality and to do so comes at the cost of not living. As an atheist I’m often told that to not believe in an afterlife is to give up hope but I never know what I’m supposed to be hoping for that’s so important it has to wait until death. The only thing I do is regret the things I did not do and this gives me hope that I can take steps to lessen my eventual regrets with each day that passes.
So this is me telling you to read the book and think about the lessons within. It’s worth it. There’s a saying… ‘how terrible it is to love something that death can touch’ but this quote is wrong. It’s not terrible at all.