Friday, 6 January 2012

Last week I lost a friend

Last week I lost a friend suddenly to an as yet unidentified illness.  He was happy and healthy one minute and gone the next.  I am still trying to make sense of this tragedy.  It is particularly sad, as Ed was only 36 and as my husband so neatly summarised: “Things hadn’t really got going for him.”  That is not to say that he was lacking in achievements.  He had a successful career, a lust for life, a sparkling sense of humour and impeccable music taste.  He was also a fiercely intelligent man, did not suffer fools gladly and was a stickler for detail.

I recall my husband and I gently teasing him by deliberately mispronouncing words or being generally ungrammatical.  I’m not certain we ever enlightened him as to this ruse, as it was too much fun watching him wrestle with his conscience – desperate to correct us in no uncertain terms, but holding back…until next time.  As it’s turned out, he has had the last laugh, bowing out too soon, but leaving in his wake a pair of card-marked ignoramuses.

For those left behind, the death of a loved one is always tinged with guilt, particularly when their passing is unexpected.  There are always questions, matters unresolved, things unsaid.  My own guilt stems from my disappearance off the social radar for some considerable time after having my son.  My husband maintained more frequent contact with Ed, but even he is regretting not getting in touch sooner.  That said the guilt only really exists because we can no longer talk to Ed.  In a way, in this instance, guilt is a selfish emotion.  We can’t explain and be appeased.  Were we able to speak to Ed, I’m certain there would be no hard feelings.  In fact, lengthy hiatuses typified our friendship.  Ed was one of those people you could not see for months at a time (both parties guilty of not keeping the lines of communication open), but just as soon as one made contact, it was as though no time at all had elapsed - the sign perhaps of a true friend.

Ed was, at the time of his death, single.  However, a twin brother, doting parents and a wide circle of friends - all currently treading water and trying to come to terms with their loss - enriched his life.

On New Year’s Eve I could not have anticipated that the first social gathering of my friends in 2012 would be at Ed’s funeral.  This is not the way we should spend time together.  I have also been forced to confront my own faith, or lack of it.  For the atheists and agnostics amongst us, death is wholly unpalatable.  Whenever we are faced with death, we trot out the same cliché about living life to the full.  Do we ever really stop and think what that means?  In our heart of hearts, I think we all know that it would be a real challenge to be true to this motto.  We all have jobs and responsibilities.  Most of us have financial constraints.  With the best will in the world, living life to the full is somewhat curtailed by the very nature of our existence.  So, I believe this is why I for one find the idea of death so unutterably terrifying.

In Western society, those without faith are ill prepared for death.  It seems ludicrous.  Death is part of life and the only thing we can be certain of.  However, we don’t like to talk about it, preferring to ignore the inevitable and bury ourselves in the here and now.

Perhaps we should all be more prepared and accepting of death.  Not wishing to sound trite, but many Eastern religious philosophies and sentiments are worth considering. 

Buddhists talk of “dust on the wind” and ask what separates us from that now?  Only the breath we take.  So in fact we never disappear completely.

Hindus believe in reincarnation - that life is cyclical.  Without dwelling too much on this, I had an experience in my childhood, which for a long time quelled my fear of death and made me question whether death is in fact the end.    Hinduism also teaches that we brought nothing with us when we came and take nothing with us when we leave this world.  In fact, we will leave a little extra behind if we lead a life of goodness and philanthropy.  These sentiments are irrefutable.  It’s not a question of faith but common sense.

Well, Ed has left something behind for all of us.  We all have our memories and photographs.  We will continue to hear his voice, his laugh, his sarcasm and efforts to improve our musical education.  He is sure to get a mention in many a late night conversation and for this we will be always be thankful.