Today my oldest friend died. We'd been friends since the age of 14 - that's 38 years of being friends! I got the phonecall from her husband this morning - she died shortly after midnight on Monday 27th July. Wasn't expecting it, even though I should have known that this time, there wasn't going to be another beating of the odds. But she bamboozled me again, when I saw her a week ago - perhaps I was too willing to let her hopefulness convince me. The final (belated birthday) Kindle gift token I sent her will be unclaimed, unless her husband or son can (in due course, when not too crass to mention) find it possible to take it up. The last (funtional) text message I sent her - about that kindle token- did she even see that?
There was no sense of final goodbye - either in person or by text - and I don't mind that; can't imagine how hard it would be if you were doing that. Perhaps that was one of her gifts - sparing her friends and herself that emotional pain. She was usually very kind to me, very nurturing (slightly maternal - that was the dynamic between us, with her in the more dominant role.) She only hurt me deeply that one (double) time, in recent years, and I didn't ever tell her (and my not telling her was definitely linked to knowing her life-span wasn't going to be a full one - otherwise perhaps I would have tackled it) It did, however, also block off the pleasure of shared reminiscing, cos I couldn't risk something similar happening again. So our friendship was stranded in the continuous present, the roots giving it a particular (mature) shape, but hidden from view.
Not sure if I ever told her I loved her - there really wasn't any need. She knew how I felt about her, and I know how she felt about me. We just had that depth.
She was no saint ofcourse, and I always said that we were an odd combination - we probably wouldn't have become friends if we'd met in adult-hood; and even as teenagers we got irritated with each other at times (but there's lots of evidence of how deep our friendship was too). I was an oddly infantilised version of myself any time we met up. The deep roots of our friendship gave us a certain non-judgemental acceptance of each other, but the closeness wasn't as close as back in our Belfast and university days - we were oldest friends, not best friends in the more recent passing years perhaps. And while striving for normality, the cancer did lead us to some self-censorship, some shaping to suit the shortened and oh so finite time-frame.
She was my chief bridesmaid and (a few years later) I was her matron of honour, so the closeness was significant and recognised back then - but in the 20 or so years since then it was something else, albeit still important and special (not sure I have a best friend at all actually, except for hubby - and that's not quite the same.) But still - she was unique, and she held (and will always hold) a special place in my life and heart. I will miss her hugely - she is irreplaceable. I know I won't stay in touch with her husband or son very much (I may try to keep sending Christmas and birthday cards and gifts until her son is grown up, but that's about it probably) - Her more immediate, real CLOSEST friends from her current life will be more significant; I had to accept that my status and role was quite different from that.
I was a little envious of how many friendships she sustained - how many group outings and shared joint or multi-family holidays etc. Even though I realise some of it was heightened once she knew the cancer had come back, with a bit of bucket list seizing of the day, going to big conerts etc. I sometimes struggled with knowing I wasn't as important as these other people to her (perhaps that's putting it unfairly - I know I was important to her, but in a separate niche, and we both found the frequency of our visits to see each other about right).
I don't seem to be able to make or sustain or keep friendships going - I'm not good at 'friends'. Have had some low points at work about this very thing - knowing I'm not really liked generally, and not liking myself either - but not knowing how to modify myself to improve things. So I guess this loss feels even worse, cos that was someone who just accepted me completely (well, almost - all but a bit of my past that she felt the need to judge very harshly for some reason).
Yep, isn't that terrible - a blog post that's supposed to be about my friend is soon over-run with 'me me me'! But grief is like that - you can't help focussing on how you yourself are feeling about the loss. And I'm feeling it much worse than I had thought I would, particularly as it wasn't totally out of the blue, so in theory I'd been emotionally rehearsing for this moment
Today when I accessed one of my savings accounts, I had to enter the name of my best friend at school, and it made me flinch slightly - but I will honour her every time as I continue to use that.
I spent a long time looking for my first diary which mentions me first admiring her beautiful hair at school when we were 14. Still haven't been able to find it - where on earth have I put it??? I had it not that long ago, so it can't be buried too deep. However, I did find lots of letters in her handwriting - we were prolific correspondents when she was away during her first year at University (my 'gap' year) and I have some from years after that as well) .
I also found a bizarre little quotation in her handwriting - the one and only thing written by her in any of those particular diaries and signed with the nickname she stopped using many years ago. It's dated 13/1/79, so we were 15 years old - nearly 16 - then. It says:
You are a free person.
I am glad that in your freedom
you have chosen me to be your friend.
C- - - - -
Now that really was pretty special to find today of all days!