Apologies in advance, blog friends. This is one of those posts where it’s less something I want to write about, but more something I need to write about. So humblest sorries in advance if it gets a little wobbly, or incoherent. This is stuff I’m dealing with.
This time of year is always a little sad for me. Always a little tinged with grey. Always a little less than. And this year it’s hitting me harder than it has for a few years. Because it’s ten years.
Ten years since I got off the school bus and (literally) skipped down the path to home, head full of boys and classes and parties and Dawson’s Creek. I was later than my sister, because I’d had orchestra, or a lesson, or met friends up the street, or something. I remember that. I bounded through the front door and yelled my usual hello to the rest of the clan. We don’t really stand on ceremony in our family.
My mum came out of the kitchen, her face a study in worry.
“Claire, come in here please. Sit down.”
She looked really, really worried. I remember feeling sorry for her, because I was sure she had something to tell me about my little Nana. Little Nana had been ill since I could remember, and we all dreaded the call that would tell us she’d taken another turn for the worst. And of course, that made me worry for mum…because little Nana was her mum. This wasn’t about her, it turned out.
I wouldn’t sit down, either. I’m a stubborn one.
“Claire, it’s A (I’m not going to put her name, if that’s OK). Nell called earlier. Claire, A passed away today.”
I felt like my legs had been kicked out from under me. I collapsed on the stool I’d disdained so recently. I struggled with what my mum had just told me.
A? Not A, surely? Not my vibrant, clever, popular friend? Not the girl I’d shared a dorm with for four out of five years out of boarding school? The girl who’d woken me up early with her darn swimming practices, the girl who’d laughed when I’d fluffed up a solo, the girl who I’d gone to watch play rugby early on far too many icy Sunday mornings?
My poor mum didn’t know what to do. What can you do? I think it was even harder for her that A was a friend I’d made at boarding school – Mum didn’t know her, so to speak. None of my friends in Scotland knew her. But I did. I knew what she worried about, I knew what she dreamt about, I knew what silly little noises she made when she slept (not a snorer, A. More a murmerer), I knew that if I lip-synched along to music on my walkman while we studied it would drive her mad, until she finally threw something at me to make me stop.
We’d been very close. When we both moved back to home (homes 600 miles apart) we wrote and called often, every week or so, at least once a month (this was before email kicked in).
After a brief chat with mum, I went into the dining room to call Nell, who filled me in. A, my talented, wonderful, hilarious friend, may have taken her own life (officially “misadventure”). She felt so alone and so lost and so full of hurt and anger and sadness that she chose not to live. That poor, poor girl. We chatted, I noted down some stuff, and I went to go book flights (which my parents paid for. God bless them. If I hadn’t have been able to say goodbye it would have been devasting).
The next few days were so tough. The people around me knew I was hurting, and could see I was struggling, but no-one knew quite what to do. But there were a million little kindnesses I’ll never forget – friends who just gave me a hug, or let me ramble on about A, teachers who let me just sit in class like a zombie, or who drove me home because they could see that despite the fact I’d got myself to class (I was determined not to miss any school – I think I was trying to keep it together in any way I could). My fantastic family. who realised that I just needed to cry and be quiet and beat myself up. I remember lying on the carpet in my room and just crying for hours. Why had she gone? Could I have stopped her? Did I let her down? What if? What if? What if?
Nell asked me (on A’s family’s wishes) to write the eulogy. I poured my soul into that thing. I was determined that all of the people who were going to be there to say goodbye to this amazing person were going to hear a eulogy worthy of a person so awesome.
I flew down to the funeral. I saw friends I hadn’t seen in over a year. We shared stories about A, we caught up, we made plans and on every face was etched sorrow, and disbelief. People shouldn’t die at 17. People definitely shouldn’t choose to die at 17. On the day of the funeral it was just a blur of sadness, little remembrances which still catch me from time to time. And then back to reality.
Writing this all down I’m crying. As silly as it may sound, I still miss my friend. I still wish, more or less everyday that someone, anyone could have helped her, could have stopped this all happening.
I am a better person for having known A. I am a stronger person for having lost A.
The day A passed was the day I grew up, and losing her changed me in ways I would not have expected. It brought my faith into a much clearer, sharper focus. Bizarrely, this time of sorrow made me much more certain of the role God had in my life, and shaped the Christian I am today.
It also made me much more aware of being available, and how important that is. I’ve been told time and time again that nothing I could have done could have helped A, but there will always be a part of me that thinks if I’d just written, just called…. I may be a pain sometimes, with my calls and letters and texts and comments and emails, but by God, I never want to feel that way again. If my being there can help just one person, I’ll be there. Conversely, I think sometimes I find it harder to let people get closer to me. Which might be why I can blog about it, typing away on my trusty laptop, but can’t actually sit down and talk to someone about it. I close up. I shut up.
Our boarding school had a big reunion last month. I did consider going, but the thought of being there without her to help me take the mick out of various things just wasn’t an option…
A would be 27 now (she was exactly a month older than me). Lord knows what she could have achieved, that girl was a big old pile of talent and potential and so very loved. I would give anything to be able to send her a stupid postcard or a text. I miss my friend.
Thanks for reading if you took the time.