Grief is a goo. A cold and heavy, sticky mess that you can’t wash off, that you tell yourself you’ll become accustomed to eventually, resigned to carrying round its icky, gross residue for ever. Nothing will remove it; it is impervious to detergents such as fun, or forgetting for a moment, or a happy memory. You will smile at times, but the weight of its oily insistent pull will, without you even realising it perhaps, drag the corners of your mouth down again, where they belong, where the grief knows it will be safe.
I have been trying to put a name, a face, or a form to my tormentor, in the hope of trying to understand it. But there is nothing to understand. Grief is a curveball, and a shapeshifter. A question that doesn’t like being answered. The parts of it that aren’t stuck to you are just hanging there in the air, like the aftermath of a bad joke told to the wrong crowd.
So, one of my best friends died two weeks ago and I won’t go into the ins and outs of it because they don’t seem to be important anymore – you can’t rationalise things like this and I have given up trying, realising that even the answers you think you seek only lead to more questions – but it was sudden and unexpected. There is so much to say and yet nothing to say. One day she was there, and we were texting about our upcoming holiday together with her family, and the next she was gone – a space in our universe for ever. It was, is, and always will be utterly devastating, and my head pounds with what ifs and maybes and things we will now never do and never say. The space. Always. One-way conversations from now on.
Because grief is such an oil slick, you feel better off being around others who feel the same; you relish the bubble it creates for you. I have spent a lot of time at her home, with her husband and children, and her family, some over from Ireland. We have congregated in the kitchen – her kitchen, where we spent so many days and nights laughing and joking and cooking. We have been sinking cups of tea, sipping booze, emptying ashtrays and warming up meals or knocking up quick snacks. We have sat in the garden together and talked about her both as if she were still there but also a distant memory. Grief keeps its own schedule, its timeline a zigzag. Did she die two weeks ago, or two years? It could be either. Decades, even. Grief revels in both its newness and the speed with which you become accustomed to it. In the first week, once I’d grabbed a change of clothes and a few toiletries, I was back there – came back to my own home only a couple of times. To be outside the bubble, to cheat on it with normality, to watch life go on as it must, felt wrong. The atmosphere was not sad at all; it was comforting to be in her house, among her stuff. She would’ve loved us all to be there, we told ourselves. And it was true. She would’ve.
It took me a few days to graduate to past tense; at first I talked about her as if she had just popped out for a moment. I didn’t listen to any music for a week, and while usually I sing to myself just about all day long, not a bum note passed my lips for around a week too. I began to think I would never see or know joy again – I’m still not entirely certain, really. I am not feeling morose or maudlin or depressed or downbeat or anything that would have people concerned, but there is a flatness to me. I look in a mirror – grief hasn’t yet robbed me of my vanity or my obsession with my hair, which she would find hilarious – and see my eyes are dulled, an air of tiredness all over me. Waves of epic sadness come at the stupidest moments. Waves.
The funeral is Friday, and I have written and will deliver the eulogy. I asked if I could do it, a tribute to 25 years of friendship. It is not hugely sad, or overly emotional, because I don’t trust myself not to ugly-cry, but a celebration of sorts, as much of one as I can manage. Truth and beauty – what she deserves.
But this isn’t about me, and that fact has actually helped me stay afloat. There are others who needed her more, will miss her worse, will feel her absence harder. And I must be there for them, and I will be. There are some promises you make without ever saying them out loud; they are understandings. I knew her well, I know what she’d want. I will make good on that.
And as for the grief, the goo, my oleaginous cell mate? I am glad, for now, to carry it with me. There is comfort in it. Grief is, as someone said to me, a tribute, not a burden. I wade through it, yes, and it is heavy, yes, but I am moving forward, forward, all the time. Eventually I will feel lighter and my progress will quicken; I know that. I just have to keep moving.
Ah, friend, you have left us, but the truth is you never, ever will.
Thank you to everyone who sent messages when this was sent out as a Tinyletter a couple of days ago. I can’t reply to them all, but I have read each one and I am grateful for your condolences and that you have shared your stories with me.
The main image is pink because my friend always said how much she liked bright colours. I wore a tie the same colour to her wedding and I will wear it again tomorrow.