My friend died this week. It was not unexpected but it was much earlier than we had all anticipated or hoped. She was only 48 years old. I am not going to talk much about her at this stage because her funeral has not yet been held, I am collecting my thoughts and I think I will do her more justice if I leave it a little while.
What I will say is this: she was unique. The outpouring of sadness since her passing has been everything to those of us left behind – phenomenal, touching, unbelievable with a generous smattering of superlatives sprinkled on top. You sort of expect that at some point in your life you will have to deal with the death of your family members but you certainly never expect to be involved in planning the funeral of a friend. It has been a confusing and disorientating time.
But, as always, with one emotion comes the opposite. I am sad because I never got to say things to her that I wanted her to know; happy that we shared a lot in the 12 years we knew each other. I feel guilty about being left behind, seemingly perfectly healthy; yet relieved. I feel somewhat angry that she was robbed of the other half of her life, yet thankful that our paths crossed and that she packed so much in to the time that she had.
T was persuasive. She had a knack of getting people to do things that they may not necessarily have ever planned or wanted to do. She was also skilled at coaxing you to do things that you did want to do and to which you had never got around. And so it is that this blog exists. I have wanted to record my many anecdotes for a very long time but my mind was too full to be able to think logically enough about where to start. Would I do it as a book or a blog? Should it be chronological or themed? Shared or private? Ultimately it is what it is and much like my anecdotes and capers themselves – random, unscripted, unplanned, certainly not curated which was one of T’s pet hates. I like it this way. There is the freedom to write things down which pop into my head, have provided some laughs or which are important to me at the time without the stress of sitting her thinking “what will I write today?” One day there may be a video, others a photo or two and sometimes just words. There is always something to draw on because life and people are amazing and nothing ever stays the same.
The cycle trek started with T. I am not sure I have ever explained how it came about but it was almost spontaneous. After previously completing a trek to Vietnam where I raised a lot of money despite losing the soles of my walking boots, I was tempted into another to Sri Lanka. However this was called off to due lack of interest and while on the one hand I was relieved to not have to walk up 5550 steps to Adams Peak in the middle of the night, I was thoroughly disappointed as well. I spent a little time mooching about considering other options and then T became sick. We were sitting in a cafe a few days after she and I had learnt of her terminal prognosis and she told me she’d been invited to take part in this cycle trek for her pet charity via which she sponsors two children from local underprivileged families. I giggled. I’d never cycled anywhere before, ever. She persisted, “go on, do it for me” and with a cheeky wink of her eye it was done. One side of me loves making a ridiculous spontaneous decision and so that afternoon we also booked a girlie weekend to Wellington and I came home and agreed to go to the winter World Transplant Games in Switzerland. Three trips in a day! The exhilaration was addictive.
I have long been panicking about this trip. Can I do it? Should I do it? Now I have to do it as people have sponsored me but will I end up walking half the way or riding in the support bus being laughed at and feeling that I’ve let people down, especially my mate. In the last few days, the sheer panic became almost visceral and at a time when emotions are in overdrive and my body and mind are exhausted. The trip is incredibly close, I haven’t been on my bike for weeks and my body feels weighed down by an overload of carb-laden junk food grabbed on the go in recent weeks.
So, what do you do when you need help? You reach out. I hate the way this phrase is now used so commonly in North American English that it devalues it, but that is what I did. I just needed people to say simply “it will be ok”. If T was here, she’d just say one word: IDIOT. What I hadn’t expected was the sheer number and nature of replies to my desperate Facebook posting that I received from all over the world from friends old and new. And they confirmed what I knew deep down – of course I can do it. I can do it because I want to, I’m determined and T will be with me in mind just as she would have been anyway as she was never coming with me in person. There won’t be the little recovery packs she made for me when I went to Vietnam but she’d obviously already bought some of the contents and I will take them anyway. More than that though, all of these amazing people will also be there, egging me on, willing me to the finish line and they will be there for me, not just for T.
I went off on my bike yesterday, just for a short time and it was another glorious day in Auckland. The harbour performed and put on a magical display of green-blue waters against the blue sky backdrop with tiny white sails dotted here and there. When I came home, there were flowers on my doorstep. “Our most difficult task as a friend is to offer understanding when we don’t understand”. I’m going to leave it as that as it says everything that needs to be said. Friendship is special, precious, enduring. It comes in many guises and can catch you unawares. Make the most of it every day.
THANK YOU – for every text, email, photo, social media message and for just being you and being available to write a few words at a special time. It was an honour and privilege to provide that friendship to T. She would be delighted that it is now being returned to me.
Now I’m off on that bike…