Death is a constant fixture in our lives. It’s a shadow looming in our futures, the end of all stories, even for those who believe in a next chapter. We are faced with our own mortality every day. Death is the ‘sexy’ part of the evening news, the neighbour who succumbed to cancer or the family member taken out of nowhere by a drunk driver. The world can be a callous and unforgiving place and what seemed briefly so permanent can be shattered in an instant. Small wonder then that so many of us handle things poorly when death comes knocking, yet how we face death is at least as important as how we face life.
Academically I know this. Perhaps deep inside I do as well. Yet as I sit here reading the memorial wall postings for a friend it all seems shallow. My friend was not a close friend in the conventional sense. We had met only twice in the real world but had shared many late night conversations online. Whether it was live chatting a sporting event or awards show, sharing a recipe/cooking tip, or bullshitting over the terrors of our love lives we generally caught up at least a couple times a month and in truth she probably knew me as well as any of my long-time friends.
When she went into the hospital for the last time she’d known the end was coming. There was no “I’ll be out in a week” show of bravura from her. Though she was still fighting she was definitely at peace with facing the end. She made me promise to ask out a girl I’d had a crush on and told me to make sure I made a success of school this time (one of those went really well, one of them not so much.) She’d dreamed of travelling once she finished her masters and so, when I reached the top of the Tongariro Crossing in March 2011 I felt as if I’d conquered something on her behalf. For a long moment I thought of my friend and wondered what she would have thought about the beautiful view of New Zealand that stretched out before me. When our online group of friends shared our grief after the notice came we realized she’d given us each a mission of sorts. Make that one little effort to live on her behalf, to do something in her memory. Even now thinking of it makes the room a little dusty.
She’s been gone a number of years now, taken far too soon. Every so often I find myself here at her memorial wall online. Now as then I wonder at the new things I learned about my friend from her other friends. I did not know for example that her older brother had died young as well, or that she’d won multiple scholarship offers for college. How we never once talked about both being High School band dorks I’ll never know. I want her back terrible if only to tease her about the photo of her in the canary yellow marching band outfit with its shiny epic epaulets and rocking plume.
More than anything else I wonder at the grief of her friends. Comments number in the hundreds, most are lengthy and heartfelt. So many lives touched and brightened by a friendly spirit with a pixie’s grin. Even now regular posts of “miss you babe” let me know that I’m not the only one who still comes back here for a reminder of my friend. She led an outsized life for her brief time on earth and I can’t help but think that were I to die tomorrow I wouldn’t have had nearly the same impact in people’s lives. In fact, I know I haven’t.
I’ve been in a morbid mood the past couple weeks. A general feeling of malaise has been weighing on me only occasionally lifted by thoughts of my upcoming warm weather getaway. An interminable winter, lack of contact with friends and a frustrating sense of boredom with all facets of my life have left me rather depressed. There was something else however and oddly enough it was the death of GWAR leader Oderus Urungus (Dave Brockie) reported today that clued me into the upcoming anniversary of her death. She’d always loved the bizarre nature of the (shall we say) rather theatrical band. She always tried to convince me catch one of their energetic live shows but I had never managed to find that chance. Now I suppose I never will.
We can’t look for reasoning behind death. Why did my friend have to die in her late twenties when so many monsters manage to gasp into their nineties? Sadly, nothing more than chance. One tiny chromosome in her body just didn’t feel the need to work properly and took down the whole team. I wish I’d gotten the chance to know her better. I miss my friend.