Tag Archives: love

Angels and Drunks

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Dear Friends

This is a thank you letter from me to you. If you are not sure if I mean you personally, then ask yourself “have I laughed/cried/been hugged by or pissed with, this woman on several occasions?” If you can answer yes to at least two of those options, then chances are that yes, I do class you as a friend and therefore, yes, this applies to you, so pay attention.

At the risk of making you feel like inserting your fingers down your throat in disgust at my over sentimentality, I would like to tell you all how much I love you.

We may have known each other since childhood or for only a year or so. We may have shared a house at some point, been on holiday together or merely bonded in the 8 hours a day, 5 days a week proximity of the office. I may have spoken with you yesterday or (and sadly this is more commonly the case) not in the past 18 months. But I truly do love all of you, the old and the new, genuinely and sincerely.  You are, each in your own unique way, very dear to me and I feel lucky to have met you.  You have made my life richer and more enjoyable and whenever I despair of how cruel, heartless and unsympathetic so many people in the world can be, I remind myself that there are good, kind and decent folk still and that you, my friends, are testament to that.

Now that I have nauseated you/completely freaked you out (delete as applicable), I should hasten to add that I am not only sober, but also free from any other mind-altering substances and not in any imminent danger of dying, as far as I can tell.  The fact that this is written in (mostly) coherent sentences and then, glory be, actually posted on the dust bowl that is my blog, will add to the sincerity of my declaration, as you all know,

a) how long it takes me to write anything

b) how infrequently I post my musings and

c) how my usual declarations of affection for you are preceded by us sharing copious amounts of alcohol.

This sudden urge to publicly share my affection has been brought about by many months of musing on the nature of friendship and how blessed I am to know so many lovely people. Ok, I admit that some of you drive me nuts on occasion with your weird likes and dislikes, your stubbornness or irrationality etc. but I know that you must feel exactly the same about my own foibles. Perhaps the ability to cope with occasional mutual irritation without any lessening of fondness and respect is what makes an enduring friendship. And being able to take the piss out of each other, good-humouredly and without malice, is for me, one sign of a healthy relationship.

This is not only a thank you letter but an apology to those of you I rarely contact. I do not invest half as much time in our friendship as I would like and or as much as you deserve (which sounds uncannily like something Bilbo Baggins said to his guests at his birthday party!).  Nevertheless I am constantly amazed at how it is possible to go months or even years without seeing or speaking to some of you and then still be able to jabber away as if it were yesterday, when we finally do catch up. How lovely it is to feel so at ease and comfortable with each other,  to be reminded of that shared sense of humour and affection, and to know that if we needed to, we could share our deepest hopes and fears or our guiltiest secrets, without being judged.

This came to mind a year ago when I met up with my old university housemates for one of our bi-annual reunions. Here was a reasonably diverse group of people thrown together in a student flat in 1982. We all had different personalities and varied tastes and interests but somehow we bonded and became close friends who loved and supported each other.

After graduation we scattered across Britain and indeed, the globe. Nonetheless, in those early years we all kept in touch regularly and met up whenever we could. As mortgages, marriages and children came along, it became increasingly difficult to find the time to sustain the level of intimacy we had once all shared. But we never lost touch and still managed to get together every couple of years to catch up, reminisce and share news.

This particular reunion was especially poignant as we had lost one of our group to ovarian cancer earlier in the year.  Our dear, lovely, kind, intelligent and thoughtful Lizzie was probably the matriarch in our little gang. Indeed she was the first person I met on my very first day at university.  I arrived, scared and overwhelmed, and sat for ages in my breeze blocked, cell-like room crying. When I finally plucked up the courage to go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, this quietly confident young woman came in, introduced herself in her lovely Yorkshire accent and started chatting. That was the start of our 33 year friendship.

Lizzie had always been the voice of calm and reason and the one who would organise us and gently whip us into shape while the rest of us procrastinated. She was the one to go to in a crisis, the one who shone the light of perspective and good humour. She was an amazing woman and will be sorely missed.

Meeting up with the rest of the gang for the first time since losing Lizzie made me appreciate them all over again. The ease with which we talked and laughed (and cried) was actually profoundly reassuring and filled me with love and gratitude.  I was reminded that although we all have busy and very different lives, we have a bond that will last a lifetime.

lennon-quoteI have close friendships beyond that little clique though. One set of friends (again 30 odd years in the making) are still so very dear to me even though I see them once a year at best these days. I still count them as some of our closest friends and fantasise about retiring next door to them somewhere, or at least holidaying together again as we have done on and off over the years.

But I stress again that I love ALL of you, my friends, in your own way. I have known many of you for my whole adult life and with good reason – you are awesome.

There are newer friendships too, such as those that have developed with the parents of our son’s friends. Our boy is a pretty good judge of character so his close friends, who are the nicest, funniest bunch of young people you could wish to meet, tend to have equally lovely parents, who have become our friends in their own right. These people are no less dear to me.

And of course those of you I met through work have kept me sane over the years. When you spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week in the same environment with someone you laugh with, discover similar interests and worlds views with, it is almost impossible not to become friends. It is not unusual to spend more waking hours with your colleagues than it is with your family in the average week so workplace friendships are most definitely important to me.  In the enforced intimacy of an office environment, I have met some brilliant, supportive, funny and kind people (and you all know who you are).  I have even managed to sustain friendships with a good number of you when we have both moved on work-wise, assuming you count intermittent emails, messaging and dinner once in a blue moon of course.

So there you have it – my love and gratitude to you all, dear friends. Although Mr Guy Garvey and his colleagues sum it up much more eloquently in one of my favourite Elbow songs (and incidentally one I want playing at my funeral as and when it happens!)

Dear friends
You are angels and drunks
You are magi

Old friends
You stuck a pin in a map I was in
And you are the stars I navigate home by.

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Ripples and Reflections

reflectionsIn November I wrote a post (For the friend that never was…) in the immediate aftermath of the suicide of my line manager. Friends and followers of this blog, even those who had never met him, contacted me to say how deeply moved they were and to express their condolences and sympathies for Simon’s family, friends and colleagues. Now, nearly five months on, I feel the need to share my reflections with the sense of perspective and equanimity which only comes with the passing of time. Obviously I am writing from the point of view of a colleague and would-have-been friend, not on behalf of his family and loved ones. I cannot speak for them and should any of them ever read this I would ask them to forgive me for any sense of “intrusion”. It is not my intention at all to intrude upon other people’s private grief, particularly those close to him whose bereavement must be magnified many times beyond my own. I am fully aware of the fact that I have no right to compare my own emotional journey with theirs.

One of the many things I have learned in recent months is that grief is a deeply personal thing and everyone reacts and deals with it in their own way. I know this sounds like a cliché but it is, just like the other old cliché about time being a great healer, perfectly true. There are no shortcuts to coming to terms with loss and it has been an intensely painful and stressful period, but many of us, on the periphery of Simon’s life at least, are slowly, slowly “getting back to normal”. He is by no means forgotten and every single day someone in the team will mention him and we will pause and wonder, for the millionth time, how different things might be if he had not done what he did. But our tears are less frequent and our conversations less emotional. We can at least talk about him now without breaking down. Most of the time anyway.

Personally I dream about him less too. The first few weeks my dreams were frequently punctuated by vivid, intense images and emotional feelings of running after him as he escaped out of a ground floor office window, or drove away down the spiral exit to the multi-storey car park at work, whilst I shouted to a colleague below to stop him from leaving. All very meaningful and heart-breaking. Once a team-mate dreamt that he came up to her and said “It’s alright, I’m not really gone you know. Nothing really goes, it just turns into something else”. That one had us both snuffling into our paper hankies again the next day I can tell you.

Talking about Simon and sharing memories and feelings with my colleagues in the team he led, has been enormously helpful. We have drunk an awful lot of tea, shed countless tears and dispensed and received many hugs since November. I think he would be amazed and probably a little embarrassed at the depth of feeling we have all expressed at his loss. In conversation with one of my team-mates and obviously in one of my more contemplative moments, I likened the impact of his death to someone throwing a large stone into a pond. The immediate splash affected those closest to the centre, but the ripples spread out a very long way, from his immediate family and close friends, to extended family and friends, then on to neighbours, colleagues and casual acquaintances and finally even to people he had never met. I know that I was not alone in taking my grief home and offloading onto my own family. They were distressed by the news, saddened and sympathetic for Simon’s loved ones and also concerned about my emotional and physical health. They had never met him but his death touched them too and I’m sure he never could have imagined how complete strangers would be affected.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not an accusation or criticism and I doubt very much that even if he had known how widespread those ripples would go, he would have changed his mind at the crucial moment. But it was an observation which set me thinking about life as well as death. We all touch and affect so many more people in our lives than we ever realise and this is actually a rather beautiful thing. One of my favourite films, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, sort of sums up what I’m trying to say; that no matter how bleak, hopeless or meaningless your life may seem, you will have had a positive effect and changed the lives of many, many people for the better, even if you do not recognise it.

Of course I will no longer be able to watch that film without thinking of Simon and wishing that rippleshe had had his own personal Clarence to show him how meaning-full and positive his life actually was. It was obvious from the attendance at his memorial service (standing room only) how very many people cared about him and wanted to show their respects and celebrate his life. Clearly his kindness, consideration, sense of fun and personality had also rippled a long way from the core of his being. I mentioned in my first blog, how deeply private and introverted he was but he was loved and treasured by many, as a dear friend, father, husband, brother, son, neighbour and colleague. Listening to his close friends and relatives reminiscing about happier times and their affectionate memories of him was heart-rending but beautiful. Personally, I am trying to take some comfort from that – from the knowledge that so many people are the better for having known him and that despite the tragedy of his early death, his time with us will always be treasured and remembered fondly, even by those on the distant shores.