Saturday, February 16, 2008

you may want to get some kleenex...

I have a friend, a very close friend. Our parents were mates from before we were born and so we've been playing together since I was maybe two years old, when we moved from my hometown of Port Elizabeth to what was then the Transvaal. Her family was there already and although we lived in different towns we would get together as families regularly throughout my childhood. If memory serves, it would start as a lunchtime Braai that would last the whole day and result in a sleepover, no doubt due to the amount of Lagers consumed by the adults. As a kid I was oblivious to the why's and wherefore's, though. It was just fun to stay over and spend time playing.

After my father passed away - I was 7 - we moved away, back to Port Elizabeth. And that was when I first got into letter-writing. Thirty-four years later, my friend and I are as close as ever, though the letter-writing has been replaced by email and SMS. Even though we have never lived in the same town (except for 2 months when I was 23 when we lived in the same house, never mind city), my friend and I have been through everything together. First kisses (..etc), heartbreaks, fears, marriages, divorces, births... mostly through letter and telephone.

We are so different from each other. I was always the shy one, a follower, cautious. She was always larger than life, brash, unafraid. I think she likes that I make her laugh. I love that she takes no shit from anyone. It's an odd mix, but it works. We may not be blood relatives but she is as much a sister to me as those I share parents with.

This past week my dear friend's husband passed away suddenly. And every time I think about it I cry because I'm not there with her, my friend, who holds a very dear part of my heart in hers. My heart is breaking because hers is, I feel her loss almost as my own.
I very nearly made the 12-hour flight to be with her, but after calming down and thinking about it I changed my mind. Her parents are with her and if I think about it practically, she probably doesn't need too many people around her now. I would imagine she needs time to absorb what has happened and adjust her life accordingly. In a little while, once the shock has passed, I will think again about making the trip... in fact I think I've already decided I will, because I know that a time will come where perhaps I will be able to do more for her by being there than I would right now. I could hear in her voice on the phone that she appreciated just hearing my voice. We sat in silence for a few minutes on the phone the day it happened, there was nothing to say, I just wanted to be there with her.

You know, I became aware during my period of getting my head right a while back that I have a tendency to make other peoples' problems my own; that when someone I love is in trouble I take it into myself as if it were happening to me. This is not a good thing to do and I have learned to distance myself, to do what I can if I can and then let it go. It's a much healthier way of living and I think I have made this change of mindset rather well. The point is I can see where some might think I am taking this bereavement personally... and I do feel bereaved;
Although I didn't know her husband all that well, it was still a shock.
But I don't think my heartache is because I am taking someone else's pain personally. I don't think I am going through this as she is. And I don't think the pain I am feeling is because what has happened to my friend is the very thing I fear most in life.

What I do see, with unusual clarity, is that the loss I am feeling is my own. It is the fact that I feel an almost primal instinct to be with my friend but I'm so far away that I can't be, not from a practical point of view... it's everything I feel about being away from my homeland all gathered into one single identifiable point. Having it all spread out like it normally is, is manageable; the odd moment of homesickness, or missing my mom, a my friend, or a sister; the occasional feeling of anxiety - what if something happens to someone and I'm not there? But this, this thing that has happened, this monstrous tragedy has brought it all into one single lump of grief in my heart that is terribly hard to bear.

She will be OK, this friend of mine. She is strong and has been through enough in this life to be able to pick up the pieces and carry on. I know this because of what she said to me a couple of days ago, that at least she got to have a few years with him, a few years where he made her happy.
I only wish that she'd had a few more...

+ Rest in Peace, Andy +

5 comments:

LiVEwiRe said...

Although this is a terribly sad situation, let me say that you've thought it through and come to a sensible conclusion. Of course you want to be there for your friend, I'd expect no less. But you also understand that this time will be a difficult one filled with many visitors, mourning, immediate family, decision-making and certainly introspection. I think you can be there for her, just at a later date. You are wise to think you could do more good, later. Often, people are flooded with visitors and offers of help in the beginning. When everyone backs off and they are alone, that's when so many thoughts come rushing back - that's when she will value your presence. I'm sorry to hear that you are feeling so helpless but you made a well thought out decision. Your friend will not doubt your love for her. My best thoughts...

kyknoord said...

The complexities of 21st Century living means that not being there is almost inevitable. It's a difficult knot to untangle, but you seem to have found a sensible way of doing so.

Terri said...

Thanks guys. It's true: time heals.

anne said...

...
you can't take your friend's pain, but she knows you're there for her, albeit at a distance. it's not always the proximity that counts.

angel said...

terri i am so sorry for your friend's loss. i love how much you care for your loved ones and i love how well you know yourself.