When I found myself sitting at the kitchen table, wide-eyed at 1am, eating the remains of a yoghurt pot (which tasted about 12 hours past its peak) I came to the realisation that I was not, in fact, fine. It was four days, almost to the hour, since I’d found out what had happened. The weight of that expanse of time, so cruelly un-inhabited by her, sat almost as heavily as the weight of her passing. Disbelief had shrouded us all like a protective blanket, yet this was tempered by a sudden renewed awareness of our mortality. Like her, our shroud too would fall. And what we would experience once it did was incomprehensible.
Shock, I truly believe, is a human phenomenon indescribable to anyone who has not experienced it. Even then, no words can truly capture its effect. Both a presence and an absence, it strips all ensuing moments of their legitimacy but does so to protect; a sort of psychosomatic eraser that numbs the pain. What we really fear about shock, though, is its departure. Without it, we are prey to that most relentless predator of all: grief.
Most of her close friends had gathered daily since it happened. Having not quite made the cut (I was one of those almost friends: a friend-of-a-friend; a friend-of-a-flatmate; a used-to-be-close-but-not-been-for-a-long-time-as-life-got-in-the-way sort of friend), I sat by and watched loved ones as they attended dinners, lunches, teas. I sat by and watched as grief, purveyor of the inequitable, demanded immense strength be summoned for what ought to have been the most insubstantial of activities.
The pain of losing someone you know, not someone you’re close to, I have found comes with a whole new spectrum of feelings. Losing someone immediate, in my experience, is sort of ready packaged with an expectation – immeasurable pain, endless emptiness, uncontrollable anger – that matches up to the reality. In this instance, however, there is no expectation. This is not to say that loss of a sort-of-friend is harder in any way. There is no hierarchy of grief; it wounds and scars in equal measure whomever it strikes. This is merely to try and make sense of my messed-up feelings. I was torn between my own, pitiful sorrow at the loss of a once and would be friend, and the devastation of watching loved ones’ hearts be irreparably broken. I’ve never wanted anything more than to be able to remove their pain.
This desire to heal, however, came with what seemed like a logical need to obliterate my own sadness from the equation. My tears won’t dry theirs, so what good does my crying do? If there’s always someone closer than you, someone higher up the rankings of friendship, then what’s the point? Well sometimes it isn’t about individual proximity, or time spent, or moments shared. Sometimes it’s about a collective shock, and a tragedy, and a cripplingly unfair turn of events. And when this happens, the only way you can count proximity, or time spent, or moments shared, is by counting the ones you all experience going forward. That, surely, can be the only way to even attempt to null the pain.