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Loss of light

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

My best friend left 10 years ago – this past Saturday – early on a Sunday morning. It's hard to imagine that so much time has passed between then and now. It's still weird to think that I'll never see her again or hear her voice on the other side of the phone almost-singing "hey buddy" the way she did.

It was a beautiful day... the day she went. It was hot. I was happy. Completely carefree. Calm. I was at a braai (a South African barbecue) with some friends and new acquaintances. There was cricket on. The Proteas were playing. It was a tight game with a very exciting finish. We kept popping inside to check the score on the TV.

I was heading to her after the braai. For a coffee and to talk through 'something important’. I was to stay over. Which I’d been doing often at the time because she was struggling. She wasn't able to be alone. But she wasn't able to be around others. She was so many things at the time. Difficult. Guilty. Troubled. Beautiful. Kind. Angry. Anxious. Her. Not her.

Mysteriously my parents arrived at the braai and called me out front. Something was very wrong. I immediately concluded that one of my grandparents had passed. I took a deep breath and prepared for that news as I approached them. I searched for the words of sympathy to comfort my parent at the loss of theirs.

But that wasn't their news. My best friend. My buddy. My person. Had swallowed her life with a handful of hopelessness. The 'something important' she needed from me was for me to find her lifeless body and follow her DNR wishes. I wasn't prepared for that. Nothing could have prepared me for that. I screamed. I collapsed. I shattered in ways I can't quite make sense of.

She'd taken her own life. She hadn't asked for comfort. She hadn't called for help. She'd given up. She'd lost hope. It was like being punched in the gut. I was furious. How could she have done that to herself… her awesome, awesome self?

To be fair, she’d lived with many heavy pressures that were impossible for her to process. For anyone to process. She was exhausted. I understood. Over the two years that she’d reached her lowest low, I worried about her day and night. I panicked when she didn’t answer her phone. I did my best to be a friend. My absolute best. But nothing was good enough.

When she passed away, I felt relieved. A weight was lifted off my heart. I could breathe again. The lightness made me feel guilty. So very, very guilty. But mostly I was riddled with anger. The kind that eats your soul.

In the weeks that followed I struggled to make sense of my feelings. I was mourning in ways only people who’ve experienced this kind of disappointment, can understand. I listened to the judgements that are often flung at these situations. The word ‘selfish’ was used liberally. Then there were those that related my sense of guilt, pain and failure (as a friend) to their tragic losses from sudden illnesses and accidents. That brought more anger and frustration. I suddenly understood the human inability to empathise with a parent who’s lost a child. You don’t know it if you haven’t lived it. Just listen. Just be there. Just be.

The theory that those who take their lives are weak or selfish is, in my opinion, naïve, insensitive, judgemental and a gross generalisation. My friend was neither weak, nor selfish. She was brave, selfless, smart, kind, generous and far more beautiful than she ever realised. If only she'd seen herself the way I did – and still do. Life had thrown her so many unfair and brutal reasons to lose hope. She couldn't see the light. She couldn't even find the tunnel.

As I remember one of the most awesome women I've ever known this week. I encourage those around me to be mindful of the battles being fought in the minds of those around them.

If I saw her one last time, I'd punch her for giving up – she was far too fabulous to die. Then I’d hug her and tell her how special she is and how the world echoes with a strange kind of empty without her. Missing her is easy. Loving her is a given. But forgiving her has been one of the hardest journeys of my life.

First published 14 March 2016 on Published with permission.

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