Farewell to a friend forever.

I had a gorgeous friend. She died last week.

I have to repeat that to myself occasionally, like a lesson I’m having trouble learning, because I can’t comprehend the finality of it. She died.

She’d been rushed to hospital – out of the blue as far as I knew – in a critical condition, and about 10 days later had undergone surgery. I was worried, and the possibility that she might die had crossed my mind, but I did not allow myself to entertain that thought. Naively, I been talking to another friend about visiting her in hospital, the day before she died.

I never understood before  – how can you, until it happens?  – how it feels to be hit with this news. I discovered that we have strange defence mechanisms, that kick in to deal with intensely painful emotions and allow our brains to start processing what is so impossible to comprehend.

When I was told that my friend had died, it felt as if my brain stopped working properly. For a second,  the words did not make sense. Surely it was some horrible mistake. Put together, her name and the words “passed away this morning” were nonsensical  and meaningless. Surely they referred to some small, sickly person, not my energetic, feisty friend. After a beat, I registered their meaning, but was unable to accept that it was real. Then my brain played another trick on me – time slowed down to a grinding halt, and the rest of that day felt like some long, awful dream I hoped I would wake up from. Thus, by evening, I had a surreal sense that weeks had passed since I had received the news. I couldn’t believe it was still the same day on which, when it had dawned, my friend had been alive.

She is sadly missed by many people. Anyone in Melbourne who works in performing arts probably worked with her at some point in her long history in community arts, circus, and festivals.  Just a few of the things people said about her at her memorial service yesterday included:

hardworking, fun-loving, generous, playful, cheeky – a big kid

enquiring, scientific/technical mind

had a sense of being part of a larger community – was always giving her time and/or her equipment for use

a tiny superhero

if you had worked with her at some time, you were probably also her friend

gave the best hugs

All of the above was true, and there were probably many other things said, but  something I think was missed (I was not brave enough to stand up in front of so many people and say it) was this: she was non-judgemental. I observed with admiration, that she didn’t pigeonhole people into “types”, or make judgements about people based on their appearance, what they did, or what they had done. Never fear, she was no saint: she had her own system of categorising people after getting to know them: they were either intelligent or stupid. She was too quick witted to have any patience for “stupid people”.

I feel lucky to have worked with her, and considering how many people she knew and the many friends she had for decades, I feel grateful to have been considered by her as a friend for even a short time.

It’s been on my mind since her death, that we had often talked about death and grieving, because in the 4 years I knew her she’d had to deal with the death of (from memory) a work colleague, 2 good friends, a relative, and her beloved dog Dodge. In contrast, I had not yet experienced the deaths of anyone I was close enough to really grieve for. She knew how it felt. I didn’t.

I wonder now if there is some reason why someone comes into your life, and, if so, whether one of the lessons she was supposed to impart to me was preparation for grieving.

On the other hand, I can’t see how those chats about grieving are helping me now.

It was a surprise to me that we became friends, because in many ways we couldn’t have been more different. But we had a mutual delight in witty, absurd and just plain silly written communication, that led to a regular email correspondence, dreaming up and elaborating on fanciful, ridiculous “projects”, and, more recently, encouraging one other to write a blog. She was one of the very few people who showed her support when I started writing a blog, reading and commenting frequently. I will miss those open, cheerful responses.

She started her own blog, and after her beloved dog died a few months ago, she wrote a post musing about life and death that seems very poignant now. And her last comment on my blog, only 3 weeks ago – the last she will ever make –  was on my post about musician Roland S Howard, who died at the age of 50. She was only 47.

So it’s hard trying to understand that she is not out there any longer, that she won’t read this post, or comment, or ever send me another silly email, or catch up for coffee and greet me with one of her (famous) warm hugs. Indeed, I know even as I write that sentence, that I have not yet grasped the reality of what I’ve just said.

In her last ever email to me, (after a suggested catch up for coffee didn’t eventuate) she said, “I missed our coffee!”

I miss it too, Dori.


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