Five years ago one of my dearest friends, and a man with an endless capacity for love, died in tragic circumstances. He was manic depressive and going through a dark time.
We met when I was working as a van driver.. we did a good many silly things together and cried on each other's shoulders quite a lot. We were both in bad patches of life, and he would send me silly jokes by text, and I would reply with sillier poems and we laughed each other through many nightmares.
I thought of him the other day a lot, as I was in an area of woodland called Ashridge and we had always said we would go there in the spring and terrorise the deer and the squirrels by climbing the trees together.
He would call me at 2 in the morning and ask if I was awake, or text me a 'wish you were here'.. I would get in the car and drive the 10 miles to his home and sit up with him all night, talking, listening, or just holding him while he wept. We had the kind of intimacy that could share anything and everything with love and no strings.
He was a lunatic though, in the best possible way He would dye his hair and beard strange colours for a giggle (bear in mind this was a highly educated man of 42, from an excellent Scottish family,who had lived all over the world and been everything from a post master to a troglodyte) He would challenge my eldest son to join him in strange escapades, and if the bosses had ever found out some of the things that we did when out on the road... well ... LOL
The system let him down. His illness got so bad that he tried to take his life twice, by hanging himself in the night. I talked him into having himself admitted for treatment, which he did, and yet, they sent him home within a few days to a house where he was alone.
One night, just before his birthday, he called and I went over. He held me all night, we talked and he wept, then he made me laugh. A lot. At one point he said, 'We never did get to Ashridge.' And I should have known then.
At six am he hugged me on his doorstep and stood there watching me leave. I really should have gone with the uneasy feeling. He hung himself almost immediately afterwards.
The hurt he left in his wake was dreadful, as so few people had known how ill he was and how dark life was for him.. because he hid in laughter and silliness and madcap pranks. Even fewer had known how far he had gone or what he had done to help others in trouble. His funeral was a real eye-opener for many.
I was perhaps the one person who he had told 'why'.. because he felt his life and illness were causing too much hurt to those he loved. No matter how hard he tried. And loving a few people so deeply, this was his gift to them.. to put a final stop to that hurt.
It may not be logical to you and I reading this now, but it was to him at the time.
Now, what is the point of telling you all this? Other than that I was at Ashridge the other day?
I got to thinking. Not far from Ashridge there are barrows, houses for the ancestors, on the Beacon. There is a tiny church with massive monuments celebrating the lives of the departed. And what do we do? Take a bunch of flowers.
My friend's birthday was a few days after his death, and when I had asked him what he'd like to do, he had said we were going out to dinner. In full ball dress.
On his birthday, head held high, in black velvet ball gown and long gloves, with my hair swept up and my sparkliest jewellery, I dined in solitary splendour at McDonalds, with everyone looking at me as if I was a lunatic . I kept the serene smile as I ate the dreaded burger (with a silver knife and fork for good measure, of course).. lingered for an hour over coffee.. (well, if it was worth doing, it was worth doing right) and marvelled that not one of his friends had bothered to join me, though I had said I'd do it for him.
I marked his passing by honouring the laughter in his life in a way he would have loved. And though there was an appreciable space around where I sat (for, oddly, no one sat near me..) I was not alone.
He would laugh if I said I was honouring an 'ancestor', yet I feel this was a more appropriate gift to his shade than the tears and cold meats of his funeral. I felt closer to my friend than I did to his loss, and I wonder how much we have lost by shifting the focus to mourning rather than the celebration of passing?
It was not my friend in the coffin when I kissed him one last time and placed a Scottish thistle in his hand. It was only his body. My friend lives on in every lunatic thing I do and every moment of laughter he gave.
The other reason for posting this was that is was borne in upon me yesterday how we are judged by our surfaces, and how we ourselves, with the best will in the world, so often judge on outside appearances, instead of taking the time to feel what is going on out of sight and recognising the masks for what they are.
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