When A Friend Dies Unexpectedly

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

“I’m sorry to be the bearer of sad news, but I thought you’d want to know (although you might already) that Clara* tragically died yesterday. I understand it may be Covid related.”

The message popped up unassumingly in my Facebook Messenger yesterday. It was from someone I used to work with, about someone else we both used to work with… someone who, in my case, had also become a friend.

It was a fun, giggly sort of friendship, formed on the basis of the cream teas we’d cobble together in the office on Friday afternoons, the highbrow plays and art exhibitions she dragged me along to after work, and the cocktails we sank together in the years that followed both of us exchanging that particular office for different, yet strangely similar, ones.

I’ve got a glistening Christmas card from Clara on my mantelpiece. It had been her birthday a week ago, and I’d texted a hasty ‘Happy Birthday… belated cocktails as soon as we’re able!’ She’d sent a ‘Cheers!’ emoji back.

Unable to comprehend the message — I thought it was cruel spam at first — I clicked on Clara’s own Facebook page, to discover a flurry of sorrowful tributes and photos from her friends and family. One of them mentioned a positive Covid test, with a dazed “…but you said you felt okay; it doesn’t make sense…”

(I think it’s both strange and touching, the way people write directly to the dead on their social media accounts.)

Reading through the tributes I saw stars, like a Looney Tunes character who’s just been clumped around the head with an anvil. That was it. I was never going to see Clara again, ever.

But… shouldn’t you get a warning about something like that? Don’t you need time to prepare?

Today I’m aware of my heart beating harder against my chest, and the hot water wicking behind my eyes, and the need to say something… but what, and who to?

It feels trite to write to Clara on her Facebook page; my words being read by her grief-stricken family members and close friends, none of whom I’d ever met.

My own friends might end up reading them too (because nothing on social media is truly private), then write to me saying things like, “sorry for your loss”, which would make me feel like a fraud, because while Clara was a dear, lovely friend, we only saw each-other a few times a year.

Shouldn’t “sorry for your loss” be saved for the really close ones? Are there gradients for grief? I just want people to know that a kind, caring, lovely, downright-bloody-amazing person with a fierce, gorgeous heart has gone, because… well, she’s gone, so the world has shifted, and that feels like something people should know.

So that’s what I’m doing, I suppose.

Letting people know.

*Clara isn’t her real name. For lots of reasons, I couldn’t bring myself to use her actual name; maybe because others who knew her might read this and feel upset, and maybe because using her actual name makes all this horribly real, in a way I don’t think I want to acknowledge just yet.

Southendian freelance writer and caffeine enthusiast, author of a few books you’ve never heard of

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