Category Archives: friends

Always cry at endings

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Liz’s funeral was yesterday in London, which it was impossible for me to attend – I can barely get up for 30 minutes’ activity at the moment without a relapse for several days. It would have of course been traumatic to go, but I found myself sitting at home all day, watching the clock, wondering what was happening now, who was there, what was being said – a feeling of permanently being on edge along with the sadness of it all – which continued into the night. And the horror of watching the news on that very same day, as the police shot someone on the underground, surrounded houses, sent in sniffer dogs – the very same events continuing as people gathered for Liz. Somehow, not being there has left a big hole, an uncertainty that I don’t know how to fill, an ellipsis without a following sentence.

I found myself going back to the music that brought us together, music that I haven’t listened to for years, that became some sort of phobia for me. For 8 years I was part of, and responsible for a large community of people that seemed very special – that formed so many relationships and friendships, marriages too, that I couldn’t count them. It’s where I and so many others met Liz. I’m still there, but it’s quieter these days, and most of the original people have moved on for understandable reasons. But the music it was based around seemed to have some unearthly life-changing property in the early days, and an indefinable ability to sniff out the nicest, most unusual people and put them in touch. A little secret gentle spider’s web around the world that’s still there, but lives on in other places now, often in pubs, and happy households for those brought together.

For me, it all got too much a few years ago: being seen as so central to the community but actually doing nothing cleverer or more profound that some organising and gentle cajoling made it too important to me, and too scary because of who I was not. That the rising tension of my illness gathering pace coupled with the disparity between my public face and internal gender conflict (I was too chicken to just come out and say it to more than a few) came to a kind of quiet crisis in about 2001, and I largely disappeared visibly, while continuing to work the levers in the background to let it continue. Along with this, the association of the music itself and this hurt became very strong and I stopped listening. I’m not even sure if Liz still listened to them much these days, but yesterday for some reason, sitting in my bed, I felt a strong need to revisit and listen – maybe just to feel closer to her and those in London, standing, singing, listening, crying. It wasn’t fun, but I suppose maybe it gave me something to do, a conduit for expression, from my own bedroom.

In the evening of course, I exploded into anxiety land, and fell to pieces shamefully seemingly over my own worries, and as usual, unable to identify a single cause: an ant-hill of individual causes become a single organism of toppling guilt and fear. I’m scared and so sorry for Liz; I’m scared for myself about the anti-parasite drugs I’m about to embark on; I’m scared I’ll never be able to go to London, or a shop again. I think I just wanted to be there.

The loss of others is supposed to make you reflect on what you have. But all I could think, and couldn’t say was “if it had to be Liz, why couldn’t it have been me instead?”. Stupid, self-indulgent guilt? I just can’t explain it. It just seems to me she had such wonderful enthusiam, health, passion, and was doing so much, seeing so many, making so many happy. I have the resolve to do little or none of these and if (if) my life is going to stay more like this than that, then it would make more sense for it to have been me: to keep Liz in the world, where she can make cakes, punch arms and delight a thousand people. I can maybe touch 3 or 4 weekly, and a dozen at tops in a year, and I have little to offer them back now but fear and worry, which isn’t a patch on getting drunk with them and giggling over a cocktail.

It’s not fair of me to end this like this: a few people were incredibly kind about me being represented at Liz’s passing, and one in particular. We don’t know each other so well, yet he took the time to encourage me via email to say something via proxy, be represented, represent the community where we all met in some way. I wouldn’t have had the composure to do this myself, and I’m told something I emailed was read out. I was very anxious it was an imposition – so many others will be hurting more than me – but he encouraged me to do so. He even suggested I chose a flower and bought it for me. I know little else of what happened yesterday – I hope I get to find out who said what some time, as it feels tense as a coiled spring not knowing, somehow, even though it won’t change anything. But I’m so grateful of the care and understanding shown by another for what I could and couldn’t do yesterday.

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I’ll leave this with the another quote Liz left us in an email, the one I chose to be read out yesterday. It’s from George Santayana, American philospher from the early part of the last century. His most famouse quote is “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it”, which seems relevant to the idiocy our own states are pursuing currently that connects us up to the tragedies of today, but this isn’t that. This is a lesson about individual fear, and hope.

It’s an incredibly hard lesson, and one I know the least about: learning to love and not fear change, even if it seems for the worst at the time. It comes very close to the lessons about Tao I’m trying again to understand: that the only way out is to let time have its course, be alert, but rest. I can’t say I’m anywhere near it, but here it is.

It is better to be interested in the changing seasons
than to be hopelessly in love with Spring.
- George Santayana

Stay in the present

It’s just been confirmed that someone lovely I knew had been identified as one of the victims of the bombings in London on the 7th of June. We’ve known she was officially missing since late last week, and seeing her pictures on the front of the Independent on Sunday (a UK newspaper) at the weekend was agonising – couldn’t read it. I’ve just heard in the last few minutes it’s been confirmed – the tiny spark of hope that she was somewhere in the corner of a hospital, or lost, or hiding, has gone.

It’s been very hard not saying anything on this weblog – it seems either such a trivial medium, or that I’m trying to make her loss, or her partner’s, or her family’s my own, and while it was unconfirmed, seemed inappropriate to say here. This weblog has always been about me trying to reconnect pieces of myself up again, and make sense of my life with illness, and Liz mustn’t, can’t be used for anything but to remain herself. I feel so sorry for those who knew her, knew her much more than I did. And she’d snigger at me eulogising her as some kind of saint, and probably throw a cake at me. It’s hard to say more than that she was a very special kind of person – you know the kind you meet for the first time: you’re feeling a bit nervous, and she jumps in and surrounds you in a little invisible bubble of comfort and safety and gentle poking? She was very intelligent, very witty, without ever a trace of anything but leaping engagement and kindness. I’m sure everyone has faults, but I can’t think of any. Maybe she once burned ants with a magnifying glass when she was 10 or something. In January 2000 she called me a “little minx” – some people are very knowing.

It feels bitingly cruel of me to use the past tense about her in the preceding paragraph, like I’m physically causing someone pain. In another forum I maintained stubbornly I wouldn’t do this at least until it was confirmed. It feels like forcing something, like trying to accelerate backwards in a car. I still feel like that about my mum: she died before the internet, and she’s still a present-tense person to me. I actually have to correct myself to using the past as the words slip out. Maybe this is my christian heritage – a relic of the time I believed there was someone who loved me infinitely, and who would look after me forever. Or maybe it’s because she is around: my mum, my only achille’s heel to agnosticism in my atheist’s cell. Maybe Liz will always be present tense to me too – maybe she should be.

So, no eulogies, no ranting about whose fault I think this is, aside from the wicked and stupid souls who blew themselves to pieces to ruin so many others’ lives: that’s for another day. And not to forget how many people die every day in Iraq, and how every human’s soul is equal in weight: just a recognition that I knew this soul, and that makes a difference to mine. Liz, stay in the present tense: you’re so wildly missed and when the web pages dreading then mourning such an early loss are old, you’ll still be wildly missed. I hope, hope that those for whom your loss cuts the most deeply will find the most love and reason to get through this. And that you’re safe.

Liz usually used to end her mails with a quote: I’ll end with one of hers from 2002:

So then, farewell.
Your arse
Was far too special for them
Anyway.
Or so your mother said.