Eight years ago, my dear friend Frances unexpectedly passed away two weeks after starting a teaching job in India. I will never say 'goodbye'. I hold on to her closely, and despite the years, I am still overwhelmed by my love and my loss.
One balmy autumn afternoon, I put a song on loop in my headphones while sat cross-legged just off one of the main squares in Lisbon as the sun dropped behind Ponte 25 de Abril. I let myself feel, and I let myself say a kind of farewell. Not a goodbye.
The beauty of the now washed over me, with my tears, as people passed by close enough to step on my toes. All different relationships. Friends. Lovers. Parents. Children. Multi-generational families. And people like me, alone with themselves - perhaps carrying the spirits of their late loved ones with them.
‘I’m sorry, Charlie’.
‘I know it’s not my fault. Nor yours. No-one could have prevented this. Not without some wild hindsight kind of time machine that would have got me to the doctor for a check-up on a whim. At 23. Let’s be honest. A brain haemorrhage is not what’s on our mind, is it?’
‘Thank you, Charlie.’
‘You were and have been an amazing friend to me. I am so grateful for you. I still am so grateful for you. I know we don’t get to hang out together anymore - not in the same way. But I still think about you. I hold you in my heart. I still love you to the moon and back. I’m just not sure back to where anymore. Don’t think I ever will be. But we will meet again. Somewhere. Sometime. Whatever happens, we’ll still be best friends.’
‘I love you, Charlie.’
Since you trekked through Pichit Province, Thailand to meet me and give me a little cake smaller than your hand in a plastic wrapper, I knew we would be friends. I knew I would love you. And it didn’t take long. When you hopped off your bus to the north at the last second to came and visit me in Bangkok, I knew I would love you. When I trusted you so much to change my life I hopped on a stupidly early morning flight to Geneva during our final exams. I loved you already. Even though I got annoyed. To the point, you wrote frustrated letters. Lovingly complaining about how unreasonable I am - every second day, apparently. I know you love me too. And that love is endless.
‘Thank you for loving me, Charlie.’
Just as I knew I would love you when you celebrated that first birthday with me in Thailand, I felt your huge capacity to love. That your eyes lit up when you saw me. That you’d love me for who I am, but still push me to be a better me - to try new things. To add new strings to my bow. That, as annoyed as you might get at me, it just meant you cared about me deeply. That you let me move you in that way that was so unfamiliar to you and you still struggle to express.’
‘Thank you for celebrating me, without knowing what was going to happen, Charlie.’
I know we never know what is going to happen. With some people, we know we want to be in each other's lives as long as they last. I know mine was shorter than we planned. But it was a bloody good one. And you made such a difference to me. Having you as a friend was one of the best things that happened to me. Thank you for celebrating me, Charlie. Every time we spoke, you told me you loved me. I would still have known even if you didn’t say a word. We met. We danced to a busker in Trafalgar Square singing Jessie J, ‘It’s all about the money’ - we knew it wasn't. Every time you shared your poems with me, wandering around the Mall on balmy summer nights. Every time we dressed up and pranced around and sang and fought. I fucking love you and I loved our friendship. We were each other's total cheerleaders, and it meant so much to me.
‘Thank you for remembering me, Charlie.’
Everyone you have loved since we met knows you love me. That you always will. Everyone since I left knows you remember me. You mark me. In every new friendship, you make sure I am remembered. Thank you for celebrating my birthday. And mourning my passing.
‘I just wish you didn’t cry so much, Charlie’
I just wish you didn’t cry so much. I know time is a weird thing. It moves at different speeds, and grief never leaves us. I appreciate that you mark me with such dedication. That you think about me so much. That you crave more memories and shared experiences. But it’s ok. You’ll be ok. More than ok. Hold me in your heart, please. Don’t stop that. Keep remembering me, forever and ever. But you don’t have to hold such a heavy weight.
If I had any choice, I would have stayed, and we would have become daft old ladies ripping up the town - painting it red, whatever colour we felt like on that night. I’m not around anymore - not in the same way. You have permission to say your ‘earthly goodbye’ or whatever. I’m not coming back. It will never be the same again. But it doesn’t mean I’m gone. Or that we’re not friends anymore. We just have to accept that life is life. Death is death. And neither exactly exists in perfect harmony.
I know you went to visit me in 2020 in Sharpham. That you came to visit my parents. And that was really hard for you. That you didn’t know how you’d manage to hold it in with my mum in the meadow. When you hadn’t been there since I went underground. Family and friends gathered around. Wicker basket. Flowers on top. The lot. Thank you for reading that poem and for making people laugh. You always kept it real with me. We had so much fun. I love that we loved each other every day. And that we told each other every time we talked.
‘We can still make new memories, Charlie’
We were only together on earth for a few years. Our time was shorter than we could ever have imagined and we made the most of it. But despite that, you only have a couple of handfuls left of memories that fade and disperse with each year. We don’t have friends in common and now your only direct link to me is my mum. But we can keep going on, sparking new flames in different places and at different times by holding each other in our hearts.
Wherever you go, I’m there - if you want me there. And if you ever want to talk, please just do. Just like you did when you came to see me. Not with my mum. But when you came back again, late at night beneath a blanket of stars with your friend waiting in the car around the corner. Say whatever you want. Feel all of what you are feeling, and no judgment. You will judge yourself harshly, I know. But I will hold you with loving kindness. Think of me in the green ferns in the afternoon sunlight in Perth. In the frosty, Christmas-lit streets of Glasgow with merry-go-rounds and trees laden with baubles. In the ocean waves in Portugal. And wherever you will go next. Take me with you. Show me your world. I’m still part of it.