Healing without closure
Absquatulate - (noun) To leave without saying good-bye.
On the 22nd of March 2020 I lost a friend who I held very close to my heart. A lady that taught me so many valuable lessons in the short time that I knew her; lessons that have helped to mould me into the woman I have - and will continue to - become. These are things that I will carry with me forever, and hope to pass on to those around me.
But this was not your typical friendship...
For three years I worked in a care-home for the elderly as a hostess; taking orders, delivering meals, making drinks, and so on. A post that I applied for, admittedly for the money, but soon it became evident that the job would become so much more than just that.
It was here that I met my friend 'Red ' (I am going to call her this for privacy reasons), who was a resident in the home. When we first met, she really wasn't much of a talker and all of our encounters were very brief and to the point. However over time, the conversations grew a bit longer, the topics strayed from the typical food and drink choices, and the atmosphere became much lighter. I'd find myself taking a seat while we spoke, rather than just dipping in and out, and she even coined me the nickname 'Meatball' because of my oversized, very round head - but that is a story for another day. Eventually we surpassed the resident-staff member relationship and just became friends. Friends with a 63 year age gap, but friends nonetheless.
Red and I used to cover all the topics under the sun: gossip around the home, local news, what was new in our lives. I remember when I was due to take my driving test, she asked the staff repeatedly for days if I had passed. On the day, I drove my car straight from home, parked up outside, and visited her. As I opened the door to her room her face lit up, simply followed by, "well...?" She gave me a big hug and said "Congratulations, I knew you would pass!"
Therefore, when I was offered the position for my new job, she was undoubtedly the first port of call. But unfortunately for her, she knew she couldn't get rid of me that easily. We made a standing agreement that on one day every week, I would visit her for a chin-wag and a cup of tea, and I did. After work or on a weekend I would roll up outside, knock on her door, and without fail she would look up at me, beaming, saying something along the lines of "oh, hello Meatball."
Sitting there in her room, we would chat about anything and everything. She would tell me about her siblings, and ask me about my family in return. She would always check if there were any updates on my love life, and so began a running joke that we would meet a handsome, wealthy Grandson-Grandfather duo whom we would marry; this way we would legally become family, and subsequently bound for life.
I would change the TV to channel 10, and we'd sit and watch Heartbeat while she ordered her supper - which more often than not, was an egg mayo sandwich on brown, with no crusts, and a side of chips. "I've ordered chips and I don't want them so now you have to eat with me" she'd say. We spoke about where she'd travelled, and where I wanted to go. How she met her late husband and their life together. And I'd even tell her all about my disastrous nights out where I would drink too much and have to go home early. No topic was off limits.
Over the years, Red became less of a 'resident from work', and became family - which is very handy considering our families share the same surname! I went to care-home events as her plus one, we exchanged presents and cards for occasions, she even managed to rope me into wrapping her gifts for other people and helping to clean out her overflowing wardrobe... The lady had me wrapped around her little finger, and didn't she know it!
However, sadly in March last year she fell ill and was hospitalised. Due to coronavirus I was only able to visit her a few times, but even whilst in the ward she still had the same smile on her face, and sassy attitude and wit at hand. In a few short days, she declined rapidly and she passed away.
With her family scattered across the country, and government restrictions in place, she never had the send off that she deserved, and therefore I never had any closure from her death. With the toughest year just beginning, life became a whirlwind.
Ways that I found closure...
Having never really experienced the death of a close friend before, I was at a loss of how to cope.
What could I do to honour her? What if I forget our memories together?
It all felt like day dream - or a really terrible nightmare. Like I could jump in the car once again, knock on her door, and hear her voice greeting me. It just didn't feel real. How can someone be here one minute, and gone the next?
A few days later, her relative got in touch and let me know the time and date of her cremation. Whilst I couldn't go for obvious reasons, this gave me a chance to give her my own little send off.
And therefore I began to plan.
Letters: As you may have already realised, I find it a lot easier to put my feelings down on paper. So I decided, as we could no longer have our weekly dates, I would write letters containing all of our usual topics: gossip, my love life, family updates, that sort of thing. I would pour my heart out and tell her all of my feelings, and my favourite memories, and how much our short time together had meant to me. It's not things that I would ever read aloud, but when you're writing it out, putting it in an envelope and filing it away, getting a response doesn't feel entirely impossible. Perhaps it's blissful ignorance?
Busying yourself: On the day of her service, I planned myself a walk. I took a flask of tea and the letter I had written and I went for a long stroll along the river. There is a bitter-sweet advantage that comes from death that makes you more grateful for the world around you. You pay more attention to the little details, such as blossoming flowers, the light reflecting on the surface of the water, and birds singing in the trees. I surrounded myself with beautiful scenery, taking in the views of Spring and found a nice little place to sit, pour out my drink, and read through the letter as if she were sat beside me. Normally I would've been conscious of passersby thinking I had gone slightly insane, but on this day I didn't care what people thought. This day wasn't about anyone other than Red.
Association: Now, you may be wondering why I have dubbed her 'Red', and here is the reason... Red Chanel lipstick, and matching fingernails and toenails, her signature look. For every special occasion, the lippy would be out and she'd be applying it like a pro without a mirror - how she would manage to do it perfectly I will never know. So, I followed suit. I woke up in the morning and made myself up to the nines, the way that she always liked, with a statement lip and matching nails. I also wore a jumper that she loved because it showed of the tattoo at the top of my back, and a pair of toe socks. (If you don't know what toe-socks are, where have you been hiding?!) She received a pair as a Christmas present and my god, she was like a child with a brand-new toy! They were stripy and rainbow coloured, and definitely not something you would expect an upper class, well-dressed 80 year old woman to wear. But I have never seen someone so happy. She would sit and wiggle her toes, and then tell you to watch while she continued to do so. She adored them; a simple pleasure.
The previous Christmas, Red and I traded cards and presents. She gifted me fancy chocolates and a gorgeous bottle of white wine, but obviously they didn't survive very long. And as her room severely lacked festive cheer, I bought her a tiny little artificial tree. I decorated it with silver tinsel, little sparkly baubles, bells, cinnamon sticks, and a star ornament as the topper. It ended up staying in her room, on her dresser next to her TV for the next few months. I offered to put it into the cupboard, December being far behind us, but to no any avail as she said it was "too pretty" and "nice to look at". That was me told! However after she passed, I wrote to her relatives asking if I could have the tree to keep due to the sentimentality; and low and behold, a few weeks later, a package was delivered containing the beautiful memory.
Isn't it strange how something that has no real monetary value can become so priceless?
Where am I now?
Last Monday marked one whole trip around the sun without her. 52 weeks without having our gossip dates when I really needed them the most. 365 days of learning how to deal with grief.
I don't think there will ever be a moment where I don't wish that I could hit rewind. If only we could have one last conversation, watch one last episode of Heartbeat, or see her toes wiggling in those crazy socks one last time.
For the one year anniversary, I replayed the day of her service. I put on the same jumper, wore the same lipstick, and painted my nails red once again. I went for a walk, the same route, but this time I had my best friend by my side. We had a picnic, and stopped for tea and biscuits, and laughed. A lot. And I know that that is exactly what Red would have wanted.
When I got home, I wrote the next letter. There are now five in total. The previous four were emotionally draining; I would write between tears, trying not to sodden the paper, and I would feel the devastation of her death all over again.
However, writing number five, I didn't cry. Not one tear. And it's not because I no longer care, but instead of feeling an overwhelming sadness, it was replaced with an abundance of gratitude for the time that we did share, albeit only a few short years. The things that I learnt in that time I will cherish for the rest of my life.
I also bought a blossom tree for my garden. It has gorgeous little pink flowers, and is known to be symbolic of Spring; a time of renewal. When her husband passed, she had a tree planted outside their home in his remembrance, and so therefore I now have my own tribute to her. It’ll blossom every March and remind me to stop, take a deep breath, and admire the little things around me that add to the beauty of life.
As for the Christmas tree, it remains in a cosy little spot on my shelf. Seeing it reminds me of the strong, elegant, sarcastic, compassionate, fierce woman who it was once given to, and inspires me to carry on the lessons that she taught me, in her memory. She will never be forgotten.
So while there is no real step-by-step on how to get closure, I'm hoping that this can help anyone who is grieving from a loss to take just one step further. It is by no means easy, and there is no right way of doing it. It's a long, painful process that is different for each individual, but time does help heal the wound.
And if anyone reads this and would like someone to talk to, please do write in the contact box at the bottom of the page and I will respond ASAP. Otherwise, e-mail email@example.com.
Until next time,