I met with a dear and old friend yesterday, who is grieving a recent and painful death. We laughed, she cried, we reflected over old struggles, and chatted about recent challenges. I shared what I could of my own wisdom, hard won through griefs of the past – some distant and others nearer – none ever fully grieved or forgotten.
This morning, I chanced upon an old photo of me standing alongside an old friend. I was, perhaps, seven or eight years, and he six or seven. He was one of those friends with which I’d lost touch over the years as our lives diverged in different directions, but who, upon the rare occasions we would meet would always promise to catch up, “next time.”
So it was the last time I saw him, some five or six or seven years ago, but this time, next time never came. He died some two weeks ago.
I cannot pretend that we were close; we were not. Our childhood friendship was one borne of the circumstances of life, and not from a deep affinity of interests. Over the course of years, our paths had diverged more and more and what closeness and affinities we had gradually frayed, like the slow unraveling of a poorly knitted sweater or cap, until very little remained.
Yet, still, he was my friend and now he’s gone. There is no “next time” for us — only the fragments of memories remain, and those too fade with time.
The strange thing about death is that it undoes us: pieces of ourselves that were constituted by relationships with others are irretrievably lost. We are who we are in relation to others, and as long as those others live, no matter how far or near, distant or close, there is something of ourselves that lives also. When my friend died, part of me also died – the me who was in relationship to him is dead. There is no next time, there never will be a next time. In my grief therefore I am forced to say goodbye to him, but also goodbye to the self that was his friend, and face the future knowing that I will say this same goodbye a thousand times over until I am the one to whom others also say goodbye.
Until next time, my friend.