It’s going to be difficult to write, not only because it’s about death, but because it involves a feeling that some are left behind.
When our friend died last month, well before she was old, we woke up the next day and had to move on. It wasn’t until a few days later that I began to wonder why, in addition to my deep grief for her husband, children, mother, sister, and other relatives, I also felt an unfamiliar but persistent sense of guilt.
I’m sure books have been written about it and many hours have been spent on couches discussing it with learned professionals. I found I couldn’t name it until another friend whose husband had recently died called to ask how I was doing. Without talking to anyone else about it until then, I said I felt guilty.
After going through it, she knew exactly what I meant.
The person who died was a close friend who shared Jewish traditions, stories and recipes with me in the early years of our friendship. Her parents lived in the city, mine didn’t, so we spent a lot of time with her extended family. She was younger than me, a good storyteller and lively. Her mother and grandmother generously shared their expertise with me, a novice in an adopted religion.
When she learned that our friend had died, one daughter recalled how, at a young age, she assumed we were related because our families spent so much time together.
Over the years we didn’t do as much kids stuff together, but we shared royals tickets and enjoyed girls’ nights out. She started a job that she loved and we still texted and talked but mostly we chatted instead of spending the hours we had long ago chatting at one of our kitchen tables. I believe the term is life goes on. What an ironic expression to describe both before and after her death.
For example, despite the horrifying fact that she’s gone, everyone who was a part of her life must move on. Your husband needs to figure out how to do this. Your children and other close family members and friends will have to find out.
When I blurted out my guilt to my other friend, she wasn’t surprised. What’s the perfect last thing to say after meeting up with a friend who’s sick or injured? Do we leave someone’s side and leave important things unsaid? We can avoid mentioning death even when possible, out of superstition or to avoid spreading unhealthy negative sentiment.
Maybe I feel guilty for telling myself throughout her long illness that she would make it, mostly because we all wanted her to. She fought as hard as anyone could. She had as clear an understanding of her situation as her informed questions could. She emailed complicated updated explanations about it and very convincingly imagined overcoming it. I can’t say she ever seemed to stop hoping.
As I write these words, I recognize the possible origin of my uneasiness. I wonder if, despite her positive attitude, I just gave up when I heard what she was facing. I asked her how she was every day, but there was nothing I could do to understand or help her. Loving her for the dear friend she was, remembering her smile is what we are left with and it must replace the doubts and the unfinished conversations.
I don’t expect to ever understand death and life is even more complicated.