What happens when a friend dies suddenly 

By Sarah Cannata

My 2019 started messy. Like a kid with their hands in a birthday cake messy… only that’s a good kind of messy. This messy looked like white hospital walls and one too many “come in, we think it’s time” moments.

On 1 January this year, my grandpa died.

While everyone else was celebrating the new year with fireworks and planning how 2019 was going to be their best year yet, my family and I were planning a funeral. 

The first significant person who died in my life was my grandmother when I was in my early twenties. Considering I hear stories about people losing loved ones as kids, I understand I am privileged to have had her in my life for that long. Since that moment up to now, I have never quite understood why people choose to grieve as they do.

In both cases, my grandparents were elderly. They did all of the things they hoped to cross off their list: get married, have kids, welcome grandkids into the world and so on. Even when you know death is knocking on someone’s door, when it finally takes them away, it’s always a shock. 

As an introvert, I don’t process and grieve well by welcoming visitors and rummaging through photos and footage of happier times to prepare for a funeral. To be very honest, I’d prefer to sit in a room alone and gather my thoughts. To feel what I need to feel without worrying about writing speeches for a funeral or what someone is going to wear in their coffin or even what prayers will be said. Of course, exactly what happens following death differs greatly depending on people’s culture and personal preferences but I have always found the process to be more traumatic than expected.

A couple of months after my grandfather died, I heard news that my friend had crossed over.

I knew she was sick and getting treatment but I didn’t quite have a grasp on how serious the situation was. I feel like I was talking to her about her grand plans at the end of one week and then hearing news about her passing early the next.

I’ll never forget that feeling of sitting at my computer, staring at a blank screen. Tears rolled down my face. I was home alone (I love silence and peace). On that particular day and in that particular moment, the silence was overwhelming. There was no breathing.

My mind started flashing back to hearing her voice over the phone – she would always tease me for being on time to the minute if we planned a call. And then the real kick in the guts came when I remembered that I missed a call from her one evening, just a couple of days before she died. I still have that voice message because I can’t bring myself to delete it; I still have text messages from her because I can’t bring myself to delete them either; I have voice recordings (we were working together so that’s not as creepy as it probably sounds) that every now and again, I accidentally hit play on in the Garage app on my computer.

Why didn’t I answer that call? Logically, I know why – I was on another call. I saw it coming through, heard the message afterwards and noted she said not to worry about calling back. So I didn’t. Why didn’t I call back?

I know the guilt I feel and continue feeling isn’t logical. But I still feel it. Just as I did when I first found out she was gone.

In hindsight, what has been hardest for me to swallow or try to make peace with is that she so wanted to be alive so much. She fought so hard to be here. She was one of the most positive and vibrant people I know. In the back of my head, I find myself asking this question: why her? I’ll never know. 

The person I remember was fairly young.

She had a family. A dog she loved. So many people who loved her. She sprinkled joy everywhere she went by doing small things for people. At Christmas, she sent me a lovely self-care package… I had planned to send her a gift too but I got too caught up with my grandpa being ill and never sent anything her way. Why couldn’t I just make time instead of letting it go?

I have no idea why this person was chosen to leave us when she did. All I know is that writing this helps. Somehow, the words on the page make me feel like I am less alone in my thoughts. 

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