My oldest friend died recently. He had been playing tennis and collapsed on the tennis court. He was a man of great energy, playing sport regularly and also undertaking great feats of walking and hiking vast distances.
He was the last man I expected to die. As I was thinking of him today, I found my mind going off at a tangent. I was musing over the word ‘oldest’. This word relates to the length of our friendship and does not mean that he was the most elderly friend that I have.
Quite why I was having such pedantic thoughts I do not know. Perhaps it was simply to take my mind off the loss that I have been feeling. I had known him for over 60 years. We had been at school together and then we went to the same university to read the same subject. In our first year at university we shared a room in digs.
We went our separate ways after leaving university, but we kept in regular touch. Over recent years our meetings had been limited to about once or twice a year, on average. We remained great friends. I was stunned by the news of his death.
When talking to his family and other friends we all agreed that it was the best way to go. To die without lingering, doing something one loved. So much better, we agreed, than having a long, drawn out illness. But I have reflected carefully on that. For the deceased, maybe that is the better way. But is it? He had no time to say goodbye, no time to tell his family that he loved them.
And for the family and friends, there is just this gaping hole, this feeling of unreality, this waiting for him to enter the room again. With a long illness, perhaps some of the grieving is done before death. There can be a feeling of release. People can be prepared for the death, even though the loss is still dreadfully painful.
I conjecture. The fact is that I simply have no idea which way is the more palatable. What I do know is that the world has become a smaller place without him. The feeling of loss, grief and unreality has slowly, day by day, gathered pace with me. It is as if I had not earlier understood the full force of it.
I also know that when my father died many years ago, I first felt truly conscious of my own mortality. When my dear friend of 60 years died, that feeling of my own mortality seemed much more relevant.