All that lives, lives forever. Only the shell, the perishable passes away. The spirit is without end. Eternal. Deathless.
I turn 30 today. A little over a week ago my best friend Lianne died.
I’ve tried to write about Lianne dying a dozen times but the words won’t come. She was my best friend and I will miss her everyday. What more is there to say?
But it doesn’t feel enough, not for her, so I will try.
We became friends at 14 years old. I had seen her around before but she had a way of carrying herself that made her seem aloof, unapproachable and tall. Years later, we discovered that without her heels, she was only half and inch taller than me the shortass.
‘That half an inch makes all the difference’ She’d say looking witheringly down her nose at me. Even towards the end when she was very sick she would still give me that look and I would crack up.
We met through my best friend Debs at a Boyzone concert. While the other girls burst into hysterical tears as the band came on stage Lianne and I laughed. And that was it, we were friends. Lianne made friends like other people changes clothes while I watched on sceptical of these waifs and strays she picked up not realising I was one too. She was the glue holding our inner circle together.
Everybody has their favourite Lianne story, most of them too rude to print here. I remember bunking off school to go to London, using all of our money on the train, and then realising we had none left to actually do anything. Endlessly walking around Rowledge stalking her latest man obsession. Lianne was the spymaster general and stalker extraordinaire. Each crush had to have a codename.
She wasn’t perfect. She grossed me out as nobody else could with endless scatological descriptions. I spent what felt like years waiting for her, outside school, Elphicks and at her house.
We only fought once over a boy whose name I have long forgotten. Lianne would have remembered. She was our memory keeper, an archivist writing in her journals and collecting endless detritus. But there are some stories that only I will remember.
Like the time we got so wasted on a Thursday night that we ran around the rec in just our bras. Not being able to say ‘do you remember when’ feels lonely. Out of our group of friends she gave the best advice and was always the one I could rely to understand whether it was when I puked in a sink at a party or man trouble. This week I keep reaching for my phone to text her knowing she find the right words to comfort me, only to remember: she’s really gone.
And the world seems a little darker, a little duller and a hell of lot less lewd without her.
Who will call me a dappy hippie now?
I read a quote somewhere that there are some forms of knowledge one does not pray for. Grief is a knowledge nobody would pray for. They didn’t tell me it would feel like this. And even if they had I wouldn’t have believed them. Watching somebody you love die even from afar is an agony I would not wish on my worst enemy. But I would not wish the pain away. Grief is the price we pay for love. And it was worth it.
Lianne was worth it.
I’m glad I knew her even if it was only for a short time. Even if all those plans we made will never happen. We will never go travelling together. I will never meet her children, and she will not play with mine. We won’t end our days with our other friends at the same nursing home: chasing each other down the corridors, bickering over bridge and flirting with the male nurses.
Every pleasure brings with it the paper cut of grief like losing her over again. I burst into tears yesterday realising she will never taste a strawberry ever again. A strawberry, but I felt so sad. Tenses hurt as I have to remember it’s not Lianne likes but Lianne liked. I worry that over time I will begin to forget her and then it will be like she died anew.
It’s my 30th birthday and I am not in the mood for celebrating. In fact, all I want to do is hibernate somewhere til the pain goes away. Before, I had planned an amazing big kids birthday party for tomorrow. But all week I’ve been wrestling with whether I should go ahead.
Lianne taught me many things. The double bra trick: one to lift and one to separate. The fine art of stalking. But the most valuable thing my friend taught me as she died was how to live.
I watched Wrath of Khan for the first time this week in honor of Lianne who was a lifelong trekkie. (Although, I wish somebody would have warned me *SPOILER* that Spock dies at the end *ENDSPOILER* wibble. ‘I have been and always shall be your friend.’) In Wrath of Khan, Kirk says: ‘how we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.’
Lianne lived with brain tumours for almost five years, outliving her prognosis and two support groups. Even when she was so sick from the chemo she could barely move she never gave up. She celebrated her 30th in jaunty party hat, a friend’s baby on her knee. After her diagnosis she made a list of goals to keep going. And a fortnight ago she achieved the last item on the list: watching the Olympics.
The end when it came seemed sudden. I knew she was deteriorating but on Thursday Debs started forwarding the texts. Lianne wasn’t eating or drinking and she was slipping out of consciousness. I sat outside in the sunshine imagining her surrounded by white light. That afternoon unable to work I spent hours flicking through photos not as she was at the end but of her healthy and well. Unable to sleep at midnight I went on facebook and there were the others. The inner circle. We emailed keeping up a vigil. By this point she was already dead. She died as she would have wanted: at home, listening to music, and holding her mum’s hand. With a distinctive Lianne twist that made me laugh even through the tears.
Friends and family have been so supportive. But the one thing that puts my teeth on edge is when they say it must be a relief for her. They are just trying to be kind, but they don’t understand. Lianne wanted to live more than anything. The week before she died she went to the hospital to talk through her treatment options. She had been rapidly deteriorating as first her mobility and then her speech began to desert her. But she wanted chemo even though the chemo would kill her. She was too weak. Lianne would wanted.
So for her, as long as I can, I will live. I will feel the kiss of the sun on my face. I will search for shooting stars in the night sky and imagine she is sending me a message. And on Saturday, I will celebrate my birthday through the tears. I’ll raise a glass to her and pray that wherever she is Cher is playing, the Smirnoff mules are plentiful and the angels are hot Mediterranean men.
Farewell my friend and thanks for everything.