Friendship and Loss

I have not written about P before.

That is partly because I’m not confident that my words can do him justice.

But it’s also because loss can do funny things to people. It can make you claim a closeness that others don’t recognise, as you grapple with your own emotions and try to make sense of them.

I don’t want to do that.

There are others who knew P better than I did, so I’ve waited, because I didn’t want to speak on their behalf.

But he was my friend too, and now the time feels right.

I was eight, when we moved from the Western Isles down to the Borders, and when I started a new school P was one of the very first people to speak to me. He was not like the other boys, who cared little about a new, shy girl joining their class. Instead, P radiated warmth and kindness. He had big, startling blue eyes and an easy smile that he would flash at me across the classroom.

P had a twin brother, who was equally lovely. It took me a while to learn the small markers that helped distinguish them – who had darker freckles, or a slightly more snub nose, or a choppier fringe – and in those early days they would laugh patiently as I would rush up and start chatting to the wrong one.

We all loved P. Everyone in our year. It is something of a cliché, when someone is no longer with you, to say that you’ve never heard a bad word about them, but in his case it was true. He achieved that difficult balance of being good enough at sport and interested enough in cars for other boys to like him, while also being kind and well behaved enough for the girls like him.

He was one of the few boys mature enough to hold your hand if you were paired up in country dancing lessons, rather than screwing his nose up and sidling away like most of the others did. But if it were rugby or football that month, he would charge in for a muddy tackle with the best of them.

In everything he did, P was sensitive to the feelings of others. He made everyone feel like his friend. Where other people would be afraid to spend time with the new kid, or the fat kid, or the stupid kid, in case their lack of cool was somehow catching, P would always take a few minutes out of his day to say hello, and see how they were.

Perhaps the Hebridean connection helped cement our friendship. His grandparents lived on Harris, the island I had just left, and we used to talk longingly about walking on the beaches and fishing for trout. One summer holiday when I was due to head back and visit my Dad, P’s parents offered to give me a lift. The three of us – probably nine or ten years old – squashed into the back of their car. We shared sandwiches, snoozed on each other’s shoulders, and stopped off to stretch our legs at the serpentarium on Skye, where P and his brother handled the snakes with a lot more enthusiasm than I did.

You take childhood friends so much for granted.

Even when you move from primary school to secondary school, and your interests start to diverge, you still see so much of each other in the corridors and the canteen, that it becomes unimaginable for that person to not be there and not be a part of your life. At that age, there are always opportunities to spend time with your friends; I remember a sixteenth birthday party where P and I decided that too many weeks had passed since we’d chatted, so we shut ourselves in a bathroom and sat fully clothed in the bath for an hour or so, nattering away and putting the world to rights.

We may also have drunk a beer or two, and made a clumsy, fumbling attempt at a kiss for the first and only time. But P the joker overcame P the romantic, and the conversation ended rather abruptly when he turned on the cold tap and soaked me to the skin.

P started the same university as me, at the same time, but he didn’t love it and never settled. So he left and got a job instead, before going to a different uni and getting his degree a few years later. As time went on, we didn’t see each other as often, but he was so good at keeping in touch. He would often write long letters in his beautiful, neat handwriting, and if he’d been out at night, he would sometimes call and leave me a rambling voicemail at 2 or 3 in the morning, which I would listen to and laugh at when I woke up.

He was always there for the important moments. He came to our wedding and was not short of willing partners as he whirled around the dance floor in a kilt. A week after DorkySon was born he turned up unannounced on the doorstep bearing gifts; lovely warm baby clothes, big enough to grow into. And he was on the invite list for DorkySon’s Christening, but I never had the chance to ask him.

I saw P just a couple of weeks before he died. I got a text from him one morning saying that he was coming up to Edinburgh, and asking if he could pop round. So he did – several hours later than planned because he’d been having car problems. He sat at our old wooden dining room table, cradling a cup of coffee in his big hands. He chatted easily to DorkySon, who was still just a wee sprout at that time, and got down on the floor to build Lego towers with him.

P was one of those rare, sweet people who was always easy company. No matter how long we left between visits, we could pick up right where we left off, without any awkwardness. Had I known that conversation would be the last we’d have, there are many things I would have taken the chance to say, not least how much his friendship meant to me.

As one of the oldest in our year, P was among the first to hit every age-related milestone. If he were still here, he would have turned thirty this weekend.

Perhaps because we remember how good he was at keeping in touch and reaching out, a lot of his friends have been making contact with each other this weekend. We have been texting and emailing, acknowledging how sad and strange we feel that he is gone. Our lives seem quieter without his laugh, his teasing, his crap taste in music.

But we are sure, every last one of us, that we are better people for having known him.

Happy Birthday, P.

We miss you.

43 responses

  1. I lost a close friend too soon too, though I hadn’t know him as long as you knew P. And I think of him often, particularly wondering what he would have thought of the kids as he never met them. Happy Birthday to your friend; he was obviously a well loved man.

  2. I didnt know him well Ruth, but my goodness you have caused a few tears in my eyes with your words. congrats on a highly emotive and beautiful post.🙂

  3. Big hugs Ruth. He sounds a lovely, sweet guy. It’s almost surreal when those close to us are suddenly gone, and yet we can still hear their laugh, or picture their smiles, and recall the last time we spoke. Know how it feels honey and can only say that it’s a testament to P that so many people remember him fondly xxxx

  4. What a beautiful blog Ruth. I’m on the bus home from work and it made me smile and shed a tear.
    It’s terrible that we only have memories rather than the person but what fond memories we all have!
    I also remember him being very welcoming when I joined primary school – the fact that I was a girl and he as a 10 year old boy might be deemed uncool by being my friend never seemed to be an issue for him.
    He was an incredibly generous and gifted person who is missed by so many.
    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings. It’s brought back very happy, but emotional memories xxx

  5. A lovely tribute. I immediately thought of the poem ‘Death is Nothing at All’ by Henry Scott Holland when I was reading your post. P sounds the epitome of the perfect gentleman.

  6. A lovely post. Tears in my eyes. I’m glad you are able to write about this now, it really helps the grieving process. I’m sure he would appreciate this post, and be pleased he brought you back together with old friends.
    No one should die so young.
    This really is a tragedy. Everyone cuddle their loved ones a bit tighter tonight, and remind them you love them.
    RIP. x

  7. What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful friend. He sounds like a true gem, and it is lovely you are honouring his memory with his writing. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a close friend like this. Much love x

  8. What a beautiful post for such a warm, special friend – the whole chronology of your relationship – loved the moment in the bath, and that he had time for everyone. Such folk, no matter their length of time on this physical plain, always remind us how to live life, and live with each other. So lovely that you all reached out to each other. You reminded me of a friend – we both went to drama club together – who passed in a crash aged 16 – it was so, so sad, and again another lovely soul. So sorry you had to loose such an important friend, and a lovely, lovely post. X.

    • Oh goodness, I’m so sorry to hear that you lost a dear friend so early too. There is no rhyme or reason to it, and no way to make sense of it. Good to have happy memories though. Thank you for reading and for such a lovely thoughtful comment x

  9. An utterly beautiful tribute to someone who sounds very special indeed. When I lost a family member unexpectedly recently, something someone said to me helped. They told me that change is part of life and that failure to accept it means we can never be happy. Death and losing someone is change, but it doesn’t have to be one that we can’t come to terms with or accept. I remember the man I lost fondly and celebrate his memories, keeping them alive with stories about him and taking the time to think about him when I’m reminded of something he said or did. There is no pattern to death, especially when we lose someone so young and unexpectedly. It’s cruel and sad and heartless. Celebrate those happy moments and cherish them always, it makes their life – however short – mean something more than the circumstances of their death.xx

  10. A beautiful tribute to a dear friend. He sounds like he was one of the good ones. Birthdays and anniversaries will always be hard but it is good to talk about the happy times and remember him for the special man he was xx

  11. Pingback: Cheerio 2013! « dorkymum

  12. I love your post about your friend and his loss to you. I lost a friend once not through death but by my own bad actions. I said things to her about why I had chosen her as a friend that were, I’m so sorry to say,words that hurt her. I was lacking in insight and empathy or I would never have done as I did. My words were true but should never have been spoken. She was my best friend and I lost her. I hope I never make a mistake like that again! I am so glad that you had your friend P for all that time!

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