Last week I had some sad news : a friend of mine, John, had died suddenly over the weekend. I was in shock for a few days. It didn’t seem right or fair or even possible. How could this happen? He simply fell whilst walking to his car in a car park, hit his head and suffered a major bleed in his brain. And that was it. Gone.
A mutual friend of ours phoned to let me know. I couldn’t quite grasp what she was telling me. It couldn’t be true. I sat at my desk at work and cried. I had lost other people before, but they had been elderly (Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, parents of friends etc) and although it had been very sad at the time, it didn’t affect me the way this loss did. The funny thing is, John himself was 76 years old and that would be considered elderly by some people. But I didn’t see him that way. He was part of my group of friends – I didn’t see him as a Grandfatherly figure or as an old guy. I didn’t treat him any differently to my other friends. I talked to him in the same way I did with all my buddies. He’d send me dirty jokes and rude emails. He and his wife travelled a lot to far flung places, right up until this last year, where I am pretty sure they would have been planning their next getaway. He volunteered, after retirement, within the courts system and supported victims of crime. He was fit and healthy, liked a beer or two and was adventurous and spirited. He was just, well, John.
To have him gone is just weird. I feel the loss of his presence in the world like I haven’t done before with anyone else. He’d be pleased about that. He’d probably tease me about it, actually. Our little group of friends won’t be the same. It will be hard getting through those first few outings, dinners and get togethers. There will definitely be a feeling of something missing, though we’ve all agreed we must continue meeting as a group – he would want that and would disapprove of any moping about.
John’s death has made me look at my own life (isn’t that what these moments are supposed to do?). At his funeral, he was fondly remembered and it wasn’t a solemn affair at all – there was laughter and smiles as his life was celebrated. I watched his wife and although her pain was obvious, she also smiled through the service and laughed with her son when memories of John were shared. I noticed the closeness of her little family – that is always an indication of a life well-lived and a person well-loved – and hoped that that closeness would protect and comfort her in the sad days ahead. I can’t imagine what she is going through and I was glad to see she had support.
While John was 35 years older than me, I never thought of that age difference at all. Whether that’s because I don’t feel my age, or because I didn’t see him as the age he was, it made me think about the expectations and pre-conceived notions we attach to different ages. I didn’t think of John as “old” because he didn’t do all the things “old” people are “supposed” to do. But then I think of all the things someone of my age is “supposed” to have done, I find I am falling short of expectations also. I don’t have my own home (I rent), I’m not married (recently divorced) and I don’t and won’t have children. I haven’t figured out what I am going to do when I grow up and I have no idea about things like superannuation (sure, I have it but don’t ask me how much) or mortgages or even tax returns (I do them, but I don’t understand them and can’t quite figure out why I get screwed every year by the tax department, even though I earn less than just about everyone I know). People often think I am much younger than my actual age and this is probably due to the fact I don’t particularly ACT my age. But I don’t even know what that means. John did not consider me a failure because I was doing things a little differently. In fact, he delighted in my sense of humour (which can be a little bit sarcastic and offbeat) and applauded anything I was doing, if I was doing it with honesty and courage.
Most of the time I am happy with who I am. I think I’m a good person. I try to live tolerantly and with empathy for others. But I don’t always treat myself with the same respect. I get far more disappointed in myself and frustrated with my own failings, far more than I would with anyone else. I speak harshly to myself and berate myself for the smallest of mistakes and misjudgements. But part of this, I suppose, is due to thinking about expectations I am not meeting. So I need to be kinder. To myself. I need to believe that while my path in life may be very different to anyone else’s, it is just as valid and worthy. So I can’t balance my cheque book – big deal. I can pay my own bills and keep food on the table and a roof over my head. Maybe I don’t own that roof, but it’s a start.
Rest in Peace, John. You were an example to us all of a life well-lived, a life that exceeded and defied expectations.
I, for one, will miss you very much x