Things You Only Know If… Your Best Friend Has Died

Including the fact that posting on her Facebook wall might sound morbid. But it really helps.


by Alice Carder |
Published on

Have you ever tried to imagine what the worst thing that could ever happen to you would be, and how you’d get through it? Losing my best friend Rita was pretty high up on my list. But I couldn't have comprehended what that would really mean until, on August 4th 2012, Rita was away travelling in Bolivia and her bus crashed down a mountain.

The next few days, weeks, months were a blur. Sometimes the pain was so bad it manifested itself physically, burning a hole right through my chest so all the air escaped and I found myself literally gasping for breath. And then one day, I suddenly realised that one of the most tragic things I could ever have imagined had happened and I was still here. It wasn’t easy, but I was doing it. This revelation filled me with an unshakeable confidence in my own strength - I know that no matter how hard life gets I will get through it.

Still, her death - and my grieving - has taught me many things. Including the fact I'm stronger than I thought I was. Here's what else:

**That your best friend will find new ways to change your life, even after they’ve gone

**Six months after Rita died, I took a lone trip to Thailand to learn to dive. Admittedly I was terrified, but I thought about Rita bravely embarking on her adventure round South America and off I went into the unknown. Every time I feel scared or nervous, and before every new venture I embark on I think of her. Rita made me realise it is better to risk everything and live fully than risk nothing and not live at all.

**That grief is the last big taboo that no-one wants to talk about

**Losing Rita is the biggest thing that has happened to me in my life, yet I barely ever talk about it. And neither does anyone else. Grief it seems is far more taboo than that sex party I went to last summer and less palatable than gonorrhea. Some people look scared. Others ask for details and I feel like I’m giving a news report. Occasionally some perceptive soul realises I just need a hug, and it feels like the physical force of my grief is so powerful, so tangible it might knock them over. Maybe they can feel it too - maybe that’s why nobody wants to talk about it.

**That loss is a fundamental part of life

**My therapist told me this one. We grow up, we move house, we leave school, we part from friends, lovers, jobs, our youth, our looks and eventually our life. But these losses are natural and if the glass were half full we’d call them progression. When she first said it, I wanted to scream at her that grief isn’t the same thing - losing someone before you were ready is not like moving house. But she was right. I had to accept what had happened as part of life.

**That alcohol doesn’t help. But silence does

**Drinking and looking for outside distractions does not help. Counselling helped. Talking to friends helps. Writing helps. But where I’ve seen real progression is in meditation, being alone with my thoughts, learning to accept and let go.

That you will keep talking to them

I still write Facebook messages to Rita and post things that make me think of her. Even though she never writes back, it comforts me to still be able to communicate with her in some way.

**That grief makes you forget things

**When Rita first died I couldn’t bear to look at photos of her. I once braved her Facebook profile at work and found myself sitting there an hour later, snot and tears spattered across my keyboard. But now photos, memories and stories are all I have and I am grateful every time I discover a new one. Because grief has stolen a lot of my memories. There are fragments of memories that return when I’m least expecting it, but there are numb blank spots too - like some sort of twisted defence mechanism.

**You learn to cope with your grief, but it doesn’t go away

**It hits you just as hard every time it resurfaces. An ex-lover once told me that breaking up with her previous partner was the same as me loosing Rita, but it’s just not - the fundamental difference is that they are still alive. You could hear their voice again. The difference is possibility is still there.

'What would Rita say?' My mum asked me once as I screeched down the phone, hot tears streaming down my face.

'I don’t know,' I replied, 'that’s the whole point I never knew what she was going to say, that’s why I want to ask her, to find out.' Such was the delightful element of surprise that kept the friendship so rich all those years, I couldn’t for the life of me imagine what wondrous string of words would come out of her mouth next, even if I wanted to.

Dedicated to Rita McAndrew and all who love her

Follow Alice on Twitter @AliceCarder

Photograph: Eylul Aslan

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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