Monday Mournings: The Death of a Friend

I'm Amanda. I live in North Yorkshire, right on the edge of the Dales - commonly known as God's Own Country. We moved here ten years ago from London. I'm a drama tutor on the shady side of 40, married for 20 years and with a 16 year old son. I blog mostly about drama, gaming and bits and pieces of my life but in the end it all boils down to an over-riding interest in story-telling. After finding the Deathwriter's blog during the A-Z challenge, I became a follower. We don't talk enought about death or the dying.

DW:  Who was the person that died?

Amanda:  Sue was one of my closest friends. We'd known each other for around 15 years at the time of her death in 2007. I'm writing about her partly as a tribute to an amazing human being, and partly because we talked at length about her impending death.

DW:  How old were you at the time?

Amanda:  43

DW:  How old was Sue?

Amanda:  43

DW:  Was it a sudden death or did you know it was going to happen?

Amanda:  It felt sudden, but wasn't. Sue drank heavily and had done so for years. She collapsed at the end of 2006 when her liver started to give up and died of liver failure in November 2007. She phoned me in August 2007 when she'd been rejected for a liver transplant and told me she was going to die. I spent a lot of time traveling backwards and forwards to London to visit her in the hospital after that, but we'd been talking nearly daily for several months before that. Sue was a very tough lady indeed. She outlasted all the medical predictions and several near death scares.

DW:  So you said earlier that you and Sue talked about her death.  Tell me about that.

Amanda:  Oh yes. We talked a lot. Rather obliquely at times. Sue knew she was dying, and made all the arrangements for her funeral. She asked me to write her eulogy, and threatened to come back to haunt me if it didn't do her justice. It was a strange situation. We chatted pretty much every day, and she became very frightened. Those were bad times. She hated the hospital and fought very hard to get out and into a nursing home, where she felt she would be a person rather than a collection of malevolent symptoms. It wasn't so much death that worried her, as the slipping away of her own sense of being a person, mostly engendered by the hospital. She did make it to a nursing home and was happy there for a month before she finally slipped into the coma she never woke up from.

DW:  Had you experienced any other deaths in your personal life before Sue died?

Amanda:  I'd lost both my parents by then. Both were very much expected deaths - my father had been ill for years and had a proper Victorian deathbed with the family around him - going extremely peacefully. My mother fought tooth and nail and it was awful. There were my own three miscarriages, and the sudden death of an ex-lover who was epileptic and drowned in a bath. I wouldn't say death has stalked me at all, but by the time Sue's illness was clear, it was at least a familiar path.

DW:  Were people supportive of your grief or did they shy away when you were grieving?

Amanda:  Sue's death was remarkably bonding. She had a gift for friendship and a lot of people came together over the last months of her life to support her and each other.

DW:  Is there anything you wish you'd done differently with this person?

Amanda:  On a practical level, I wish we'd been living closer. Emotionally, while it was appalling in some ways to watch her disintegrating and being frightened, it felt right to be there for her. This was her time, not mine.

DW:  Was she buried or cremated?

Amanda:  Sue had the funeral she had planned in every detail and was cremated. 

DW:  Did you learn anything about the grieving process that you'd like to share?

Amanda:  Writing the eulogy was the most helpful thing for me. It helped me to clarify exactly how much I valued Sue and how and why I missed her. It might sound fanciful to say that it allowed me to edit my grief, but in a way that's exactly what happened. The first impact of a death is so overwhelming that all you can feel is pain in a big indeterminate blob. Writing about it turned the pain into sharp specific points, but also became a happy thing to do, ensuring that the memories were kept clear. 

Click here to read Amanda's eulogy for Sue

DW:  What music did she have at her memorial?

Amanda:  Being Sue, she picked some specific music for her funeral. "Mr Slater's Parrot" by the Bonzo Dog DooDah Band, the final chorus from Bach's St Matthew Passion, and the madrigal from Ruddigore ("When the buds are blossoming").

Thank you so much Amanda for sharing your experience!  It's been a pleasure.  And without further ado...

This one goes out to Sue