Dealing with the Death of a Friend (in and out of lockdown)

In May 2020 one of my closest and kick ass friends Ellie died aged 39, after a 2-year intensive battle with cancer. I have lost people before, but this was different in that we all went through the journey with her – from the misdiagnosis at the start, to the announcement that she had a 10cm tumour (that she lovingly named Thor), to her denial and vigorous fight for her life, which continued until the end. It was devastating for everyone who knew her and 2 weeks before she died, when cancer had ravaged her body, she looked at me terrified and with tears in her eyes and said “I’m dying”. This image will stay with me forever as she loved life and loved being alive. She did not want to go.

Elie died 2 months into lockdown. In a way lockdown delayed real life kicking in and put grief in a weird state of suspension. I grieved of course but life wasn’t normal, so I didn’t feel the full implications of this loss. Emerging from lockdown shone light onto many things and grief was suddenly real and multidimensional. I was grieving the loss of my friend, I was grieving the loss of my business, I was grieving the loss of community, I was grieving the loss of freedom. It all seemed to come at once and I felt incredibly isolated and fragile.

Ellie was a person who always made plans and we had a string of glossy events and meet ups throughout the year to look forward to. She loved planning and I knew that however mundane or challenging life was, we would always meet up and have a blast. Money was no object and boy did she love to treat her friends. Covid annihilated having things to look forward to and I remember coming out of lockdown feeling that there was no future, everything was unstable, moveable and it was impossible to plan. Where had our lives gone?

When Ellie died, I wanted to get a tattoo. I have never felt the urge before, but it felt right to have something I could look at that was in memorial of such an incredible woman. Grief is ongoing and mutates and evolves. Having a tattoo stirred up so many feelings – it was a profound experience. Ellie was suddenly everywhere, she was in my thoughts, I could hear her voice and kept re-running times we spent together. I felt the loss acutely. This is 16 months after she died. The tattoo acted as an anchor to her, to what she gave me and to a part of myself that was lost when she died. It reads “Beautiful” in Buffy The Vampire Slayer font (which we worshipped). Ellie used to call me her “beautiful friend” and she used the word a lot – “the restaurant was BEAUTIFUL”, “the dress was BEAUTIFUL”, “the food was BEAUTIFUL”, “the flowers were BEAUTIFUL”.

I think what is hard when you lose a loved one is that the grief doesn’t just stop. You don’t “get over” someone dying. When people have stopped asking how you are, you are there in your own head trying to push forward with your life but feeling as if you are wading through heavy water. Some days it is easier than others, but it is always there. A feeling of having to push on, knowing that there is a big, gaping hole in your life where your friend used to be and that nothing can fill it. There is no quick fix, there is no replacement person, wine just makes you feel rough, and there is nowhere to run away to. It’s just the feeling of intense loss of that beautiful and one-of-a-kind human that you loved so much. I have tried to philosophise, do things that make me feel good, make new friends etc but the hole remains. I guess the more brightly someone shines the bigger the hole they leave. Ellie’s in this case is EPIC! (as she would say).

2 Replies

  • Totally agree with you about how lockdown has affected grief. Especially not being able to go to her funeral, the reality of her not being here has never quite hit. I still struggle immensely with the fact I kept trying to see her after her birthday but she didn’t seem to want to make a concrete plan and I wish we’d done a night/day of Buffy and snacks, I don’t know why it never happened and I get really upset thinking she didn’t want to see me, though I know she was dealing with far more than I’ll ever know and it’s not about me, then I feel guilty. Wish I could talk to her. I’m glad she had you there Michaela and I can imagine that last time for you must be haunting. I remember her telling me in hospital she had come to terms with dying but not with saying goodbye to her babies, then burst out crying. I just had no words, I just hugged her and told her how could she, it’s impossible. She’d been so strong it was a reality check that she was of course terrified. I am in awe of how strong she was and she’d always ask and try to help with whatever troubles I had which I always felt silly telling her about, but I guess who wants to talk about their Cancer all the time?! She was simply the most amazing friend and I wish I could offer some help to fill the void you now have. The tattoo is a great tribute, she’d be proud. Miss her so much. Xx

    • She was amazing and it was hard not being at the funeral to say a proper goodbye. I guess it makes her feel all the more around? It was hard to know sometimes what to say as cancer was that massive elephant in the room wasn’t it? It’s such a horrendous disease as it takes everything you are. xx

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