Just thinking about it, thinking about writing about it, makes my heart beat faster. I have trouble breathing. My body starts shaking. The tears well up in my eyes. And I can remember everything. I remember where I was. I remember what I was wearing. I remember what I was listening to. I can’t listen to that CD any more – it brings back the pain. I remember how I felt. I can bring up those feelings so easily even though it’s been six years.

I lived in south west England at Othona at the time. I was volunteering as a Core Community member at this retreat centre that was so much more than just a retreat centre. The phone rang in our small house in the middle of the night. No one got up to get it. I heard it ringing, but was too slow. I figured it was just a wrong number. The next morning the phone rang again. This time it was for me, a call from home, so unusual in the middle of the week, especially in the morning. It was my friend. Her voice was shaking, and she told me “She’s gone. Her mom found her… hanging.” It was two in the morning back home but that didn’t seem to matter. My friend couldn’t sleep – I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Just three months prior I had lost another close friend while in England, and my world had fallen apart. I couldn’t believe it was happening again. I wasn’t ready to leave England, but there was no way that I could miss the funeral. No way. It was suggested that I go home for two weeks, attend the funeral, and come back to Othona.

When I hung up the phone and called my parents. At five in the morning they received a call from their daughter, half way across the world, crying, sobbing, and angry. Angry that this would happen again. Angry that she would do this to me when she knew how hurt I was the first time it happened. Devastated at the loss of my best friend, someone I’d known and loved since elementary school.

She died on Wednesday. The funeral was Saturday with a visitation on Friday. With the help of some wonderful people I was able to book a flight home. I couldn’t call the airlines because I couldn’t speak without breaking out into tears. I couldn’t pay for my ticket because the airlines wouldn’t accept foreign credit cards. One of my colleagues made the calls and used his credit card to pay for my flight – $1100 for a round trip (and this was six years ago), but it didn’t matter. I didn’t sleep that night. I packed my things and got ready to leave the next day. Two of my colleagues drove me to the airport early in the morning. That was one of the longest flights of my life. I didn’t want anyone to ask me where I was going or why. I wouldn’t be able to answer them without breaking down.

When I got off the plane my family was waiting for me at the airport. I hugged them and got in the car. As we drove home I yelled and screamed and cried. My family lovingly held me, wishing they could change what had happened, but knowing that they couldn’t.

That night I met with the other girls in my group of friends. We called people to let them know what had happened. We called everyone we could think of, even our grade six teacher. We pulled together pictures for the funeral home and spent time reflecting on what had happened. It felt so weird being home when I wasn’t supposed to be.

My girlfriends from England, Canadians and Americans that I went to school with, drove and flew in. They dropped everything to be with me. They were an amazing support system, and for that I am eternally grateful. They had been through the death of our other friend with me and knew what needed to be done. We talked about the loss of our friend, and the subsequent loss of my best friend. We laughed and we cried. They were my strength when I felt that I had been abandoned.

I met with my grade six teacher. She took me out for coffee. She had lost her brother to a gun and her father to cancer within six months of each other. It had been years ago, but that doesn’t matter. The one thing that she said that has stuck with me all these years is her description of death. She talked about it being like a huge shadow that overcomes your whole life. It makes it difficult to move without being in the shadow. But, as the years go by the shadow begins to lessen. Eventually it becomes so small that it can fit in your pocket. It never goes away, it just becomes easier to deal with. It’s true. That shadow is forever in my heart. I can’t get rid of it. It sits there, most days just reminding me of my friend. But some days, mostly the ones closer to her death date, it gets bigger. Harder to manage. Harder to control.

I went back to Othona. To the sanctuary that held me for two months before I returned to school. I immersed myself in creating community and connections with visitors to our centre. I spent time by the sea, an amazing source of renewal. I cried, and I healed. But not completely. I don’t think I ever will. I am still anxious. Scared that I will lose those closest to me again. Afraid that I will have to endure that pain again. It’s gotten better, but it will never go away.

It makes me sad that my friend never met Jeff. He doesn’t know this person who played such an important part in my life. She never met the man that I married. Her parents came to our wedding, they were amazing, but I really wish that it would have been her that was there on my special day.

So now, every July 3rd I remember. I remember the pain and the grief that has made a permanent home in this body. I remember the loss of my dear friend. And then I try to move forward. To appreciate my friends and my family even more than I normally would. To live life to the fullest. To remember what has happened, and to try affect change in people so that it doesn’t have to happen again.


~ by dawseng on July 3, 2008.

5 Responses to “Remembering…”

  1. I am sending you huge bear hug for you over the many miles apart we are. I know today is a tough one for you as you remember….

  2. I know this is late, but I just read this, and can’t stop crying. I can’t fully ever imagine how you felt then or how you feel now. But, I think you are amazing. I’m not saying that as a platitude or just because. I am thinking and praying for you and sending you the biggest hug I can on cyberspace. And the next time I see you, there will be one in person. Just know you make a difference and you are loved.

  3. Thanks for the love girls. It’s definitely a topic that brings tears to my eyes.

  4. I love you Jen and love the way you remember. Yoau have revealled your heart. Here’s a big hug from me.

  5. Jen- what a story. I’m so glad to know this unfortunate tragedy that has shaped you so much. I only pray that with it, you grow stronger each year as you remember July 3.

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