Friends who die in winter: what is their problem? Couldn’t they wait until spring, and let us leave our overcoats at home instead of facing the choice of wearing them in church, and being too hot, or hanging them in the vestibule and shivering in the pews? Could they not allow us to linger as we spill out of the service, and smile sadly in the watery sunlight, and agree it was a lovely tribute, and ask each other how we’re doing, and what are you up to now, and have you heard from that friend who isn’t here, who did that thing, and god, how weird was that?
Friends who die in winter make it difficult for us. Everyone’s unwell at this time of year, so how are we to distinguish our heartfelt sobs from the sniffles of the common herd, and their common colds? Any fool can catch a cold, and many do, and now they deploy them to mock the dignity of our grief. Meanwhile, the germs they spread may bring us down as well, and if the virus turns to an infection in the chests of those of us who are advanced in years, it may give the karmic wheel a crucial shove, and our friends will end up cursing us in turn for dying inconsiderately in these cold, damp days. People should think these things through, and wait for milder weather before they make their move.
My friend has died in winter. What was he thinking? He could have chosen a better time. My preference would be that season called never. The one that leaves each year intact, and makes no subtraction from our happiness. Never: that would work for me. Or he could, at least, have waited till I’d gone. I was older than him, after all. No respect, that’s the trouble with young people today.
And what am I supposed to do with all the love I had for him? Surely it’s not healthy to have a surplus. Could I monetise it, like everything else these days? Frankly, I’d prefer to squander it as recklessly as possible. Or perhaps I should spread it around, and try to redress at least one of the inequalities he despised so much, and worked so hard to end. But love has no economy, and every day it swells inside me, a fresh supply with no demand to satisfy it. I’ll need to find new customers eventually, otherwise my heart will grow grotesquely heavy, and burst from its confinement, and I’ll have to carry it around with me in a wheelbarrow.
And what about my laughter? Who will release it now? He was the only one who could undo the valve all the way, and now he’s gone, and taken the spanner with him. But wait. Did he pass it on before he left? If he has an heir, I must seek them out, like a monk searching for the new incarnation of a holy Lama, scouring the world’s remotest outposts, until I find a small child whose smile and voice and restless eyes I will recognise in an instant, with a shout of mad religious wonder, and I will fall at their feet, and anoint them in the glory of my blissful laughter, and my friend will live again. But that’s a dream, of course, and in time it should fade. And when it does, perhaps one day I’ll find myself shaking once again with the kind of laughter only he was able to unleash. It won’t be the same, and I’ll have to stop wanting it to be, but it’s my task to clear the space for it to happen. I’ll take a leaf from his book, and make generosity my watchword, and hope it works eventually. Maybe it will. But not yet. I’m not ready to agree that love and laughter are limitless, and I can’t yet believe in alchemy again when the only alchemist I knew has gone.
My friend has died in winter, and perhaps it’s for the best. We won’t feel the loss of his warmth so keenly when we’re already shivering in a harsh season. It would be worse to be enjoying spring or summer, or be underdressed in the optimistic glow of autumn, and suddenly to feel the chill of his departure. This way, we won’t notice it so much. That must be it. In the end, as always, he was simply being kind.
RIP Jeremy Hardy