In our early twenties, Mark and I were one couple in a group of four. There was us, Chris and Sue, Colin and Shirley and Michael and Emma, together in the time before babies and mortgages. Spending New Year together and grouped around noisy tables at wedding, we never had it so good before or probably after.
Of the eight of us, only Chris and Sue stayed together. Sadly we lost Michael in his early thirties, and like Mark and I, Colin and Shirley split up. Our Halcyon days splintered with each break-up and I think the death of his best friend Michael, was probably one of the catalysts for Mark leaving me, when the possibility of happiness could clearly be so very easily be snatched away.
Ten days ago I was in bed, reading and sipping tea when the phone rang. It was a friend telling me that Colin had died of a heart attack, suddenly, while playing football, at the age of forty-one. I put the phone down and shook a little. Then phoned Mark, and listened to him sob, mumble and try to make sense of something utterly nonsensical.
Mark grew up with Colin and so many of his best memories are tied up with a man who could have us giggling even before he opened his mouth. Though it never makes sense to say that he was one of the ones that should not have been taken so young: in this case it is true – both him and Michael were special. There are no other words to describe them, and both of them died with little boys still so very much needing their Daddies, that I can hardly bear to think about it.
And so there we were, Mark and I, eight miles and twenty years ago apart, remembering what was. What would never be now. For the first time since he left, I wished I was next to him, so that instead of him climbing into bed next to Hannah, who could never know why this hurts so very much, I could hold his hand and say, yes, this is why this hurts. This then is what we are crying for.
Today Colin was buried in a sea of mourners wearing the blue of his favourite football team. Immensely popular as Colin was, I imagine the church was packed, people squeezing in to say a last goodbye to a darling of a man. I say imagine for I wasn’t there. Mark was carrying the coffin and at the final hurdle I couldn’t bring myself to go. To not be able to comfort him as he tried to hold back the tears would be too hard. To have to stand near his pregnant wife, knowing that my presence would irritate her and make the funeral even harder to bear for him. To be among people I used to call friends, just too difficult. And so I didn’t go. I couldn’t.
Instead I went out early. I prowled around the library and then sat trying to read a book over coffee. Losing two men out of four seems both intolerable and unjust, and it is deaths of this kind that make us question the lives we are living. Whether we are packing enough joy into our days and whether we understand truly what it is to be alive. Why we have to be grateful each and every day, and kiss our babies every time we leave the room…
Both Colin and Micheal were living life as hard as they could and the world is a lesser place without them. May they both be sitting at heavens bar together, remembering all the good times.x