Saturday, 21 March 2009

Unasked for life

The only two certain things in life are they say, death and taxes. Yet we never expect either. Why would we, in the prime of our lives? Natatsha Richardson's untimely death this week shocked everyone. Not because we knew her, or felt like we did (she wasn't tabloid fodder ground into our consiousness) but simply because she was so young, and her death so unnecessary. One minute she was laughing and enjoying skiing in powdery snow and the next - a tumble that she brushed off, which would prove fatal.

How her family must have wished to rewind those few minutes - tiny moments that have now changed their lives forever. It made me sad - perhaps because it reminded me of dear friends of mine, who lost their eldest daughter in a few small cruel moments. She was driving on a wet road - the car skidded on mud - and she was gone. Just like that. One minute Rachel was a 29 year old woman (friend, sister, daughter, girlfriend, colleague) on her way to work and then she had left us. Her younger sister is one of my best friends - we have known each other since we were 15. Another schoolmate Caroline(my flatmate of the time) rang me to break the news. It was April. The 27th. A Thursday. She could hardly speak she was so numb. I remember my head was covered in foils and I quietly asked my hairdresser to hurry along - I needed to leave quickly. I rang another friend who asked me to repeat myself - she couldn't, or wouldn't accpet the news. Young people don't just die. It isn't right - it can't be, can it?

We all gathered in the bar Caroline ran. We didn't know what to say or do - we just had to gather. Being together somehow felt right. We booked flights home. Cancelled everything. Nothing mattered but being there for our friend Hannah and her family. We knew there was nothing we could do to help - but we wanted to with every bone in our bodies. By being there we were doing something.

I remember hiring a car - getting lost on route and unable to find the reverse gear I wept and screamed until a man approached from a farmhouse and showed me how easy it was. He looked at me like I was mad. I arrived at the house and it felt like a party was in full flow. This was a house that had known great parties. You never crossed the threshold without tasting incredible food or having your glass refilled time and again. This house to me was a source of comfort for teenage angst. Where I felt welcomed and wanted. The whole family made you feel that way. So it wasn't surprising that the house was full. People spilled out of rooms and whisky and wine flowed and Rachel's Mother Anne - a woman I love dearly - kept saying how ironic it was - as Rachel would have loved such a gathering. Behind the warmth and love that flowed through that house was a deep, deep sadness. A feeling that things would never be the same within the four walls again.

I stayed the night - and the next morning we sat on Rachel's parent's bed. Anne had found her daughter's baby weighing book and showed it to us. I wasn't a Mother then - but now I realise that no matter the age, your child is always your baby in your heart. The time I spent with the family over the next few days is too private for this humble blog - because my memories are so acute, but they are not really mine to share. Those 5 days in Ireland stay with me -it felt like we were all in a bubble; somewhat surreal, almost like a lost world we visited. In true Irish fashion there were many laughs, long hugs, too much wine and tears that just kept rolling. Just when... well not 'normality' set in - but a moment where we would be washing dishes or attending to the mundane tasks of living, a fresh visitor would arrive and in their touching grief we would reminded that this was not a gathering for a festivity. Just as joy unites us - so does grief.

I remember looking at Rachel's photo on the wall and wishing with all my heart that she was still there. I didn't know her very well - she was always funny and direct and super smart whenever I had met her - but I knew the loved ones she left behind - and it broke my heart (it still does) to see them in pain.

I look at the papers and see photos of a haunted looking Liam Neeson and wish the press would just bugger off and leave him alone. This is a private time for him and his family. Their loss is not for the world to encroach upon. From what I know of death and grief - which is little, I know that the mourning never stops. There is never an Xmas or a birthday that is ever the same again. How can it be with someone dear missing? Life forces you to continue living - but as Rachel's father Ashley always says 'in this new and unasked for life.'

We celebrate weddings and christenings and birthdays and every milestone in life - and yet we seem so unequipped to deal with death. When the young are lost in their prime everything feels so unjust and wrong. We lose our faith in the long life we all expect to have. I have no idea how to end this post. Everything feels so inadequate. So I'll go back to my roots and raise a glass to you Rachel, wherever you may be now. Gone, but never forgotten.

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