The first month.

I’ve not spoken to you for a month. That in itself, is not so hard to take. I also didn’t speak to you for a month in July when I was abroad. I didn’t speak to you for a month last year when you were away. And so a month without speaking to you is not, historically, that bizarre. But this month is different, because I can get over not speaking to you specifically for a month but I’ve spoken to our gang far more, almost daily. And we’ve always all been tangled together, so why is your voice not chiming in? Where are you on the Facebook threads and group texts?

Part of me imagines that maybe we’ll catch up in a couple months. That still seems likely, though somewhere I know it is not. I can accept you’re not here right now, and we had this big goodbye and all these associated emotions and feelings, but I cannot accept that it is all over, I cannot accept the never-ness of death. And by “never-ness” I mean I can accept that you haven’t spoken to me this month, but I cannot accept that you will never speak to me again. Or that I will never see you again. We will never hang out again. That stupid “never” bit, that’s the bit I can’t make sense of. Those statements simply don’t seem possible; rather than solid fact they are incomprehensible theories I’m trying to digest.

Progress, if it can be called that, has been slow. I hesitate to use the word “progress”, are we progressing? Most of the time it just feels like the world is hurtling forwards into the future whilst I stand there mutely, gaping; as if time had become a spectator sport and I’m on the sidelines trying to work out the rules. But I guess I am slowly progressing. I’ve stopped crying so much. I’m sleeping better, even if just from exhaustion. I regained my appetite pretty quickly and have actually put on quite a lot of weight. Walking around and being active seems to take more effort, so I’ve been sat down more, and eating later in the day.

Really I’ve been coping better then any of us would have guessed, all things considered. And even though you’re not here now I can imagine you, and it’s like there’s enough of you here being worried about me reverting to my Laila coping mechanisms of the past for me to avoid them. I know you’d be worried, like James and Will are now, so my mind is supplying my old habits but I, crucially, am not doing them. It’s funny, because you’d think if any of us would die early it would be me. But for some reason that hasn’t happened, and I am still here and you are not, so maybe there’s something I still need to do, or maybe these things are just random, or maybe somebody somewhere is laughing at us, or maybe fate screwed up and that’s that, “oops sorry guys, can’t go back though, better luck next time”. Fuck off, fate.

Grief, my other new pal, has been taking it’s toll. I’ve got 12 grey hairs now instead of 2. My eyesight has continued getting worse. My short-term memory is completely fucked; this would be terrible in any line of work but is particularly bad for rehearsals and teaching. And my focus is mostly gone; I feel overwhelmed by what I was doing before. E-mails are just stacking up; how was I running a business and teaching 80 kids and being part of other ensembles and doing all this other stuff? Just getting to work on time is an effort. Just waking up is a boulder.

I say that, but somehow stuff is still happening. I went to Isle Of Wight as planned, just 4 days after you left. I had 5 planned gigs this month; I did all of them. I went to Frankfurt. I threw that party. I went to Thanksgiving with my family. I organised a Christmas concert for my private pupils; it’s next week, you probably would have come if you could because it’s in your neck of the woods. Biggest of all I rehearsed the band for Quizcats, staged the show, presented the quiz, ran the whole thing; it felt like a Trojan effort. I had to summon every potential drop of heroism I had to succeed on that day. I’m not sure I’ll have to work that hard for anything ever again.

People have been trying to help. People often try to offer help they can’t give; my Mum for example. If I want to talk she’s there, but like she said, what does she know of this? She’s never lost a friend, not even a family member, with their weird survive-y genes. It’s weird, the things I need help with are the things you can’t ask for. I don’t need help processing my thoughts about you, but I do want help in that I want to see a friendly face at a gig, because it’s taking all my heroism just to turn up. But you can’t ask people for that kind of help. You ask them to a gig, they think it’s just the same as all the other gigs. It’s looks just the same as it was before, except it is not, because nothing is the same. And thus I wander on.

I’ve written a couple of lengthy posts; not for you or about you but about this weird alternate reality, this vortex-like cavern of grief that I now exist in. I’m not sure why I’m sharing them, but often somebody recognises something in it and momentarily, we can feel like this together. The togetherness helps with the neverness. Most of my usual blog readers have deserted my blog. What is there to entice them now in these essays of grey? It’s hard to be the person I was, remembering, organising, cooking, the one directing the nights out, the one sorting the rehearsals, the one posting the event. The little everyday things. With the big things like processing death and dealing with it and thinking about it, it’s easy, because survival instincts kick in and force you to process, which in my case is just to write it all down, maybe turn it into a song. I’m about 40% present at any given time, my survival instincts clouding my brain, my mind a constant showreel of our million moments together, my ears constantly ringing with the sound of your voice. You’re so clear to me. How can you be gone?

And so, it has been a month, and whilst I can see evidence that time is passing I’m not sure I believe it. The leaves are still orange; I’m not sure they believe it either. But it is, time is passing, and so we go on, we go on, it goes on, days ticking by in a constant rhythm. And even though you are not here, I am somehow keeping in time with everybody else.

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About Funerals.

I don’t know very much about funerals. I don’t know very much because I am young, and I shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of thing, and I shouldn’t have to be going, and I shouldn’t have to be writing about it, and you shouldn’t be dead. I imagine funerals for the people you love always seem to hurtle out of nowhere, greeted by the living in a manic, tear-soaked blur. I imagine everybody staggers through them in a mixture of shellshock, grief, disbelief and autopilot. I imagine there are never right words to say and right ways to behave, because they are always inherently wrong. But I do not know for certain.

We are young. We should not be making speeches and preparing to say goodbye to our friends. That’s the kind of thing parents and grandparents and old people do. Not us. Not now. We’re adults now, but I’ve not felt so much like a child in a long time. I felt helpless the entire day, unable to understand and comprehend what was going on, no idea what was happening, constantly turning to other people for help. A childish voice in my head shouting “Stop! Stop!”. It was overwhelming, unfamiliar, confusing. I felt like a child, and the adults felt less like equals and more like the all-knowing, all-seeing guardians that adults seem to be when you are very young.

You could tell the “adults” because they understand the gestures of the day a bit more. Possibly they have navigated such wearying, bewildering terrain before. Maybe death becomes a little more inevitable, rather than a hideous yet entirely mythical drama (as death is for me). I assume that for adults death is more of an emerging part of the landscape, an unwanted but inescapable horizon. I do not know, because I am young.

The start of the funeral was too soon. We slept late in the morning and there were a few surreal hours; gathered at your parents, food and flowers everywhere. We were all dressed smartly: Will and Dan in matching white shirts and orange ties, me in that mental orange ballgown you loved (I’d forgotten it was so low-cut), Rick walking around handing out orange silk bow-ties. We’d all slept over the night before. It felt a bit like a wedding; people arriving, tasks to do, everybody looking dapper. It was a bit unfamiliar, but in an almost exciting way, mostly because it felt like you just hadn’t arrived yet and you were on your way. It didn’t feel sad. My brain wouldn’t compute that I should feel sad. I spoke to Charlotte and she also felt like this; like it can’t be happening, because it’s not something that should be happening, so it must be that we’re doing something else. Even my rational, educated, thoughtful brain was dumbfounded into shock and despair, preferring to supply illusions rather than accept. I was making endless teas and coffees. One or two people arrived, than a few more, and then suddenly: everyone. Too soon I looked out the window at the driveway. Flashes of orange everywhere; ribbons, hair, shirts, shoes, flowers. And then I remembered we weren’t at a wedding and you were gone and everything went blurry and I started weeping into the sink, Dan next to me, still washing up the empty cups.

Too soon we had to leave the house. I wanted to stop everything and scream, “BUT I’M NOT READY, I HAVEN’T FINISHED MAKING THE TEA”. Grief makes you crazy. You would have loved the procession. You would have been so proud of Sam and Box9. They played incredibly. I’m so glad they were in your life and they could help make your dreams come true. I was just thinking all of this and then we’d reached the end of the procession; it was over too soon, and we stood by the road, and you arrived, and it was the most fucking awful arrival ever and just too bloody soon. It was awful, because it wasn’t you really, but what we still had of you, and even though deep down I knew it wasn’t you, my crazy brain wanted to go over and hug the car, climb onto the back, be with you anyway, in any way I could, no matter.

Too soon we were getting into cars and driving to the service. We sat, us 6, us lot, all together, except not, except missing one, and we held each other and we cried. I had my arms round Blake, my hand on Dan, Will’s hand on my shoulder, Steph passing tissue after tissue, my tears on Dan’s trousers and Blake’s shirt, Blake’s tears on my dress, all of messed up together. Your mum said later we were the noisiest row. We sat in the row reserved for family, right behind your parents and Tim. Like Charlotte said last week, we are each other’s family. We don’t have children and partners and families of our own yet, but we’ve stopped depending on our parents and living with our siblings. We’re between families; we have each other.

I wrote down the barest minimum of my feelings and read them out. Like you so famously said, I’m the “reading and writing one”, so it made sense that it was me (although you probably would have told me to shut up). I didn’t want to talk about these horrible awful last few weeks; who wants to hear more about how shit everything is? I tried to sum us up instead. I don’t have any other friendships as long-lasting and confusing and complex and wonderful, and now I don’t have ours, so I don’t have any. I couldn’t get it down in words, so I just read whatever I had written. I stumbled over the tense, as I have been doing for the last month. Who could have imagined the pain of the past tense, the torture of “was”? I managed not to cry. I got to the end and looked up and everybody else was crying for me. I’ve never felt more grateful for a round of applause. And that is how it was. We stood up and spoke for you and we sat down and cried for you.

And then we had to leave the crematorium and it was too soon and it was awful. My mind was going “this is the last time we’ll all be together, the last room we’ll all be together, us 5” and I just couldn’t walk out of there, away from that huge part of my life where we existed together in many, many rooms and into the next part of my life where we would never exist like that again. We were the last to leave; we stood there and hugged and then left as one, Blake and I looking back for a final glance at your be-ribboned nest, Dans shaking arms round my shoulders. We stood outside, everyone in coats and little groups. The sun had set.

It was exhausting. We drove back from you at about 5pm and even then it felt like it was 1am. The next 7 hours felt like 1am, actually. Why was it so tiring?

We went back to the village hall and it felt a bit like something else; like a party, like a gathering, like a celebration. There were contributions from every aspect of your life and it was incredible. Performances from your friends, your family friends, your pupils, your colleagues, your teachers, your peers, people who’d known you a short time and people who’d known you a very long time indeed. Everybody became friends. Every single performance was brilliant, everybody poured their hearts out, everybody nailed it. We were the most scruffy, but then I guess that’s WOLF PACK and God knows I tried, tried to get that lump out of my throat and just sing the songs. James and I did that Beyonce song, Love On Top; you and me used to argue about the production on the song but were both in agreement that 5 key changes was a bit of a cop-out. James and I did 17 key changes for you. There was so much happiness and joy everywhere and it was a bit like a wedding again; a celebration of pure love. I kept thinking how happy you would have been. It was warm, and friendly, and heartfelt; the sort of thing that could have felt cheesy or clichey but really, really didn’t. It felt unique. And it was wonderful. I didn’t think anything so awful could possibly be wonderful, but it was, and you would have loved it, and if that can be wonderful maybe other things can to.

The weird thing with funerals is seeing so many people you haven’t seen for a long time. How cruel to mastermind all these little reunions and catch-ups for such a horrific day. There were many familiar face amongst the adults. I wanted to speak coherently, but everybody just reminded me of you, and I couldn’t. Thank God for the boys, for the wolves, for the rallying, for the hugs, for the understanding. Even that made me think of you; you lot always worried about me and looked after me. You were there in their mixed hugs and whispered assurances, the shoulder pats, the hand squeezes.

Afterwards almost everybody had gone. I was drifting off, taking in only about 30% of the words directed at me and talking to Sam about how hard it was to stay awake, Dan was doing endless runs to the pub over the road and bringing back all their pint glasses. Weirdly I kept imagining he should have a cape, so heroic was his pint-bearing pilgrimage. We went into the pub, Will got a round in and as I sat between Dan and James waiting for the pint I realised it was the first time in that whole day that felt normal. Here we were, in a little country pub, just us lot, having a pint, no agenda and it was so completely and utterly pedestrian, so run-of-the-mill, so ordinary and us. It could almost have been any one of a million identical nights that came before it. You may as well have been there. Actually, in amongst the jokes, the laughing, the teasing, the bickering over music choices and the downing of 57% rum shots, you were. I’m not religious, or a believer in the afterlife, or anything like that, but I did briefly think; if he’s anywhere, it’s here. Here in the familiar chit-chat, the ethnic jokes, the ginger jokes, the Jesus jokes, the clink of pints, the laughter. And maybe that’s just what we all have to do next; find the places where you still are and go to them.

Maybe that’s what funerals are for. They’re not for the dead; how can they be? What do the dead know? They’re for those of us left behind; they’re a way to show us what happens next, how things can be, how we can be. They’re a reminder of those we hold closest, because we hold them close on the day. We showed our respects; not to you, but to each other. I think this is what funerals are supposed to be for. A declaration of love; for you, for us, for each other. A huge communal hug.

But what do I know? I do not know much, because I am young, and really, so are you. And it is still just all too soon. And I guess in a way, it will always be. ?

On Grief.

It has been 2 days now. Why is time doing this? Why are the days furiously marching on? You were here on Saturday, and then Sunday cruelly arrived and left you behind, left you on Saturday. Why did you do that, Sunday? Why couldn’t we have stayed on Friday a bit longer? I finally fell to sleep yesterday, but when I woke up I found Monday was here. Fucking Monday. Monday belligerently shoved itself in my face, taking me even further away from Saturday, and Friday, and Thursday, and all the days before that which had you in them. Monday is a stubborn, uninvited guest, sitting squarely in front of me and demanding my attention. Fuck off Monday! I don’t want you and I don’t want any other days to come. I want the days I had. You were 25, you deserve the rest of your days. Why can’t time just pause for a minute and let me make some sense of this?

Grief is a jester, pranking me, tricking me. The last time Grief visited like this was 4 years ago, My Dad comforted me by telling me the sun would rise again tomorrow. Grief came to him early too, and he confronted you, and he learned to address you. The sun will rise again tomorrow. Life would go on, a new day would dawn, all things must pass. And so my father taught me how to deal with you. Except Grief pranked us, that’s not how it works at all. Grief laughs in our face, fools us twice. Those thoughts are not comforting now. The sun will rise again tomorrow. It’s terrifying. It’s like a curse. Why? Why does the sun have to rise? Why can’t it go back? And if we can’t go back, can we just stay here for a bit? How can this pass? How can I live the rest of my life without you?

Grief is a director, and we are it’s unwilling ensemble cast. Grief forces us to re-run our lines, find a new way of spreading the news, rehash the same scene over and over. Grief forces us into weird role-playing exercises where we constantly change character. Steph told me on the phone, and I gaped and swore back at her, disbelieving. A few hours later I told Danilo, Emily, Ariane, all the wolves. It was my turn to be stoic and matter of fact whilst they swore back at me. I called Will and cried at him, he offered some comforting words. Earlier he had been the one crying down the phone at Dan. Yesterday I saw Tim, I became hysterical and he hugged me. 45 minutes later and the roles were reversed. Grief is a hall of mirrors. I tried to keep it together and talk about you, and celebrate you, and tell all those poor people who didn’t know you why you were so incredible. My heart goes out to them; they will never know you. They have no memories to cherish. That seems worse. At the end of the night we locked up the building and then all of us wolves stood in a circle, me weeping in the middle. We stayed like that for a long time.

I’ve been trying to distract myself. Yesterday I cooked your favourite curry; that was a solid two hours because cooking curry is like breathing to me and I could just cook without thinking or speaking or saying or remembering. I made a list of everyone I needed to call, and then I had the task of calling them all, and I like lists and I like having tasks to complete. But then it was done and I had nothing to distract me anymore.

Grief goes straight for the jugular. On Saturday I felt like my heart was wilting, like my heart was being drained of all life and slowly fading into nothingness. I thought, well, my heart is giving up, at least I won’t have to feel like this much longer. But no. My stupid heart has kept me here without you. All of us are orbiting different spaces, except they are also the same. Grief is like a slow toxic poison, it does not strike us together, it seeps between us. We display different symptoms at different times and we’re aware of the sensation without any cure to offer each other. I feel like I want to reach out to everybody else in our gang and just talk constantly and be near them. Some people feel like being alone and hiding away and I feel like I can’t be alone, I have to be together. I have to be constantly in contact to be sure everybody else is still here and feeling like this. So. Where does that leave us? Grief wrenches us apart and then tries to throw us together haphazardly. Grief is manipulative, a cold-hearted bitch, delighting in our awkwardness. Why so much vengeance, Grief?

Grief attacks physically. It is a skilled hunter, sparing no part of me. My brain feels slow and dulled, my limbs seem heavy, my body is cumbersome. A burden. How am I meant to lift my head and walk around and be active? My stupid voice. I sang and talked and even laughed yesterday when we were remembering you, and now it feels cold and shrivelled, a rotting animal in my stomach. I may never sing again. My eyes see less, they just blur and prickle and cry all the time. They play tricks on me; I saw you walking into the percussion room or received a text from you, except it was somebody else and I misread the name. Stupid eyes. What use are they? I am so short-sighted anyway.

Grief has stalled me. My mind is broken, memories are just flashing up randomly, rudely, disrupting me when I am trying to text and call and cancel lessons and tell people where I live and ask for help and I just sit there wondering what I was doing. Two days feels like a desert where I lost myself. Stalling, suffocating. Seeking a mirage, except that is the worst kind of hope and actually not hope at all but a fucking ordeal. Fuck it.