Fifth Of July

Photo on 04-07-2015 at 15.06

One year ago today I was sit in my room, hungover, on a comedown, confused, upset, worried and generally “not in a great place”. On the fourth of July last year I spent the day with my friends; enjoying the sunshine and getting very drunk. It was a great night which I blogged about – but I missed out some of the background details of that time; details that were not fun, or joyous, or celebratory, and therefore had no place on my blog.

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Happy 27th


In the first few weeks after you died, my mind was constantly on overdrive, supplying a never-ending stream of memories I didn’t know I had. There were random flashbacks, endless unrelated questions, and huge, over-powering emotions. Entire conversations dredged up from the murky recesses of my memory and replayed ceaselessly in full. I experienced the five stages of grief immediately and concurrently. Continue reading

How To Cope With Grief

Photo on 01-11-2015 at 15.49 #2This post is sort of a sister post to my post last week – I promise no more morbid posts after this. I’ve mentioned numerous times that 2014 was a difficult year in which a number of people close to me died, three of whom were very young (22, 25 and 28). I’ve unwillingly learned a few things about coping with grief; I am a slow learner, but I’m getting there.

This year, two of my friends have in turn lost friends of theirs. I thought I’d write this post, not because I have the answers on how to deal with grief but just to pass on what helped. Grief is always going to be an incredibly personal and intimate experience, coloured by your relationship and contextualised by all sorts of nonspecific events. If I’m honest, my grief is something I’m still processing, and perhaps I will always be reeling from last year. But here is what I’m learning.

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Allow Your Memories
All the deaths immediately sparked off a flood of memories for me – memories that had been long forgotten came zooming to the surface. I couldn’t stop my brain if I tried. I literally stared into space for a week whilst my brain regurgitated all sorts of random moments I’d thought I’d forgotten. I jotted everything down as fast I could – not because I wanted to go back and read them, but because I wasn’t sure if I’d remember them again. This also led me to..

Write Down Everything

I also wrote down how I was feeling every day. I was so aware that what was happening was bizarre and strange and uncalled for, especially with those who died young. I wanted to document that time, how I felt, what was happening to me and to us. After Pete died, some of what I wrote down made it out into the first three blog posts I wrote after his death. I’m not sure why I didn’t blog about the previous people I lost; I think I just needed a new outlet other than my diary by the time Pete died in November and I was so frustrated and exhausted from the people I’d already lost that year.


Don’t Question The Dead
Another knee-jerk, subconscious reaction was questioning the relationship I had with these people, especially the friends I was closest to. I started questioning what they thought about me, if they really cared, times we had bickered, times I had failed them. I wondered if we really were close or if I was making things bigger in my brain, and I questioned if I was entitled to my grief and deep sense of loss.

It was awful. I’m not at all anxious or neurotic normally but it was inescapable, thoughts spiralling out of control and my mind reminding me of all the bad times. After the fourth death and the fourth spiral into Paranoid Land I eventually (to my shame) approached a family member of the deceased, who I was on friendly terms with. He essentially took pity on me, told me I was being ridiculous and to not doubt my friend for a second, saying that I had been dearly loved and if my friend was still alive he would have chosen me all over again. I echoed these words in my post last week, as they have been one of the most enduring pieces of advice (if you can call it advice) that I received.

The final thought on this horrific line of self-analysis is that when you doubt somebody’s love, you undo all the things they did to SHOW their love for you whilst they were alive; you ignore all the pints they bought, lifts they gave, times they shared, hugs and kisses and compliments and all the rest of it. It’s insulting to the efforts they gave to you and a terrible way to recall them.

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Stay Connected
There were quite large parts of me that just wanted to curl up and avoid everybody after my friends died. I think that is important at times, but I also think you will have more than enough time dwelling in your own thoughts without purposely isolating yourself. It’s SO important to stay connected with your friends, even if you’re justing sending a text that says “:(” and even if it’s just to one person. Even the tiniest effort can inspire a friend to make the tiniest effort back, and eventually that turns into all of you helping each other out.

Turn It Into Something Else
For me processing these deaths has taken the form of a 12 song album and multiple blog posts. Songs and writing is what I do anyway, so it was no surprise really. Other friends talked about drawing pictures, getting tattoos, writing poems, cooking huge meals and even just pointlessly chopping logs to try and turn the grief into something else.

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You Don’t Have To Talk About It
With each death, I found that almost everybody else immediately asked what happened. Not how I knew them, or what our relationship was, or how I felt, but straight off: how did they die? One person actually messaged me to say I’d “forgotten” to mention how Pete died in my first post. It is very rare for somebody to die in their twenties, so people are bound to be shocked and curious, and I understand that. But I can tell you now the cause of death seems very superfluous. The fact that my friends were no longer there was the real crux of the matter, and however they died does nothing to diminish the simple and overwhelming fact that they died.
This sounds strange but another one of the things that most bothered me after the first friend of mine died last year (which was a suicide) was the number of people who could not relate. Whilst I’m incredibly grateful to the people who offered to talk or listen, I also felt like I had such a conflicted and nuanced set of feelings that I couldn’t possibly open up to somebody hadn’t lost someone in a similar circumstance. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to relate and you don’t have to say. A lot of people had an opinion on suicide without having experiencing it. I found it hard to articulate to people that I didn’t want to endlessly question my friend’s decision because I needed instead to just cope with the pure fact that he just was no longer there.

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What Others Made
Death has always been a part of life and therefore people have always had to deal with grief and bereavement. This means there are millions of thoughts about death, about grief, about coping and about loss out there. There are films and books and documentaries and symphonies and songs and you can study them all and see how other people coped and I promise it helps.
I’ve made a list of some of the films, books, music and TV that helped me begin to process my grief, and I will post about it separately at some point. By all means please add your own coping mechanisms below. I very much hope none of you have cause to read through this, but if you, then I send you all my love and I hope there may be something in this post for you.




The First Year Without You

aIMG_3583IMG_0105 copyYou died a year ago today. I could feel my life splitting into two parts. Before and After. I hoped I might get back some of the things I left in Before, but I am not sure how it works. I saw your Dad this morning. He said, this last year has been a bit of a blur, mostly focused on surviving. He’s right. It has.

People say you know you’re getting old when your friends start dying. That means I got old last year. It was the year of death; I lost childhood friends, family friends, treasured mentors and worst of all, you. I’d been having a whale of a time being young, being happy, inching towards success when suddenly cancer, suicide, accidents, funerals, eulogies, graves and cremation threw themselves into my path unexpectedly. I think a lot of me is still mourning. My dreams are filled with all the people I’ve lost, even the ones still alive, the ones that got away. Sam told me, Will told me, my Dad told me: you need to get over this and move on.

But I can’t get past it. I don’t have the right coping mechanisms and I’m scared of going forward without you jumping through the same hoops with me, as you always have done. And besides, you’re everywhere; you’re in my lyrics, in my playlists, in my wardrobe, in my Favourite Contacts, in my stories and anecdotes, in my inbox, in my cat ears, in the colours of the leaves, in pumpkins, in the names of all our unborn children, in Will’s stupid jokes, in my harddrive, in unedited photos and hours of rehearsal footage I cannot watch.


People say that when somebody dies young it can remind you how precious life is, and how important it is to live every day to the fullest. This is a nice sentiment, except that is how I lived my life anyway. It turns out that there is a limit to carpe diem; if you push it too far it’s dangerous. It’s reckless, it’s breaking into where you shouldn’t be, it’s fooling around, losing things, insulting friends, drinking too much, staying out too late, worrying strangers, horrible, messy, not giving a shit about waking up tomorrow. It’s just easier.

You would hate this, you would hate me worrying about it, throwing so much away and taking the time to write this. What confuses me most is this: how far away are we going to get? You were 25, and I’ve caught up, as I normally do. Except next year I’ll be 26 and you’ll still be 25. That’s all wrong. What about when I’m 30? It’s so much time to miss you. What if I get all the way to 40?! What then?! We were all so young. What happens when we grow again? Will we think, oh, we were so young when we were 25..? What does that mean for you?

You would not be at all happy with me this year. I’ve done all the things you told me not to, and I’m far quicker to get angry about things: boys, money, not being white. I’m either tired and lethargic, or restless and wild. I’m evasive and avoiding us. I mention you a lot – subconsciously, I catch myself after and feel stupid. I’m scared of our stories continuing without you.  My Dad’s brother died when he was 27. I didn’t even know my Dad had a brother until I was about 12. I asked my Dad, why don’t you talk about your brother more? He looked at me kind of blankly and said, well, it was a very long time ago.

You and me won’t be like that. I’m so grateful, I’m so happy you were here – and you were here, you were here, YOU WERE HERE. You were here with me, you chose to spend your time with me, you chose to support me, you chose my projects, my gig, my shout, my birthday, this, us. I am so lucky I got that. If you were here you would probably choose all those things again. I have to think that. And sometimes, for a moment, the sun shines and makes everything golden, and the leaves are orange, orange everywhere, and I turn the volume up, and I remember that YOU WERE HERE and you chose this, and it makes me so so happy. And it is just for a moment, but it is a moment more than I had a year ago.


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PeteFest orange festival pete handley ginger music bodle street greenPeteFest orange festival pete handley ginger music bodle street greenPeteFest orange festival pete handley ginger music bodle street greenPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefestPeteFest is a festival which was created in honour of my friend Pete who died last year. I’ve posted quite a lot on Pete so long-time readers (thanks both of you) will be familiar with this part of my life, and if you’re following me on social media you probably saw me posting bits last weekend.

Pete’s wonderful parents had already told us: no sadness. The weekend was not for mourning, for grieving, for tears and choking up. The weekend was for celebrating, for smiling, for fun. For embracing and for making a lot of noise. For beer, for sunshine, for cake and for getting involved.

Everything there has said repeatedly; it was awesome. The music was diverse and interesting, the sun was shining, the people were friendly, the pints were flowing. The theme was orange; orange bunting, orange shirts, orange and ginger cake, ginger beer, orange balloons, orange ribbons. Even on an aesthetic level it made the whole weekend brighter; my camera got confused by the higher than usual levels of orange and tried to contort everything into being sepia. 

Pete’s family are to be hugely commended for the festival as a whole. Their attitude and determination really dictated the whole festival; I don’t think a single minute passed without seeing smiles and hearing laughter; people dancing, joking, making friends, catching up or sharing a moment. To have a space to meet people we otherwise would not have met without having to outright make a big emotional deal out of it, is amazing. The organisers put in months of work and it really showed.IMG_0063james and laila WOLF PACKPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefeststeph laila tapeparade petefest pete handley blog festivalPeteFest orange festival pete handley ginger music bodle street greenPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefestPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefestPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefestI lost 3 people close to me last year, all unexpectedly and all in their 20’s. Pete’s passing is the only one that has caused people to come together; creating festivals, awards, legacies. I’m not done posting about it or figuring it out (will I ever be?) but that’s not what PeteFest was for. PeteFest was for being happy.

For me, it was a weekend of confronting truths and being surrounded by friends. I intersected with the festival in a lot of ways and it was hard not to see what was happening through those multiple filters: I attended the festival, I played a (small) part in organising it, I performed several times under several guises, I helped promote it, I manned the social media and I made a small attempt to document it with my camera. I was a weak link; I turned in some truly awful performances which I subsequently felt disgusted about, and I also got very drunk. Luckily I had all my friends around. Besides, any festival that ends with the barmen buying you a pint is a success Pete too would have approved of.

I wrote so recently about my wonderful friends and they were all there at PeteFest. I had my closest friends from school days. I had James and Danilo, the remaining pillars of my personal and irreparably broken triumvirate. I had the people I think of as family and I had my actual family, however that goes down. I’m perennially the one with my crap least together, but for my part I fell asleep surrounded by all my oldest and dearest friends; all the people who know me best and care for me most sleeping in the same tent. I remember thinking as I fell asleep; if I don’t feel safe here and now, where and when will I? And that was PeteFest.PeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefestPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefestPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefest

Alongside the festival there is also an award set up in Pete’s memory. You can read more about it here. I know a couple of you have written to me in the past that you were so moved by previous blogs that you decided to donate, and I can’t tell you how much that means to me. That I have readers I have never met who are so kind and generous and giving is really incredible. Thank you so, so much for your support and for your love.

Pete further discussed in these posts: 1, 2, 3, 4.

I’ve shared mostly photos of my friends and myself on this blog as I thought it would be weird to share photos of people I don’t know on a personal blog; but it’s weirder I feel that way as a) all the photos are mine and b) they’re all publically on the internet anyway. So if you’d like to see more they are all up on this page. If you’re in one of these photos and don’t want to be – please let me know and I shall remove it immediately. steph laila tapeparade petefest pete handley blog festivalPeteFest party band evening saturday performance at petefest

The Sea


7 years ago today I went to the beach with Pete, one of many trips to the beach; uncomplicated and innocent, sand in shoes, a time of wide-eyed adolescence that you can’t really comprehend until it’s over. This particular day was the first time I met all of his friends, the teenage version of “meeting the parents”. His treasured friends who became my treasured friends: the beach became ours.

7 months and 7 days ago, Pete died. I could never have predicted I would be recounting those hazy, unburdened trips to the beach just a few short years later to a roomful of strangers at his funeral, grieving with those same friends. I thought I’d never visit a beach again.

I just got home from a tour that took me by the sea. New places, new beaches, new friends, the same 7 seas. Every single one takes me back to that earlier place in my life, a place which I couldn’t return to even if we were all still here. I still wake up knowing I have to make sense of something that will never make sense, no matter how long my life turns out to be. But I’m finally starting to understand what people mean when they talk about cherishing the past. My memories are not as scary as I thought, nor do they really fade; they vary, but they’re there. It’s always ourselves we find by the sea, all of our selves, past and present. They’ll always be there at the sea. I wish I’d learned that sooner in these seven months, but in a way, I will have always learned it too soon. Happy World Ocean Day.

“It’s always ourselves we find by the sea” – e e cummings and further discussed in this post.

Pete further discussed in these posts – 1, 2, 3.


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. ?