Got to go to a funeral in a bit. Always a strange feeling when you wake up knowing that you are going to say goodbye to someone that day, isn’t it.
I met my friend Katie for lunch the other day. Her wonderful mum had just passed away and I needed to hold her and know she was doing ok. She seemed absolutely fine. I had almost forgotten how brilliant people are at holding it together when their insides are in tumult. The nearest she came to going was when we took her daughter to the bathroom, and stood hugging and listening to a funeral song while little Connie went for a wee.
Katie and I were kids together, at school and youth theatre, running around playing games and being in plays about evacuees and Narnia, and now life wasn’t a play anymore, it was real. We had lost people, we had had kids and careers and bad things happen. Katie was there for me when my Dad died. Years later I introduced her to my lovely friend Mike and they got together. They named their first baby girl after me. Sadie. The only other Sadie I’ve known. Is there any sweeter reminder that you have been sweetly usurped by the young; to have your name taken and passed on to a little person, unformed by life.
The day we met for lunch I had had little sleep. I had got in the night before exhausted from a fierce day of rehearsals and admin, and collapsed on the bed. But I could not sleep. My friend Susie had gone into labour hours earlier, had spent a frustrating day after her waters had broken just waiting for something to happen. The whole day while rehearsing I was thinking of her, and I knew that as I went to sleep, she was likely to be trekking through the unknown lands of labour. I drifted off eventually, feeling guilty that I would be sleeping while she gave birth, but excited that I would wake up and her baby girl would be here. Always strange when you go to sleep knowing you’ll wake up to someone new existing in your life, isn’t it. Baby Ella.
A couple of weeks ago another friend of mine Sarah sat at the table, beaming. I had just given her my Heather Shimmer lipstick, a find in an old make-up bag. It still smelled exactly as I remembered it, and taking off the lid was like I had unstoppered the essence of the 90s. It was classrooms and the back of the bus and kissing boys. Sarah had a different memory of it. Her mum wore it for years, and it was on her mummy’s lips when she kissed her goodbye for the last time in 2001. As we sat drinking and talking, at a meal for my mum’s 60th, I gave Sarah the lipstick so she could see it, put some on. Feel close to her mum. But it was the smell that really took her back. Smell is funny like that isn’t it. I made her keep it. I wanted her to always be able to smell it if she needed to.
I resisted crying for Sarah’s grief, though it reminded me of my own. I managed to just about keep it in when Katie told me her mum had died, though I remembered what that chasm feels like. I didn’t cry when I woke to find that Susie had had a tricky night birthing baby Ella. I didn’t even cry when I held Katie in the pub bathroom while we listened to Chris de Bergh as her daughter chattered on the toilet. But I cried when I got in. Big pelting tears for all of them. For all of us, for everyone. For my mum who never really knew her mum. For a dear friend who lost his mum years ago and misses her terribly and is now scared and helpless watching his Dad growing weaker. My chest felt like it was cracking open for everything all at once. And then I stopped. My face dried. I got on with my day. Sometimes you have to let it out, all the life and love and death, don’t you.
We cannot really regret tears cried for other people’s pain. Other people are the best things about us.