I’ve just learned that one of my friends from university died on Saturday night, having been fighting against a brain tumour diagnosed about a year ago. He was 38 – six months younger than me – and a devoted husband and father of two.
Truth be told, the news has hit me much harder than expected.
As a parent, I can empathise but only imagine how his family feels right now. To lose a father and a husband at such a young age through little more than random chance just feels wrong on every level. He will never get to see his son and daughter grow up; they will never fully know how smart and caring a father he was.
From a personal perspective, it had been maybe four years since I last saw him, and after learning of his tumour last September, I hadn’t done much more than exchange a few supportive emails. So I haven’t really been much of a friend either. That just makes me feel worse.
I don’t know why I hadn’t been in touch before it was too late. Laziness, perhaps. (After all, there’s always a million and one urgent little things to do, aren’t there?) Maybe also a bit of denial. This is the first time something like this has happened to any of my friends or direct peers, and acknowledging this raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions about my own mortality.
When you’re growing up, you feel like you will live forever. As a child, death is an abstract concept; you’ve barely lived, so the idea of dying doesn’t carry the same weight of loss, and besides it’s the sort of thing that only happens to really old people, isn’t it? And even as a young adult, you’re just discovering yourself as an individual and starting to embrace independent life, and death is, well, the sort of thing that only happens to really old people.
But it’s only when someone of a similar age in your own social circle actually dies that it suddenly hits home. My friend was younger than me, healthier than me, and certainly no less deserving than me. He was just unlucky.
It could have been me. You never know, one day soon it could be.
That’s a scary thought.
There is always a plethora of excuses for not getting on with the big things in life. A few of them are valid. The assumption that there’s plenty of time because you’ll be around until a ripe old age is not one of them.
It’s too late for my friend. It’s not too late for me. If nothing else comes of it, I guess I should remember that.