Death, the digital distance, and David.

My friend David killed himself on the 13th of August. I found out when I was at work, in a room full of people I didn’t know, filming their stories of mental health hope and recovery, and David was dead, across the world, in a different time zone. I’d say it was ironic, but it was just horrible. I asked to take a few minutes and went into another room where I sat down, feeling as though I had been shot. Dizzy, numbing ear roaring hollowness. Then I went back to work and tried to hold it together.

I’m lucky I found out at all, as David lived in America (though he was a dashing Englishman and capitalised on that fact frequently), and living in America while you live in Ireland doesn’t give you a lot of mutual friends. But we had one, and she told me- I didn’t find out weeks later, and I am so grateful to her for that.

I’m not going to eulogise him here or talk about suicide (honestly fucking sick to death of suicide now). David existed within a constellation of complex relationships, of which I am further than Pluto so I don’t feel it’s my place. He was loved, fiercely, protectively, sometimes frustratingly, by many, many people, myself included. He was lovable and his death has shattered many people.

I’m not writing this to go, “Wahey, let’s make my friend’s death all about me!” but to try and make sense of something that I’m struggling with and that I don’t know how to make sense of otherwise than writing through it.

I met David on a Manics forum, back when I was 18 – 15 years ago. D was 25. We had intense friendship- I was a bit in love with him for a while, like so many of us were. But it was easy to be, with that letter-writing, literary, labouring to impress kind of friendship Manics fans like us build up, and also when you’re 18 and a bit of a dreamy immature dick. Also, David was very, very loveable. In the later years, as we both grew up, grew older, we grew closer, more honest with each other, an easier, gentler, genuine friendship and love. He didn’t feel far away. We video chatted, we messaged often, emailed, and then there was the immediacy of social media to keep up connected. I speak to most of my friends more online than I do in real life. He never felt far. I knew his friends’ names and faces, and their habits from what he shared with me privately, and what he shared publicly. I knew when he was in crisis because he told me, I knew where to look and who to call and I did (not enough). He was my friend and someone I would call a real friend and for a long time, a close one.

There must be so many of us out there who are struggling with the same thing as the world has changed; friendships online, and how to cope when your friend who you met online dies, how does anyone around you understand it?

How do you grieve for someone who wasn’t, “there” and who never was? There are no old haunts to visit or vigil, no day-to-day hole that burns. No passing the house, or gathering friends for reminiscing. How do you grieve for someone who is, to those around you, a phantom? Luckily, my husband and my family all met David and he kept in touch with them all. He felt part of my world. But he wasn’t, not in the way Robert is, not in the way the people I see every day are, not in the way he was to people who were around him every day and shared his life with him. There’s just an Oriels jersey to wear to bed. There is no memory repository to dig through for comfort; just 3 days and thousands of messages and emails and voice messages to rake through in agony, because there’s the last ones, and there are no more. And there the ones you didn’t answer, the question marks left in the air. Nothing left but just wish, wish, wish.

How you miss someone who wasn’t there, but who you can visualise with painful luminosity, whose face you can summon when you close your eyes as easily as you can your own, who you can feel in that warm spot on your cheek from where you finally laid your head on their (damp, haired) chest, one day in 2012?

What do you do when you don’t even have that virtual space to remember and to grieve with other people? David and I were estranged since last October; we fell out over things friends fall out over which I won’t go into. But unfriended on Facebook, so I couldn’t post on his wall, or share any memories, or comment on others or offer anyone any comfort and I had no idea what had been going on with him before he died. I had wanted a hundred times to get in touch, to say something. A day before he died I got a Snapchat notification that he was on it; I’d just started using it and thought, “I could take a silly picture and message him, keep it light, make him laugh and maybe we would talk again”. But I didn’t, I didn’t get back in touch, I didn’t know if he’d want to hear from me, I didn’t know how to explain, maybe I should have been gentler, maybe I should try to understand. I try not to think too much about other things. Wish wish wish.

Some people wouldn’t call it real grief, to grieve the phantom, but it feels real, but then you think how can I grieve a phantom, am I wrong for feeling this way? (I grieve who he was and who is lost to the world for ever, grieve because I knew his mind and grieve because I can imagine too clearly what may have been going through it). Am I being silly? Is this basically insulting to people who were actually there, every day, the real friends and loved ones? Why do I feel so sad? What do I do?

I don’t know. I started by going to his memorial.

I first met David when he surprised me by telling me he was coming to my wedding in 2012. Sometimes (gotta admit this eh) I had lied to people and said I had met him before because I was slightly embarrassed by the intensity of my feelings for him, having not met him yet. But it was then that I met him, crumpled, delighted, shy and exactly who he had always been to me, at arrivals in Heathrow airport. A huge hug, the strangest thing, that voice in my ear, really! I was overjoyed to have him there on my wedding day two days later (reading some of the messages we sent to each other during those days, breathless at being a bus ride away, I wish you were still here), he had been one of my most beloved and enduring friends and it meant everything to me, and I find this hard to write about. I said I wasn’t going to eulogise so I won’t. I wish we’d had more time, I was so preoccupied with getting married and getting drunk on my wedding day, I wish we’d seen each other in person again- despite many plans and schemes, we never did.

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I wished I had still lived in London then. To have some sort of link back, to be sitting in the same airport making the return journey to him (this was not how I had ever visualised that). But I don’t anymore, so I told work I needed the time off, gathered together the $1000 for flights and got on a bus to Dublin. Took a flight and got hammered on the free red wine and tried to enjoy the novelty of tiny TVs on seats. Our mutual friend had kindly offered to pick me up and let me stay with her, and again, I can’t express how grateful I am for her and her family for this, when she was grieving too and trying to support others who were, at such a difficult time. I never would have had the courage to go if not for that, and coming out of the airport to a friendly face made the whole journey bearable.

She and her husband took me to some of his places; drove by where he lived, we went to a bar they’d often gone to together (I had heard of it, he had talked about it, had a few drinks, we all needed them that day), walked around his neighbourhood, went to one of his favourite pubs after the memorial.

I wanted to go to his funeral to say goodbye to him. I felt like, even though we had fallen out, it was the least I could do, and it was the last. It was for closure – as they are generally – but because I don’t have those physical spaces, those physical memories, I wanted to go to make him, and it, real to me again. His real spaces, and his physicalness, and to be around people whom he had known and loved, to put spaces to names and faces. To, and this is all part of the struggling where and how to grieve this, validate myself and my own feelings, too. To be there, really, like we all do.

I felt awkward as fuck. I wondered if I should be there (would he even have wanted me to be? I feel like, even though we’d fallen out, he would have done the same for me) Funerals and memorials are awkward anyway. They are surreal and odd (though this one was pretty celebratory in tone, story sharing, memories, still surreal).

It was standing room only (you silly fucker) and I wondered if should get up and offer my seat to someone. When I looked up, I started crying. Where do you even begin with these things? How do you make sense of it, any of it?

I said I wouldn’t eulogise, I’m trying not to. I don’t want to go through all the details of all of this, it’s not my place.

I have a few of his things which were there for anyone to take, a few things I need to send. His Holtzmann glasses (he was a cosplayer) live on with my son:

I went on BBC News recently to talk about young people and self harm (even though I am no longer young and no longer self harm) and wrapped David’s scarf around me (“like my own sweet shadow”)

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warm day today…the sun on the unmown grass outside makes me sad as all this will soon be gone…thinking about ‘Concrete Island’, perhaps this is homesickness – my memories of boyhood summers are staring through the back passenger window of a car at the London orbital.

Anyway- after writing this, still no closer to making sense of anything, sorry. I love you still. Go hug people, or pick up the phone.

2 Responses

  1. Many deep points here that you express very well. I could say I have stood on that edge and almost jumped but I am not David not am I “ a bipolar” I am so much more and do was David. Yes hard to manuver digital world within a multi femensional reality er all our so used to. My ci condolances for the loss of your friend.
    Syl in Sonoma CO, CA

    PS is that your son ?? Beautiful

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