Magazine article The Spectator

The Importance of Grief

Magazine article The Spectator

The Importance of Grief

Article excerpt

Death isn't something you just get over

Just over a year ago, my best friend dropped dead. He was in his early sixties and many of us expected him to die, because he was hugely overweight and desperately unhappy -- and the ciggies can't have helped. 'If you don't look after yourself, we're going to lose you,' was the polite refrain from those who knew him well.

Chris had no money, no real job, precious little hope. We first met as new boys aged eight at our boarding school, where he went on to become one of the best sportsmen the school had ever had and sat a scholarship for Harrow. Early success might have played a part in what was to come. We all know people who peak prematurely.

On leaving school, Chris and I and then shared a tent while hitchhiking through Canada and America. For the next four decades, we would speak most weeks on the telephone, latterly at length as loneliness gripped him like a cancer.

I say that Chris was my best friend, but he was also deeply infuriating: bombastic, unreliable, ill-disciplined. If I had come across him when we were in our thirties or forties, I would have grown weary of his wild money-making schemes that always came to nothing; and if I had met him when we were in our fifties I would have given him a wide berth.

But I miss him terribly. Yes, we all know that when a close friend dies, a part of us dies with them, but I don't go along with all this guff about time being such a great healer. I feel Chris's death more now than I did a year ago, not least because so much has happened in these past 12 months which we have not been able to discuss. And I feel guilty that I did not do more to sort him out.

Come to think of it, I miss my father more in 2018 than in 1989, when he died shortly after his 70th birthday. Our conversations would be far more interesting today than they were 30 years ago, and he would have got to know my children. We could have sat together in the pavilion at Lord's.

And yet it's the guilt and the sorrow that won't go away -- the not quite getting over it -- which keeps Chris and my father alive. Death and life belong to the same coin and that's just as it should be. 'It takes an entire lifetime to learn how to die,' wrote the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca, who also counselled to 'study death always'. …

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