Editor’s Note: This post was submitted anonymously
I think most people will agree that the Blogosphere’s a wonderful place to connect and discover like-minded people. Few who read this will dispute that the relationships which can be formed online are anything less than real. The friendships which can evolve, either through sudden, thrilling eruption, or a slower-blooming-but-equally-sweet manner, are as real as the friendships of the offline world.
In fact there are those who would subscribe to the idea that the friendships here can (in ways) be more real. They are unfettered by physicality and the need to undergo the minutiae of a person In Real Life; rather they allow bared souls to form bonds without the requirement for things like watching someone eat, noticing their hairstyle or discovering that their tuneless whistling annoys you.
And that’s where, on occasion, problems arise.
When your real-life friend has a crisis or hurts themselves or needs you, you can be there. You can go to them and look after them – do what needs doing, be it hugs or housework or bringing them a meal or offering them sanctuary – you have the privilege of being the actual, physical shoulder they cry on and lean on, and you can help them back to a place where the world is shiny and good (or at least, as much as it’s possible to be).
When your online friend, with whom you’ve bonded and built a friendship, has a crisis or a problem…you’re stuck. You got nothing. You’re a lump of useless at the end of the screen, unable to offer anything more constructive than pixelated encouragement and a figurative listening ear (unless you’ve got WhatsApp or Skype or whatever – then you can talk, but you’re still a million miles away and can DO nothing).
And that hurts. Sometimes more than is bearable.
So here’s the thing – I’ve fallen in friends with someone wonderful. She’s funny and sparky and makes me laugh with the way she pronounces words. She’s a deep thinker with a wonderful mind. She’s had an incredible life, she writes poetry and can talk about philosophy and dog poop in the same breath. She’s incredible. She also has end-stage cancer.
She had it when I first got to know her – in fact, she’s had the cancer for most of her life, and considers herself lucky to be alive. She wrote recently about how the slower-moving, less destructive form of the cancer she has, had upped its game and turned nasty. It turned nasty about a year ago. I plucked up the courage once, to ask her how long end-stage lasts.
My heart went cold when I read her response. Apparently the doctors give two years as an outside estimate. Which means we’re halfway through. Or further.
Her poetry more frequently reflects her weariness with treatments; her anger at her disease; her exhaustion.
She’s not around as much as she used to be.
She has ‘good days’, where before, the state of the day never needed to be mentioned.
She once wrote a beautiful and utterly heartbreaking poem about how sick she was of being sick. How much pain she was in. How difficult each day was to face. It sounded as though she were at death’s door, and I immediately fired off an email to her to check in. Then spent an hour or two with tears pouring down my face, re-reading her poem and talking to other mutual (internet) friends about how terrified I was that she wasn’t responding, and we all agreed that for THIS, the internet sucks.
Eventually she checked in.
But I know that at some point, the emails and messages will stop. Her blog will go to seed. There will be no more responses on WhatsApp. No further replies.
I will be faced with the undeniable truth that she’s gone…
…and I don’t know how to handle that.
I am an unseasoned survivor; ill-equipped to handle the grief of losing someone who sent me a photo of my name in a heart in the palm of her hand in response to the one I sent her. By the time I hear about her funeral, it will likely be over and done with. I have no framework for this. No former experience to draw upon. It will be deep pain of a cruel and isolated kind.
Herein lies the folly (and wonder) of allowing yourself to care for people so far removed. And even as I sit, choked, trying not to imagine the agony of that day, I can’t help but marvel at the innate and incredible determination of the human spirit to build connections and forge warm relationships, with utter disregard for geography and the thousands of miles in between friends.
So in spite of the distance, I know that she’s right here in my heart – which one day soon will be broken.
The Unseasoned Survivor
I fell and grazed my hand today.
Gauged striped across the palm
Where sits your name
In faded, hardwired heart.
And as I wiped the blood
And washed my wound with tears
I trembled and hoped for no omens;
No portent in this circumstance.
And yet I know
That portent or not
The day is coming
(The time so precariously borrowed)
And the axe on its horsehair
Begins to look heavy
I see you quaver
Try once again
To lift your head and face life
As you usually do.
And suddenly, I am swept away
By the raging of my impotent, unseasoned-survivor soul
As it tries to break the world with keening cry
Of twisted, deepest anguish: “Please don’t…”
…realise I can’t even say the word
That hateful word
(Though it belongs to us all
Of shattered heart.
Of lives undone by grief.
Of us – the survivors –
Learning to continue
And so I sit
With tears wrenched forth
From bitter soul
And know that once you’re gone
My world, no longer whole
Will carry on.
No travesty intended
Yet ever changed
For knowing –
And missing –