We used to say we were joined at the brain. We would mystify others with our silent communication. The connection was instant, intense, and fortified by endless hot chocolates and acres of silliness.
Di was the sparkliest of people. She lit up the room. Together, we were unstoppable. We met in first year at uni, in a computer science prac class. Goodness knows what she was doing in a computer science prac – a born biologist, she quickly ditched it for microbiology and genetics in second year. But by then the world was different, two people had become one, even if one of them was still doing computer science.
One of her favourite tricks was making me laugh until I stopped breathing. Once she got really good at it, she regarded it as a spectator sport, and would invite passers by to enjoy the show. Many of Di’s friends only ever saw me as a helpless, squeaking mess, turning slowly blue. It became a competition – she would try to make me turn blue, I would try to make her snort her coffee. She invariably won.
Above all, Di was vivid. Not content with burning the candle at both ends, she could frequently be found holding a blow torch to the middle. Life was brighter when we were together – the air fairly sparkled. I remember a trip into the city, to the Victoria market at the end of first year. By the end of the trip we had left a stream of chuckling people in our wake. Typically, she had made friends with everyone from the tram driver to every stall holder in the market, brightening every life that she touched. She was an integral, electric part of my life.
Then a friend she worked with turned up in my office one day and told me she was dead. She had died the day before in a car accident. I didn’t cry at first. I went through the motions, said the right things, and commiserated with the friend who had delivered the news. But I couldn’t process it. It was as though someone had come to say the sky was green. It made no sense.
I stumbled across campus to my husband’s office and told him what had happened. As I grappled with the unreality of it, my husband’s office mate said “who’s Di?” and the sheer enormity of the question was my undoing. How could I possibly answer that?
From then on the grief came in waves. After a while I felt I was ok to drive home, but had to pull over only a few blocks away because I was crying so much I couldn’t see. Friends came and went all day, and we sat, stunned, unable to come to grips with the new shape of the world. Everything was so unreal. One minute I would be going through the standard minutiae of life, the next I would dissolve in tears, unable to speak.
That was over 13 years ago, and the grief still comes in waves, although the waves are slower now. It took me years to understand that you don’t “get over” grief. It doesn’t heal, go away, or get better. You just learn to cope with it, like a missing limb. You adjust your life to compensate for its absence, but you never grow a new one. I used to think that people expected me to get over it – indeed, I used to expect it of myself. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t getting better, and why I was still crying years later. It was a long time before I grasped that I would grieve for her until the day I die.
I once read the theory, in a Terry Pratchett book, that a person doesn’t truly die until their impact on the world is finished. A single person holding you in their heart keeps you alive. And in that sense I know there are lots of people keeping Di alive. She made herself an integral part of so many hearts.
Grief never ends, but, in the end, it is a tribute to someone dearly loved.