Today was an emotional day. It's Violet's 40th birthday - but those who've read for a while will know my good friend Violet died 5 years ago. I've written a lot about my early grief when she died, but with a lot of people around me going through their own journey, I want to move the story forward into the present day a little.
Violet's death at 35 is probably the hardest bombshell I've ever had to deal with. It was death of someone I loved so very much at an age which to be honest was unfair.
That first week, it was like there was this extreme emotion trapped within me - it felt too big to be kept inside, and like I'd burst at the seems from it. And yet I remember being so much more angry than sad. So very angry.
Although no-one was to blame, it just felt she died too soon, and it wasn't fair or right or just.
Not being able to attend the funeral made things that much harder. I held a brief ceremony myself, but it was difficult. I didn't have many mutual friends, but I was really lucky to have a lady named Jenny Day who I could talk about her so much with. And I did talk a lot. But in a lot of ways I felt like I was going through this myself.
But most of all the grief lingered. Every night, just going to sleep was a struggle, because your mind always drifted to her. It felt like all the joy had been sucked out from life.
It was the common bonds of our friendship which were harder to go on alone. I deleted all my Regina Spektor from my MP3 players, and I stopped watching Doctor Who. Because these were things I'd shared with her, and now they just brought me such inconsolable pain.
Over Christmas, my son and I listened to the autobiography of Donald Malarkey, one of the famous Easy Company Parachutists. The thing I most identified with was his tale of grief over losing his best friend, Skip Monk, and how that grief followed him around, never really leaving.
Looking back 5 years on, I'm often surprised how the grief is still there. It's still very powerful and emotional, and yet it's a gentler grief. Like feelings of melancholy over anguish. I'm not a great believer in the afterlife or ghosts, but often it feels like she's just next to me, only slightly out of sight and out of reach.
They say "as long as you remember them, they're not really dead" - but I hate that cliche, although at the same time seeing some truth in it. If you live your life like Violet lived, you are someone who is nurturing of others, someone who is passionate and makes a difference. Though Violet has been long gone now, those changes in me that her love and her friendship brought about remain. That's probably why she always feels so very close, especially when I'm most alone, because I do carry the best bit of her within my heart.
In on odd way, the hardest part of dealing with it is moving on. You love your departed friend, but you don't want to turn your life into a devotion to her memory that you forget that you're still alive. When you've lost such a close friend, you're afraid of making new friends, in part because you're worried you're just looking to replace them. But also, because having lost one friend, you sometimes want to just withdraw into isolation so you never feel that pain again.
Life has been good though, and in my own way I've managed to move on - somehow I've picked up new friends, including best friends which fill some of the hole she left behind. I still have grief - maybe I'll always have it, but somehow it's a less scary grief - one which seems to be capable of having great beauty concurrently with a gentle sadness. And I think there will always be a place in my heart for the girl who will always be 35, and where she left her mark ...
She loved the watercolours of John William Waterhouse, and somehow in the haunting story of The Lady Of Shallot, there is something which powerfully resonates with the tale of my Violet.