Someone I have come to dearly love has passed away from this world, this morning, the morning of me sitting here and typing this down. The pain is unbearable, but another friend suggested to me to write about her, to share my grief, as it is not just a personal loss, but also reaches out and touches the wider issues we these days face as humanity together.
When I moved here, it was once again a new country for me, a new environment, new people. Despite this being a very slim populated area, still there are other humans around, and I was scared of what reception I would receive, whether I would be accepted or rejected and whether I would be able to cope with everything ahead of me, the practical as well as the emotional. It was a time of a great turmoil and many worries for me, as new beginnings tend to be, even though I had chosen it just this way.
The first time I met my neighbour, she puttered up the dirt road with her old worn and beaten little tractor, and I was worried, as usually not many find their way up to where I live, and I feared it may be someone not happy with a stranger having moved into the area. I walked over to the tractor, after it had pulled into my yard, and found a thin woman with a truly weathered face at its wheel, white hair and a straw hat. She told me her name, then began almost to batter me with warnings, most of which I could not even understand, as she spoke fast and with a thick and to me back then still alien accent. I was quite taken aback, as I didn’t know this woman at all, and she seemed very forceful and opinionated. I was also groaning inside, as I thought I had ended in some neighbour’s war or what not, not fully able to make sense of everything she spoke to me in that frightful insistence of hers.
When she finally decided to leave, I felt relief and just hoped I’d never meet her again. Not able to judge what she was about, mainly having felt quite intimidated. Of course, she was a neighbour, and even if being neighbours here can mean more distance than in a city or town, it was clear and inevitable that I would meet her again, many more times in fact, and what a blessing for my life, what a gift, that I did!
Many an evening since that scary first encounter, she and I came to laugh about my first impression of her. During those evenings where we would sit next to her roaring fireplace, in her old traditional cottage, where the bare stones were showing on the wall and all those many little ornaments she had collected and loved so much, were listening to our ramblings. There wasn’t a free space anywhere on the shelves, even the ceiling held hooks from which cups and ornaments hang, and she always had a pot of stew brewing, next by that fire, and everyone walking into her home would be offered a meal, and many of us walked in and out of her home, because it was a warm and welcoming place. That frightening woman had in fact grown to become one of the best friends of my life.
My neighbour had not known a good marriage; she and her ex-husband had parted on very bad terms, and I also still remember those evenings when she told me about all the things which had hurt her, silent tears running over his weathered cheeks, which she defiantly tried to wipe away. She was no angel, she had her flaws, sometimes she was moody, often stubborn, and I am sure she had not always been easy to live with either, but she was overall a wonderful human being, and I would reach for her hand and hold it gently. Usually, she’d come to finish with saying that it was no use to look back, but rather to focus on the present and future, and on the wonderful friends she had, and I felt honoured beyond measure that life had allowed me to be one of them. Her main saying was ‘giving is living, and grabbing is dying’. I can not count how often she spoke it, but she also loved to say ‘oh bollocks,’ or ‘what a shite’, and when I close my eyes, I see her smirk and her wink. She was always full of mischief, but also smart and full of stories about her childhood and life overall.
Christmas before last (Christmas gone, she was already in the hospital), she wanted to know what I would like her to buy me. I told her I did not wish anything bought, but that I’d much prefer for her to make me something, and this she came to do, she made me a hiking stick. From cutting the wood to cleaning it, carving and polishing it, it was all her work, but she felt embarrassed that it was not posh, not fanciful, had not cost any money.. until I told her I thought it was one of the most amazing gifts I had ever received, and she saw the truth of this in how my eyes and my face had lit up, while holding her precious gift tight and close. We both felt the greatest joy, and that stick remains with me, and shall do so for as long as I shall still live in this world.
My workshop is still not set up, it is in the planning as lots of other stuff had priority, so I could not make her what I had wanted to make for her, but whenever I was out and about, and I saw something I knew would make her smile, I bought it for her. Little things, not expensive stuff, just little tiny things that can say ‘I have thought of you, and I love you’.
Now death has taken this wonderful beloved friend from me and others. A woman who had worked hard all her life (she was in her late sixties) who could build a house from scratch, always knew a solution to a problem, never shied wind nor rain, and whose honesty and integrity have been a shining light in this often so sad and insane world. As individuals, she and her husband had been ill suited to each other, from all I could gather, and much hurt had come from it, as it can happen among humans, but the woman I came to know, enriched my life beyond all measures. She was female, very much a so, sometimes a giggling girl, sometimes a philosopher, sometimes a woman who could grunt and swear, but never a rapist and never an oppressor, instead always worth knowing, even at her worst.
There are those out there, who will reject others purely due to whether they were born a female or a male, and those who have lost all ability to meet and greet another human being with respect, warmth and care. They try to teach us to see gender and based on this to determine another’s worth or another’s inner nature. But even those who are not that extreme, often these days find their lives ruled by misgivings, only ever considering their own hurt, their own point of view. Many certainly in this world do not seem able any more to understand that giving indeed means living a life full of joy, where we see lit up eyes and faces, while grabbing kills warmth and kindness, and leads us to live in a cold empty world, filled with things that stand for nothing beyond their price tag, while leaving us bereft of all which truly matters.
On my friend’s behalf, I wish to remind everyone that life is not endless. We are only given a certain amount of time, and once the seconds have ticked away, it is too late to go back. I doubt her husband ever understood how much hurt he had truly caused her. I am certain she did cause his hurts too. Human interactions can be like that, but because women usually do not show their pains as open, because they do not cry out loud as men do, instead battling to hold it in until they can no longer hold it, and it comes to flow as silent tears from their eyes during an evening by the fireplace.. we often don’t think they can hurt as deeply as men do. It is this misunderstanding of women’s endurance, an endurance they get taught early by our societies, which leaves them so vulnerable to abuse, as no one cares, as no one sees their pains in the open.
My friend’s former husband came to her bedside in these last days; I was told that he did, and I can only hope that he held her hand and stroked it gently, after more than two decades where they had clung to their hurts and resulting hate. I hope he remembered all that she had given to him, from the house I know she had built for him with her own hands (and whose kitchen he felt she had made too small) to the money she had brought home so they could eat and heat.
While she was lying there, battling for the little bit of life she had left, I hope he realized she needed love and warmth from him, not more accusations and lists of where she could have done better, and I truly hope he found ways to show her that needed love and caring warmth.
While I sit here crying, struggling to type, blinded by my own tears, looking ahead and knowing I will miss her so very much. I also think of how time truly knows equality, as it is ticking away for women and men indiscriminately, and it does not wait for us to learn our lessons before it is too late.
Giving is living while still alive, and grabbing is dying long before our last breath. We know what hurt can do to us, and thus we should not ever carelessly bring hurt to others, as well as that we need to realize men don’t suffer more, just because they often find it easier to show suffering, but that women deserve hands reaching for theirs just the same, while scared and in agony. Just because women are taught to be strong for us, should never mean that we forget that deep inside they feel just as we do.
My friend enriched the lives of those of us here beyond what I could ever press into words, and her passing lets us all feel the deepest of loss, but I hope her story can still help others out there, to learn before it is too late.
I know she’d love that, to still give to others, even after her leaving this world. She was just that special, that beautiful, that precious a human and a woman, who had shelves full of little ornaments, right next to her chainsaws and tools, and while she knew how to dust the ornaments with greatest of caution and care, she also knew how to wield those tools with the utmost strength and life-long experience.
A place in our midst has been left empty, and the world as a whole is poorer for it, because of you my friend, having left it…