Wishing we could make it better.

I’ve been quiet for the last couple of days. There’s been a few times I’ve started to write, but it just hasn’t felt right. It feels flippant, perhaps even disrespectful, to bang on about the every day, the things we take for granted. I keep seeing flashes of the same faces, I keep seeing a friend and her sparkling blue eyes. I keep going back in time to a coffee shop in Houston. A group of women, all of them I know would be feeling the same as I am at the moment, flat, wishing they could make it better.

When I was seventeen a boy I grew up with, a very close family friend, was killed in a car accident. For his family and anyone that knew him, it was a truly tragic event.  I sat between my parents at his funeral feeling not only sad but incredibly self conscious, it was a new experience and I felt like I was part of a ceremony that I didn’t really understand.

Inside the church, there were lots of familiar faces but everyone seemed uncomfortable, like they were in a costume they didn’t choose, boys in suits, boys who I’d never seen wear a suit before. Every young person in the room shared a similar look, a mixture of being sad, confused and uncomfortable. They didn’t know the rules. The ‘right’ way to act. I remember seeing a friend from our home town and I began to smile and wave and then I quickly stopped myself, thinking I’d done something wrong, that we weren’t meant to smile.

When someone younger dies, there’s not only sadness but also confusion. Everyone is trying to understand it, trying to make sense of it, because it just doesn’t make any sense. We don’t take our babies home and think that it’s a temporary situation. “What are you going to do when you grow up?”

After the funeral we went back to his parents house. They wanted to talk about him and everyone started telling stories, but I couldn’t. I hadn’t hit that level of maturity. I snuck out the front door and went for a walk. I sat on a little footbridge by a creek and remembered being nine and innocently making beds out of cushions under pool tables. Watching the feet of our parents as they all drank and laughed. We recorded them and pretended to be spies.  I remembered stupid stuff, watching the first episode of Sale of the Century, fighting about where to build the cubby.

Later, as we walked to the car to leave, I watched my parents hug his parents, it was awful, there’s no other word for it, just awful. They had lost something irreplaceable and there was nothing to say. No one could make it better. I was sitting in the back seat, my parents in the front, and as we pulled away my mother turned to my father and said the cliche that we all know to be true “it’s not meant to happen this way, you are not meant to live longer than your children”.

When terrible things occur, snapshots uncontrollably pop up in our memories. You can be sitting at the traffic lights and as you gaze off you’ll see yourself, brand new to Houston, first day of school, you don’t know anyone. You make eye contact with a very pretty English woman who tells you about her two girls. One of her girls is the same age as yours. You’ll remember how she seemed to have all the time in the world for you and how you left with a list of numbers, including her own, and a feeling that you’d made a friend.

Later as you walk with your trolley and your shopping list through the isles of the supermarket, you’ll be taken back to where you were when you first heard the news that her beautiful little girl Laura was sick. You try to be inconspicuous with your sleeve as you wipe away a tear and carry on.

You’ll drive past a familiar landmark and remember it was her that first told you about Qatar, she had a map and in your house in Houston she showed you where the supermarkets were in Doha. Laura had already started chemo by then. You’ll jump as the person behind you toots their horn and you realize you’re sobbing and on the wrong side of the road.

As you wait for your children to come out of school you’ll think about the email, the false hope from only 12 months ago “we’ve had some good news, it looks like Laura will be back at school in August”. As you watch your children saunter out of the school gates you’ll question how it can be fair that yours and everyone else’s life seems to be going on as usual. How can this be fair? Isn’t there a way we can share the pain? It doesn’t seem right that one family has to deal with all of it while the rest of us appear to be unscathed.

Over the past year and a half, I have watched and listened, at first up close and then from a distance, a family go through the highs of thinking there was hope and the stomach churning lows of realizing there wasn’t. Bad news followed good news. And then it was just bad news.

A couple of days ago, they lost her.

Now that I’m an adult, I can see it doesn’t get any clearer with age. There are no reasons, no magical things to say or do to make it better. It’s still the same.  

Just awful.

I thought today of all the people all over the world that are thinking of Laura. In our expat transient world she managed in a short time to make friends from all over the globe. Her parents being who they are, have people who adore them everywhere. I know there are a group of us here in Qatar, others in Perth, friends in Scotland, more in Dubai. A tribe in England.

There’s so many of us. Wishing we could make it better.

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