Saturday 18 March 2017

A letter to my friend

Once we knew we were losing you, we acted fast, we booked tickets that same day, for a week away. We averted facing our grief through action, forward movement. Whatever else, we would get to see you again. Then I entertained a daydream of us, the wee gang we had just been forming before you got that news: having a laugh together, standing on a hill, posing, looking out to sea, of us driving, through the beauty, in the bubble of each other’s company. Or if we couldn’t do that, sat having a coffee, listening to each other’s voices, enjoying the moment. That moment would signify all of the other potential moments we never got to have.

I started to like you very quickly. I can’t define why, certain people you just like from the get go. I could just see what a good person you are. It was easy to spend time with you. That amazing combination of being comfortable in someone’s presence yet being excited about getting to know them at the same time.

I remember second guessing myself inwardly that day when we went for burgers, I fired so many questions at you and it occurred to me that you might think I was coming on a bit strong, like, ‘please be my friend’. I wasn’t even sure why. I mean, sure, you’re awesome, but I have friends already. I spend most of my time missing my friends. I had built up this pretty effective wall that was stopping me from really emotionally engaging with the people I’ve met along my journey since leaving the UK. I liked people, sure, but I was never fully there. Because my heart broke so badly the day I left home, I just couldn’t take being hurt again. But then there was Melbourne, then there was Grace, then there was you.

We were just getting to know each other, and I was mad at you for going to India. Well, not really mad, of course, but I knew how much I was going to miss you – a whole month gone! But I also knew you would have an epic trip and stories to tell when you came back. I can recall calling you a bastard for leaving on your last day. But I also gave you a big hug, I’m so happy I did that.

Then you came back, but you didn’t, you only got as far as Dunedin. Then you got that news. Then you being gone was an ongoing state.

I knew it was bad. Cancer has already taken so many people I love, it will continue to do so, and may even take me, but you never really know what will happen, the world always zigs when it’s supposed to zag. And, you know well enough that I’ve had my own shit going on these last few months, and selfishly, I missed having you to bounce stuff off during that time.

We wanted to come down to see you the whole time, but we also didn’t want to intrude, or be alarmist. I kept thinking you’d make it back up to Welly, or we’d just go down when you were up to having visitors. I thought we had time, we always think we have time.

The day we knew we had no more time, we booked flights, we made arrangements, I don’t think that we could have reasonably moved faster than we did, but I will always be mad at myself for not moving faster.

I started writing this letter to you on the Saturday, when your sister called and I thought we might not be able to see you, because you had already gone into a hospice. It was up in the air, we decided to put a pin in it until the Monday. I wrote the first few lines of this letter but then put it aside, because it was making me sad, and I thought I had time to finish it.

But you died on the Sunday. You bastard.

Now I’m sat in Wellington airport, continuing the letter I will never get to give to you. I’m looking forward to meeting your sister, she sounds like a dude. But this is not the trip it should have been, it’s not that daydream, it’s not us together again, it never will be now. Grace moved her flights to go to your wake on Monday, but I chose a different path, I chose to come today, because when it comes to saying goodbye, we all have different paths to walk.

I’ve never lost anyone at the cusp of truly getting to know them before, I’ve always lost friends at the height of loving them. But with those friends, we had made so many memories together, that I could look back on and carry with me through the dark days. With you, I feel like we had the potential for so many more memories. And you, had the potential for decades more life, regardless of us, and you were due it, and that truth makes me want to smash a hole in the world. I’ve been very angry these last couple of days. So achingly, inconsolably angry.

I’m done with the plane bit. I had an aisle to myself and window seat, of course it would happen on a day like today – my ideal journey. I met Amber, she is indeed awesome. Great fucking surprise there, ey? I also saw you. Although not actually saw you, but you chose a cardboard casket, which we could write on. It was bizarre yet great. I stuck on the messages from people, wrote more, added stickers, and then looked at your photos, and let the enormity of the fact that I will never see you again hit me like a ton of bricks. I won’t see you again, but I can hear your voice, clear as day, and I didn’t expect that. I guess I expected that you needed to know someone much longer before that voice was clear, but I’ve learned now that it isn’t the amount of time you have with someone, but the connection you have that makes the impact.

Then I found myself waiting, stood stock still in that room, and I couldn’t move a muscle, I didn’t know why. But then I realised, as long as I was stood in that room, I didn’t have to say goodbye. I’ve never been very good at letting go. But even I knew I couldn’t just stand in that room forever. And I could feel you looking at me, that photo of you in India looking over a bowl of flowers, directly at me, and it was then I knew, I had to leave the room. We always, at some point, have to leave the room.

The place you chose is awesome and chill, more like someone’s home than a place of rest. It was cool to have your iPod playing – some nice choices by the way, a conversation we never really got around to having. And bugger me, after days of rain in both Welly and Dunedin, if the sun didn’t come out today. The sky is bright blue and it’s beautiful. I also met your brother, although that was a shock. He looks so much like you! But on first impressions at least, Amber seems more like you in personality. The cardboard coffin was a good way to do it, I like the idea of people expressing all of their love onto it, and then it all burning away. There is something oddly anarchic about it, we’ve come a long way from the days of enforced Goditute, haven’t we? With the greatest respect to those who do follow a religion, but it is nice that we are allowed to find our own way through now days, and that is something that has changed in our lifetimes.

I sort of feel like all of this is an aberration, I’ve felt that way for the last two years. That lingering sense that I’m not where I’m supposed to be, that I’ve somehow derailed a life that was taking a far more straightforward path. It was a coping mechanism I guess, because it made me feel less far away from the handful of people that I love to my very core. But you and Grace, through just being you, made me present, while not letting go of those relationships, because I work hard to keep them present, but I opened my heart to the people around me as well, you guys did that. You bastards.

And now here I am, sat outside a pub in the Octagon, in the blistering heat, having a pint of Speights (as one must when in Dunedin) having already wandered around a second hand shop that enticed me in with the sign ‘life is too short to wear bad clothes’. There was nothing in that shop over $20, but all of it was lovely, my kind of shop. I got this kickass jacket, with roses on it. It kind of reminds me of something you would wear, although not deliberately, maybe subconsciously, either way – I rock it. And I finally found somewhere that would serve me lunch, at the late time of 2.30 pm, forgetting what I had learned the first time I visited, that Dunedin exists in this sort of perpetual Sunday. I wanted to have an adventure with you guys today, but instead I had my own adventure, because of you.

Amber said that your way of coping was to not look it in the eye, and to be concerned about the impact of your illness on other people. That sounds familiar. If it helps – my way of coping was to also not look it in the eye, that’s why I rarely mentioned it when I wrote to you, and why it came as a surprise to many of my close friends back home, even the ones I really trust, I didn’t tell them until the final hour. And I only did that to give them some context of how I was likely to be in the upcoming weeks, which in turn affects other situations and dynamics, because our fragile ecosystems are always so interconnected.

I always thought I couldn’t do it alone – you know? And I’ve always let people reinforce that.

The thing that scared me the most about leaving the UK was the thought of not being there if something bad happened to someone I love. But what I’ve learned is, you’re never there at the end, unless you’re in the room. And when you’re in the room, it’s always the worst moment you will ever experience in your life. We’re always alone at the end, and all of the way through in fact. But this is our greatest strength when all is said and done. Doesn’t mean we don’t love though, oh my fucking God do we love. I’ll always be a romantic at heart, I will always look to find meaning and patterns and stories and metaphors as ways to get by, and there will always be a couple of things I want that I can never have. One of those things, is time. There will never be enough time, to feel everything we need to, experience everything we want to, and be all that we want to be to the people that we love. But that’s okay, because at some point, we always have to leave the room.

I knew you such a short time Dayna, but I loved you. And I will just really, really miss you. But thank you for choosing to let me be a part of your world. As Amber said, you’re picky in who you choose, so I was lucky. And thank you, for helping to bring me back to life when the time was right. It hurts so badly, but you were worth it, you’ve reminded me that it’s always worth it. I’m so goddamn lucky to be here right now, and I promise, I promise you, I will do my best not to waste any more time waiting on a tomorrow that we both know, is never going to come.

My day ended with another window seat, another empty aisle, and a sunset that was like liquid gold melting across the sky. I’ve never seen anything like it before. I cried and cried until my contact lenses fell out, and the kind Air NZ ladies gave me extra treats with my coffee after I’d reached that fairly numb point.

The journey is too short, it’s never a good time to go. But oh my God, what a journey ey dude? Isn’t it just the greatest, most terrible and wonderful thing ever?

But now you’ve zigged when you should have zagged, which is, like Amber said, not the journey you guys had planned. You bastard. You know every time I call you that, it’s me hiding behind my British sarcasm, don’t you? You’re one of the good ones, and I knew it, that’s one of the reasons it hurts so badly, and always will. But you’re travelling in all of us now Dayna, for as long as we’re here, you’re here, and we’re all travelling together.

So, travel well, Dayna Kalinowski.

This song was chosen by Grace for a video message she put together to send to you from the office. But it says everything I would want to say about how I feel about you, so I’ll be honest, I’ve listened to it a lot, and I know it’s the right one to share now.   


  1. Well I'm now in tears. What a lovely tribute to your friend. You don't have to know someone for years to feel as if you've known them for years. I'm sorry for your loss.

  2. Beautiful tribute, the raw emotion of loss and love is tangible. I wish you strength and love as you move forward on your journey with the legacy of this strong bond and friendship to comfort you as you do.

    1. Thank you for reading and for your response Tanya, it really does mean an awful lot to me.
      Chrissy x