I awoke this morning to the terrible news that my dear friend Laura passed away suddenly last evening. Though I've spent most of the day in correspondence with her family and friends trying to make sense of what happened, her death still feels completely unreal. Laura was… well, wonderful. Funny, brilliant, compassionate, loving, insightful, wise and occasionally tough, she brought a warm light to the lives of all who knew her.
The strange thing is that I never met Laura in person. We connected on Facebook a year and a half ago, introduced by mutual friends, and struck up a friendship that, in the ensuing months, became one I cherished. I suppose we became friends partly because we had so much in common. We'd attended the same school (though in different years) and had dozens of mutual friends. We shared a passion for justice, laughter and art. And we'd both been affected by abusive past relationships. Just as importantly, however, our friendship grew from the fact that she seemed such an incredibly kind, generous and open person. She never tired of seeking out old friends or making new ones, and always found time to read and comment on others' posts as well as writing her own. Whenever she sensed a need - for a listening ear, a word of encouragement, a gentle reminder of alternative perspectives - she took time to help.
Which was extraordinary. Because, you see, Laura was a divorced mother and accomplished scientist who suffered from various health issues and worked ridiculously long hours. As the many tributes rolled in today, I was astonished to learn she'd corresponded regularly with dozens of people. Given her heavy workload, family responsibilities and physical limitations, where did she find the time and energy to be so supportive and engaged?
Which makes me feel guilty on top of everything else. Did those of us who called her friend, who drew on her strength, love and compassion, ask too much of her? Did we exhaust her to the point her body was unable to carry on? I prefer to think we didn't - to believe that the love she gave and received strengthened her - but, of course, I can't know that for sure.
What I am sure of is that she will be greatly missed - by her son, who was the centre of her world, by her family, whom she adored, and by her many friends, who will carry her in their hearts forever.
Laura couldn't run due to a degenerative joint condition, although she often said my posts made her wish she could. So when I finally pulled myself together late this afternoon, I went for a run. I ran for Laura - because she couldn't, and because her death has reminded me again of how desperately fragile life can be.
Laura, wherever you are, I hope you are at peace, joyfully reunited with your dad, Johan and everyone else you loved who went before you. Try not to worry about us. The grief your friends and family are feeling is just another expression of our great love for you. Yes, it's painful but it will become more bearable in time and the joy you brought to this world will be the thing we remember best. The many gifts you gave us in your lifetime - understanding, compassion, wisdom, and laughter - remain in our hearts and memories to support, encourage and inspire us for the rest of our lives. Rest well, my beautiful friend.