Being friends because your friend is dead

By Emma Pearson

February 8, 2023

Main image – a shop we chanced upon. Other photos my own these past days.

26 November 2022

I have been having a few lovely days in Paris. It might be best known for being gorgeous in the Spring, and I do like it in the Summer too, but I think it’s lovely in the Autumn as well. Plenty of trees with oranges and yellows in them, fresh temperatures, blue to blue-grey skies. Nice.

The impetus for the four-day break was my childhood bestie, Nat, who lives in the US, being over here to spend some time with her ageing mumma. It made sense for me to make the short schlep from where I live to come here so that we could spend quality time together. Which we did.

We had good chunks of time together on two separate days. We went walking around charming parts of this vibrant city, along the Seine, had coffees, lunches, wine, went to see Carmen at the Opera, and enjoyed much excellent conversation.

Le long de la Seine

Proper, quality conversation.

It’s a rare thing, a precious gift, in my life. To have proper, quality conversation.

Unhurried.

No irksome, repetitive, iterative interruptions.

No topic hogging.

No imbalance in talking and listening.

To be asked questions, listened to, even if the topics are often bittersweet.

I hope that we both offered each other that precious gift.

I hope we got the balance of listening and talking about right.

I think we did.

Exquisitely precious.

Cool image of our irises

Today my bestie is flying home, but I am still here, and have met up with another friend. In fact, it’s less that I met up with a pre-existing friend, and more that I spent some time with someone who is becoming a new friend. This new friend is less than a third of my age, and is only in my life because she is a friend of Julia’s.

If Julia were alive, I probably wouldn’t have reached out to her while on a short break to Paris.

If Julia were alive, we probably wouldn’t be developing our fledgling relationship.

But she – and a few other friends of Julia’s –make an effort to spend time with me. I appreciate their efforts enormously. And I think they all get something positive out of their efforts. And so I chose to do the same with her while on my trip to Paris.

And now, she is becoming my friend.

But it’s all only because Julia died.  

It’s a delicate thing, and not to be taken lightly.

How to get the balance right – her, now busy and engaged in a new student life in Paris, carving out time to see a friend’s mum. Fully aware that her precious friend is no longer alive. Knowing that you are only seeing the mum because your friend has died.

Me wanting to be super sure that she genuinely wants to meet up, doesn’t feel obliged to do so, and that she gets something out of it. Even if it is bittersweet.

Only seeing one another because Julia died. Gorgeous, beautiful, vibrant Julia. Daughter and friend. With whom we both had far too short a relationship.

There’s no replacing Julia. We both know that.

I don’t “get Julia back” by hanging out with her friend. Not even for a minute.
She doesn’t “get Julia back” by hanging out with Julia’s mum. Not even for a second.

If anything, we are all the more aware of the gaping Julia-sized hole between us, which should be filled with a Julia-sized presence.

But it feels important to continue these bonds. To develop these bonds and nurture them.

It feels precious. It feels gentle.

And yes, the time we had today was bittersweet.

Of course it was. How could it not be?

I am proud of this friend of Julia’s.

I am proud too of the small handful of other friends who have reached out, particularly this past year, their final year at school and their first year at university. Now scattered all over Europe, and who organise to come round sometimes when they are back home.

They send me little updates of their new lives at university. Their courses of study. Their interests. Perhaps a photo of their student bedroom. Perhaps an image of where they have placed a photo of their friend Julia. Taking her to university with them, somehow. And letting me know that they remember her still.

It’s courageous of them. Very brave.

They are bold, these young women.

They are not afraid to talk about their friend.

They are not afraid to talk to their dead friend’s mum.

They are not afraid of keeping Julia in their lives.

They are not afraid of talking about mental health and depression and suicide.

They are not afraid of the hard stuff of life.

Or if they are, they do it anyway.

I am so grateful.

Bittersweet as it is.

Hard as it is.

Such a precious gift – to connect with a dead friend’s mum, even when your friend is dead.

Such a precious gift – to connect with a dead friend’s mum, precisely because your friend is dead.

Knowing nothing brings her back.

Knowing it is hard.

Knowing there are no easy topics of conversation. Not really.

But doing it anyway.

Thank you precious Leta.

Thank you for your brave-hearted courage.

Parc Belleville

About Emma Pearson

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