On January 15th, 2022, I emailed my friend, Maranda, to say I’d been trying to contact her for a couple of weeks but hadn’t received a response. I made it clear that I wouldn’t be offended if she didn’t want to talk to me – I just wanted to make sure she was okay.
My last message to Maranda, on January 4th, hadn’t been acknowledged and I just found this very out of character. We’d frequently exchange messages – at least once a week – and last had an exchange on Christmas Day. So for her not to send me a message for several weeks was just a bit disconcerting.
However, I’d learned a lesson from a couple of years previously, when a friend simply “ghosted” me overnight – by blocking me on Facebook. We never had any kind of falling out (two days previously she was recommending a curry house in Cambridgeshire) but she had become increasingly aloof since I moved closer to her – geographically – in 2017. She also suffered generalised anxiety disorder, but I’m not using that as a defence for one being so cold.
Primarily because I have reason to believe she also said some pretty detrimental things to her colleagues about me, so I concluded this “friendship” was all a lie from day one.
So it crossed my mind – had I been the victim of another ghosting? Did my good friend also secretly dislike me and my pooch?
Yet I knew Maranda was better than that. Anxiety or no anxiety, she wasn’t the sort of person who would simply abandon someone for no good reason. Unlike the friend who ghosted me, she would frequently instigate messages and genuinely seemed to care – about me and the dog.
Luna was her “baby girl” so the thought of her severing ties with both of us was simply unthinkable.
We also had a mutual appreciation for hedgehogs, as I recall her – but mostly Luna – exploding with joy when Hamilton the Hedgehog (also known as Batman) took residence in our garden.
And on the subject of garden visitors, Maranda had - quite literally – thrown herself in front of a cat that Luna was "playing with" in the garden. Luna meant no harm, but was a bit too "full on" for the cat. Maranda suffered some severe scratches to her arms, but later said she was protecting Luna, not the cat.
No, she loved my pooch, so ghosting her was a most unlikely scenario.
As the weeks passed I let my overthinking brain convince me that another friend had changed their personality overnight and didn’t want further contact. I hated myself for judging her by the standards of lesser mortals, but when one person treats you like crap it impacts on how you interact with others. You start thinking all your friends are closet sociopaths who could leave you in the dust at any moment.
Sadly, her ghosting me would have been preferable to the truth.
The truth was that my friend, in her early forties, had passed away on December 29th 2021.
It was around 1am when I read the news on Facebook, so the shock hit me like a tsunami. I just read the post over and over again, and my overwhelming thought – apart from how and why – was “What could I have done to prevent this?”
People younger than me don’t just die. We’d spoken at length about anxiety and depression in the past so my initial thought was that maybe things had just reached breaking point.
I messaged her on the day she died, December 29th, but the message was never read.
What if I’d messaged her on the 27th or 28th? Would a simple “hope you’re okay?” have changed anything?
I still had her Christmas present sitting in my Amazon basket because I couldn’t even afford to order it in time for Christmas. What if I’d sent it in time?
Please understand that I’m under no illusion that I was anywhere near the centre of her universe – but sometimes the smallest things have the biggest impact. Smiling at a stranger in the street could give them that tiny seed of hope that prevents them from falling into a pit of despair. We should never underestimate the power of kindness, no matter how trivial an act of kindness it may seem.
Nobody is immune from taking their own life, so this did play on my mind for a few days.
Thankfully, I did soon learn that my friend hadn’t taken her own life. Obviously this didn’t bring her back, but it gave me a small grain of comfort to know that she didn’t reach that point where she saw no other way out.
Therefore no number of dog photos or kind words could have made anything better. Although they may have given her a few more smiles in her last days.
Now you may be wondering why, if we were such good friends, I read the news on Facebook – at the same time as strangers who had probably never met her.
Maranda and I had no mutual friends. We were housemates – for nine months – but I never met any of her friends. That's mainly because we were in lockdown together, so had our own little "bubble universe" going on.
Although I have since contacted one of her closest friends, who apologised for me finding out about her passing on social media.
Obviously I understand how difficult it would be to track down every friend of a friend who had passed away. People don't really keep address books anymore, so unless you have access to the person's email and mobile phone I imagine it would be very difficult.
I had written a Luna blog during lockdown – which Maranda loved – so I believe the best way I can honour her memory is to write about how Luna became her "wee baby girl" and how she taught me a lot about being kind to others.
Maranda came into my life literally days before the friend who ghosted me hit the "block" button – and I distinctly recall that strange sense of "grief" that hangs over you when someone does something so callous. It can't be explained unless it's been done to you, but it's almost like that person has died.
Except you're dead to them, but they're not dead to you – they're just not the person you thought they were.
I recall wanting to tell Maranda why I was so "distant" and "preoccupied" at this time, but didn't know her well enough at this point. I didn't want her to judge me based on someone else treating me like crap.
That blocking was like the "seed of doom" for 2020 as the whole world fell apart shortly afterwards and my mental health sunk to new depths.
Perhaps it was that whole intense period that brought Maranda and I closer together. The "grief" of losing someone I cared about, closely followed by a global pandemic and suddenly being thrown together during a lockdown.
I didn't want a "lockdown buddy" – apart from Luna – but living with Maranda taught me more about being empathic to another human soul. When things got really tough she was there to lend an ear or give me a hug, and vice versa, I tried to be there for her too.
Today, as I scroll back through our messages, I see one from 3rd December, 2021.
Referring to me and Luna Face, she writes: "You are both beautiful, inside and out"
You may think she was too kind, but she saw the beauty in everyone - inside and out.