The final hand clasp carried unspoken understanding. It had to serve as a substitute for much else that could have been said but wasn’t. A hospital room full of people not quite sure how to conduct themselves, tip-toeing on egg shells. He sat up in bed, the focus of all the room’s emotion. Present but set apart, he sat with a serenity that embraced and caressed his visitors. There was no opportunity for a private conversation. Too many people in the room and it didn’t seem appropriate. An opportunity lost. Walking out of the room I waved to him and mumbled something as if there would be a next time (instantly regretted, but habits die more slowly than do old friends).
His wife followed us out into the corridor where she allowed herself tears, but we had little consolation to offer except to assure her we would be there for her. At least words flowed freely here, unhindered by the awkwardness of the room.
Twenty years of friendship. Two odd bods who enjoyed pointless nerdy conversations with each other about theology and life’s significance. Dinner and lunch at each other’s houses marked by our pontifications and the indulgence and forebearance of our understanding wives. At those meal times we debated, we conjectured; built up certainties between ourselves in a sanitised and academic dimension, but in the end that dimension had evaporated. My friend, on his death bed, left the head stuff behind, embracing down-to-earth spiritual reality. He had come to terms with death and didn’t seem afraid of it.
I wanted to say to him I admired and envied his calmness, but I didn’t. I stayed mired in awkwardness. He radiated calm.
I didn’t ask him what he was feeling. I would have liked to.
I didn’t tell him I would miss our chats. I didn’t tell him I would miss him.
I didn’t say to him that although our friendship had its ups and downs I was beginning to realise how much it had meant to me.
I didn’t ask his forgiveness for my self centredness and my intolerance. I didn’t tell him I forgave him his.
I didn’t say these things to him but I think he knew anyway.
I felt numb and confused at the prospect of his death, but his faith was unmistakeable, and so was his certainty that all was in hand. I’ve had a little time to process things. I’ve re-learned from his example that faith is stronger than death. I can only hope and trust I remember that when it’s my turn at the head of the queue.