I did not expect to be writing another note about bereavement quite so soon. I found out today that a dear friend died last week. He was two years away from his seventieth birthday and that just seems wrong. Then I gave some thought to the people who lived under a public spotlight and who, over the past couple of years, have also died far too early.
It doesn't seem possible that we knew each other for more than thirty years, but I've just done the sums and we did. I met him through work. He was a teacher and I had a job flitting about from school to school doing musical things as I went. Somehow we just clicked. He invited me round to his and I met his wife, while they were still together. Occasionally over the years I have encountered his now grown up children. All of them are lovely people. When I was dealing with coming out, he heard about it over some kind of bush telegraph and he was one of the first to phone me up, arrange to meet and to offer support. He understood my situation exactly, because the same thing had happened to him.
We were not the kind of friends who were always on the phone or who met up very week, but he was the kind of friend who always had a listening ear and I hope I was able to reciprocate from time to time. I think I did.
One day, soon after the news I had an almost overwhelming urge to phone him. I needed to talk about my loss and he is the friend I would often choose for such delicate conversations. It was like a punch in the chest to realise that he wasn't going to be able to take my call and that never again would we be able to share these intimacies. It's not even as though I could claim we were best friends because I don't think we were. We did, though, have a connection and we could mardle for hours face to face, on the phone, or typing in an internet chat room.
His friend count was remarkable. He knew everyone. He networked without any of the pretentions that often accompany networking. Parties at his cottage on the coast were wall-to-wall people of whom I knew perhaps only one or two. The guests were invariably male, professional, partnered and gay. Gay and "sorted" - or at least giving the impression of being sorted. I wonder how many had ever played matchmaker for him. I wonder how many had at one time, or perhaps many times, been his lover. He often found a man to love who turned out to be a bastard. I have sometimes wondered if I was one of those men, but I've been told by a few people that he thought fondly of me. I'm surprised I even came up in conversations. I don't know if that made it worse or better. He went through a long phase of returning to being with a man who often treated him badly by going off with someone else. I used to tell him he deserved better treatment, but he was loyal and kept letting him back into his life.
The trouble with my friend was that he never knew how not to be a friend. I don't think he found the off-switch for friendship and ex-lovers mostly remained friends. We talked about it a lot.
The funeral was extraordinary. The large parish church was full and I was one of maybe fifty or sixty people who had to stand throughout the service at the west end of the nave behind the pews. So many people, like me, were able to confess that he had been one of the first to make contact when we moved into his area - even the vicar who led the service. Unlike the parties at his there were many people at the funeral I had not seen for years. Some, as is usual, had faces I couldn't match with names and, of course, I had to deal with the embarrassment of failing to recognise some people I thought I knew well. However, we all had similar feelings. He loved people and he was gone too early.