The last couple of days have been fairly awful, perhaps among the most awful you ever get? I don't know, things tend only head from bad to worse in my life. The reverse switch must have got broken. My closest friend, Amy, died from heart failure, in her sleep. She was a year and a bit older than me or there abouts, I never was great at maths. She was a fellow occupant of the slow lane, in her case because she had a congenital heart problem, so she understood what life looks like from round here, probably better than I do.
On the one level I'm glad she's stopped having to struggle, I'm glad she'll never have to go into hospital again, glad she'll never have to have that pacemaker hanging over her. She's with Jesus in that fantastic resurrection body that is well and active and more alive than anything here. But back here there's a huge Amy shaped gulf opened up in my life and in the lives of everyone who knew her. Just writing that feels so selfish, but it's how I feel.
Writing this is I suppose a way of being able to get out how I'm feeling because I'm so awful at talking to people about how I am, not the "how are you?" thing, the how I really am, deep down. I can pretend to be fine, accomplished at it, seeming ok; but I'm so bad at talking, maybe I can write instead? Even if no one ever reads this except Jesus, I'll have said it. I can't seem to talk to people right now, in a situation like this Amy is the person I would have turned to. When I had a bit of a panic about her funeral I thought to myself, "it's ok, I'll ask Amy to go with me, she'll understand that it's a tough thing to go to, she won't mind and it'll be ok". Then I remembered with that peace-shattering lurch that I couldn't and why the funeral was happening in the first place.
It's all the most stupid stuff that comes to you. How you'd still got her 'Vicar of Dibley' dvd. How you'd already got her birthday present. How there were all these silly trivial little plans we'd made, like building studio flats in the sky, about how one day we'd go to her favourite Chinese and have their lunch deal, or have a special not-on-pancake-day pancake day because she'd been in hospital, or watch Mamma Mia together and laugh and maybe sing along and probably end up waking Holly the cat up by accident. I had my own private plans, I hadn't mentioned to Amy yet, like how I was going to take her out for lunch at 'Albert's Table' to say thank you for being such an amazing friend and where the carpark was from the restaurant and how far she'd need to walk and if it would be better if we just got the bus instead. And now it's not going to happen.
And she's not going to finish those jumpers she started, for some reason the red hoodie chokes me up especially because it was an act of perseverance knitting that, she knew the results would be so good to wear, so soft and warm, but that knitting it in that boucle yarn was horrible. And now there's still a sleeve and a half to go and no one to wear it. We're never going to go to Wesley Owen again and wander around for an unbelievable time and weigh up our different purchases, discuss the music playing and only leave when one of us could barely stand up anymore and we were starting seriously to worry about bankruptcy.
Amy's great legacy is friendship, she was a great, great friend. She took the body of Christ outside the stone walls of a church and made it a 24/7 thing, caring, listening, understanding in ways that no one else could. There's stuff I want to talk about that I just can't because she's not here. No one else would understand so completely and so fast. One thing that has struck me over the past forty-eight hours is how many people describe Amy as their 'best friend'. When I was little prevailing opinion seemed to be that you could only have one 'best friend' and that others came 'second' and 'third' and 'nowhere in particular'. But Amy had lots of 'best friends' and we were all number one. Amy's friendship was also reciprocal, it wasn't just one sided, Amy dispensing friendship, she also had the grace to allow the relationship to be mutual, she supported me and I supported her. That has to be the best form of friendship - like Jesus said:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13.34-5
Amy's faith was great too, I was always urging her to read the Bible more, to pray more. Nothing wrong with that in general, but I think I was arrogant, I didn't give her enough credit for just how great her faith was, well, is. She believed in Jesus while she was here on earth despite all the odds, despite disability and illness and fear and stress and uncertainty and operations and frustrations and crushed dreams. That's faith, just still to be believing and trying to trust, despite everything. I can't remember if I ever said to her how great her faith was, how amazing it was that she still tried to trust Jesus through everything. I reckon He's so proud of her.
A week ago we had lunch, in some ways it was a fairly crap lunch, Wetherspoons was busy, service wasn't great and Amy's burger was burnt, but the company was what I was there for. I'm so glad of that conversation we had, I really hope God helps me to remember more of it. But it felt like a significant conversation, an affirming one. She stopped me feeling awful about myself, helped me to see things more clearly. We discussed the church, I admitted how I felt useless and like a deadweight. I reckon Jesus must have had that same ability when He walked the earth of making whoever He talked to feel special and valued. I think I said she had the gift of friendship, wish I'd said more now. I'm so glad God gave us that last Saturday meeting, it was an extra, we didn't usually do two meetings in a week.
For me right now the road ahead looks incredibly lonely, I'm missing my travelling companion already, all the silly every day bits of news I keep wanting to tell her, about new sock yarn or carrots growing, all the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life. I will admit I'm feeling desolate at times. But I want to keep Amy's gift of friendship going and spreading through the body of Christ and to those who need more love in their lives, whoever they may be. And I know when I arrive home she'll be there to greet me, I'm looking forward to it.