What To Do When a Friend Dies
I have lost a dear, old friend. And as my mother said, “you don't find new old friends". What can you do when a friend dies? We were probably never very obvious soulmates – Georgina Henry was intensely political, I spent years working on glossy magazines. But over the last 20 years we became very close, and she was one of the few people I felt safe sharing my secrets and vulnerabilities, disappointments and dreams with. As well as lots of laughs, gossip and shopping expeditions.
Two years ago George was diagnosed with cancer of the sinus. Treatment was brutal and in the end failed to halt her decline. But during much of that time I was not working in the flat-out way we were both used to - we had met at The Guardian, where she was deputy editor and then the creator of Comment is free. Liberated from strict office hours we would wander through Regents Park after a consultant appointment, or I'd visit her house for a long lunch. We literally and figuratively smelled the roses together.
I saw her on Thursday evening, and she died, aged 53, the next day. And now I don't know what to do with my sadness. I am not a family member, busy with the details of a funeral and organising a home without the mother and wife at its centre, and there are many, many colleagues and friends. So I am writing about it in the way that journalists like George and I asked other people to write about experiences – and then nudged them into giving a little more detail, another insight.
But what insights are there to have? A friend who lost her own dear friend last year counsels that her great pal was still there in spirit - “I talk to her, I still ask what she would do". Another person tells me that you get used to the sadness, and you treasure the memories of happy times you spent together. But right now, it just seems random and bad that a good woman, a mother of teens, and a contented wife, should no longer be here, where she belongs.
So I have decided that George is going to be my spirit guide. When I don't know if I can be fagged to come back into the office to finish something after dinner, or read the potentially interesting but very long piece on some new tech innovation, I am going to ask What would George do? If you read Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger's obituary or the appreciation by former editor Peter Preston you can see how important she was to the development of digital at that paper.
Both of us, for different reasons, had realised that work wasn't everything, but she was hugely supportive of my plans for welldoing.org, introducing me to people who might help, encouraging me - a dyed in the wool “print person" - to step firmly into the digital present. It won't make much difference to the George-shaped hole in my heart, but making this a vibrant, interactive, useful, conversation-filled place where people can do everything from finding the right therapist for them, to feeling free to communicate with others about difficult subjects like depression and anxiety, can be my memorial to our friendship - and to a truly inspirational person I feel blessed to have known and loved.