When People Die Young

Is life supposed to follow some sort of narrative arc? Somehow I always feel it should. As if each of us are the central characters in our own stories. We don’t know quite what will happen but as the years go by, our stories unfold and as we come towards the end we can look back and make some sense of it all.

Which may explain to some extent why it is so awful when people die young – before their story has been completed. Their lives seem unfinished, the dreams we all have for their future just evaporate.

A friend passed away last weekend. She wasn’t a close friend but I liked her a lot. Some of her closest friends were also my closest friends so she and I would see each other a few times a year at various gatherings. I counted her amongst my friends – but on that sort of outer circle. I would like to have known her better.

I nearly didn’t write about her – I don’t want to exploit her as a subject for this blog, or make a play for sympathy – her tragedy is not my tragedy, and while I’m terribly saddened by her death, I’m not grieving in the same deep way that her family or close friends are. So please, if you choose to comment, don’t offer me your sympathies – I don’t want to make this about me. Its about her.. she was important and her life, while short, made a difference. I guess I want people to know that.

In spite of how little I really knew her, she was inspiring. She was one of those people who made you feel important and valued. When ever we would meet she would smile at me with her warm, welcoming smile, ask questions and seem genuinely interested in my world. Which to me seemed so mundane compared to hers. I was always happy to see her, she helped me feel good about myself.

Whenever I spent time with her I would walk away wanting to be a little more like her. She was fun to be around, with a great sense of humour and she always had something interesting to say. She was confident without being arrogant and had a calm about her – an inner peace that sprang, I suppose from contentment. I know she was happy in her life.

She was highly intelligent and at a young age started working in very senior positions in our state government. Assistant Director General of a government department at the age of 38 is rare. I also work for the state government as an assistant principal of a primary school. It is a senior role with a lot of responsibility, but in our government hierarchy, I’m a mere ant. This woman had gone far in a short term.

I was in awe of her achievements professionally, her ability to lead people, deal with government ministers, negotiate policy with very powerful people. She didn’t seem to be daunted by any of this, inspire of her comparative youth.

I used to wonder how she did it all. She seemed to have found the secret to work-life balance, the same secret I am always trying to unlock. While working hard in this very senior role, she was also a devoted mother to her two young children, and a devoted wife. She had strong, enduring friendships. She was healthy and active, and participated in her community.

She had achieved so much already – I enjoyed speculating about her future – she had the potential to achieve anything and I wondered where she would go next.

However, just over a week ago she died suddenly – an aneurysm. While she was a picture of vitality and good health, she had this lurking condition, which no one knew about. It could have happened to her at any time.

The pain and grief her family and friends are suffering is immeasurable. It seems so unjust, not just the pain of losing her, but also the injustice of her dying before her story was told – I don’t think it was even halfway through.

She did, however, in her time with us make this world a better place. Aside from the significant policy work she did with State Government, that improves the lives of Australians daily, at a personal level she made a difference. She was like a pebble thrown into a still pond – the ripples of her life spread out and affected so many of us. I think I’m a better person for having known her – she inspired me to aim high and to face challenges without being daunted. I try to emulate her poise and calm confidence, her warmth in all her interactions.

At the end of it all, perhaps our story doesn’t matter. Perhaps life isn’t supposed to be a narrative after all. It makes me sad to compare my friend’s life to a story and lament that it ended before it was finished. A better analogy for her life might be to compare it to a song – which was beautiful and inspired, and even when its over, remains with us, weaving its melody through our consciousness, adding its rhythm to our step, continuing to warm our hearts and inspire our souls as we make our way through this world.

I’m grateful to have known her.

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