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How a sudden death taught me about the value of connection

Image of gravestones
Davide Ragusa / Unsplash

He was someone I worked with in a well-known record shop back when I was in my early twenties. We weren't the best of friends. In fact sometimes he would seriously get my back up with his outspoken personality and deliberately offensive sense of humour. But for the most part, we got on well. If we were both in early, we would alternate between grabbing each other a coffee in the morning. We'd then have a chat about all the current goings-on in our lives – he would fill me in with the details of any concerts or movies he'd seen recently or was planning on seeing; I would fill him in with my progress at university. They weren't life-changing chats, just things you'd chat about with colleagues or your mates.

If I'm honest, the interactions I had with him weren't something I particularly cherished. At that point in my life, I was fixated on my future and how desperate I was to get my foot on a completely different career ladder. As a result, the relationships I had with the people I worked with (in the vast majority of cases) were quite superficial. But because of his larger-than-life personality, it was hard not to develop a stronger relationship with him than with my other colleagues, even if I wasn't aware of that happening at the time.

Eventually I did find a job in the industry that I had studied so hard to get into. I was finally on my way to making a difference in something I truly cared about. And as soon as I'd left the job with him, our relationship disintegrated. We didn't stay in contact and we didn't text. There were opportunities for me to make contact, but because of my own insecurities and issues that had developed during my time working there, I deliberately avoided going into the store when I easily could have.

We did eventually make contact though. I was browsing the new release paperbacks in a book store very close to my former place of work as I waited for a friend to buy something when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and there he was – a warm smile painted on his face and a familiar glint of cheekiness in his eyes. There was something else there too. Almost like a sense of betrayal or pain which I attributed to the lack of contact we'd had.

We chatted about life, catching up on everything that had happened over the past almost 10 years. It was nice and a stark contrast to the awkward conversation I thought would ensue if we might ever talk to each other again. After we said our goodbyes with a hug, he stepped back and said to me "whenever you're next in town, make sure you come and visit." Even though his slight smile communicated happiness, the same feeling of pain was in his eyes, this time seemingly coupled with a genuine sadness.

I never did pay him a visit though. Not because I tried not to, but as I'd moved away, I simply never had the opportunity to.

A couple of months later, I found out that he had passed away. He'd been diagnosed with a form of late-stage cancer only a few months prior to when I'd last seen him. But him being him, he'd kept it to himself and his closest friends. Perhaps what made it a harder pill to swallow was that he'd kept it from everyone for too long too – he could have survived if only he'd seen his doctor sooner.

I found out through a blog post written by someone else who'd worked with him. It was a beautiful piece reminiscing about this man's extraordinary life and the amazing memories they'd shared together. I remember reading it with a weight in my stomach and a tight throat as I processed something I couldn't quite believe to be true.

The finality of it all was hard to take. Even though I had only seen this man once for the best part of a decade, it just felt impossible that I would never see this man again. For months afterwards, sadness would unexpectedly invade my thoughts, filling my eyes to the brim with tears.

But that wasn't all of what I was feeling. It wasn't just the sense of never seeing him again. It was knowing that the opportunity to do so was gone too. After reading the blog about his death, it was knowing that I never truly knew him in the first place, and that I would now never be able to.

With that came an immense feeling of guilt. I would ruminate on those chats we had, those fallings-out, those euphoric moments of genuine belly laughing, and know that I could have done more. I could have given so much more and I could have gained so much more. If it hadn't been for my own insecurities.

And I suppose that's the moral of this story: don't let your insecurities get in the way of making the most of the people in your life. You never know what, or who, you could be missing out on.


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