Grieving for an Acquaintance

5 March 2019

I wasn’t close to Lucy*. We were regular performers in an annual low budget student theatre show. A rag tag collation of short plays, performance art and poetry readings.

Lucy and I didn’t talk very much. She was quiet and pensive, whereas I managed my shyness by rambling about nothing in particular at a hundred miles an hour. We weren’t best friends, but we were more than acquaintances. I liked her company, her sharp sense of humour and her thoughtfulness. She was never afraid to be herself, pure electric on stage and soft-spoken empathy off stage. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be her, befriend her or watch her light up the theatre. I’ll never know now.

We shared many moments squeezed backstage in the wings with our elbows banging against one another, united in nerves and exhilaration. Or celebrating at post show drinks in a scruffy bar, high off the applause and drunk on cheap cider.

It was a comforting ritual enjoyed for the past three years and I assumed it would go on forever. But it can’t happen anymore.

Lucy died a few months ago.

No one could have seen it coming. It was devastating, shocking and sudden. Most of the time, I don’t know what I’m feeling or how I’m supposed to feel. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to feel. All I know is, I feel.

But I wasn’t friends with Lucy. Technically, I was an acquaintance, a thread that wove in and out of her life as she did in mine. Every life is an intricate web of relationship threads and without them, people would not exist outside of their own consciousness. Some threads are strong while others lace in and out, unravelling and tightening over time.

Relationships can typically fit into three categories, friends, family and co-workers. Any relationship outside of that and it becomes harder to explain. From school playmate, classmate, friends with benefits, local bartender, gym instructor, waiter who always remembers your order, ex partners, the cheeky flirtation, slightly closer than acquaintances but not quite friends. Everyone has these loosely threaded connections.

How are you supposed to feel when someone who you weren’t close with dies? Do you have the right to mourn? Suddenly you’re stuck, frightened to show too much, frightened to show too little. There’s no brochure or pamphlet for how you’re supposed to and allowed to feel, especially, if you weren’t that close.

Our society finds it hard to tolerate grief. It’s all right for an afternoon, acceptable for a week, but any longer and you’d better keep it behind a firmly closed door. If you weren’t ‘really close’ to the person: take a moment, acknowledge it and move on.  Grief isn’t an easy topic to discuss. It reminds us of our own mortality and with that, brings a lot of baggage. The less we talk about grief and death, the more power it holds over us. We can’t ignore a fundamental part of the human experience. We can’t expect to be mentally sound if we block out death until it happens to someone close to us.  

I can’t simply move on. I can’t stop thinking of Lucy. I keep trying to come to terms with the fact that we will never share a smile or a drink again. I don’t know how to stop my heart shuddering, stomach churning every time I remember that I won’t see her again.

I have been locked in an unending battle with my emotions. The confused and dismissive reactions of family and friends have made me question whether I’m allowed to grieve for Lucy. Do I have a right to feel so bereft? Am I so self absorbed that I’m drowning myself in the tragedy of a young woman who I barely knew?

I don’t have answers to any of my questions. I haven’t stopped second-guessing my feelings; I’m still as lost as before. All I know is that emotions are strength, not weakness. All I know is that I think about Lucy every day. But we weren’t even really friends.

*Her name has been changed to protect privacy.

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