My best friend died three months ago.
That sentence is almost harder to write than her eulogy. The writer in me wants to change the ending, wants to create a happy ever after for her and for her young family, but there’s nothing I can do. Just like there was nothing I could do to heal or fix her. I couldn’t create a weapon to win this war. I couldn’t fight her battle with a pen or dream up a hero to send to her rescue.
Cheryl was a childhood friend, one of a little band of dysfunction that somehow gelled together once upon a time. She was my walking buddy, my listening ear. Always. Aside from my family, she was one of the few constants. No matter where I was in the world, we were in contact, even if we didn’t see each other for months at a time. Phone calls were made from dance floors in Abu Dhabi when ‘our song’ came on. Pictures of her children opening Santa presents arrived when I wasn’t home for christmas. Little loveheart emojis were sent back and forth, out of the blue, just cos.
A few years back, based at home in Leitrim and on a mission to shift the pounds gained from too much of the good life, a walk with Cheryl became part of my daily life. We laughed a lot together. We ranted and fumed. We talked and talked. And we listened. Cheryl listened, even long after the walking phase ended, which it inevitably did. When I country hopped once more, it was just a question of geography.
Since Cheryl died, I’ve retraced old steps. I’ve gone on lots of our old walks. They were lonely.
Some time after her death, I decided to take a road trip to clear my head. I went to Donegal. I visited another old friend and I took some time to myself on the Wild Atlantic Way.
It was here that I realised everything was going to be ok.
On my last morning in Donegal, I rose early to watch the sunrise over Mount Errigal, then drove along rugged coastline on a mission to climb as much of Sliabh Liag as I could.
Something made me take a break along the way.
I parked at Glencolmcille to take a wander and a few photographs. Cheryl was on my mind and I was filled with an unshakeable sadness. When I set foot on the beach, waves lapped the sand about six or eight feet from where I stood. My thoughts were too tired to continue bothering me. I don’t know how long I stood there. I was eventually jolted from my trance by the sea water soaking my shoes and I realised the tide had come in.
I went back to the car and I drove on, tears flowing, and made my way to Sliabh Liag. My brain didn’t really kick in. I just climbed and climbed, barely conscious that my footwear was not suitable, my clothes were not warm enough and my legs were creaking. I just climbed.
At the top, battered but not beaten, I settled on a rock, whipped by the cold mountain air and sat for a long time. I think I went through all of the stages of grief on that mountain.
Then I said good bye to my best friend.
When I climbed back down and turned for home, I knew that I had left something behind in Donegal, maybe on that beach, or at the top of that mountain. Something that was too heavy for me to carry any more.
And I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy and it wasn’t going to be right away, but I knew that somehow, I would be OK.