I learned this week that Freda has died.
The circumstances were odd, a little like our relationship.
You see, Freda and I had never met.
We came close once, a few years ago when I almost visited her at home, although for reasons I cannot remember, that did not happen.
We had been in weekly contact for the past few years.
She was my oldest friend, she was 80.
I am not sure if you can call someone a friend if you have never met them in person on even spoken with them, such are the gifts of digital communication however, we had weekly contact.
Usually Freda would read one of my blogs, both if I managed one on Saturday and one on Sunday and almost always add a comment. Sometimes a literary allusion, a quote from a poem she knew or a reflection of her lived experience.
And, without missing, she would re-tweet my blog.
From time to time we would exchange some WhatsApp’s, mostly it was tete-a-tete via my blog.
Once, perhaps a year ago Freda had stopped commenting. I made contact, perhaps on WhatsApp or Facebook and she explained she had been under the weather, feeling low. I think she became depressed from time to time.
I most recently contacted Freda as she hadn’t commented on any of my blogs and she hadn’t re-tweeted.
The reply later that day was from her niece who had Freda’s phone, informing me that she had died.
It was an odd finality.
I of course was unable to say goodbye, and I didn’t feel it my place to ask more questions such as, when, how, where.
Anything more, beyond Freda no longer being here, no longer being able to read more of my blogs or engage with me seemed like voyeurism.
And yes, I have felt sorry and sad.
Now I will never meet her.
I remember a couple of years ago when I was having some problems at work with comments that my blogs had provided too negative or bleak a portrayal of older people in hospital, Freda supported me with the phrase that sticks-out of my blog being, ‘Older person certified.’
As I have said, our relationship was unusual, not just because we had never met or even spoken, but because it was so very one-sided.
Freda knew all about me, reading my writing and I, knew very little about her.
She lived I Nottinghamshire and she had worked to support people living with dementia, I knew she didn’t have children – she did sometimes talk about her nieces and nephews, I think she had been a teacher, I also think she might have lived in America or even been American.
You see, never having spoken with her, I didn’t know her accent. I saw her photo on Facebook although on Twitter she was just a shadow image, with the intriguing name ‘@ColleyOf’
Freda’s death took me back to the death of a friend of my mum’s.
I remember driving past her house in Glasgow a few years ago, knowing she was ill, knowing she was probably at home and also would have been delighted to see me, yet, not visiting.
What strange psychological nonsense happens in my mind, with my thoughts, I can’t really tell you.
Not infrequently, I think of people, think of getting in touch, maybe talking or catching up, then something, another, seemingly more influential idea over-rides that decision and nothing.
Whether it is the fear that people will not want to see me, a reluctance to intrude, to disrupt the life of another (here I think of Philip Larkin) or some other notion. I keep my head down.
When I was younger I don’t think I had this problem, I remember being more outgoing, revelling in the company of others, going out of my way to make contact – whether that was strangers on a train or bus, or fellow travellers.
Nowadays I keep to myself.
I spend proportionately more time locked into my head.
Some of this is a fallout of my job.
When I was a junior doctor I began hating the phone as my life when working had been ruled by the sound of a bleep followed by a phone call and the request by someone, often a nurse or other doctor for me to do something, usually help, prescribe a medicine, see a patient, fill a form.
Some of my days, particularly Fridays when I work for the surgery are filled with phone-calls – more since Covid. Conversation after conversation.
I always do my best to engage with whomever I am talking. To be present in the moment, to take a person-centred approach, to talk from the heart, yet, this can be exhausting.
A few years ago I was involved with the local charity B:Friend – I was their first chair. I reflected at the time why I didn’t befriend a local older person like others, there must be many round the corner from where I live who would happily spend time with me. Yet, I never did.
My work, the engagements and care I provide for older people don’t come free. Sure I get paid – very well, but more than that, it is the emotional cost that tends to use me up.
This is no excuse – ‘Sorry I never met you Freda, I was too busy being a doctor,’ Well, there is something in that.
I was busy being a doctor and, well, I am odd.
As I have aged I have become like most people, more fixed in my ways, my introversion has increased, the time I spend alone or with my dog has become greater, the hours I spend reading, listening to audio-books or podcasts has expanded.
Me and my dog and silence.
Silence is sometimes needed to re-charge.
And yet, Freda is gone and I never really said hello.
It might seem odd to some, yet, I have been more affected by Freda’s death than the many many people I have known to have died in the past 18 months, most of whom have been patients or colleagues, some I have known for greater or lesser periods of time.
Freda had in a way filled-in a surrogate mum, at a distance.
Most of this is self-indulgence. Exposing my feelings, why?
And, I can’t help thinking how much digital has to blame.
Yes, were it not for the internet and computers, there would have been no blog (these might have been diaries) and there would have been no connection. Yet, there would have been no digital legacy. No Facebook or Twitter ghost.
And, will I now change?
Will I get off my bottom and connect with the friends I haven’t spoken with in years?
I suspect not.
Whilst not tragedy, this is apathy.
Take care Freda, I will remember you.