How My Best Friend’s Death Was a Wake Up Call.

Christel Van Gelder Stories Leave a Comment

Before starting my new life, as I call it, I had many a wake up call.
The thing is, I didn’t heed all my wake up calls. I probably wasn’t connected enough to see them for what they were: calls to attention. I probably was so busy burying my head in the sand, I didn’t know how to listen to these calls at all.
In retrospect I now recognise almost each and every one of them.

I could make a list here. But I’d rather remember them one by one through writing them down.

Unquestionably the loudest wake up call I got was the death of my friend Anneke.
We were best friends in school since we were about fourteen I guess.
Although our lives went in totally different directions, somehow we didn’t lose contact.

I went to live in Portugal, while she stayed on in Belgium. We each started our respective families in our respective countries.
We each led our lives in separate locations.

Nonetheless, we contacted each other, even if it was sporadically, by letter ( yes, no internet, remember) and then later on by email.
In 2005 Anneke introduced me to the world of blogging. She had a blog on a Belgium blogging site, and had a whole following on there. She wrote about her life and her struggle against cancer, which she was battling since she was only thirty three years old.

Through her I started blogging as well, just little daily notes on my life. And through Anneke I got my own following, and became part of that Belgian blogging community. I don’t even know whether that blog still exists, but it doesn’t really matter as it was in Dutch.

This blogging thing got us closer and in more frequent contact again. So I followed her battle from much closer. And it was intense. Often heart breaking.

We started sending each other little things from when we were at school togehter. I remember sending her a copy of all the letters she wrote me when we were young. Afterwards she wrote on her blog it was the best present ever, as it made her laugh until she cried.
It was a reconnection to our teenage-hood, when we shared our little crushes, our little heart breaks, our frustration with our parents and step-parents.

One of her biggest wishes was to be able to celebrate her 40th birthday.
Which she managed to do.
Her husband had contacted me shortly before, and while a present from me was already on its way, he asked me for a favour.

His idea was for me to make a little movie, in which I would talk to her and wish her happy birthday. Now this was 2006. When all the social media was not what it is today. So it was technically a bit more complicated.
But somehow, without a script, I pulled it off. I had just put up the Christmas tree and decorations, which we traditionally do beginning of December. And I sat in front of my tree and just started babbling away. The next day, I sent the files to Anneke’s husband, for him to show her on her birthday.

Apparently she laughed, she cried, she sobbed, then laughed again.
Knowing that I gave her this moment still makes me tear up and feel incredibly happy and grateful for her husband’s brilliant idea.
It would be her last birthday.

Exactly one month later she passed on. Exactly 40 years and one month old.
When I got the email, I went totally blank. My emotions were weird, surreal. The only thing I could not stop thinking about was that I wanted to be there to say goodbye.
So instead of grieving, I went in action mode. Booking a flight, renting a car.
And off I went to Belgium.

My mum accompanied me to the funeral, as she had known Anneke as well.
On the one hand I was so glad I followed my intuition to be there. On the other hand I was intensely sad and emotional because being there presented me with the harsh reality. Of course, reading Anneke’s blog, and getting regular updates from her husband, I rationally knew that her end was nearing. But by not being close I didn’t realise the impact her death would have on me.
And when standing in that church that day of the funeral, I certainly didn’t realise that her death would become the loudest wake up call ever.

Standing in that church, her husband part of the grieving relatives, seeing her simple and plain wooden”bed”, I felt defeated. In that “bed” lay my friend, my partner in crime, the same age as me, mother of three children, wife of this grieving man. I could not get my head around it.

It was a beautiful service. A dignified farewell with her daughter reading a poem she wrote herself, to say goodbye to her mom, brave and heartfelt. From her soul.

Anneke had an impact on everyone who knew her and who followed her blog.

She also had an impact on me, even though I had known her for so many years. Still now I am speechless about the way she put her struggle into words. I am still touched by the way she shared what she felt, what she was going through, what she feared, and what made her happy. I think she was incredibly brave and strong.

Only a few months later did I know how much her death impacted me.
It was her passing on that made me realise I was living the “wrong” life, I was in the “wrong” relationship, I was doing things “wrong” for my soul.
It was her passing that made me realise I was living a lie and that it was time for me to wake up and face reality. That I was destined for a different life.
It was the start of me rebelling against all that I was supposed to be and do.
It was the start of the story that got me out and made me start over.
It was the start of the collapse of the old and the seed of the new life I made for myself.

I am eternally grateful and in debt to Anneke.
For teaching me bravery. For being such a beautiful soul.
For waking me up.
Thank you, Anneke.

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