Just over a week ago my very close friend Ian Loveday (aka EON aka Binty aka many other monikers) passed away from a very rare reaction to Pneumonia. It was a total shock and nobody expected it. Only now am I beginning to come to terms with it. Only now can I begin to write about it.
I've never lost a close friend before and I've never organized a funeral before. It's all been very difficult, emotional and surreal.
One of the things we are going to do for our friend, who will be buried on Monday, is organize a grey/silver coffin. He liked silver and was a huge sci-fi fan - shows like Star Trek, The Outer Limits, Quatermass Experiment. The practicalities of this meant that yesterday lunchtime I found myself in the basement of the Funeral Directors, with Keith, a burly, tattooed man who looks like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family. Keith is the man who does the stuff that the rest of us don't want to think about. We need people like Keith, and they're a very strange breed indeed.
Seeing Keith's 'workshop' was surreal. I was there to pick out fittings for my friend's coffin. I'm pretty sure the body under a blanket on a gurney a few feet away from me was my friend. Rows and rows of coffins lined the walls. Boxes of fittings, tools, and a coffin lift. I chose the fittings as quickly as I could, said my goodbye to Keith, who cheerily told me he would be a pall bearer on Monday (only wearing "different clothes") and I walked away, trying to make sense of the experience I'd just had.
The day had started emotionally, the most emotional since I'd learned my friend was in critical condition in hospital. In the morning I'd sat down to write my funeral speech. As I typed the last sentence I completely broke down. I broke down again a few moments later in the bathroom.
I spent the afternoon working on a presentation DVD that will be shown at the funeral with photos and quotes about Ian. Some of the quotes that have been flooding in are really remarkable. Ian was an underground music producer but had a dedicated fanbase. Going through those photos and quotes I broke down again. It was all beginning to sink in that my friend really was gone.
A get together with other close friends of Ian in the evening proved a welcome distraction. We were meeting with the lady who will conduct the ceremony, with the idea to recount stories about Ian for her benefit. It was a chance for us all to get together again and discuss final preparations for the funeral.
Later I was breaking down when I found myself chatting alone with Ian's girlfriend. I've been pretty solid the past week, but that strength and support for the people around me finally folded. I had to break the news to her about Ian's death, and his dad, and had picked up Jo - a broken woman - in the street on the way to hospital.
It was around this time last night that another very close friend of mine texted me to let me know he'd become a dad for the first time. Dan and I have been friends since school and live very close to one another. After the birth of my son we'd both really been looking forward to the day when our two kids could play together. This was a joyous moment in an otherwise depressing day.
Dan told me his child had been born at St Mary's - the same hospital that my friend died a week earlier. Life is definitely weird, and now the circle of life is complete. I went from sadness to joy very quickly.
Since his wife was staying over at the hospital and Dan couldn't stay overnight, I invited him round to join us. He could have steered clear of a 'funeral planning meeting' but he didn't. He's good like that. I picked up a bottle of Champagne and with Ian's friends we toasted a celebration in his honour.
Seconds later we learned that Michael Jackson had died...
It was all getting a bit much, and talk of Michael Jackson and the wall-to-wall coverage we were now seeing on CNN threatened to completely overshadow my friend's night. We bailed, and I took Dan down the pub where they wouldn't serve us. Last call had finished and despite the valiant efforts of some of the locals, we were left high... and dry.
We decided to head back to our neighbourhood to a pub we know well. Last orders had finished but this time we were successful. You can always rely on your local I guess. We found ourselves in a discussion with strangers about Michael Jackson.
We ended up back at my friend's flat, a flat in waiting for the new baby. It was the last night it would be a flat without a baby, and probably the last time I'll visit the place before my friends move house. This alone would usually have been surreal.
I woke up this morning and for the first time in days I didn't break down. The mornings have been the hardest. I had to persuade a council worker that... Monday, the day of the funeral, was a really bad day to be digging up the pavement outside my house rendering my parking spot inaccessible.
I drove to my office, and to top off the weirdest 24 hours I can remember, I arrived to find my dear old neighbour Ethel, who I regularly share tea with, fix her TV and stereo, and listen to stories about the really old days, had passed away. The funeral had been yesterday.
I guess I will have two graves to visit now.
It's all very numbing. Under normal circumstances I might actually care that Michael Jackson has died. Frankly right now I am only thinking about the people who've left me, and the people who are still with me.
It's a cliche, but... life is short, you must enjoy it. Because you never know when the great starship in the sky will come to take you away...