My first best friend was called Emma. She was the most popular girl at school and I'd been bullied most of my life, so I really couldn't believe my luck when she chose me as her best friend. She was beautiful, always wore the latest fashion and came from a great family. And more importantly, she was incredibly kind, hard working and always saw the best in people. She was all around great and provided great support for me in times of turbulence, which were plenty where I came from.
Then, one Christmas, she went to Thailand with her family. We both cried when she left, as 14 year old best friends do when they have to be away from each other for two weeks.
Only it wasn't gonna be two weeks until we saw each other again. Emma was in Khao Lak with her family when the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami hit, and she and her two siblings were three of 543 Swedish citizens to lose their lives. Emma's mum was the only one in their family to make it back alive.
It's now been 12 years, which is an insane amount of time, particularly considering we only knew each other for two years (though it seemed like a lifetime, as things do when you're a child). I find it almost unbelievable that I somehow managed to get back on my feet in a world where Emma isn't a phone call away.
Yesterday I met with Emma's mum and one of Emma's other best friends. On the way back home we talked about how in a way fortunate it was that we were so young when it all happened. Our youth allowed us to grieve in a raw, unsophisticated manner, that in no way fit into society's framework of accepted grief. It was rude and borderline disrespectful towards other people on the periphery of Emma's life, but as Emma's best friends - who were 14 years old, at that - no-one knew how to guide us through our grief - so we did it ourselves.
Here's three ways in which I (didn't) cope:
Hope for the best - and prepare for it, too
It took rescue workers five months before they found and identified Emma's body. I spent those five months essentially preparing for Emma coming back home, alive and fairly well, and worrying about how I was gonna be the best support to help her get through the trauma she must have suffered. I wrote her daily letters to make sure she could get up to speed quickly on all the things she had missed out on while away. When I got invited to house parties I asked the hosts if they'd sent Emma a message as well, in case she was back by then (e.g. two weeks later).
Obviously, I was in denial. But it also prepared me for a life without the physical presence of Emma, but a life where I could still talk to her - even if she didn't respond as I was used to.
Refuse to let people look away
There was no way in hell I was gonna let people forget about Emma for a split second. It wasn't long before people started saying "lets just forget about that now, just for a moment", which I'd have none of. It came to the point where me and two of Emma's other close friends got together and forced all other pupils to contribute to a massive headshot of Emma (and by massive I mean 1.5x1 metre...) that we placed in the middle of the school, for everyone to see, all day everyday. It was almost obscenely big, but it made us feel better. And people literally couldn't look away.
Let them live vicariously through you
This has perhaps been the most long-lasting way in which I channel my grief. At first I didn't study harder because I thought "well if Emma can't do it, I better". I did it because I knew Emma would be so pissed off with me when she got back home if I'd given up on school just because she might never come back. Like I said, I fully believed she was coming back home. So I decided to try and make her proud. I think I still do. And whenever I've fucked up, which I've done more than I care to remember (after all, it's been 12 years), Emma has somehow continued to anchor me in an almost supernatural way. So I work, I travel, I try to be a good person. By now it's not because I think Emma's coming back. But it might be because I think we'll meet again.
Emma's memory continues to live on. And perhaps I should try and offer an apology to the people I was rude to in the immediate grief phase, but truth to be told, I'm just so happy I was young enough to not give a damn.