Don't forget about the important things in life

How losing a friend taught me to slow down

Jasnit spending times talking with friends on the phone.

The phone call I received on a brisk January night remains just as vivid to me now as it did three years ago.

“Sonja passed away last night,” my cousin said. “In her sleep, I don’t really know.” 

I hung up almost immediately. 

January 27, 2015 was a regular day for me. I had my high school exams coming up and was working a couple of extra hours at a nearby tutoring centre. I was stressed, my mind was focused on the exams I would take the next morning and the one after that. 

As I walked towards my mom’s parked car, I picked at my cousin’s words. What a sick joke, I thought. Somewhere in the back of my mind, however, I knew he would never lie to me about that — especially not about someone like Sonja. 

A short car ride later I was in my room, laptop open, phone out, trying to confirm for myself what I already believe but wanted desperately to dissent. Several of my childhood friends reached out to me within the span of 15 minutes, as details of her funeral were slowly revealed. 

The night moved slowly and my memory is slightly blurred. I remember my mom calling me to the kitchen to eat. My legs operated slowly, unmotivated to move. I dragged my feet to the kitchen and came to stand right in front of her. I told her about the news I’d just received, and while I was unsure of what to say or do about it in that moment, my mother instantly began to cry. 

Sonja and I had spent the majority of our childhood playing soccer together. Countless sleepovers, secrets shared and bullies fought together, she was my first best friend. I could bike to her house blindfolded, but could never tell you her exact address. Our families were closely-knit and she’s the familiar face in many team photos and birthday pictures. 

She was a sister to me.

Nobody asked me any questions concerning how she had passed and I preferred they didn’t, I couldn’t have answered anything. 

I still can’t. 

I didn’t eat, went straight to bed and cried until my alarm went off for the exam the next day. While most of the night consisted of grief at the loss of such an important person in my life, a lot of it was spent angry, trying to pick apart the reasons I’d chosen not to send her a text one day or invite her over another. I was angry with myself. I was angry with the universe for taking someone so young and beautiful from their family. Above all else, I was looking for an explanation. 

No amount of screaming into a pillow helped, understandably. 

But then came her funeral. 

I can’t describe the sight of a friend laying motionless in a coffin, but any person who has experienced a friend’s funeral can recall how the words just won’t come. 

Eyes closed, dressed in all white with her hands to her side, the only word I could fathom was “beautiful.” This was the same girl who had, only months prior, danced wildly to ‘Mr. Saxobeat’ when we were supposed to be studying. This was the same girl who I watched the first, second and third Die Hard movies with while eating pizzas that grew colder as the night of our first sleepover went on. 

Another sleepless night later, I transitioned slowly back to my regular lifestyle. However, the memory of that week remains an important part of who I am today. 

A lot of confusion during that week was a product of how suddenly things had happened. One day I had sent her a funny text, the next she was gone without warning. I thought long about how many days it had been since I’d reached out and why that had been the case.

It occurred to me, while lost in all of my responsibilities and studying, I’d forgotten to give attention to the people in my life who I cared about and who cared about me too. I began to analyze the relationships in my life and sure enough, there were similarly weak links. 

The recurring presence of a day “too busy” to take 15 minutes to video chat with a distant friend or to ask your grandparents “what’s the gossip?” is a depressing thing to think about. But we’ve all done it. The amount of times this semester alone I told my friends I was too busy to grab coffee with them is becoming more apparent to me as the anniversary of Sonja’s passing slowly approaches. 

Had I really been too busy for two months to call? No, that was never the case. 

What I’ve learned from this experience is that I was always moving too quickly. This moment in my life forced me to press pause and re-evaluate my treatment of those around me. The problem remains that I don’t press pause enough and I think that’s the case with many in the post-secondary environment. 

Caught up in school, non-academic commitments and just ensuring you have three meals a day is enough responsibility for me. But the pit in my stomach when I get a phone call from my grandmother after three weeks saying she misses me and wishes I’d call more reminds me I have the time regardless of how many assignments are due next week. 

It’s as simple as calling a parent while you walk home from a meeting on campus, or taking some time before bed to text a friend whose had just as long a day as you. 

Something important I’ve found for myself is acknowledging I don’t need to get dressed up and go out for coffee in order to truly socialize with someone, especially in today’s technologically social age. A text that reads, “tell me how things are going with you” can speak to someone just as strongly. 

Sometimes it’s unreasonable during exam seasons to set aside a couple of hours a day to see your friends or family, but giving them a call for a couple of minutes is a good start. This continues to remain a huge support for me, living away from home. 

I regret every single moment I didn’t call Sonja and ask about her day, and continue to feel guilty about closing myself off to her. While I’ll continue to be told that nothing is my fault in this regard, it’s hard to accept that fact. 

I should’ve called her, and now I’ll never be able to. 


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