Losing my friend during lockdown has left me struggling to process her death

October was a particularly hard month for me.

It would’ve been my best friend Rachel’s 26th birthday and it also represented six months since she died. Ever since her death, I’ve found myself in an utter emotional limbo.

My last moments with Rachel were on a Zoom call when virtual pub quizzes were the weekly highlight of lockdown.

She joined the quiz while my friends discussed Covid-19 – unknowing how things would escalate – but then her computer crashed. We arranged to FaceTime each other later in the week but two days later, she died.

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Rachel was killed on her way to work whilst riding her bicycle. She worked for the Metropolitan Police, and as an essential worker, she was expected to go to the office.

We were in the same class at school, and our friendship blossomed when we decided to learn how to row together. We spent seven days a week together for five years before I left to go to another school for college.

Our friendship was strong, and continued throughout our university years right until our mid twenties. We’d supported each other through the highs and lows, and watched each other grown up.

Her loss was something that no one could prepare me for, and it came just as the coronavirus chaos peaked, sending the capital into a full lockdown.

The two weeks before her funeral were a bit of a blur. I FaceTimed Rachel’s boyfriend and sister but I still struggled to digest the news. I coped by taking long walks, as that was all we were allowed to do at the time. One day I walked from my house in North London to Canary Wharf and back.

I was invited to attend her funeral with just seven others. It was a surreal experience. My mother drove me to the crematorium, and I stepped out of the car, sanitised my hands and stood in a socially distanced circle with Rachel’s close family and boyfriend, unable to hug or touch them.

Luckily we were able to have a lovely 45-minute service, where we shared readings and poetry whilst sat spread across the many empty benches in the chapel before saying a final goodbye.

Being together under one roof for the ceremony was extremely healing. It was the first time I’d seen people outside of my household for a month.

But there were so many people who loved Rachel that missed out on getting to say goodbye to her.

It’s something I realised when a Facebook page was set up in order to commemorate her life. She was an extremely bubbly person, and it quickly filled with positive memories from old school friends.

I read their long heartfelt messages about Rachel, and felt their shock and sadness through the posts. A few even reached out to me.

These posts provided some solace at a time when I was completely numb, but it also left me wondering about all the other people in different houses across the country unable to fully process her passing.

We were all in the same boat, and were prevented from meeting to mourn our friend in person.

The need to come together was stronger than ever. I was lucky enough to have my partner support me through this tough time, but my mind shifted to those who lived alone, processing her death while isolated.

Suddenly I felt guilty at the thought that I was able to attend her funeral and say goodbye when so many others could not.

Following the funeral, an event date was set in place to celebrate Rachel’s life. However, it got moved back twice due to a change in Covid-19 regulations. Now, with lockdown two, I don’t know if it will be able to happen at all.

In my opinion, the need to celebrate a person’s life is equally as important as the part where you say goodbye.

I understand why many of the regulations are in place around mass gatherings, but for funerals and wakes it feels too strict. When pubs and restaurants were full just a week ago, I think there are ways to host a wake under the same roof without risking the spread of the virus.

There also needs to be better support in place for those who have lost loved ones this year.

Rachel’s funeral happened exactly half a year ago, and upon reflection, the whole experience still feels a lot like a dream. It’s made it hard to move past the initial shock of her death and into a period of mourning.

I look forward to the day that I can celebrate Rachel’s life the way she would have wanted us to. Until then, I will continue to keep her in my thoughts. 

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