A year ago today, Ag passed away while cave diving. I miss her.
In the weeks and months after she died, I learned a lot about grief. To start with it was impossible to forget that she wasn’t here any more, or to think about anything else. I talked repetitively about her life and her death to friends who were kind enough to listen. Getting distracted by day to day living meant that when I stopped thinking about the task at hand I would suddenly remember that she was gone. It was like walking into a brick wall each time, over and over again. Constantly holding my grief front of mind seemed easier than the repeated shock of coming back to unpleasant reality. It didn’t leave much space for anything else.
About 8 weeks after Ag died, I surfaced again. In an almost overnight process my brain decided it was half-way done with processing the events and emotions and gave me back enough space to rejoin the world. Of course, from here I could start to worry irrationally – that I would forget my friend, or worse, that I was damaged forever. I have finally come to the conclusion that my feelings will change as time passes, and creating additional stress in worrying about the first lot of stress is silly.
Beyond my emotional response, I want to make sure my learnings from Ag’s life and her death stay with me. I learnt to cave dive with Ag when I was a teenager. Through my early 20s I was fairly sure I was invinceable underwater. While I had a few scary dives and I wasn’t silly enough to take shortcuts with equipment or routine, I’m not sure the idea that I might not exit safely ever really sunk in.
In my nine to five life I do risk management, where a risk is the combination of the likelihood of the event occurring, and the consequences if it does happen. Given my youthful certainty that the likelihood of dying was pretty much zero, I didn’t give all that much thought to the size of the consequences. I also don’t believe in an afterlife, which means that dying is the end of your story and there’s not much to be concerned about after it happens.
It took the death of a friend to realise how wrong this was. After Ag died, the number of people who were affected was huge. Above and beyond the numbers, the impact on those closest was unimaginable. I found that watching others grieve and knowing there was no way to fix their sadness difficult beyond belief.
Yes, Ag followed her passions and made her choices, and attempting to persuade her to do anything else would have stopped her being who she was. I don’t believe anyone can live their life for another person. I don’t intend to stop cave diving and live in a padded room. But the inherent responsibility you have to your family, and the friends whom you’ve chosen to share your life and adventures with can’t be ignored or forgotten.
So for the last year and for the future as I plan each dive, I do so with my friends and family in mind. Come home safe – for everyone’s sake.