As the clock rang in the new year, a familiar chorus chimed: “It’s 2019, omg this means we’re turning 27 this year, omg SO OLD…” Even as we lament the fact that we keep on ageing, maybe we’ve forgotten that ageing is still a continuation of life, and that not all of us have that “privilege” of growing older and older. In Kimberley’s perspective, time has stopped eternal, at age 26.
I’m not sure how different a friend’s passing would be for each of us. For me, the entire spectrum of emotions that comes with death has dulled over time, but they continue to linger, like an emotional scar that once inflicted, remains an indelible mark, and could never really be so easily erased.
It is almost too difficult to describe the multitude and intensity of feelings that I went through in the immediate moments of Kimbo’s passing: Shock, at cancer taking away a friend you knew since 7. Bitter, bitter regret, at putting off our meet-up, thinking that there would always be a “next time”. Disappointment, for not making the effort to stay in touch over the years as much as she would have appreciated. Overwhelming sorrow, on seeing her “asleep”, presumably in peace. Anger, at a God that would take someone as kind, optimistic and warm as Kimbo away. I would rather it be me, a far lesser being, instead of her. Sadness, for the acute realisation that there will no longer be a shred of possibility that you can chance upon each other in random places. No more “omg such a coincidence to see you here” or “omg I haven’t seen you in a while, we should meet up soon!”. No more. It has hit home hard, and it has has hit home with a finiteness that has been difficult to accept.
The memories came in a flood, like a desperate attempt to remember as much of Kimbo as I could at that moment. But all I can remember are bits and pieces of our childhood, and with great likelihood, I’m afraid that these memories will cease to remain as vivid as time passes. Most of what I can remember are of us in primary school, young children studying and playing, mostly laughing and doing really lame skits on Phua Chu Kang. Her with her frizzy hair that was such a defining feature accompanying her all the way to university, making it so much such a familiar feeling when we reconnected in NUS, in the GEK1058 Language and Preservation of Culture module, long after splitting ways since our primary school graduation.
One of the biggest struggles that I’ve had is the frustration with a God that would take someone like Kimbo so soon, a person who loved life, appreciated others and was kind and warm in both actions and words. Why her? Why anyone, for that matter? When I last spoke to Kimbo about Catholic faith, I asked her, “Has illness brought you closer to God?” and her answer, much to my surprise and respect, was “Yes”, without nary a hesitation. I was instantly humbled, for someone like me would never be as easily accepting or forgiving of my fate as dictated by God. What Kimbo tried (unsuccessfully, may I add) to ask of me was to join her Catholic youth group. On hindsight, I should have probably said yes to her request, for she would have been the best person to show me what faith means to her and what it could possibly be for me. Religiosity has always been a difficult conflict for me, and even as agnostic as I am now, I find the only bond tying me to a God I’d once followed is still Kimbo, even in death. Do prayers need to be strictly directed to God, I wonder? I’ve never felt close or comfortable, yet now I have a friend acting as my intermediary, someone I can talk to with ease, which makes this connection simpler and less frustrating than before.
It’s funny yet comforting how Kimbo always knew the right words to say. The thing is, she always made me feel hopeful. She would reassure my fears and doubts of being “slower than others”, “being deviant from the norm”, “for not being intelligent enough” or “not being competitive enough”… She told me to go through life at my own pace, to ignore the detractors for they mean nothing, to take the opportunities that life presents to us with good humour and bravery, and to not be afraid to go for it, for life is short (the irony here).
Even though her passing has left a void, just the thought of her helps. In a way, she continues to be an intermediary for prayers through conversation. Maybe her answers are not instantly obvious anymore (duh), but in my moments of doubt or times of despair and hopelessness, I ask, “What would Kimbo say to this?” In return, I find myself comforted and encouraged by the reimagined conversations that I would have with her, guiding me in the smallest of ways, with intangible and unapparent advice.
Her final mantra of “living boldly” is not an easy task. Everyone has fears, everyone has hesitations, everyone has to deal with the consequences of their actions and words. “Living boldly” may seem like recklessness, but its true message lies in being brave when shit hits the fan, to take those chances so that you won’t regret them no matter how embarrassed you would be in the present, and to be honest to yourself in how you respond and react to situations and people. In short, don’t be afraid to be the truest that you can be, but continue to be kind and search for that silver lining in everything and everyone.
A friend’s passing is a strange and unexpected thing to deal with, especially at this age, and the aftermath is always a conflict and confusion of feelings/thoughts/emotions. Remember the memories (no matter how hazy) of growing up and going through life together, remember how she made you feel about people or issues, and most importantly, remember the lessons that she’d taught you over the course of your friendship with her, the lessons from her own struggles and battles, and the lessons from her outlook on both life and death.
A friend is an imprint, and in some cases, a treasure.