A poet I knew slightly, online, has just died of cancer. Our mutual friends are distressed, and posting on social media about what a lovely, kind-hearted woman she was and how much she will be missed. Which I am sure they would not say unless it was so.
'Thank you for letting us know,' I said to the mutual friend who broke the sad news. Which I trust was sufficient, because it's all I can offer. A few years ago this poet and I got off to a very bad start from which we never really recovered.
We were in an online poetry group together – except I never noticed her name, much less read any of her stuff. It was a large group; she either didn't post often, or not at times when I was looking. So when I got a message from her asking about a magazine which she thought I was publishing, I didn't recognise her as anyone I knew in that or any other context.
I explained politely that she was mistaken; I was not publishing a magazine. She said she thought she had seen somewhere that I was requesting poems and stories for it; I reiterated that this was not the case, and we signed off politely.
She must have put in a friend request soon after that, which apparently I barely noticed and didn't act on. Then I got a message (out of the blue, it seemed to me) taking me to task as follows:
'I see that you don't want to be a friend of mine. I am very surprised. And I guess there is something that I must learn because the Australians that I have met on the Camino and later on in the Scandinavian Book Club in Brisbane - always had and always have a keyword "yes." I see that you don't.'
I had been under the impression that, according to social media etiquette, non-acceptance of a friend request was within one's rights, and it was not the done thing to take offence at it. However, I replied:
'I apologise for hurting your feelings. I misunderstood; I thought you were primarily interested in my supposed magazine. I have a ridiculous number of friends already and I don't have time to be a very good friend to them all, so I am reluctant to add more if I am only going to neglect them. I prefer to concentrate on those I actually know. Also, at present I have sad things happening in my personal life — my husband is dying. That is my whole focus at present, and I'm sorry but I had quite forgotten your friend request. I see we are in one of the same groups, and look forward to interacting with you there. Perhaps we may become good enough friends there to warrant taking it further. That has happened with others. I wish you all the best anyway.'
We didn't have any interaction immediately, largely because five days later my husband died. I posted a status update to that effect and expected my friends would see it, which most did.
A week after that she initiated a chat. I told her:
'Forgive me but I am not in a chatty mood, I am arranging memorial service etc. with my stepson via fb messages.'
She expressed condolences for my loss and then asked me if I would like to go to a big Scandinavian festival next day in Brisbane (two hours drive from where I live) to cheer myself up.
I was taken aback, and puzzled. 'Are you in Brisbane?' I asked. I'd thought she lived in Europe. It turned out I was right. She replied that she was not in Brisbane but had Scadinavian friends there and would love to support them. Also, she suggested, it would be good for me – which she knew because she had lost her husband nine years previously, and so she understood.
I didn't think she understood in the slightest! My husband so recently deceased, and she thought I would want to drive two hours to a different city, meet people I didn't know, and have a party!!! And if I had been prepared to do that, or even capable, she expected that would be all it would take to cheer me up? I am still flabbergasted recalling it now, nearly five years later. Even if she didn't see my status update about his death, I tell her he's dying and then a week later say I am arranging a memorial service – it can't have been hard to work out that he'd only just died, a few days previously.
I excused myself from further conversation, and after that turned off chat except for my closest real-life friends. That was not only to avoid talking to this woman; I realised I could be contacted by strangers who didn't know my situation, or even other online friends trying to be kind. I had quite enough to cope with, I decided, both emotionally and in terms of having a lot to organise in a short time.
I became fairly inactive thereafter in the poetry group we belonged to, only because it was a big group and I like smaller ones better. I had no further encounter with her until a few months ago, when she commented online how much she enjoyed my status updates. I was faintly surprised, but thanked her, and that was that – until the sudden news the other day, of her untimely death.
Our mutual friends are devastated. They are saying what a good soul she was, and how they will miss her warmth and caring. I say nothing. I don't doubt what I am reading, and I expect there was the possibility of a lovely friendship there for us too, if we hadn't got off on the wrong foot – but after all she and I both had plenty of other lovely friends. I am vaguely sad at the thought of anyone succumbing to a nasty illness while not yet very old, but I'm not deeply upset or anything.
It's just that our interaction seemed so bizarre. I guess I just want to exclaim about it to someone, and say, 'Hey, how about that! Can you believe it?' But she is dead, and people are grieving. Of course I'm not going to do that ... except here.