A friend remembered

Tim Rushby-Smith pays tribute to A, a friend he met online who helped and supported him in more ways than he could ever know…

At the time of writing, I have just learned of the death of a dear friend.

I met A back in 2008, when he read my book. I discovered his blog at around the same time. There were many parallels in our stories: we both had spinal cord injury as a result of falling from a tree; the places we had lived; family circumstances; it turned out we even had mutual friends.

Over the past six years, we shared the trials and tribulations of living with paraplegia, of parenting, and the challenges of embarking on a different career path.

Shared experience

We provided each other with succour during some of the darkest days, times when physical or emotional pain was such that only the intimacy of shared experience could offer comfort. We laughed too. Big, raucous laughs at the absurdity of life. Giggles over small embarrassments and the awkwardness we had inspired in members of the public determined to help.

Throughout our friendship, we met only once. A cup of coffee and a chat beside the Thames when A was in London for a meeting. Despite our closeness, our families never met, although this was not for want of trying. Our plans always seemed to fall through; confounded by the unpredictable circumstances of complex lives, further compounded when I moved halfway around the planet.

Closing the gap

And yet, we were close. In this, I’m sure we were not alone, for today’s technology enables people to communicate over huge distances at the push of a button. Living in Australia, and with family and friends in the UK, I am eternally grateful for this innovation, and acutely aware of how much more difficult the emotions of separation would be without it.

But equally, I have been conscious since my accident that the internet age affords us huge advantages over disabled people in earlier times. Without the computer, would I have found someone whose life experiences so closely matched mine? Perhaps, but it seems less likely.

Online communities have become an integral part of the support networks that can make a huge difference to all our lives. We can sympathise, we can learn, and we can protect each other from some of the rougher blows life can throw at us.

Today I have lost some of that protection. Farewell, A. Thank you for your wit, your insight and your emotional support. I feel honoured to have had you as a friend.  May the wind always be at your back and the sun upon your face.

Looking Up by Tim Rushby-Smith is available on Virgin Books

Enable Magazine, September/October 2014

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