The day was April 14th, 2015.
I logged onto Facebook in the morning, ready to send my friend birthday wishes. I went to her profile and immediately saw that something was wrong. Dreadfully wrong.
Her profile picture showed her smiling face. But her Facebook cover photo contained the words “Remembering Radha.”
No, I thought. It can’t be. My friend was far too young to be dead, only in mid-30s. I scrolled down her Facebook wall, reading the messages that had been posted, confirming my worst fears.
I closed my computer, crawled back into bed, and told my wife what had happened. Then I broke down crying, as my wife held me in her arms.
I was hanging out near my hostel, watching a disturbance in the street. I didn’t notice Radha as she walked down the street towards me. She, however, recognized me from a distance and came up and introduced herself.
Radha and I fell into an easy conversation, talking for over an hour in front of my hostel. She has headed off on a multi-day trek but we made plans to meet up when she returned.
After she got back, we spent a few days together in Chiang, Mai, doing nothing in particular. Just talking, eating and drinking coffee. Sharing stories about our lives, about our hopes and dreams.
Staying In Touch.
Radha was my first ever Facebook friend. In fact, she was the one who convinced me to sign-up, as a way for us to keep in touch after we left Thailand. Early on, we exchanged lots of messages, excited about the newness of our friendship.
Over the years though, we drifted apart, like many friends do when separated by 1000s of miles. Radha was from the Netherlands and except for a short time working on a cruise ship, that’s where she lived. I on the other hand, was living in the U.S, or was off on some sort of travel adventure, none of which took me near the Netherlands.
I always assumed that we’d see each other again. But by the time she died, our friendship mostly consisted of once a year birthday wishes. Still, there’s a bond that forms when we meet someone while traveling, a bond that transcends the actual amount of time you spent with them.
From the outside looking in, it appeared that Radha had found her rhythm in life.
After returning to the Netherlands from her cruise ship adventures, she immersed herself in studying meditation. She didn’t post often on Facebook. But when she did, her posts reflected a deep level of happiness and joy and I sometimes felt jealous of what she appeared to have found.
Later that day, my wife and I scrolled through Radha’s Facebook wall to see if we could find out what had happened.
I was shocked to find out that she had actually died 10 months earlier. How had I missed it, how had my friend been dead for all this time and I didn’t know a thing?
Because almost all of the messages from her friends were written in Dutch, I had to rely on an online translator to make sense of them.
I’m not exactly sure how Radha died, but based on what I could understand from the translated messages, I’m 99% sure that my friend took her own life. That she had a sadness in her that stemmed back to her childhood, a sadness that she could no longer bear.
I remembered the story of course.
Radha had told me about her childhood when we were in Thailand. She was born in the Netherlands to a poor Indian couple who never married. Radha never lived with either of her biological parents. Instead, she lived in a series of foster homes, but was never adopted.
She told me that she was fine with not being raised by her biological parents. That she met them when she was older and was appalled at how they lived.
I now wonder if Radha was hiding how she really felt.
How big of a burden she was carrying, having been rejected by her biological parents and having never been adopted by any of her foster families. How alone she felt in the world.
I want to close with a brief tribute to my friend Radha, who died far too young, and with much sadness in her heart. If she were here with me now, this is what I would tell her:
I can’t believe that you’re gone my friend. I can’t believe that I’ll never be able to visit you in the Netherlands. I can’t believe that I’ll never be able to wrap my arms around you and give you a big, big hug.
I’m sorry that I didn’t know about your pain. I’m sorry that I didn’t stay in closer contact with you. I’m sorry that I assumed that everything was okay with you, when inside you were hurting.
I wonder what you were thinking as your life ended. Did you wonder if your life mattered? Then let me tell you that it did. That in those few days together you touched my heart with your kindness, your laughter, your positive energy. And above all else with your beautiful, beautiful smile.
As you were dying, did you wonder if people would remember you? Then let me tell you that I will remember you forever and hold you close in my heart.
It’s been a month since I found out about your death my friend. Tears are streaming down my face as I write these final words. Goodbye my beautiful friend. I hope that wherever you are, you finally have peace in your heart and in your soul.
Author: Ed Herzog
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock