I just found out a former old friend died. We met in the early 70s when we worked for the same company. We were young and had great fun together. My friend had a difficult childhood including sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, threats of violence from her father and so on. Not surprisingly, she got into a bad marriage that ended in an ugly divorce in Florida.
When she came back up here, I helped her get an apartment, a job and I lent her money. As the years passed she became more bitter and difficult to get along with. The last time I spoke with her was 11 years ago when she screamed at me for calling her too often.
She had no family and there was not even an obituary for her in the paper. I only found out she died when I received a call from a lawyer who is looking for the executor of her will.
So why do I feel really bad about her death? I wonder if she died alone. I would have been there for her if I had known. Why do I feel so bad when she was the one who alienated me and many others?
My guess is anybody reading this letter would feel bad about your friend. What happened to her is a very human existential fear. Nobody wants to die alone. But my guess is you feel bad for other reasons also. In your letter, you hinted at a regret. Whether it's justified or not, regret is an awful feeling primarily a cause we cannot fix yesterday. But the other reason you feel bad is quite simply because you knew this woman. You knew her story, her suffering and her pain. If she was a casual friend who was annoying, you might just feel a bit sad. But the fact that you knew her story and knew it well makes the connection much more real and therefore the loss is real.
So underneath the other emotions, there is probably grief. You may very well be mourning the relationship you had with this woman in the past. And quite possibly, you are morning a piece of your own youth.
You had your heart closed to this woman for many years. And when she died, your heart opened to the many emotions you did not know where in there. You are not alone as this happens to many people who lose someone they care about.