The Time of my Life: ‘I dropped the phone and let out a primal howl’

Emer Reynolds, film-maker, on how a friend's death shifted her universe

In the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, it is speculated that there is perhaps an infinite number of universes; where everything that could possibly have happened, but did not, has in fact occurred in some other universe, or universes.

In this, our universe, my life is divided sharply into before and after The Call; a call that absolutely, undeniably – although I’ve tried – did happen. Seems unlikely to say I never thought it would end this way, given that my beautiful friend Siobhán – my closest female friend for 25 years – had tried to end her life before; but when the call came, it was like a juggernaut hit me.

She was young and smart and funny – so hilariously funny. But her illness stole her life

My mind seemed to separate from my body and I watched from perhaps 10 feet away, as my body dropped the phone and let out a primal howl. I somehow drove home. I remember the traffic on the quays. The pedestrians. Did they not know the universe had shifted? I remember thinking of a poem I read in school, about neighbours at a funeral, dusting the dirt from their knees. It was unbelievable to me that she had died some hours earlier. That I hadn’t felt her leave. That my world that morning – of emails and toast and plans – had still carried on.

Winter of the bad snow

That day, a Friday in freezing February, the winter of the bad snow, there was just piercing grief and ice-cold shock. Guilt, anger, regret, chaos and fear – suicide’s snarly bedfellows – would come later. I know I drank tea. I know I went to see her family. I know I searched for a specific photo. I know I rang our other friends, closely watched by my sisters, ready to take the phone. I heard that primal howl again and again. Death is so unbearably final. Death by suicide is so irrational and violent and unacceptable.


There were snippets of detail that I both devoured and longed never to have heard. She was alone. She paced. She smoked a cigarette. Why did she not call me? I had been due to visit her in hospital that evening, and while she was pacing and smoking, I was in a print shop, gathering photos to show her of my wedding two weeks earlier. A wedding she had been too ill to attend, where she was toasted with champagne. “A beautiful day for a beautiful person,” she had written. To hold the photos, I chose a pretty brown and pink checkered box with a ribbon. She loved brown and pink. And orange. All these things happening while she was already gone.

She was young and smart and funny – so hilariously funny – and talented and warm and magnificent. But her illness stole her life. She lost so much. She wanted to live. She couldn’t live. She thought she couldn’t live. But perhaps there is a universe where she didn’t pace; where that call was never made; where we pulled a ribbon and looked through a box of photos; where she found a way to go on. I hope so.

Emer Reynolds is a multi-awardwinning filmmaker. She directed and wrote her latest documentary ‘The Farthest’ about the Voyager space programme.