I was walking back from the gym on Friday afternoon, when I received a call from a friend in the UK to tell me of the death of an old journalist friend, Lester Middlehurst.
I had known Lester for over 25 years, both at our time on Today newspaper and, later, the Daily Mail. He was always great fun to be around and a brilliant show business journalist; his interviews were second to none.
On Tuesday, Lester took an overdose and was found the next day. He died two days later.
The circumstances surrounding what led him to kill himself will doubtless emerge, but I remember Lester as someone who brought a great deal of colour to the world of journalism.
He was gay at a time when it was less easy to be openly so, and he was terrified when, in the week he started work on the Mail, Private Eye published a story about him. He had nothing to worry about, as his talent was far too great to tarnish, and he remained on the paper for many years.
It’s been a sad week, because on Wednesday I received a call from another friend to say that the producer of Emmerdale, Gavin Blyth, was very ill. His partner, Suzy, had posted on Facebook asking if anyone knew of a registrar who could get to Leeds infirmary within the hour to marry her and Gavin.
On Thursday, she announced that she was Mrs Blyth; on Friday, she was a widow and single mother.
Gavin, too, was an extremely talented man, who had risen through the ranks of press PR to running a hugely successful soap. Ratings went up with him at the helm after January 2009, and the brilliant storyline of young Aaron Livesy, struggling with his sexuality, was one of the highlights of the past year and recognised with awards.
Being 3000 miles away from home, it was again Facebook that made it possible for me to make contact with others grieving for these two men, dead at a relatively young age (Gavin was only 41, a father of three, the youngest being just one year old).
Suzy wrote beautifully on the site about her love for her husband, and the responses from friends and colleagues bore tribute to what was clearly an extraordinary and hugely liked man.
It’s again made me question the wisdom of spending time away from family and friends back in the UK, because, cliché though it is, we really don’t know what is around the next corner. But then again, to live one’s life in fear as to what might be, is no way to exist – or, rather, it is only existing; it is not living.
Better to die living than to live dying.
Hearing of suffering and death back home nevertheless reinforces feelings of helplessness. When my good friend Angharad committed suicide in January this year, I stood on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills, sobbing on the phone to one of her sisters, who assured me that nothing was to be gained by my leaping on a plane and going home. This week, it was Santa Monica Boulevard that bore witness to my tears when I heard about Lester, and the instinct to rush to the airport was as strong.
Through Facebook, however, I have reconnected with many friends whom I have not heard from in some time, all of them recalling this vibrant journalist who, I suspect, never really believed in just how good he was, nor how much he was loved.
Tributes have also been flooding in for Gavin on Facebook, friends and colleagues have been Tweeting about their loss, and the social network again embraces our respective grieving with a remarkable sense of sharing in the experience of what it is like simply to be human, irrespective of what life throws at us, good or bad.
Some people gain comfort from believing that there is a world after this, in which our departed loved ones are looking down on us, smiling, just like us, at better times that have gone before; others take refuge in memory, holding on in thoughts to their personal stories; Facebook is a democracy in which either viewpoint, or, indeed, any other, in relation to death, can be heard.
Who knows what is right or wrong; what unites us all, however, is how damned hard it is to lose the people we love, and, in that connection, we must find comfort.
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,
And human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.
~E.M. Forster, Howards End