Hello Gorgeous Souls,
I guess you could call this one of those “full discolosure” pieces. I took some time to decide if I was ready to offer up such a raw part of my life. At the age of 43 I have had my fair share of highs and lows – joy and grief so it seems appropriate to reflect that here.
I’ll be completely honest, it’s scary. Scary to be so open, so vulnerable and risk everything that comes with it. So I’m sending this out with love and trust that it will reach the people who need it.
Much of the detail of what happened day to day hasn’t been written about (yet). That may happen in time but for now, I’m able to share this with a peaceful heart.
This is blog post about the challenges of loss and the healing power of love. It’s about how the power of genuine love can create a legacy that continues to support others now and in the future. It’s about finding solace and healing in the small things. More than anything else, what follows is a short memoir of an incredible friendship that was fuelled by joy, respect and an unbreakable bond…
It’s been just over six years since I lost my beautiful friend to cancer.
She was everything you’d want a best friend to be – funny, caring, honest, reliable and understanding. We’d known each other for eleven years and although we’d been through a few ups and downs (like any close relationship), we felt lucky to have found each other. She could make me laugh even when I was in the depths of despair – a rare and precious thing indeed.
Ten years into our friendship, we had notched up many adventures together but we had no idea that the most challenging one was just around the corner. When she was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2010, the shock reverberated through us all. While I refused to comprehend the possibility of a life without her, she was far more philosophical about it. She didn’t fall to pieces or hide under the nearest duvet (as I would have done in her position). Instead, she urged me to carry on as before – have fun, get out and see the world, go on more of our adventures together. What else could I do but venture by her side, admiring her courage?
With each visit to the medical experts, the eyes of those who had seen it all before began to silently signal a dark truth. They spoke neutral words but their eyes spoke the subtext. They knew it, we knew it – but no-one acknowledged any of the lurking gloom. That suited us, quite frankly… we wanted to keep everything as normal as possible for as long as possible. We all wanted to preserve what we had until we had no choice.
One evening during April, after another battery of test results came through, something in our awareness of the illness shifted. Nothing was said, but she and I both seemed to understand that she may not beat this illness after all. Our previously determined attitudes softened into an unspoken, heavy air of resignation. The cancer was growing and the tests showed no response to the treatment.
That evening, we decided to go for a walk together and chose a route that we’d taken many times before and meant a short drive in the car. As I helped her into the car, I remember a sense that it could be our last proper walk together. As we drove slowly along the winding roads, a song called “Greatest Day” by Take That was playing on the radio. I’d never taken musch notice of it before but that night, the lyrics jumped out at me…
“Today this could be, the greatest day of our lives
Before it all ends, before we run out of time
Stay close to me,
Stay close to me
Watch the world come alive tonight
Stay close to me…”
It was twilight and the sun was radiating beautiful colours through the sky as we arrived. I helped her from the car and we began our walk along the shoreline. By now, she couldn’t walk very far or with any pace, so we stopped often – taking in the sunset, inhaling the breeze as it skimmed off the calm waters. I took a photo of her gazing out to sea as she stood on the promenade. The sea breeze helped distract her from her illness and she seemed almost hypnotised by it that evening. The picture I took came out grainy and dark, but it’s one of my most precious memories of her to this day.
When the dreaded time came in late June, she was all the things I knew she would be; brave, calm but utterly exhausted. The day she died was warm, sunny and full of summer energy which felt so at odds with what was happening. As the life left her frail, thin body, I clung to her and howled into the ether. She was gone, leaving just a faint resemblance of her shape.
I couldn’t comprehend the finality of what had just happened. No more battling to beat the cancer, no more fun, no more Her. I was livid. How dare the world keep turning? Why was everything carrying on as if nothing had happened?
The grief I experienced over the next few days was terrifying. I was left breathless by the pain, the searing, clawing pain that tormented me in the hours and days that followed her death. I buried myself in her things – inhaling her scent, sobbing, railing against the world for stealing my friend, even angrier with myself for not preventing it. The sheer force of my grief was overwhelming me and I was frightened that I would break from it all.
During those days, the only thing that offered solace was a flower remedy. A tiny, glass container filled with the life force of a plant. On paper, it seems ludicrous. In the real world, I knew the potency of these remedies and I knew I needed them. I took a couple of drops of Star of Bethlehem – within a few minutes, my the ragged edges of my grief smoothed a little. After another dose, my grief was still very much present, but not in danger of overwhelming me anymore.
The flower remedy allowed me to grieve, to let that natural process continue and yet, to also cope with it all. I used Star of Bethlehem for many days after she died. It kept me sane and allowed me to mourn. I am eternally thankful for that “little” remedy.
A year on, I was dreading the approaching first anniversary of her death. Her absence still hurt and although flower remedies had accompanied me along that rocky path of bereavement, I wasn’t looking forward to the fresh pain. I had clung fiercely to the prettily decorated box of her ashes all year – as though I could make her reappear through sheer force of will.
The day itself brought the expected tears, a return to the place we took our last walk together and lots of memories. It also brought a bittersweet sense of letting her go. The anniversary of her death allowed me to celebrate her, her life, her memory. I chose that date to donate to The Battersea Dogs Home in her memory, pledging to her that I would donate to them every year, in her name.
Battersea were her saviours during her first year and I have always been incredibly grateful to them. I’ll never forget when I met her there for the first time – we clicked immediately and we became partners in crime from that day. Her name was Roxy and she was a one year old crossbreed in need of rehoming. She was magnificently crazy, hilarious, loving and brave in equal measure.
During her lifetime, she gently broke hearts open and taught people to trust, to love and to care in ways they had never felt able to. We have kept our promise to donate to Battersea on each anniversary of her death. In her name, the lives of animals and people are given hope every day. I’d call all that a pretty amazing legacy.
Below is the photo I took of her on the promenade as she gazed out to sea, during our final walk together. Bless you Darling Roxy – We miss you and feel privileged to have been part of your twelve beautiful years on this earth.