The thing is, we will all die. None of us gets out of here alive. But we are so, so squeamish about death. My adoptive mother would never say the C word. As if, like a curse, the power of cancer would spring forth, having been uttered and take another victim. Her best friend was dying in a local hospital and she wouldn’t see her, because it would upset her too much to see death. But there it is. Facing everyone of us. As a distant possibility or as the next destination, just there, quite close.
Perhaps, when your best friend dies, aged 37, you realise. We were both on the same bus, but her stop was much earlier. I know she wanted to stay with me, to a stop when we both got off with trollies and headscarves, tutting at the youth. But that wasn’t her stop, it was the early one. And I didn’t know. My last goodbye to her was a wave at the ward door. A week later, her husband told me how bad things were. A week after that, I spoke to her on the ward. A hesitant nurse told me she was very poorly, but put me through. When I spoke to her, I realised it was over. Her voice was so weak. We talked, but she was so weak. I imagine she dreamed of our conversation, because the next morning she told her husband I was on my way to see her. I had no idea. Instead, I spoke at a conference and when I left the conference centre, my husband met me with red eyes and open arms, to give me the news.
The gift of advance notice of death is preparation. Very few 37 year olds have considered this. But Julie did. She anointed her husband and me valedictorians. She bought and wrapped presents for us. She bought and wrapped presents for her two small sons, to be opened on their 16th and 18th birthdays. Tomorrow I could walk out and be hit by a car. But my daughters would know I want Here Comes The Sun to be played at my funeral. They cry when they hear it. But, oddly, it is a song I have chosen because it is so happy.
I wrote this post partly inspired by the wonderful Charlotte Bevan. Here is a woman I have never met, but who saved my life, when it so needed saving. Here is a woman whose warmth and wisdom has reached out across continents. A woman who has given us all Big Girl Pants. A woman whose humour and appetite for life lunges out at all of us from the Internet. This is a woman who takes no shit whatsoever, whose love for her daughters and HWISO shines out from our screens. She looks like Susan Sarandon and has the character to match. And yet, cancer has no good news for her. No vitamin C injection, no run in pink pyjamas will make a difference. Her medical news is shit. Yet still the Charlotte candle burns brightly. She writes poetry, treats her children just the way she always did and she goes on. Because what else do you do. Life is not a series of sunsets or swooping down roller coasters. It is just life, with tea to be made, washing to be done, sleep to be had and one day it will be gone. And none of us can stop that, we just have to make sure every minute counts.