“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.”
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Our neighbour has passed away.
The last time I saw Sharon she was her usual vivacious, smiling self. She excitedly told me that she and her husband, their grown up sons and girlfriends were leaving on safari in Botswana that week. She couldn’t wait. She clasped her hands across her stomach as we spoke and I noticed that it was distended.
She must have seen that I’d noticed. After a few seconds she quietly told me that the cancer had come back.
“I’m starting treatment at the Royal Marsdon when we’re back from Botswana. I’m in really good hands,” she said. That was September.
I heard from Sharon again at the start of lockdown. She was in hospital with bacteremia. Her stomach had stopped working and her kidneys were swollen. Cancer in the middle of the COVID-19 epidemic must have been terrifying and lonely for her.
They say “too young”, “not fair”, “an end to the suffering” and many many more things. But I had no words when I heard this morning, only my throat felt tight and I felt angry.
Just before lockdown I did the Highgate Cemetery tour. I love cemeteries and grave yards. Some people think it’s strange. Maybe it is strange? I like to walk among the grave stones and read the names, the dates, the quotes and verses, see the flowers, trinkets and stones left on the graves. Every single one of them is a story.
Pics from Highgate, West Cemetery, on an appropriately grey day in March. I will visit the famous East Cemetery some time too.
My Dad’s funeral was today, 3 years ago. It’s also my parents’ anniversary today, the 5th May. I loved my father’s funeral.
It was not a perfect funeral – if such a thing exists?
The priest went completely doolally, siting some questionable doctrine that none of the family had approved, Dad’s plaque was screwed onto the wall skew, and some people who really loved him couldn’t be there.
But it was a good goodbye. I loved the tears and words of his friends. I loved standing in the front of the church with my brother and sister to read out what we’d each prepared. I loved protecting my mother and being there for her as she packed up his personal things. I loved picnicking on the rocks with my family the next day, toasting Dad with his favourite beer, and eating fresh seafood – “free from the sea“, Dad would say EVERY TIME we ate it! I loved scattering his ashes in the freezing breakers on his beach with my family – though I did not have my costume so I apologise for flashing the couple we didn’t see until later up in the sand dunes, as I ventured into the water in my undies. I loved every second of celebrating my Dad’s life.
I will probably never know Sharon’s whole story. But her stories will be told. Her husband and sons will laugh and cry a million times over. They will remember all the best bits. At her funeral. On her birthday. For years and years to come.
We all read the death statistics for COVID-19 every day all over the world. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that every one of those numbers represents a life, a story, but I guess every one does.
P.s. Stay safe and well my friends.
P.p.s. Do find a way to sort out, photograph, write, face and process your Corona thoughts and experiences. This is grief we are feeling.
P.p.p.s. I’d love to hear your thoughts about what this strange time has taught you and what you’re going to do with those lessons?