My dear friend lay, pale and drawn. Her poor little arms and legs looked so thin and fragile yet her abdomen was swollen. The shadows under her eyes spoke of pain-filled restless nights and still she turned now this way, now that, in an effort to find ease. I sat down and held her hand. “ I’m scared, I don’t want to die, there is so much I still need to do. What about my family, how will they cope?”I felt her fear and anxiety and wished in that moment I could spare her this ordeal. Of the many journeys we had taken together this one she had to take alone. I would, of course, be there for her and her family, help in whatever way I could, feeling helpless and frustrated and knowing that, whatever any of us did, it would not be enough. In came other visitors and immediately the smile was on her face and the play began; the one where everybody is trying to be cheerful and hopeful and talk about everything and anything as long as it is not this awful reality. As I sat and watched them my mind went back to better days, happier days when –
We rented a cottage on a small Island off the West Coast of Scotland. It was a beautifully restored former school house in a picturesque tiny fishing village. The window to the front offered an uninterrupted view of the ocean. The weather that summer was unusually good and we enjoyed day after day of warm, sunny weather. My friend and I along with a mutual friend, away from all the cares and responsibilities of our usual lives, reverted to being girls again . We dined al fresco on the patio under the shade of a brightly coloured parasol. Fresh, crisp, aromatic bread, creamy butter, favourite cheeses and meat, all tasted so much the better for the beauty of the day, the scenery, and the company. We walked along beaches picking up interesting shapes of shells and colours of stone. We found a piece of driftwood that resembled a fish and wrote our names on it using a piece of limestone we had found and asked a passer-by to take a picture of us by the plaque. I have it in my possession now, a captured precious memory. We walked forest paths, walked beside little streams and waded in shallow pools , and talked and talked and laughed, a lot of laugher.
Another time at a church social we became “The Spice Girls-Forty Years On”. We each dressed up as one of the Spice Girls, bearing in mind at this point we were all in our fifties and, for the act, we each sported either a walking stick or a zimmer. We had made up a silly dance to one of their hits and we brought down the house. I was Baby Spice complete with a blond wig made from strands of cream yarn, and cuddled a teddy bear, and my friend was Sporty Spice dressed in baggy street trousers and backward baseball cap. People cried with laughter and still talk of it.
So many good memories of wonderful times shared by the very best of friends. But now she lies, a non-smoker, dying of stage 4 lung cancer with secondaries in her bones, getting ready to undergo her first radiation treatment, followed by chemotherapy. “We can’t cure you. This is only palliative treatment” the doctors told her, and left, leaving her to the smashed pieces of her life. “ I will fight it all I can,” she said. I will fight by your side with my prayers, my presence, all the love, compassion and empathy I possess, dear friend. I wish her to live long, for all the dreams she has that are yet unfulfilled, for her devastated family and the grandchildren yet unborn, for all the future laughter and tears of our friendship, but not if it means selfishly prolonging her suffering. There are times in life when the greatest testimony to love is to let go.