One of the dearest friends of my life died a couple of weeks ago. She was 90, she was losing touch with the real world, her "quality of life" was atrocious with the pain of cancer, incontinence, depression, and the possible onset of dementia. In some ways her time had come and it was a relief that she was released. When I heard the news I was absolutely full of a bad head-cold. I'd been expecting the news for a while, and I felt a sort of numb sadness, but at the time (as since) I felt little else, though this counts as a major bereavement.
The lady in question looked after me daytimes from when I was 2 yrs old. I stayed in touch all my life. Her husband died in 1995, and she complained how much she missed him ever since. Our visits to her became more and more to be sad occasions, with her suppressing a tear at our leaving, and a long sad walk for us back home.
I wondered from quite an early age how sad it would be to lose her. Sitting at the top of a double-decker bus after saying goodbyes, I felt the lump in my throat one day as I realised there would one day be a time when she was gone. It was unusual for the 7/8 year old me to be moved by that sort of emotion, but it did happen from time to time. I phoned her on the anniversary of her husbands death one time - I was on a lonely, beautiful hill in the Lakes - and she rang off with "Love you" as she often did, and afterwards I cried on a bench in the middle of nowhere.
These past few years were slightly under the shadow of this inevitability, wondering how I would take it. And here I am taking it with a little sadness, but perhaps not facing up to my grief. I surprised myself - wondering if I'm somehow now completely numb. I suppose it will slowly come out. I want to write down my memories of my friend. (what I'm saying now seems so flat!) So I'll make a brief start in this entry.
Here was someone who loved children all her life, and they loved her back for it. She would "fall in love" with some of the children she looked after. Her house was often full of grandchildren, children she was nannying, or had nannied (?). It became a sort of social gathering place for quite a few of us. She'd want us to keep ourselves occupied quietly and sometimes we managed to, but not always - causing her some little stress. It was a strange set-up. But she and I remained on good terms for life.
She said I was like a "second son" to her. There was a way she had, of letting you know things - as a way of telling you you were one of the people she wanted to hear things - a kind of recognition of the place you had in her thoughts. I believed I had a special bond with her. Now, in a way, I like to imagine that she had such a bond with many others, just so her life would have been that much the richer for it. We hardly ever saw anyone on our later visits to her. How could someone of such experience, love and dignity seem to be so alone in her last years? I suppose I will never know the answer to this.