Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Something Left to Lose.

One of the best friends I have ever had is dying. These words seem to colour everything I do, everything I think, make me numb, swirl a cold, opaque fog around everything I usually enjoy. She is dying and there is nothing - nothing - that I can do. Nothing that will change the fact. Nothing that will make things easier for her. Nothing.

Her doctor has said that three months will be a long time for her to live. She has already gone a long way away from us. Some days she will not talk to anyone, sometimes she cannot hold a cup, keep her balance, focus her eyes. Other times she becomes something like her old, feisty self. She checked herself out of her palliative care room at the hospital last week and went back to her seniors' residence. She is 'doing better', her brother says, the last little while. I think she is angry and the anger is carrying her - she does not want to be a helpless lump in a hospital bed any longer than she has to be. She does not want her daughters' anxious hovering, trying to do for her what little she can still do for herself. She doesn't want anyone's sympathy or pity. She's still the fighter she has always been, even when so much else is lost.

Her daughters are trying so hard to help. I remember my mother's last illness and how hard I fought, coaxing a little food into her, planning to make her hair look better, blinding myself to how fast she was fading. One night my husband said to me 'She's dying, Mary. You have to face it.' How stunning a blow those words were as I did have to realise that I was failing. I couldn't keep her. Now I watch my friend's daughters, her brother, her mother (so fragile herself) trying to come to terms with the same hard truth. I see her daughters fighting, as I fought, to bring her back, just a little, to comb her hair, get her attention, support her. I remember the bewilderment. The stubborn denial. The pain.

The words of 'Bobby McGee' keep running through my head. 'Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.' I've learned that when the person you love has gone, when you have nothing left to lose, the pain is different and finally it too fades to a dry, sealed scar. You are free of concern, of obligation; you also lose the connection although not the love. But it isn't the same love. It's a bowl of pot pourri, not the scented, living rose. I already know that survivors feel guilt, anger, regret. For many years I fought to remember my living vital mother, not the pitiful little ghost she became before she was finally gone.

I love it that my friend is fighting. She may drive her family nuts, she may do things that hurt all of us, but it is so like her. I want to shake her and tell her to let up on her daughters, her brother. At the same time, I want to cheer. She's still herself, aggravating though that self may be.

My friend has always been there for me for more than forty-five years now. Looking after my kids, going with me on escapades, always ready for lunch full of delicious gossip and highly sugared dessert. A provider of advice, of sympathy, of camaraderie, of fun. Vivid, colourful, opinionated, a blazing bonfire at which to warm my hands.

I'm already cold. But I will fight to remember her outrageous hats, her warmth, her real self, to hold her in my heart. And I will try to be there when she needs me until the end.


  1. Mary, is the the two of you in that photo? It is a photo that with a drop of water would expand on outward with one story after another. It is gorgeous.

    It is a difficult time but I am so glad she still fights with her own will. Too often people relent the fight to live and die to those around us. We are ourselves, despite age and health. That is the dignity we all deserve, to exert our will.

    You write this gorgeously, you feel and live it even more so. I wish her swift passage when it is time and I wish you all lightness and many more rich desserts.


  2. Yes, that's us. My friend in the hat in the foregroud, myself in my wedding dress, just before the wedding, another wonderful friend in the background preparing to act as my bridesmaid. And yes, it's a story of its own. You can find the gist of it at

  3. Oh, Mary. The two of you had so much together--that's obvious. That's fortunate. And you are able to use your writing to celebrate your friend and your friendship, as well as to mourn her. That is fortunate as well, for you and for us. Thank you, and I hope you find comfort here often.

  4. About all there is to do is be caring and supportive, which you seem to be doing very well. Hugs.

  5. I'm so sorry Mary, I did learn a lot from your insight on how your friend feels.

  6. Oh, Mary. I'm so sorry. She sounds like a remarkable person and a wonderful friend. Your tribute to her many strengths is very moving.

  7. I'm so sad for you Mary. It's one thing to watch a parent die, but I think it must even more difficult to watch a long-loved friend go. I'm sure the two of you will be each others' strength in the next few months as you have been for the past many decades

  8. Enjoy the days you have for her, hugs and prayers