It’s been 10 years since my friend and colleague died. I still my her everyday.
We didn’t see each other often or even socialise outside of work much in the 25 years that we knew each other, but she was one of the few people with whom I could say anything. Literally anything.
She would never judge, dismiss or devalue anything that I (or indeed anyone else) said. Instead, she reflected, supported and enabled.
A conversation with her always left me feeling better and I only hope she could have said the same of me. Our last conversation took place in hospital where she was a patient. She was by now almost immobile and in great pain, but bore it with dignity. We cried together that day, but we also laughed together.
There were some 200 people at her funeral, and many others who unable to attend, who felt the same about her.
On learning of her diagnosis, she was advised that she had perhaps six months to live. It was actually 10 weeks, much of which she was too ill for visitors. How then could we all tell her what she meant to us?
Her husband came up with the idea of her birthday book. She would be spending her 60th birthday in hospital, so he asked all her friends to send photos, letters and mementos about our individual relationships with her, which he made into a book.
Through our contributions, and there were many, she was able to know how much she was valued and loved. Her birthday, instead of being a sad one, knowing that it would be her last was, after all, a day of celebration and smiles.
So often we write our appreciation of someone in condolence letters to their family, saying the things that we left unsaid to our friend. I did at least get my chance, both face-to-face and through my contribution to her wonderful book, but I shouldn’t have left it until she was dying. I should have told her, shouted it from the rooftops while she was well and healthy. That I loved her humour, her intelligence, her wisdom and that she possessed the most extraordinary grace. That I strived (then and still now) to follow her example, and that she has been one of my candles — someone who lit up my life and made my way easier to find when times were dark.