10 days ago, my beautiful and dear friend, Claire, lost her battle with breast cancer.
I met her 8 years ago, through the local toy library – of all places. We were both young, first time mothers and we both had a young baby boy. She had such a gorgeous personality – always smiling, always friendly, warm, funny, so down-to-earth and so genuine.
I don’t know how she did it, but she always made me feel like I was special and that I had a special place in her heart. And the funny thing was, I got the sense that it was like that for everyone who talked to her. It absolutely boggled me as to what magical powers of friendliness she possessed.
I would always leave a conversation with her going, Oh my god, she is such a wonderful person, I wish I could be as nice as Claire!!
We both went on to have 3 boys each. Our boys were all similar ages, all went to the same school, some in the same classes, some best friends.
When she first got the diagnosis of breast cancer, we formed an army of school mums to help cook meals for the family, help with school pick ups, and where ever else we could. She went through various operations, chemotherapy, and other therapies and treatments. The news was always up and down.
There was always another side-effect. Another test to be done. There was always so much waiting, and so much living with uncertainty. Something I already knew too well about because of my husband’s own struggle with cancer.
Things were difficult, but she was so strong and so positive. She formed a support group for other young mothers with breast cancer, she spoke at high schools, she wrote articles for breast cancer newsletters, she was constantly writing thank you cards and buying little gifts for nurses/doctors/friends/everyone! She was one amazing woman, Claire.
She battled the cancer for 4 years, but a few weeks ago, her doctors told her that she only had months to live. And then complications emerged, and suddenly, she wasn’t there to pick up the kids from school anymore.
All of us “School Mums” saw her one last time, two weeks ago, at a school function, surrounded by her family, and she was obviously very, very ill. We planned how we would celebrate her upcoming 40th birthday in an appropriate way, given how sick she was.
Each following day, a group of us would stand around after dropping off our kids, and share what we had heard about Claire’s condition. We were all wearing sunglasses, but I could tell everyone else was crying like I was, because I could see their chins twitching, and they were sniffing their noses. There was nothing we could do to help.
And then we heard Claire had passed away at home, surrounded by her closest family.
I am so relieved that she is no longer in pain, that she is finally at peace.
But it seems so terribly wrong and unfair.
I spent days fighting back the waves of tears that would randomly hit me. Driving along and having to pull over because my eyes were so teary that I couldn’t see the road. Walking down the aisle of a supermarket and bursting into sobs. Watering my roses (with a hose) with tears streaming down my face.
On the day of the funeral, I tried to make some cupcakes to share at the afternoon tea after the cremation ceremony.
I almost couldn’t manage the task of baking, as I was very dazed and distracted. The school rang to tell me I had forgotten to give my son the change of clothes he needed for after his swimming lessons. It turned out that I didn’t have any butter for the cupcakes, so I popped out to the shops, bought $100 worth of stuff, and forgot to buy the butter. When I got home and unpacked the groceries, I put the milk in the pantry and a box of tampons in the fridge… much to my husband’s surprise later in the day.
I was very teary at the funeral. I was not a picture of strength and graceful composition. I was crying so hard that my head felt like it was going to explode.
When I saw her family standing around her coffin, saying their last goodbyes, I was overwhelmed with immense sadness and… anger. My wonderful friend was being cremated on her 40th birthday, and her whole family, her husband, her 3 young boys, and her own mother and father, were there to watch. I wanted to throw up. I struggled to stay upright. My head was pounding. I was choking back sobs. I wanted to scream. I was thinking, Why isn’t anyone else screaming? Why is everyone so quiet?! Am I the only one who thinks there is something so bloody wrong with this picture?!?!
Of course I wasn’t. I know I’m not the only one who is grieving.
Obviously I’m still trying to come to terms with her passing and my own grief…and all the feelings that losing Claire has stirred in me. I know I have a lot of stuff I’m trying to deal with on a very deep and personal level, in particular with my husband’s cancer.
Stepping back a bit, I did realise that it was in fact a beautiful ceremony. Her husband gave a loving, heart-wrenching speech. Words written by her sons were read out. There were more touching readings and a slide show of photographs of her and her family. The family released white doves in remembrance of her. There were a lot of tears, yet there were smiles of strength.
Happy 40th Birthday Claire. I will always remember your warmth and smile, my beautiful friend.