I am no longer waiting

In my writing journal, I came across a poem titled ‘I am no longer waiting’. It felt like a message in a bottle from past me. 

I am excellent at waiting. For the perfect moment. For conditions to improve. And now I am waiting for my mother to die.

I love her, I don’t want her to die. But she has been slowly unravelling for years as dementia stole her sanity and now her ability to walk or use her arms. 

Death is not the enemy but a merciful friend.

I don’t know if you have ever watched somebody you love slowly deteriorate. I am sorry if you have. It is agony. The waiting for the inevitable feels endless. And yet amongst the deep waves of grief I have been surprised to find a strong counter current pulling me towards life. I am surrounded by death and yet I have never felt more alive.

The modern world has many benefits, but because we have become removed from death and tragedy. It allows us to persist in the grand delusion that death won’t happen to us. Whereas one of life’s great truths: is none of us are getting out of here alive. Death happens to us all. 

What do we do what that knowledge, that dark and precious gift? My mother’s final gift to me.

Someone I loved once gave me

a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand

that this, too, was a gift.

‘The Uses of Sorrow’ by Mary Oliver

Today would have been my best friend Lianne’s birthday. She would have been 41. She was somebody who was vividly alive. Some of us go quickly, we don’t have a chance to say our goodbyes. For those of us who see death coming, it can be a chance to do things differently. Yet for Lianne as she became more ill, her ability to things she wanted to do was eaten away by the cancer.

I don’t want to wait until I am dying to regret the things I did not do. I do not know how much time I have but as the great New Jersey poet Jon Bon Jovi said ‘I just want to live while I’m alive.’

I love new years resolutions. The idea of turning over a new page, the seductive possibility of change appeals to me. I saw somebody posting on social media about new years resolutions to lose weight. It said what if instead of waiting to lose weight, you did all those things you think losing weight will give you now?

What if you wore the bikini anyway?

What if you went to the dance class anyway?

What if you went on that date anyway?

What if you stopped waiting and started living now?

So this year I am resolving to stop waiting and to start living. 

What that looks like for me.

Telling my children I love them. Kissing my husband. Dancing to anthems with my besties. Swimming in the sea. Staring up at the stars. Booking that art class. Wearing that unflattering rainbow t-shirt that I love. Writing as if my life depended on it.

It looks like being in this world and not standing on the sidelines waiting for the right moment to jump in. Because now is all there is.

It is paying attention to all the things I tell myself I cannot do.

Idea by Kate Baer.

So let me ask you: what are you longer waiting for? What are you doing now? To paraphrase Mary Oliver how are living ‘your one wild and precious life?’

Words. Words. Words.

Advent of Midlife

by Mary Anne Perrone

I am no longer waiting for
A special occasion;
I burn the best candles on ordinary days.

I am no longer waiting for
The house to be clean;
I fill it with people who understand that
Even dust is sacred.

I am no longer waiting for
Everyone to understand me;
It’s just not their task.

I am no longer waiting for
The perfect children;
My children have their own names
That burn as brightly as any star.

I am no longer waiting for
The other shoe to drop;
It already did, and I survived.

I am no longer waiting for
The time to be right;
The time is always now.

I am no longer waiting for
The mate who will complete me;
I am grateful to be so
Warmly, tenderly held.

I am no longer waiting for
A quiet moment;
My heart can be stilled whenever it is called.

I am no longer waiting for
The world to be at peace;
I unclench my grasp and
Breathe peace in and out.

I am no longer waiting to
Do something great;
Being awake to carry my
Grain of sand is enough.

I am no longer waiting to
Be recognized;
I know that I dance in a holy circle.

I am no longer waiting for
Forgiveness.
I believe, I believe.

Lianne, three years on

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Do not stand at my grave and weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye

‘Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.’

Days after we lost you

Months,

A year,

Two years

And now three years today. I miss you so much it still has the power to strike me dumb with the force of it. It’s not as raw and savage as it once was but a wound I wouldn’t ever want to lose because it would mean forgetting you.

I see signs of you everywhere. In a stupid track on the radio, in the clouds above and in Nib who you will never meet but who is due close to your birthday. I can’t imagine a better fairy godmother.

I miss you and I forever grateful that you were my friend.

Love,

Row

Lianne, two years on

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Dearest Lianne,

1. It’s been two years since you died. Two fucking years. It feels like a lifetime. It feels like a week.

2. I miss you.

3. August used to be my favourite month. My birthday! Summer! No hellhole that I will never escape from aka school! You remember 🙂 Now I dread August because I know what’s coming and the deep well of grief that I will topple into.

4. Next week I will be 32, and you will forever be frozen in amber at 30. Part of me realises you’d be amused by this. At the thought of yourself young and beautiful whereas I get older, fatter, more wrinkled.

5. I read this advice column again and again. This sentence in particular hits me like a blow: ‘It has been healing to me to accept in a very simple way that my mother’s life was 45 years long, that there was nothing beyond that. There was only my expectation that there would be—my mother at 89, my mother at 63, my mother at 46. Those things don’t exist. They never did.’

6. I haven’t yet accepted that your life was 30 and a half years long. That there never was or will be anything more. It was only my expectation, and yours, that we would sit with Debs, Ros and Greg in the nursing home and cackle about the male nurses. You will never be 70 or 50 or even 31 – and it breaks my fucking heart again.

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7.  I think about you at the oddest times when I see a grumpy cat that looks like you, a kitkat, or watching Sleepy Hollow and thinking ‘I have to tell Lianne about this’ and then remembering I can’t.

8. I collect quotes about grief like a macabre magpie. Why? Because knowing that other people ‘get it’ makes me feel less alone.

‘It turns out that Hollywood has grief and loss all wrong. The waves and spikes don’t arrive predictably in time or severity. It’s not an anniversary that brings the loss to mind, or someone else’s reminiscences, nor being in a restaurant where you once were together. It’s in the grocery aisle passing the romaine lettuce and recalling how they learned to make Caesar salad, with garlic-soaked croutons, because it was the only salad you’d agree to eat. Or when you glance at a rerun in an airport departure lounge and it’s one of the episodes that aired in the midst of a winter afternoon years earlier, an afternoon that you two had passed together. Or on the rise of a full moon, because they used to quote from The Sheltering Sky about how few you actually see in your entire life. It’s not sobbing, collapsing, moaning grief. It’s phantom-limb pain. It aches, it throbs, there’s nothing there, and yet you never want it to go away.’

9. I’m celebrating my birthday this year. The first year I celebrated, numb to what had happened waiting for the feelings to rush back in. Last year I cancelled all plans and just spent time with HWSNBN who didn’t mind when I started crying into my meal. This year I’m going out with the other people who knew you and loved you. I’m going to drink big fruity cocktails, dance to cheesy music, and if I cry, and I will, I’m going to pretend that my tears are glitter.

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10. I have been and always shall be your friend. I’m glad to have known you. Thank you for that gift my friend. Thank you for everything.

love Row xxx

Missing you

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Dearest Lianne,

You died a year ago today. It doesn’t feel like a year. Sometimes it feels like yesterday the grief as fresh and savage as a wild animal gnawing in my chest. Other times it feels like decades have passed since we lost you and the world got colder, darker and a lot less fun.

I talk to you everyday. You never answer but that’s OK I know that if you could, you would. In the year since you died the shock faded into numbness, rage, grief and bittersweet nostalgia before cycling back round again. I listen to the playlist I made and it makes me cry and laugh all at once.

Sometimes I dream of you and in those dreams I forgot your dead. When I wake up, for a moment you’re alive. Then I remember and salt meet wound!

Seeing you in dreams is cold comfort when all I want is to spend an afternoon chatting shit with you. ‘All’, as if I would ever be satisfied with an afternoon: friendship has made me greedy. For a long time I tried to convince myself that you’re just abroad, somewhere where I am unable to contact you. But I could never quite believe the lie. Half glimmers of you and dreams could never be enough.

I try to remember you but I feel like I am losing bits and pieces on after one and that is like a thousand tiny deaths. I was never as good at remembering as you.

‘Trying to remember you
is like carrying water
in my hands a long distance
across sand. Somewhere
people are waiting.
They have drunk nothing for days.’

Stephen Dobyn, Grief

Do you remember the school trip to Germany and Prague when we were 15? Dorm rooms, being mistaken for prostitutes and streaking across the corridor to the showers = good clean fun!

In Prague, our guide told us that if we touched the cross on Charles Bridge and made a wish it would come true. So many girls made wishes about love. But we placed our hands on the gold cross together and vowed to be best friends forever. And we will be. Not even death can take that from me, when he has taken so much else.

Last year before you died one of my worst fears was that I would do or say something that hurt or offended you. And you would die before I could make it right. Even though you were the most reasonable teflo- proof person I know. I finally I told you, quivering with fear. And you laughed and called me a silly cow, ‘as if we could ever stop being best friends.’
Next week, I’ll be 31 but you’ll always be 30. For the first time I will be older than you who always called me ‘a fetus’. It reminds me of the Ode of Remembrance:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.’

This isn’t a pain that can be lessened just something to be endured.

The day you died it was beautiful bright sunshine. One year on the weather is finally playing ball and it’s grim here in Brighton.

I read this quote and it reminded me so much of you. Salman Rushdie said of Angela Carter, one of my favourite novelists.

‘Death snarled at her and she gave it the finger. Death tore at her and she stuck out her tongue. And in the end she lost. But she also won, because in her furious laughter, in her blazing satirising of her own dying… she cut death down to size: no distinguished thing, but a grubby murderous clown. And after showing us how to write, after helping us see how to live, she showed us how to die.’

My friend after showing me for years how to live you showed me how to die.

What I want to say more than anything is that I miss you. I really, really do. But you already knew that 🙂

Love your bestest westest friend,

Row xxx

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It’s my party, I can cry if I want to

All that lives, lives forever. Only the shell, the perishable passes away. The spirit is without end. Eternal. Deathless.

I turn 30 today. A little over a week ago my best friend Lianne died.

I’ve tried to write about Lianne dying a dozen times but the words won’t come. She was my best friend and I will miss her everyday. What more is there to say?

But it doesn’t feel enough, not for her, so I will try.

We became friends at 14 years old. I had seen her around before but she had a way of carrying herself that made her seem aloof, unapproachable and tall. Years later, we discovered that without her heels, she was only half and inch taller than me the shortass.

‘That half an inch makes all the difference’ She’d say looking witheringly down her nose at me. Even towards the end when she was very sick she would still give me that look and I would crack up.

We met through my best friend Debs at a Boyzone concert. While the other girls burst into hysterical tears as the band came on stage Lianne and I laughed. And that was it, we were friends. Lianne made friends like other people changes clothes while I watched on sceptical of these waifs and strays she picked up not realising I was one too. She was the glue holding our inner circle together.

Everybody has their favourite Lianne story, most of them too rude to print here. I remember bunking off school to go to London, using all of our money on the train, and then realising we had none left to actually do anything. Endlessly walking around Rowledge stalking her latest man obsession. Lianne was the spymaster general and stalker extraordinaire. Each crush had to have a codename.

She wasn’t perfect. She grossed me out as nobody else could with endless scatological descriptions. I spent what felt like years waiting for her, outside school, Elphicks and at her house.

We only fought once over a boy whose name I have long forgotten. Lianne would have remembered. She was our memory keeper, an archivist writing in her journals and collecting endless detritus. But there are some stories that only I will remember.

Like the time we got so wasted on a Thursday night that we ran around the rec in just our bras. Not being able to say ‘do you remember when’ feels lonely. Out of our group of friends she gave the best advice and was always the one I could rely to understand whether it was when I puked in a sink at a party or man trouble. This week I keep reaching for my phone to text her knowing she find the right words to comfort me, only to remember: she’s really gone.

And the world seems a little darker, a little duller and a hell of lot less lewd without her.

Who will call me a dappy hippie now?

I read a quote somewhere that there are some forms of knowledge one does not pray for. Grief is a knowledge nobody would pray for. They didn’t tell me it would feel like this. And even if they had I wouldn’t have believed them. Watching somebody you love die even from afar is an agony I would not wish on my worst enemy. But I would not wish the pain away. Grief is the price we pay for love. And it was worth it.

Lianne was worth it.

I’m glad I knew her even if it was only for a short time. Even if all those plans we made will never happen. We will never go travelling together. I will never meet her children, and she will not play with mine. We won’t end our days with our other friends at the same nursing home: chasing each other down the corridors, bickering over bridge and flirting with the male nurses.

Every pleasure brings with it the paper cut of grief like losing her over again. I burst into tears yesterday realising she will never taste a strawberry ever again. A strawberry, but I felt so sad. Tenses hurt as I have to remember it’s not Lianne likes but Lianne liked. I worry that over time I will begin to forget her and then it will be like she died anew.

It’s my 30th birthday and I am not in the mood for celebrating. In fact, all I want to do is hibernate somewhere til the pain goes away. Before, I had planned an amazing big kids birthday party for tomorrow. But all week I’ve been wrestling with whether I should go ahead.

Lianne taught me many things. The double bra trick: one to lift and one to separate. The fine art of stalking. But the most valuable thing my friend taught me as she died was how to live.

I watched Wrath of Khan for the first time this week in honor of Lianne who was a lifelong trekkie. (Although, I wish somebody would have warned me *SPOILER* that Spock dies at the end *ENDSPOILER* wibble. ‘I have been and always shall be your friend.’) In Wrath of Khan, Kirk says: ‘how we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.’

Lianne lived with brain tumours for almost five years, outliving her prognosis and two support groups. Even when she was so sick from the chemo she could barely move she never gave up. She celebrated her 30th in jaunty party hat, a friend’s baby on her knee. After her diagnosis she made a list of goals to keep going. And a fortnight ago she achieved the last item on the list: watching the Olympics.

The end when it came seemed sudden. I knew she was deteriorating but on Thursday Debs started forwarding the texts. Lianne wasn’t eating or drinking and she was slipping out of consciousness. I sat outside in the sunshine imagining her surrounded by white light. That afternoon unable to work I spent hours flicking through photos not as she was at the end but of her healthy and well. Unable to sleep at midnight I went on facebook and there were the others. The inner circle. We emailed keeping up a vigil. By this point she was already dead. She died as she would have wanted: at home, listening to music, and holding her mum’s hand. With a distinctive Lianne twist that made me laugh even through the tears.

Friends and family have been so supportive. But the one thing that puts my teeth on edge is when they say it must be a relief for her. They are just trying to be kind, but they don’t understand. Lianne wanted to live more than anything. The week before she died she went to the hospital to talk through her treatment options. She had been rapidly deteriorating as first her mobility and then her speech began to desert her. But she wanted chemo even though the chemo would kill her. She was too weak. Lianne would wanted.

So for her, as long as I can, I will live. I will feel the kiss of the sun on my face. I will search for shooting stars in the night sky and imagine she is sending me a message. And on Saturday, I will celebrate my birthday through the tears. I’ll raise a glass to her and pray that wherever she is Cher is playing, the Smirnoff mules are plentiful and the angels are hot Mediterranean men.

Farewell my friend and thanks for everything.