You wanted candles lit for you and they are being lit.
Over the years you joked that not many people would come to your funeral – having no idea how soon that would be.
You found it funny that I wrote this blog anonymously and I know you read it sometimes in your kitchen in Sussex to keep up with what was happening in my life.
I never thought you would feature on it in this way, but you deserve people to know about you and so I am telling them – and using your real name – Sarah.
You died on Thursday night. You were only 40 something – it’s rude to say more. You’ve left behind a husband who adored you and three lovely children. They had a chance to hold your hand and say goodbye though no-one knows whether you could hear them.
When I last saw you just three months ago you were fighting fit. We went on a long walk and played table tennis. You were proud of your children. You loved your life in the country: walking the dogs, watching your son play rugby and your daughters swim and play hockey. And you spent time finding the best school that would suit each of them, even though it gave you a school run that takes an hour twice a day dropping them at three different places.
You used your skills as a lawyer to help at the Citizens Advice Bureau – at one stage you ran the branch, but you wanted to spend more time with your family I think and so went back to volunteering a few days a week. You helped many people who were confused and desperate often at the lowest points in their lives and you gave good accurate advice.
But I met you when I was 19, when we were students. You were my closest friend at college those first few years – though I cannot believe that we danced and jumped around to Wham at full volume simply to annoy the guys who lived below you. You often disputed my choice in clothes – as many others have since – and I still can’t wear a little black dress without remembering you saying at my 22nd birthday party. “Is that a dress – it’s more like a belt – surely you are not going out in that?” As the party was at my house I wasn’t – as I pointed out. Or the time you came to my room so we could go shopping and I was still in my pink paisley pyjamas. Again I was asked ”Surely you are not going out dressed like that?” I think you knew that wasn’t my intention but I decided to call your bluff and so we walked round Oxford with me in pyjamas and a leather jacket and black boots.
Our holiday together in Italy as students was legendary. It is hard to believe how many scrapes two 20 year old girls could get into – only partly because you so genuinely wanted to practise your Italian. “If you like, we go to Positano,” and “We know your ‘ouse” as we were trailed round Sorrento by young Italian men apparently keen to practise their English, became sayings in both our families many years on. But you felt it was my determination to get a tan that was equally to blame: sunbathing in M &S knickers (I still think they looked like bikini bottoms) and wearing shorts at all opportunities. I still don’t think it was my fault that man came off his motorbike but of course I was relieved he wasn’t seriously hurt. And thank you for lending me your shawl to wear as a skirt on various occasions over what became known as my “monastery dress” – meaning I wasn’t allowed in a monastery or any other religious place as it didn’t cover my shoulders or enough of my legs.
I learned on that holiday that you didn’t think you were beautiful. I never understood it and I don’t think you believed me. But I always thought you were.
Despite three weeks in Italy, we went away together again to Portugal – a place I loved which was slightly ruined for you as you came quite quickly to be bored of fresh sardines. I have a great memory of lying on a white beach on the Atlantic coast swimming and chatting and laughing – just before I realised that sunbathing all day with very little to drink had given me sunstroke. I could hardly walk, but you got me back to the bus-stop and the hotel and all was fine by the next day.
Then we grew up. You got married and had children several years before me and for a while perhaps we had less in common.
But we’ve always kept in touch – as we have with the rest of the girls – and boys- from college. We went back sometimes most recently to a ball where we drank til dawn and danced to Scouting for Girls, even though I boycotted them after they sang something very rude about girls. She’s so Lovely now reminds me of you. We’ve spent many weekends with our families together – the night-time barbecue outside became a tradition where however many layers I started off in I always had to borrow another jumper from you or your husband. I even suggested another holiday – all nine of us – and we might perhaps have gone one day.
But three weeks ago you started to feel unwell and you took to your bed. You went to hospital a few times, but they didn’t know what was wrong. Then on Boxing Day you seemed much worse and were taken to hospital and quickly transferred to a London hospital and intensive care. Your husband telephoned to let me know we would not see you on New Year’s Day as you weren’t well and had been taken to hospital.
It seems a lifetime ago but it was only about a week. On Wednesday you had surgery as they tried to find out what was wrong. I went to Westminster Cathedral as you had asked for a candle to be lit. You never woke up. You don’t know this but you had a very rare and aggressive form of cancer. You could not have survived.
It’s very hard for us to believe you are gone, but you are wrong that there will not be many people at your funeral. We will all be there. We will support your husband and your children as best we can for the weeks, months and years to come.
And just for the record – you were always beautiful.