Three years, 4 months, and a lifetime ago.

Grief is a strange beast. She rears up unexpectedly, flooding you with such profound sadness. Reminding you how big the hole is in your heart.

Yesterday, I was having lunch with friends. We were having lovely conversation, when out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Carol. My heart about leapt out of my body with excitement – it only lasted a split second – and then I saw it wasn’t her. The let down, the disappointment, was extraordinary. I cried out, startling my companions. It was momentary, it passed quickly, but oh my. How my body reacted shocked me,  after all this time.

I never forget about her. She isn’t every far from my thoughts. I talk about her a lot, and  that sharp pain, the breathlessness, the increased heart rate that went on for months on end, all that has gone away. But the yearning hasn’t.

The yearning for her is still there. My beautiful girl. Tears still fall regularly, but I know I won’t die without her anymore. And I’ve done so much since she died. All because she died, I think in most likelihood.

But I’d undo it all. Just to have her here again.




We both met C 33 years ago. Neither of us are now sure who started talking first, but what we do know is that the talking never stopped.

She was loving, generous in heart and spirit, accepting, non-judgmental, and open minded.She had a creative flair that could throw anything together and make it look artistic and stunning. She had a love of life and a willingness to explore new art, performance, music and places. She had a black sense of humour, and could always find the funny side.She was our glue, she kept us connected and kept us grounded. Most importantly as a friend, she was always there – consistent, stable and unhurried. She had time! Time to talk, time to listen, time to share.

She was

Loving –Though she was really a cat person, because she loved me, C has loved my dogs, over the years. She showed her love of H by being there, by showing up, such a rare thing these days. And she was always there with a hug when you needed one. She’d hold out her arms, and make that noise “awwwwwwwww” and in you’d go. Or she’d pat our hands, to let us know that she cared.

She offered

Acceptance –   She accepted everyone for who they were, and welcomed everyone into her home. We both have friends who met her once and have never forgotten her. She always remembered people, and would ask after them. Any situation she found herself in, she just got on with it. Well, that’s interesting, she’d say.

She was

Generous – C would ask me to come with her, or with her and H to something – a restaurant, or a film, or some event, and I would say “No. Really. I can’t afford it” and she would say, without fail “ I don’t mind, I just want to see YOU”

She couldn’t say no to any charity that asked for a donation, and had many “chosen”. I believe I was one of them.

She was

Non judgemental – not once, ever, in the 26 years I’ve been smoking did she ever suggest I stop, or judge me for being a smoker. When I went round to theirs, she always got the ashtray out for me, and even when she was dying I told her that if she asked me to stop, I would think about it, she never did. She would never do that.

She was

Open minded – there wasn’t much that shocked C – she was always open to new ideas, experiences and music. Her tastes were often far more worldly than mine, and it delighted her to show or tell me about something new.

As H’s plus 1,  they grew together in their appreciation of art, performance, experiences and music – H says that C made her look at things in a different light. Their likes were common, their dislikes shared. It was always easy for them to find something to do, places to go, food to eat, wine to drink.

She never

Wanted to impose or cause worry. Even when she was ill.  H stayed the night, that week she was home, and she soldiered on, sucking up the pain and worry, while H  slept on in the room next door. And if you asked her why she hadn’t told us something, she would say she didn’t want to worry us.

She was

Steely in will – If she didn’t want to do something, which was very rare, or she didn’t agree with us, which was also very rare, she would let us know. In no uncertain terms. She was always polite about it, well usually, but you knew nevertheless. She could never say no to anyone but she was no walkover.

She was

Quirky – C and I shared a love of hugging and kissing each other. We had duckie cuddles in fact, where you kiss on the lips (duckie lipkisses) and then hug whilst waggling your bum, When she was ill, we still enjoyed our duckie kisses, it has to be said. And when H and her and I were together, we always found something strange to laugh at. I know they went to much experimental theatre over the years, and really enjoyed it. They would either poke fun at it, or think it was very clever, but it was always an experience.

She was:

Consistent and stable – It didn’t matter where you were, or how long it had been since you’d seen or spoken to her, she was always there.  When H and I left for Europe, separately, we missed her wedding, but when we returned, back to the fold we came, and never left again.  Through divorces, and illnesses, the good times and bad, she was there for it all, there for us. And made sure we knew how much of a priority we were in her life.

She liked:

being a passenger – C and I had a number of roadtrips  together under our belts. She liked being in the passenger seat, being taken along for the ride. And I loved driving her. We would talk for hours – the thing she most enjoyed doing – and when we got to her destination, we would always be a bit sorry that the trip had ended. One of the things we most enjoyed in the last few years, though, was riding in H’s  flash car. The question was always asked: whose car shall we go in. For C and I there was never any doubt.  I would sit in the front ( I could never get the seat up to let her in and H had to fiddle around) and C would sit in the back. H would drive us, and we’d talk, and talk, and talk. She just liked going along for the ride, in so many ways.

She was

Unhurried – It didn’t matter what we were doing, she’d always say “I’m in no rush”. Lunches with her were wonderful leisurely affairs. At a time when others are always rushing off to do something else, of have to meet someone, C was just there, and would spend as much time as was needed to talk, laugh, and share herself.  If we were up on Ponsonby Rd lunching at SPQR, our favourite place, she and H would walk along and look at the shops. Most of the time, I would bow out, and hear about their perambulations later.  But I always felt like I missed out, as I rushed home.

She was

An analogue girl in a digital world  – C loved to talk on the phone. She and I used to talk on the phone most days until a couple of years ago, and I know that she and H talked every day when H was in the country. Ian loved it when she rang to talk to me. If I was out walking the dog, she and he would natter away for a good long while. She had a cellphone but never really used it. She was happier to chat on the phone or have regular get togethers, and talk to you face to face.

She was

The glue –  she was the connector among our friends, the one who organized the lunches, dinners, get togethers. Often if someone had something to celebrate, it was held at her house. She made sure that there were regular occasions to celebrate, and if people were alone or having a bad time, she made sure to include them.  H and I never saw each other without her,  after we came back from overseas, but even in her dying, she brought us together, and we spent many happy hours with her in hospital chattering away, laughing, doing what we’d always done.

Her loss is great, but we remember her always with such love for the joy and friendship she brought into our lives. For the many lunches we ate, for all the talking we did, for all the laughs we had.

C was our best best friend and one of the great loves of our life.

Dying, in 120 tweets.

Partly for me, as part of this grieving for C, and partly for other people, so they could, if they so wish, see what this was, I decided to list my tweets about C one after the other. There were, in the end, 269 tweets about her illness, and dying. I have edited them down to 120, and added, as well, a bit more of what was going on. Because there was so much I didn’t tell, didn’t share with all of you. Some of that, in the last week of her life, was because I started to blog it. Some of that was because there are things that don’t make for particularly good reading. And in the end, it’s a record for me.

July 3

C has an enlarged uterus – gyno on Monday.

She rang me. We hadn’t talked for a couple of weeks. I prattled on about myself, and then she said, I have some news of my own. I felt it then. She joked about hysterectomies. But we knew, all of us, that this was bad. She’d been having neck manipulation to see to the pain in her abdomen, had looked at herbal remedies. How were we to know? And what good would it have done, anyway? I saw her on the Thursday, and alarmed at her pain, pleaded with her to go to hospital. It wasn’t until the next day, when her good friend Marge saw her, and demanded she go, that she actually went.

July 7

Went to see C in hospital today. No good. She was fast asleep, looked so ill, and in so much pain. I cried.

I left a note to tell her I loved her. Seeing her face, so twisted in pain, even in sleep, horrified me. 

She’s having exploratory surgery tomorrow, and my mind has gone to the worse place possible. I almost lost her once, it’s too soon.

The worst thing is she’s so little – seeing her asleep like that, tiny in that hospital bed, so so vulnerable.

July 8

C had surgery today, results come back in 10-14 days. Apparently no surprises, have no idea what that means.

–    what it meant was that they found what THEY expected to find, rampant cancer, everywhere

C feeling much better, pain meds under control, coming home tomorrow #andnowwewait

but she didn’t

July 9

Rang C “I’ll come tonight!” “That’ll be…..nice”. “You don’t want company do you?” “No”. Ancient friendships means honesty.

what it meant was that she didn’t want anyone to see her like that. 

July 10

So C has cancer. Either cervical or uterine. Not sure which yet, not sure how advanced.

 they knew exactly what it was, just not where it had started.

More testing to come, and then meeting of surgical team etc next Weds to confirm diagnosis, and route of treatment.

but there was no route of treatment, only “I’m so sorry” “you have months, not years” and even that was optimistic. She had 43 days left. Time became so important. We talked about it all the time, H and I. And then C and I. 

And I possibly need you even more in the next few days than my old friends, who I cannot tell, until we know what we’re dealing with.

 I cannot begin to express how very important you all have been, no more than in that period of time, when no-one knew.

July 11

Went in, leant over C, told her had lots of kisses for her, gave her one, sat down. “That’s only 1” she said in a miffed tone.

we went on in this vein for the next 42 days. Kisses were important for greeting, and for goodbyes. They were our language of love. 

12 July

I have a terrible feeling about C’s cancer. But. Seeing her was all I needed. Moment by moment, hour by hour, I cherish her.

  I knew. With every fibre of my being. I knew.

Poor G. Rang him to see how C was. Staying in hospital till Mon, CT scan. Bad pain day today. He broke down in tears and hung up.

he knew too

On a positive note: packing bag for seaside stay with S and B  – much excitement, and what a blessed reprieve from reality.

   that weekend was the calm before the storm. How lucky to have had that. Eating outrageously well, talking till the cows came home, getting slightly drunk. 

13 July

1 of the worst things, for me, and this is v selfish, is keeping my beloved friends on a need-to-know basis abt C, right now.

There’s only 3 of us who know what’s going on, and I find that very difficult. Next week, when we know what’s going on, it will be better.

I kept so many people away from her for so long. It was unbearable, really. So many people loved her, and yet none of them knew she was even ill. 

15 July

Been with C a couple of hours. Seen pain specialists and respiratory specialists, b/c has developed lge clots on each lung.

A has plaited her hair, G has fed her. She’s awake and alert so it’s all doable.

Seriousness of clots in lungs just sinking in now, after nurse said “It’ll be a tough few days”. Just got it.

 ridiculously, the lung clots were the least of our worries. The bloodclots that they feared would kill her had not a chance to do their worse. The cancer shut her down so quickly. 

I am weary. So weary.

and I still am

16 July

Ah shit. And so the wounded and weary gather together to process what’s happening to one of our own, and what it could mean for us.

we had no idea, no idea at all – she had just 37 days

17 July

Today’s the day. Which would be like any other day, because C’s ill and no diagnosis is going to change that. But still, anxious.

I have no idea why, but I thought it would be better to leave Graham and Carol to it. He rang me panicked, said she had been asking for me. I was way out of the City, at a remote and wonderful beach with a dear friend and our dogs. We went back to her place and I texted him to ask if there had been news. He didn’t answer so I texted back to see if he wanted me to be there. He rang. “Yes, please”. And I raced away from there, all my adrenaline released, all my fears and imaginings coming true.

My best friend C has been diagnosed with end stage metastasised endometrial cancer. Gutted. Numb.

The oncologist was lovely. She delivered her news with gravitas, and great compassion. “I’m so sorry” she said. I asked G, who was in floods of tears, and unable to speak, if he wanted me to ask The Question. He simply nodded his head. And I asked. How very wrong the answer was to that question we would come to find out.

The Question was: how long do we have? she had just 5 weeks and one day to live.

18 July

C stable-ish. Still very confused. Got angry abt catheter being put in, accused G of joining a cult #ThatsMyGirl

I was also accused of kidnapping her. This accusation was made against me a couple of other times, in delerium. She knew how protective I had always been of her, and how much I had wanted to take her away from G in those very early days of their relationship. How very often I had wanted to keep her for myself. She knew that me kidnapping her was not an unreasonable thing to expect. 

19 July

Status update from G: still befuddled but major rage last night wanting to go home. Mild sedative given.

Trying to get her through the next few days/week, then they will look at chemo. If she’s suitable for that, 25% chance of it working enough to shrink the tumour, if it does that we have a year at the very best. Lots of IFS at the moment.

the rapidity of this cancer, the way it engulfed her, surprised everyone, no-one more so than the medical staff


Waiting to skype with H. Remarkable technology that allows 2 friends in different parts of the wld to boohoo at each other.

An hour of skype an ocean of tears raised heart at friend’s return so we can deal to this shit

she was in Borneo, a world away, had rung G every day for updates, was worried, but stuck for the moment. Never one for tears, she was ashen as I talked to her. We cried  and I said to her, just come home now. I need you. 

Today with C: foot massages, laughter (at me) and instructions to make a phone list. (I don’t know what phone list but it’s VERY IMPT)

–       she was very determined that no-one know until we had all the information – even when we had all the information, she was reluctant. I guess other people knowing made it real for her

20 July

Shit just keeps getting realer. L was so shaken by seeing C she told her she loved her. L never says “I love you”. Ever.

 L was so shaken that she didn’t visit C again, and after C died, and I let her know, she texted back “I’m so sorry”. She just couldn’t do it.  I try hard not to judge her for that, but I think a little part of me will never forgive her.

The thing abt oncology ward is that people are settled. Few casual visitors, e/one knows where they’re going. Lots of smiling + laughing.

Alone with C, sleeping peacefully after a huge day of visitors.  Cl had an especially lucid day today. “What level is your pain?” “I don’t care. Just give me the painkillers.” That’s my girl.

we searched always for her in her delerium – sometimes it was hard to spot what was her, and what was her fevered brain, but she was always there

21 July

Today, H and I went through C’s old brown address book, where everyone has at least 2 numbers. It’s puzzling, that old thing.

Phonecalls to tell of terminal cancer. # made: 5. Responses varying from sobbing (3) to pragmatic (2). So that’s those done.

I was very blunt and clear on all phonecalls except on one of the sobby ones. We sobbed together.

She was appalled when she found out what we had done. And at some of the people I  had rung. “But I haven’t seen them for years!” She never really truly understood how very important she was to people.

Startling realisation: when they said they didn’t know whether it was uterine or cervical they meant they didn’t know which was the primary.

and finally it clicked

22 July

When you think about how much time you get off work, paid, when someone you love dies, it’s not enough, is it?

And you want to spend as many waking hours as possible with them, to imprint their face and being on your mind, you get no time at all

So I did this…….


Watching C sleep. Just because.

Today C and I had the conversation abt whether she wanted ppl staying the night with her. The answer was, apart from G, no.

She didn’t want her friends to do any of the “yukky” bits. That’s not what friends are for, she told me. I argued that, in fact, that’s exactly what we were for. But she wouldn’t have it. And in the end, of the last 50 nights of her life, G spent just four away from her. 

23 July

Completely seriously, last week, C thought she was pregnant and in St Mary’s Hospital. Only now does this make sense. #toomanytrashymags

she was mortified later on, and we talked about it, then laughed. Very hard.

Radiation therapy making C v sick and v tired now. Pulling back on being the devoted bedside attendee for a bit. I remember this bit.

I miss doing the duckie cuddle with C. Duckie cuddles are awesome – you hug and then waggle your bums. I don’t do it with anyone else.

24 July

C ok for H and I to go up today. Must confess yesterday’s day off did me the world of good.

Old school friend getting v tetchy about not being allowed to see C. I want to slap her.

there were a number of people who wanted to see C, and in fact, this woman, and her sister, did go and see her and offer to stay the night with her when she came home – C thought very seriously about that. They weren’t close friends, and so I think she felt okay with them seeing the yucky bits. That, and the fact that they were both nurses helped greatly. 

25 July

Good time spent with C. Lots of laughing, we three friends. Felt normal (ish)

27 July

Up with C- the word dying has been used for the first time. Also the question has been asked. Why isn’t there a hospice on Waiheke?

 in the end, it didn’t matter where the hospice was – she was only fully conscious for her first day at hospice, and looked out the window just once. She was more focused on the cat print on the wall at the end of her bed.

Lovely afternoon with C and H. Not sorting photos except our own – C wants to be there when we sort through hers.

  and as it turned out, we needn’t have worried. She gave us only 6 old photos of her as a child. The rest H and I gathered from our own collections, and from G’s iPad after she died.                                                                                      

Interesting shift in C – talk of hospices, and not knowing how long she has, and not going back to work. V determined.

She never, I don’t think, came to full grips with dying. How could you in such a short period of time? She would get briefly furious about it, and then subside into acceptance. 

H is adding photos to my Dropbox. And I am crying. God, we’ve had some fun times.

they carry me through. Such laughter, and talk, and eating, and loving, we did. Thirty three years of gloriousness, and nary an argument, nor cross word.  Except in her final days of consciousness, when I tried to choke her, but that’s another story.

29 July

Bugger. Bugger bugger bugger. C not allowed home till this weekend, and then only for the w/end to see how she goes.

After talking with C tonight, it hit me. This cld be a relatively long road we’re on or a fairly short one. Either way, let’s not rush.

but it was, it was a rush, the whole bloody thing, a rush that only stopped when I was with her.

30 July

G called cellphone at 10.40. Panicked + rang back. No answer. Rang again 4 mins later. Sounded cheery. No panic #bestillmybeatingheart

the telephone was carried around with me at all times, I grew to hate it’s ring

Today’s life lesson from C: we’re playing e/thing by ear. Day trips home in the w/end only due to bedding situation at hospital.

we still really thought she was going to come home for a good long period of time. 

31 July

CT scan for C’s brain. Worried abt memory loss. Results tomorrow. Begs the question: why can they not give you the results immediately?

1 August

Call from H. Brain scan clear. Palliative social workers came to see her, explained e/thing again. She kept asking “is it terminal?”

Palliative social worker also talked to C abt how this is the best she may ever feel again. H said that was confronting.

And it was. It really really was the best she would ever feel. 

It’s all confronting. Every bit of it’s confronting.

I want you to know, in the midst of this grief, this sense of enormous loss I feel, the fact that some of you met C cheers me so much.

and cheers me still. How lovely that day was. What a shining memory.

2 August

Spoke to C on the phone. “I miss you” I said. “I miss you too” she said. “When are you coming?” That’d be tonight then.

Talking to the elderly mother of an old friend about C. “It would be quite sensible if it was someone my age. But 49!” Indeed.

Got told off for leaving C for a couple of days. “I told you to rest for a day. I don’t remember saying you could rest for 3 days!”

Beautiful visit though. Just we two. Talking about her death, and G. And pain. And hospice. And everything in between.

It’s shit, I told her. It is a bit, she agreed. Are you angry, I asked. I feel okay about it, as long as there’s no pain.

and there wasn’t, in her final two days – finally, they got it right.

The bad news: cancer is spreading. Discovered tumour in neck this morning. I really don’t think we have long. “A year wld be nice” she said.

We had just another 19 days.

4 August

3 1/2 hrs of best friends talking: funerals; caskets; pain relief; photo sorting for funeral montage. And laughter.

C joked abt crossing legs, and letting blood clots kill her. We vetoed this idea. Writing her a list of ways she’s not allowed to die.

And can I just say: we had a duckie cuddle. And it was brilliant.

So this is the plan (tentatively): to go to C’s every day after work, take Ruby w/me (she can stay in car) so that I can walk her after

this lasted all of 1 day – there was never enough time to fit it all in, and poor Ruby got the bum end of the deal, but oh those nights with C were precious

I find it somewhat ironic that when not with C  I’m all messy and tears-y. But not when I’m with her. Good work, brain.

5 August

Head lesions are not what I thought they were. They’re baby tumours. I had never even heard of them, and now I wish I hadn’t.

Conversation with H: mutual consent on 2 things. We neither of us think Carol has long now. And we are loving our time together.

we were right, we had just 17 days left with her, and now we will need to think about where we fit into each others’ lives

I told C tonight that I was sharing this with you all – your lovely twitter friends, she called you

and she was very fond of those she had met – always asked after you and wanted to know what you were up to, tweethearts she named you

What I’m asking is: how many of you would I be able to take to C’s  funeral as support? What wld be acceptable?

–       in the end, five friends from twitter came to her funeral to support me, and it was beautiful

6 August

Lovely time with C on her bed at home.

Tonight’s topics of discussion: enemas, and how they cld open you up for good sex; and, more seriously, cld her cancer have been detected.

Also discussed was other peoples’ self absorption: “your job now you’re dying is to comfort ppl, it’s in the job description” I said.

8 August

Pizza with H and C. H staying the night with her since G is away, and her pain is worse at night. Night off for me tomorrow.

the nights got worse for her, the pain less under control, and in the end, it was too much for G to handle it all at home

9 August

And so we have it. The Word from the Palliative nurse, who when asked what C’s dying wld look like, described what’s happening now.

H and I think maybe 4 weeks. It’s such a short time. Knocked me a bit sideways.

we had just 13 days left with her

11 August

On the upside, C is having an lunch party for a select few who incl her hated ex husband. Clever girl.

I asked her later whether it had been deliberate, this buffering of herself with friends. She smiled and said, maybe. Clever girl. 

Penis P made a dick of himself, cried all over C, stormed out. I was left to go after him. Told him to get it together. And he did.

Poss saddest thing abt today is that A and G are going o/seas in 3 wks, won’t be back for 6. G told them to visit before they go

and they did, both in hospital and in hospice, and I am so glad

12 August

I have nothing pithy that C said to relay to you. She is tired, and getting tireder. More pain, more drugs, more tired.

And so now the joyous task of emailing friends and asking for photos they may have of C. For her funeral montage, you understand.

13 August

So another bad night for C. And calcium is up again. Readmittance to hospital on cards. Poos.

C in hospital awaiting assessment in acute oncology. <sigh>

H rang from Australia for C update. I dramatically sobbed ‘what are we going to do without her’. Honestly, death is like a bad soap opera.

This was her last admittance to hospital, and she never came home.

14 August

We watched Shortie St, she kept falling asleep and we talked. Abt the holiday they had to cancel and how they might go next year.

I looked at her, she looked at me, and she said ‘oh alright I’m just being optimistic’

She says she doesn’t want chemo and what’s the use anyway. So she wants to talk to Ian. Different ends, I said.

She wonders why they can’t tell her how long she has, then later H rang and told me that she’s been told she has a couple of mths at best

  it was 8 days we had left with her


I like that you’re happy when you’re with me, she said. Why wouldn’t I be? I asked. All this, she said, and swept her hands down her body

And the best bit was that she walked me down the corridor, to say goodbye, gave me a big hug and said ‘I love you’


15 August

Very tearful morning. Spent most of it sobbing in office. Lucky there’s only 14 kids here today.

C recieved an interesting gift tonight. Four of those handblown glass pipettes that you fill with water, and stick in pot plants.

G thought it a suitable dying present, I thought his laughter tasteless. Then they made fun of my dirty house, so they can get fucked.

If I may mix metaphors, the shits about to get real so the wagons are in a circle. Or something.

I really should come with a warning sign these days. Warning! Tears! Hug at your peril!

17 August

Talk of funerals. We like The Cav as an idea.

we went with Purewa Cemetary in the end, G and I. It seemed more expedient. This was also the day that was the last of her best days. Her descent after this was hurried and cruel, her disappearance back into delerium just horrific. 

18 August

And so. It begins.

there was a phonecall from G. Her calcium levels had started to rise again, and they couldn’t do anymore to prevent it. Bloodthinners were no longer being given to her, in an effort to make her exit quick and painless. This was it. This was the turning point. 

19 August

C going to hospice at 2. So that’ll be a change of scenery, at least.

What I hate most about this part: having to figure out exactly when her last 2 days are so that I can organise a reliever.

the horror of having to work out what day she was going to die, that’s what gets me. How can anyone do that? And yet I did. And I was right. I knew she would die on Thursday, and as ever, she kindly obliged. But oh those last three days at work were cruel, and so pointless. 

20 August

Death’s a bit of a rough bastard, eh?

–       she sat up, with A and I, and yelled at us to give her pain relief. It was delerium, but also, she was so terribly frightened about dying. And the only thing that relaxed her was G’s voice. By that stage, she didn’t know who we were anymore, and didn’t care, she only heard his voice.

I want you to know this – this thing I do for C, sitting vigil for her, I would do for many of you.

And I would. You know who you are.

There’s a cellphone on my bedside table. I’m willing not to ring before the morning.

21 August

Since I won’t be around so much for a couple of days, advice pls. For this transitioning period, any special words of wisdom?

 in the end, there was no wisdom, except some words from a twitter friend who told me of her mother’s dying, and what that had looked like. That sustained me, that next dying day. For that day, was the day she slipped into unconsciousness, with the help of pain medication and high doses of antipsychotic to act as sedatives. 

And so another day comes to a close. C is now working to breathe. We have largely arranged her funeral, and all is set for her death.

Neither H nor I will be staying night @ Hospice – Graham claims that right, happy for her to die without us if that’s how it goes.

but we were there, she waited for us all, every one of we three to be there

I reflect on the heartbreaking speed of all of this. The wanton way in which the cancer has claimed her for itself. And the world turns.

Mostly I am relieved that I can be there now, like I have wanted for so long. It’s all I’ve wanted from the beginning.

22 August 29, 2013

It’d be a beautiful day to die, today.

Today was a beautiful day to die. At 6.15 pm, my most beloved C died peacefully with us all there.


the death of a dream

For many years, my friend C and I talked about how when we were old, we would live, along with some other friends, on a communal piece of land. We’d have separate houses, but we’d eat dinner together every night, and be there to support each other when one or the other was ill. That dream will never be realised, now. That dream died the day that the oncologist told us that C would likely only live for only another few months.

We were going to grow old together. There was never any doubt in our minds. Her father died at 96. Her mother, whilst she has senile dementia, is 94. Good genes, we thought. Good long living genes.

I was 16 when I met her. I had come from boarding school to start at College, and so I boarded the school bus that first day of term, 1981, knowing no-one, anxious no doubt about the adventure ahead of me. I got on at T Rd, and sat alone all the way to Sunnynook. And then C got on the bus. She was teeny tiny, with long red hair.  I don’t remember who started the conversation, or who sat next to who. But someone must have, because we started talking, and we’ve never stopped.

C was the person who was my “in” – we never belonged to any one group in that 7th form year. We just floated between groups. The common denominator was always C. And continued to be. She is the social glue of our group of school friends. I don’t see many of my old school friends without Carol being the instigator. She’ll ring up and say “So and so contacted me, do you want to…..”. And if there’s a social event in the group, then I go and pick up Carol, or she’s always there.  Even my friend H and I never see each other without C being present. We rely on her to keep us all in touch, somehow. But we’ll have to do that without her now.

We almost lost her once before. When we were 29 – 20 years ago – she had a cardiac arrest, and died. Through a series of co-incidences, she lived again. But we almost, so very nearly, lost her. My world about ended, and I let her know sometime later that if she had died, I would have been heartbroken. That she meant everything to me. She always has, you see. She’s never been just a friend. She’s always been my best friend. Even when you age, and you really don’t have best friends, you have close friends, she was still my best friend. We were still, despite everything, those 16 and 17 year old girls. There wasn’t anything happening in my life that she wasn’t a big part of. I wasn’t there for her wedding to her first husband – I was overseas – and I was pretty gutted about it. But for everything else, we were together. When I got married to Ian, and we were going through very rough times, which was alot, she would always say to me “You can come and live with us, you know. We always have a spare room”. I heard what she was saying, and I knew that whatever happened – if I was homeless, and had no money, or if I just needed a break – she would be there, her home would always be there. When I thought Ian was going to die, she told me that if he died, I would always have a home with her. I don’t have that buffer anymore. We took road trips together – when Ian’s mother died, she and I went to the funeral, then got on our way. There was never any thought of staying behind to look after Ian. We’ve shared rooms, and beds. Where will I go?

I love my Ian. But I have loved my C longer. I have always known that she was there, that she would save me if I needed saving, that she would look after me should I need looking after. But that’s not going to happen. Instead, she is dying. Her body is turning in on itself, the malignancy that has taken hold of her is gradually killing her. I don’t know how long we have, but all I know is this. That this very small person will leave a very big hole in my life. That her dying represents the loss of so much, to me. So many dreams, so many possibilities, now gone. Turned to ashes.

But what is worse is that I am just one of many for whom C is a stalwart in their lives. For H, she is constant companion, and permanent play/movie/art opening date. Her light. H said to me today that Carol is her everything. She is everything to many of us, so many of us. Her husband G has loved her for nigh on 30 years – even when she was married, and he was in other relationships, he held a torch for her. All of us knew it, and when, 17 years ago, they finally got together, I was the last one they told, because they thought I would disapprove. As it happens, I don’t remember if I did or I didn’t. But thank god for him, now. He is her rock, and has been for all those years. She is everything, and more, to him.

The woman she works with currently; the people who’ve worked for her previously;  the friends she’s made over the years; her customers in the framing business who have become friends to her. She stays in touch with everyone. Puts their numbers in her brown address book. All of us love her, to varying degrees, because she shows us what friendship should look like.

She is such a good friend, so loyal and so true. Through these years when I’ve made countless new friends, and then they’ve disappeared out of my life, she’s always been there. A little puzzled at first, maybe hurt sometimes, that others have taken some precedence over her. But they never did. There was always her. Always, loyally, eternally her. I have met some very great friends recently, and it was my wish to bring everyone together. For old friends to meet new. How glad I am now that that happened. How truly grateful am I that many of you got to meet her, that you met the most important, and enduring, person in my life.

For she endures, still. As I feed her icecream, or pills. As I hold the water for her to sip. As I sit by her bed and we laugh, or other friends join us and she lets the conversation flow over her. She is, at the moment, the central focus of my life. She always was. I hope she knows that. I’ll tell her one last time. Just in case.


Fearful dogs are not something most people know anything about, really, but they are A Thing. If an dog has been aggressive in it’s life, the likelihood is that it was caused by fear. There are two types of aggression, by the way, sustained aggression – when a dog attacks someone, or something (a sheep, another dog) and the aggression is…….sustained. Think people who get attacked by a dog and have chunks ripped out of them, and the attack has gone on for a quite a period of time. Fearful aggression is another thing altogether. When a dog barks at you – even a yappy one –  that’s usually fear (watch the stance – if the dog has planted it’s back feet and is leaning towards you, that’s definitely fear). If you get nipped by a dog, or a dog turns it’s head to nip you, that’s fear. Not dominance, not nastiness, just fear. 

How do I know all this?  Those of you who know me know that Ruby is fear aggressive. It’s why she bit someone all those months ago. It’s why she wears a muzzle. She’s classified as menacing, but really, she’s just very afraid. What made her fearful? Dogs, like humans, are born with a temperament. When external factors come into play, this can exacerbate the fearful temperament, and we believe that is what happened for Ruby. She was likely born with a fearful temperament, and the street-wandering as a young pup, and the being taken home by people who likely abused her, all of that adds up to a dog who’s wary of some people, and who’ve I’ve had to train to be relaxed around most people. It’s taken a very long time, but we’re getting there. 

Now. As a consequence of biting someone  – and she’s not made a habit of it, she’s not a slavering beastie – she is classified menacing. That simply means that she is required to wear a muzzle in public for the rest of her life. That’s not a problem, but I have noticed that she’s pretty much the only muzzled dog out and about. I’ve never seen another, so I understand that people really have no idea about what to do around a dog like Ruby. 

Luckily, I’m here to tell you. You may never meet a muzzled dog, but you will most certainly, at some point, meet a fearful one. And for the sake of expediency, just take it as read that all the things you don’t do with a fearful dog, you don’t do with a muzzled one either. The ones that bark at you, or growl, big or small, there is just one thing you can do to make them feel safer. Fearful dogs need space. Don’t walk towards them if they’re barking at you. Just stop where you are, and turn around. Fearful dogs find people walking too close to them, or running towards them, pretty frightening. So just don’t. 

And don’t ever put your hand in any dog’s face if it’s barking/growling at you. Barking and growling is them warning you off – they’re telling you you’re scary to them, and they’re making a big noise to get you to go away. So if you’re walking up to a dog that’s growling under it’s breath, or in fact, isn’t making any signs it’s happy to see you (look for wagging tails, or tails that are level to the body, not up or right down), do not in any circumstances put your hand in front of it’s face. It’s a dog. It can smell you from a mile away. Stand still, or turn side on and don’t look at the dog. If you’re in someone’s home, and the dog is barking at you, sit down, and just do not acknowledge. Do not speak to a fearful dog. Your acknowledging it requires it to acknowledge you, and it won’t want to. At all. So ignoring is good. No standing over the dog, no touching it, nothing like that. Fearful dogs like to take their time to get to know you. (Much like humans, but more vilified). If you’re seated, it means they can sniff you. Actually, the smartest thing you can do with a dog that’s telling you you’re scary is crouch. I know that goes against all instinct, but think about it. If you crouch, side on to the dog, not looking at it, not talking to it, you’re just there. It can have a smell, ascertain you’re okay, job done. I do this with people who want to meet Ruby all the time, and it works brilliantly. (It’s also extremely safe because 1) she’s supervised, and onleash 2) she’s muzzled). It doesn’t take very long, and it guarantees her loyalty to you. I wouldn’t suggest you do this with just any old fearful dog – ask their person first, if you want to meet the dog, and they seem unsure of you. And never do it in their home. I take Ruby off the property – somewhere that they don’t regard as being their place is much better for them to meet strange people. 

Which brings us to the other thing you can do if you’re around a fearful/muzzled dog. Ask questions. Just ask. I’m always really happy if someone asks – but hardly anyone does. Why is she in a muzzle? People just never ask. They don’t know, they’ve never seen a dog with a muzzle on in everyday life, and yet. I find that curious, but that’s just me. 

I hope this has given you some insight. There aren’t too many of us with fearful aggressive dogs that are open about this stuff, so if you have any questions, feel free to ask me. Please. I’m waiting. 





Give a pup a home.

Are you in Christchurch? Would you like to give Nina a forever home? This family’s young lab got accidentally pregnant, and had two pups. The owners are keeping one, but would like to find the other a good home. (They are, however, prepared to keep on training her, and loving her, until the right home comes along). You would need to be an experienced dog owner, with some land. The pup would need some training, and quite a bit of exercise. If you’re interested, email me at, and I can pass your details on to the owner. This is what she had to say:
” They are exceptional little dogs and my 15-year-old boys  have done incredibly well with the 2-hour feeds.Now we have got the pups to the stage of going to the beach: today was Nina’s first swim. They even do a public service because people are so happy to see them – “sooo cute” all the time! They are even helping my mother-in-law cheer up through her encroaching dementia. The power of dogs!
However, Daisy is the most gorgeous little thing: gentle, devoted and smart with a soft, non-shedding version of a labrador coat. The vet thinks she will be smaller and skinnier than a lab. Nina is a little taller and her coat is sleek and shiny, slightly longer hair with possible curls/waves; she is  very smart, very strong-willed. We are definitely keeping Daisy, and wonder whether Nina is  a town dog. We think she has a huge amount of good working dog in her. She certainly needs a knowledgable dog owner. So we are talking to a few people but have not found anywhere for her. That’s ok: we’ll keep on with rearing and trainng her until the  perfect place comes along.
I am thinking I will get in touch with the USAR people down here too: they take older dogs usually but someone might want to have input into a puppy  while we keep her for a year or so until grown.
But if you know of a fine country home down here, do let me know, or have other good ideas. We’re being really fussy, she’s such an amazing pup we would keep her too if we could (and it might be we cave in – get the dogs before the land!) We have a good size section here in St Matins and lots of parks, the river and the hills right by – so maybe.”


Time ran out. Clocks stopped. And here we are, those who loved her, bereft and not quite knowing what to do with ourselves. Her body, dressed and washed by her husband, awaits the day when we farewell her and commit her to the fire. And we who are left are shellshocked, left breathless, by the last seven weeks of being consumed, by her, with love for her. The chasm is large, unthinkable, unbearable, but somehow we are thinking of it, bearing it, feeling it’s hugeness, being with each other without her. She was the sun around which we orbited, the moon that determined our tides. We have lost our reference point – we promise that we won’t disappear out of each other’s lives, but she was who we looked to, to hold us altogether. And yet, we cannot fall apart. Neither for her sake, nor for ours. We had one anchor, and unanchored now, we have to throw out all the draglines in desperate attempts to stay where we are. Or perhaps we will drift together, we flotsam and jetsam, we weary stragglers. At the moment, though, we are becalmed. 

If I only had time.

So often, in the past, I have willed time to speed up. When I was about 7, I vividly remember seeing some 10 year olds having, what I thought, was a very serious discussion and wished I could be as old as them, and have serious discussions too. And at various times during my life, I willed days and years to pass more quickly. Now, I wish time would slow down. Just yesterday, I willed the day to go faster, and realised that by doing so, I was willing Carol’s death to come quicker. Over the last few days, it has become painfully clear that we don’t have much longer with her. That the cancer is spreading very aggressively, and is taking over her body. She has been spared, at least, the ignominy of the aggressive treatments and so feels, as much as one can when one is being ravaged from the inside out, not too bad. But time is not our friend. We cannot hope to process any of this effectively, nor can we spend time in a leisurely fashion. Everything that needs to be done has an element of rushing about it. She feels it keenly. In the last couple of days, she has started to verbalise that sense of urgency. All of us who make up her family feel it. The doctors feel it. And there is nothing to be done, and yet everything. How I wish I could slow time down. Just for a bit more of it.

Mammograms. A walk through.

It has come to my attention that many of you women are afeared of mammograms. So having just had one (not my first), I’ll talk you through them. I don’t remember anyone doing this for me. My mother – who has had breast cancer – had always said they were fine. And that was it. Other women of my acquaintance, and indeed my friends, were either saying it hurt a bit, or a lot. Either way, I know it left me in a lot of fear. Fear that it will hurt, but then there’s the other fears. Fears that range from the really primal, to the very banal. That they’ll find something; that your breasts are too large or too small for the machine; oh, and that it will hurt. My breasts are large, so I was always worried there’d be a bit much for the machine, and that my breast tissue was so dense that they wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway. I needn’t have worried about any of that.
I don’t know what other womens’ personal worries are and Ican’t do much about the more primal fears – we all have them – and I can’t do much about your personal space or body issues. But I hope I can at least alleviate some of the fear around the process: the machinery, what it all looks like. That sort of thing.
Private or public, whatever age you are, this is the process. You go into the breast clinic (or the bus) and the women are always superb.They will have all yr details – from doctor/referral/previous visit. You check those, tick boxes relating to history, and that’s the administrative bit over and done with, very quickly.
The radiographer will come to get you – she will be a woman always of gentle nature, and discreet, who will take you into the room.
She will ask you to remove your top. If you wish, there is a robe you can put on. If you have any body issues, leave them at the door. Nobody cares about the size of your breasts, or how pert they are. Whether a nipple is inverted, or sticky-outy. They are only there to scan your breasts, and they talk you through the entire process.
The machine is two flat screens – if you’re like me, let her heft yr breasts where she needs them. First, she’ll take scans of the front view. I never find these uncomfortable. She will place your breast on the flat….ask you to lean in a bit and put yr bottom out slightly, hold yr other breast out of the way. Let her position you, and relax your shoulders. That bit’s important. 
Here comes the “squash”. Not at all uncomfortable. Really. You’ll be asked to breathe in for a couple of seconds and then that’s done. Then you’ll do it with the other side. 
Now to your side views. This is slightly uncomfortable but only for a couple of seconds. Stand sideways to the machine turning your feet slightly inwards. You will need to lean and grasp a handle, like leaning on a piano.This is slightly uncomfortable because she has to get the picture as close to the breastbone as possible. And then, the other side. When she takes the pictures, you have to hold your breath for just a couple of seconds and really it’s as simple as that. You may or may not need more pictures if the position hasn’t been right, but that’s all that means. Not that they’ve seen something ominous. It’s just a technical thing.
So there you go. That’s a mammogram. It’s easy, and very quick. It’s nothing to be afraid of, and they treat you with great love and care. My lovely radiographer said to me today they have many refugee women in, who don’t have these services in their countries, and she loved how keen they always are to avail themselves.
So if you’re over 40, go along and get one. After you’re 45, they’re free anyway, but you can get them done before that. You can get them done whenever you like. They don’t hurt, they really don’t, and they simply are much better than the alternative.

Words from the coal face