This blog post is a departure from my usual witticisms and rants. I’m sorry to disappoint my regular readers but I had a life changing experience yesterday. Talking about it is difficult but for some inexplicable reason, I find myself compelled to write. Maybe this is part of the healing process.
Inane crazed musings will resume…soon.
The Sister I Never Had
Yesterday my best friend SA passed away. I don’t know where I am on the seven stages of grief but I suspect I’m still in shock and denial. Today I don’t want to think about death. I’d rather reflect on the treasure trove of memories SA and I built over a friendship that spanned 36+ years.
On a warm September day many moons ago I joined 104 other young girls and their parents in the auditorium of St Augustine Girls High School for Form One registration. I recall nothing about that day except this – the principal asking the assembly to acknowledge the girl who had achieved the highest mark in the entrance examination. As I turned to look at the pretty girl dressed in red with the big smile I remember thinking – that’s the girl I have to beat. Over the next seven years I would occasionally match but never surpass SA’s academic achievements. She was quite simply, the smartest girl I knew.
In a friendship that grew from childhood to adulthood we shared everything – disappointments, triumphs, celebrations, and heartaches. Our conversations evolved from whispers about first kisses at the back of the classroom and furtive notes hastily written on torn scraps of paper, to late night conversations on childcare and the directions our lives were taking. Every school experience, painstakingly written letter, phone call, text message, email, Skype call, girlie vacation, and raucous night out brought us closer together.
What didn’t I share with SA? Not much. She was my sounding board, advice columnist and favourite liming partner. Being born a month apart, every birthday and milestone was a reason to celebrate together. If I were to line up all the bottles of wine and champagne we’d shared over the years….I doubt one landfill would suffice.
Many a time we rescued each other and she quite literally saved my life. Separation by distance did little to dim our friendship. Somehow we slipped seamlessly from innocence to womanhood without losing the candour and strength of our bond. Out of all my friends she was the most like me. SA fully understood my complex family relationships; like me she strived for more and struggled with periodic bouts of self doubt. We comforted and supported each other.
Many people were baffled by the close nature of our friendship. SA was a perfectionist and could be intimidating. But I saw beneath the sometimes prickly exterior to the warm person inside – the nurturing mother and loyal friend who never missed an opportunity to lavish care and attention on those she loved.
We had great plans to meet in London last August for a memorable weekend of the kind we had become accustomed to over the years – lots of food, alcohol, and female bonding. When SA called the day before we were due to meet up to say she felt unwell I suggested rest and a check-up. She concurred and agreed to see a fellow professional (she was a doctor) the next day. I was not prepared for the phone call less than 24 hours later informing me that what we thought was a tummy bug was in fact cancer.
I last saw SA in person four months ago when I visited her where she eventually drew her last breath. We both knew the time was fast approaching. We said everything we had to say to each other and most importantly – expressed our love and gratitude for the positive impact we had on each others’ lives. Not many people get that opportunity and I know we were lucky. We maintained regular communication via Skype and text until three weeks ago when SA’s health deteriorated to the point that this was no longer possible. Today’s news was inevitable and expected; I monitored her condition to the end.
There are some people who enter our lives and despite their constant presence, their impact is minimal. That was not the case with SA. She significantly affected those around her. To paraphrase Senator Edward Kennedy eulogising his brother Robert Kennedy – she need not be idealised or enlarged in death beyond what she was in life; remember her simply as a good and decent woman who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it.
At some point the tears will come, but not yet. I am mindful of Rabindranath Tagore’s wise words – “If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.”
To my beloved SA – thank you for a lifetime of friendship. I am a better person for having known you. Rest in peace.