Friday, 30 March 2012

Farewell dear friend

The warm sunshine filtered through the forest's trees, and when we looked up, the sky was a brilliant deep blue. We sat in the courtyard, warming our faces, enjoying the peace and listening to the birds. Only the occasional roar of an aeroplane overhead gave any clue that we were on the outskirts of London.

We had set off from Corbridge at 5.30am. It was still dark as my dad got himself comfortable in the back of my car. He'd wanted to come down with me to keep me company. :-) The weather forecast was great. Another beautiful day ahead.

We soon ate the miles up on the A1 - and stopped at Peterborough for a bacon sarnie, a coffee and a rest. Only one hour to Epping Forest - our destination for the day to say a final farewell to my dear friend Carole.

We arrived very early at the forest, but some others were there too - also enjoying the sunshine and the peaceful surroundings.

After some time, and with more friends gathered, the black car drove slowly into the courtyard followed by Carole's close family. We followed them in to the ceremonial hall - a beautiful, modern hexhagonal timber structure - filled with light and with a window to the sky at the peak. This was in no way a religious service, but sitting there in that lovely space, you couldn't help feel 'something.'

The hall was full with Carole's friends and family, but gazing up at the 'window to the sky' I knew that there were also hundreds of others with us in that room from all over the world. People that Carole had never even met, but people who Carole had helped through her blog and her contact on the Cancer Research Forum. Everyone she'd touched was packed into that room.

The service was led by a lovely man - quietly spoken and gentle. He said some comforting words and we listened to music that Carole and her family had chosen.

And then, Carole's eldest son, James, came to the front. He spoke about his mum and shared some wonderful childhood memories that had the audience laughing one minute then reaching for hankies the next. It can be such a cliche sometimes to say 'Your mum would have been so proud of you,' but I can honestly say that had James been my son I would have completely burst with pride. What an amazing son you have Carole :-)

After the service, we followed the procession into the woodland. Our feet crucnched over last year's oak leaves and a carpet of pine cones. Djamel had chosen his mum's final resting place, and what a perfect spot! He explained to me afterwards why he had chosen that place above the others. A great deal of thought and consideration had clearly gone into his decision, and, once again, I know Carole would be beaming with pride for her youngest son.

We all walked back to the hall for tea and coffee afterwards. A chance to relax, dry our eyes and chat. I finally got to meet Rab...(though I felt I already knew him!) and some other members of Carole's family. I also met Louise - an old friend of Carole who often commented on the blog. It was so nice to meet her in 'real life.':-)

And so, it was soon time to leave. I hugged a few people, said goodbye, and strolled off back to the car with my dad.

Last time I came down to London to see Carole in January, I remember feeling fairly bewildered as I left. A feeling of 'how the hell did I get here?' I thought about the twists and turns in life that lead you into places that you would never imagine arriving in. Why was I there in Clapham that day? 'Because of cancer, that's why,' I concluded...

Carole - After I left Epping Forest, I didn't feel that bewilderment any more. I didn't ask myself why and how I was standing in a forest in London. I didn't have to. I was there not because of cancer. I was there because of our friendship. It felt like the most natural thing in the world to be standing there amongst all your lovely family and friends. Cancer put you and I in the same place at the same time...but our friendship grew far bigger than the cancer ever did or could.

Here's one of the poems read at Carole's farewell. Its perfect -

After Glow
I’d like the memory of me
to be a happy one.
I’d like to leave an after glow
of smiles when life is done,
I’d like to leave an echo
whispering softly down the ways,
Of happy times and laughing
times and bright and
summer days.
I’d like the tears of those who
grieve, to dry before the sun,
Of happy memories that I leave
When life is done.

~Helen Lowrie Marshall

Sleep well, dear friend :-)

Saturday, 17 March 2012

My friend Carole

'Friendship is the golden thread that ties the heart of all the world.' -- John Evelyn

Joining the Cancer Research Chat Forum wasn't something that I thought I would ever do in a million years.

But back in 2010, whilst sitting at home 'on the sick' with a baldy head, I read through some of the posts on there and I decided to register.

I observed at first. Sat on the sidelines and read about people's fears, anxieties, worries. There were sad stories but there were also some happy ones. I made sure I steered well clear of the topic 'dying with cancer,' as I didn't want to frighten myself too much back then.

What soon became clear after a few days of observing, was that a handful of people on the forum popped up all the time - answering questions, offering advice, sympathy, words of comfort to anyone who needed reassurance or just someone to talk to. They were ordinary people - not doctors, nurses or counsellors - just people who had been touched by cancer in some shape or form and wanted to help others. Most of these people were undergoing treatment for cancer themselves. The forum seemed to be a good place to go for help, and a good place to lend a hand or a listening ear.

I chipped in myself when I thought I might be able to help out, and I also threw in the odd question for debate - like 'Why are there so many bloody leaflets about cancer in cancer hospitals...'

Over the months, I became 'cyber friends' with a couple of people on there. We all had cyber names. Harryeleri (Rose), cybershot (David), Tonysong (Tony) and Dizzie (Carole)

We all had blogs, and we all supported each other by reading each others blog posts and leaving comments. We had never met in 'real life' but we learned so much about each other through the blogs, and we affectionately named ourselves the 'Blogger 5.'

I guess that the problem with meeting people on a cancer forum is.....well, cancer.

The 'Blogger 5' lost Rose and David to cancer last year.

As a result, Tony, Carole and I vowed to meet up in 'real life.' At this stage I had finished treatment and was back to work - meanwhile Carole and Tony were still struggling with their cancer treatment. Endless scans, waiting for results, treatment, worries...

In the summer hols last year, I finally got to meet Carole in London. We had the most wonderful day. And it felt like we had been friends forever. We shared stories and had lots of laughs. Our boys became friends, and I came away that day feeling so glad that I had met Carole, so glad to have her friendship, but also so bewildered with the twists and turns of life that lead to these moments in time...

In January this year, I met Carole again - this time with Tony for the first time. It was a magical day where we also got to meet some of Carole's family. We shared chicken and chips and sticky doughnuts. We chatted, laughed and hugged.

After that day in January, Carole soon became very poorly, had to go to hospital, and then finally the hospice - close to her home.

Last night, I heard from Carole's sister, Sarah that Carole had passed away. Peacefully, pain-free and surrounded by the love of her wonderful family. She fought her cancer so bravely and showed such strength and determination. She was a small lady, with the heart of a lion.

Carole helped hundreds of people around the world on the Cancer Research Forum and on her own blog 'What a Pain in the Bum,' which attracted followers from every corner of the globe.

I have lost a very special friend. Along with many others, I will miss her very, very much.