Yesterday was my friend’s funeral. I couldn’t be there – it’s in another country and everything was so sudden and unexpected I just couldn’t make it.
She was 60. It may sound old to some, but she wasn’t. I’ve never known anyone with her stamina. Her stamina for work. Her stamina for friends. Her stamina for party (although I don’t think I ever saw her drunk). She was a force of nature, had just so much energy, a tremendous appetite for life.
She gave everyone and everything 100 percent, all the time.
When I moved to Brisbane from Sydney, I was lucky to have a ready made network with family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. She was one of them. A regular Friday night fish and chips was a welcome end to a busy week, and she would always get in touch to see if I’d be in town and, if so, was I coming along? She didn’t want me home on my own on a Friday night. Just like her, always caring for others.
Our connection went back years. We met through a mutual friend in Sydney. But Sydney, which even though it is my hometown, it is busy, focused, often angry, so we didn’t have much in common. I know I bought into the strive, strive, strive, climb the corporate ladder attitude for many years.
When I arrived in Brisbane (she had moved up at the same time as our mutual friend some years before), and I started to chill out a bit more, we became friends.
She spent a day with me choosing my wedding gown, and she was a very welcome guest at my wedding. (The photo above was taken at my wedding. She didn’t look any different last time I saw her.)
She honoured my husband and I by doing what we asked – gifts to charity in lieu of wedding gifts. She chose Beyond Blue, if I recall. Just like her, always caring for others.
About four or five years ago, her mother started to suffer badly from dementia. Always having a fear of being institutionalised, she refused to go into care. My friend gave up everything in Australia, returned to New Zealand, to care for her mother. Just like her, always caring for others.
She found work very hard to get in Wellington, but stayed on, at great personal cost. Regardless of the aggressive form of dementia experienced by her mother, my friend honoured her wishes and never placed her in a facility, no matter how much easier her life may have been.
Last year, my friend had a back ache, so went to the doctor who recommended physio treatments. Many sessions of treatment later, there was still no improvement.
Eventually she saw another doctor, who did tests. Those tests eventually showed pancreatic cancer. This was about October. She was told she wouldn’t see Christmas.
Doctors don’t know everything, and they certainly didn’t take into account her determination to live life to the fullest.
I saw her a last time last Christmas, when she returned to Australia to say goodbye to her friends.
On her terms.
A massive group of us turned up to fish and chips at the same old place we always used to go. There must have been about 15 of us – all laughing and eating, just like old times. We ignored the dark spectre hanging over us and just enjoyed the now.
As we were leaving, she was putting her cushion back in a shopping bag which started to disintegrate. She started laughing, I started laughing, and we just held onto each other, laughing at this bag falling to bits.
She got six months more than they though she would. Again, a force of nature. The doctors hadn’t taken into consideration her energy, and her determination to care for her mother, despite her own situation. Just like her, always caring for others.
Her life ended in a hospice. Finally, someone else caring for her. By all accounts she was much loved by the staff, who basked in her exuberance. Surrounded by friends and family, flowers, love and laughter, she slipped away, gently, softly.
It’s her laughter and exuberance that I will remember. Her kindness that will live on in me.
Thank you for being my friend.
RIP, lovely Gail.