You became a head teacher and schools inspector, I became many things:- air stewardess, sugaring practitioner, photographer and mother.
You introduced me to the joy of weekend spa breaks. Your refusal to sit down to lunch in your white toweling robe made me smile. We would giggle at the other guests. Heading off to the gardens with the gin and tonic bottle secreted in your bag whenever we spotted a group of teachers on the loose. You fed my passion for the arts by defending the selection made when we wandered around the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, giving me the nickname of ‘The Art Critic’and revealing the members’ room like a doorway to Narnia afterwards for coffee. You had faith in my writing abilities before I had faith in them myself always introducing me to others, not as a teacher, but as a writer.
Our Christmas meet-ups were centered around the delights of lunch at Langan's or latterly, The Wolseley, where you showed me that sometimes life has to have a few treats. Once you stopped me in our window-display-admiring outside Fortnum and Masons to make me appreciated the ornate clock on the front of the store. We were just in time to watch the statues of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason bow to each other and go safely back inside. Even when we didn’t meet we would stay in touch with postcards from our travels.
These are just a few of the things you showed me.
Four years ago while vacuuming one Saturday morning you had a brain haemorrhage. You were in a coma with a tracheotomy and on life support. We weren’t sure if you would pull through. I guess we underestimated your strength of character. You never knew I drove the four hour round trip to visit you, sometimes just for 20 minutes. You chose to give us all the best possible present by waking up on Christmas morning. But it was a long haul back to life, and never a life as you knew it. Although so grateful when they taught you to walk again I knew you hated that you were too unstable to wear your high heels.
You sent me a message, ‘the time has come in our lives when you will have to push me in my wheelchair.’ I responded by packing a picnic basket, wrapped in linen napkins and pushed you around the hospital pond until we found a quiet spot to raise our glasses to life.
As if two years of rehab and recovery wasn’t enough, you rang one day to say you were having a mastectomy. Unbeknown to me this was not the first time you’d had a breast cancer scare. With your usual dignity you coped with the distress of the hospital stay never once asking ‘why me?’
When you had a fall and ended up breaking your wrist and hip in January and they discovered your lung cancer it was the only time I’ve heard you upset because it was suggested that the sensible thing to do now would be to go into a home. We both knew that it would crush you. Independent life was so important. Those that loved you made it possible for you to stay in your own home. You knew the risks.
I was going to ring you, smile when you answered the phone the way you always do by saying your number, bring you some sweetpeas and plan to take you to lunch at your favourite restaurant. Afterwards if you weren’t too tired we could go to the nursery and buy plants for your beloved garden. Instead I got a phone call to say you fell head first down the stairs. They have switched off your life support system. You have such courage and determination but even I know this is one battle you can’t win.
You told me when your mother died you planted a red lipstick kiss on her cheek before you said goodbye. I’m not as brave as you, because I can only blow you mine, with all my love and thanks for never ceasing to be my mentor.
The A.C. xx