120 folk came together for the evening. Nobody there, apart from our dear friend in her box out front, knew everyone, so the evening was filled with people introducing themselves to others who they knew must be a fellow-traveller of Clare’s journey through life – stories told, tales learnt, new friends made, tears and laughter shared.
I worked out that we had 8 separate countries, 4 different continents, represented in the room. As a mark of the love for my sister, friends had come from mainland Europe, Africa, America, and even Australia.
And befitting our “Hostess”, Clare was there, at the entrance to the room, a candle burning in front of her. Everyone lit a tea-light candle from hers and created a glorious shrine. On a table next to that was a leather-bound album, where, over the evening, friends put down thoughts, stuck in photographs, jotted a few words. Some were not able to find the words at this time, but will send me their musings later and I will stick them into the book.
After a good deal of talk, the tables were cleared and 2 hours of pumping 1980s Disco ensued.
Full-on “dad-dancing” with nobody complaining. Bliss…
Special mention to our “Brother-from-another-mother”, Warren, who flew in from Sydney: glitter ball crash helmet, black jumpsuit and wedged shoes he had customised. Being naughty with dear Sabrina from LA.
By the end of the evening, a major flurry of exchange of contact details – very appropriate for a party hosted by Clare, who always wanted people she loved to meet other people she loved. I am certain that long-lasting friendships will have started that night…
Everyone there told me just how much Clare would have loved the evening – always one for a party – and I am sure she did. We said goodbye to her in the most fitting way and the love in the room was transcendental.
And having said goodbye to her, it is time for me to stop my writings.
I took over Clare’s blog primarily as a protection. For us both. As a way of not having to field phone calls, texts and emails from concerned friends. Neither of us had the strength, but knew that everyone needed to be kept abreast of where Clare was – thus I started blogging a purely-arms-length-summation of the events of the day. But it soon became something else for me – it grew into something more than a collection of words typed into a machine at the end of an evening. And I won’t try to deconstruct its greater meaning now, just to say that it became indispensable: a repository for my day’s thoughts, feelings, frustrations, epiphanies. It soothed me to write.
I spent a number of weeks in isolation. A kind of Retreat in many ways. On my own, unable to leave, mostly mute. But this time allowed thoughts to form, to gestate and to be expressed. Thoughts that I would otherwise not have had, or at least not have had the time to welcome and digest. And as I have written before – the narrative of these writings may have been about a Journey to Death, but I think the theme has been about the Act of Living. The two are the same thing, probably – can’t do one well without an understanding of the other.
I have been putting off writing this last post. The final full stop (“period” for you Americans) brings with it a more-encompassing “full stop” for me: the ceasing of collecting my thoughts, arranging them and trying to make sense of them; the laying to rest of this Magnum Opus – over 80,000 words now, two-thirds Clare’s and a third mine – and with this comes a nagging thought that I am laying my sister to rest as a result: wrapping her up, while I move on. Nonsense, of course, but the thought remains. I know I will continue my relationship with my sister. My healthy sister. But I know I must also remember her as a cancer-sufferer, and need to mark that and continue to support those who supported her.
I was honoured to be asked to open the Marie Curie Hospice Fair last Saturday – a fundraiser with lots of stalls selling jam, hand-knitted garments, cakes and bric-a-brac. It costs £6 million a year to keep that one building up the road from us going – that’s a lot of jam.
The Hospice was fundamental in helping Clare stay, and eventually die, in her own home. The support they gave – from all the kit they arranged, to sitting down with Clare and gracefully and kindly explaining the situation she found herself in. I would turn up at the Hospice every Friday over the last months – a sweaty mess, having just cycled up the hills, clad in my ever-more-grubby shorts and vest – to collect the prescription for Clare’s weekly medications. Often I would be pulled into one of the Doctors’ consulting rooms, sat down and asked how I was. I was terribly British to start with – mainly just embarrassed that I was being focussed on when they should have been directing all their attention on Clare, but latterly was profoundly grateful to be asked. Maybe a little too forthright when told that a bed could always be found for Clare as an Inpatient if things got too much for me –replying that that would only happen over my dead body. And bless them: they gave me everything I needed to keep Clare at home.
The Macmillan Cancer Centre crowd were also wonderful. Always subsumed by the mass of patients, and thus often appointments running hours late, but always so caring. These people are at the Front Line in this battle. It is estimated that half of us will get cancer at some stage in our lives, and the number of people with breast cancer has nearly doubled in the last 40 years. It is reaching epidemic proportions, and the fighters need our support.
Help those who helped Clare if you can:
Lastly, if you would like a thought to go into Clare’s Memorial Book, leave it on the Comments bit and I will print out and stick in.
Thank you all for following Clare on her journey. And I hope my taking over of writing duties was helpful to you in the last months. It has been a privilege for me.
Love to all, for the last time
Goodbye and Thank You