Paula’s Happy Place

It’s been a rough start to the New Year dealing with the death of a close friend and struggling with a sense of loss experienced by people close to me.

What do you say to a dying friend who tells you she’s frightened? Do you mine the depths of avoidance and distraction, or do you front up with respect and love in the hope of providing some solace, providing understanding without fear, without compromise?

It was hard work when she started to cry, and I asked; what’s wrong? Steeling myself for that awful conversation. True to form, she always delivered the unexpected. ‘It’s my music,’ she sobbed, ‘I’ve collected all my favourite songs over the years and when I’m gone no one will listen to it.’

‘Of course, they will,’ I reassured. ‘I’ll make sure it’s downloaded to a memory stick and given to your children.’ I paused. We had already skirted around religion and the spiritual world. I had to decipher her need and offer comfort. But how?

‘Now tell me what you really fear?’ I said, having struggled with her near-death several times. We were friends for 46 years and for the past 30 she had battled breast cancer – in and out of remission. This was after her fourth fight for survival. Several weeks earlier, she told me the battle was over. She had to swallow the news that the treatment had failed. There was nothing else they could do.

A week before she died, she told me she wanted to live. She always wanted to live and had fought a courageous fight. She laughed, joked and challenged my thinking about almost everything. This last conversation with her would be her final engagement with me.

‘Listen. Can you hear the birdsong?’ I said softly. ‘Feel the sunlight on your face?’

‘Yes,’ she sobbed.

‘Remember our happy place at Pete’s wedding back in 2012. We shared that lovely hotel room, joking and laughing all the time. You forced me to call the manger’s gorgeous son, tall, handsome and 25 years old. Remember? The TV wouldn’t work, and when he arrived and showed us that it wasn’t PLUGGED into the socket, you immediately pointed at me and stated; ‘It was Nicky she just wanted to get your attention!’ He blushed and strode from the room as we both shrieked with hilarity.’

She sniffed, wiping her damp eyes, smiling at the memory.

Remember how we danced at the wedding, laughed and drank champagne and Savannah’s until 2.30am? Tipsy we tip-toed up the stony road towards our boutique hotel room. Removing our shoes and stumbling together, clutching one another’s arms as we fumbled forward, chuckling our way to our hotel. But not for long; ‘We need a swim!’ you announced at 3am so we groped our way to the pool, using Braille to stay on the narrow path through the trees and low shrubs, giggling like schoolgirls. With muffled enjoyment and whispered conversation, we experienced the best of times.

‘We did,’ she said. ‘It was the best time. It’s always my happy place.’

‘Me too,’ I smiled as her eyes closed. ‘It’s not over,’ I said slowly with calm control in my struggling voice. ‘We’ll be together again. Go to that happy place, smell the flowering garden, hear the wedding music, the laughter and taste that chilled champagne. I’ll be there too exchanging smart one-liners and laughing at your antics.’

‘I love you,’ she said her voice growing weaker.

‘Me too,’ I responded. ‘I’m there with you too. Always.’

Dedicated to Paula who died on 17th January 2020.