My friend Briony died on the morning of 2 July 2020. Briony wasn’t her real name, but I know she would have loved the pseudonym.
I’ve kept thinking I should write about it but I just can’t put it into words. There hasn’t been a day I haven’t thought about her for a good portion of it. And I feel really strange because it doesn’t seem real, and because lockdown is still on, I can still imagine that she’s just at home around the corner and sitting on her balcony, and not in a morgue somewhere waiting to be cremated.
Here are the words I wrote about her in my fb eulogy, if there is such a thing.
It’s been a long day without you, my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.
Rest in joy and laughter, my darling.
Sorry we never got to celebrate your 50th with the 50 crazy things you were going to do.
Sorry I never realised the last time was the last time.
Not sorry that we met, that we laughed so much and that you became a part of our family.
Slightly sorry that you made me drink that rank bubbly. You said we were going to drink champagne when this was all over and we bloody well will.
Love you forever, sis. 💕
A few days ago I saw this video and it made me cry and reminded me of her. I actually think she would have loved it. (Please watch it! It’s so pure!)
I’ve been through the anger and the other parts of the grief cycle. One of the things I feel really strange about is that I don’t feel as obviously sad as some people seem to. And I think it’s because I always thought there was a chance this would happen. When she was diagnosed with stage 4, T and I looked up the stats and they weren’t good, so I’ve always kind of lived my friendship with Briony as if it was on borrowed time.
She had 20 odd years after her first cancer diagnosis. She was on her third. And it spread to her brain. So the outcome was really likely and we knew it would take a miracle for her to survive. (But that was only between T and me. I always told her I believed she would beat it, because she always said she would.)
I also feel like I did my grieving when I found out that she was in hospital and I’d never see her again. Even though she was alive. To me that was the worst kind of grief because she was there but I couldn’t see her. Whereas now she’s dead and the essence of her isn’t here any more. And she isn’t in any more pain. So I’m sad she is gone but I’m happy she isn’t in pain.
Sometimes I think I have a strange reaction to death in that I feel it’s final and there is nothing I can do. I’ve rarely attended funerals because I think they’re for the living not the dead. But of course on some occasions you go for the living. But what I mean is, I don’t feel sadness for the person who is gone because they’re gone. I feel sadness for those left behind.
Also sometimes I feel maybe there is some kind of reaction to loss as an adoptee, that I try and insulate myself from it and just try and accept and move on. I don’t know what I’m saying really apart from I don’t seem to grieve in the same way as others I’ve observed do. I absolutely adored Briony as I did others who have died, but to me it was important that she knew that (and I think she did) and what others think doesn’t matter so much.
I have some comfort that I don’t think we had things left unsaid. She knew how much I loved her. And I knew she loved me and our family. Our argument earlier in the year at the beginning of lockdown was really sad but it also made us tell each other how much we loved each other, and it was then that she said we were like sisters – because only sisters can argue like we did (I was upset that I thought she wasn’t staying safe enough in lockdown and she was upset I was harassing her over it!) – and kept referring to me as “sis”, which I’ll always treasure.
Her very last words she texted to me were “Thank u sis xx” on 23 May. She then lost use of her hands so she couldn’t text, and was taken to hospital on 30 May and she died on 2 July. She hung on for ages after they said they thought it was the end! Her sister told me that she passed on our messages. I don’t know how much she was aware of but I know she knew she was loved by us, and many others.
The thing about Briony is that everyone thought she was their best friend! And it’s silly but I found myself getting mad at people for suggesting they were. I’ve had to have a talk with myself about this. Jealousy has always been an issue for me! I think Briony would have found it funny. Also told me not to worry. Her sister told me that she talked about me a lot and I feel comforted knowing that we were important to her. And I need to get over the need to be the most important friend and whatever – I think it’s some childhood issues coming out or something, and it’s okay that everyone loved her because that’s who she was, and it’s not about me, and you can’t have too many people who love you. So I’m dealing with it.
There was a bakery in a town by the sea that she loved, and she used to be their best customer at the farmers market before they moved to the coast. So much so that they made a pastry in her honour, named after her. It always tickled her. It was so Briony, she just took such joy in life and the crazy little things. Maybe that’s what happens when you live for 20 years after your first cancer diagnosis. She was just so joyful, always laughing. (She wasn’t a saint… It was often a dirty laugh or a naughty cackle.)
So last week we decided to take a day off work and we drove down to the coast with her husband and we went to that bakery and they had made the pastries in her honour. We sat out in the sun and we ate them. It was glorious. And funny because you couldn’t eat them without getting in a mess. She would have found it hilarious.
We took Dog, because he was a huge part of their lives. And B as well. It was a really nice day, with walks along the beach and then we went back via a cheese place she loved. She would have loved the day and it felt like a good way to honour her. But I’m sure I’m going to be honouring her in little ways throughout the rest of my life.
My main grief reaction is baking. The day she died, I baked a load of brownies. And I packaged them up in pretty packs and I sent them out to people with a note about her, saying I wanted to spread a bit of her joy to them. People loved them. I’m going to keep on doing it for a while. It makes me feel less useless to do something nice in her name. I like the idea of spreading a little sunshine because that’s what she always did. And I think she would have loved the idea.
Her funeral is next week. I’m one of the few allowed to go because of Covid, but T and B (and possibly Dog) can wait outside. I do feel funerals are more for the living but I am grateful to be there for her family. I don’t feel like it will be over after that though. I’m going to be thinking about her for the rest of my life. And trying to remember to be grateful for what I have because she and others didn’t get the chance. And I hope I’ll do her proud.