Friday 5 June 2009


Yesterday, a friend I have known for exactly 50 years died. She died in another country and it was her wish to be cremated quickly and with only her blood relatives to send her off. My head is respecting that but my inner self is confused never having seen blood as a necessary part of feeling related. I had been in daily touch, except for yesterday. This is both irony and, perhaps, fate, so I found out only when her son-in-law telephoned, this morning, to tell me she had died and had already been cremated. Poor man has had to deal with the reaction of countless people when they realised they were being told after the event. Clearly, this was the only way to be sure the family was not swamped by those who have known and loved her as long and longer than I have. I am having to face two apparently divergent aspects of friendship: to offer up in sacrifice my instinct to say goodbye, in view of her wishes, or to see a natural and automatic expression of love in attending her funeral.
Either way, this time, it was never a real choice, just a philosophical one. English was not her first language and we laugh often at her response to my then six-year-old son when he corrected something she had said;"Hm, there vas a time I taught YOU English." She was good and wise and other-worldly in the depth of her awareness. Hand on heart, I can say I never heard a malicious or ill-judged word from her. Her serenity shone through adversity I wouldn't have room - or courage - to tell you about. What can I say? We had her a long time. It makes it harder to imagine a life without her.
Her death set me thinking about friendship in a wider way. How would I measure it? For instance, looking at myself in the mirror as I dried my hair, to-day, I wondered how many of the people I think of as friends I could consider submitting to a sight of me wet and bedraggled and, worse, without make-up. An elderly lady without make-up is not a pretty sight. You should know that I wear very little, I add, hastily, just enough to even out the colour and give myself eyes. On reflection, (oops, pun just spotted), there are not as many people as I have fingers whom I would subject to the experience. The poor Guru is here so often it's unavoidable for him. He is so young I suspect he can't see any difference between 75-year-old me and Methuselah. Old is more than thirty, no degrees , no sub-divisions. Poor lamb: not much of a positive role-model in me with my creaks and wobbles, whatever age I may feel on the inside. Anyway, I came to the conclusion that greater love has no elderly woman than she may lay out a sight of her naked face for another. (I'm not sure of the propriety of plagiarising the laying down of ones life for another, but, myself, I enjoyed the allusion.) Anyway, should we meet in the street and I am not wearing make-up, you will know I love you.

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