yesterday's blog post I had an e-mail from the daughter of a friend in England. It contained the not unexpected news my friend had died. She had cancer.I knew it was coming but I sat at the computer and wept. This was harder to take than the loss of Nan. Yes, Nan was a good friend but not close in the way Eileen was.
"Remember her kindly," her daughter asked.Yes. That won't be difficult.
I had known her for a very long time. We went to university together in London. She was a mature age student with a husband and two teenage daughters. They owned two dogs who had. I think, been awarded prizes at Crufts. Certainly they were shown there.
When I met Eileen I was barely old enough to be there in London at all. I was 20,000 miles from home. I was not homesick but I was still frightened. I was very frightened. It is unlikely that anyone knew what a huge step it was for me to be there at all. But perhaps Eileen sensed something because, without making a fuss about it, she let me know she was available if I needed help or advice about living in a new country.
Living in London was not so very different from living in the city I live in now - in some ways. In other ways it was very different indeed. I managed all the everyday things without too much trouble. The Hall of Residence was not too far from where I had most of my lectures. It did not take long to learn the layout of the Underground and I soon learned how to use the escalators and the maze of tunnels. I even managed to get on and off the buses, something of an achievement for me. Of course most of the time there was a conductor and I was safe enough. I did other things I had never done before too. Often though Eileen was there somewhere in the background never interfering but always available.
"Catch the number "x" bus and you won't have to cross a road because it goes around...." Eileen told me quietly one day. I appreciated such advice.
The course I was doing involved a number of school visits. Eileen did not travel from the same point as I did because she was living in the suburbs but she always checked that I knew where we were going and how I was getting there. She invited me into her home and we would often eat lunch together.
Eventually I left to return to what she always referred to as "the Antipodes" with a regret I have never overcome. I did not want to come back here. I would still rather be there. I did go back of course although it took several years to get there. Eileen was there for me again. She knew I had grown up (at least a little) but she still made herself available. She was head of a school by then but still willing to find the time to listen. She called me "my little Antipodean friend".
Of course I had to come back here again and I have not been able to go back since although I have tried on numerous occasions. All through the ups and downs of my life Eileen was there. There were cards at Christmas and witty notes in between. When she finally got a computer and e-mail we "talked:" more frequently. I knew her husband was growing frail and I sensed she was not well either. She thought it was "just the stress of looking after him" but an MRI in January this year showed otherwise. I think she suspected it. I had what turned out to be the last e-mail from her a couple of days later. The doctors had given her six months. In typical style she told me that she had told her family she did not want "flowers or cards or fuss or God". I sent a not fussy hug back and refrained from writing anything that amounted to a fuss. In typical style she did not hang around. It was time to go so she went.
I'll miss her desperately. But I did tell her I loved her - and I am very glad I did. I was lucky to know her.