Jacqueline Grant considers what it means to have and lose a friend.
When we study the word ‘friend’ we are overwhelmed with numerous descriptions of its meaning: from words like acquaintance, associate and comrade, to more colloquial terms such as, pal, chum and even buddy, to name but a few. To me the word ‘friend’ means a ‘soul mate’ – someone who really cares and respects the other’s sense of self and Independence, without the overarching control that some interpretations of ‘friend’ can bring.
My recent experience of what it is like to have been physically separated from a very special someone, a soul mate, has been overwhelming. This was a person who had supported and nurtured my interest in the art of ‘Telling’ as well as shared the extraordinary challenges of life, from divorce to children.
We became properly acquainted in a lift on our way to our lecture on American Literature. She looked up at me and said:
“Have you got a man?”
“How did you know?” I asked.
“Because you are glowing,” she replied with a cheeky grin that sparked up her face and had illuminated the other occupants of the lift. We had both returned to Higher Education in 1993 following our divorces and had embraced the challenges of bringing up our children by ourselves.
Most of our catch up times happened over the telephone; she talked and I had mostly listened, with me reminding her how she could talk for England.
Nevertheless, we were like therapy for each other; we talked mostly about family, our dreams, thwarted expectations. Our eyes were fixed on the future where a better life would ensue, for me with the publication of my novel.
Valerie was petite with a cheeky grin, kind and a gigantically lovable personality. She was good with people and I had always told her that if I had a business, she would be front of house. She was humorous with a deep passion for her three children and more recently her two beautiful granddaughters.
She was a feisty lady who had beaten breast cancer three years earlier, only returning to hospital for a nose bleed, where she was diagnosed with brain and bone cancer. Within three weeks she was gone.
Ironically, for someone who had been articulate, with much to say over the twenty years that I had known her, it was distressing to witness her dependence on the oxygen machine. And, after a good hour at her hospital bedside, with my friend unable to speak, I kissed her cheek and told her that I loved her very much and that I would return to see her soon. Uncannily, within moments of my leaving for home, she was gone.
My true friend and soul mate had taken flight, away from the struggles and pain of those sometimes beautiful people and place which she had loved unconditionally. She taught me to end our conversation with love: “I love you my friend,” she would always add.
Mrs. Valerie Hughes: 1952- 2013. “Rest in Peace my Friend.”