Courage in everyday women
Two weeks ago I wrote about my dear friend Don who had taught me so much through his gentlemanly kindness and generous spirit. There is no doubting that the past weeks have had a daily gap - no more chats over the fence, advice on the budding flowers, review of Welsh rugby and how we were truly robbed by a bad call (yes – officially pronounced!) on a definite try. His sister and I speak daily – but the gap is ever there.
But as ever, life is a balance and I have had lessons in the sheer resilience of women.
First was my friend – let’s call her Sandra so the clients do not know how ill she is. The last seven years have been a roller-coaster of hospitals, clinics, tests, chemo, operations, recovery, medication, wigs, mobility scooters and what she calls her pea-bags – two implants waiting to be inflated into a spectacular bosom to replace the two which had to be removed to save her life. Does she whinge? Does she complain? Does she think she has the worst luck in the world? No. She gets up, dons the wig, gets suited and booted and gets on the train to work. No-body is told about the drugs to stop nerve pain, the extra clothes to muffle the crackle of her pea-bags, the exhaustion when the day is done. Sandra is fighting back – grasping everything in life that she can – and she still finds time for a good chat over a Cava.
Then there is Lois watching her father fail and lose just another bit of life every day to the leukaemia which has gripped him for over seven years. A family mills around, avoiding the reality and dreading even more the terror of saying the truth – that the end is coming soon. But Lois stopped being polite and looked her father in the eye and said the words. The reaction? No tears, no despair – just relief that the elephant in the room was named. At last, that man was able to list his wishes, hand out advice to all his grandchildren, say how he wanted to be scattered on the land he has walked for years hand in hand with his wife, and that his children were to stop fighting and start loving. It takes courage to sit with your parent talk to them about their death – and yet Lois has given the greatest gift – a voice at the end.
My third hero is Jean – Don’s ever loving and caring sister. For the last seven years her life has been filled with looking after him. Now the house that they shared for fifty years is empty in the morning, she washes only one set of clothes, makes one breakfast, one cup of tea. She no longer has the decision maker and every official paper which lands on her mat is both a reminder and a worry. For the first time in her life, Jean, though surrounded by loving friends, is alone and the pain is intense. She walks through grief every hour yet every day she faces new tasks with a quiet dignity and learns something new. This week she mended the fire and managed a finance meeting without her brother’s guiding hand – things which to our generation are as simple as opening a bag. To Jean they are new, frightening, sad – but she keeps going.
It struck me as we listen to the Baftas and their sweeping speeches of heroes and heroines that we don’t need Hollywood to present us with images of courage. Just look across a room and you are probably looking at it; open your ears to a friend in need and you will hear about it. And I for one need to be more grateful for the everyday women who inspire me to be a little more brave, a little more courageous…and grateful.