Death’s been good to me. Up until relatively recently at least. I’ve lost grandparents – as if somehow I’ve simply misplaced them – but that happens to all of us, doesn’t it, the loss, not the misplacement. Then, strike, first one, then another, two wonderful people, a cousin and a friend, both women, strong women, no nonsense, no bullshit, and now they’re gone.
My cousin, my extraordinary cousin, she was a poet, a good poet, eminent say some – they made a movie out of one of her books so that might qualify her as eminent. But she’d hate that word. ‘Oh cuz,’ she’d say, ‘don’t go down that road.’ She was the oldest of cousins, and I am the youngest, so I have only a few memories of her when we were growing up, family get-togethers at Christmas. Some of the parents called her precocious; I was scared of her. As an adult, however, I plucked up the courage to email her, and she replied with the best words I’d ever heard: ‘Cuz, if you’re looking for a friend for life you’ve got one in me. I really am a very simple person.’ A friend for life. But now she’s gone. (She would never have wanted her end to define her, so you’ll get no details from me.) I can’t stop thinking about her. To some – many – she was indeed a poet. To me, she was the guide to my family, my nut-case family, because from her position she could see so much.
My friend, my extraordinary friend. She was an actor. Whenever she was on stage I couldn’t see her, so completely did she dissolve into the characters she played. Strange how now I’m thinking about this, my friend reminds me of my cousin, because both of them were small in stature, but strong, fierce, yes, they could both be fierce. And hilariously funny, and sweet. My friend: she married a good man, a kind man, a man with a motorbike. One Saturday night, late, after midnight, she posted on Facebook: ‘Trying to work out whether or not to put on another load of washing. That’s how exciting my life is!’ The next morning she and her good-man husband went off for a Sunday bike ride on the back roads into the country. They didn’t come back alive. So now my friend is gone, and I can’t stop thinking about her. She was mad on pets, completely mad, so that every time one of my own animals is sick and I’m trying to decide whether or not a trip to the vet is warranted, I hear her say, ‘I can’t believe you have to think about this! It’s your duty to spend every cent on your little guys if you need to!’
I love angels, in fact, if the truth be known, I’m obsessed. But I don’t believe in them; I’m not sure I believe in an after-life of any kind. Somehow, however, in some way, my cousin and my friend aren’t entirely gone. Yes, I think about them so much. I hear them speak to me. Wise words from my cousin, wise and blunt – ‘Compare yourself to no one, cuz, compare yourself to no one’ – and adoring words from my friend – ‘Oh Millie is the most beautiful dog, you know that, Nigel, don’t you?’ as if I’m blind to the luck around me.
And no doubt I am.