My dear friend Carol died today.
I had been called into hospital a few hours earlier, and dropped everything and went. We could see she was dying. We called her multitude of friends and they started arriving. We sat around her bed and sang some of her favourite songs and prayed, along with the priest who knew her well. Some more friends, including her housemate of 28 years (who has profound and multiple disabilities), had come into the room just as Carol took her final breaths. I was holding her hand when she died.
Such a privilege.
Hospitals are not ideal places to die (and I will write some more about that another time – this is not the time). The nurses and doctors couldn’t have been lovelier, but still. We made it as normal a place as we could manage, perhaps most strongly afterwards, when we – six women of different ages and from different cultures across the world, some familiar with the reality of dying, others experiencing it for the first time; all of whom loved Carol – gathered together around her after she died, washed her gently, combed her hair, closed her eyes, gave her clean sheets.
And we cried, and we remembered.
Here is a woman who has taught us so much. I, too, became Carol’s housemate 28 years ago (although I only shared her home for four years). I had visited her in the large hospital where she had grown up and lived since early childhood. She was one of the last people to leave the hospital, which was closing. She latched onto us immediately and with some excitement, because she knew that if strangers came to see you, it was your lucky day. You could leave and go to live at their place.
But it was our lucky day too. Carol was an extraordinary person, a survivor, a feisty woman who knew what she wanted and would tell you so in no uncertain terms. What she wanted most of all was friendship. We welcomed her, but she then welcomed us. She welcomed generations of new care assistants, neighbours, visitors, people in her church. She would reach out to shake the hand of anyone she met and ask them, What’s your name? She would remember you, and not just you, but also the relatives and pets you told her about. How’s your mum? she would ask, weeks after you told her your mum was ill.
Carol was a community builder.
We need community builders. We will miss her. I will miss her unfailing and deeply loyal friendship. Thank you Carol.