Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Lanyon Farewell.

It's been six long months since my last post. 
I well and truly lost my blogging mojo due to our frenetic pace of life last year. 
But today it came back.

 Today was my best friend's funeral. 
Today, I want to capture the memory of this beautiful creature and share it with the world.

I first met Rach 21 years ago at the church we both attended. Ours was merely an acquaintance back then which was to be expected given the five year age gap. Fast forward almost two decades later. A mutual friend reconnected us when Rach and her husband moved to Canberra on an army posting. I remember how Rach and I clicked immediately on her first visit to my place. We had a wonderful conversation amid the territorial roars emanating from Jack's room. The kids took a little longer to warm to each other that day but eventually they sorted out the pecking order and became fast friends. The fact that faith was still very much at the core of Rach's life but no longer in mine had little bearing on our friendship. We shared a mutual respect for our alternate beliefs and focused on our shared experiences of motherhood.

Her friendship came at a time when I was enduring my second mastectomy and I found her joyful personality and generous spirit so uplifting. We had weekly playdates with our Littles and spent many mornings at Lanyon Homestead, Cotter Dam and various museums and parks around Canberra.
Rach always came armed with crazy strong coffee, a big hug and enough food to feed an army.
We shared all the frustrations, joys and absurdities of motherhood together and it was lovely.

We had so much in common but I never expected to share the same oncologist with Rach.
My darling friend was diagnosed with a rare and extremely aggressive ovarian cancer in 2015. It was an odd experience going back to the chemo room at Canberra Hospital to sit with Rach instead of receiving treatment myself. I was glad that I could draw on my own experience and help look after the kids or be a sounding board when chemo got rough. Things looked positive for a little while and Rach made plans for the family to join Steve on his overseas posting. The day before they were due to fly out she received the news that the cancer had returned and everything was put on hold. They settled in Brisbane to be close to family and a new treatment began. She did everything she possibly could to survive the wretched disease. Her poor body bore the brunt of extreme surgeries and several types of chemo until it just couldn't bounce back anymore. Despite the horror show that played out...she held her head high, kept faith and imparted an immense amount of joy to everyone she came into contact with. She remained the arch nurturer, putting everyone else's welfare before her own.

I flew up to Brisbane a few weeks ago to spend a night with Rach in her room on the palliative care ward. I wish I could express how much of a privilege it was to have that time with her.
My darling friend was in her final weeks and her body was so utterly broken. It was by no means the first time I'd seen a friend in the final stage of cancer, but it was the most heartbreaking. 
It was a privilege to wake whenever she stirred through the night, to help her to the bathroom, chase up pain relief, rub her feet and cool her forehead with a cloth to ease her fever. In the early hours of the morning when she had moments of lucidity we talked about her New Zealand holiday and seeing Adele in concert. The morphine caused her to talk in her sleep and most of the time it was her kids she was talking to. In those pre-dawn hours she woke from a dream in which she wasn't dying. It tore me to pieces when reality dawned on her and she sobbed in my arms. We cried together about the injustice of it all and how agonizing it was for her to not be around for Addy and Dunc as they grew up. She asked me how many days she had left, to which I said not many. She didn't want to leave everyone, most of all Steve and the kids, but she'd had enough of the incessant pain and was ready to let go.

In the morning, Rach's very dear friend Jules arrived. It was so good to finally meet her in person and so very special to spend that time together. We wrote in birthday cards for the kids when Rach no longer had the strength to do it herself. It was beyond precious and it's something I will never forget.
The time came for me to say my final goodbye. It was so very, very hard to walk out of that room.
 I am so grateful to have had those precious 24hrs with her and say all we wanted to say to each other.
I got the call from Rach's mum 10 days later to say that Rach had passed away peacefully in her sleep. I was home alone at the time and I cried inconsolably for the rest of the day.

I made the decision not to go back to Queensland for the funeral. Out of all the friends I've lost to cancer in the last few years, Rach's death has been the most devastating. I decided instead to go to Lanyon, our favourite place here in Canberra, and have my own private memorial for her.

Lanyon was shrouded in fog when I arrived this morning.

At the time that her funeral was scheduled to start, the fog lifted and the homestead was bathed in brilliant sunshine. So very, very Rach!

I sat with a coffee under the large oak tree where our kids used to make little camp fires out of sticks.

I soaked up the peaceful atmosphere and slowly wandered about the gardens and paddocks photographing everything that was beautiful and beloved to Rach.

At the end of the gravel walk I looked at the view of the gardens and the homestead beyond and had a quiet cry, remembering her, missing her.

I bought a seedling from the little plant stall by the front gate.

It reminded me of the Autumn Plant Fair we went to a couple of years ago with the kids and all the fun we'd had that day. A fitting way to remember my darling friend who adored having her own patch of dirt to grow things in.

She's gone now but her legacy of love and compassion will live on in the people who knew her.
I know that Steve and the kids will somehow get through this awful time with the support of family and friends but I wish to goodness that they didn't have to. I'm a better person for knowing Rach and I'm incredibly grateful for her friendship.

Farewell my beautiful friend.
Sleep tight.

xx Em.