Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I was going to write: it’s been a day of life, death, the whole damn thing. I was going to do the abstract thing. I did not want to put what has happened this day into specifics, partly because of the old privacy thing that I write about, partly because when you come up against the far edge of experience, words seem paltry and small.
Then, I was given permission, even encouragement.
So here is the story of the day.
Those of you who read this blog regularly will remember since May, after my father died, there were other deaths. There was another death of a good man, the stretched, disbelieving faces of the mourners, the stupidity of a fine fellow dying too young.
I have not written much about that since, but it has been in my mind. I have thought about the wife and the children left behind. I have wondered how you stitch your life back together, when the glorious, central tree in it has been felled.
Yesterday, the wife of the good man came to stay. I made a special Eastern soup, with lime and chillies and prawns and coriander and mint and shiitake mushrooms. We laughed and talked and ate and everything was amazingly normal, considering everything. We did not talk of mortality, or wild griefs, or the stupid losses that should not happen; she, and The Beloved Cousin, and I, were almost ostentatiously normal.
Today, a chicken was being roasted for lunch. I was making some of my special smashed olive oil potatoes with basil; I was stirring the good wooden spoon around the pan. The wife of the good man said, quite matter of fact: ‘I have breast cancer.’
I did not hear, at first. Perhaps I did hear, and could not believe. Suddenly, there was a conversation about Grade One, Stage Three; there was talk about oncologists, and the Marsden, and doctor’s appointments. And then someone said: it’s too fucking much.
How does that happen? You lose your husband, at a ridiculous age; you get through that, with astonishing grace and courage. You are just, just, getting through it, as much as you can get through anything like that. And then you go to the doc, and you get the news that you have a bloody tumour, and suddenly your own mortality is on the line.
I was not going to write about it, for good reason. Words are my business, but all day, as we have discussed it, I have been lost for words. And then the brilliant, beautiful woman, who has this terrible double tragedy, said: put it on the blog. She said: I’d love to know if there is anyone out there who knows about this. Is there anyone who lost their husband and then, five scant months later, got the breast cancer diagnosis. Is there?
She said: put the specifics. They got it early, but it's fast-moving. What does that mean? Does anyone know?
She said: ask them.
I wonder often what this curious enterprise is for. I often ask you, the Dear Readers: what am I doing here? Am I just clicking my teeth? Is it self-indulgence; is it just a few dog pictures and some absurd racing talk, and a bit of political geekery, and some blah blah about my garden and my love for Scotland and my hill?
It is a tiny thing; life is a great big buggery thing, often too big for me to capture. I sat round the kitchen table all day long, desperately trying to make sense of this thing that makes no sense – too much tragedy for one life, too many demands for one heart to bear – with these two wonderful women, and struggled to make a shape of it. I can’t work things out until I have written them, until I have typed them.
And then, the Extraordinary Woman (as I shall now always call her) said: write it. Put it out there.
I looked at her. I said: ‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I want to know what your readers think. I want to know if they have had anything like this.’
As I write this, she and The Beloved Cousin are talking. They are laughing; they are discussing family things. We gave the children the special green soup, and put them to bed. The dogs are slumbering. There is much in this house that is wonderful and normal. We are so lucky in so many ways. We have, between the three of us, had our share of sorrow, but we also have a lot of love and light. But now there is this new Thing.
I don’t know quite how to finish. I always want to give you a nice, neat final sentence, a thought that makes it all make sense. I don’t have one. I think I just press send, and trust in this wonderful readership, and see what happens.
Photographs of the day – I'm afraid are just all dog pictures. I'd love to do some trees and flowers and autumn colours for you, but I like to think the beauty of the Pigeon makes up for everything. It works for me, anyway:
I took these pictures as the evening sun was falling over the Beloved Cousin's house. I was tight with regret and shock. For ten minutes, I looked at this wonderful canine face, and felt better. I said, out loud: this is all too much, even for us. The Pigeon looked up at me, raised her ears, sniffed for rabbits, wagged her waggy old tail, and got on with it. Yes, I thought: we can all get on with it. We must all get on with it. We shall.