19 Oct 2011

In memory of Sonia, my friend.

Sometimes news knocks you sideways.
Today, just as I was driving home from lunch with my husband and feeling pretty pleased that I'd found a pair of black jeans that actually fitted me, I received a phone call.
My beautiful friend, Sonia
It was from the partner of an old friend, Sonia Robinson, who has been battling breast cancer for the past few years. He was calling to tell me that she had lost the fight earlier this month. She was just 46.
I have known Sonia since I was 19, more than half my life. We met when we were assigned rooms next door to each other in Halls of Residence in Tooting, South London. She was from Birmingham and two years older than I. I was from Warrington, an immature, know-nothing teenager.
We became friends, even though on the face of it we had nothing in common. We would sit on our respective window-sills and talk through the open window or go for a drink in the Student bar. Sometimes we would go up into the centre of London for an evening with very little money to spend, but we always had fun. On my 21st birthday, Sonia plaited my hair tightly into two so that by the evening my poker straight hair would have waves for our evening out. Times spent with her were always easy. When you did something questionable she would give you a 'look' but you knew that you were not judged.
That friendship has lasted 25 years. We were not in each other's pockets, and our contact through most of that time has been sporadic as we got on with our lives and families in different parts of the country. But we always sent each other birthday cards when we could - our birthdays were two days apart.
We were the kind of friends that could speak or see one another after months or years of silence and pick up where we left off. Still, I feel a pang of guilt, wishing that I had been more in touch in the last couple of years. The last time I spoke to her she said she was tired but recovering. Since then I have thought of her often, but always at times when it was too late in the evening to call or when I was out doing other things and something brought her to mind. I must call her, I would think. Now, it's too late and I am angry with myself for not being more organised.
Sonia had a son, who is now grown. She also had a daughter, who is the same age as my eldest son. I pray for them. I lost my mother when I was 38 and that was way too young. She was also taken by the evil that is cancer. To lose your mother when you are not even grown is unthinkable.
To me, Sonia was always a wise, stoic person. She knew how to have fun but I sometimes asked myself when decisions came up in my life, what would Sonia think of it?
She had a beautiful smile and there was a regalness about her that I admired. She had the most amazingly expressive eyes that could say so much with just a glance.
Her partner told me that she was cared for by a hospice in Birmingham called the John Taylor Hospice that included Macmillan cancer care. Just as I was starting to write this post, the doorbell sounded. It was a young man from Macmillan, looking for people to sign up to give monthly. It seemed like a sign, so I immediately invited him in and signed a direct debit monthly pledge.
I'll be sending an additional donation with my card to Sonia's family that will go to the hospice itself. I'm told they cared for her with dignity and that is all we can ask for when our moment comes.
I recently read a book about dying. The book, by Raymond Moody had charted many thousands of near death experiences, where people have been revived to tell similar stories of being met by loved ones, of seeing a bright white light at the end of a long tunnel and going through an all-encompassing life review. When I read that, I resolved to live my life so that I would not be ashamed at my own life review, whenever that happens. I am sure that Sonia's will have shown the love that she had for her family and the happiness that she gave her friends, like me and that her loved ones that had gone before were waiting to take her into their care.
My thoughts and prayers are with Sonia's family. Her partner of so many years, Trevor, told me she was at peace. I believe him.