Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Kieran and Me - Banging Heads

Today was the Service of Thanksgiving for the Life of Kieran Louise Sykes. I was not brave enough to be inside St Wilfrid's Church but I wrote this for Mandy and she gave her permission for me to post this in memory of her sister. Ours was a stormy relationship and I cannot claim to be any more than one friend amongst very many but this is our story - warts and all. I miss her. 

I had heard of the Sykes girls long before I met them. They were tall, blond and formidable - in my book, a bit scary. In fact, it was Mandy whom I met first - children of a similar age so our paths were bound to cross sooner or later. Kieran at this time was across the world, being a business high-flyer and living a life at total opposites to my child-rearing with cottage pr industry on the side in our North Yorkshire farmhouse. We might never have met.

The first time I did meet Kieran was at an Acorn Committee meeting at Louise's house when she had returned home to Yorkshire. Right from the off, we were at odds. I think we both knew why. Two big characters, business women, used to being listened to and our opinions valued. Of course, the only people at the table not listening to our opinions were... each other. We banged heads on nearly everything and Louise, her hand usually on a fairly steady tiller, must have been patience personified. Of course, if we agreed, we were unstoppable - but that didn't happen often.

When Kieran left the Acorn Committee, I knew she was ill but we continued to bump into each other socially. Had events not turned so dramatically, I daresay that's where we would be now.

In late spring I found I had breast cancer. The process (once you have put yourself in medical hands) does not require bravery. You just have to get on with it and I am sure that many people can do this with serenity and grace. Not me. I wailed and wept and shut myself in a box where few were permitted to enter. Kieran, in typical style and knowing so much more about my illness than I hope ever to need to know, emailed me with all sorts of helpful information. I was in lock-down. I replied with a firm email which I hope wasn't quite as blunt as some of the emails that had passed between us in our Acorn days. She persisted but I was still in my box and not ready to talk.

The day I came out of hospital after my operation, having had no sleep and feeling pretty groggy, we (Robert, me and Mavis-the-drain attached to my left underarm) met Kieran and Mandy. Kieran had had a hospital appointment and was kindly coming to visit me on the ward. I suspect I was graceless. She was not, as I recall. But she also looked very ill. That was the last time we met.

About the time that the serious stuff started for me - six rounds of chemotherapy or, as my children call it, The Chemathon, Kieran was moving into St Michael's Hospice and in our mutual distress (her's so much worse than mine, I am more than aware) we started an email correspondence. Not talking about cancer but about things that made us laugh. Now this is something we really had in common. And if I made Kieran laugh one half as much as she made me laugh, that will have been a good thing. The insuppressible bubble of laughter is like a momentary escape from illness and pain. Whoever said laughter is the best medicine was no mug. Hugs and kind words definitely have their place but laughter is the best.

I am a great believer in good coming from bad. It may not be equal or equivalent but usually there is something good to be saved from even the worst things. For me, in all this, it is that Kieran and I were friends, proper tell-it-like-it-is friends and that is something I will treasure, however brief it was.

Last week, someone made the most classically inappropriate remark about my cancer. I would have cried if I had not laughed. Afterwards the one person I wanted to tell was Kieran. She would have laughed, I think. But it was too late. I hope, reading this wherever she is, she will be laughing now.

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