FIELDS OF GOLD – BREAST CANCER – MY STORY OF THE LOSS OF A FRIEND

Amidst untenable emotion that stifles and subdues, the crystalline splendour of Eva Cassidy`s song – Fields of Gold – drifts amongst the congregation, sentiment dripping from the lyrics. I have a sudden urge of wanting to ask, why did you love that song so much?

Of course we all cry. A life, fifty nine years in the making that had not yet fulfilled the desires of the heart. A body engulfed in a stealty illness that crept, eventually swalllowing any trace of those desires. Desires of visiting a much-loved son in Australia. Desires of holding the expected new-born grandchild. Desires of witnessing newly planted trees reach to the sky in a grandeur of greenery.

Listenening to the words of the song, I cannot help but smile at the lyrics of – When the West Wind Blows. You didn`t know north from south – or east from west. You always got names muddled and places were a geographical nightmare.

The pall bearers gently place your coffin before the cross of Christ. Eva Cassidy`s haunting voice trancends, weightless, lubricating this density of space. The spangled brilliance of translucent colours plays upon your coffin draped in cascading lilies. With trembling hands and tears that flow shamelessly, I recall, with traumaitized incredulity, it was only just a few months ago that we did indeed walk in fields of gold.

Our friendships beginning was a fleeting half hours walk with our dogs most mornings. We walked together along the sweeping lane that stretched from our homes. Me, with my bouncy Golden Retriever Sam, you with your regal Boxer Bertie. Our daily walks did not desist as the seasons changed. Biting winds, driving rain,frost laced branches, warm spring breezes and summer searing heat. Nothing fazed us. We would chat about mundane things. The weather, what we watched on television the previous night. As our friendship grew, we realised we had a lot in common, a daughter about the same age as each others and our love of animals and wildlife. Do you remember how we would both, during the cold winter months, take our plastic bag full of bread to feed the solitary robin that would perch on the bare branch next to us? Each morning he would appear and watch us furtively as we held our daily chat on that awful lump of concrete that faced the field. Our derrieres would chill as the dampness of our implausible seat gnawed through our padding of clothes.
“God,” you would chunter, “we`ll get piles from sitting on this thing.”
Do you remember when we walked away after depositing the bag of winter nourishement, we would surrepticiously pause and watch as the robin hopped onto our lump of concrete and peck away at the feast left for him? This cheeky chap began to wait each morning for us, recognizing the two strange women with bulging bags of food and he became another friend on our daily dog walk. We shared our anguishes of rebellious teenagers and tales of your daughter that, when a teenager,was, “An awful mare!”
But you also told me in a lowered tone that hinted at the anguish of your plight simmering in secret, that your daughter had made up for her teenage antics in later years. Now, those rebellious years vanquished, your daughter had become your friend, a carer and subsequently your nurse. Your son emigrated to Australia. Amidst your obvious distress of his departure, you told me how proud you were of him. You gave me weekly reports on his progress after you had spoken and `seen` him through the inovation of advanced technology which held and displayed. almost cruelly, treasured images of a son you could see but not touch. You confided how much you were looking forward to visiting him in Australia. Sadly, fate in is entire inane irony, did not allow you to make that journey. Fate came in the form of cancer. Malignant cells took over, deliberating in its persistance of demoralization. Incredibly, before I knew you, you had survived the `silent killer` ovarian cancer and was just beginning to enjoy life again. The ovarian cancer was now dormant. But with infections, that constantly plagued you, you were finally diagnosed with breast cancer.

You began treatment with a tenacity that humbled me. I am sure in your private moments you displayed your anger and self-worthlessness. But to the outside world you remained happy and optimistic finding the daily grind of chemotherapy and radiotherapy a nusiance rather than a tragedy to incur. Your lovely blond hair fell out and you were relieved it was winter so that you could wear your hood high over your head. No-one other than your immediate friends and family knew anything was amiss. In the summer you donned a bandana that featured bright colours of the rainbow that depicted your sunny optimism. Things seemed to be going well. Chemotherapy pumped into your body and daily doses of radiotherapy shrank the tumour. However, your happy and infectious sanguinity hid a deadly secret. It was a moment I was not expecting. Just a normal day. Two dogs bouncing, ducking and diving in the golden corn. An incomprehensible moment that you spoke of as if telling me you were going shopping, or visiting the family, or having to do the ironing or clean the cooker.
“They can`t cure me – the cancer is inoperable – it`s terminal.”
I could lie and say I felt sad, shocked, lost. However I did not. I felt bloody angry. Angry that I could lose my friend to something I could not see, could not understand. That all of this we shared – could stop.

Nothing seemed to change. You were well, planning Christmas, planning to visit Australia. You were shopping, walking Bertie. I began to feel secure in that knowledge, burying the stark reality of those crippling words you spoke in that fleeting revelation. It had also struck home that you trusted me with that information. I was humbled that our relationship had reached those heights. The next revelation came in much the same way. I was totally unprepared and unaware. You seemed so well when you told me that you were feeling exhausted when we sat our bottoms on our cold lump of concrete. I joked with, “What have you been doing to make you feel so exhausted?” I had totally forgotten that you had an incurable disease.
“The cancer has spread to my other breast,” you declared wistfully. But the darkness of the implication of that fact shifted across your eyes. How much does a body, one of God`s children have to endure? I did not feel angry this time. Instead I asked God why. More than before, from the pit of my stomach that lurched in fear, I sensed your cynicism. Cancer would not let go of you. It had buried itself deep within you only to surface when you thought you were the victor. It tricked you with your days of good health and happy demeanour.

This time there was a change in you. You did not seem so optimistic. The weekly doses of chemotherapy stripped away your strength and the daily radiotherapy was painful. Even so, seeing you everyday I did not notice you in obvious decline and hung on to the fact that whilst you were receiving treatment, there was a glimmer of hope. I still hung on to that fact when you were too ill to bring Bertie for his morning walk convincing myself that you were just going through a bad time. I did plan to come to see you. I wanted to so badly. Truth was I was scared, scared to see the change from the happy, optimistic jovial friend, to the victim of a filthy disease that had dared to encompass your body. I did not want to witness you fall victim to cancers laceration of dignity and thought that you deserved better than having to succumb to its degradation. God must have thought so to, because, quite unexpectedly, he took you whilst you were asleep.

So here you lie in this little chapel surrounded by your family and friends. My tears stumble on my cheek, waiting. My hand reaches to my face, faltering to wipe them away. Will I wipe you away with them? Are you in the dark shadow of my heart as I foresee my lonely walks? Are you in the laughter that bursts from my soul as I remember your witless statements? Are you with me as I tread the future missing my friend? Are you with me when I forget to remember you?

Eva Cassidy`s voice is still holding us in a captivated state with her harmonic layered tone and I fear I will never know why you chose that song to be played at your funeral. Did you know that you had more in common with Eva Cassidy than the cancer that infiltrated you both? I recall reading an article about her after she had just passed away whereby a friend commented, “Nature was Eva`s soul. She respected and nurtured everything that grows, crawls and flies. She was not interested in a glittering career, preferring to surround herself with surpportive friends.” These words magnify everything I know of you. I want to tell you here an now about Eva`s likeness to you and I hear you say in your usual endearing surprise, “Oh was she?”

As Eva`s song trancends, luxuriantly asking, – If we remember you – and asking us to stay with you in the – Fields of Gold and gaze amongst the fields of barley – I stand with the inconceivable surprise at my own stupidity, for you have answered my question. My smile plays with the corner of my mouth and encourages the waiting tear to drop. The hot lump in my throat subsides at the rapid lurch of my heart. The answer is so obvious it is though a new era is born. You chose the song because you loved the spring – the summer – the winter`s snow.

You are with the oppulence of the changing seasons – when the orb of the sun sits in the jealous sky. You are with – the west wind that blows.

The rustle of gold sits in wait for you as your spirit transcends above natures burst of glory. Whilst nature continues with its ever-surprising metamorphosis, tantalising us to step over its boundary, you will never be gone from this world. I know that whenever I walk my lonely walk and watch the golden corn whispering and dancing – you will be there. Because:

You are the eyes of the fox that twists its head in awe of the approaching stranger.

You are the leaves that lift and curl.

You are the puddle that colours eloquently drawing the insect.

You are the robin that sits in hope.

You are the rustle that sweeps across the fields with the warm gentle breeze.

You are the cry of the new-born babe.

My walks will still be lonely, my heart still heavy. But in my sudden realization and secure in the knowledge that has come in this house of God, your final message to us all was a carefully chosen one designed to soothe the searing pain of the death of a loved one. Your final message has come in the form of a simple song that outweighs any wonderful words said in your memory.

Maybe my steps of the future will be a little lighter. Your spirit is within the wanting of what we want to believe, of what we know to be true.

You are happy. For you are:

The Fields of Gold.

In memory of my friend Anne Jenkins

16-11-46
4-11-2006

Breast Cancer's photo.
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