I should have written this tribute sooner, but I didn’t have the words before and I still don’t now. Nothing will be enough to convey how heartbreaking the loss is or how wonderful she truly was. Abi was one of my closest friends in high school and while we followed each other on social media and sent the odd messages in the years since, we weren’t close anymore. Life gets in the way, as they say, even though I wish I didn’t. In August 2023, she passed away after four years of living with stage 4 lung cancer. She died on my birthday, not that I could ever forget the date, not that I would want to. She was only 35.
Abi was funny, intelligent, compassionate, curious, enthusiastic and kind. She was a wife, sister, daughter, friend, Clinical Scientist. She was colourful, passionate, keen to be happy and to see the positives in life. She was everything you’d want for a person in your life, one of those rare gems you know you’re lucky to have known.
Since school, she’d moved to go to University, she met a boy and fell in love, she continued studying and graduated more than once. She went on to become a Clinical Scientist for the NHS, she got married. She enjoyed life at home, work and with friends. Through those years, she would have touched countless lives and brought a little much-needed brightness to the world. I’m not sure if she’d smile or roll her eyes at the cliches, but I hope she’d also know how true everything I’m saying is and how much I sincerely mean it.
You’ve Got A Friend In Me
I’d gone through a few years of turmoil at school with bullying and then my mental health took a nosedive as a result, and it’s easy to think that’s all there was in my teen years, alongside a lot of shyness and social anxiety. But that’s not true, because Abi became my friend. We had a couple of other close friends in our small circle, if you like, and that friendship meant everything.
Since living with chronic illness, both my short and long term memory has taken a hit. It’s usually just disconcerting to look back and find I can’t remember events someone is talking about, or to find months or years of blank space and cobwebs. But now I find it so very sad, because I want to remember more than I can about those days back then.
I do remember a few things :
- Abi’s smile and laugh, which I hope to never, ever forget.
- Our shared love (read: obsession) with Lord Of The Rings. The time we tried to learn Elvish by looking it up online, back in the day of dial up Internet. The time we attempted to make Elven bread by also looking that up online and being dismayed at the disgusting ingredients we needed to get from the shop to make it. Needless to say, it was revolting!
- I had a navy zip up hooded cardigan when I was younger, maybe 8-10 years old, that my mum got me from C&A (anyone remember them?) One day when we met up, Abi came wearing the exact same one – hers still fitted her too! I’ve still got mine and still wear it at home.
- She also loved scarves and while I’ve got a lot of them myself, one is the oldest and most cherished: A colourful knit scarf that Abi bought me.
- I remember her intelligence, the classes we shared, the times we’d sit on the playing field at lunchtime, the way we talked about (and stalked) boys we liked. The times we’d go clothes shopping. The parties at a friend’s house, dancing to cheesy music, us drinking vodka from the bottle and sitting on the floor crying, before getting back up to keep dancing.
- The way we’d do little horns with our hands on top of our heads, which seemed so normal at the time.
- The way we called each other Stenchygail and Smellygail, but I can’t remember why!
- The last time I can remember was when another friend and I went up to see Abi at University. We met some of her new friends, had food, went to dance at a club and stayed in her Uni halls for the night. I knew she was on a path to achieve, not just academically but to succeed in life, to find happiness. I think I had a gut feeling right then that we’d probably part ways and I know I got home after that day both very happy and very sad.
I wish we had more photos from those day but back then (and yes, I realise I sound old) most of us only had disposable point-and-shoot cameras that we bought for special occasions. There weren’t cheap digital cameras and iPhones around, unlike today where we can photograph anything and everything all the time. We had to be selective but it was always exciting to go to the chemist to get the film developed, to see what came out.
We followed each other on social media and I took heart in seeing her updates, seeing her living a good life with a wonderful husband and friends around her, getting more post graduate degrees and getting into a fantastic career, going on walks, pottering around her garden. I thought things were good and I felt good to know that. But I was both right and wrong in thinking it.
She was making the most of everything she could, but I didn’t know that for the last 4 years she had been living with cancer.
She reached out to me a couple of weeks before she passed, the day she went into hospice. She sent me the most beautiful message and for a while I thought it must be a mistake, someone must have hacked into her account, it must be a phishing scam, it can’t be true. We shared a few messages on WhatsApp to catch up but then I didn’t hear back from her. I’d hoped she was busy doing things with those she loved and I told myself that’s what it was. Then I had a message from her husband. Abi had peacefully passed away on my birthday, surrounded by family.
Mourning An Old Friend
I cried so much I didn’t think I’d stop, which happened when she messaged me, when he husband told me the news, and again when I watched the funeral service before anyone had even sat down, and at random times in between. It’s amazing a human has such capacity for so many tears and so much snot.
I felt guilty for it, because who am I to be so upset when I wasn’t even in her life in recent years? I would have traded places with Abi in a heartbeat. She had a life and a future to live for. In many respects I don’t, and I find it horrifically unfair that it wasn’t the other way around.
Abi would never see it like that of course. I don’t know how she got through these last few years, but by all accounts she got on with her diagnosis the same way she had lived the years before: with great courage, enthusiasm and grace.
I desperately wanted to see Abi again. I was never sure if those I was such good friends with would even remember me. I was mostly quite quiet, very shy, pretty boring. People went their own way and got on with their lives, and mine stalled with illness and surgeries. I understood that and while sad about it, I can’t fault people for moving on. But I never stopped caring about my old friends, never stopped hoping we could all meet up again.
I felt it wasn’t my place to attend the funeral as a long-ago high school friend, and I had a feeling – which proved to be right – that I wouldn’t be able to keep my shit together. I don’t know how her husband is managing with this but he’s taking inspiration from how Abi lived to remember the good times, to keep moving forward. He put together a beautiful service and there’s a wonderful tribute online for her, where they’re raising money for the hospice she stayed in at the end.
I think the Queen was right in saying that grief is the price we pay for love. The more the love, the more the grief. And I hope all those who knew her – her husband, her family, her friends – can hold onto the memories to get them through such difficult times and to truly feel enriched and blessed from having known her.
The Fragility Of Life
Abi was fit and led a healthy life. She walked a lot, she ate well, and she was only just starting her 30s when diagnosed. And no, she never smoked. She still got sick. She still lost her life to lung cancer.
There’s a lot of animosity towards those who smoke, much as there is towards those with other unhealthy habits and lifestyles, from the overweight to the inactive. It’s good to do what you can to better your health and wellness as it makes you feel better mentally and physically day to day, but it’s no guarantee. There’s no promise of health in life.
There are many reasons why someone may develop an acute or chronic illness or disability. Unhealthy lifestyles can be a cause or contributor, but so too can all the things we can’t control : Genetics, medical negligence, accidents, random ‘bad luck’. That’s life. It’s beautiful and it’s terribly, awfully cruel sometimes.
There have been five people I knew, now six, who have died in the last 12 months, including a woman I worked closely with, online friends, an old neighbour. Each of these people meant something, each of them had ramifications in the world for just being who they were.
Perhaps all we can do is make the most of what we can, while we can, without judgement, without guilt, without regret, because there are no guarantees and there is no way of predicting what the future holds.
If ever you have any concerns about your health – something isn’t quite right and you’ve got a gut feeling or you’re just not sure – please endeavour to fight for your health. If a doctor brushes you off, persevere and ask for a second opinion. Your health and your life are worth fighting for and you are your own best advocate.
♥ ♥ ♥
I don’t want sympathies for me, I don’t want them & that’s not my intention with this tribute. But I wanted and needed to write it, and if anyone would like to kindly send some good thoughts and wishes to her family and friends, I’m sure that’d be much appreciated.
You were so very loved and you made the world around you that much brighter with your presence.
Rest in peace, Abi 🌹