Under wraps

Dear readers, it’s fair to say blog posts have been hard to come by lately for me. What with the unexpected death of my dear friend Rach in February I find myself immersed in grief and selfishly only doing things for myself. Gardening and creativity.

But, some days, for all your experience, all your wisdom, and for all your just knowing things the way only women do, you walk into a situation where you cannot be other than belittled and patronised. Just like I did last week. I  wished and wished I could have shared this experience with Rach, I can just imagine her response. And, equally, I can also hear her saying, ‘You have to blog about this Sarah, you just have to!’ I know she would say that.

Here’s what happened.

The other week I received a phone message out of the blue from a film producer who’s making a documentary about ‘the dangers of breast screening’ – his words. He’s someone who I know in Liverpool and very occasionally, like every few years, will bump into him, but we’re only on that level of knowing each other. I’m intrigued by his message Continue reading

The walking (for Rachel)

When someone close to us dies we grieve. And that grieving can take many forms. We cry, of course. We cross the earth to attend their funeral. We put together collections of photos of the departed one. Maybe of their writings. Sometimes we run. And maybe we’ll walk, ‘in remembrance of’ them. And in my experience there is an urgent need to do some or all of these things in the first year after the person has died. By year, I mean, the actual 12 months. I know from my father’s death that the first year was ‘special’ and the grief did not end at the one year point, but the marking of that year was important. You go through a cycle of grief because you pass ‘this time last year’ moments so often. Anniversaries arrive and catch you unawares, a birthday, the last time you were together; these moments have significance, especially so in the first year.

Of course the person I am thinking about this year is Rachel – it’s her birthday soon. And I’ve been thinking about doing a walk that would be like a pilgrimage – for Rach. For me. Yes I want to walk with Rachel, my beloved friend who died in February. And I have a feeling of ‘If I don’t do it now I may never do it’. It’s the grief, I know. A deeply personal need to in some way still be ‘with’ the one who has died. And I was wondering if you might like to walk with me?

So… this summer I’ve been entertaining fantasies of walking El Camino de Santiago de Compostela (also known in English as The Way of St James) in Northern Spain, maybe in October when the weather is cooler. It’s 485 miles (780km) in total from the start in France to the cathedral in Santiago in Spain, although you can walk part of it, or walk it in sections. So, nearly 500 miles? On foot. Why? Well, it started after I’d watched the film ‘The Way‘ starring Martin Sheen (Jed Bartlet from the TV series West Wing). He plays a father who doesn’t understand why his grown son has given up everything and gone to Europe to ‘find himself’, and they part angrily. Several months later the father ends up following his son to retrieve his ashes…. he’s died on the Camino in a storm. And so, of course, with it being Hollywood, Martin Sheen has a revelation and well, of course proceeds to walk the Camino himself and experiences enlightenment along the way, plus meets other ‘pilgrims’ and they talk about why they are walking and deeper questions about life. It’s well-filmed and has a great sense of place, but is also done without sentimentality. One of those films that makes you say, as the credits roll, ‘Mmm, I fancy going there.’

I’ve since mentioned it to a few people, some of whom have heard of the Camino, who have desires to walk it themselves. But it’s a big commitment, at least to walk it all. If you walk it in one go, it’ll take you about 40 days. On foot. Carrying all your possessions, well that is all your two pairs of socks and a change of underwear. Staying along the way in primitive ‘refugios‘ in dormitories. So to a lipstick-wearing, self-confessed co-ordinated dresser (ie me) does that still sound attractive?

Well, sort of. Continue reading

One more spring

Many of my readers will know that my dear friend Rachel Cheetham died on the 6th February 2012 of metastatic breast cancer. She was 41. I miss her. That’s an understatement. 

Yes – one more spring is what I would have wanted with Rach. A spring shared – in person, by Skype, by email, with photographs and films. But it didn’t happen.

On the 6th February 2012, a Monday, I got up late, as usual, and didn’t do very much until I got the bus, at 12.30pm, into town. To Hope Street. Where I have my piano lesson with Barry. My jazz piano lesson. My notes from that day tell me we were discussing my piece – Duke Ellington’s ‘Satin Doll’ – and minor sevenths and key modes.

At just after 2pm I leave in a bouyant mood. I’ve been telling Barry how excited I am about my trip to New Jersey in a few weeks to stay with my friend Rach. ‘Sounds great,’ says Barry. ‘Fun.’ Yes, that’s what it will be – fun. Continue reading

The shit filter

All in all I think I’ve done OK with this social media thing. I mean given that just over two years ago I didn’t know what Facebook was. Really. I emerged into 2010 from three years in ‘hosptial-land’ (thanks to breast cancer for that) and was plunged back into the ‘real’ world, and when I first heard the socially accepted end of conversation line, ‘Find me on Facebook.’ I said, ‘What’s Facebook?’

Well times move on and now I comfortably use Facebook, Twitter less so (and could somebody tell me what LinkedIn is for?), but I recognise that there are things about this social media stuff that means that I can stay in touch with people, find new friends who share my interests…. all good stuff. But it’s not all good. I mean, there’s just so much STUFF out there. How do you find the good or relevant stuff?

I recently read an article in The Word magazine (no I don’t read it but Ronnie does), and he’d told me about ‘frictionless sharing’. Mark Zukerberg, creator of Facebook, coined this phrase, and the concept is discussed in an article by Eamonn Forde:

“If everything we consume is being shared socially… does anything actually stand out? Sharing just becomes about quantity rather than quality.”

Exactly my feeling too. Continue reading

Losing Rachel

Rachel and her dog Newman

My friend Rachel died on 6 February this year. From metastatic breast cancer. She was 41. She will be greatly missed by her beloved husband Anthony, her family, her friends, her dog and the thousands of people who read her sharp, angry and witty words on her blog where she challenged mainstream breast cancer culture: The Cancer Culture Chronicles. She was my friend. In fact, she was one of my closest friends, found in the blogosphere and we became close despite the 3,500 miles that separated us. Her death came too soon, I was not ready for this and the grief has been profound.

In the grief of Rach I’ve been remembering other things. Sort of introspectively remembering my life since my breast cancer diagnosis, things that happened. Continue reading