Dave called me earlier in the week.
It was about our friend Sean. He was at university with us but not part of the main group. He was a bit of a loner but Dave befriended him in that first year. I didn't get to know him until our final year but soon realised that although he was quiet, he was a lovely guy. He became friendly with Ed and Nancy too but never really took to the whole group thing. I don’t see him as regularly as the others but we have kept in touch over the years and I regard him as a close friend.
In December, Sean told us that he had cancer. It was such a shock. But he told us he was going to fight it and that he had no intention of letting it beat him - which is very Sean. He said he wasn't going down the chemotherapy route because he wanted to stay strong for as long as possible and in his opinion it was that treatment which made cancer sufferers he had known, including his mother, so poorly. He wouldn't listen to any arguments to the contrary.
Anyway, on Saturday, Dave called to say that Sean wanted to see us all to introduce us to Jenny, his girlfriend. After being pretty much a confirmed bachelor for most of his life we were all thrilled last year when he announced he had finally found the woman of his dreams. She's also a scientist and he was besotted with her and then almost immediately, just as everything was going so well, he was told about the cancer. At first, he wouldn't tell her. He said it would drive her away. And then as the relationship got stronger he said he couldn't tell her because he wouldn't be able to explain why he had kept it from her all that time. He eventually did it last month and of course, she is still with him though she was clearly upset. It seems she has been a complete rock since, supporting him in all his decisions and just loving him and looking after him on his bad days.
So last night Nancy, Dave and myself went to see him. Ed couldn't come because his wife, Carolyn, is pregnant again with their third and keeps bleeding. It was a shock seeing Sean as it was the first time since he was diagnosed. He had changed a lot. He's lost so much weight and he looked old and somehow, smaller. Jenny was lovely - like a little bird, very chirpy and flying round him and giving him little pecks on the cheek everytime she passed him. I like her a lot. I like her because she loves Sean and he clearly adores her.
The thing is, Sean didn't invite us round just to meet Jenny. It was to say goodbye. He has been told he now only has weeks to live and he has decided, surprisingly, to go into a hospice and once there he definitely doesn't want anybody apart from Jenny with him. None of us said anything, probably because we were all fighting back tears.
He showed me a photograph in a frame. I remember him taking it, many years ago before I was married. I was lounging on his bed (there was nothing else to sit on in his tiny bedsit ) and was all ready to go out and he was still faffing around when suddenly he stopped and looked at me and said he had to take a picture. Photography was his passion and this was a good one. He had me looking up at him, all wide-eyed and pouting in my little black dress which was very low and very short with just a glimpse of a suspender top. I have to say he made me look very sexy. He told me he had kept that photo in his bedroom for years as he never tired of looking at it.
Then he told Nancy that he had always been secretly in love with her but even though they were close he had never been able to tell her that. He told her she was a gorgeous, big-hearted woman who deserved better than her on-off husband and that he was sorry he wouldn't be around to provide a shoulder for her anymore.
Then he told Dave that he couldn't have wished for a better friend. That knowing him had instantly made him cool. He thanked him for always being there for him.
He showed us an email from Ed. He had written it not knowing why Sean had asked us round and it was in his typical irreverent style. He wrote that he had wanted to come round, especially as he has just completed a disability course so now knew how to behave in front of invalids! He said he wanted to see if he was glowing given that he must be getting plenty of "Jenny Love" and there was a whole lot of other highly inappropriate stuff. Even though he signed it off saying he was off to Church and would remember him there as he always did these days, I gasped in shock at how he had so misjudged it. But Sean told me not purse my lips. That the email was written exactly as he wanted Ed to be. Himself. He told us all we had to be exactly as he loved us. Me with the laugh, Dave with his sage outlook on life and Nancy with her general gorgeousness. He didn't want tears or pity or to be remembered with sadness or regret.
After that he cracked open the champagne and I really did make an effort to match the bubbles and laugh at the various memories we recalled but it's one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. We were there til the early hours even though Sean was clearly shattered and Jenny was keen for us to go. But none of us wanted to as we knew it would be the last time.
I'm ashamed to say I did crack when it came to saying goodbye. I couldn't help it. I put my arms around him and couldn't bear it. Great racking sobs came up, the same ones that have come up again now as I write this. He didn't say anything - just held me for the longest time. HE was comforting ME. How ridiculous was that? I kissed him and carried on crying as the others said goodbye. Dave was very serious and Nancy hugged him for what seemed like forever but she, at least, maintained her composure.
Once he finally closed the door on us, we got into our cab and Nancy completely broke down. Dave was in tears too. We went to Dave's private club and sat there for ages not really saying very much.
I got home sometime after three, this morning. Ewan got up and listened to what had happened but even though he held me tight, I couldn't really sleep. I've been wandering around like a zombie today. I don't know what to think or what to do with myself.
I just feel lost.
In a Land of Make Believe
2 days ago