My very good friend Helane passed away yesterday. She fought the insidious disease that is cancer for 7 months, won a major battle last October when all the tumours vanished, only to reappear within a few weeks and spread with incredible speed (I have already posted about her here).
I understand that last weekend Helane made a list of all the things she wanted to do “to put her affairs in order” before she went. She got time for only one of them, the most important: despite being wheelchair bound for the last few weeks, last Monday she travelled straight from the hospital in Waterford to the Four Courts in Dublin to hear the appeal against the lenient sentencing of the young man who was driving the vehicle when her daughter Catherine was killed in 2006. She wanted justice to be done, and Catherine’s life to be valued at more than 240 hours of community service. On Monday, Catherine’s life was considered by the Court of Criminal Appeal to be worth 15 months custodial sentence, starting that very day. As Helane and her family travelled back down to the hospital in Waterford on Monday evening, the young man headed for jail. Justice had been served, at last.
The last conversation I had with Helane was on the phone on Sunday evening. I remarked to her that I though she was a very strong woman, to have the courage to travel and face the next day in her condition. With her usual good humour, she burst laughing and said: “No, I am not a brave woman, I am a very determined woman!”
It is as if this determination carried her through the last few months. As if, once she felt justice had been shown to be done for Catherine, she could let go and allow the cancer to take hold of her. And it did, and won within 3 days.
Although I have not stopped crying since last Tuesday night when I heard she was in her last moments – and I am not the only one of her friends to do so! – the Helane I want to remember is the person I heard laughing on Sunday: she was talking to me while puffing on her cigarette, after telling me yet again, as a joke: “Well, the doc’s have said it won’t make a difference at this stage, so I might as well enjoy the poison while I can”.
The Helane I want to remember is the person who always showed concern for and interest in others, no matter how difficult life was for her. I particularly noticed this since her cancer diagnostic last May, as every time we talked, after quickly answering my questions about her health, she would always ask me about Cathal, and insisted on all the details of his progress, health and otherwise. Even last Sunday at least half of our conversation was about him! She followed this blog and Cathal’s Mammy’s one (indeed she followed my footsteps into blogland just a year ago and I know she made great friends through it) and often rung me or texted me after seeing some of his photos. When he was very sick after his open heart surgery, she kept telling me not to worry, that “her Catherine” was looking after him, making sure we would enjoy him for a very long time. So sweet of her, when her own daughter was no longer there to be “enjoyed”!
The Helane I want to remember is the person who gave me one of the biggest, longest hug I ever received, last time we met only a few weeks ago. The person whom I dreaded seeing weak and sick, and who passed on to me some much of her strength and peace that I left her with an incredible feeling of reassurance, acceptance and serenity.
And I am so glad that on that occasion I got to thank her for her friendship over the years...
But most of all, the Helane I want to remember is this woman who went through what I can safely say was a very tough life, from the very moment she was born, and yet always looked on the positive, and kept going with grace and humour, despite it all. I want to remember our long walks together along Tramore beach before I moved up to Dublin, when we talked about anything and everything, and where one Saturday afternoon she told me her full life story. I was humbled by her trust in me, but also amazed by her attitude to life despite all the adversity. Catherine’s death the following year only reinforced my admiration for her.
Determined woman, indeed!
Helane, I hope you have found peace. And wherever you are now, I also hope you have found Catherine again. But we will miss you.
PS: My thoughts are also with her two other children, barely adults themselves, who have not only buried their younger sister three years ago, but face another funeral in the same church, the same cemetery this weekend, only a few days before Christmas. A reminder that the “Festive Season” is not always festive for everyone...!