Well I haven’t posted for a while despite all the potential from coronavirus. But this evening I feel compelled to write because I feel like a man who has committed the biggest disloyalty towards a true friend and I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive myself. Maybe this is first stage redemption.
Let me take you back to just over a year ago. We’d been away for a long weekend with our great friends Lawrie and Sheila to Sorrento and had a fantastic time. We had a blast with lovely trips around Pompeii, Naples, Capri, Positano etc. One afternoon Sheila and I had a traipse around old town Sorrento as Carol and Lawrie had a doze. We had a blast as we discovered a fantastic hidden musical museum, Irish bar (of course) and beautiful coral jewellery store whilst we chatted about our favourite topics…kids, grandkids, dirty sex (last bit’s a fib) and a glass or two.
Before we’d arrived Sheila had been troubled for a while by a dodgy tummy – something I knew a lot about. She’d had a few tests before our trip and on the day of our return had a call to immediately call her local hospital. The analysis wasn’t good – bowel cancer. She had an operation and chemo to follow. Depressingly familiar. Recovery followed then an aggressive return of the disease in the last few weeks and further surgery, ultimately unsuccessful.
Carol and I visited a few weeks ago and I was saddened to see our true friend struggling. I’d seen many folks during my chemo phase and I think I recognised the signs. We had a moment when we said goodbye. We looked each other in the eye and I know we both knew it’d be our last time together.
Carol and our daughters Emma and Sarah, who’d flown over from NYC, had a last day with Sheila just a couple of weeks ago. They had a really lovely day. But sadly Sheila passed away on St Patrick’s Day last week. If you don’t know she was Irish and quietly proud to be so.
Our great friend Laurie, assisted by his lovely daughters Dawn and Linsey, arranged the funeral for today – they were lucky to get it in as a final service before all churches have been closed. Our intent was to be there of course but this bloody coronavirus situation has steadily got worse over the last week and last night’s HMG advice was to definitely stay at home. I didn’t sleep too much last night thinking of Sheila and got up at 4.30am and waited for the 6am news. It re-confirmed that people should STAY AT HOME and that essential travel only would be permitted and to do otherwise would potentially help spread the coronavirus disease.
We heeded the advice and didn’t go to the funeral, having advise Lawrie last night of our reluctant intentions. Umm.
Now perhaps you should know something about our friend Sheila. We were across-the-road neighbours in our first flat in Wood Green, N London some 40 years ago. We had our first daughter Rebecca who was Down’s Syndrome and baby daughter Emma. Sheila had baby daughter Dawn. Carol and Sheila hit it off straight away as young mums heading to similar clinics/venues etc. But Becksy was different and, let’s face it, most people in those days reacted to her with antipathy (at the least). We were pioneers at getting Becksy into a regular school but many of the kids’ parents weren’t happy with this at all. Carol had to run the gamut of abuse and spit everyday. Hey ho. But Sheila accepted Becksy immediately and it was such a lovely surprise. We had no support network at all in those days as all our family were Northern-based. So a supportive couple like Lawrie and Sheila across the road was a godsend. We all got on famously but at the heart of the relationship was Sheila’s love for Becksy. I tend to think that Sheila’s view of herself as an outsider in the N London scene during the very difficult 70’s made her empathetic to our situation with Becksy.
Whatever, we got on great and it continued as we had our last daughters Sarah and Linsey. We then moved apart workwise and geographically as L&S moved to Yorkshire and we moved out to Buckinghamshire. But we remained true friends over the years sharing many fab holidays, trips, parties, celebrations, weekends, lunches etc.
But here’s the thing; Carol and Sheila became the best of best friends, almost sister-like in their closeness, which I loved. Whenever Carol and I had a moment of difficulty, Sheila was there as a counsel, shoulder, banker, support, guide. She was just the ultimate unquestioning friend. And beautifully natured. So generous and welcoming.
And now we’ve lost her before she’s had any chance to enjoy her retirement with her kids and grandkids and, selfishly, with us. There is no justice in life. We have lost one of the kindest, most selfless, irreplaceable friends and we couldn’t make the journey to her funeral because of this Coronavirus Government restriction. I’m minded to think we should have done it but if you believe this lockdown works then 300 miles of travel makes no sense at all. What’s more important – loyalty or sensibility?
Conflicted Pasta Paulie – love you Shiela. Here’s a nice pic of Carol, Sheila and Becksy