This Weltschmerz I referred to in the previous post likely also stems from a few other things I should fill you in on. One in particular…
Probably something I haven’t quite processed yet, on June 21 Canada Katie died. Only what, 2 months after Lucy? Some of you who have been here for a while might be surprised that it didn’t happen sooner, you probably thought I just didn’t mention it. But no, she had still been around, having thought she might not make it to Christmas so I guess you would say that’s good…
For those of you who don’t know of Canada Katie, I have written about her before.
She and I hadn’t been in direct contact for a while, understandably she was concentrating on her immediate realm of connections, but I had stayed in the loop through her amazing family members who accepted me into the clan. She said to me once ‘I can’t keep progression to myself until I’m at the end.’ And I knew that when she withdrew, it was because she was preparing. She didn’t want to drag more people through it step-by-step as it happened than she had to. I respected that, it was up to her to deal with it however she wanted to, and I knew that our love and connection was so much more than to worry about not hearing from her. In an entirely selfish way, it was hard. But I think should I be in the same circumstance I would likely do the same.
I got the message from her husband Keith that we were nearing the end. He took the time to let me know, with a wonderful amount of love and information. Early last year I hunted down my little cow Clarence’s brother and sent him to Katie. A little brown version of my little black and white Clarence. She named him Claxton, a British family name she had researched, and obviously related to my little cow’s name. She took him along to every appointment, he was holding her hand just as Clarence has held mine through so many things. I hope her husband won’t mind me saying, but when he messaged me in her final days, he let me know that Claxton was right there with her. I felt a rush of love in my heart for her, for him, for them all. She held Claxton as she was read her last rights. Keith even read out a message to her that I sent. I was also in contact with her sister in law. I felt like I was there, allowed into the inner sanctum, reaching out my hand to sit on top of hers as her chest rose and fell through her last few days of breaths.
It’s harder to process something like this when you hadn’t had daily contact with the person for a while, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been in my thoughts every day.
I wanted to share a couple of videos she made. Even while she was going through treatment for her metastatic breast cancer, she was doing these amazing projects – 100 days of Random Acts of Kindness, and 100 days of Gratitude, little Youtube videos where she spoke about things that she was grateful for and acts of kindness she had received. There are obviously a lot of them, but I thought I’d share the two she made about me:
Watching them makes me smile. And cry (especially in the second one). But it’s amazing to have these videos to watch Katie and a little snippet of our lives together frozen in time.
She sent me things too. She sent me a book she was reading that I expressed interest in. She made little notes to me in it about her favourite bits and the parts that meant something to her. When I bought my flat, she got flowers delivered to me from my local florist to say congrats.
I was even organising a surprise with her husband for me to go and visit them. Katie and I had fun talking about what we would do and where she would take me. I told her it all sounded great but I would also just like to sit with her and exist together, depending on how she was feeling and what she was capable of. But that was when she found out that it had spread and the treatment options were not working and starting to look worryingly limited and unfortunately, it was never able to eventuate. Though discussing the possibilities of my trip was a fun distraction for us regardless and provided a bit of hope in some tough times.
I learned so much from her. And we talked about everything. We discussed things like if there was a point when you stop accepting treatment. We discussed how to tell people about bad news. This was something that plagued her, as she hated feeling like she had let people down as she got more ill. I remember talking to her as she got one lot of bad results, she was dreading that she was going to have to drop it on Keith when he got home from work. I’ll never forget the times she told me bits of bad news, far more worried about how it would affect me than how hard it was for her. She felt terrible thrusting me into a world where my friend was dying. I told her that I had thought long and hard about this (after our mutual friend Amy died) and it was a decision I was actively making to be there, that I couldn’t imagine a life where I hadn’t met her. She thought a lot about those she would be leaving behind.
‘Today I’ve thought about you processing my death. It is impossible not to feel responsible. I know it’s not my fault but I still am so sorry.’
I would write her little snippets of what it felt like from where I was when she got the next set of bad news:
‘I’ve been watching the world pass these last few days, watching everyone go about their daily life. On the bus, on the train, going to work, going to the gym, meeting up with friends, complaining about the weather, small talk at the sink, ‘how are you’ in passing… In such juxtaposition to how everything would have just stopped for you since Friday. In my mind there is a little bubble around you, and the whole outside world just keeps running around busily and here you are, trying to deal with the biggest news, everything slowing down as you are suspended in this world of not knowing what’s happening and not knowing how to manage with any of it. I feel like I’m looking in to this little bubble, peering into your little snow globe from the outside, like I can tap on the glass and watch, caught between time being stuck with you, and these people rushing around behind me, their lives just ticking by day to day, not knowing the gravity of the last few days, not understanding how in your little corner of Ottawa, everything has just stopped.’
She would take the time to lay out all the information that she’d been given from her oncologist for me, and we would discuss it at length, trying to make sense of it, validating each other’s concerns, then distracting ourselves with stories of other things. ‘Tell me something good’ she would say and I would regale her with stories of people I had met or places I had been.
As you all know, talking about the language used around cancer is so important to me, and Katie taught me a lot about why certain words and phrases bothered me so much. I guess she had been living with cancer for some time when I jumped on the scene, so she was my guide. And whenever talking about these things I now think not only about me and my situation, but Katie and others who are in totally different situations and how things might come across to them. She led the way in vulnerability and honesty.
But we didn’t just talk about cancer and progression. I’ve been reading back over our conversations since it all started with our first interaction when I was trying to be open minded about reiki: watching our lives unfold as we told each other more and more about ourselves, sharing photos, and many declarations of love as our friendship grew from people who interacted on twitter to proper, true friends who would tell each other any news we had and share in the experience, be it good or bad things. We wanted to know what each other was eating for dinner, what we were doing on the weekend, we lapped up details of each other’s lives.
In those last few days that she was dying, I got this overwhelming feeling of ripples spreading throughout the world as Keith let people know online and people started to realise, the twitter world were contacting me to say that they were thinking of me, having seen first hand the public snippets of our friendship. Even people I had never spoken to before reached out. They knew.
I think she worried about being forgotten. Don’t we all? That when we no longer breathe, the memory of us will die too. That we will leave no legacy. But I felt her legacy in those days. I had known it prior, but it wasn’t until then that I really felt it. I pictured the webs connecting point to point across the world, starting in Ottawa and moving outwards until they traversed the whole globe. The different ways we had all been connected through Katie.
I take Katie with me every day. I have since I first met her. She’s there in every thing I do, every conversation I have, the way I conduct myself through life, in the advice and support I give to others. And I still want to message her when something good or bad happens so we can chat about it. But I can’t. I don’t think that ever goes away. Though I can check in on her family. You never want to make a nuisance of yourself but I’ll just keep myself in the periphery. These people mean so much to me and I won’t leave them.
I’ll say one thing, selfishly, about knowing someone you know is going to die (I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again)… It gives you the chance to tell them how much they mean to you. Isn’t that a ridiculous thing to say? That you wait until someone is dying to tell them just how important they are? I like to think I tell my friends and family how much I appreciate them. Perhaps I’m more inclined to after a few drinks, but I have always made a point of telling people when they mean something to me. Even just if it’s just something small that I’ve appreciated. Don’t take for granted that the people you know will always be there. I told Katie regularly how much I love and appreciate her and how much she means to me so I have no regrets that she didn’t know how important she was or that there was anything left unsaid.
On her twitter bio she says ‘eternally on the brink of greatness’. But my dear Katie, you are not on the brink. You are eternally great. You were far too humble to ever really understand the effect you’ve had on the world, but I know you took great pride in everything you did because you were doing some fantastic work and there’s no denying that. I will love you forever and I will make sure people never stop hearing about you. You are and will always be a guiding light in my world.
4 Comments Add yours
Thank you…this is quite a legacy. As a survivor, it’s amazing to see the impact of those that go thru the entire journey. You were w great friend at such a time, especially. God Bless.
Beautifully written heartfelt post Jen, which I read with great sadness.
Life doesn’t really get much tougher than this and it pains me so to see you go through all these emotions at such a young age.
It really makes me think of all the years, free of this suffering, where Cancer was never in any of our thoughts. It also makes me think of the people out there who have had nothing but suffering all their lives. Your predicament has really bought this all home to me.
Whether it be for health reasons or for reasons non related there is a lot of suffering in this world.
It was interesting to read about how there’s times when you just keep things to yourself. I can understand this as one doesn’t want to burden other peoples lives, day in, day out.
It makes me think about how isolating this disease can be and also how it can affect relationships.
It’s particularly tough being a friend or relation in this situation, as you no doubt have experienced with my little adventures over the last couple of years.
I’ve felt the isolation thing and keeping to oneself from time to time but from my position as parent in your situation, and the experience I’ve gained, I have tried to include people as much as I can because I realise they are genuinely affected also.
Perish the thought that Cancer can also turn friends and close relatives into strangers.
Mum & I are so proud of you, the way you have handled yourself through this terrible time and the help you readily give out to fellow sufferers. Your’e a Gem, Jen, if ya get my drift.
Love you so,
My sympathies are all with you Jen, on your sad loss of a very special person.
So much love for you. Big hugs xx