“Oh my God! you can’t have that song, that’ll totally freak out the old folk” I screeched in alarm at Deborah’s latest obscure choice of music.
“Fuck what they think, it’s not like I’m going to be there anyway” she replied.
“Ok, it’s your funeral”
And we rolled around on the floor laughing at our twisted sense of humour.
Who’d have thought we could find so much to laugh about in the bleakest of circumstances?
But of course, we could, we always did.
We were soul sisters, we’d been through hell and back with each other, always with laughter, tears, love and copious amounts of coffee and cigarettes.
This has been the hardest thing for me to write ever.
How could I even begin to articulate the depth of love, courage and strength that it took for us both to stand by her decision to end her own life?
I’d been with her when she received her diagnosis of primary progressive multiple sclerosis 2 years before.
And I knew then that our paths would eventually lead us to this point.
Whilst she was in complete shock at the time, I was the one who sat by her side holding her hand – making the decision to be the “strong” one, the one she could always talk to about anything.
On the day, the day that changed everything, she was able to talk openly about her fears of completely and utterly being disabled, totally dependent on others to wipe her arse, as she put it.
She didn’t want that.
She made her choice right then and there, that she would not let it get to that point, that she would end her life on her terms, with dignity.
I wanted to tell her not to focus on the worse, that it might never get to that point, but what I said was;
“Whatever you choose to do, I want you to know that you will never have to be alone with this. Whenever and wherever you need to talk about this I promise you I will be here for you always.”
We hugged and wept in that small square outside the Neurological Hospital in London, oblivious to the on-lookers passing us by.
‘That time’ came way quicker than either of us thought it would.
2 years went by in a flash.
THE PRACTICALITIES OF SUPPORTING MY BEST FRIEND
THROUGH HER END OF LIFE TRANSITION
Deborah needed to talk and I became the only person in her life that was able to hold that space for her, to explore what ‘the end’ might be like, to have those conversations about ‘how’ and ‘when’ she was going to choose to end her pain and suffering.
It was the only gift that I could give her during those two years.
We planned her funeral together in those final months.
Picking out the music, the flowers, the casket, the cremation, where she wanted her ashes scattered.
And strange as it may seem those were happy times for me to reflect on.
We took that selfie above at one of those planning sessions.
Her family was so incredibly relieved to discover that we had made these plans when the time came, because they were in shock and honestly had no clue about what her likes and dislikes were.
And even though they were not too keen on some of the choices she made, it felt good to be her voice when she was not around, to assure them that if they went along with her choices they were honouring her wishes to the end.
I could appreciate that her elderly mother felt a little uncomfortable that ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll’ by Ian Dury played as the casket rolled into the furnace.
But it bought a smile to everyone’s face, as they connected for a brief moment to the essence that was Deborah.
WHAT WAS ESSENTIAL FOR ME DURING THIS TIME?
How did I cope during those two years, knowing that at some point my dearest, closest friend would choose to depart this earth?
It wasn’t always easy.
I couldn’t imagine a life without her, she was my rock. She was the one person in my life who knew everything about me.
We addressed this together. As we planned for her funeral, we also planned how I was going to get through the time and space without her physical presence.
Even now after nearly 7 years there are tears flowing as I write this.
She’d already encountered several near-death experiences in her life and knew that physical death was not the end, that her spirit would live on.
We talked about how she could possibly make her presence known to me at those times when I needed comfort.
And we agreed that she would visit me as a butterfly whenever I needed a reminder.
I kid you not in the 6+ years since she transitioned I have seen butterflies in the oddest, most strangest of places and at times of the year when butterflies really shouldn’t be seen, but always when I needed it most.
As you could imagine looking after my own health and wellbeing during this time was essential.
I did all of that and it helped me to get through, but did it stop me from grieving?
I lost a part of myself, when I lost my best friend.
But I am so incredibly grateful for the time we had together and for my role in helping to ease her transition.
It was an honour and a precious blessing that I will always cherish.