Posts Tagged ‘death’


I was editing the next part of my Scottish trip but this morning we had to have our beloved Minstrel put down due to a dreadful and terminal attack of colic.



I will get back to you when I have recovered myself a bit.  The kindest most good natured horse I have ever known.  We had him for nearly 20 years.  Our wonderful vet would have tried anything and so would we but he said that he was in agony and the journey alone to the vet hospital would be purgatory, then months and months of pain and terrible distress, and for a pony in his late 20s that was unkind to say the least.

The guilt is what is getting to me the worst.  Yesterday I thought he looked a bit under the weather but nothing to make me worry and I was bone tired and hardly able to stand myself.  If only I had taken action then and not fallen into bed.  My husband gave them their evening feeds and noticed nothing amiss but I should have gone to check myself.  But by this morning it was too late.

Life is full of ‘if onlys’.

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My friend J. has died.

Those of you following this story recently will know that there was no other possible outcome.

She died two weeks ago, just one week after I managed to get her some medical help.

She was so happy with her nurses and the help in the house and felt safe and secure.  The Dr. thought she had a few more weeks.

I had a few days away scheduled which had been booked months ago, and was going with a friend who had been recently bereaved.  I was feeling anxious about going and did not want to let either friend down.  However, J. had lots of people coming in and out, and seemed very settled as far as possible given her physical symptoms.  I last spoke to her on the Tuesday and she was up, dressed and seemed to be doing very well given the circumstances, so I left, feeling reasonably happy.  She died on the following Friday when I was in Germany.

A mutual friend, D had been in to see her that morning and J’s niece said that she had gone down hill very rapidly.  D. txted me to let me know that the end was close which was thoughtful of her.

And then began the madness:-

I txted the niece to sympathise and send my love to J if she was conscious enough to receive it.  In response I received a rather brusque reply wanting to know only who had told me.  Some hours later another txt followed with the news that she had died.

After that I received lots of txts both from the niece and another close friend of J both telling me that they had had a severe quarrel, and wanting to let me know their side of it and saying how upset they both were.  I did my best to be conciliatory to both and remind them of how strongly and differently people react to grief.  After a couple of days when the txts were still coming and now I was being asked where papers etc were in the house I grew irritated: they both knew I was abroad.  So I replied a little curtly that there was nothing I could do until I returned.

I did my best not to spoil my other friend’s trip but I must admit that I was sad and rather pre-occupied.

The bare facts were these:

The Undertaker had been contacted and arrangements made to collect J’s body,  all before she was dead.

Her cat had been sent to the RSPCA while J was still alive though another friend said she had found it a home and others were coming in daily to see to it.  J had gained great comfort from it sleeping on her bed but her niece thought this was a dirty thing to allow.

Her niece and family left J while she was still alive and went back to their house a couple of hours away, so J died without friends or family present, but luckily with the lovely nurse still there.  No friends had been contacted to ask if they would like to be with J while she died.

All other friends who have spoken to me say they were positively discouraged from calling.

Now, viewed from different angles there can be alternative readings of these facts.  And I always begin from the premise that most people mean well even if they do not always make the best decisions.  I have been given totally conflicting interpretations of these facts and one friend is now frightened of some of J’s relatives having sent some extremely ill-judged comments and made some highly-charged and accusatory phone calls.  I was not there for which I am really sorry because no-one would have intimidated me in those circumstances (if this is what happened) or made me stay away. However, I am staying neutral and trying to mop up what I can.  J is no longer around and I can do nothing for the poor cat.  J was well looked after and whatever happened can only have occurred over three days, during which her downward spiral was clearly devastatingly quick.  But – how sad.

J and her family belonged to a small Christian sect, although she never proselytized.  In this sect no burial service takes place but family and only the closest friends gather around the grave and the men only say some prayers and do some readings. They do not have ministers. I was grateful to be invited to this burial.  I needed to see J laid to rest.

A Memorial Service had been organized to take place after the burial and I was asked if I would like to sit with the family for this, which was very kind.

Although I and several other of J’s friends were dreading the whole day, and especially not having a burial service, we had keyed ourselves up for it.  It was to take place last Friday.

On the Thursday I rang the niece to ask for the name of the Undertaker to make sure that I met them all at the right place and time. I also wanted to find out whether it would be possible for me to go and say goodbye to J at the Funeral Parlour, but was told that it was not possible. I found out the details of the burial and on the Friday went up an hour and a half ahead of time to make sure i knew the place and found where to meet everyone. Then I went for a quick coffee.  I should have taken a hip flask.

At the appointed time I was at the entrance, car parked and nerves braced.  For the first 15 minutes when they did not appear I put it down to traffic problems.  After 25 minutes I began to worry that somehow things had gone wrong but did not like to ring J’s niece in case they were in the middle of prayers somewhere.  I rang the Undertaker but got no answer.  I finally txted the niece after 40 minutes after they were due asking whether there was a problem.  No answer, but that was not surprising.  After 50 minutes I managed to get through to the Undertaker.  He said that the burial was all over and done with and now everyone was at the church hall for the Memorial Service which I could attend if I wanted.

Naturally I queried the information they had given me the previous day, getting more upset as the conversation continued.  He said that I was at the wrong entrance and no hearses could go in there.  I said that it was exactly as he had described and it was a wide metalled road and anyway how could I know where hearses went, i was not an Undertaker. He was most dismissive and appeared not to care by which time I must admit to being distraught. I had missed being with J when she died, in controversial circumstances, and now had missed seeing her laid to rest, apparently due to further misinformation and lack of communication.  I had no idea even of where her grave was.

I’m ashamed to say that I collapsed completely in tears.  In this state I did not even feel I could go to the Memorial Service: it was about J, not me, and entering in my present state would cause some comment.  There was no time to go home or find somewhere to pull myself together, since the Service was starting at that moment.  So I missed that too.

Driving through a torrent of tears I took myself out of the city, through the country lanes and past J’s little cottage and home to have a good cry.

Later that day D rang me to see why I was not at the Service and she was crying saying she had not liked the Service and that it was not really about J, at least not the J we knew and loved.  People spoke from the church who had not really known her, nobody seemed to have asked any questions about her to make it personal, and mostly the comments were about the Sect and their beliefs with several references to the fact that now J’s body was ‘rotting’.  “Although the room was full of love for J somehow it was not made apparent or given voice in the Service itself”.  We know that the niece said they were not close because of the actions of others, but it seems so strange not to have asked J’s friends for anecdotes or facts about her life.  Several things said were quite wrong.  In fact D said it was a good thing I had not been there.

So there we are.  D and I feel very lost and rather ‘up in the air’ having no real conclusion or resolution to the end of our friendship with J.  We are going to the Cemetery this week to search for her grave and then we will leave our own flowers, say our own things, have a bit of a cry and then go for a coffee.

Somehow, it all seems of a piece: the months of misinformation, lack of communication and denial ending like this.  I seem to have been in a maze trying to get through to obtain the necessary help and support for my friend who seemed to deny needing it.  There is nobody to blame: just differing beliefs, controversial and conflicting ‘medical’ opinions and lots of denial.  And perhaps some lack of empathy and imagination on the part of some.  I’m not sure I will ever really understand people.

NB  While I was in Germany I was in Berlin.  One evening we managed to buy last minute tickets to the Berlin Philharmonic, sitting in the ‘gods’.  It was an evening of rare playing and enthusiasm, quite extraordinarily wonderful.  There was a cello concerto and for an encore the soloist played a piece of Bach that J had taught me.  Since she had just died I sat there in tears.  Perhaps that was really when I said goodbye to her and the rest I should just let go.


 (Photo from http://tigorrejones.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/this-is-what-i-want-to-be.html)

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All change

What a difference a day can make.

The three of us who have been supporting my friend J. finally managed to meet and exchange phone nos.  so we could compare notes.  J. has been telling us all different things, not contrary, just managing information so each of us had a piece, but no-one had the whole picture.

We managed to track down her niece through someone in her Church and then I  could speak to her and update her on everything.  Apparently she has been trying to visit but J. kept putting her off because she was frightened her niece would call a doctor.

Anyway, a couple of days ago we three decided that the time had come to insist to J. that she was seriously ill and we no longer felt we could cope with the increasing necessities of her care.  We were dreading it and felt terrible.

Just as I was preparing to leave home a box arrived containing these:


They were from my oldest friend who lives in Southern Ireland, and consisted of white roses and mauve freesias which smelt glorious!  They were in mauve tissue, cellophane and tied up with a dark purple ribbon, so pretty.  The timing could not have been better: it made such a difference to my day and I felt so supported in the hard task which lay ahead.

When I arrived at J.’s house it was to find that she had spent the night on the floor beside her bed: the emergency services had to come and lift her and get her back into bed for us.  It transpired that she had not fallen but had been to the loo in the night, not been able to get up off the loo so had kind of slipped herself onto the floor and crawled out of the bathroom, across the hallway, through her bedroom to the bed but not been able to get up into bed so had very sensibly pulled the covers off and tried to roll herself into them for the night.

I’m afraid that this could not have been more providential.  We used this as an indication to J. that if she did not see a Doctor now and take control of her treatment she risked being taken to Hospital over some future incident and would lose control over her treatment.

She understood the sense of this and agreed easily, without us having to insist that she was very ill or that she has cancer.  The conversation we were dreading.

At this point her niece arrived unexpectedly for us all, and we sat with J. while we waited for the Doctor to visit.  A lovely, gentle, young, lady Doctor arrived while J. was having a nap so we were able to fill her in on the whole story.  Then she went to see J. and made her assessment.  Never did she insist on any treatment that J. did not want nor did she insist to J. that she had terminal cancer, she just decided to enlist the support services of the Palliative Care Team.  She left at 5.45 pm and by 9.00 pm a night nurse had come to sit with J. for the whole night and District Nurses began to come in the very next morning and will be coming twice a day to bathe, dress and help J. get up/go to bed.  J. now has a hospital bed in her room which moves and sits her up at the touch of a button, a night nurse and helpers twice a day.  Since the weekend was a Bank Holiday over here the Social Services could not be brought in very easily but we are hoping they will come on board this week to come and clean and cook.

J. says she feels much more secure now and seems so happy: she says she has the best of both worlds, support from the NHS and her continuing treatment from the homeopath and herbalist.

Although the day went so well it was actually very traumatic: J. told her niece that she was her Executor and I managed to track down J.’s will which is in store with an on-line will-writing company.  Since then I have had long conversations with her niece about what I know and what I can help her with after J.’s death and we all feel that we are working together.

However, J. is still adamant that she does not have cancer and that all her symptoms are just from an exhausted body which has fought off the cancer.  She has just rung her pupils to tell them that she will begin teaching again in five weeks!!  The Doctor told us that nothing was definite but in her opinion J. only had a maximum of between 3 and 4 weeks left to live.  In my experience night sitters are only provided in the last two weeks of life but perhaps calling the emergency services made a difference in this situation.  Yesterday J. asked me to contact her builder to get him to come and put a coal bunker at her little cottage so that she would have fuel for her fire when she moves in.  I have never met this kind of complete denial before.  It appears that she is not even kidding herself but really and truly believes her own reality.  Ah well, if that is what is necessary for her, it must be the kindest way to cope.

I finally reached home at 7.30 pm and was so tired I could barely crawl into bed myself.  A mixture of reactions I expect.  But as I walked into the kitchen the smell of freesias was sweet and fresh and the flowers had opened out:



Where would we be in this world without kindness, compassion and thoughtfulness.  I have seen so much of all these today and am truly grateful.

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A very sad morning here on the ranch.

Debra has been sitting on her egg now for 32 days.  Hatch times vary according to species of goose from 28-35 days.

When i went to let her out this morning I found that during the night she had somehow stood on the egg and smashed part of the shell and rolled it out of the nest.  An absolutely perfect gosling, with its head tucked under its wing and its eyes open, was lying in the carnage, cool, not yet cold, but quite dead.  Judging from the blood vessels in the shell and the remainder of the yolk, the gosling was just on the point of beginning the hatching process.

So no little pipping or squeaking baby here today.  After all this time, on the point of a successful hatch, it was killed.  Debra has not noticed but I feel so bereft.  And I did not even want any more geese.  But I am a soft touch for anything small and feathery and am sitting here with my eyes full of tears for what might have been, and so nearly was.

A tiny blip on the world’s radar, but a real, albeit small, tragedy here this morning.

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Yesterday the news was announced that the bones unearthed beneath a car park in Leicester are indeed those of Richard III.  Wow.  This is stupendous.

The BBC website has an article:

Richard III dig: DNA confirms bones are king’s


and yesterday Channel 4 ran a programme detailing the search and the scientific methods used.  Amongst those was radio-carbon dating, reconstruction of his face and DNA searches – leading to the finding of the last two of the living Plantagenets: one wished to remain anonymous, the other,  a Canadian man  – Michael – lives and works in London.  There were definite similarities between the reconstructed face and Michael’s.  Makes tingles go up the spine.

Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist, said at the press conference, “Beyond reasonable doubt, the individual exhumed at Greyfriars in September, 2012, is indeed Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England.”

As the bones were carried from the site in a large cardboard box, Richard III’s standard was placed over the box: this was a very moving moment and a suitably dignified symbol for the last king before those bloody, a word I use advisedly, Tudors with their PR machines and spin doctors.

It is said that he will be reburied in Leicester Cathedral, the city where he was found and near to Bosworth Field where he was killed.  However, another battle is commencing: that between Yorkshire, from whence Richard hailed, and Leicester.  York Minster says that only a Cathedral of its importance is suitable for a King of England and since he was a Yorkshireman, this is only right and proper.  I tend to agree, but I suppose I would, living in Yorkshire!
It is also hoped that this might also signal a reconstruction of Richard’s true history, as far as possible by unravelling some of Henry VII propaganda.  I have never believed the stories circulated about Richard III since reading Josephine Tey’s book ‘The Daughter of Time’. Henry had only a very tenuous claim to the throne and it was only by killing and vilifying Richard that Henry managed to obtain the throne at all.  The sources from Yorkshire written during Richard’s life portray him as a warrior but a fair and supportive brother to his eldest brother, Edward IV, and known for his moderate and fair methods in striving after truth and justice. When the Council of York met after Richard’s death, and when Henry was declaring himself King. the Council was brave enough to issue a message declaring their sadness at the death of Richard: I think this says volumes about the depth of feeling for Richard – to make such a statement in the face of Henry’s victory was to invite death.
The mystery of the murder of his two nephews remains.  Did he or did he not, kill them?  It has always seemed much more likely that Henry had this done secretly to prevent a succession.
I, for one, will watch this space with fascination!!
PS  I have just discovered an online petition urging the burial to take place in York Minster: if anyone would like to sign this is the link:

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Six months on, and what is the state concerning my friend and her cottage.

(The end of the lane and beginning of the footpath climbing up into the hills):

Much paperwork ensued and consultations with Land Registry and Solicitors.  The cottage needs considerable renovation to make it how my friend would like, so she never expected to be able to move straight in.

Her house is up for sale but the housing market over here is fairly static and so far she is still in her original house but that is fine, it gives her plenty of time to make the cottage snug and to gradually dispose of possessions: a quart into a pint pot just will not go.

Well, first off, we had a tussle with the Land Registry concerning ownership of the side garden, coal bunker and concrete hard standing.  We soon dispensed with her solicitor who just moaned and said nothing was possible.  I became very knowledgeable about land law concerning old property!  Since it was built before 1780 the cottage had never registered its land rights, just absorbed and used the land around.  I will not bore you with the whole dreary procedure, but it involved us in an appeal for which I carried out a professional botanical and archaeological survey: we ended up with land rights over the hard standing, the coal bunker and parking rights at the end of the garden and permission to use the garden as if it were hers.  If there had been a gate at the end of the garden she could claim that permanently, since it is walled round, but there was no gate.  However, if my friend puts a gate up now, the land will become hers in 12 years time unless someone appeals against it.

Then I suggested she try to buy a strip of land behind her cottage from the local farmer.  Hers is one of three and the oldest: they were all used as Work Houses and as the demand grew, a new cottage was built along the row.  Hers is at one end. The farmer’s field abuts the cottage making the back wall damp:

if she can have the land she can dig back, have a retaining wall constructed, and put in windows and a back door and have storage space out the back.  This would also help with drainage in case of heavy rain bringing water off the fields. This is what the other two cottages have done.

I learned this week that the farmer has decided to sell her the strip of land she wants.  Wonderful.

Talks with the planning officer are ongoing: the architect submitted plans for a first storey  extension over the existing side extension, but they were refused.  In my experience face-to-face is always the best way to go, and I suggested that my friend go straight to the planning officer bypassing the architect, and invite the officer out to view the cottage and have a cup of tea and a scone while they chatted about what might be possible.  My friend has found out a great deal of the history of the cottage, loves it dearly, and wants to do nothing that might spoil or compromise the cottage and its architecture.  The planning officer needs to know this.

I also learned this week that they have spoken and the planning officer has agreed to come out for a visit and a chat as she has some leave due. They got on well!!

After Christmas husband and I worked on the cottage for a day, removing the modern fireplaces and exposing the old stone hearth.  Since then a builder has been employed who has made the internal flue safe, restored the old stone lintel, removed some modern internal walls, repaired the chimney, and put leading across the join with next door’s roof to repair a leak.  He and his sidekick are helpful, friendly and anxious to please.

He has also removed some old damp plaster and revealed the original, very wide floor boards.  I hope to go round this week and take some photos which I will post here when I have them.

It is all very exciting and my friend is ecstatic.  She has ordered a range to fit into the exposed fireplace – cherry red – and found extra small machines for the kitchen:  a tiny electric cooker to add to the range’s possibilities, a narrow fridge/freezer and dishwasher.  She has had enormous fun looking through magazines, contacting suppliers and finding just the things she wants.   She has got to know her neighbour, let’s call her ‘S’: ‘S’ is thrilled to have the prospect of a live-in neighbour rather than the holiday cottage which she thought it might become.   This, unfortunately, has just happened to number three.   S has lived there for many years and feeds the wildlife:  baby pheasants wander along to pick up bird seed which has fallen down from her many bird feeders, as do baby ducklings and moorhens from the stream.  Parent birds leave their fledging babies at her feet while they go off to search for food.  In fact, the local wildlife is so used to her that even the mice and voles in the stone walls come out when ‘S’ comes with little pieces of meat for them to eat.  S’s garden:

She has feeders and bird tables outside her cottage and also hanging from a tree in a nearby field.

To reach this tree she has to cross the little bridge

and climb over the stone wall, which she does on a daily basis.

But this is a bitter-sweet story.

We learned a few weeks ago that my friend has cancer.  Aggressive and already in the lymphatic system.  Devastation.

The medics  swung into immediate action with a five year plan of various interventions and already begun chemo.  I cannot go into details here, but they are giving it everything they have, I cannot fault them on that.  But my friend has decided that she would rather go down the alternative route and has been persuaded by an alternative treatment concerning cyanide in apple pips and apricot kernels as a way to kill the cancer cells, so she has given up the chemo. and is not taking the medics up on their traditional treatments.  I cannot begin to give advice, but this worries me greatly.  All I could do was suggest that she talk widely to a selection of different practitioners and medics. before making such a life and death decision.

Of course her feelings must be desperate: I try to offer support.  The cottage is proving a distraction for her and she is bravely pushing on with plans for the future. But I have such a feeling of powerlessness, pain and sorrow.  This seems to happen so often to people: you see someone on the brink of a lifetime’s ambition, whether to see grandchildren grow up or follow some other dream and, wham! it is snatched away.  The unfairness.  I know the philosophers accept that life is random but sometimes it does not seem so, it seems very personal maliciousness.

Yesterday morning I heard that another friend’s husband died in the night after a long struggle with cancer and next week yet another close friend will get the results of a biopsy.  I am aching for them all, but the sun is shining, the birds are singing and tonight I am going out with daughter in law and grandson.  As a blog friend recently said, “make the most of each day”.

Sorry to end on a sad note: but perhaps there is a silver lining.

The cottage, the stream,

the wildlife,

(by the way, the white pieces hanging off the tree are not plastic, they are sheep’s wool from the sheep presently in the field!)  the kind neighbour, the helpful farmer, the lovely builders, the considerate planning officer, the views

are all still there.  The dream is still there.

And whatever the future may hold, perhaps it is worth feeling the dream within one’s hand and taking pleasure from planning for it, rather than never coming close at all.

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Woke to another silent house this morning.

I love silence, often crave it.  But it is the kind of silence in which you can hear the wind blow, the insects fly, the leaves flutter, a cat purr, a hen cluck to its chicks, a tail wag, a parrot quietly singing to itself, a clock tick, embers in a fire fall, and a dog snoring quietly on the landing.  Not this dead silence.  Even the parrots are quiet this morning.  I suppose the dynamics of the household have changed so much that they feel differently in some way.

We used to have to keep a dog gate on the stairs to prevent the pack running up and down stairs, claws clattering on the wood as they saw something pass along the lane and got ready to defend the castle.  Can two dogs form a pack? Indeed they can.

I often closed the study door so that I could concentrate against the rowdy crowd, or used to shut them away downstairs to get some peace.  Be careful what you wish for.

There is plenty of peace now.  A dead peace.  Not a squeak.

When out walking I never gave  thought to my safety even deep in the woods: you hear of mad men who murder women out walking even with a dog.  Ulf was far too large for anyone to mess with: for one so sweet he looked very intimidating.  When he stood on his back legs he could put his paws on a man’s shoulders.  I have not only lost a friend I have lost my feeling of freedom and security to walk wherever I wish with not a care in the world.

Last night I was typing away with the study door open: suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ulf lying in the doorway as he used.  I turned quickly, but nothing.

Husband is talking of getting another dog to cheer up No. 2 dog.  I see his reasoning.  But it is not a case of one out, one in: it is not another dog I want, it is Ulf.  No.2 dog is a nice dog: he has come on very much over the years we have had him after his cruel start in life.  But ultimately he is a self-reliant, self-contained dog because he has had to be.  He does not like other dogs and animals or vehicles and is very strong for his size.  Walking him is never relaxing as he is always on the look out for something to fight and I can barely hold him back when he is determined or frightened.  He learned early in life that attack is the best form of defence and that his very survival depended on his ability to be strong and fight for food.  I am so pleased to be able to give him a new life and a loving home.  But he will never be my reliable friend because he is a doggy dog and has issues.  Ulf was lucky enough never to have to face such harsh realities

I am very lucky: my blogging friends have been beyond wonderful and they have made a huge difference, I really do feel physically supported by them.  You know who you are, thank you so much.  Locally, another friend rang me up to commiserate and one neighbour came by specially to sympathise – he was fond of Ulf too.  My new neighbour down the road thoughtfully came up the other day to go for a walk.  Without my saying anything she knew that it would be difficult for me to walk the old paths so she kept me company for a long walk.  But it was still so hard: I could hardly concentrate on what she was saying, I could see Ulf walking or bounding along beside me.  And there are so many paths and places, so many different times of day and weather.  No one can accompany me along them all.  And frankly I do not want them to.  I did not want that walk.  I wanted to go away to somewhere different.  This is between me and Ulf.

Today is glorious: a crisp morning, bright blue sky, no clouds, full sunshine.  Asking for a walk.  No way.  Not yet. Not again.

Many people will be irritated with my maunderings: there are so many worse things in the world, so many worse losses.  But they miss the point.  Given my history, trust is a big issue.  Animals cannot let you down, what you see is what you get.  They are my ultimate security.

R used to argue with me over that.  She was not a huge animal lover although she would never have been cruel to one.  She once said to me that if I were starving I would eat my dog so I should get a sense of perspective.  Perhaps she was right.  But I cannot imagine doing so. Mercifully I have never been in that position.

My friend has been texting me: people have been protective and helpful as she has had to clear R’s room in the Nursing Home.   The neighbours of R with whom my friend is staying and who reacted rather badly to my going to support my friend have indeed be supportive and ‘shadowing her’ in her sad task.  She says she is managing OK although she has frequent attacks of ‘water works’.  I texted back that that made two of us.  R’s funeral will be in the tiny village church my friend was married in, and she will be buried where her parents, her husband, his brothers and parents are.   It is a church R knew from being very young and is situated in beautiful English countryside, with a tiny picture-postcard graveyard.

My friend’s younger sister came up to help her yesterday for a few hours and today my friend thought she would spend some time with her cousin to whom she is very close.  There has been a lot to organise and many practical tasks for her to do, which always helps.  But I wish so much that I could be there just to quietly keep her company.  Here, I have been cooking and freezing lots of meals to leave for my husband when I am in France.  Today I shall pick the last of the top fruit and clean the house.  Keep busy.  Do not sit down and notice the emptiness. Do not  think.

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