Watching Your Best Friend Die… And How To Deal With It

An interview with my mother.

‘When you think of death, you imagine nothing. I can’t think of her and imagine nothing.’

25th September 2015, 9pm, Ann, my mother received the news that her best friend Debbie’s cancer became more aggressive than ever. Debbie, my mother’s best friend of almost 4 decades, was recently relieved of her cancer that attacked her kidneys, liver and stomach, only through death.

‘Cancer is cruel, it strips you away as a person. You look at the person and sometimes you can’t even recognise them. They turn yellow, they are in pain constantly, it hurts them when they laugh, and their smiles seem like they take effort.’

The day after the bad news was spread, my mother began spending every spare moment with Debbie, I accompanied her 90% of the time. My mother lost her Father a few days after her wedding, and from then on, my Mother struggles with losing people, like everyone does. My mother became a beam of light for Debbie, always bringing meals, and magazines, taking Debbie outside when it was possible, trying to be positive about the situation.

‘As much as you are struggling to keep it together, you have to give that person the best time you possibly can. Things come to an end, life comes to an end, which is why we as human beings have to make the most of it. Sitting in the garden is a thing Debbie loved, she could hear birds, and the children leaving school around the corner from her house, the hustle and bustle of the world gave her that bit of life she needed.’

Debbie’s cancer had been with her for almost a year; sometimes it would go away, but it would always come back. Starting as Breast Cancer, she tackled her way through chemotherapy and radiotherapy whilst my mother patiently stayed with her, and would rub her back as Debbie vomited from the poisons of the therapies. However, that fateful day when the news was told to my mother, she was told that Debbie will not see the New Year. The cancer became so aggressive, it had spread and was not stopping anytime soon. A week later, Debbie moved into a MacMillan hospice, where she could access the pain relief medication, and have nurses to take care of her when my mother couldn’t.

‘It got to the point, where she was in so much pain; I wanted to take the pain from her and have me suffer instead. The pain relief only helped a little, she was constantly in pain. Her smiles became more effort for her, and when we laughed hard, she would hurt afterwards. She told me, ‘As much as it hurts, I want to laugh. I want to feel happy for some brief moments before I go.’ When she mentioned passing I always told her to be quiet. ‘Ann, you don’t know how badly I want to stay, but my body will not let me. You’ll have to laugh for me, and remember our decades of laughter and fun, shenanigans and beautiful, silly moments we’ve had. These are the moments that give me life.’

My mother, as she talks to me about this, is calm and collected. We sat in a coffee shop just two days after Debbie passed away; she did not well up or stumble on her words. She spoke softly, smiling as she spoke, with a distant memory glimmering in her eyes.

‘Watching her pass wasn’t easy. You don’t get over that easily, let me tell you. However, I’m glad she’s no longer in pain. You cannot watch someone you love dearly suffer any longer than I had. Her passing has liberated my mindset, I know this could all change soon, however, I have learnt a lot about how to deal with this grief of losing your bestest friend in the whole wide world.’

My mother having arranged the funeral along with Debbie’s partner Michael, has arranged what is going to be a beautiful day for all those that knew and loved Debbie.


‘That is the day I officially say goodbye. She will always be with me. I will always talk to her when I am having a bad day; I will tell her that I miss her and wish she were still here. I will ask her if heaven is beautiful, and to reserve my seat next to her. I will talk to her about the fun times we had as reckless 21-year-olds. I will talk about how much fun you’re having as a reckless 22-year-old. And I know that she will be listening, she always did and always will.’

My mother has an action plan to deal with her grief.

‘Grief takes time. A LOT of time. But know that I am coping well. I want to pass the information on, and let people know that they are not alone. Death is inevitable. How you deal with it and grow from it is down to you. You are not weak, you are strong. Time will pass, and you will not feel this way forever.’

My mum withdrew from her bag, her notebook with scribbles and to do lists packing out of the seams and read;

‘Number 1. Take your time. Know that you can take as much time as you need. But one day, you are going to realise that your dearly passed beloved would not want you to be sad forever. It may feel like it, but time passes. Talk it out with other friends, cry over memories, and take your time.

Number 2. Preserve every memory you have. I have always kept photo albums, and I have about 10 photo albums purely dedicated to Debbie and I’s friendship over the past 4 decades. Look through them regularly, and remember the memories embedded within those snapshots. Never forget.

Number 3. Appreciate those who are still around you. Hug the ones you love, and be thankful that they are there. Seek support through them, small acts of kindness greatly improve your mind, and talking is therapy.

Number 4. Create a legacy. Be this charity donations or voluntary work. Help others. It is rewarding not only to you, helping you through this tough time. But you could affect someone else’s life in greater ways than you can imagine. At the end of January, I am dying my hair bright pink, and then at the charity pub gathering I am shaving it all off, all in the name of Debbie, the end to cancer, and the nurses who took care of her.

Number 5. Continue to love them, and love yourself because of them. As the days go by, I know I will adjust to life without Debbie. I learnt a lot from her. I’m so happy I got to spend 39 years of my life with her. She is responsible for many things in my life; meeting my husband, my love for UB40, my dirty sense of humour, and my ability to see the best in people.’

My mother smiled, and stated the interview was over. She was tired of talking and was hungry. She wanted a bath and to look through photo albums, have a glass of wine, and laugh with my dad at how silly Debbie’s haircut was back in ‘88.

Grief takes time. But we all learn from it.



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