Monday, April 21, 2008


When I was at school I had two separate groups of schoolfriends, both comprising three girls plus me. One set comprised my official “best” friends – my very best, my second best and my third best. Sounds ridiculous but that’s kind of the way it was. We went around together most of the time, sat together in class and knew one another’s secrets. But these girls all took packed lunches while I ate in the canteen. So my lunchtime friends were three other girls: M, G and S, with whom I also shared a lot of girlish chat.

I’m still in touch with all of these girls, though with some more than others. I’ve always seen M intermittently – she would come down for a meal with the family maybe once a year. She was unmarried, and when you have small children you sometimes hesitate to inflict yourself on childless friends whose life is more focused on a successful career than on picking up bits of Lego from the floor. But we got on well and she was very empathetic and – a lovely person. I’ve always been rather enchanted by her. In fact, when I was a girl, I really wanted to BE her. She was from an interesting and talented family and always seemed to be confident – not in an arrogant way, but calmly, as if life were simple. In fact, like the rest of us she had her neuroses, as I found out later in life. But she was sweet.

One of the surprising things about her was that she always seemed to fall for unsuitable boys/men. They were older than her, or they were planning on a career that wouldn’t have fitted in with her plans (for example, one was very religious and planned to be a minister, while she wasn’t at all religious) or they had emotional problems … anyway, though she was very attractive, she never seemed to find her life partner. And then, in her late thirties she did, though he came with baggage: he was quite a lot older, had been through a messy divorce and was wary of commitment. Eventually he recovered from this and they got married, but she was in her late forties by then.

At first when they got together, we asked them both to the house but he didn’t want to be regarded as part of a couple so she came by herself. Later, they did both come to dinner but we didn’t feel it was a great success. He was nice enough but I don’t think we had much in common and they never asked us back. He was retired but had been a top civil servant and clearly had lots of money and she was also quite a high earner and I suppose I vaguely thought that we didn’t seem important enough to him. I was sad about it but on the other hand, she seemed to have found happiness, which was good.

M and I continued to stay in touch via Christmas cards and notes and several years passed without much more contact, though we did occasionally mention meeting up and I certainly assumed that we would at some point. But you know what it’s like when you’re busy. Years go by. I was deep in family and teaching and she had a high-profile, engrossing job. I missed her but thought that when we retired and had more time, we would resume our easy relationship. We’d known each other since we were five and always just picked up where we’d left off.

But then we didn’t get a Christmas card for the past two years, which I was slightly hurt about.

Recently another of this group, G, moved back to Edinburgh and I met her yesterday. And she told me that M, beautiful, charming, funny, kind M was diagnosed two years ago with a rare form of dementia. She’s 57. She’s in a wheelchair, requires 24 hour care and is like a completely different person. This form of dementia decreases social inhibition and people become aggressive or say embarrassing things. There’s no treatment and she will just get worse and worse until she becomes vegetative and dies in a few years’ time.

I just can’t stop thinking about her. I’m so sad. How I regret not making more of an effort to spend time with her in recent years. How I ache to think of all the things she wanted to do when she retired and had more time. When I think of adjectives to describe her, they’re all to do with light and warmth: golden, glowing, radiant.

I also think of all my plans for retirement; for the rest of my life, as I fondly hope. Better get on with some of them now.


  1. That's so sad. And a bit of a wake up call. I'm a big one for making future plans... when I've got more time, more money I'm going to do x, y, and z. You're right. Maybe I'd better get started on a few things a bit earlier.

  2. Oh Isabelle. Your post brought tears to my eyes. I'm sorry to hear about your friend. You're so right -- we always plan for later when there's more time. We must get on with it!

  3. I'm so sorry, Isabelle.

  4. I agree with you, that the premature loss of a relationship, or the realisation that you've missed out on a potentially valuable relationship, is very sad. I imagine that you'll grieve for some time over this.

  5. You seem to have so many lovely caring friends, and with your job and family you can't regret the lack of time spent with your friend. This happens.

    How horrifying, to find out what has happened. A few years back, I feel as if I arrived at the place you are in now, when a friend died of cancer at 45.

    Things like this also make me glad and thankful for every one of my working limbs, that my fingers do what I tell them, that my feet carry me, that I breathe air in and out without too much effort.

    It took me an enormous amount of ffort to escape and travel. But partly, I was driven by such thoughts.

    Hope you aren't too sad! You have a wondeful relationship with your gorgeous offspring, and not everybody has that!!

  6. I'm so sorry about your friend. I'm afraid I too make a lot of plans for "when I have time." We need to remember that time is not limitless for any of us.

  7. That is very sad. Dementia is an awful thing.

  8. Oh dear, oh dear. I'm so sorry. You mustn't blame yourself. I can relate to the regrets, but as you say, life was full for both of you. It was a two way street.

    Is M coherent enough to remember who you are? She might appreciate getting a card, even if for no other reason (and I realize this is ghastly of me) than the pretty picture on the front.

  9. I came to your blog via Frogdancer.

    First - I am sorry that this has happened. It is truly thought provoking.

    Last year a sister of a friend of mine died from cancer. She was a year younger than me. I am now 37. It affected me in a similar fashion but not to the same extent as if it was a close friend of mine.

    You have reminded me to live each moment now and not put off. Thanks

  10. How sad and another timely reminder about 'seizing the day' and living the life you want NOW - though must admit I'm not too bad at that!!

  11. That is a very sad story. And a definite reminder to seize the day.

  12. I also came from 'Frogdancer' blog. This is sad but it is something that I am guilt of as well. I will do that when I have more time is often the excuse I give. IT was interesting this morning I started art lessons and that was a comment that someone made, is that you have to make time and not live for tomorrow. I know how you feel and I am very sorry for your friend.

  13. This truly is sad. It seems as one gets older these personal tragedies are happening more often and to closer friends and acquaintances. Each one makes you reflect about LIFE and also to live each day as if it was your last - but do we ever do that?

  14. Certainly a 'live your life now' reminder to everyone. Life doesn't begin when you retire - you're living it right now.

  15. that is so tragic ...I am sorry for your friends dementia.
    We do need to live each day to it's fullest and spend time with family and friends now not make plans for the future.
    Thank you for sharing

  16. I feel so sad for your friend, Isabelle, and for those who love her. I watched my Dad develop dementia, though thankfully, his was very rapid, but it was heart-breaking.
    You are so right. We need to live now. Today. No-one knows what lies ahead.

  17. You are right, Isabelle, about doing things today, instead of putting them off until tomorrow. The old saw about, "Too soon old and too late smart" is so right. I always thought my hubby and I would do a bunch of stuff at some later date, because we were busy back then. Now, we are a little too old to enjoy water skiing and my rollerblades are dusty, but then my body is rusty and money is shorter than we thought it would be in retirement. I think I realized that my ship had come in and sailed at high tide last fall, when my brother died. We started out as five siblings and are down to two sisters. We cannot avoid the final moments, but have to make the most of the ones in our hands right now.

  18. Friendships are funny old things - they ebb and flow, have their own dynamics and are essentially - at the end of the proverbial day - two way things. I guess you each had your reasons for losing touch but they are in the past now.

    Be sad, don't beat yourself up and yes, get on and do some of the things you've always dreamed of.

  19. We can never know what's really going on in someone else's life, can we?

    A very honest and touching post. Thank you.

  20. Hi Isabelle.

    I've also come via Frogdancer (that girl is popular!)

    My sympathies and thanks for teh reminder to Carpe Diem Isabelle. Enjoy the friends we have left. Perhaps you could write a card to M, with a photo of yourselves as younger people. In her brief moments of memory it may bring her comfort, even being on the shelf, and to you for tying up that loose end, even in a sad, less satisfying way.

    Be gentle with yourself.

  21. I read this with increasing dread, but my stomach still gave a lurch when you said what had happened.

    Seize the day indeed, but also a warning about the dangers of shyness, not to dismiss ourselves as not being important or interesting enough to other people... I'm guilty of that too. But your friend chose a relationship that distanced her from you too, which is sad.

  22. So sad about your friend. We need to MAKE each day great as we never know what's aroung the bend.

    I'm curious... did her husband stay with her? Is he still there for her?

    The kitties certainly had a great birthday... such pampering! And I suppose they could have cared less.
    It seems like yesterday that you brought them home.

    I think it's great that you posted your 'mirror photos' for the world to see. I appreciated it when you took them.

  23. So sorry Isabelle.

    I think Laura Jane's suggestion is a good one. You could perhaps even go and see her. She may have a good day, or even your familiar face may give her a brief moment of remembering. I agree that it may help you resolve in your mind and give you a sense of closure?

  24. Your friend M is in my thoughts. How hard to find out about an old friend that way! You are in my thoughts, too, Isabelle!! Hugs to you!