More Than Words
There is no happiness in this story.
Lynette was the third youngest of ten children. Amongst six beautiful girls, she was a standout. Not just in looks, but in her liveliness of spirit, her warmth, and her genuine regard for everyone who became part of her life. She had a beauty that endured right to the end, even when her evil disease laid waste to her body.
She grew up in a loving and happy home, with life and people as her energy and her joy. She was very close to her siblings, particularly those of similar age, who shared her life as a child, a woman, a mother, a friend. I was older and leaving home as she was growing, but I can picture the child at play, the familiar surroundings that were her playground, her springboard to an amazing life.
For a brother who was eight years older, I recall long blond locks and darting innocence. And then she was grown. Still as close to her family as ever, and now starting to take on her role as protector and carer for us all. She was the one with whom conversation was most natural, with whom you could speak with confidence in the good intentions and genuine interest that was behind every word.
She was 'Netty' to her sisters and brothers. And Netty embraced us. She embraced everyone. She always wanted to know what other people were doing, to hear their stories. I can still picture her just weeks before the end, sitting and listening quietly to the conversation around her table, with that familiar smile on her face. The one that revealed what she lived for.
She was a rock within the family. Unwavering in her beliefs, intensely kind and caring, with no pretence in her life. Someone you could lean on for guidance and support. Who imparted genuine empathy; not the type that just tells people what they want to hear. It was the type that came from deep within her heart, then reached inside you and gave a comfort that was beyond words. In partnership with her kindred spirit, her beautiful husband George, she brought people together. Their home was where everyone wanted to be, to feel welcome, to talk, to laugh, to feel enriched. She was the best of us.
I write to try to comprehend this. At the loss of my father I was a self-absorbed 21-year-old, grieving only for me. Now it is for Lynette, and for the pain and anguish felt by so many. Her brothers and sisters, who are devastated, incredulous, and bewildered that this could happen. And to see our mother, crying with her head bowed, unable to find any solace from something incomprehensible. She cries and then she sleeps because sleep gives the only respite. For Netty's children, whose grief at the moment of her death tore at the soul. Whose emotions will ebb and flow, and whose hardest days are yet to come. And for George, who we love as a brother, who adored her, and cared for her with unwavering devotion. Who bottled his own intense sadness for months and years, so he could remain the resolute husband and father that guided them all through to tragedy and loss. His reward is a depth of sorrow that is close to unbearable.
And for George's extended family, who came to love her as much as we did, many of whom could not grieve with us, because of restrictions due to the pandemic. The same with her multitude of friends, accumulated and never lost over almost 50 years. We, her family, will forever remember the guard of honour and yellow balloons that paid the remarkable tribute, on the day her whole street turned out to say goodbye.
There is the knowledge that life can never be the same. This beautiful soul entrenched herself so deeply that letting go is for another time. For better or for worse, this empty space has changed us.
I try to make sense of something where there is none. I rage at the unfairness, when fairness has nothing to do with it. I don't believe in miracles but always expected one. We struggle to accept that we could not do anything to help someone who should have outlived most of us. It should not have been her. It should have been someone else, someone less deserving of life, someone older. It should have been me.
Lynette sometimes spoke about her plight. Those with strength I did not possess asked her how she was feeling about what was to come. She admitted to being scared. Our rock was scared! How could she not be? This unseen monster was devouring her, invading every part of her, with consequences that could have made the end so much more cruel. Mercifully, her pain was eased, and she was mostly at peace in her final weeks and days.
She sometimes spoke about it to me. I found this upsetting and hard to deal with. When I think about that now I cannot believe how selfish I was. In her last months, soon after her oncologist spelled out her final death sentence, she told me she needed to come and speak to me. I dreaded the news and the pain it would bring. I met her at the door, feeling the shock and pangs I would get every time lately when I saw her. Each time, she had wasted that little bit more. She struggled down the hall with no complaint, but walking was clearly an agony. She sat me down. She looked me in the eye. And then she told me about a person in the family she was really worried about...
That was our Netty.
She fought this with everything she had. It took over much of her life for nine years, with battles waged and hope dashed so many times along the way. But she never gave up fighting, even when she and her family became resigned to it and made the necessary preparations. She acknowledged it, she knew it was coming. She did everything she could to prepare and soften it for her family. But I do not believe she ever accepted it.
As she told us with words left at the end, and revealed to us by our brother John in his moving eulogy, "I am blessed to have lived with you, travelled with you, laughed with you and been loved by you. Keep that love for each other. Don’t hold grudges, they will eat you up inside. The past is over, please come into the present and live for the future. There is so much that I will miss. You don’t have to.”
There is no happiness in this story. There is beauty. There is love. There is grief that words cannot express. And there is the memory and the example set that should keep us from drowning until we find a way back.