the wondrousness of a smile

My friend Sherbs time came to an end today, after living with breast cancer for a few years. This has struck me in myriad ways, some quite unexpected and at times a little overwhelming —irrespective that it was expected any day, after her move into hospice care a week or so ago. I am struggling a little with words, and some feel just wrong. For example, in trying to describe Sherbs’ wonderful smile — which light up rooms, what comes to mind is ‘infectious’…

In part, an awareness of how I need to work on processing aspects of life (and death) has come to the fore again. These words here are an attempt to reflect on this moment, provide a (future) time capsule perhaps. Be a part of my process, and perhaps in some small way provide some insight for others??

I have long thought that in the wake of death, what transpires is much more about those still living than the one whose time has passed. Family, friends, associates. This is very clear to me today, and this time I am seeing it in my own responses — and find it a little uncomfortable as how I am reflecting is very much about me, my recollections, my own wellbeing. I have felt the need to pen some words, even though doing so is very much about me.

Quite a few people are openly posting their thoughts on social media, sharing their condolences, their memories. In coming days and weeks, I am sure I will reflect on this more, from a different space, a different context, perhaps with a contrasting interpretation. Whilst such public displays are not something I engage in, the insight and perspective I have has imbued an ability to reflect and perhaps understand a little similar insistences I have come across that I am quite removed from. Another plus, is that someone has referred to this person smile as ‘gleaming’ which is a much more apt, and less ‘wrong’ descriptor.

A lot of pictures have been shared, many I have seen before, which reminds us all of our memorable experiences with Sherbs. I went back through my own photo’s this morning looking for pictures — in part to help with recollections and memories, and to re-stimulate my feelings and connections. I want to dig a l little deeper here, not to reciprocate, enunciate or provide my own account of how wonderful, selfless, and inspiring Sherbs and my moments with her memories are. That said, in my searching I found quite a lovely one photo — and times like this remind me of the value of having them (I have far from anywhere near enough). It very clearly reminds me of the day it was taken, and all of the other good times we had. What we shared, experienced (I did not take the photo, and can’t recall who did).

When I first heard that Sherbs’ had cancer — the first of my friends (in contrast to family members’ friends) — I did not know how to respond. It was not a lack of words, rather just not knowing how. My experiences growing up with a father who did not seem emotionally available and relatively introverted when it comes to feelings may be a factor here. It may also be more broad, existing in a world where men are consciously and subconsciously reminded that emotions are a feminine thing, not something for real men; that men can’t reach out to other men for emotional support. These sit with stark contrast to the many men I know who have moved beyond such limitations and have developed quite constructive emotional capacities. My lack of process is still evident.

By way of example, I was at work when I that Sherbs had passed. When a shared this with a colleague, I found myself fighting back tears and hiding my face so as not to be seen to be emotionally impacted in any way. Even following this awareness of my friends and colleagues, I did not say anything more for a kind of fear that I would not be able to contain my emotions, that tears would flow. And where I work is filled with many wonderful and supportive people. Governmentality  at its finest!

As Sherb’s has lived with cancer over the last few years, I found myself not reaching out to her — when she needed it. I felt did not know how. I felt I did not know what to say. I felt II did not know how to be. Even in the last weeks, and especially when she was moved into hospice, I continued to struggle, to have doubts. I can’t see this as anything but selfish in impact, which makes it even more difficult to process.

Shortly before Sherbs was diagnosed, I had moved (back) to the other side of the world. In some ways this made it both harder and easier to process, to avoid having to process. I could not physically be there, to visit, to create and share memories. I think this would have been much easier (for me), just the physical presence. It does not require words in the same way as other forms of communication. Sometimes our body language conveys what we cannot (emotionally) through words. Our body can reveal joy, pain, sorrow. Often when we don’t want it to. Sometimes when we need it to.

I am running out of words, partly due to being distracted by others whilst trying to put these words down on paper — given that I am ‘at work’ and shirking my responsibilities. As small, potentially inconsequential and perhaps broadly unread as these musings may be, they seem in this moment to have more value than mundane and even somewhat valuable work tasks…


postscript

I have, and continue to have, similar struggles in reaching out to a friend living with breast cancer for the last 2 years. Only yesterday I crossed paths with their partner and one of their daughters. I think it is the (differently) visible pain in their bodies as they survive through this everyday that impacts me most. Which reinforces  my apparent inability to relate, to be able to (comfortably) reach out. I still relish and look forward to the moments I share with them… perhaps I will pen reflections on those another time.

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