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Proof of Life

Somewhere in this country is a man.  A young man.  Aged twenty seven.  Actually, probably twenty eight now – I have no idea when his birthday is. I don’t know where he lives.  I don’t know what he does for a living.  I don’t know what he looks like. If he’s married.  Or has children.  Likes football.  Doesn’t like football. Likes shoes.  Chocolate.  Can’t stand cheese. The only other thing that I know about him is that he is of the same tissue type as a forty one year old man.  I know nothing else about him.  I don’t even know his name.

Nearly a year ago this mystery man agreed to be a stem cell donor.  He must have already had it in his mind that one day he might need to agree to this as he was already on the register.  And when the register was searched for a match for the forty one year old man, he popped up.  Doppelgangers.  Or even double-dickers as a confused child once thought. A ten out of ten match. I am not a doctor or a scientist, but I was always taught at school that if you get ten out of ten then that is to be celebrated.  And the people who know a lot more about it than me thought so too.  So we celebrated. Cautiously.

I presume that what next happened went loosely like this: said man was approached by several doctors, possibly in a lot of PPE at the time as the nation was in the teeth of the second lockdown.  He was advised that he was a double-dicker for someone needing a stem cell transplant.  I assume he was then asked if he would be prepared to be a stem cell donor.  Then he was probably given a lot of booklets and details as to the procedure, endless forms and a lot of people coming to see him to explain the forms. As a matter of procedure, I expect he was told a lot of things, but chiefly; a list of risks even more terrifying than the leaflet in a packet of paracetamol, possible outcomes, no one was allowed to know anyone else and no money would be changing hands.

Whatever happened between being identified as a match and being given a lever arch files of papers, this man agreed. As with his donee, I presume that he knew very little about the person he had been asked to help save.  He could not have known that his doppelganger was due to turn forty one in February.  That he lived in a village.  Had just moved into the house, in fact. That he was an Estates Manager.  Married.  Two children with another on the way.  Loved Spurs.  Disinterested by shoes.  Even less interested in chocolate.  Didn’t like bananas.  He didn’t even know his name. 

I don’t know his reasons for agreeing.  Maybe it was the opportunity to give a gift that only he could give to that one person. A gift that no one who loves and knows him could have given.  Perhaps an opportunity to do something special that comes along only once in a lifetime. Even just to get out of work for a couple of days. Whatever his reasons, I strongly suspect that at the point of agreement, one person advanced towards him with a biro.  And then several more people advanced on him with a buffet of needles.  He faced the pokings, the proddings, the general inconvenience of going back and forth to hospital and the risk to his own person.  All for someone he didn’t know and would never know. No money, no thanks, no recognition.

He will never know that the man’s family and friends were beside themselves at the prospect of losing him.  And the relief in knowing that not only had a donor been found, but, crucially, he was willing to proceed.  It is probably better that he will never know how they joked about a bevy of clucking middle-aged women turning up to his house or his place of work to thank him adoringly and tend to his every want and need ad infinitum. He will never know that because of what he did that he gave precious time.  Time for the man to talk to his wife.  His children.  His mum.  Time to hold his newborn child.

He will never know that he gave not just the man, but all those who love him, hope. Hope in such a time of darkness that it is hard to believe that life can ever be good again. He will never know that the leukaemia hid.  That after everything he did, in spite of everything everyone did, that it came back.  The crushing truth that even if everyone is pulling in the same direction, together, some storms cannot be weathered.  And we will never understand why. The comfort in our grief is that an entire stranger was prepared to give literally something of themselves and expect nothing in return.  Not a note.  Not a thank you.  Not a face. Not even a name. And they did it anyway.

If you are interested in joining the stem cell register, you can find more information here:

www.anthonynolan.org/

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The Incredible Unlikeliness of Grief

Yesterday – 16 June 2021 – one hundred and fifty two thousand three hundred and ninety seven people were recorded as having died from Coronavirus within twenty eight days of a positive test. If you have read my previous blog then you will know that one of those people in that very large number was my friend.  She died on 3 January.  Adella.

I’m not claiming that I’m exceptional.  She was.  I’m not.  I know that by my age that grief has affected everyone. It is different for everyone. That it takes us all by surprise and works in very mysterious ways. I have lost grandparents, watched my stepdad fight for his life for six years only to die at forty eight. Stupidly, I never expected a friend to die. Certainly not one younger than me. This has very much been The Spanish Inquisition as far as grief is concerned.

It’s been six months.  The first six months since I was little that I have faced a world without her in it. And I know now that it will never look the same through my eyes.  I never even thought about it because I foolishly assumed that as I was older that I would go first.  And not for a good few years yet because whilst my children think that I’m positively ancient and marvel at how I am still here, we all know I’m not.  I thought that when I finally went, Adella, amongst other people would shuffle into the service and say that it was very sad but what a good innings I had.  That I had lived my life.  And it was a good life.  As far as Adella was concerned, I also expected a modicum of alarm on her part as with my departure it would mean that she only had ten months until she caught up with me.  Therefore if there was something pressing she needed to be getting on with, then she had better get cracking.  Shocked as you may be to hear it, and not for the first time, I was completely and utterly wrong. 

Some dear friends have very kindly offered their ears if I have wanted to talk. But I haven’t been able to talk.  We didn’t have any friends in common. We had pre-dated every other friendship we had or have ever made.  What comfort is there to be had to sit and weep with someone who didn’t know the person you are weeping about – for weeper or weepee?  There are no shared memories.  I can’t say to them “oh do you remember that time when….” and we can laugh and remember together.  I have been so desperate to share memories, to connect with someone who knew her, that I have sat on my hands to avoid crying down the ‘phone to her parents.  Can you imagine her poor parents listening to me whitter on?  Or her ex-husband.  I’m sure he’d be thrilled.  Even driving to her funeral I thought of something that we had giggled about over the years and my brain actually went “oh Adella will laugh about that when I see her. At. Her. Funeral.”  Idiot.

When we were little, Adella and I used to go out for a walk around the country lanes near her parents’ house.  And when we heard a train coming we would run, flat out, to get to the rickety humpback bridge ready for when the train went under it.  Sometimes we would get there.  Sometimes we wouldn’t.  But when we did the bridge would shake under our feet.  And sometimes the driver would sound the horn when they saw us waving from the bridge.

A bit older and we got into make-up. Once we were giggling so much at trying to put eyeliner on that Adella poked me in the eye with the pencil.  Which made us laugh even more.

Like every other girl our age, when we saw Patrick Swayze sashay across the screen in ‘Dirty Dancing’ we knew that he was coming for us.  And much to his inevitable dismay, George Michael was no longer the man we were going to marry. I never let her forget that she suggested we listen to ‘Darty Dincing’.  On a mixed tape.  Yes.  We are that old.  We were that old.

We grew up some more.  Adella had a baby.  I was drunk in a pub.  Adella had two more babies and got married.  I was drunk in a different pub.  I moved away.  She moved further.  We meandered.  Life was busy.  I always loved her.  I wish I had told her that.

On her last birthday, as I have said in my blog, I wished her a happy birthday.  That was when she told me she was going into hospital.  I thought about telling her that I loved her then.  I remember the moment.  I wish I had told her that. Reader, I didn’t. It haunts me. 

After she died her daughter sent me some pictures she had found in her mum’s things.  Amongst them was a poem that I had written for Adella about friendship – she had kept it with her for nearly thirty five years. Turns out she always loved me.  I wish she had told me that. 

If you love someone, tell them.  They might need to hear it. You might need to say it.  And it may not be for that moment that it is really needed – you or they might need to park it and dust it off later.  If you are finding yourself very British about it then find a way. Perhaps a well-timed personal insult will suffice if you need to warm up to it.  But warm up to it.  None of us know what’s coming for us – good and bad.  Of all of the things I could have never predicted, I never could have predicted this.  We can’t tell each other now. Only one of us has to live with it. And I got the better end of the deal.