It came out of the blue as these things always seem to, though perhaps a more accurate description would be out of the black, blue seems too cheerful a colour for the days that alter the landscape of life. As dusk fell on Sydney yesterday, on Sunday afternoon, after a glorious, golden Autumn weekend I opened up an email headed ‘Bad News’ to discover one of our oldest friends had died. A polite email written by her 15 year old daughter, who took the time to hope we were well, as she broke the devastating news of her mother’s completely unexpected death.
There are some friends who play pivotal roles in your life and who appear and reappear like a comet. And she was indeed comet like, fizzing with life, ideas and excitement, there was never anything dull, bland or boring about her. She began as my boss, hiring me in the giddy days of merchant banks in London in the 1980’s. I was 24 at the time, and at the lunch she hosted to introduce me to the team, she ordered drinks for the male members of the team who true to form were late in arriving, and as this was indeed the heady and frankly often alcoholic days of the City, she declared with a characteristic wave of the hand, “Charlie will have water, Simon, a gin and tonic”. I made a mental note that Simon sounded my kind of guy, and twenty-five years later, he still is, for ‘reader I married him’ and as matchmaker in chief as it were, she danced the unfamiliar Scottish reels with gusto at our wedding, twinkling at the kilted gentlemen who swung her round.
We all moved on from that initial team, but stayed friends. Like us, she and her husband became fixtures on the expat circuit for a while. Our lives mirrored those Scottish reels as we all met and separated in various locations around the world in a bizarre intricate form of the dance of life. We lived in Hong Kong at the same time, and she was one of my first visitors when Drama Queen No. 1 was born 18 years ago. She wrote me an email recently recalling ‘that partly misty, but beautiful day in HK – such nice memories … ‘. We met up again in London, as her daughter was born, the same 15 year old who is so bravely coping with telling all the people who loved her mother, that she is dead.
We celebrated a New Year’s Eve in Sydney together as they passed through in 2007, my girls and her daughter somersaulting in the pool as the adults sat at tables in the garden and we introduced her French husband to the delights of sparkling shiraz, that great Aussie invention for hot nights.
In February this year, we all sat round a table at our local Italian restaurant and toasted ourselves and friendship and talked about possible moves to Sydney and smiled to see our daughters laughing together, the immediate empathy between them crossing cultures and countries.
And now she is dead. Out of the blue. I feel so lucky we had that evening in February, but sad about the email I almost sent last week. The one I thought of, and rehearsed the initial chatty lines in my head, and just somehow never sent, just lost the thread and moved onto the mundane list of stupid to-dos, and now she is dead.
So send those emails, pick up the phone, celebrate the friendships and the fizz and relish good friends bring, drink the sparkling shiraz, dance the reels and colour the night with fireworks as she did.