On June 1st Jenny died.
We have been friends for over 4o years, the same as my years of marriage.
Our children knew each other as little ones and those children now have little ones of their own. We had a bet going, she and I that her daughter-in-law would give birth before my own did. The due dates hold hands, they’re so close. I will see my new grandchild, but she won’t see hers.
Over the years, our roads travelled in different directions, but we kept in touch. When she first got breast cancer, she was completely herself about the whole thing. No time for this, she said, need to sort out treatment and keep moving. She went sailing after that, for 7 months, she and her man, in a yacht to beat all other yachts with big-ass sails and comfort below deck, every comfort, and the wind in her hair and salt on her tongue, whilst I became an Island Wife. But women who connect at a wild and deep level, who recognise each other’s spirit and love it, never lose touch, even if the contact is once a year.
We sailed with them once, meeting them on a Greek island. We all wondered how it would work, four of us converging where Two Roads meet, after 30 years apart, and living in close quarters for a couple of weeks.
I could have been a big pain in the ass, I said.
You are. She replied and handed me a beer.
In the evenings, moored in a little warm harbour, we would cook, eat and make music. They taught me songs, and I them, and there was something magical about the candlelight, the warm nights, the laughter and song.
She did much with her life and was never still. She was the second woman ever to command a Royal Navy warship. A transatlantic skipper, a magistrate, a wife, mother grandmother, although that title sounds way too old for her. She adored her family, and actively showed it. She was feisty, impossible, decisive and noisy and there is a big hole left now she is gone.
But what will stay with me for ever, and this may sound selfish, is what she gave to me. She never faltered and when I did, she whooped my butt. I’m not saying, or even imagining, that she had life sussed, because I know she didn’t think that at all. I saw, at times, such sadness in her big eyes, and she might tell me, briefly, or she might not. When she knew she had only time left, she would still pick up if I called, or answer a text with humour. She came to my book launch down south in a bright pink wig after aggressive chemo. It was our last hug.
I salute her. She is a woman who challenged me to be the best I could be, just as she challenged herself.
Sail on Silver Girl.