I want to begin by mentioning something that my mum said to me whilst she was in hospital, which is not a particularly jolly way to open, but it is something that I do think foreshadows the purpose of this article quite well. The one thing that my mum said to me during that final hospital visit was this: “I’m not worried about you, because you have Melissa. And you have Jon.”
As you can probably guess Melissa is my best friend, and Jon is my long-term boyfriend. What my mum was saying here was very simple: that she knew I had a support system, and that that support system would be there to keep me afloat when she wasn’t. And by that point, she did know that she wouldn’t be. What she didn’t know, was quite how strong and how wide this support network would prove itself to be.
When The Eve Appeal asked me to speak at its Christmas carol service (the speech upon which this blog post is based), I spent a lot of time wondering what I could possibly say. As you can probably imagine, summing up my experiences over the preceding year whilst also keeping with the lovely, positive spirit of the evening was not the easiest of briefs. After I realised that I couldn’t compete with my fellow speakers on humour and my sort of witty snippets of advice on how to deal with Christmas after losing a parent went out of the window, I decided, in the spirit of both The Eve Appeal and of my mum’s words, to focus on another of my favourite subjects and to speak about women.
Women, particularly my female friends, and how they got me through the first weeks after my mum died – which is a very specific period of time that I know a lot of people in this room will be horribly familiar with.
My clearest memory from October 2018 is how women from every corner of my life rallied around in ways that I could never have foreseen. So this is really a tribute to them.
To the friend from uni, who sent flowers and insisted on phone calls rather than WhatsApp messages, and made me feel like she was by my side from 200 miles away at the beginning, and in every single moment that I’ve needed her since.
To the colleague, who picked up all of my work without question during the month that I was away, whilst dealing with multiple family issues herself. I had known her for four months at this point. Now, I know I’ll know her forever.
To the girl I’ve known the longest, who wordlessly organised mutual friends to stay at her house the night before the funeral, and more recently has been looking after half my childhood in her garage as we start the process of trying to clear my mum’s house.
There was my best friend of ten years, who let me be needlessly short with her throughout a rain-soaked week in Hong Kong in August 2018, when I knew, somewhere deep within my gut, that the worst was about to happen. And perhaps, already was happening. And there was her mum, who I’d met once, who sent me a Soap & Glory gift set and a Christmas card signed by her whole family.
There was my boyfriend’s mum and aunts, who travelled from London to be with me before and during the funeral, and my mum’s best friend, who had been with her through every hospital appointment and every crushing blow of bad news, right until the end, and of course there were my own aunts, whom I am so, so grateful for.
All of these women are still here a year and a half on, storing my stuff, making charity shop runs, inviting me to family BBQs, raising money and checking in on me in a million subtle ways. As of this International Women’s Day it’s 522 days since my mum died, I still don’t know what I’d do without them. In 20 years, I’ll probably feel the same. I am under no illusion as to how lucky I am to have this.
I’ve wondered a few times over the past 18 months what it is about women that makes them act with such care, such empathy, and such pure kindness, so instinctively. And I keep coming back to the same answer: that it’s because of our mothers.
If we’re lucky, are mothers are present, guiding us in choices that determine everything from which jeans we’ll buy to which friends we choose to what our moral standpoints will be. If we’re luckier still, they become friends themselves.
My purpose in talking about all this is firstly to just pay a bit of a tribute to friendship, and to all those moments, to all those thoughtful gestures and that quiet presence that makes them what they are and makes them so vital to our lives, in the bad times as well as in the good ones.
And I also want to remind everyone of one thing: the knowledge that looking after ourselves and looking after those around us is not a secondary thought, but something that we must prioritise, not just when something bad happens, but all the time. This is why research, and why supporting the Eve Appeal, is so important, and has become even more so to me over the past few months. Supporting events like this really is essential.
And if there’s one more thing that we can take from tragic loss, it’s this: that our relationships are everything. The best ones lift us up when we need it, and keep us there when things are good. Often they are there, quietly, keeping the engine running and the day to day ticking over, whether we can see it or not. In this way, they are really just like family.
As we remember those that aren’t here anymore, we must also make time for the ones that still are. This is something that I really believe all those we’ve lost would want us to remember. Friendships, whether they’re of 20 years or a few months, are everything.
I hope that this International Women’s Day we’ll all take a moment to lift our glasses and cheers to that: to friends, wherever they are.
If Lucy’s story has inspired you to join us and Make Change Happen this Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, you can sign up to hold a Make Time for Tea party to raise money for our research and awareness work, sign up for your free fundraising pack.