Nine years ago today, my childhood friend Lauren passed away from cancer. Last night, sleepily browsing Facebook and not thinking of the date, I noticed that her mum had posted a photograph of Lauren on the Facebook page set up in her memory. Catching myself by surprise, I burst into tears.
Grief is funny like that. It lies dormant for years, held safely at bay, and then it bursts back out again. So, for Lauren, did cancer.
To this day, Lauren remains the closest thing I’ve ever had to a big sister. She taught me about boobs and bras and boys, how to use sanitary towels and why it is sometimes important to eat ice cream even if it’s raining. She took me shopping, slipped me chewing gum and took me on lengthy walks with a neighbour’s Yorkshire terrier on which, despite never going very far, we would somehow invariably get lost. We sang a lot. When I started secondary school, she was forever popping up in unexpected places to make sure I was ok, cuffing me into bear hugs. We shared picnics and playtimes, and I loved her in that way you love someone who has never not been there.
Cancer was cruel to Lauren. It stripped her bare. The very last time I saw her, I was terrified; she was thin, weak and bowed by excruciating pain. I didn’t know what to say. I still simply couldn’t believe that she wouldn’t get better. That I allowed cancer to cloud my vision that day remains the single greatest regret of my life.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but in Lauren’s case it was very much the child who raised the village. In the small, close-knit community in which we grew up, she played a huge part, and I think she taught everyone she touched some very important lessons. She taught me more than I ever wanted to know about dying, but she taught me even more about living. In her sixteen years, Lauren did an awful lot of living.
Lauren liked pink – she wore pink to her prom, and we wore pink to her funeral – but when I think of her, I don’t think of pink. I think of this pair of multi-coloured, platform-heeled flip-flops she used to wear to choir practice. She was bigger than words, bigger than one colour, bigger than life itself.
And I guess that’s why it’s ok for grief to keep coming back, every once in a while. It reminds us of those things we never want to forget.