Wednesday, 30 March 2011

My friend Louise

I rang the husband of my great friend Louise Cooper, who died 17 months ago. I ring him from time to time, to see how he's doing. "I had nothing when I met Louise," he told me. "I was divorced, I was in debt, I was drinking far too much, and now I own a house, but what use is it without my lovely wife and best friend to share it with?"

He is floundering. I thought I was getting better. We each admitted that 'the blackness had lifted', which is how it felt for both of us. But then he told me something he had never told me before and it's opened up the wound of grief all over again. He said that for weeks before she died, Louise had been complaining of severe headaches and feeling of pressure inside her head, but had flatly refused to go to the doctor, deciding 'it was nothing'. A week before she died, she suddenly went into overdrive, madly paying bills and tidying up household loose ends - "It was almost as if she knew she wasn't going to be here much longer," her husband said.

Louise's first cousin who she loved to bits died the same way, of a brain haemorrhage, a year before Louise. He was sitting having breakfast when he suddenly keeled over and was gone. He'd had no warning symptoms so nothing could have been done to help him. However, Louise had had symptoms and since speaking to an expert on brain injuries, strokes and haemorrhages, I've discovered that if she had gone to her GP straight away, she could have had a scan and then been operated on, like my brother-in-law was, to release the pressure and stop the bleed. My lovely Louise, my sister in all but DNA, could still have been alive.

I shall say nothing to C, her husband. He is comforting himself with the knowledge that nothing could have been done to save her. Yes, perhaps the GP might have overlooked the potential seriousness of her symtoms and told her to take two paracetamols and come back if she didn't feel any better, but I think that as she attended the surgery so rarely (like my mother, who didn't go for over 20 years, and Mr Grumpy who, before his brain haemorrhage, hadn't seen his GP for 14 years), the doctor would have known right away that she hadn't presented with a trivial complaint.

I am now of the firm belief that she could have lived, and I feel terribly, heartbreakingly sad. We were more than just friends; we were singing and songwriting partners who had performed in public together; we were writing buddies who swapped ideas, contributed to one another's books and critiqued each other's plots; and we loved each other so much that we both said that if ever we were to turn lesbian, it would be with each other. The Louise-shaped hole in my life will never be filled - and now I have this knowledge to torture myself with. She could still have been here. Oh Louise, you silly, silly girl. Why, oh why, didn't you go to the doctor's?

C says that the brain haemorrhage happened at a low spot in Louise's life, when Penguin turned down a trilogy that they had been about to commission, and she felt depressed about her future as a writer. Yet she and I were forming plans to start a business and write a musical together and I was about to rent a cottage round the corner to her; didn't she look forward to all that? Or was depression another of the symptoms of what was happening physiologically, rather than psychologically, inside her head?

We shall never know. C is waiting to see a counsellor. I am still trying to find a place to live and get my life back together, away from the constraints of living with Mr G in a place I hate. In May, Louise would have been 59. I still can't bear to erase her name from my Birthday Book, or from my address book. I still have loads of emails she sent me, which give me a shock every time I see her name on them, as if she is sending them from beyond the grave. I shall keep them forever, with their wit and warmth, and gentle, sisterly chidings and advice. But I haven't got her and not having her feels like living without spring or summer, without sunlight or warm breezes, without flowers or leaves or reflections of blue sky and white clouds in a pond. I know I am straying into purple prose territory here, but what the heck? It's how I feel.

Tomorrow is another day. Oh, for the power to choose which day I wanted. It would be one several years ago, when Louise and I went rock-pooling in Trevaunance Cove. When I find the photos, I shall upload them. That day, we were truly happy and spent the evening drinking wine, playing the guitar and singing till the wee small hours. Yes, I'd like that day again, please.


Jacula said...


Frances Garrood said...

I am so, so sorry for the loss of your friend, and for the way you are feeling at the moemnt. All I can say (and perhaps it's presumtious to say anything at all. If so, please forgive me) is that, in time, you may find that your grief turns from a wound into a scar. It's still there, stil a part of you - it will never go away - but it isn't quite so painful. The other thing I found (when my husband died) is that grief is a bit like labour. It comes in waves, with peaceful periods in between. You are going through a "contraction" at the moment, which is horrible, but I hope that it will be followed by a period of peace.

Anniversaries, special places, music, are all so painful, aren't they. But you must have given Louise so much happiness through your friendship, and she was fortunate to have a friend who loved her so much.

hydra said...

Thank you, Jacula, for the hugs. And Frances, you have gone through a terrible trauma and emerged with such wisdom. You are much braver than I am. My stiff upper lip just will not work. Sometimes I envy the people of other nations, who hurl themselves into grief, wailing and shrieking and tugging their hair out. Perhaps this is a healthier way to go. Yet at the heart of it, grief is the same however you tackle it. I just had a naive way of looking at the world and thinking those I loved would be there as long as I was.

Frances Garrood said...

Oh, I wasn't brave at all. I wept and wept and wept. But I think my youngest son's teacher said the right thing when he wrote to say how sorry he was: "Be brave, but not too brave." I thought that was so wise that I put it into one of my novels. Also, I really identify with what you said about the way other cultures handle grief. This is what I wrote (same novel):

"I remember envying those people whose cultures allow them to stamp and howl and rage around a grave or funeral pyre; who can express their grief physically; who can embrace and console each other while screaming their outrage to the heavens". How strange that you feel the same way. I do feel that it's a healthier way to grieve; just to let go. Sadly not very British, though!

(This looks like a sales pitch for my book, which it certainly is not, but it was such a coincidence. I've never heard anyone else say what you did.)

Look after yourself. It sounds as though you need some TLC.

hydra said...

Maybe we both have a touch of wild, emotional foreign blood in us, Frances!