We might fight it with eye cream and Botox and fast cars, but Age creeps up on us inexorably. We might not feel older than about 25, but the shadows are there under our eyes, the concealer settles into our laughter lines, hand responsibilities at work and with our families mean that there is a limit to the pretence we once shared that the whole world belongs to us.
Now in our mid forties, several among our friends have lost parents. Even if that is sudden, to an extent that is expected. Older people have had their lives and made their memories, and death is part of the eternal cycle. But today we attended the funeral of Pete, one of us who, at 48, lost his battle with cancer. He was cut short. It is shocking and sad. A waste.
I suppose it is there from about 35, that thought that we need to stay fit and try to eat healthily to avoid heart disease; that we should check ourselves regularly for lumps and bumps that weren’t there before; that a persistent headache might be a brain tumour. We have such busy lives. People depend on us and we can’t afford to fall ill. That thought that throbs away in the back of our minds like a very faint pulse that we haven’t as much time left as we might think. Pete was caught out and his death makes us face our own mortality.
Pete was a college friend of my husband’s and coincidentally came from the same home town. My husband’s college cohort, sent off to Germany for two years in the first week of their course, bonded quickly and became fast friends. They shared their lives and loves, beer and cigarettes, in Germany and then in North London, going on to be productive and useful in a whole range of careers. Pete stayed local, joining his family business.
We remained a large, cohesive group for several years, meeting regularly in Leicester Square, sharing group hugs, going to clubs, sobbing at films (Schindler’s List is a particularly strong memory) meeting new partners and travelling to weddings across Europe. An international band, many of the group settled in Europe or further afield.
It was the arrival of children and the flight of most from London that put paid to that once close relationship for most of us. In the days before emails and texts and Facebook, many of us lost regular contact and then felt too shy or embarrassed at what we had lost to pick it up again.
So today we all came to Pete’s funeral, here in Beckenham, nearly 25 years on from graduation. Tiny Beckenham Crematorium was packed to the gills with people whose life he had touched. The music and readings were personal and full of joyful memories. There were big smiles as well as plentiful tears. It was a testament to how much Pete was loved.
I remember, Pete, when the Boywonder had just been born and I was struggling with the stress of a starving newborn and a new house and mastitis and the suspicion that I was terrible at breastfeeding and that I would therefore be a bad mother. You came to see me and held my tiny, struggling baby and somehow reached out and made me feel not quite so alone. You were Uncle Pete to all our children as we slowly drifted away. Profoundly sensitive, sweet, kind, gentle under a bluff rugby exterior, it took you a while to settle down and eventually find happiness with Tracey. In the end you never had children, but you would have made a great dad.
I am so profoundly saddened that we lost touch and that everyone’s busy lives got in the way of our being of some comfort to you in your suffering. I am so sorry that your cancer was such a battle in the end, that your immunity was just too low. Perhaps our support could have made a difference as yours made such a difference to me all those years ago. Let your death be a reminder that we should hold our friends to us.
Uncle Pete, best friend, Best Man, beloved husband, devoted son: sleep well. xx