Grey Skies, and Blue

Today in Brussels it is grey and rainy. I really can’t complain; since we got here last Saturday the weather has been nothing short of glorious. Both weekends were spent wandering around parks and suburbs in t-shirts with our faces raised to the sun like flowers. You’d never know it was November.

But today it seems the harsh winds and lashing rain have brought with them a kind of malaise. Or perhaps it’s a melancholy of my own making, made more prominent by the sudden onset of such inclement weather. In large part I’m caught up in sadness over the recent deaths of two people; one, a dear family friend who last week lost her battle against cancer, and the other this brave soul who yesterday chose to end her life at the age of 29 before the cancer that was invading her brain brought it to a close.

I didn’t know Brittany Maynard personally, but her story and the videos she made documenting her decision to end her life were so personal and inspiring it was impossible not to be moved. Or at least that’s how I felt. I know there are many who criticised her stance on the right to die movement, but I’d hazard a guess none of them have been in her position or been close to someone who has, or else they would most likely feel somewhat differently.

I have some personal experience of watching someone with brain cancer lose their fight, having seen a colleague pass away some years ago. And I can honestly say there are few things more traumatic than seeing a person’s personality and joie de vivre decline day by day, watching as they lose the ability to speak, to function, as their body wastes away and their face puffs up with all the drugs that are pumped into their system in a futile attempt to keep them alive. What is most distressing is seeing in their eyes that they know exactly what is happening to them, and understand how things will play out. Having witnessed this first hand I could never agree that someone in that situation should not have the right to die with dignity, should they so choose. I think the real tragedy is that more people don’t have this right.

Today I made the decision to go back to England next week to attend the funeral of a dear family friend, Fran. I have hugely fond memories of the many family holidays we took together in France and Italy when I was a child; me, my mum and stepdad, Fran, her husband Paul and son Matt, playing boules and listening to Dire Straits on repeat. I was distressed to learn of Fran’s cancer when it first reared its ugly head a year or so ago, even more so when it was discovered the cancer had returned, this time terminally. She passed away last week with her family beside her, and when I found out her funeral was next Wednesday I knew in my heart I had to attend. So I’ve booked my Eurostar and will accompany my parents. It feels right for us to be together as a family at such a sad time, and I’m so glad we will be able to show our support for Paul and Matt, with whom we share such happy and joyful history.

I suppose it’s not surprising that I’m feeling a bit homesick in light of the above. When people die it shakes your foundations, especially when those people are so close or, in the case of Brittany Maynard, so tragic and reminiscent of other sad losses.

But instead of being sad I know both Brittany and Fran would say come on, buck up, be happy; this life is short but full of love, and hope, and joy – so go out there and enjoy it, be good to people, make a difference. And don’t let a bit of rain and grey skies get in the way. There’s always blue sky on the other side, after all.

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