So this is where I say my final farewell to my cousin Nisha, who finally succumbed to the all-encompassing, family-destroying, despicable, demonic disease, ovarian cancer, two days after my return from India, at the very end of June. Goodness, how she fought. I know many people who have cancer despise the battle analogy: as her husband Mark said, it is an unfair fight. The battlefield is uphill all the way and the driving rain and wind sting your eyes and, while cancer is a Nuclear Power, you are armed only with a blunt instrument. And yet, I know of no other way to describe how my cousin kept herself alive for four years of tests and chemotherapy and surgery and pain and exhaustion. She was written off more than once but she kept going, though ever weaker, projecting a calm, dignified, fragile persona to all but the closest until within a a few weeks of her death. She kept going, through sheer force of will because she did not want to leave her family. She was only 57.
The last time I saw her was to take her a pie or some other frippery, in May, I think. When I said goodbye with a slightly too long, slightly too strong hug, she said she hoped she would see me again before my next trip to India. We both probably knew then that this would not happen, but this is how I want to remember Nisha. Gentle, smiling, calm, chatty, enjoying my company. I asked her how she was, and about the cancer, of course, but there was so much else besides to talk about. She did not want anyone apart from a very few her to see her in her final weeks in the Royal Marsden. I respected this and stayed away. It makes me sad.
Her funeral last Tuesday, in dazzling sunshine and beautiful surroundings, was attended by people flying in from all over Europe, the world. One of the most poignant sights I shall ever see was my 84 year uncle, frail, stumbling a little, as he bent to bear his daughter on her final journey. Wrong.
A musical tribute, recorded by my offspring, off that morning on their Sicilian tour, and their grandfather at the organ. The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended. It was, you see. And the orations, heartfelt, enlightened all of us. Nisha had had fun and was remembered in fondness by so many. I sang Schubert’s beautiful Ave Maria for my largest, saddest, most appreciative audience yet. I stood at the back, by the organ, and I sang to Nisha’s fabric coffin, bedecked with lilies and roses and said goodbye and no-one else saw me. There was one inappropriate breath as I struggled with my sadness, but the rest was OK. I hope she would have liked it.
I’m so sad for her husband, who is a true hero. I’m sad for her daughter, not a year older than my own baby girl. I’m sad for the relationship I wish I could have had with her. Estranged families and a continued estrangement as adults – goodness knows why – mean that I have far too few memories, no treasured photos of sunny days and family lunches and Christmasses and birthdays and chilling in the garden. All those people present at her funeal described someone who was almost a stranger to me until the last few years, when illness cast a long, omnipresent shadow. So I find myself yet again grieving for the times we could have had together and the missed opportunities and the laughs and the fun. We were quite alike, I think, in many ways. I hope the time we spent together in Singapore and here made up in some way for all that waste. They say she was fond of me. I became very fond of her. It’s a sort of unfolding love, I guess.
What remains? Some memories. Strengthening family ties. I’ll try to look after them for you, Nisha. As best I can.