Monday, June 18, 2012
A week ago my dear friend and former ECE classmate Natalie died of lung cancer a month before her 32nd birthday. She has left behind her husband Richard and her fantastic boys Matthew (almost 6) and Caleb (aged 3). She was diagnosed just 3 months ago after 3 solid months of chest infections, flu and bronchitis. It never sounded that great but none of us expected it all to be over so fast.
Natalie was a tower of strength in so many ways, taller than most of us she had a fabulous smile and an ability to talk to anyone; be it a stranger in a shop or on the street let alone during our on-campus weeks where the flexi-study intake tried to put faces to on-line names and those of us who lived out of Auckland gradually found our feet in strange surroundings. Our course was full time and full on. A Graduate Diploma meant 3rd year degree level assignments from day one. It was hard enough being a full time student, yet Natalie not only excelled at her studies but also managed to run a home, bring up her then 2yr old son on her own half the time as Richard's work took him away so often oh and continue to work part time and be pregnant for the last few months of it! As if that wasn't enough she was doing all of this from Sydney, coming over for on-campus weeks (4 in one year) and practicums (14 weeks all in within 12 months). On top of all this she was incredibly creative, kept her friends and family in touch with what was going on with regular newsy emails and lots of photos. In short she was superwoman.
She was the most positive thinking person I have ever come across - she could make Pollyanna look pessimistic, her enthusiasm was infectious. When we were struggling over a particularly difficult assignment she'd sigh and then cheerfully say, 'Never mind Cs make degrees!' and then of course get an A despite having finished her assignment at the airport on the way across for another on-campus week...
In the years since we were studying Natalie and I managed to meet up occassionally when she was over visiting her mum in Kerikeri. One time (pictured above) our paths crossed at Auckland Airport as she arrived as I was leaving for the UK for Christmas. They'd been on an early morning flight from Sydney which had been rather bumpy and not much fun - but you'd never have known it to see her.
It seems incredible that such a bright light could have been snuffed out. Finding out about Natalie's condition a week after Annie died was hard. I was so glad to get a chance in Kenya to talk with Rosie about Annie - we'd been pilgrims together and the two of them had remained close friends over the years. The grief at that time was still raw and Rosie said it felt like everything at the time seemed to come back to the same question 'yes but why did Annie have to die?'. At that point I was able to be more rational and philosophical, but now it is me with the same question 'why?'.
I know I answered my own question back there under the baking sun in Kabarak, that whilst it might not make sense to us there is often so much growth that can come from grief, so much good that might not otherwise have happened. I know how in ringing/emailing round classmates and one of our lecturers it has strengthened the bonds between us, I know that there are those who have gone to extraordinary lengths to fundraise for Natalie and her family and that the Australian Lung Foundation's coffers are fuller as a result of her request for donations to be sent there. I know there will be many more positive aspects when you see the long term greater picture, but... there is still a strong sense of injustice, like another of my classmates I feel an irrational anger against cancer, especially for depriving (yet another) young family of their mother - how can you be angry with a disease? But as Ange said, nothing makes sense with cancer.
Today, whilst Natalie's funeral was taking place I was in a meeting at work about a child whose lot in life has been unstable, full of violence and neglect - the complete antithisis to the start in life Natalie gave to her sons. Part of me was wishing that instead I could have taken that time instead to find a quiet space and be with those gathered at the funeral in thought and prayer if not in body, but the rest of me knew that the greatest tribute I could give to Natalie's life was to try to find the positive in the situation, to focus on the aroha I have for that poor kid who has been handed a raw deal in life and do my best for him.
I'm trying to think positive as I know Natalie would wish, but mostly right now even though I know the silver linings are there, the clouds are what stands out most.