This post is dedicated to my friend Lyn Wemyss, with love.
My Bear doesn't understand Facebook.
"How the fuck can you be friends with someone you've never eyeballed?" he splutters, as I try to explain who I'm talking to and why.
He's an old-fashioned guy. And he's not a reader. He'd rather be outside doing something practical, or- better yet- having a beer with his mates, eyeball to eyeball. The concept of being emotionally invested in the welfare of someone you've never met, someone only known via the written word, is completely foreign to him.
Yet these invisible friends of mine, the ones he can't quite believe are real, have often been my lifeline. For someone who lives miles from anywhere and a day or two's drive from her real-life friends and family, the connections made through that little black modem are crucial. I have Facebook friends all over the world who've helped me maintain my sanity through one crisis or another.
Mostly, they share a profession with me. Bless those smart, savvy and hilarious Early Childhood workers who've brightened my darkest days with their wit and wisdom. Recently, thanks to the Freeloader, they've been joined by a group of women I've never met- women who have the dubious honour of sharing my path through the daily horrors of breast cancer.
I would probably pass these women in the street without recognising them, yet I care deeply, sincerely, for many of them.
When they disappear from my feed for a few days, I worry. When they reappear, I rejoice. When they're frightened or confused, I'll happily spend hours talking things through with them- and they'll do the same for me.
Which brings me to my friend Lyn.
The trouble with caring about a lot of women who have cancer is that some of them, inevitably, are not going to make it. They're going to die, and you're going to have a front row seat.
Yep, Facebook has ways of breaking your heart that you'd never dreamed of when you joined up.
And Lyn, damn it to hell, is going to die. She's the first woman who ever reached out her virtual hand to me when I was diagnosed. She followed my blog almost from the start, and met me on my Facebook page after I'd run screaming from the censorious breast cancer forum where we'd met.
See, my truth is too loud for some people. I call it like I see it, because I honestly believe that you have to go through the hard stuff with your eyes and ears open if you want to come out the other end without permanent emotional damage.
But there are plenty of women who would rather press the mute button on the reality of cancer. They'd looked at my forum posts, shoved their fingers in their virtual ears and started singing "LA LA LA LA LA, I CAN'T HEAR YOU."
Lyn isn't like that. She scorns ear plugs. She's always listened to my truth; she's liked my frankness.
I soon found that we had much in common beyond the nature of our illnesses. Like me, she'd christened her tumour and given her story a Facebook page. 'Lucy the Lump', with its little pink icon, was soon gracing my feed every day or two with a thoroughly engaging progress report that never ducked the issue. Like mine, her truth was always there on public display, no matter how awkward or unpalatable.
That icon popped up on my Fighting the Freeloader page, too, nearly every day. Lucy or Lyn seemed to be there almost all the time, balancing my misery or hope or fear with wisdom, experience, clarity.
And like me, she spiced her comments with wild humour, no matter how dire the situation.
With Lyn and Lucy around, no dilemma of mine has seemed too grim for too long. I'll post some miserable comment, and sure enough, up pops a little smiling face or that pink icon with an answer that's either practical and reassuring, or the verbal equivalent of a Pythonesque Morris Dance.
Mostly, I end up giggling and wiping virtual mackerel scales off my face.
Lyn is living proof that the Theory of Positivity is a load of crap. You can't save yourself from cancer by thinking only positive thoughts. If that was the case, she'd be the one who was going to live and I'd be the one who was going to die. All the way through chemo, I seemed to be scraping my belly over hot coals for a week or more- but no matter how grim things got for Lyn, she'd somehow come up with a post that had her friends in stitches. Months ago, I knew that the hormone treatment was screwing her to the ground with as much genteel grace as a Makita hammer drill putting a plughole into concrete; yet still the one-liners and slapstick stories popped up in my daily feed.
And all the while, every single post of Lucy's ended with that mantra: "Today is one day closer to being healed."
Fuck the Theory of Positivity.
Oh. And 'living proof' is totally the wrong expression, when the 'proof' is dying.
Is my truth too loud?
So what do you say when someone you love, but only know online, is dying? What's the Facebook etiquette for that, Zuckerberg?
One thing I do know is that I won't be saving up my kind words for the funeral. I hate that. If you've got something nice to say to someone, for god's sake say it to them while they're here; that's my view. Lyn, here's your eulogy from me.
I guess the one thing we all want before we die is to know we made a difference.
That might be as simple as knowing we brought up our child the best way we could, or we made our family's life easier and more joyful. It might be that we worked hard and did our duties well, or created some form of art that was meaningful or beautiful.
But some of us aspire to more than that. Some of us want to make a difference even to strangers, to make the world a better place by reaching out our hand.
Lyn, you made a difference to me- a woman you've never met. You made my journey easier to bear every time you put your fingers on the keyboard.
I'm betting I wasn't the only one.
You were just far enough ahead of me on the road that I could keep you in sight. If she can do it and keep on laughing, so can I, I'd say to myself. You could make me smile even when I felt like warmed-over dogshit, when my bones ached so badly that I wanted to die now rather than later, when I thought the dark corridor of chemo would never end.
And now it's nearly over. That bitch of a Lucy is throwing one last party in your poor tired body, trashing every room with her gatecrashers.
It's ironic, isn't it? In the end, you'll beat her. She'll knock over a candle and burn the house down, and as you take your final breath she'll suddenly see that she's going down with you. There's no escape. Every window is barred. Lucy the Lump is a goner at last.
Damn you to hell, Lucy. Why couldn't you leave my friend behind?
I don't believe in Heaven- not in the way that Christians talk about it, anyway. I've had enough weird experiences to know that something remains, though, when people die. You can call it spirits or angels or ghosts, you can call it another dimension or the effect of quantum physics on time- whatever. I think some part of you will hang around for a while to keep an eye on the people you love, just like my long-dead mother seems to do for me.
Wherever you're going, know that I won't forget you once you're gone. I'll think of you every time I hold a hand out to some other woman who's just been diagnosed. I'll think of you every time some idiot tells me that cancer is caused by the wrong sort of thoughts, and I'll shout your name in their stupid ear till they go away and stop talking complete bullshit. I'll think of you every time I'm scared to death by another CAT scan, to see if my body's clear or if I've progressed to Stage 4, and I'll remember to stop taking myself so damn seriously- because all we have really is today, and bloody hell, what's the good of being a miserable sod? We may as well die laughing.
Wherever you're going, I guess I might see you there one day. I might not recognise your face, but I'll sure as hell recognise your sense of humour. You'll be the one leading the angels in a chorus of your latest hit, 'Fuck You, Cancer'.
Go in peace, my friend. And thank you.