One of the main reasons I went to the US last month was to see my dear friend and teacher, Camilla. I wanted to interview her to write her memoir – to fulfill a life pact from 14 years ago.
Camilla was my acting teacher at F&M, and my lovely friend. Together with my kindred spirit, Jess, we formed a Ladybug Club, united by our love for ladybugs – and each other. When I graduated in 2005, Camilla gave me Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, one of the greatest writing books ever written (in my opinion). I’ve read it seven or eight times and it forms the basis of my writing philosophy. In it, Camilla wrote: This will be useful when you write my biography one day.
We kept in touch over the years and saw each other twice when I went over to the US, but I thought we had limitless time for that mythical memoir. And then Camilla got cancer – early last year – and I felt like I had an unfulfilled life pact.
So last month she drove five hours from upstate New York to Lancaster (my college town, her old hometown) to spend 24 hours with me so I could ask her questions about all her favourite things and write up her memories into a mini-memoir… I thought it would be intense, because she was battling cancer. I didn’t know until we saw each other that she had just been told the chemo wasn’t working any more, so she had two to six months to live.
I will write more about that 24 hours another day, but for now I just want to say what a gift it has been to work on her book since I returned home. Last week we went away with friends to a beautiful mountain house with very little cell phone signal, and I spent two hours each day in the annex taking the dictated words in a jumble on my screen and turning them into something that made sense, and followed some kind of form. This weekend, I stayed up late working (something I never do) to research and fact-check names and places, and edit edit edit until only Camilla’s words remain – none of the fluff I like adding in. And today I put the final touches to it and uploaded it as an e-book to send to Camilla as an early birthday present (her last birthday is tomorrow).
I have a lot to say about death, and dying, and facing your death head-on. It has been an intense and emotional task working on this book, because I love her so much and I want to honour her life – but I also really, really, really don’t want it to end. It’s been a weird juxtaposition to go between that intense, soulful work and the daily noise of mothering two young kids, and working, and wifing. I think a part of my heart has been absent the last week, especially, as I’ve devoted so much of it to this book.
And now it’s done, and I am so sad. I didn’t realise until now that while I was working on her book, we were connected. Now that it’s finished, I have to face up to the fact that my beloved friend will soon be gone.
The Grief Handbook
The Grief Handbook is out on the 13th July 2021!
You can find out all about it, and where to buy it, on www.griefhandbook.com
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