A bonus long weekend post in honour of my nephew Tom and his mother – my friend – Anne
A gift like Anne comes along once in a lifetime
An in-law who becomes a close friend, confidante and partner-in-crime. From the day we met, we got the point of each other. We laughed at each other’s jokes, shared each other’s pain (including a common mother-in-law), went on holidays together and shared a brood of children who were best mates and just happened to be first cousins.
Our friendship survived divorce (mine) and widowhood (hers). We are now two women no longer related by marriage, but united by familial love and enduring friendship. Annie makes every occasion a party just by being there. Her unfailing good humour has seen her through the most unimaginable grief and loss, setting a standard that those around her strive to emulate. The loss of her son Tom seven years ago is something I can never talk about without shedding tears. But Anne doesn’t mind. She knows my soft heart and forgives it. Whenever we get together with our children, we laugh at Tom’s memory and gather strength from each other’s laughter.
I was reminded of the strength of our bond just last night.
The loosening of lockdown laws has led us into a semi-regular pattern of weekly dinners at each other’s homes. Last night, over pizza at Anne’s, we entertained a friend with the story of Anne’s 60th birthday.
For her birthday present, I had commissioned a charcoal drawing of Anne and Tom taken from a favourite photo of hers. It was a photo I had taken at the family dinner where the clan had gathered to farewell him on a trip overseas: a trip from which he never returned. The setting was a dimly lit pub and the resulting photo was blurry, but the artist came up with the idea of creating a ‘pixellated’ portrait true to the original photo, better seen from afar.
It had been a big gamble, this piece of art.
Shortly after Tom’s death, Anne had taken me to an artist’s studio to pick up a charcoal drawing of Tom she had commissioned, taken from her favourite photo of him. It was there that the idea of a matching portrait first formed in my mind. I discussed it with Anne’s daughter – my niece – to get her opinion. She loved the idea and put the call out to various of Anne’s friends to contribute if they wished.
The response was mixed.
Some of them thought the gift in dubious taste, given Tom’s recent death. I had been so sure it was the perfect present, and now I was having serious doubts. At one stage I thought I would be left with a beautiful drawing that I would have to keep hidden for the rest of my life. On the day of the party, sufficient enthusiasm had been generated and funds had been raised. But I still felt some trepidation that I may have got this gift monumentally wrong and was about to ruin Anne’s day.
I stepped forward to give the speech, flanked by my son Edward and watched over by Tom’s portrait: the original one commissioned by Anne. I managed to say what I wanted to say about this wonderful human being I was lucky enough to call my friend. The gift was brought out and unwrapped. Anne loved it.
I leaned against my boy with relief, not realising that his likeness to Tom – who had been watching over us during my speech – had added a layer of almost unbearable poignancy for the guests gathered in front of our family group. As usual, Annie wrapped us all in her strength and good humour. Together we celebrated her 60 years on earth with lots of love and laughter. She gave the birthday portrait pride of place over her bed, where it remains to this day.
In two months’ time, Anne and I are off on a road trip together.
Grounded planes and closed borders won’t stop these two so-called ‘cackling grandmas’ (thanks kids) from visiting our two offspring who live interstate, just a few kilometres apart. We’ll be buckling up for yet another adventure on the shared highway of our lives. For 20 hours, we’ll share the driving. There may be conversation. We’ll be keeping each other awake, alert and amused, sifting through the memories accumulated over 40 years of friendship. And making some more.
For Tom 31/12/1987 – 2/6/2013