On April 24th 2007, the wonderful Denise died. At 49, she had lived all her life with her parents, needing full physical care, she was tiny, had speech that was hard to understand and a wicked sense of fun and love of life that is rarely found in anyone. She loved her family, but like any woman, she wanted independence, her own place, maybe a man in her life, children, but none of that could be. But never once did she groan about not having what she wanted, she just went on her merry way, living each day she had as fully as the last.
And we went on holidays together, in various combinations. Five or six of us, girls of the same age, becoming women of the same age, holidays that with one exception were the essence of laughter throughtout. Denise bore being hauled around by us, dropped occasionally when we all had drunk too much gin (her favourite tipple) and had an eye for the absurd that she would draw to our attention at the most opportune moments.
Like in a quiet moment in the Blessed Sacrament procession in Lourdes. Being pushed ahead of us, behind a young Italian man in tight trousers which remained at her eye level for sometime. At a pause in the proceedings, her voice rang out, as clear as a bell for once. "Nice Bum!" she said admiringly....
She often had to tolerate being treated like a child instead of the woman she was. Head patting, patronising well meaning comments she usually bore well, except when tired and fortified with gin, when the remarks back might be less complimentary than they were taken to be. But she retained her good humour about it all, often after the person had gone, a mere look would be sufficient to send us all into spasms of laughter.
"She doesn't drink, does she" a worried comment might come, as we poured out her fourth gin "just 2 (vertical) fingers" she would call. "Lemonade" she'd say, her speech loosened and limbs eased by the relaxing of her muscles, ever ready to go into painful spasms.
One year, she was ill on our trip away, gravely so. A chest infection nearly carried her off while away from the family that adored her, but she scraped through. Not once during that week of tension did she moan or bewail her fate, and as she recovered, we lay there at nights, not able to sleep all of us, reading a torrid romance we had found in a corner of the hotel aloud, crying with laughter at the antics of the handsome dashing hero.
Ten days ago, she went into hospital for some tests. She had been losing weight and was in pain. Last Wed, a week ago, the doctors told her parents, both elderly and struggling to contain the tears, that she was not long for this world. I managed to see her Saturday, in her bed, queen of the ward, with the nurses running round her and we shared photos of her at my wedding, holding my babies and holding a litre of beer at a French cafe in bright sunlight, with her arm resting casually on the arm of the latest fancy man to fall under her spell. She could hardly breathe enough to speak, but her first words were to ask about my mother, my sister, Mike and the boys, no sound coming out but her lips forming the words.
And yesterday morning, after coming home 24 hours before, she slipped away peacefully. Her mother had realised the end was near in the evening, and had the priest straight round, who anointed her and prayed with her as the doctor came and eased her pain.
She slipped off into a peaceful, tranquil sleep, then at 2am, opened her eyes and sighed, and left this life.
"And I know she was in pain, and I know I didn't want to leave her here without me" her mother said to me yesterday, "but I'm going to miss her so much."As will we all.
The world is a much better place for having had Den in it, and a poorer one now she has gone.
And as I look at her photo here, from 15 years ago, her arm resting on the shoulder of the young Italian man in tight trousers, her face alight with that smile, I smile too and hope the memories of the joy she gave and the laughter she brought will help her wonderful parents through the next few difficult months.