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U3A Writing: Bad News

Jane Leitch’s brief and poignant sketch encompasses the pain of losing old and dear friends to sudden and unexpected illnesses.

The written word, printed stationery delivered to our post box, is a thing of the past other than accounts, of course. It survives by other means.

Our main source of bad news still comes to us via the phone, regardless of distance, which has become so insignificant these days. The next source is via the short message service and email.

By each of these I received two sad message in one weekend, starting with the phone call to Dublin.

Suffering from Primary Progressive Aphasia, my dear friend Helen, just back from consultations in London, was leaving for Chicago the next day, for further investigations.

As her speech has deteriorated rapidly, it is always a challenge to keep conversation going, but this time her news left me dumbfounded. On her return, her speech therapist is organising her to record her voice on a little box, so as to be able to use it to give requests and instructions when she loses her ability to speak ...

We have known her diagnosis for some time but in her words, “I never really believed I would lose my speech,” gutted me. I’m not quite sure how I managed to keep the conversation going, my suggestion that when she records for the box, we will think of some funny Irishism’s and naughties to put on it even managed a little laugh from her.

When I put down the phone I was distraught. For the first time, the reality of it truly hit me, in every part of my being. I was in a black hole.

Needless to say that night sleep was not quick in coming, and was short-lived when it did. So I was wide awake when my cell bleeped at 6:45 a.m.

“So sorry to tell you that Noel passed away in the early hours of the moring.” I looked at the message like one in a trance.

Last year he had retred from his company and was presented with a first class ‘Round the World Ticket’ for himself and his partner. They were due to leave next month. He moved to Paarl to his small wine farm, a culmination of a life’s dream. Joan was transferred to the Cape to join him just six months ago. Their new life had started.

Now it has ended. He died from a stroke at the age of sixty four.


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