I have just experienced one of the saddest days of my life. The 22 January 2022 was the day my beautiful friend Mary passed away in Perth, WA. Without a doubt, she was the bravest and most inspirational person I have ever met. She fought a relentless, tough battle against cancer for over seven years, yet I never once heard her complain. Her bubbly personality did not waver as she continued to put the needs of her family and friends before herself as she had always done.
Lots of interests
Mary had a lot of interests including spending time with her little grandson, gemology, house renovating, cooking and shopping for bargains. She did not let endless operations and ongoing treatments interfere with her love of travelling. She always had a goal to visit Nepal and trek to Everest Base Camp. Of course, she succeeded but probably against the advice of her oncologist. One of my favourite photos of Mary is her sitting in the snow next to the Everest Base Camp sign with a huge pack on her back and beaming from ear to ear.
I was lucky enough to accompany Mary on one of her overseas trips. We went to Samoa when Mary was about three years into her illness. That didn’t stop us from having the best time. Closer to home, we had a holiday in Broome when Western Australia was still part of the country. Mary also loved driving, so we did lots of trips in Tasmania, my home state and Mary’s for over thirty years.
A special bond
As single parents we had a special bond doing what single parents do. Individually we raised our children, minded our own business and worked in paid jobs when the kids were at school. There were some things that I couldn’t do given my loss of eyesight, but Mary always made time to help when she saw a need. Case in point: Mary helped my daughter Sarah prepare for her drivers’ license test. The two of them spent a few hours over a couple of weekends practising reverse parallel parking and three-point turns. On top of that, Sarah completed fifty hours of on-road driving with Mary sitting beside her in the passenger seat. At that time, it was a prerequisite for a learner driver to do fifty hours of on-road driving supervised by a licensed driver.
All was not lost
Mary tried so hard to rid her body of cancer. She spent hours researching different products and diets. When we went to Broome, Mary packed all her concoctions along with a bottle of organic red wine full of cancer destroying antioxidants. The plan was to drink it on our arrival. Unfortunately, the bottle broke in Mary’s bag. Likely suspects: bloody baggage handlers. All was not lost though. The sniffer dog had a smile on his face as he inhaled his way around the luggage on the carousel. His training must have included ‘no drinking on the job’ but he seemed very happy just to sniff it.
The turmeric tinge/binge
A large jar of turmeric also accompanied us on the Broome holiday. It was Mary’s wonder spice/drug/herb at the time and she incorporated it into most of her meals. Her love of cooking did not stop when she was on holidays. Every morning I was served up a big cooked breakfast. I’m not really sure what it was now but it was quite tasty with plenty of antioxidants and very orange in colour. I remember Mary telling me once that the higher the colour of the food, the healthier it is for you. No doubt our insides had developed the same orange tinge because the frying pan sure as hell did. And the bench tops.
Well bugger me
Last year in July, Mary’s oncologist gave her a prognosis of two months on paper but ‘by the look of you 18 months”. Mary probably said something like ‘well bugger me’ when she received that news. On the outside this did not seem to faze her but who knows what she felt on the inside. She always said she was OK but maybe she was terrified. So in true Mary style, she continued to renovate her unit and install a new bathroom. Mary was starting to feel tired and weak, so she felt she had no option other than hiring tradesmen to complete the bathroom. Unfortunately, the builders discovered that Mary had another fight on her hands when they revealed the unit was being taken over by termites.
The border to open on 5 February. Woohoo!
A couple of weeks after the completion of the bathroom In December 2021, I got a text from Mary saying she thought her time was nearly up. Her lungs were filling with fluid making it difficult to breathe. She had also developed lesions in her legs which needed to be operated on. But she seemed happy when Premier Mark McGowan finally declared he would open the borders to the rest of the country on 5 February. We were planning to have a reunion, even though we both knew it would be goodbye.
No, the borders will remain closed – indefinitely
But tragically, Mary never made it until 5 February. As it turned out there would have been no reunion anyway. On 20 January 2022, McGowan announced that the WA border would remain closed indefinitely. The announcement coincided with Mary’s rapid deterioration. She passed away two days later with her daughter by her side.
The Western Australia Premier, Mark McGowan has decided to keep the state closed indefinitely to the rest of Australia and the world. After having had such a high approval rating in the early stages of the pandemic, McGowan’s latest announcement has divided people everywhere. Australia is now five states and two territories and then there’s Western Australia, a separate entity.
And as for compassion …
This pandemic has shown Australians that a pre-requisite to become a politician is lack of compassion. Hundreds of people receiving end of life care have died alone over the last couple of years. Border closures, quarantine and isolation rules, cancelled flights and high fees for quarantine are just some of the reasons for this. I’m not just talking about those who have died from COVID 19 but others like Mary who died from other causes. For me, it was heartbreaking not to be able to say goodbye to Mary. But I can’t begin to imagine how hard this must have been for Mary’s children, mother, siblings and other extended family members most of whom live in Melbourne.
For Caroline and Mary who passed away during the pandemic. I will never forget you.
Featured image: Mary and me doing one of our fave things – eating.