Monday, January 11, 2016

Until We Meet Again

This afternoon my phone rang and when I saw the name of a school-friend of mine on the screen, I turned to hubby and said "oh no" because I just knew something was wrong. I answered happily, hoping to smother the bad news with my fake happy "hello". But within 15 seconds she imparted the words that she had phoned to say. "Louise passed away this morning." She had no details. I was shocked and saddened.  This beautiful soul had had such a tough life. She had been dealt hand after hand of bad luck and now she was gone.

My surprise 16th birthday party in 1987
Although Louise and I have not been close in recent years, she has been in my life for many years, actually, basically forever. This is our story as I remember it:

We met in primary school and continued being friendly throughout high school. She was always a kind, loving girl and I remember many functions at her home, for birthdays, swimming and watching the Miss South Africa finals. We were in the school concerts together, the choir and we sat together at break time, sunning ourselves to get the elusive tan we were always lusting after. We both tried out for the Rand Youth Choir and when I went in for my audition they called me Louise and I corrected them. Louise was accepted, I was not. Deep down I knew that they had messed up the results and the choir teacher pulled me aside and said as much to me. She arranged for me to have another audition and I was accepted. I didn't want Louise to know because that would mean that she should not have been accepted. I never told her and even though the choir teacher was furious with me, I told her that I had to work on Friday nights, which is when the choir would rehearse. That was hard for me but Louise had a ball at the rehearsals and met her boyfriend Michael there, who she really cared about. 
Matric dance before party at my house 1989
Lou and Michael
Matric dance after party at Lucy's house 
We had loads of fun. We both had a crush on the same teacher, we scrounged money to buy the new chocolate bar - an Inside Story, which we would share amongst our group, we each got one of the five blocks. We designed our matric dance dresses together and we had a lot of fun. Lou was not only part of my group of friends, she also had other groups of friends. The friendships she made throughout her life were long-lasting. 

Sadly, Lou had a bone disease which made her unable to wear a ring on her fingers, except her ring finger, she was desperate to find the love of her life and wear a ring on her wedding finger.  Her one leg was longer than the other and her arms too, but she took it in good humour. She had had an operation to reduce the lumps on her hands but the surgeon wasn't able to improve them much, so she took that in her stride too. She was adopted but had no intention of ever finding her birth mother, she loved her adoptive parents dearly, as well as her baby brother Chris. It always amazed me how similar their family looked even though the children were adopted.

After school we didn't see each other very often for the first few years but we stayed in touch. Lou went to Wits to study law. She became a bit of a wild child and rebelled terribly, giving her poor parents grey hairs. Even at her 21st I remember there being a punch up with her dad and a guest! She had a few boyfriends but she always had a knack of choosing her partners poorly. She was just too trusting. She took up smoking at varsity and thought it was a well-kept secret, but everyone knew. She also enjoyed clubbing and drinking and the freedom from being a goody-goody at school. She enjoyed varsity immensely and made good friends. She often visited the pub that hubby and I ran at my townhouse complex clubhouse. We spent many Sunday evenings together laughing, drinking and playing pool. She had a huge crush on Paul (we called him Lofty because he'd built a loft in his apartment.) She also really liked a pilot named Martin who we went to school with and they were both often found at the Mont Serrat Pub with his group of friends. I think they dated for a while and it fizzled out. Lou used to drive me crazy with her indecision about where to do her articles. She used to procrastinate and when she had been drinking it was worse, but she was always a loyal friend, although she could be quite self-centred, we loved her.

Our group at school 1989
Lou got her law degree and started working. She drew up mine and hubby's Ante Nuptial Contract and Will, as well as handling the private sale of hubby's townhouse when we got married. She quickly purchased a home in Fourways Garden Villas and then due to her job being in town, she moved to a beautiful cluster just off South Road in Sandton, where we met quite often for wine or coffee and a chat. Lou's life seemed to be going really well. She was successful and she loved her job and all she wanted was a knight in shining armour to sweep her off her feet. Unfortunately her knight was a fraud. 

Around this time she met a man who I immediately didn't like. She would tell me stories about him and they just didn't ring true. The two of them would go on huge drinking sprees and I was sure there were drugs involved too. She was besotted. One day she asked me to meet her for coffee at her home. She had a broken leg. There had been a scuffle between her boyfriend and his friend and she had tried to separate them and fallen backwards down the stairs and broken her leg (and her nose which I only found out later). But it DEFINITELY wasn't his fault. Alarm bells were ringing in my ears! She then proceeded to tell me how she had met his ex-girlfriend who warned her that he was abusive and that had caused their break up. I cautioned her but she was in love and the ex was "just jealous". Lou couldn't drive with her broken leg, so the boyfriend moved in and took over, which was fortunate for him because he had nowhere to live and no car. Lou was doing really well for herself and had a beautiful home and a sporty Audi. One night she phoned me hysterical, they had had a fight and he had stormed off in her car and hadn't come home. She suspected an affair. But he was smooth. A few weeks later they were engaged and she couldn't have been happier. I'm quite sure she purchased her own ring but it looked beautiful on her one straight finger and I was happy that she was happy. But I had a sick feeling in my gut which I couldn't tell her about. Later she confided that she wished I had.

My 21st. Both Lou and Andrew have passed on.1992
On their wedding day, I arrived early as I was to hand out the order of service leaflet. When I kissed him hello, he reeked of booze. I really really didn't like this guy. I can't find any photos of the wedding, but Lou looked beautiful and I'll never forget her brother's speech, he ended off by looking directly at the bridegroom and said "if you hurt her, I'll kill you." He must have foreseen what was to happen......

The happy couple left for their Thailand honeymoon and when they returned we were invited to their new home in Craighall (because her cluster was too small for him). We had dinner with the newlyweds and his mom and his child from a previous marriage, and they were raving about Thailand and how the food had finally made her eczema disappear so they were only eating Thai food from then on. But when we got into the car I said to Hubby, I get such a bad feeling about them. He turns my stomach. It wasn't 18 months later when I met Lou for a drink and she looked skeletal. Lou didn't eat when she was stressed, so I knew something was up. She admitted to weighing 38kgs and then broke down and told me the horrors that she had endured. 

At my wedding in 1997
Her husband was an alcoholic. He never had a job during the marriage. He was drinking and partying her money away. The harder she worked, the more he spent. He became physically abusive after months of verbal abuse and she was battered and bruised. One night he almost choked her to death. She lost consciousness. He never remembered ever hurting her while he was drunk. She was devastated but thought she could help him by taking him to AA meetings etc but he wasn't interested. She told me that the seed for divorce was planted by the wife of a fellow AA member that she met at a meeting. It was this lady's husband's 5th time at AA and she was supporting him, yet again. Lou asked her, if she knew what she was in for, would she have stayed married to her alcoholic husband and the lady said "absolutely not, he has ruined my life and my children's lives. You will never be able to trust an alcoholic and it takes just one sip....... and your first indication that he's drinking again is when he hits you." 

It wasn't long before the abuse began again and it was worse. No flies on Lou, she found her inner strength and called the cops and had him thrown in jail. Just when I thought there was no hope for her and that she was going to be a battered wife for the rest of her life, she mustered all her strength and took her power back. I sobbed with her as she told me the story. And then I laughed with her when she told me the cops refused to arrest him because there was no evidence of abuse and she let rip with a recital of legal jargon, stating previous cases which had set a precedent and that they could in fact arrest him and keep him for one night on the word of a woman afraid for her life! Apparently the cops were so scared of her legal sprouting that they hurriedly arrested him. She then packed up his things, drove to his mom's house, dropped them off and told her "fetch your son at the jail tomorrow because you can tell him we're getting divorced and I never want to see him again." I was stunned. I was so proud of her! Little Mightly Mouse. When she moved out of their home she said there were literally hundreds of bottles of spirits hidden all over the house.
At a friend's wedding in 2000

Lou took her Ridgeback dog Zinzi, who she adored, and moved to a townhouse in Sunninghill where she tendered her garden beautifully. Unfortunately her estranged husband was off the rails and was stalking her and leaving hour long drunken voice messages begging her to return and then threatening to kill her if she didn't. She changed her number and was in fear of her life. She took legal action against him. The calls became less and less and in 2005 we got together again when poor Lou, who had been sickly for most of her life, had then contracted tick bite fever. I'll never forget the day when she phoned me and said "now don't freak out, but I've become happy clappy" wahahaha I had a good laugh. She was always an open book. The next time I heard from her, she thought that that particular church was something of a cult and she had cut them off because they would phone her if she missed any function and she became claustrophobic being harassed by them. A year later I gave birth to Tomato and then Bacon and life got busy. I hadn't spoken to Lou in about a year except on her birthday and I remember that I had just started my new position as Business Unit Head in 2008 and I was holding a high level meeting when my phone rang. It was Lou. I remember putting my phone on silent and thinking: Ah, how nice, I'll phone her for a catch up when I'm done. Then it rang again and again and again and again. I was chairing the meeting but I just couldn't concentrate. Something was wrong, why would she phone me repeatedly like that. I excused myself and phoned her back. My heart almost stopped when her dad answered her phone.
My 30th birthday in 2001

Lou had an inoperable brain tumor. Her condition was critical. I was stunned. I asked what that meant. "Can't they do anything? Is she going to die?" Her father's voice was flat. He just said "we don't know but we've been told to prepare ourselves." I cried like a baby over my desk. My PA postponed the meeting and I rushed through to Milpark. There was this little body tied up to machines, her head shaved in parts, there were probes and bandages and drips dripping medication into her. I tried not to let my fear show. Although she recognised me, it took me a while to realise that she was delirious. She would come in and out of awareness. I kissed her goodbye and as I rounded the corner of the ICU, just out of her sight, I slid down the wall and sobbed. Eventually someone helped me to a visitor's chair. How could this be happening? She was only 37. Later I realised that obviously the doctors would try radiation and chemo on an inoperable tumor, which they did. I visited her many times in hospital, it felt like she was there for months. She then went to a rehabilitation centre in Rivonia. The first time I visited her at the centre, the nurse told me she was in the garden. There were 5 people sitting in the garden. I looked and looked and eventually said to the nurse "which one is Louise?" and the nurse said "she's wearing pink." She looked terrible. She was very sick from the chemo and she must have weighted 30kg. She was sitting in a wheel chair, bald with her hands shaking so much that she couldn't hold her tea. I helped her drink her tea. Then I got into my car and cried for the umpteenth time. 

I visited Lou at the rehab centre a few times and one time she told me that the cancer was still there although the chemo had done a great job in reducing the size of the tumor. She said the doctors wanted to do another round but she wasn't strong enough. When she told her father that, he cried. For the first time he cried and begged her to try one more time. She said she felt guilty but she wanted to die. We talked about death and I asked if she really wanted to go. She told me she really did, she didn't want to fight any more. I asked her "what can I do to help you?" and she said "I want two things. I want to see my nieces (they were kept away so as not to scare them as Lou really looked like a skeleton) and I want you to tell my parents that I don't want to have any more chemo." That wasn't going to be a good conversation. I dreaded doing it, but I mustered up the courage and did it. I made the call that night to her father. As I expected, he unleashed all of his grief on me and told me that he would never allow it. As a mother, I understand wanting your child to live as long as they can, but I had made a promise to tell him, so I took the tongue-lashing and then...... wait for it..... I got off the phone and....... yes, you guessed it, I cried. What an emotional call. After begging from her parents, Lou agreed to do one more round of heavy chemo. That session took it out of her, she was weak and sick, but it worked! It shrunk the tumor so she had a lot more of her cognitive function back. Things were looking good at last.

Lou moved in with her parents in Lonehill to recouperate. She was bedridden. Over the past 5 years I have visited her very few times as it has been hugely uncomfortable and stressful for me. Firstly her parents obviously are acutely aware of what I had discussed with them and probably hate me, but also, Lou was not herself. Sometimes she slurred her words so badly I couldn't hear her and other times she would tell me long stories that didn't seem accurate or to make sense. She had had a cold and when she sneezed, her bones were so weak that the sneeze broke 2 ribs and crushed a vertebrae. She was weak and very fragile. Always bed-ridden and needing round the clock care that her retired parents provided themselves. It was tough going for them. Eventually Zinzi also came to stay and her Sunninghill home was sold. She hadn't worked in years and I didn't see her ever working again. I remember telling her the story of how Lettuce was born on the bathroom floor and she didn't fully comprehend what I was saying. After that, with 3 children, it was hard to find a time when one of us wasn't sick with something and I was too afraid to make her sick and compromise her health further, she was always weak and a common cold could turn to respiratory failure in a flash. To be honest I dreaded going there because it was emotionally draining and I felt guilty for my great life and particularly my good health. Why did Lou have to have one bad experience after another? Unfortunately I think all her friends felt the same way and her visitors were few and far between.

Looking back, should Lou have gone on her own terms? Was it worth going through excruciating chemo just to get a few more years of bedridden life? What life did she really have? I look at my children and know that without a doubt, making that decision would be the hardest decision any parent could make. We all want more time. But as I saw with my mom, more time is not always a blessing. But when you're talking about a 37 year old, obviously hope of recovery and the allure of her potentially regaining her previously prosperous life, is a strong determiner. I take my hat off to her parents, who cared for Lou selflessly for years, nursing her, when they should have been enjoying their well-deserved retirement. Their unconditional love is phenominal and they are heartbroken to lose their beloved daughter, who fought so long and so bravely. My heart goes out to her mom, dad, brother and family as they take their first steps along the long, sad path of loss. I hope they will find comfort in the fact that Louise has touched the hearts of so many people and she will never be forgotten.

Rest in Peace my dear friend Sarah Louise McCreedy. You are in a better place now, free from pain, free from medication and free from the confinement of your diseased body. I hope my mom was there to meet you and give you the hug that I wish I could. Fly high little bird, fly high.

Until we meet again.......

Sarah Louise McCreedy

12 October 1971 - 10 January 2016

Sarah Louise McCreedy