Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Remembering Debra 1964-2014

(You can listen to this post by clicking the arrow above)

A childhood friend died today, in London.

Debra had beautiful chestnut hair that always smelled FLEX-shampoo fresh, a lovely smile and a wicked sense of humor.

She had been fighting breast cancer for 18 years and she was only 49. She leaves behind, her husband and two children, her parents and sisters, their families and many, many friends.

The crowd of us who met up every weekend as teenagers, are scattered across the globe as adults. 

We may not have seen Debra recently or kept in touch, but Debra was part of the fabric of our social life then and her untimely passing, rips a hole in us now.

Debra was a very private person and so perhaps her death is even more of a shock. Many didn't know her clock was ticking and her health was fading. A friend wrote that just two days ago he was playing "Words with Friends" with her  via Facebook and was unaware she was so close to the end of her life.  …. I hope she enjoyed that normalcy and I wonder if that is how she would like to be remembered.   

I hadn't spoken to Debra for at least 15 years, before we reconnected.  However two years ago in March 2012, she came across the pond for a mutual friend's daughter's Bat Mitzvah. We had a wonderful time reminiscing and catching up. 

On Saturday night, four of us went out together and I wrote about it on my blog.

 I called it, Four Girls and a Bar of Chocolate 

At the time I used no names and masked any identifying details, to preserve anonymity, but it seems appropriate today to share it again, with this new information.

Here we sit, four of us in Edgar’s in Manhattan on a Saturday night. 

We’ve all gathered for the weekend for M’s son’s Bar Mitzvah and it is obviously time to eat again. 

Four of us in our forties, each dealing with medical issues of our own, or our family’s, are at crossroads in our lives.

There is much to discuss. 

Two of us are breast cancer survivors, one is going through her 3rd course of chemo in 20 years, one has multiple sclerosis and one has a husband recovering from brain surgery. One is job hunting, three have given up jobs due to family illness. You’d think it would be a depressing conversation. 

Three of us are originally from England and have known each other since childhood. One is Canadian and newer to us all but we feel we have known her since we were kids. We all have children, two have sick parents, two have lost our fathers and worry about our mothers. We are the sandwich generation.

But then we get out the chocolate and we begin to laugh.

 We laugh so much that our sides ache, our eyes are filled with tears and customers at the other tables are looking at us rather strangely. 

We laugh about very serious things, in a way you can only do if you have experienced them yourself and feel in safe company –breast reconstruction, job loss, brain MRIs, counselling, children affected by their parents’ illnesses. 

We predict each other’s answers and this only makes us giggle more. 

The chocolate is passed around and we take deep gulping breaths. 

We look at each other and shake our heads that we are here together, in a country none of us grew up in, celebrating in the midst of crisis, laughing with the future unknown and gaining strength that friendship, support, love, lots of belly aching laughter and good English chocolate can make everything seem okay, at least for a moment.

When I sent this post to Debra to read, she loved it and responded with this…

"This is one more reminder that life is short and we need to make the effort to keep in touch with people who are important to us or have changed our lives in some way." 

And that was exactly what we did. We kept in touch via Facebook messages. She generously reposted my blog on her Facebook page and we tried unsuccessfully to meet up a number of times on various continents.

 I hoped I would one day write an update on Four Girls and a Bar of Chocolate, that would include better health for all of us, or our family members and happiness in our homes and lives. All four of us moved on from where we were. Some things are much easier now and some more challenging. 

 Debra's death is unfathomable. 

That night was such a great tonic for us all. That combination of old friendships, much laughter and chocolate erased, for a little while,  everything we were grappling with and we have referred to it often since. 

So in Debra's memory I am going to make sure to call my old friends. I am going to spend that time reminiscing and laughing with them, when times are good.

 I am going to bottle our laughter and friendship and old memories as a tonic and a balm to the difficult times we have and will encounter. 

And I boldly suggest you do the same. 

Don't wait  for bad news, challenging situations, a crisis or a particular event. I think Debra would like you to remember her by reaching out and back to those you may have lost touch with or speak to infrequently. Enjoy the comfort of "old times" to help with the new times ahead.  

Debra was courageous and kind and an inspiration to many young women grappling with breast cancer. 

May her memory be for a blessing. 

Sending love and hugs to Debra's family and to all of you missing someone you love. 


Do you know of a dear friend or family member who died too young? 
What helped you most at that time?
 Feel free to share your memories and thoughts below. Gx

These posts may also bring you comfort:-
5 Ways to Bring Comfort at Times of Illness or Distress

Tea-A Hug in a Cup

Moving From Hurt to Healing. How Taking One Step Back can Take You Two Steps Forward

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  1. So sorry to read about your friend Gilly. A lovely tribute to her.
    Liz xx

  2. I am so sorry to read about your friend. We have a close friend, we have shared vodka and chocolate with over the years who has received devastating news about her husband. I shared your blog with the other girls, she can't go there yet- Your words, as always, brought us comfort and helped us to see how we can help- Thank you Gilly- You have touched 4 more women- Melanie

  3. Thank you Melanie. I'm so glad your friend has you as an enduring support. I'm sure your presence and empathy and hugs will give her and her family much needed emotional scaffolding in the weeks and months to come. I suspect a flow of chocolate and vodka will also be very helpful! Sending love to you all. Gillyx

  4. I also didn't realise that Debra was so near the end. I had lunch with her and her family last September in Jerusalem. It was a really happy afternoon and we all hung out for ages after the meal. By the time I went to London for my nephew's Bar Mitzvah in October she didn't come to either of the celebrations because she wasn't feeling well. For some reason I got the impression she had a cold - maybe they said that, I don't remember. And I usually saw her in London over Pesach but this year all the kids had major exams so there wasn't the big outing with a matza picnic that they usually have. I thought I'd see her next time. Or here maybe over the summer or at Rosh Hashana time. Such a big shock. I had no idea she was so near the end. R.I.P. xxxxxx

    1. The shock certainly compounds our grief. I'm sure many of us are wishing we could have sent one more email, made one last call or one extra visit, if we had only known….I know I wish I had written one extra FB message to Debra. We all did our best, with the information we had at the time. Debra chose privacy and we know that in not having that information she had what she needed. I hope that brings you some comfort. It is helping me. Gillyx

    2. Thanks Gilly. I didn't know that she chose privacy in that way. Yes that does give me some comfort.

  5. I am so sorry for your loss. This is a lovely tribute. Thank you for the reminder.

  6. This was beautiful. Sorry for your loss.

  7. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend.

  8. Gilly, I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your friend Debra. I was so touched by your tribute to her, and recalling the events of the Four Girls and a Bar of Chocolate made me smile for you. It seemed that no matter what tribulations you each were facing, for one glorious evening, you were in the company of your comrades and the weight of the world on your shoulders lightened just a bit! Sending hugs! You are always in my thoughts.

    1. Thank you Marie. We really did suspend time that evening. GIllyx

  9. Gilly your love and hugs have been received and felt here in England.
    Debra so enjoyed that evening you had together , and you have summed up her very essence so well. She would have hated all this public praise but so deserved it.
    Thank you for writing this post.
    With love
    Shira Brodie ( Debra's sister)

    1. Shira -I'm so touched that you took a moment to read and leave a comment.I'm very glad to hear you felt it was a fitting tribute. I did hesitate when writing, because as you say, Debra would have hated the praise and limelight…..My love and hugs continue to be sent to you and all the family. Gillyx

    2. Shira, if you come back to read your reply from Gilly, I too send you lots of love and hugs from Jerusalem (to Jerusalem?). I've been thinking of you all constantly since I heard the news. Wishing you and your family long life. xxx

  10. Gilly,

    I'm deeply touched by your story and so sad to hear about your friend's death. We all get so busy with our lives it's easy, in the busy-ness to let relationships lapse assuming that they'll be there when we have time again. The time is clearly now.

    Big hugs to you.


    1. Thanks Alli. You make such an important point. I know I can get bogged down in the every-day to the detriment of what is most important to me. But when I stop and think about what I care about most,it is about the people in my life not the things I have to do…So clearly a revision of priorities is urgent! Thank you as always for your insight and perspective. I know it will be very important to me, to meet you when you are back on this side of the world! Gillyx

  11. Hi Gilly
    I think of you and Jonny often and promise myself to be in touch.
    I have literally just returned to London from the wedding of my very good friend Tanya Levine (Sterrie) to Malcolm Percey (a very close friend of my sister Louise and brother in law Tony.
    Debra Brodie was in the class below me at school and I had ' an urge to "find" her on the internet.
    I came across your outstanding post and was so moved.
    So here I am in the middle of the night.
    writing to you , sending you and Jonny my love and warmest wishes as I know Yair does.

  12. I've just read this. Debra was my first cousin and my dearest friend. I think about her every day. When she died I felt as though I had had an arm lopped off. Luckily I live near Bushey cemetery so I can visit often and still feel close to her. Your words were beautifully written and a real tribute to a very special person