About three months ago I got married and I didn’t cry. Well, not really. There was the odd tear on a couple of occasions, like when I caught sight of my sweet uncle Jebby crying when he first saw me looking all bridey in my dress and also when The Bodyguard, my very new husband, told a room full of people how special he thinks I am. I was very moved but I didn’t full on cry. No sobs or snot or heaving breathlessness (which was handy as that wasn’t really the look I was going for). This was a surprising turn of events not least because I had been nothing short of an emotional mess in the run up. I cried in a suit shop. I cried in a suburban train station. I cried at the Marine’s dining room table as I wrote her a card, telling her just how great she is. I cried a lot. Which is what you might expect of a bride without a dad. But when it came to the day itself, there were really no tears. Not even when I placed the small photograph of my dad inside my dress pocket. There were only smiles. And that is down to two reasons – 1) nothing makes me happier than The Bodyguard by my side and 2) my friend Emsy told me so.
You see the thing about my friend Emsy is that she knows stuff. She is very clever. When we were growing up she told me she wanted to be a weather girl which I considered a near impossible task (what kind of human being can predict the weather?) but I figured if anyone was going to be able to do that job it would be Emsy. Her brother Shmadsy is pretty smart too. He was in my class all the way through primary school, dazzling us with his Rain Man abilities in fractions and beating us time and time again in Monopoly. I would try my very best to avoid playing it with him whenever he and Emsy came over to play and suggest we play Mall Madness instead (and if you are unaware of the tactics involved in taking advantage of ‘the sale at the shoe store,’ then you have missed out).
I’ve known Emsy and Shmadsy so long I can’t remember the first time we met. We were thrown into each other’s lives by our mothers, who were good pals who made each other laugh a lot. One summer, our two families went on holiday together, an experience that generated a wealth of happy memories including Shmadsy jumping onto the side of a giant rubber ring while I was sat in it, thus catapulting my head into the side of a swimming pool, and a cabaret act devised by Emsy and I involving bath towels. You will be pleased to know there is a home video of this performance lingering somewhere, complete with matching Ahkanazi sunburn. I am not sure I could bring myself to watch it though. There are too many people missing these days.
One day I came home from school and the Marine asked me if Shmadsy had been in school that day. We had just turned 11. I remember being stood in the kitchen as she asked me that question and not quite understanding why she was asking, but somehow realising it was of grave significance. It was 20 years ago but I remember exactly where we stood. The next day Emsy and Shmadsy’s lovely mum, Louise, died.
I was vaguely aware that Louise had always been poorly but, being a child, I never fully grasped how bravely she fought her battle with breast cancer. I remember marvelling at how well Emsy and Shmadsy seemed to get along while my brother and I fought vehemently over the TV remote but not appreciating how a common enemy can bring siblings closer together. Even very little ones.
They were so little. There is never a good time to lose a parent but age 11 and 12 is certainly not it. As a naive 11 year old myself, whose tears were usually shed over losing valuable pogs and the control of the TV remote, I was dumbstruck by witnessing a tragedy of this magnitude. I remember attending their shiva house, and seeing little Emsy and Shmadsy sat on their low chairs. They were too small for those chairs. I will never forget catching sight of Emsy’s face through the crowds. It was red and damp from her continual tears – a memory I can’t write about now without crying. I remember going up to her yellow bedroom after the service was over, with a group of kids, and standing silent and shocked in the corner as another, remarkably untactful, girl asked the question that we were probably all thinking at the time ‘but what will you do now you don’t have a mum?’ Emsy couldn’t answer. The yellow bedroom was filled with awkward silence and pain.
Soon after that I started saying a little prayer each night before I went to sleep, silently asking god to look out for family and friends, and there was always a special unspoken mention of Emsy and Shmadsy. For I couldn’t compute how they would cope without a mum. I thought losing a parent was the worst thing that could ever possibly happen. And whenever they came to play after that I was so paralysed by fear of saying the wrong thing that I would never mention their mum. There was a holiday snap of Louise and the Marine, smiling over cocktails, just above our fridge. I would awkwardly try to keep it out of their eyesight. Seeing as I couldn’t offer them any actual help in person, I could only give them my spiritual support, whatever that was at 11 years old.
The following summer Princess Diana died. I decided to write Prince William and Prince Harry a letter, telling them my friends Emsy and Shmadsy had lost their mum too. For some reason, I felt it was important for them to know that. They were my very brave friends, you see. Still are.
So when they got in touch late last year to let us know that this coming May will be 20 years since they lost their mum and they would be taking part in the Moonwalk Marathon, it took me all of a minute to sign up and join them. We will be walking through the night to raise funds and awareness for vital breast cancer causes. We are walking as a team which is called Louise’s Legacy. The team is now 65 people strong, bigger than either Emsy or Shmadsy imagined it would be. It is not entirely surprising to me. Louise’s legacy is different to everyone taking part, and many people are walking to honour whatever that means to them. And to me, it is the legacy of her children.
Over the past 20 years, both Emsy and Shmadsy have shown me, in their own ways and without them knowing, how it is possible cope without a parent. They demonstrate that it hurts, that the pain is always there but it is manageable. When you lose a parent, it is the other Club members who can support you in a way only they can. It was Emsy who offered me pearls of hard-earned wisdom as my dad disappeared. It was Shmadsy who cried with me in a ski chalet when I told him my dad was dying. I think we cried for both my dad and his mum and because we had both experienced too much pain too young.
But it was on Emsy’s wedding day, a few years back, when I learnt the most. I was worried for her. I wasn’t sure if she would be able to cope on such an emotionally-charged day without her mum by her side. I expected a lot of tears. But as she walked down the aisle, beautiful and beaming, it was clear that she was going to be just fine. She was so very calm. So when I shared my fears with her as my wedding day approached, confessed that for many years any thought of my wedding without my dad would make me well up and how I thought I would be too overwhelmed on the day, she reassured me, ‘You won’t be. You will be fine.’ She couldn’t tell me how she knew I would be fine but she just knew. And she was right. Despite the fact I missed out having my dad walk me down the aisle, something I suspect he would have really enjoyed, I managed to sustain a sense of calm that meant I could simply concentrate on being so very, very happy. See? Emsy knows stuff. Just like she knew that when the sun came out on the day of our wedding, after a week of perpetual December drear and drizzle, that that was my dad, making his presence felt. Being witch-like, the Marine and I had the same feeling when we woke up that morning. And so did Emsy. She really would make an excellent weather girl.