We have just come back from a close friend’s funeral.
I met Sally on my first day at school in the third form (Year 9) back in 1973.
We were being shown around the school by the teacher of our class, chatted and became part of a group of friends in that class.
Independently through sport I met Simon in the same year, and we became lifetime mates.
He and Sally began to go out a year or two later and several years after that I was best man at their wedding.
So great friends for 50 years but now after a brave battle with cancer Sally has died, leaving a hole in many hearts, not least my good friend’s.
During the quarter of a century of writing this column, I have written of the lives of several people I’ve been close to or who have had an impact on my own life.
Gordon was my fat stock drafter, as we said in those days – he would be a prime stock drafter now.
I used to tell him he was the best thing I inherited off the old man.
I was a know-nothing young farmer, and he offered me advice and the wisdom of a fellow who knew the industry well.
When I told him I’d read about his general manager saying in the paper that stock prices would be going up, he laughed and said that they would likely be going down then. And they did. I learnt to be sceptical of seemingly knowledgeable authority figures.
He trained me to do “woofers”, where we would draft deep into the lambs at weaning and “woof” them onto the truck. I used the term in an early column and it has now come into the rural lexicon thanks to Gordon.
My mother always took great care of herself and was determinedly against smoking, so it was unfair when she contracted lung cancer and, after a short illness, died. My siblings and I nursed her through those couple of months at her home, and her courage facing the grim reality of her death was impressive. I’d like to think because of that, I will be able to show the same courage and dignity when my turn comes and thus help those around me to aspire to similar sentiments in their own time.
I’ve now outlived her, but hope to put the love of reading she instilled in us to good use in my latter years as I get more time for such pursuits.
AJ was my first farm adviser and we kept in touch when he moved away.
His illness was a protracted battle also with cancer and he put up a great fight and nearly won.
I used to ring him every night from the kennels while the dogs were having a run and talk to him while he lay in his hospital bed and give him an update from the world outside that he used to be part of.
Glen was my brother-in-law and good friend. We went to his 60th birthday, and he was in great form. Less than a month later he dropped dramatically dead with a brain aneurysm. Deaths like this and abrupt accidents leave those behind unprepared and shocked with the suddenness of the event.
He was a wonderful husband to my sister and terrific father to his three kids and they still miss him terribly.
“Time heals” may be a cliché, but it does help.
And there have been many others. Young, old, tragic accidents and suicides.
All of those reading this have comparable stories.
As you attend the funerals of people you have known, the fragility of life becomes more apparent.
But also, the preciousness of life.
It is easy to take it for granted but farewelling loved ones is a reminder that you simply mustn’t.
Mae West summed it up well: “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”