Time moves us on and things happen in life whether we like it or not. I am constantly surprised at the sheer unpredictability and fragility of life and love. It nurtures deep within me a sense of thankfulness for each day and the gifts that are so generously shared especially in friendship.
During my last week I had the news that a dear friend of mine had died. A terrible tragedy especially as she left five children. It was a friendship that went back many years.
I wanted to share with you the piece I wrote for her funeral. I hope that it gives you a glimpse of this remarkable and beautiful women. I offer it in thanksgiving for all that she was and shared:
I met Claire Smallbone on the Alexandria Ward of St Christopher’s Hospice in the early part of 1983. I was a young theology graduate preparing to go to Cambridge to train to be an Anglican priest. Claire was a young nurse, looking angelic, in her Royal London nurses uniform. Her wondrous flow of hair had already become a talking point for the ward. The ward sister put us to work together and our shared sense of the ridiculous established a bond that enriched my life beyond measure.
When I think about Claire and those days a number of very clear memories come to mind.
The first was Claire’s sensitivity and skill as a nurse. To accompany her during those mornings of care (I was working as a nursing auxiliary) was to glimpse something of her capacity to comfort and heal. Her strength came from the ability to combine the physical tasks of care with consummate attention to the person. She bothered very much about how things were for the individual and was able to attend to their unique story as a wound was dressed or chemotherapy routine administered.
Claire was a natural teacher too. She was able to answer my questions with skill, insight and careful attention to detail. She was never afraid to admit that, sometimes, she did not know the answer. She was a honest and open person – ready to share her doubts and fears about the strange and perplexing world of cancer.
The second memory was Claire’s wonderful and wicked sense of humour! We did laugh at ourselves and the oddities around us – never cruel or mocking – I shall never forget our smiles and giggles. Her insight and wisdom came from someone who listened. We would often wonder about what would become of our lives.We talked about parents, religion, children and the impossibilities of love and so much more. She always said that I would make a good priest because I could make people laugh! I joked that she would make a terrible mother because her hands were too clean!
Thirdly – as a rather intense theological student – we reflected about belief in that place that posed such a threat to the coherent belief in a loving God. Claire disclosed her natural and profound conviction about the spiritual. Claire had a spirituality that was breathtaking in its simplicity and depth. It was a spirituality earthed in her own vulnerability and tentativeness that made her such a beautiful human being. She felt things very deeply. She worried about people. She cared beyond our comprehension. Claire’s still waters of introspection and love were remarkable. This made living a struggle sometimes but what a gift she shared with so many of us. It was this inspiring spirituality that made her so real and loving – and I am sure such a wonderful friend and daughter and mother and wife.
The gift that was Claire lives on in our hearts to inspire us to a more authentic life. I give God thanks for all that he wonderfully created in Claire and pray that he will keep her safe in His eternal love.