Last night, my mother's dear friend Peter passed away after 6 months of pancreatic cancer. Peter was one of Louise's oldest friends, a veteran from the heady days of communal housing, alternative families and queer-before-the-word-queer-was-trendy lifestyles my parents told me about when I was growing up. The years in London, before I was born, were retold as bedtime stories and through the photo albums lining our walls. I idolised the brown-tinged bell-bottomed hippies smiling up at me from English pebble beaches and little share house kitchens.
Peter was closer to Rowan growing up, coaching him in philosophy and Latin. I loved him as my mother's friend but we did not have a close personal relationship, despite running into each other regularly at Queerscreen events and the theatre.
So when I heard Peter had cancer, and last night when I got the message from Louise, I cried mainly for her, and for his family: two adult children, close friends and ex-lovers, and his lovely partner Rubens.
The past 5 years have not been easy to Louise. She has lost two brothers, the gorgeous Ingrid - another old friend, and two weeks ago, a treasured colleague. When life was hardest, Peter was there in ways only he could see she really needed. While others asked questions, imposed their own agendas and expectations, Peter took her to the opera and on picnics. Astoundingly intelligent, he talked to her about books and philosophy, not divorce and death, and he reminded her who she was and how much joy she could find in the world. He has been a true friend, and I know she will feel the loss of him daily.
Sometimes it feels like death is skirting the peripheries of my life, slowly circling closer. This big bad that frightens me so deeply, edging its way into my life, spiralling inwards, each time hurting that little bit more. I am terrified - cold and terrified - about the moment it will be not a mother's friend, or a cousin's father, but a sister or a close friend of my own. I am terrified that, unlike Louise - who is so much braver than she realises - I will completely crumble.
My mothers and their friends have taught me all I know about family. They have flaws, but you could never accuse them of disloyalty. Teresa told me yesterday how she happily skyped her first girlfriend from uni, Sydney to London, across oceans and what must be more than 35 years. They taught me that once you love someone, you should hold on tight. Some people don't like this little habit of mine - especially ex-girlfriends - but I have no plans to change. Once I'm yours, you're stuck with me, whether you like it or not. I make mistakes; I've hurt friends and I've of course been hurt by those I love. But I am still striving for friendships like my mothers maintain; epic romances really, with people they know so well and so deeply, but are still able to be suprised by and in awe of.
Peter farewelled Louise last week saying, "Enjoy everything, Louise." It's a pretty perfect piece of advice and one I want to heed. It's also something I couldn't do without my family and friends. I'm thinking about them today, and also about Peter.