Brenda has been my bridge partner for the last 13 years or so. We are about the same age, and level of ability, but our friendship has been very fragile, despite lasting this long.
I am the sort of person who tries to avoid conflict, and when I finally worked up the courage to tell her that I didn't want to play with her twice a week, I dreaded her response. On occasions she has become annoyed at other partners or opponents comments and just walked out of the session. She frequently shouts but is much more likely to make faces or swear under her breath, but she conveys her feelings very well.
Well, I guess I might do better to start this story with telling a bit about her life before I met her. She was born in Leeds, an only child of rather elderly parents, and her mother died young. She lived with her father until she finished school, and then came to the Manchester area and got various jobs and had a full social life. I don't think anybody could describe her as pretty, but she is slim, and confident, with a natural grace which showed itself in her dancing and sporting activities.
Her career was in the catering trade, and I think she ran her own business. She got married when she was in her late 20's and they had one son. Her husband made lots of money, and they had a very busy and expensive life style. But he was unfaithful, and the marriage ended with great bitterness. She then became very depressed and even considered suicide, but with the help of good friends and the Samaritans, she managed to learn to cope on her own and have some sort of life, although it was very low key compared to her previous one. She and her son are very close. He has a daughter from a previous relationship, and is now happily married.
It was about this time, when she was in her 60's that she took up bridge. I met her when I had retired, and needed to find things to do nearer home. I started out by teaching a group of beginners to play bridge, and then joined a more advanced group. Brenda approached me to partner her, and I
said I would play with her occasionally, but I felt that my main interest was partnering people who weren't very confident, to try to help them enjoy the game more. But after a few weeks of ending up
being her partner, we realised that we did well together, and it was nice to be in with the prize winners week after week.
So we became partners and played together at least twice a week. We also went on a couple of bridge holidays together, and had a fortnight at her time-share apartment in Spain with a couple of other bridge players from our group. I wrote a story about that called “Most of the Deadly Sins.”
The four of us fought most of the time, and it certainly wasn't a successful break, but Brenda and I got on, and found that when we went away from the others and played bridge in a Spanish club, we had quite a good time.
But I was never happy with the way Brenda treated people – although she has a huge collection of very loyal friends. But she is scathing in her treatment of those she doesn't like much, and it makes me very uncomfortable.
Tomorrow I have to do something that will make me feel very uncomfortable too. I have to go and visit Brenda in the hospital where she has just started the beginning of the end of her life.
Over Easter she and a friend went on a cruise, and although they enjoyed it, she said that she had lost weight, and was pretty tired most of the time, and couldn't manage all the activities in the way she had when they had done a similar thing a few years ago. She also had a bad cough, and was seeing her doctor because her heart beats seemed very odd to her. He put her on some medication, and told her to come back if things didn't get better.
They quickly got much worse, and she started coughing blood, so another visit to her GP sent her for a chest xray followed the next week by a scan, and then eventually to the diagnosis that she got last Friday – Stage 4 cancer in half her lung, all over her spine, in her pancreas – too late to do anything, Three months to live.
When she called to give me the verdict and say that chances were that she wouldn't be coming
to bridge any more, she seemed calm. When we were on our Spanish holiday, she had declared that she would certainly prefer going to take the drink in Switzerland than spend years slowly declining. Well, she no longer has that choice. But when I told her how brave I thought she was she only said, “When your time has come, I think your body just goes into another mode – and there is not much purpose in fighting it.” She thinks her palliative care plan will include a hospice, and although she would like to go back to her little bungalow, she couldn't cope without nursing care. But she said funnily enough, she now feels better than she has for the past couple of months. I suppose she is on medication to take away the pain, and that takes away the anxiety too.
So another of my friends is about to bite the dust. She isn't religious so she doesn't have that consolation to help her. I hope I can help her somehow during these last difficult times. Maybe she will be sharp enough to get in the odd game of bridge at the hospice. But there is no doubt that despite how much she has annoyed me in the past, and no doubt I have annoyed her, I will miss her very much.