My wonderful friend Carol died last Friday. Breast cancer. In true Carol style, she insisted that we, her loved ones, celebrate her life rather than mourn her death. To this end, she asked me last year to gather together a group of her women friends to create a colourful cloth to cover her coffin. The last thing she wanted was a dark wooden box dominating her funeral. Carol wanted to join in the creative fun and see the finished result (and probably direct proceedings) but things didn’t quite work out that way.
So on Saturday afternoon, we rolled out a length of calico and pinned up a big laughing photo of Carol to watch as a bevy of us gathered to fulfil her wishes. We painted, cut and pasted champagne glasses, hearts and flowers out of vibrant fabrics, stitched Guatemalan ‘circles of friends’ and glued wise owls to our cloth. We added red stilettos, dogs, kisses and words that captured her essence and we tied blousey striped and spotted bows around the perimeters.
We drank champagne, ate biscuits and reminisced. She’d have loved it.
The finished cloth may not be an artistic triumph but it is certainly a vivid celebration of the life of a generous, funny and inspiring woman. A labour of love.
Fittingly, what emerged in the gaps in our masterpiece were brightly coloured stars.
I feel so lucky to have met Carol because she became one of the brightest stars in my personal firmament. She shone her light on my life and career path in countless ways over more than thirty years and I am only now, immersed in memories as I ponder her eulogy, becoming fully aware of the enormity of her legacy.
Carol shared an office with me when I started my first business. Fuelled with a bright idea and the entrepreneurial optimism of the breathtakingly naïve, I had no clue what running a business entailed but Carol did. While she conducted her own business from the next desk, she taught me the basics of budgeting, financial management and filing systems and off we went, setting the world on fire from the front room of a former bank branch office in the city. The locals used our reflective front window as their bathroom mirror providing hilarity for us daily as they stopped to do their toiletries in full view.
It wasn’t just in business that Carol excelled. She excelled at life! She had a wisdom born of a formidable intellect combined with tough experience and she took no prisoners.
Carol believed in me long before I learnt to believe in myself. Without her encouragement, guidance and support, both practical and moral, I have no doubt that my first business would not have succeeded and still be operating today. My second, third, fourth and fifth would never have eventuated. Now, as a professional mentor myself I frequently hear Carol coming out of my mouth.
Carol was one of a few very big-hearted people who stand out in my memory as extraordinary mentors and influencers. People who you can always count on for support, who you know have got your back. I’m reminded too of Sue, another successful businesswoman who was generous enough in those early days to let me loose in her office to find out how to write business letters and proposals. Can you imagine? I still use her formats today.
We are all lucky to have stars who shine a light for us, but we are not all lucky enough to have the warning signals and the time to show our gratitude or say our thanks. If a cancer diagnosis has one upside, this is it.
Through the gift of time, Carol and I had many long talks about life and particularly about death, a much under-discussed topic. We’ve laughed and we’ve cried together and there was nothing left unsaid.
She knew I loved and valued her but I’m not sure she knew just how much. How could she? I didn’t know myself until these last few days and I’m sure my indebtedness to her will only grow as the hole she has left in my world takes shape.
So how do we thank our lucky stars for the roles they have played in influencing our lives?
Just make the time to do it while we can.