In times of great hardship and sometimes suffering we find out those who will stick by you through thick and thin, good times and bad, the friends that will always be there no matter what. Those friendships can come out of no where. I don’t know when we became friends but we did, it was such a special friendship.

Zoe had cancer, something she lived with for 11 years. After going into remission and then relapsing, she was finally told that treatment was no longer working and it was active. Over the years Zoe continued doing what she loved, looking after her boys, playing golf, book group, standing on the side of a rugby pitch encouraging her boys, and part of so many  committees where she voluntarily gave up her time to help others.

We met at my youngest brothers school. Her middle son was in the same year and one of my brothers and her youngest son was the year below my youngest brother but they were both played the bagpipes and played in the band together and at several competitions. Supporting my brother at piping events and then at Britains Got Talent where the boys along with others formed the PipeBandits, I got to know Zoe better. You would never have known she was unwell.

Being very private, Zoe never made a huge deal about feeing unwell. There was only twice where I ever saw a flicker of doubt in Zoe and frustration she felt about having cancer. When the cancer came back and effected her more unable to drive this didnt stop her. We would have regular afternoon tea’s at various different places but a favourite was Mimi’s Bakehouse down in Leith. We loved going there with my mum, often boring her with chat about golf- we both have an equal love of the game. I was always in awe of Zoe as despite everything she continued to play golf and played this year with her family.

When the cancer progressed and Zoe was not going to recover I was in hospital and unable to visit her. Mum thought she could take me out and we could see her but the hospital didnt let me. As soon as I was discharged we went round to see her and her husband and boys. A downstairs room was beautifully arranged with her bed overlooking the garden and a chair either side so she wouldn’t be alone. I felt so privileged to be invited round to sit with Zoe, have a juice and a chat, although she couldn’t answer back and I’m sure would often be correcting things I couldn’t remember or laughing at the stories of what my youngest brother was up to.

The care and attention given to Zoe by her family was amazing. They are all a credit to her and should be proud of how they have grown into the men they have. Hearing that Zoe died was devastating but also peaceful because she was no longer suffering. Although she never voiced that she suffered I am sure she did at times and had her moments when it was all too much but to me the way she dealt with her health and our friendship she taught me so much.

I received an email from her husband asking for some words I would use to describe Zoe and stories I would want to share. This was to help with her eulogy. I wrote the following:

We had a friendship on many different levels, one bond was having a chronic illness that was so prominent in our lives but both wanting it to so badly not be there.  I would have to say stubborn and strong willed spring to mind, Zoe for sure was not going to stop doing what she loved, and I do remember when I was really down about not being able to play golf she encouraged me to try and keep playing because there is always a way around it, if walking round the course was too much I shouldn’t be ashamed of using a buggy. I always felt Zoe knew what to say and when nothing needed to be said but companionable silence. Other words that come to mind would be loyal, compassionate, and just someone who is so easy to be around.

Attending Zoe’s funeral was one of the hardest things I have done. Far more difficult that any others I have been to. I knew it would be hard but I was completely overwhelmed by it. The fact that the church was full and there were more than 100 people standing outside who could not get into the church says it all.  The service was beautiful and listening to her youngest son play the pipes in front of his Mum’s coffin in front of a packed church was so emotional. Zoe was so understated and never wanted a fuss, but seeing the sheer number of people from all aspects of her life come to celebrate her life must be such a comfort to her family as she is loved by so many.

I had thought I had my emotions together about Zoe dying and was prepared for a difficult day however during the eulogy there was an extract of something I wrote about Zoe read out verbatim to all the church. Thankfully I was not named but those who know me would have known it was my words and those around me would know as I burst into tears and was comforted by my little brother. The words I wrote were so true and exactly I think how Zoe viewed life and how she changed my thoughts on life. This is what was said:

It would be so easy to write inspirational, and words of those ilk but Zoe would not thank me for that as I remember a conversation after I was at the Healthcare Heroes book launch where we were discussing it as many people had said I was a warrior and inspirational for being in it etc but I was of the opinion I would still do what I do and just because of illness it doesn’t make it any more special. Zoe said to me that you make your life from what you are dealt, if you don’t get on with life then life goes by so living life with illness is not inspirational or anything you just do what you have to otherwise you would be the one to suffer and life passes you by (Im not sure I have worded that right). But I guess in a nutshell to me Zoe viewed illness as something she had and if she stopped life for it then what is the point in fighting it. Zoe really changed my view on life and coping with the rubbish that lands on you which I am so grateful for.

Zoe will have left a huge in hole in so many people’s lives but she has a wonderful family who will keep her memory alive, sharing stories, memories, things she knew and maybe didnt know about antics of her sons. Zoe had a profound impact on my life and my view of illness and feel so fortunate to have had the pleasure of being able to say Zoe is one of my friends. I want to say a huge thanks to her family for the time they gave me with her and sitting with her in her last weeks.

Zoe you are one in a million and I wish I had told you how special you are. I will be down to visit you as you look over the sea out to Fife, along the coast to Gullane and of course lying beside the golf course watching the golfers do battle.

Dum spiro spero- While I breathe, I hope

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