Just as I was about to leave the library today, someone came to my office and gave me some shocking news. My colleague and friend Sonya had passed away.
This was completely unexpected. We knew she was ill, suffering from breast cancer. But I've known many women who recovered from breast cancer. I'd almost got to thinking it a matter of course that women made it through it eventually.
Sonya actually shared an office with me, although she never occupied her desk. It was assigned to her after she'd gone on sick leave. She was going to be sitting in the desk just across from mine. Her name is presumably still on our office door. She had actually been a tenant of that office previously.
I knew Sonya since I started working in the library in 2001. At first I didn't really expect we would be friends since she very much seemed to be one of the 'cool kids'. I was even shyer then than I am now. We interacted plenty, and had lots of conversations, but she seemed distant and reserved. Later on I was to learn-- indeed she told me-- that she gave this impression unwillingly, and she was actually very shy too.
We got to know each other better through my best friend in the library, Alan. Eventually we ended up going for tea-breaks together, usually just us three, on a regular basis. We'd talk about everything, including me and Alan's latest crushes on women. (Sonya was married.) Music was a big topic. Books, too-- Sonya studied a distance learning English degree for several years. She once drove to a different city, to her tutor's home, to hand in an assignment on time.
We even went out socialising together a good deal-- with other library people, mostly, but sometimes just us three or a few other people. I remember one night when we stayed very late in The Odeon in Harcourt Street, which becomes a night-club in the early hours. We were shouting to each other over the music and we were all a bit tipsy. I remember Sonya hugging us and saying, "My boys!". I was very touched.
When Alan left the library, myself and Sonya continued going on tea-break together. But we were both rather shy so conversation was somewhat more strained. We really needed Alan. I can't remember when we stopped going on tea-breaks, whether it just petered out or whether we kept it up until she left the library. I can't even remember why she left the library-- on a career break or maternity leave, I think. (She had two daughters, Isobel and Rosanna. I heard a lot about Isobel, the eldest.)
I was surprised when she eventually came back to the library, after years, as I'd assumed her 'career break' was just a formality at that stage. She was only back for a little while when she disappeared again, and we heard that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. True to form, she didn't want to announce it. (She was very private. When she was first pregnant, she didn't tell most people until it was obvious-- she said it wasn't a secret, she was just embarrassed to talk about something so personal.)
She was very lady-like. From the way she spoke, walked and bore herself, you'd think she'd attended a girl's finishing school. I think I might have told her that once. I liked making her laugh because she would be seized with laughter, shaking, but hardly making a sound. She used to wear glasses but got laser eye surgery later on. She was pretty, with very dark shoulder length hair, but not stuck up about it.
This isn't an attempt to sum her up. I hate the idea that you can sum up a person, a life, in a few words. These are just the thoughts that happen to come into my head.
When I heard about her illness, I sent her a get well card. I always write a lot on greeting cards-- what's the point of a few lines?-- but on this occasion I decided to throw reserve aside. I told her that we were both introverts and I sometimes felt I hadn't been as friendly to her as I wanted to be. That I liked her very much and looked forward to becoming better friends in the future, and that she would be in my prayers. She sent me an email saying it made her a bit teary and thanking me. She seemed cheerful and positive. Or maybe I just read it that way.
Then she stopped responding to my emails, and didn't acknowledge my Christmas card. I didn't know why. I wondered if my regular assurances that I kept her in my prayers were irritating her, since she was not a Christian. (At least, not the last time we spoke about it. We had a few conversations about religion. She wasn't a Christian but I think she had some spiritual beliefs, because she was quite critical of Richard Dawkins once, and seemed to be criticizing him from a believer's perspective.)
Of course, now I can guess why she wasn't responding. To my shame, I prayed for her much less frequently in recent months. I assumed she was recovering.
A famous Irish TV presenter also died today, in the same hospital where Sonya died. The hospital is only fifteen minutes walk from the library.
Please pray for her, her daughters, her husband, and her family. She was a very gentle, kind, generous lady. It seems unreal that I am writing about her in the past tense. We will always be friends, and I do look forward to becoming better friends when I meet her again. Eternal light grant unto her, oh Lord. May perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace.