Before I start, a bit of housekeeping: if there are any people with children here, let them be noisy – don’t shush them and take them out. I can wait and work around you. That being said, I am likely to swear a little bit and I will cry, you will also have to work around me. If anyone wants to come and stand beside me while I do this, thank you. Lastly, this looks long, but it is only really spaced out, so I can read it through my tears.
When Ian asked me if I wanted to speak today; he said I could send my words to Jane who would then read it out for me. But if Erika taught me anything; it was to get up and get on with it, even when you didn’t want to. Just keep going.
For many of you, the past few weeks would have been a blur. I’m all over the place, I’m only here from Melbourne for a week. I don’t know my arse from my elbow, although I know it is Tuesday but only because I’m here in a dress talking to you. I started a new job the week before Erika died; I’m still in that learning new processes, period of confusion and breaking in a new boss limbo. We’ve also only just got Archie back to school after his two weeks winter holidays. Add the fact it is bitterly cold in Melbourne at the moment, is not helping my confusion on this beautiful day.
None of that matters though, because I simply cannot fathom I am never going to see Erika again; that she won’t get to meet Archie; that I can’t post Princess Bride quotes on Facebook while I’m watching the movie, that she’ll like every single one of them and volley them back at me; or that whenever I see a rabbit, kitten or Metallica video, I can no longer share it with her.
In fact, it’s inconceivable.
But I don’t want to stand here and rattle on about how awful it is, as every one of us is feeling that, the Man in Black reminded us that ‘Life is Pain Highness, and anyone who says differently is selling you something.’
‘Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine. I love well. Here is my proof that I paid the price.’ That quote is from Glennon Doyle Melton.
Most of the poems on bereavement I found, are awful and not Erika. Death is nothing at all? Bull shit. Death is everything. I know it is only technically the opposite of birth; but it also the full stop at the end of a sentence in a paragraph that many of us were still writing. That quote was me.
We celebrate births, then dither about what to say when someone dies. What I want to try to do today is celebrate Erika, to try and share with you how daft we were together, how much she shaped and helped my life over the past fifteen or so years.
We met in the early 2000s at a clothing company based in Andover, specialising in selling clothes to grumpy old women who would complain, vociferously, about anything and everything. Helen and I sat opposite each other in customer service; Erika was in an office next door. Before I go any further, can we also acknowledge that Helen’s beloved Dad passed away a couple of weeks ago, his funeral is on Thursday, let’s all give our love to her and her family too?
James Meade clothing was all hideous print blouses, high waist trousers and mostly polyester. If you walked too quickly through the warehouse, you could set it on fire.
Customers would phone up and complain about buying a hideous print blouse, for it to be on sale after they’d brought it. They wanted their money back. Their parcel hadn’t arrived. They wanted their money back. The colour in the catalogue of this blouse was red, you sent me scarlet. They wanted their money back.
A never ending stream of vitriol and bile which was not helped by calls being held in a queue for us to answer. If you answer a call and put people on hold to tell them their call is in a queue, it costs them money. The customers would only hear a phone ringing and ringing and ringing; they didn’t understand, or care, that we were all flat-chat on calls until we got to answer theirs. They wanted their money back.
Erika was away when I started, I bustled into the lunch room one day and saw her sitting there. I told her she looked like she needed a hug. So I gave her a hug. She then told me that she’d just got back to work after burying her Dad and she needed that hug. I probably gave her another one just to make sure.
We had an archaic vending machine in that lunch room, where you’d put your money in and hope you’d get what you asked for. One day I asked for Maltesers, but they got stuck. I went to find the key to open it, in the meantime, Helen had also asked for Maltesers and, of course, got two packets for the price of one. Helen just thought ‘Result!’ and promptly shared them out. I got back to the lunch room and shrieked ‘You Bitch-Troll-From-Hell!’ to much hilarity and the name stuck. I was re-christened Maddie-lion and Erika was Furriner.
We all took the day off one day to have a Bar-B-Que at my house. We went to the butchers in Ludgershall, then the supermarket, and ended up with enough food to feed the five thousand. Over the day, Helen and I bombarded Erika with British culture, including Bagpuss, and Monty Python’s Meaning of Life which she watched in either bemused horror, or bemused amusement at our hysterics. We’d also all got firmly stuck into cider, which made Helen’s task of making a dress to wear for an upcoming night out more difficult than it needed to be. Feeling slightly shady, she was worried it was a bit too short after she’d got carried away and tried to even the hem up. Sending Erika out to her car to get some fancy shoes to see what the dress looked like with heels on, Helen wiggled into the dress while I refreshed the ciders. Erika tottered back with two shoes. They were both black, but not a pair and both for the left foot.
I am so blessed with my close friends; I call them my coven for all the cackling and mayhem we create. In truth, I have many best friends, those people that when you meet up with them, it is like no time has passed.
Before the age of smartphones, Erika never had her phone on. It was either off all together, or on but on silent at the bottom of her bag, or on but had no charge. To get around this, I would text Ian, then ring him, he’d pass his phone over to her, we’d chat for hours.
Then my world collapsed. My first husband decided he was leaving me. I can still see this day so clearly, I left my desk at work with my phone and called Erika. Her phone was charged, on, and sitting on her desk when I rang.
Erika sent Ian to come and get me. Initially I stayed with them for a couple of nights. When I was told I had to move out of the house I had lived in with the ex-husband, she told me I was moving in with them. She wasn’t going to have me living in a council flat on my own. They helped me pack up my stuff, going backwards and forwards to try and collect everything over one weekend.
Amanda who I worked with at Sandhurst was on the phone with her sister Sara one day. Did Amanda know anyone who wanted to work as a PA in the Chairman’s office at Cable&Wireless? Amanda knew of the situation I was in and suggested I would be ok, and that I needed a new opportunity. Mum brought me a suit for the interview as I’d lost so much weight, nothing smart enough I had fitted me any more. When I got the job, I surveyed my wardrobe. I had precisely four outfits to wear to work. Getting worried about my severe lack of clothes; Erika reminded me that as they had dress-down Friday, I would wear jeans. That, when I got paid in a couple of weeks, I could buy a top or two. Now get out there and do it.
Erika and Ian let me stay rent-free while I got my life together again. I’d buy the groceries when we all went to the market, or treat her to John Freida’s Frizz Ease, as she’d never buy it for herself. Other times I’d be home, the front door would open and Ian would say ‘I smell cleaning products’. He’d also have to announce ‘I am coming up the stairs’ after he scared me shitless that many times by apparently just apparating into my bedroom.
Mon Bears took me to France for a weekend away. It had been a long day driving over, I decided to take my contact lenses out in the carpark of Carrefour as my eyes were itchy and dry, I was using disposable ones then. But before I could put one into a tissue to throw it away, it flew off and got stuck on a windscreen. Ian and I have been reminiscing over phone calls and messenger, he reminded me that ‘I had to separate the two of you before you could stop laughing’.
Erika, Wiz along with the rest of my coven, nursed me back to health, back to life.
Wiz, Erika and I would have tat competitions. Trying to find the worst thing we could as a holiday souvenir. The only caveat was it couldn’t be an outright souvenir, like a fridge magnet, or shot glass. It took some effort I can tell you to find things. I have a variety of memories from all over England, but my favourite is a tray from Montreal that would maybe hold a tea-cup, but only if empty. Truly useless.
Erika asked for the recipe for my sticky rice, not realising that I’m just hopeless at cooking it. She made a soup for Ian and I from the left over veggies after a roast dinner, whizzed it up, then realised she’d left a bay leaf in – so painstakingly sieved it all out. We’d bake for hours to make scones, biscuits and cakes to raise money or to take to offices for birthdays. Leaving the kitchen in a trail of destruction, and Ian to do all the dishes. One day Erika and Ian were coming over for lunch with Dan and I in Portsmouth. I was on the phone to Erika trying to navigate them in to the car park under our building when they drove past me walking to the store at the end of the block, as I’d just found a huge, surprised grasshopper in the bag of salad.
I moved to Australia in 2008 to be with Dan, Erika gave me a Jasper thumb stone, auspicious for long journeys. Dan and I married in 2009, with Wiz and Erika arriving at the ceremony with wedding tat from the same Clintons range. A truly shitty wedding frame and a cake slice that was so plastic you’d either break it entirely, or fling the cake across the room if you’d attempted to use it. Erika put a wedding album together for us, and even with our official photos, we’ve never needed to put together another one. Then our Archie arrived in 2011, the Jasper stone also came into the theatre when I had to have Archie by emergency c-section. Erika sent a package of love to him, with post-it notes on everything, painstakingly telling me what, why and when she’d found things for us.
Our friendship slipped a little for a couple of years; life got in the way for all of us.
I’ve come back to the UK twice before this trip. Once for my brother’s wedding, again for his 40th. On my last trip here, Mon Bears came and got me from Wiz and Jim’s house, we drove around, not sure where to go and ended up at the seaside. We walked along the prom, eating ice cream. We went to lunch and talked and talked and talked. The bridges that were broken were mended.
I knew I’d be coming back for a funeral at some point, but I never thought the first one would be for Erika. Again, it’s inconceivable.
Ian, being Ian, apologised he had to break the news to me over the phone that Erika had gone. He has been humbled and amazed at the messages he’s received. Ian has told me that people he didn’t even know existed have sent him messages, and he knows they knew Erika because of how they describe her.
From her lary leggings at zumba, to her stamps and crafty buddies, to Charli at the Wakkie Hair company doing her hair, given free reign with colour and cuts. From Erika’s love of the sublime to the ridiculous, including, but not limited to: Harry Potter, heavy metal, rabbits, kittens, sci-fi books, Stargate, Dungeons and Dragons, Red Dwarf, The Hairy Bikers and Nigella, chicken wings and chee-bor-gays, both our fridges groaning with condiments, the airer that she hated me hanging washing on, but she loved me so accepted it; she taught me how to fold a fitted sheet instead of rolling it up into a ball and hoping for the best. Her absolute love of self, the endless selfies, she truly was “This is me”, I’ve so many memories. Such a long receipt of love to show everyone.
It only remains for me to say, “As you wish”