I met Gill when I was fourteen years old. She was expecting her first child, Robert, and as a Cub Scout leader with an upcoming weekend camp scheduled, had mentioned to her co-worker, my step-mum, that an extra pair of hands at camp would be a nice thing. My step-mother immediately volunteered me to help. Being a disinterested former Girl Guide, not to mention disinterestedly fourteen, I wasn’t too keen on being press-ganged into chasing boys around a campsite. But parental authority being what it is, I reported for camp. And thus began one of the best relationships of my teen years.
The first impression I had of Gill was that she was real. No facades on this lovely lady, she possessed a marvelous sense of humor, subtle and self deprecating, but always razor sharp and completely spot-on in its observation of the nuttiness in everyday moments. As an altogether too-serious teenager, she showed me that life could be fun if you had a good laugh now and then, especially if you could do it at yourself. As she and Colin encouraged me to stay in Scouting, I got to learn about volunteering for kids from two of the masters at the game.
Their house became a haven for me in many ways. I got to hang out there under the guise of helping out with Robert, and later Jamie, but really, Gill was making sure I had a place to escape a trying relationship with my step-mother, and to test the fledgling wings of impending adulthood without judgment or pressure. She was the perfect combo of the coolest auntie and the big sister that actually liked you. She even “forgot” to take the Harold Robbins books out of the spare room when I was old enough to be curious about boys.
Gill never talked to me like I was a child. Come to think of it, she never talked to Robert, Jamie, or the Cub Scouts like they were kids either. She had the gift of talking to you like she was absolutely confident that you were already everything she believed you could be. Part acceptance and part encouragement. Although I was on another continent when I had my son, I like to think that the closeness in my relationship with him has much to do with the example she and Colin set.
The first time we talked about the return of her cancer, Gill handled it with typical aplomb. Well, she said, time to enjoy wearing the good knickers. Even as time counted down, she told me of the transitions in her life as Parables of the Knicker Drawer. Wearing the good ones now (don’t delay or deny yourself life’s best parts). Finally chucked the ones with the loose elastic (don’t spend time with people that don’t make you feel good). Must tidy the damn drawer out so as not to leave that mess for my boys (take care of the ones you love the most).
How perfect it was that on the day I learned she left us, I was wearing an uncomfortable pair of knickers that had somehow escaped the rubbish bin. I chucked them at the end of the day. Thank you for teaching me right up to the end, Gill.
(My dear friend Gill Harding left us on June 22, 2011, at the too young age of 63. She is survived by husband Colin, sons Robert and Jamie, and countless other people who love her.)