Beth Purvis: 'When your children ask us, we’ll tell them... that you loved them so much and fought with everything you had to stay with them as long as you possibly could'
Madeleine Sanders pays tribute to her close friend Beth Purvis, the Indie's Bowel Warrior columnist who wrote about living with stage 4 bowel cancer and who has died at the age of 42...
I feel I owe it to Beth to write something worthy of her, to say something profound to express how we’re all feeling, to offer up a tribute that is warm and witty and touching all at once. I want to write words of comfort to us all, but I find there is no comfort.
I could tell you that she was loved, but most of us are, so what does that even mean?
I could tell you that she was brave [she was] and that she never once complained about the unfairness, the pain or the indignities cancer inflicted on her [she didn’t].
I could tell you that we were proud of her for smashing a law degree alongside being a working mum and enduring gruelling cancer treatments and multiple major operations.
I could tell you that the work she did as 'Bowel Warrior’ to raise awareness literally saved lives – at least two that I personally know of.
But these words seem anodyne in the face of the unwavering force of nature that she was. I don’t want to canonise her, nor to reduce her to just another everyday tragic story. “Oh Beth, yes I follow her story, she seems extraordinary”, as relative strangers and acquaintances often tell me.
To us, she was not Bowel Warrior. To us, she was just... our friend.
We went to coffee mornings, we schlepped our kids around the forest, we babysat her pets and she ours, we celebrated and commiserated together, we went shopping and averted our eyes as she explained to shop assistants why consumer law meant she actually could return those shoes without a box, we laughed at her choosing beige food in restaurants because she famously ate “like a five-year-old at a birthday party”.
Most of all we sat around on weekday evenings drinking wine and eating crisps at one or other of our houses, or watching the menfolk barbecue on sunny weekend afternoons while the kids ran around unsupervised, eating too many Haribos.
She’d pop over, unsolicited, with chocolates and a hug if she thought we were feeling blue.
She loved horses, she was posher than most people realised, she had a peculiar fondness for WKD (a ridiculous blue drink no other human over the age of 16 has ever enjoyed) – how can any of these facts convey the depth of our friendships with her?
Last year she turned up late to help me with some legal paperwork. When I enquired as to what had caused the delay, she said, “I got fucking run over, didn’t I?”, to which I replied, “You’re a bit of an attention seeker, aren’t you, first with the cancer, now with the road traffic accidents?” She laughed, got out her biro and started making amendments to my documents. (She really had got run over – I think I felt more sorry for the driver given that apparently she lay there in the road saying, “You seriously just ran over the wrong person”).
But now she’s gone. Beth: now you are light, now you are air.
You will be the wind on your daughter’s face when she rides your and her beloved ponies.
You will be warm sunshine on the first day of spring.
You will be snow falling, sparks flying from a campfire, waves endlessly rolling in on a golden beach.
You will always be at our tables. You will always be part of us.
When your children ask us, we’ll tell them that you were fiercely loyal, funny, always the life and soul of any party, that you always said yes to every invitation, that you were forthright, principled and strong, that you adored their dad and he adored you, that you loved them so much and fought with everything you had to stay with them as long as you possibly could.
We miss you already. We’ll miss you always.
May your name always be spoken with love and respect. May your memory be a blessing.