My close friend, Sarah Didinal, died suddenly in her sleep on June 2nd 2009. She was a fit and healthy 37-year-old who lived life to the full. She left her partner Andy and their three small sons.
Sarah and I met in Bondi Beach, Australia, in August 1997, when we were both backpacking around the world. I remember almost the exact date as it was just before Princess Diana was killed in the Paris car crash. The tragedy seemed to unite all the Brits abroad there at the time.
But it wasn’t just that ‘Brit bonding’ which helped start our friendship. We, like a lot of other backpackers at the hostel that night had had a few ‘Stanleys’ – the name of a cheap wine popular among penny-pinching travellers – and got talking about our lives back home.
I am a journalist and had just got a job working at a paper in Sydney at the time. I had quit my job in newspapers so I could travel, as well as work abroad.
Sarah wanted to get into the profession since leaving her job in banking and starting her travels. So that was the start of our friendship.
We clicked straight away, and it was amazing how two strangers, randomly meeting on the other side of the world, could create a close friendship so quickly, which would last right until her untimely death only twelve years later at the age of 37.
A few weeks after meeting, we both had enough money to get a tiny flat to share just around the corner from the beach. It was so much fun and probably one of the best times of my life. We worked hard, partied hard and laughed hard for six months, until it was time for both of us to move on in separate directions, having different homeward itineraries.
We both ended up living in London and socialising regularly. Sarah managed to get a job as a researcher for “”Tomorrow’s World”” and worked round the corner from my place in Shepherd’s Bush.
Shortly after Sarah had got home she met up with her friend Lisa’s older brother, Andy, and it seemed to be love at first sight – even though she had known him for years. I could see she was deeply in love with him and she also confided to me she had actually liked him for years. Andy later told me he had always held a torch for Sarah too. Soon after getting together, Sarah was pregnant with their first son.
Two more boys followed, more or less at the same time as me having three children with my now husband, Toby. Sarah had been very active in shooting cupid’s arrow for us and was delighted when, after lots of too-ing and fro-ing, Toby and I got together.
Sarah and Andy moved to Brighton, where, as well as coping with three small children, she managed to study for, and achieve, a Master’s degree.
Sarah was ambitious and very talented. It wasn’t long, with the children growing older, that she got into Public Relations, which, funnily enough, I now also work in. Before she died, she had just started to get some great successes in her new career.
She was always very proud of Andy’s success in garden design, but I also felt she was desperate to carve out a successful career for herself. She was a very independent, feisty young woman, and wanted to contribute to financially supporting her family in any way she could. I always think how much she could have achieved if her life had not been cut short.
She was a natural high flyer and had set aside all her ambition and talents to raise a fantastic young family and home, and this had been the time when she could go out and have more of a life for herself again, which she so truly deserved.
Why did that just vanish for seemingly no reason? Why is it so unfair?
Another friend of mine told me once after Sarah’s death, that he believed we were all given a number the day we are born. I certainly would not have believed that for one moment before, but now I had to try and believe it, as there was no other real sense to be made out of her death, and for the desperate loss felt by her family and friends. It should never have been Sarah as she loved life so much and had so much to live for. And so much more to give. Maybe then her number had been 37, and there was nothing anyone could do to change that.
Sarah died in her sleep after having a lovely day – her last Tweet said: “Going to bed happy.”
That broke my heart in an instant because it so truly summed up what Sarah was all about.
I know she did not suffer, as some young people do when they die, but I can’t help but feel it was so wrong and I wish to this day there might have been something that could have stopped it, even though I know there wasn’t.
The funeral was held on a beautiful, hot summer’s day. There was no breeze. Everything was very still, very silent. Butterflies danced around the marquee in the field where her green burial in woodland was held. I thought maybe one of them was Sarah flying around us, watching us say goodbye.
A few months ago I met up with a couple of Sarah’s old school friends, who had more or less grown up with her and had known her for many more years than I had. We talked, shared old photos, shed tears and laughed as well.
I think Sarah would have been really happy to know that new friendships had been made from her death – that something good, even small, could come from it. She would have wanted that.
Sarah and I had not seen much of each other for a while before she died. We were both really busy with work and families and lived on opposite sides of London, with her in Brighton and me in St Albans. The last time I spoke to her, after a chat on the phone with the normal chaos in the background of children and noise, I said she could call me next time. She said I should arrange to go down and stay with her for the night again, but of course I never got the chance.
I still think about Sarah every day, and although none of it makes much sense to me still, after I found out about the work that various cardiac charities do with raising awareness of young people’s sudden death from cardiac problems; I have tried to contribute to the cause. I have done a couple of fun runs and try to suggest media opportunities when I see them, such as the death of Stephen Gately from a similar cause.
If more people supported the work of cardiac charities, such as raising awareness of the warning signs and donating cardiac equipment in the community, maybe more young lives could be saved. Maybe it could have been Sarah’s.