Living her Dreams While She Danced With Death

Soraya was not her real name, but it’s close to it. She was as beautiful as Persian Queen Soraya, and also had some of the fine-boned quality of that Queen’s successor, Farah Diba . Strikingly beautiful however you looked at her.

She came from one of those Asian countries like Uzbekistan. Her husband came here alone to set up a new life for his wife and daughter, and went back after 18 months to fetch them.  Two weeks after returning, he left them. She lived with their daughter in a tiny student type flat, and mother and daughter shared a mattress on the floor of the bedroom.

She crossed my path when she met someone close to me, through the internet. The friendship didn’t last long, as he found her rigid Muslim beliefs hard to stomach.  But a few weeks later I had a shattered phone call saying she’d rung to tell him she had breast cancer. He couldn’t cope, so I told him I’d see to it.

I rang her to say I would help her, and then spent a day on the phone ringing every sort of agency to try to get advice, support and friendship for her. She was always outside the area, or didn’t qualify. Finally I found a church group, who also felt the situation wasn’t something they couldn’t assist with, but I hung in, until I got them to agree that they would become responsible for getting her little girl to kindy, so that Soraya didn’t have the long journey to and fro on public transport twice a day.

I lived too far out of town to be able to do anything practical, but I went to see her. Her situation was shocking. She had just started chemo, and had spent the night vomiting, with the little girl crying in fright beside her. The second time I was there, an elderly lady arrived from kindy with the daughter. She was the person I’d spoken to on the phone, but was too distracted to take in my presence.

The next step was my daughter. Eugenie is the most capable person I’ve come across, simultaneously starting the international Arts Festival in this city, which she now chairs, being on the City Council, first woman on countless committees and boards, as well as editing and writing parenting magazines and being president of kindergarten organisations and a dozen other pies, bringing up her children and supporting family in countless ways. She’s also kind and intuitive.

I arranged to bring Soraya to meet her for lunch in a restaurant in the park. We sat in the sunshine with my daughter who, to my amazement, was wearing a long chestnut wig instead of her own dark hair. All became clear when she began talking to Soraya about chemotherapy, and how it’s okay to wear a wig, and still look beautiful.

Eugenie then took charge of the situation. She badgered the welfare authorities until they found a charming little two story cottage for Soraya in a nice area near a good school, and arranged all sorts of subsidies to help with transport and all the extra expenses outside her hospital treatment. (Thank heavens for free medical care)

She texted the mothers at her son’s school, and gathered together furniture for the house, while an interior decorator mother lent her van to move the stuff. One morning some of the fourteen year olds in my grandson’s class came to transport Soraya and her things from the squalid flat to her new home. I taxied her and her little girl, and did homely things like providing curtains, bedding and fridge. We made a pretty girly bedroom for the little daughter.

Eugenie took Soraya to hospital for her operations, wept with her, hugged her, and set about finding people to support her. The lady from the church kept in touch, and the church rallied round and came to visit and help where they could. Soraya was very dubious about getting close to Christians, and I would endlessly tell her that the test of being with people was how loving they were, not what name they gave to the Creator, whether it was Allah, Jehovah, God or Great Spirit. Their kindness eventually wore down her doubts.

It was election time, and they took her to a meeting of candidates. There, among the other men who swooned when they saw this exotic beauty in the little church hall, was a rich lawyer, well known for his good deeds, who made a bee-line for her. He courted Soraya, and wanted to marry her, but she was so brave that she refused because she didn’t love him. He never gave up, and was always there for her for the next five years. She made friends and did the things she had only dreamed of doing back in her poverty- stricken country. She even shopped till she dropped, found another house she preferred, and lived her life every minute of every day in between the debilitating spells in hospital.

When we moved to this place, I was too far away to stay connected, but kept in touch occasionally, especially when she was in hospital. Finally she did fall in love, and moved into a luxurious house, which gave her enormous pleasure. But the lawyer was still part of her life, and a few weeks before the end he took her to a grand party at Parliament House in Wellington. They ended up going to lots more grand parties, because someone else fell madly in love with her, and invited them to everything that was going. Soraya was in seventh heaven. In spite of all the pain and misery, she felt she was living a glamorous fairy- tale life. From a standing start she’d created this for herself in just a few years. In the photographs she blazed with happiness and joie de vivre.

Back home, she was on the last leg of her long journey. When she died, and Eugenie and all my family went to her funeral, held in the church which had taken her in, we found it was full. Her first husband was there with their daughter, and in one of the mysteries of life, told us how Soraya had been his best friend. His second wife was still in hospital having given birth in the same hospital as Soraya, on the same day that she had  died.

One by one each person told the story of their time with Soraya, and the elderly lady told hers, how this persistent social worker had rung her, and because she wouldn’t give up, finally she’d agreed to involve her church group. Afterwards I told her that I was the persistent person, not a social worker. The pastor was there, and was fascinated at having found the missing link.

I said to him sadly, that I always felt that I never did enough for her. You and everyone else, he replied. Everyone gave what they could, and then when they faltered, the next person was there in line for her;  each person told him they felt guilty that they hadn’t given enough, and yet what they had to give was perfect, and the timing was right for them and Soraya. He gave me peace of mind, as I’m sure he gave others.

Soraya was, and is, a reminder of the inscrutable mystery of every person’s life and how we can never know the meaning of another’s journey.  She was so vulnerable and frightened one moment, and in the next, so determined to wring the last ounce of joy out of life. She was infuriating, obstinate and single minded, and generous, gay and gorgeous. She faced her devastating challenges with courage and unquenchable spirit.  What magnificence.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets.

When I made the pear and almond tart the other day, I was disappointed with it. But the pastry, with no rubbing or rolling was all that I’d hoped for. This time I’m going to make it and use it for a tarte au citron, for my husband’s birthday lunch. This is the easy- peasy pastry recipe.

The trick is the melted butter. You need 125 grammes of the butter, and when melted and cooled, pour it into a bowl with 100 grammes of sugar,  two tablespoons of ground almonds, a pinch of salt, a few drops of almond essence and a few drops of vanilla essence or half a teaspoons of vanilla sugar. Stir to combine, then mix in 180 grammes of self raising  flour. Press out into a nine or ten inch tart dish which has been buttered and lined with baking paper, or buttered and floured. You don’t need to prick it or weight it. Bake at 180 degrees for about ten minutes, or until the dough is just slightly puffy and a very pale brown. Take it out and fill with your chosen filling, and bake as directed. Make sure there are no holes or cracks, or the filling will run out!

Food for Thought

I celebrate myself…

I am larger, better than I thought.

I did not know I held so much goodness.

Walt Whitman. 1819 – 1892   Controversial American poet, who served as a volunteer nurse during the Civil War.


Filed under cookery/recipes, food, great days, life and death, life/style, love, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life

34 responses to “Living her Dreams While She Danced With Death

  1. The writings on Soyara held such value to me. Thank you for sharing it. I was very touched. Love to you, Linda


  2. stutleytales

    What a gorgeous story. You have indeed been blessed by being part of a larger picture. The pastor put it beautifully when he said ‘Everyone gave what they could, and then when they faltered, the next person was there in line for her…’
    Many years ago, after the rescue of Stuart Diver from the Threadbo landslide, the paramedic who stayed with him during the rescue said ‘You can only do your best, and often that’s enough.’ Something I’ve never forgotten.


  3. Beautiful, profound, moving. Thank you for sharing. ”One thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” Albert Schweitzer


  4. A wonderful story, heart-breaking though it is. It is good to know her spirit shone through, isn’t it amazing how in health people attract others to them and in sickness there is such a reluctance. well done you for persevering and what a daughter you have, Soraya was blessed indeed.


  5. What a beautiful story, a reminder that we are capable of so much, all of us have unconditional love in our hearts, we only need to open ourselves to it. I am so pleased that we have found each other through wordpress, you are such a lovely person and you have a wonderful daughter.

    My own daughter leaves in New Zealand too at the moment and the photos she sends over facebook are amazing, what a beautiful place!
    Thank you Valerie .


    • Veronique, what a lovely comment. You are so right that all we need are open hearts.
      You say such lovely things, and I absolutely know that we can only see in others what is in ourselves.
      Yes, the internet is amazing, I found you when I was showing my lovely lady who comes to clean, and who dies Reiki on animals, how she could go to a place like yours if she travelled overseas.
      And then, of course, found your lovely post.Interesting that your daughter is in the antipodes..but sometimes I’d swap it all to be back in the glorious English ( and Welsh) countryside. I lived at Chepstow for some years, and also used to stay with friends at Manorbier and in the Forest of Dean…. lovely lovely -x


  6. What an amazing story. I found your comment interesting when you said that you felt you didn’t do enough? Oh,my…. you STARTED everything. You got the ‘ball rolling’. You were the catalyst that set everything into motion. Without you, she never would have had the opportunity to live her dreams.


    • So glad you enjoyed Soraya’s story, I suppose we are all catalysts, only most of the time we don’t know it. But I felt privileged to have been involved in such an intense experience of living, and it was beautiful to see what love and goodness Soraya’s need drew out of people.


  7. What an inspiring story. It also brings to light how cultural differences often separate us from giving or receiving help. So many beautiful people, including your daughter, stepped up to the challenge and each I feel was blessed as a result. Your title is so appropriate.


    • Thank you for commenting, it was amazing to be involved in such an intense experience, and wonderful too see how Soraya’s need drew such love and goodness out of every-one she met. So yes, life being a two way thing, we all received so much…


  8. Alice

    My prayer is that every Soraya might know a Valerie and Eugenie . Blessings


  9. Having loving friends is one of the most important things in life…being a loving friend is the priceless!



  10. Val, what a loving story not only to share with your readers but to have been able to actually be such an intricate part. We never know who or what we will face on any given day nor what windows might be opened in the process. Look at all the windows that opened from just that one chance encounter! Blessings to you!


    • Sharla, if you’ve already got my reply, ignore this, but my end, it seems to have disappeared.
      I really appreciated your understanding of the story. Although Soraya died a year ago, there was always a sort of yearning around her memory for me. By sharing this story, it seems to have rounded the circle, and it was so good to share it, and feel that people understood.
      Thank you for your loving comments x


  11. Thank you for not giving up, Valerie. So often in life, quandries occur from giving up too soon. I agree with the paramedic and it’s a test of faith to know when my everything ends so another’s can begin.


    • Amy, lovely hear from you, and to hear your thoughts.
      I’m not getting anywhere with trying to follow you blog… When I go to your gravatar, I see all the pics of different blogs, but whatever I click on, I always get Eric Hoffer, and can’t seem to find a follow.
      If you did a Like on my blog, so they send that little notice inviting me to visit yours, would that work? Would you mind


  12. What a wonderful story – you and your daughter are truly special people.


    • Gabriel, so glad you enjoyed the story, and thank you for your generous comments – but the thing is, we were only two in a chain of people who were with Soraya, and it was actually a privilege to be so deeply and intensely involved in life.
      I think that’s why it felt good writing about it, sharing the intensity of it.


      • But like the pastor said, you were the missing link. Without your persistence in the first place, who knows what might have happened. I understand what you mean about writing about the experience – I’m glad you did. (ps I’m going to try that pastry at the weekend!)


    • before, your vision and art is nthoing less than SPECTACULAR! You are quite the artist, Diana, and I love watching your pieces come to life!Hugs, my friend


  13. Amy

    When Soraya faced her devastating challenges, you and your duaghter, Eugenie, were there and gave her the courage and uplifted her spirit. What a beautiful, moving story.


  14. What an inspiring story! I’m glad people stepped up and didn’t let cultural differences stand in the way. You never know who you’ll meet when you’re open minded. I think it was good for all who got to know Soraya. It’s just too bad time was so short.


    • Lovely to heard from you Sunni.. One of the fascinating things I’ve been discovering from everyone’s comments as I’ve thought about them, is what a two-way process it all was and how Soraya drew out of everyone depths of committment they didn’t know they had. Somehow,. the time wasn’t too short. We all knew from the beginning that we only had a certain length of time, which was what made it such an intense experience….


  15. Like mother, like daughter, you and Eugenie…what a beautiful story of a community/village caring for their ill. Good on all of you, every contribution mattered. Sad she died and her daughter lost her.


    • Oh Leanne, my part was so peripheral. But what Eugenie and the others who followed after her, did, was very precious.
      And I can see that one of Soraya’s great purposes was to connect us with that energy of love, and life, and death.
      Yes, It was her little girl who broke my heart.


      • You say your part was peripheral, but it all begins with a seemingly small act of kindness… I wonder what might have become of her were it not for you? I also wonder what became of the girl? How sad…


      • Yes, we were all very worried about the little girl but by the time Soraya had passed on, the father had taken responsibility for her, and seemed to care – I think everyone had grown up by then….Thank you Alarna Rose for your comments, they are always thoughtful and kind.


  16. I have not really choesn what kind of specialists I would like to work under, but I do believe that it would be fun to work in a Psychiatrist’s office. I originally was going for my B.A. in Psychology, but switched. There are so many to choose from that sound absolutely interesting. Such as working under an Internist or going simple and working under a Family practitioner. Even Gerontologist sounds like fun. I love the “aging population” and they have stories and much to teach.For the moment I am going to take this degree one step at a time and try to find the place that fits me best.


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