Farewell Elizabeth

Alex Seton - Eternally Yours, 2016

Alex Seton – Eternally Yours, 2016

Elizabeth died the morning of the 12th of July, surrounded by friends and family.

Which is what we have written on social media, and in newspapers, but I feel that this place deserves a less sanitised farewell. Elizabeth wrote uncensored discussions of cancer, she was honest about what happened with her body, and to just say she died, passed away, etc. feels insincere.

Elizabeth died the morning of the 12th of July, surrounded by friends and family, but below I am going to talk about what that means (feel free to leave it at this).

*Photo courtesy of Alex Seton. The piece is Eternally Yours, a collaboration between Elizabeth (words) and Alex Seton (plinth, skull).*

Elizabeth’s friends and family had been sitting with her for days.We hadn’t slept enough, spending the time trying to distract ourselves from her increasingly ragged breathing. Time was mostly measured in gaps between her injections of morphine. She didn’t suffer at the end (probably, hopefully) because she was doped off her tits on morphine and midazolam.

On Saturday the 9th she was barely able to speak, slurring what were maybe words and desperately trying to maintain some connection with us. Sunday she was sleeping except when she moaned and cried. On Monday the best she could do was make eye contact, staring blankly through half closed eyes.

I see her eyes in my mind, yellowed from jaundice , glassy, bright yellow gunk crusted in the corners; dull in a way I had never seen them before.

I cannot say what happened at the very end, as she died surrounded by her friends and family, but not her partner. I supported her through cancer for two years, through operations and chemotherapy while her body slowly fucking failed, but in the end my strength gave out and I could not be there.

This is what cancer is. Someone’s body choking them from the inside out until finally it cannot function. She was strong in understanding how her life would end and choosing to end treatment when she needed to, but Elizabeth’s death wasn’t brave, or courageous: it was the only fucking thing that could happen.

We owe Elizabeth not to gloss over the reality of her cancer. While we remember how tough, compassionate and honest she was, we need to remember how cancer ate away her ability to move, to speak, to function at a most basic level. It filled the end of her life with anxiety and with fear. She formed intensely close friendships throughout her life and during her two years of treatment, but couldn’t use a computer or phone to talk to them at the end. She wrote for journals, blogs, and published in places I honestly cannot remember, leaving drafts scattered everywhere. This was not a life coming to its end, it was cut short.

Elizabeth died the morning of the 12th of July, and I will leave you with her words:

Death, fuck right off.

Eternally yours, Liz


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32 Responses to Farewell Elizabeth

  1. soniafullerton says:

    thank you Liz xxx

  2. Dani says:

    I’m reading this in my the middle of a friend’s 50th birthday party, and while I am part of the joy of his 50 years I am also hollow with the years between Elizabeth and 50 and beyond. Alex, your strength and bravery is equal to Elizabeth’s, and you have our love also. Thank you for sharing these important truths with us.

  3. lisa joseph says:

    thank you alex for posting this for elizabeth.i cannot begin to imagine what you are going through right now.my thoughts are with you. elizabeth’s collaboration with alex is perfect. she will be with us eternally.

  4. Mel says:

    Alex, thank you for this. I hope that you are getting the support and love you deserve, now and moving forward.

  5. Sam says:

    Thank you Alex. I hope that over the coming months you will have caring people to support you – we are all thinking of you. Life soldiers on for those of us left behind – and it can be a most difficult voyage xxx

  6. suracim says:

    Thank you Alex. Elizabeth was brutally honest about what was happening to her body, her life. No sugarcoating to somehow temper other people’s reactions. I learnt a lot from reading her writing. Sending you my best wishes. S

  7. Irene says:

    Thanks to both of you, Liz and Alex, for such brutal honesty about dying of cancer. And I’m SO sorry for your loss. I’m one of the lucky ones who survived breast cancer (as a friend dubbed it, SFBC–Shitty Fucking Breast Cancer), and l was with my mother when she died of Multiple Myeloma after fighting for 10 years. So I also feel the need to tell others afflicted what they might be in for. Cancer is ugly, and we need more eloquent spokespeople like Liz to help us survive the worst. Go in peace Liz , and much love to you Alex!

  8. Sali says:

    Thank you so much for your honesty…death isn’t noble, or courageous…it’s horrible for those who have watched it..its raw, and too too sad..thank you for telling it as is

  9. PixieP says:

    I’m sorry there are no words ❤ Thank you for talking so honestly about the reality of cancer. I hope there are lots of people surrounding you

  10. Wendy says:

    Thank you for sharing this with all of us. May the words she so beautifully shared with all of us let you remember the partner whose side you never left. You were clearly there with her. So very present.

  11. Joanne says:

    Thank you Alex. I too hope you have love, strength and support surrounding you now and into the future. I can’t stop coming back here.

  12. Francina Kwiecien says:

    Alex, you don’t know me, I am the mum of one of Elizabeth’s friends. I knew Elizabeth at Redlands College, an amazingly intelligent, beautiful young woman, prepared to be different and not care if her peers approved or not. Anger rises in me that the world has now been deprived of her by this enemy – cancer. Platitudes of “stay strong during this difficult time” just won’t cut it but perhaps the fact that Elizabeth’s far reaching and broad generational influence throughout her short life will always be a part of all our lives and never forgotten is a small comfort. You have done the caring now it is time to make sure you take care of you.

    • Sues says:

      Hi Mrs Kwiecien, please let Ping know I have been thinking of her this week. Susan Needham (Khan)

    • Thank you for your kind words, Ciny. I did reply to your post but unfortunately, it, along with other posts, were not allowed by the moderator. I still miss Elizabeth every day and often wonder what she would have been doing, where she would have been, if life had been kinder to her. Maybe she would be living and working in America, fulfilling a long held dream of hers – working in one of the famous American libraries. Elizabeth received her Green Card not long before she was diagnosed and her excitement was short lived. I can’t believe it is almost 5 years since our precious Elizabeth slipped from my arms. Now I find comfort in looking back at old photos, from the time she was a beautiful baby and as she grew into the inspirational young woman so many people loved and admired.

  13. musableblog says:

    ❤️ thank you Alex, and thank you, Elizabeth.

  14. I’m sad and angry right now at this horrible disease that cut Liz’s vibrant life short. Alex, you described her last days in a beautiful and real way, the way Elizabeth would have probably wanted. Thank you both. What I’ve learned from Elizabeth will stay with me and so will the thought of her.
    Take care, Alex.

    With love and sadness,

  15. Fiona says:

    To write as she did in her blog, and in that of her last post, doesn’t hide the rawness of cancer and dying. It gives us the words to start talking about what can be an immensely private, lonely time. Why are we expected to sit by our dying love one and watch the life being taken over by the disgusting ravages of cancer. We need to make it OK to turn away and even say ‘I can’t do this. This is not who I want to remember’. We need to talk like you and Elizabeth did Alex. She has left an open sentence for us all to continue.
    Thankyou Elizabeth for leaving us this.

  16. Sues says:

    I am reminded of being in an antique book store with Liz when we were about 15. I read John Donne’s sonnet to Death for the first time and fell in love with him. Liz’s words at the bottom there will now replace the first line of thst poem in my mind forever. Thanks Alex for posting. You’ve continued Liz’s honesty and generosity here.

  17. Kris says:

    I cannot comprehend the enormity of your loss Alex. My heart goes out to you, Liz’s friends and family. Liz has inspired me to volunteer more of my time to our local palliative care support charity Little Haven. Her words were raw and so honest, kind of refreshing in this day and age of sanitisation and political correctness.
    Bless your soul Liz. Rest in peace.
    Fuck you cancer. Fuck you to hell.

  18. Cordelia says:

    Thank you Alex, for everything you are and all that you have been to Elizabeth. Please be gentle with yourself. Grief is hard.

  19. I have read this at least four times. Oh my god it touches me deeply. Thank you. And I am sorry you have to say goodbye. I am glad that Elizabeth shared what she could in her time.

  20. Flib says:

    Thank you Alex. Take care…so sorry..

  21. Maureen says:

    Alex, I cannot imagine how you feel. I wish you nothing but the best. I hope you find peace and love. I’m so sorry for your loss. I went to university with Liz in Brisbane before she worked at the NLA. I have never forgotten her. I always knew she would be an amazing librarian and she was a gorgeous person. Everyone I knew at uni loved her. I have never forgotten her after all the years since I was at uni. I am so pleased she had found the love of her life. If she loved you, you must be so special too. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Thank you for sharing not only your story but your heart.

  22. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you Elizabeth.

  23. Katrina W says:

    A Message for Alex: Take care of yourself and in time things do soften, however you never forget or completely heal, there’s always scar tissue, but eventually things soften in way that you can look back and appreciate the gift that was Elizabeth without the pain.
    I was very moved to know her in a small way over a short period of time. Her raw honesty spoke straight to the heart and she was distinctly memorable for that.
    Alex I truly hope you are surrounded by people who love you and support you in a way that comforts you.
    Vale Elizabeth C, a uniquely eloquent human soul and obscenely young to leave us.

  24. Jaz says:

    Thank you for your honesty,

    I have also witnessed the last days of loved one with this shitty disease and your account of Elizabeth’s death more closely mirrors my experience than all the other politically correct accounts I have seen people post. I think Liz would approve.

  25. Sabine Alice says:

    Liz I heard Elisabeth’s story on the podcast ‘death Sex and money’. Times like these words fail us and I cried for a good hour afterwards. How unjust life can be. I’m her age right now and I vow I will make the most of my precious time on earth, contribute to the lives of others and never forget that many are not as lucky as me. Alex I admire your courage and love for your partner and wish you all the best life has to offer in the coming years. I am truly sorry for your immense loss. Elizabeth you will live on in our hearts x Sabine

  26. Jenn says:

    I found my way here because of a podcast but more than that, I found my way here because of Liz’s humor and her capacity to tell the unvarnished truth about longest, shortest time that is the end of life. My dad is terminally ill and I find myself drawn to people and things that will tell the truth of that experience both as a means of comfort but also a place to feel like other people understand.

    Her life wasn’t long enough but her efforts were not wasted on me at least. I hope that can be something, even if its not going to be enough.

    Thank you, Liz.

  27. helenaholton says:

    Thank you, Alex. In your time of sorrow your love shines through. Wishing you courage and hope. Thank you for telling it the way way it was. The way it is. We all need to know.

  28. Bobby Hawkins says:

    Elizabeth’s story is still being heard. Never forget what she meant to you.

    • I have just come across your reply Bobbie. I hope you still remember my beloved Elizabeth who is still very much a part of my life. It is almost 6 long years since Elizabeth slipped from our lives but she will always be with me in my heart. Her paintings, writings and photographs keep her memories alive.

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