Not so many people know that Elaine and I married each other twice.
The first time was December 29th 1995. The second time was July 18th 20??- we could always remember the day but later were never sure of the year.
Our original wedding came shortly after Elaine’s divorce from her first husband was finalised. We hadn’t been living together for very long but I loved her fiercely, and over an evening meal of cod and chips at the kitchen table, I knelt and asked her to marry me.
She responded with a big YES, and then insisted we drive over to tell her parents, a phone call just wouldn’t do- but we did finish the chips first.
We were not exactly very flush for money at the time, so a budget was set of £500 for our wedding and the reception which was to be held at home.
I think about sixty people were invited. This being quite a tight fit as the Lodge isn’t all that big but Elaine reckoned on some being in the garden, for a smoke, while at least two people would be in the toilets at any one time.
We married at Blandford register office, 3pm on a freezing cold day. My wife to be looked stunning, and I fell in love all over again.
The reception went really well, but the cloud over it, that not many knew, was that the previous evening we had learned that Elaine had an aggressive form of cancer, and after our short honeymoon in Devon she would be coming back to surgery and chemotherapy.
I can only imagine how this must have played on the mind of a newly- wed woman. She must have worried so much. How was I going to view her after surgery then chemo’, bald as well as scarred.
Elaine didn’t do self- pity, at least not outwardly, and whatever her fears she kept them well hidden.
She hated the chemo’ as much as the surgery. When it was over she threw out or burnt the clothes she’d worn to the sessions and even chucked the earrings she had worn as the association was too much to bear.
“Never again Mark, not even for you.”
How those words were to come back to us in the coming years.
This was why she wanted a second wedding that would be happy, joyful and just for us. Cancer not invited.
We decided on July as both sets of parents had married then and the weather, hopefully, would be warmer.
Kingston Lacy Church- St Stephens- lies a short walk to the back of the Lodge. Elaine went to see the vicar in charge at home. I don’t recall his name but he was rumoured locally to be somewhat unconventional and mad as a box of frogs.
He didn’t disappoint. When she arrived at the arranged time, Elaine found him sat at the kitchen table with most of his breakfast down the front of his cassock, paperwork piled on every surface and much of the floor, and too many cats and kittens running wild to count.
The stumbling block was that Elaine was Jewish, the church is C of E, as am I- if you want to put a handle on me- and she did not want some, rather difficult to exclude, parts of the Christian service to be included for us.
The vicar dug his heels in, so did Elaine, but after much ‘consultation’ and a little giving of ground, on both sides, the arrangements were settled.
Thus on a beautiful summers afternoon, in July, we found ourselves walking up through the woods behind our home with Champagne and glasses in hand.
Elaine looked as though she had stepped from a Jane Austen novel.
She wore a gorgeous light summer dress and carried a posy of summer flowers, with her hair cut short she looked stunning. If she hadn’t been my wife, I would have married her again anyway (work that one out).
The vicar locked the three of us in the church and the ceremony went through beautifully, he even did part of it in Hebrew as a surprise for her.
We all drank Champagne then we covered a glass and broke it underfoot at the altar (it’s buried in our garden). The vicar took a couple of pictures and then we walked back home, for scones, jam and tea, and a one night honeymoon.
Out of our two weddings Elaine much preferred to remember the last one. I’m just happy that she wanted to marry me at least once.
26th December 2020-Boxing Day.
I don’t fear nightmares when I go to bed. I welcome the oblivion sleep defers on me. The nightmare begins when I wake from that mini-death into a new day.
It takes a split second for me to realise that I’m alone that she isn’t beside me, reality floods in, my heart is made of lead and the weight drags at my spirit.
Elaine’s not here at home, she’s at the hospice, not dead still living, but I know she will not return. She is still alive though, is there not hope if life is present?
Fate is teasing me. Dangling useless threads of possibilities that can never be, but wanting me to grab at them none the less, to make my suffering more and laugh at my impotent anger and tears.
Even though I know it’s hopeless, I don’t want to believe that this loneliness is to be my future, my waking reality.
I arrive at Forest Holme about 12.30 pm.
Elaine is sat up in bed, eyes closed. She still has her Christmas antlers on from yesterday. The batteries are nearly flat so I guess they’ve been on all night. I never do find out for certain.
Her LED ‘candle’ is glowing on the end- of -bed chest, and I turn it out (the nurses switch it on at night for her until I take over. It is on every night for the rest of her life).
Elaine soon wakes and we have hugs, and kiss hello.
“How are you feeling darling?” I ask her.
“Got very tired from yesterday so I slept well.”
“A bit uncomfortable earlier on. They altered the syringe driver, I’m ok now.”
I glance down at the little machine in its ‘sock’ beside her. The people who invent these things are the ones who deserve the medals.
We chat for a while about the previous day. Her eyes close frequently and she ‘drifts’ but isn’t actually falling into deep sleep at present.
Lunch soon arrives, and Elaine has some soup but only nibbles at the solid food. She sips at some fruit juice and the hiccups start again, later she tries a few spoons of pudding but really eats very little.
I’m silently willing her to eat more but my silence is not very effective.
Elaine dozes gently afterwards and I sit in the recliner by her side trying to read and holding her hand at the same time. Nurses pop in every so often to check all is ok with the driver and its patient.
The sounds of the hospice filter through to me.
That Christmas Spirit is still walking the corridors, and not far away some of the staff are singing Happy Birthday for one of the other patients.
Later Elaine wakes and gives me a big smile.
“Are you alright Mark?”
“Yes I’m fine” I lie.
She then continues; “You know it’s good to have nice things in your life, our home, cars, all the material stuff that comes along. But at the end of the day none of it really matters that much. We own things for a while, then they just move on to someone else. All that really matters is what we are to each other, that’s what counts the most.”
I don’t know if she’s just thought of this now, or even if she’s asking or telling me, but it did make me realise how deep her thoughts were running.
She interrupts my thinking;” I suppose, at the end it just boils down to love. How much you love and have been loved by others.”
“Thank you for loving me Mark” she says quietly, looking straight into my eyes.
“You don’t have to thank me darling. I love you and you love me, that’s all there is to it.”
“You won’t forget me, will you Mark?”
“That’s not possible love. Even if I get old and senile I won’t be forgetting you. I don’t ever want to. You are my wife and always will be as far as I’m concerned. So don’t you go wandering off too far my girl. I’m not wanting to spend half of eternity trying to find you cos’ you’ve gone and gotten yourself lost somewhere.”
“I’ll be there for you darling, I promise.”
She closes her eyes and lies back against the pillows still holding on to my hand.
That short conversation seemed so bizarre, and still does even now.
The scaffold for the words was her impending death, what we both knew to be coming soon, yet we could just have easily been two people discussing a shopping list. There were tears playing close to the surface of my eyes but Elaine remained unemotional.
The medication was taking more than just the pain away from her I’m sure. Yet the more I think about it the more I believe that she had come to terms with death a long time since, and had filed those terms away so she could bring them out now when needed, to ease the journey, the transition, from here to……
The next couple of days follow the same pattern.
I go to the hospice early afternoon and stay four to five hours. I read and Elaine sleeps mostly, we never really do have any long conversations again.
Tuesday 29th December.
I leave home in the morning today because it’s a special day.
When I arrive at Forest Holme I’m greeted by everyone with, “Happy Anniversary Mark.”
Elaine has proudly told them all it is our 25th today. I wasn’t even sure she would be able to remember but she has told everyone who will listen.
I’ve brought a card for her and help her to open it as her co-ordination is not good and she isn’t very strong. I notice a second syringe driver has now joined the first.
She bought a card for me but it got left at home unwritten. It’s on the mantelpiece anyway.
We agreed from the first never to do anniversary presents. At least that makes things easier.
I get a big smile with my kiss hello and my wife holds my hand tightly.
“Happy anniversary darling.”
I wish her the same and we kiss once more.
Looking into her eyes I see such love coming from them it is almost like a physical presence. I see them now as I write this, I don’t think time will ever efface that memory from my heart or mind.
The impression I get now is that she has been holding on especially hard to get here.
It has been a personal challenge, a defiance against her illness to get to this date, twenty five years together, nothing not even cancer, was going to get in her way to be alive for this day.
A petite woman with short blond hair and wearing protective clothing, is framed in the doorway.
“Kathy it’s you!”
The pleasure in my wife’s voice is evident.
Kathy has been Elaine’s councillor, on and off, for many years. She is based at the hospice but has been on leave over Christmas.
It’s her first day back and she was shocked to see Elaine’s name on the list of patients. Ironically Elaine has a virtual appointment with her arranged for tomorrow morning ( it’s the last entry in her diary).
Kathy stays a short while and suggests having a face to face meeting in Elaine’s room tomorrow, at the arranged time of 10am, I’m invited to attend as well.
Kathy leaves and shortly afterwards nurses arrive with a bottle of Bucks Fizz and two glasses for my wife and I. After merrily wishing us “Happy Anniversary” they leave us alone and I open the bottle and pour two half glasses.
We enjoy a short toast- “To Us” and Elaine manages one tiny sip and to be honest I don’t want much more.
I know this is our ultimate ‘fizz’ together, there have been lots before, I can’t even remember the first, what’s the betting I never forget the last.
To be continued….