“Elaine, no matter what where or who, I will simply love you forever.”- Mark.
I guess we all have strange or weird experiences throughout our lives. Random and unexpected events which occur without any explanation or any known reason, but just happen out of the blue often during the most ordinary of days.
Some hit hard at the time and aren’t easily forgotten, others by their nature are so mild and brief that they pass into memory fairly quickly and are then only resurrected when something in the present trips that memory within us.
This doesn’t mean that their impact at the time was any the less real.
What I’m starting with here is not dramatic or supernatural at all, but coming as it did under the circumstances at the time it had a marked effect on both Elaine and myself, but we rarely talked of it afterwards.
It came to mind because the words “you’ll be alright” always bring it back to me.
We were at the Harbour Hospital in Poole (yet again!) and were there because Elaine had come to the end of a chemotherapy course involving new- for her- drugs. She had recently had a scan to determine if the new regime was effecting the spreading cancer within her, and we were here this afternoon to be told the results.
Results days were always a bastard.
There is usually a week or more between the scan and getting the result, and we would both start getting a bit uptight as the day drew nearer. It was a few years ago now, and the appointments then were always late on a Friday afternoon, so you had nearly all of the day itself to sweat as well.
We arrived spot- on time as Elaine hated being there any longer than was necessary, and were a bit dismayed to find the waiting area almost full.
Waiting, consists of easy chairs and little sofas, arranged around small coffee tables, so you often have to sit opposite complete strangers, something I personally dislike.
The only seat available for us this afternoon, was one of the sofas, so we sat down together with Elaine on my right. In the seats across from us were two older women.
Across from Elaine was a woman of late middle age, with short dark hair, wearing tinted glasses, she was engrossed in a magazine. Opposite me, a much older lady who looked to be into her eighties.
She was immaculately dressed in a long grey skirt, black woollen cardigan with a white blouse beneath, and an expensive looking necklace around her neck. It was obvious she was no stranger to money, but it was her face which commanded the most attention.
It was thin, but not gaunt, with very pale almost translucent skin and a straight lipped ungenerous mouth. She had light grey, nearly white hair, well cut and shaped and the brightest grey eyes I have ever seen.
What struck me most though was that since we had come in she had not taken those eyes off of Elaine.
She wasn’t exactly staring at her but more studying her, as of someone with a personal interest. She didn’t even appear to blink.
Elaine was aware of this and when we sat she gave the lady her usual big smile as a way of saying “Hello.” But it had no visible effect.
The woman wearing glasses carried on reading her magazine, and did not look up at us at all.
Elaine looked at me and raised her eyes slightly as if to say “What the?” and then she turned back to the woman who was still studying her with no hint of embarrassment whatsoever.
We spoke between ourselves, though I don’t recall what we said and then we fell silent, there was something unnerving and bizarre in this situation, she was still intensely watching Elaine, and I noticed now that my wife was returning her gaze.
Then, with no warning, or attempt at any introduction the elderly woman leaned towards Elaine and said in a clear toneless voice;” You’ll be alright, don’t worry, you’ll be alright.”
Just those eight words, and that was it.
Elaine’s eyes widened and she opened her mouth to speak but only managed a whispered, hesitant, “Thank you.”
The other woman then spoke to her companion and was showing her something in the magazine when we heard Elaine’s name being called to go through.
As we followed the nurse Elaine said to me in hushed tones;” What was all that about? Why was she so interested in me?
“I don’t know”, was all I could say, as we had now reached the office of Doctor Chakrabarti and were shown in.
It was good news, very good news. The cancer had taken a hammer blow and receded right back. Elaine did not need any further treatment at present, we were ecstatic.
(Indeed, she did not need more treatment for over a year, a long time for us.)
We were walking back towards the waiting area when Elaine suddenly grabbed my arm and said; “That lady how did she know?”
We hurried on through but the seats they had occupied were empty.
As we got out to the car Elaine stopped and looked at me.
“Mark she was real, wasn’t she?”
“What do you mean, do you think she was an angel or something?”
“No, not exactly, but it was weird wasn’t it? Why would you say that to a complete stranger, in there of all places? She never spoke to anyone else and thinking of it, nobody else seemed to notice them.”
Looking back that was true-but I guess Elaine knows the answer by now.
Monday 4th January 2021.
My wife is dying in this room before my eyes. She is hanging on to life by the thinnest of threads, and when it breaks, which must be soon, she will be free. She has been at Forest Holme hospice for two weeks now, and I know this is the last stage of her life and our lives together.
I cannot conceive of a world without my darling, it is too great a thing to take in. We have been together thirty years, twenty five years and six days married and I would not exchange one second of that time for a lifetime with any other, it would be too high a price to pay.
I know she would rather have left by now. Never afraid of dying she would want to spare me, and others, this hovering around deaths anti-room that has many entrances but only one exit.
I’m sure that once we got to our twenty- fifth she would have been happy to call it a day and stepped through to begin her next adventure.
It’s a dull morning outside, and for the first time since I’ve been here there is a heaviness in the atmosphere of this room.
Elaine is asleep, or is she unconscious? I’m not sure of the difference now. I have it in my mind to shoot home this morning and sort that damn credit card bill, but I’m nervous about leaving her.
Thinking back now I don’t understand just why an outstanding bill took on such importance. Elaine was always insistent that bills were all paid up on time to avoid any penalties, which she viewed as wasting money. But given the situation did it really matter.
I can only assume that I needed something else to focus on, something I could control, but other than that I can’t explain it.
One of the nurses looks at Elaine around 9am and states that my wife is not in immediate danger, so I get ready to leave and even say goodbye to her, but I just can’t go. I don’t want to leave her alone, so it’s coat off and I sit and think.
The solution comes to me later and I call Julie who agrees to come in this afternoon, instead of tomorrow, so I can go home for an hour or so. I pass the morning reading and chatting to the nurses who come and go at regular intervals. Elaine remains seemingly oblivious to all.
Julie is with me bang on two o’clock, and after hugs and hellos, I’m on my way.
Back home I find the cats sharing one of their beds together, whether for warmth or companionship I’m not sure. They look at me but I get no greeting.
I go through to the lounge and switch on the computer, then dig out the bill. Never have been keen on internet banking. Impersonal at best, and a balls-up waiting to pounce nearly always.
Sure enough they require a raft of new security measures to be put in place and I could happily launch the pc through the window, but this has to be done, so I take a few deep breaths, and get on with it.
After the longest twenty minutes of my life it’s all sorted, and I’m on my way back out to the car.
I remember stopping outside and thinking is this really happening? I feel stuck between two worlds. Everything around me here I’ve known for decades, yet I don’t feel I belong here. The hospice feels to me right now, more like home, I assume this is because Elaine is there and I need to be by her side.
There is no time to think, just act, so I start the journey ‘home’ to my wife.
After parking in the same space I left earlier I walk around the hospice to the outside entrance to Elaine’s room.
Julie is stood outside.
A glance through the window reveals three nurses fussing around Elaine and my guts go into an instant knot.
“She’s OK Mark, they asked me to wait out here while they change the bed and replace the syringe driver batteries.”
“Oh Christ Julie I thought she’d died and I’d missed her.”
“No she’s about the same as when you left, I’ve been talking to her but there’s no replies.”
They soon call us back in, and after briefly warming up, Julie takes her leave. I am once again alone with my wife.
So I sit and read, have supper, a drink or two, then later shower and read some more, holding on to Elaine’s hand between turning pages.
Night descends fully, and with it comes that creeping silence that seems so particular to this place.
I turn on Elaine’s glowing Christmas ‘candle’ at the foot of her bed and sit close, stroking her hair and making no attempt to halt the tears on their familiar route down my cheeks.
Once again I feel the need to speak to her and I do so loud enough that she can hear, if that’s possible.
“We have to leave Elaine, we’ve got to get out of this bloody room. We need to go, both of us, there’s no reason to hang on like this love.”
“You’ll be alright, I’m sure of it, you can let go now you’ve done enough. I’ll never forget I promise, and I’ll never stop loving you, just be there for me when my time comes, I’m so sorry I can’t go with you.”
The tears choked any more words, and its back to the shower room to wash my eyes and try to compose myself. Then I settle into my now familiar recliner bed by her side.
Tuesday 5th January 2021.
Its 3am, I’m awake. Elaine is in the same position on her left side, facing me. She’s breathing OK but it’s slower I know it is. I drift back to whatever it is that passes for sleep and am awake again at 5.30.
Her breathing has changed, more laboured. I’m up, wash and change my clothes and am back beside her before 6 o’clock.
Somehow I know that which we have dodged for the past thirty years has, at last, found this room.
One of the nurses hears me moving and brings coffee. She checks-out Elaine then leaves without comment, which says more than words to me.
I sit and whisper to my wife and hold her hand.
Another coffee and more nurses. They look over Elaine then leave us alone.
About 7.30 I realise that Elaine’s breathing has become shorter and quicker. I know what is happening, there is no point calling for assistance, she is beyond any help now anyway.
I keep repeating how much I love her and saying thanks for the wonderful life we have shared together.
It is my tears that run down her cheeks and eyelids. Her right eye is slightly open but I don’t know if I have caused that brushing away the tears or if she somehow did it herself.
Just on 8am the door opens slightly, its Clare one of the nurses, just come on duty.
“Morning Mark, how are y….”
The look on my face must have said it all. She darts out, puts on her protective gear, and is back in the room in record time.
She bends close to Elaine, whose breathing is now erratic and very shallow, then straightens up and looking over at me shakes her head, answering my unsaid question.
I cry, not like a child, but like a man. A child could not comprehend the depth and measure of this emotion, but I know it only too well, I cry because of love and loss, but mostly of love.
I will her to die, not live, but die as it is now the only door open to her as that to life has all but closed. I know one way or another, she will be free the struggle over at last and I want her to know peace because I love her more deeply and intensely than I would ever have thought was possible before I met her.
The lights are going out in my world with her. They I know, will never shine out so bright again, if ever at all. My darling My wife My love.
Her breathing is now so shallow. She is still on her left side, right eye slightly open, I am holding her hand.
There’s one longer breath in, then out, then a short breath in and then …….
I look up at Clare and she leans forward and then looks at me. The small shake of her head has the biggest meaning ever in my life.
To be continued…