As I’ve mentioned before Elaine loved Christmas and the presents as much as anyone else. This Christmas however things were a little subdued as we were informed earlier in the year that the cancer was ‘out’ in her system and was now officially viewed as a terminal illness.
There was no timescale but we hoped for at least five years.
When we had finished present opening this particular year Elaine looked at me rather guiltily and said there was one more gift from her to me, she then passed me a small wrapped box.
It contained a thin gold rectangle, pierced with a ring for a chain, engraved on both sides. On one side the words:-“TIL DEATH DO US PART…” and on the reverse “IS FOR QUITTERS.”
I don’t remember now if this phrase is one she thought up herself or if it comes from elsewhere, but I do know she had used it before in her writings.
She explained that this Christmas was a first for us as the illness was now officially terminal and as she wasn’t sure if it might be the last, she wanted me to have this token so I would have no doubt of how she felt about us, even in death.
It has been around my neck ever since that day, sharing a chain with my mother’s gold cross and a gold bunny that was Elaine’s.
At the Woodland Burial Ground gravestones are not allowed but bronze marker plaques are, you can have whatever you want engraved on them. Elaine never specified any words for hers but when asked I knew straight away what to put; so along with her name and dates it reads;
“TIL DEATH DO US PART…IS FOR QUITTERS.”
I know she would love the gesture and the link of the words between us.
12th June 2021.
As some of you will no doubt have figured out, the story that it fell to me to complete over the past few months is coming to a close; in fact this is going to be the last Horse Husband and Cancer post- for the immediate future at least.
Let me explain.
I set out to complete Elaine’s story as I was sure it’s what she would have wanted and done herself if she could. I also wanted to do it to help myself, if possible, to make sense of and try to come to terms with, what was happening in my life. I think I’ve just about got there with both aims.
The simple fact is I cannot keep on ‘flogging a dead wife’, (yes, she would have loved that phrase!). Her story is complete, the funeral was almost five months ago, its’ time to call a halt.
For me the reality of everyday living has set back in. Death ceded me the time to think, remember and write the blogs but life returning is now colonizing that time for other purposes.
Before Elaine’s death I was half of a partnership and we sorted all the mundane jobs of life between us, but now they are all down to me alone; on top of this I have to work as fresh air doesn’t pay the bills. My time for writing is becoming very limited. Anna says there is never time to write so write anyway, and I do understand what she means, but I have another reason to want to stop for now.
I have simply been dealing with death for too bloody long. All but our first year together I have been living with the possibility of losing Elaine to cancer. Death was ever present in our lives; like a mad relative who comes to stay then remains shut-up in the attic, you could almost forget them except for the footsteps above in the dead of night and you remain fearful lest they find the way down and discover you.
During our last five years the hospital appointments and visits intensified greatly, treatment was on an almost continuous basis, believe me it all sharpens the mind towards the most likely outcome.
Elaine and I tried not to let this dominate our lives, and I think we managed very well, but its damn-near impossible to blank it all the time.
Death could not be evicted from our attic, it was there to stay and we both knew it. I for one tried not to acknowledge our squatter. I know towards the end Elaine had ventured up the stairs in her own mind, and I think had made a sort of peace; not a written agreement you understand, just a handshake and nod.
This is only my impression, she never said too much to me, but I knew her better than any alive and sometimes with Elaine you had to ‘listen’ to what she didn’t say.
At first after her death I felt guilty for still being alive and not going with her, irrational maybe, but it’s true. Now I feel not so much guilty for being left behind but embarrassed that I actually want to live. The self- preservation in me wants to go on, see what’s round the corner etc; but can this only be done without Elaine?
It dawned on me a while back that clinging on to the raft of my wife’s death would not save me from drowning. I have to let go and go with the flow and hopefully find my way to the shore. This bothered me though as I did not want to let go or move-on, however you want to term it.
I haven’t stopped loving Elaine just because she’s dead so how do I ‘leave’ her behind?
Then I looked more carefully at the situation and saw a way around my predicament. It’s her death that I have to let go of, there’s nothing saying I’ve to let go of her life, or our time together.
Elaine made life fun, not just something to be gotten through, and I don’t want to leave all that we were at the door of moving-on; nor do I want to lock all the memories away just too occasionally wallow in them on a wet Sunday afternoon or late at night after drinking too much.
I think the best parallel is that of an oyster and a pearl.
The irritant gets into the oyster which can’t be rid of it, so it coats it with fluid forming a pearl and learns to live around it.
My relationship with, and love for Elaine is what I must learn to live around; to carry it inside me always but not let it stop me from living the life that is left to me. I will never forget what we were/are to each other, she is far too important to me for that to happen, but she would not want to be the reason for my being ever miserable.
Elaine would be the first to say: “For God’s sake and mine, get on with life and live it. Don’t you dare use me as an excuse to sit and mope and vegetate, don’t waste it, its’ too bloody precious, just remember me, I’ll always be with you- and I’ll wait.”
She was ever sure that we would be together again and that’s something I will be holding on to.
Over the last few weeks I have, with help, cleared out and disposed of a lot of Elaine’s personal and professional items. There’s lots more to go but I’m not rushing, it will all get done in good time, but not everything is going.
I will be keeping some of my/her favourite things for the rest of my life. I don’t need them to remember but I want their physical presence anyway, just to have something of her to touch and hold when re-assurance is needed.
I refuse to let Elaine become the ‘Elephant in the Room’ the one we don’t talk of as she’s dead. Despite what she endured she was full of life and I want that feeling of her alive to continue whenever those that love her meet together again.
Writing about her death and re-living snippets of our times has brought to me an unexpected appreciation of why writing meant so much to Elaine. I understand now her enthusiasm for words and the sharing of them with others.
Many a time she would be up early in the morning having woken with some item or article mapped out in her head and she would just have to “get it down now!” lest memory should fail her. She cherished the interaction with her readers and I know now why.
The support and encouragement from so many of you over the past months has meant a huge amount to me, and I believe it has and is, helping me to face up to and live through this ordeal.
Dying isn’t that difficult, it’s the staying alive that’s tough, and it’s going to be the challenge of my lifetime to continue doing so without the woman I love, but I’ll have to be up to it as she will be so disappointed if I’m not. She always did say it was going to be worse for me, left behind, than it would be for her and I reckon she was right.
One of the hardest things is doing something for the first time since she died, remembering that the last time she was still here, talking, breathing, joking- or telling me off!
I guess life is a series of firsts and lasts for us all. We know well enough when something happens or is done for the first time, but we never can be totally certain when a last time will be; sometimes they are even one and the same.
As life continues I am ticking things off the list as it were, though the one I’m dreading most will be the first Christmas without her. The memory of the last one remains like a loaded gun at my head. I’ll see it through but be so glad when it’s over and that first becomes a last.
I said at the start of this post that it is the last one for the immediate future; it was originally to be the end, full stop and goodnight, but I have discovered great pleasure in the writing and so many of you have been kind enough to say that you enjoy it to. So I will continue to post in the future but only when and if I feel I’ve something to write that’s worth troubling your eyes to read.
I see little point in a continuous ‘woe- is-me’ dialogue; I do not have a monopoly on grief and I don’t want to give the impression that I think myself the only person on earth to have recently suffered loss and bad luck. Indeed, I don’t regard myself as unlucky at all.
Against all the odds Elaine and I managed thirty years together, the last twenty five of them happily married and always in love with each other. Some couples stay together for convenience, many don’t even get the years we did, of course we wanted more but I’m just so grateful now for what we did share.
I remain deeply indebted to fate, God, the universe, call it who or what you want, that thirty one years ago this summer I went to help paint a cottage just outside of Wimborne, and on the second day heard three word’s that were to change my life forever:-
“Hi, I’m Elaine.”