A Horse A Husband and Cancer: the book.

Our cover reveal! The memoir will be available very soon!

This is not a book about horses; nor is it a book about husbands and it is certainly not a book solely about cancer.

Though that condition is the core reason for this work it does not make this some sort of self-help book for those suffering from this illness or yet another set of pages condoning positive thinking and attitudes to try to overcome despair and fear.

This book leads you through one woman’s fight to stay a step ahead of the silent assassin within. Elaine dug deep within to find her allies and always refused any hint of sympathy from others.

Her deep-seated and dark sense of humour, her even deeper love for me and for her friends and horses helped her to prevail, against the odds, for so long. She was bruised and battered in mind, spirit and body so many times, yet a two fingered salute was all the ground she would give to the cancer.

If you have an interest in horses, husbands or cancer there is something here for you to chew over; but if you want to hear of the unrelenting human spirit even knowing the fight is unwinnable, then read on, there is a feast before you.

-Mark Edsall

Seconds.

What’s the most important measure of time? Days, years, decades maybe; perhaps hours or minutes? I think its smaller still, I think its seconds.

 I could get anal here and go into hundredths or thousandths of a second, the world of grand prix drivers etc, but let’s stick with something familiar to us all and just as easily overlooked in its importance.

Seconds, sometimes the difference between life and death, what could be more important than that?

We were on our way home, Elaine and I, from one of our regular jaunts up to Kempton Park antiques fair on the outskirts of London. It’s only a few minutes off the end of the M3 motorway and our total journey there and back was about 180 miles.

Almost all motorway and dual carriageway we would complete it as fast as was possible at the time.

Nearing home the dual road becomes four lanes as two blend left for Bournemouth and two head straight on; our route. A slip road joins from the left, a roundabout slows the traffic a mile or so ahead.

We were bowling along at about 60 mph in our pick-up truck, an articulated lorry moved into our lane in the distance, I noticed a row of cars had been in front of him and assumed he was overtaking.

Elaine spoke and I turned to her in reply, at that second the lorry must have braked HARD, our radio drowning out the sound of his actions; I had no way of knowing that all in front of him had stopped. Glancing back up I saw his brake lights and he was stationary dead in front of us.

I thought my foot must surely snap the brake pedal as I slammed down hard directly onto it; there was nothing else to do, a barrier on our right, cars now to our left.

I still have that pick-up truck it’s now twenty three years old, Elaine loved it. It was battered and bruised by the time she died but driving it for her was giving the finger to the whole world of shiny new vehicles designed for off-road or commerce, that never see an angry puddle or a bale of hay or two in the back.

To this day I don’t understand how we stopped. We were doing at least 60mph when I braked; the truck is bog standard, no ABS to assist. We came to a halt a flies’ dick width from the lorry trailer in a cloud of smoking brakes and tyres, the screeching ringing in our ears.

The seatbelts held us, even so Elaine narrowly missed the dash. I was so shocked I could not even swear; Elaine calm as ever remarked,” Good brakes then, on this truck”.

“Guess-so” was about all I could mumble between numb lips.

Those few seconds of inattention on my part could have changed the course of our lives, we may not have died but could so easily have been injured, what would our future have been like then?

In the hospice Elaine died as I held her hand; but which second was the difference between life and death at that moment? She was in there two weeks prior to that happening, but what or even who, determined the second of her passing from this life that we know and understand?

 Would a few seconds more for her have mattered that much?

The whole concept of time has been bothering me for some-time now (no pun intended)! How could we possibly live our lives without it?

Think it over for a minute, or a second; how would we exist without time?

The measure of time regulates our lives twenty four hours a day, every day until we die, but is it anywhere else other than here? If Elaine now exists in some other world is there any such thing as time there?

She was sure we had lived together before in the past and would do so again in the future. But what happens if I live another twenty or thirty years here without her, will she still be waiting or have ‘moved-on’ to start another life and I’m left behind?

This meandering on about time may seem a bit weird to some of you but when you lose someone that you love so much all this stuff becomes bloody important in your mind.

Welcome to my world of fretting and worrying about time; the truth is that since she died I am feeling every second that I live; I can only liken it to being aware of every breath that you take. Time is dragging for me, eight months feels like eight years; though I’m busy working and trying to look after the house, garden, cats, vintage barn and myself, not necessarily in that order, I am feeling every second that passes through my life.

And yet too there seems so little time to do things in, I suppose that’s because I’m now the only one left to do it all. The more I think of it though the more I’m becoming convinced that if there are other worlds or dimensions if you like, after death then time as we know it has no place there at all.

It might be that for Elaine we are only apart for seconds whereas for me it could be years or more. It’s a thought that keeps coming back to me, just hope that I’m right – I think!

The grief is still very much with me alive and kicking out at regular intervals and trying to catch me off guard (often succeeding); though I am learning to absorb the blows a bit better.

Recently I have been working via email, with friend and author Anna Blake in the USA to get Elaine’s book in order and ready for publication. Elaine had requested that in the event of her death Anna should have a copy of all her writings including those done for her book; this was so that Anna could finish the book for her if she died before completing it.

As it happens, Elaine did complete it (unbeknown to me) but it was not written in chronological order so there has been a lot of sorting out and editing to do for Anna, myself and others (mostly them!). It is now completed so the book, titled after her blog, A Horse, A Husband and Cancer, will hopefully be available soon.

Anna told me out of the blue, awhile back, that it had been decided to include the first thirteen blogs that I wrote after Elaine’s death as a means of completing the book, so it is now a sort of joint effort between my wife and myself (mostly her of course). Needless to say that I am deeply and genuinely touched at this unexpected decision and as I also have gotten to write the introduction I feel very honoured indeed.

I did however make one BIG mistake.

When I received the first draft copy, I read it through over a series of evenings noting corrections etc to be made as I went along; then when I finished Elaine’s writing and got to mine I took a break for a shower and freshen-up meaning to read a little more that night and complete it later.

Sitting down with a drink I thought I’d read on slightly further but ended up reading right through to the end, all thirteen blogs worth in one go.

Oh God I had not considered their combined impact, I was taken completely by surprise, and I’m the one who wrote it! Always before I had worked on and read them through one at a time, read together they were like a massive punch to the guts; a BIG punch. 

In seconds I was back there in time; that last awful night at home together, the hospice, last Christmas, our anniversary, her gradual decline- and then her death. I was back there re-living it all. It was like watching a film with myself in it and being the director also; I was in floods of tears and torment long before I finished but I could not stop reading.

I went to bed that night crying and I was crying when I woke up the next morning-TRUE!

Time stopped for me that evening; just seconds was all it took and I was back there re-living it all again, the months between totally erased.

Time may well be a great healer, but it’s an easily missed path in the darkness.

There is also the concept of ‘moving-on’ in my own good time, so to speak. People seem to like to voice their opinions on this matter but everyone has a different idea on just when this should be.

More than one thought it should occur fairly soon after Elaine’s funeral, others think in months; some years.

Just of late I have been lucky that kind friends of the present, and from the past, have invited me out for meals, drinks, days out and to see bands etc; but this all takes a bit of getting used to as it seems so weird my being out without Elaine there too.

It feels almost disrespectful or adulterous even in some way; like more time should go by before new adventures happen.

I try to think what Elaine would say to me though to be honest I reckon that I already know the answer:-

 “Get out and enjoy, every second counts you won’t get them again; don’t use me or our love as a reason to die slowly alone. The guilt is of your own making Mark, not mine. I’m just as dead to your world now as I was that Tuesday morning. Remember my words ‘I’ll leave you to carry on living for me – make sure it’s good”.

I know this is what I’ve really got to do, but it’s a bit like snakes n’ ladders.

There’s that big green snake on ‘99’ and just when I think I’m doing ok and going to hit ‘100’ something happens and I land on the bastard again and go tumbling down once more, (though maybe not so far each time).

So perhaps after all it is just a matter of time moving at its own pace and I have to go with the flow and find my own level, make my own rules.

The seconds that make up our lives, our ‘time’, maybe they only exist in our minds so we can cope with the living. Possibly that split second between life and death spells not just the end of our time but of time itself.

I’ll be back!

FIRSTS and LASTS.

                                     

Christmas 2016.

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.”

Thank you…

ONE GOOD DAY.

                                                       

Can the memory of one good day keep you going, or maybe the thought of one more yet to come keep you alive?

Elaine and I were together for thirty years, that’s approximately 10,957 individual days; most of which will remain unremembered. Though each day is different those that we regard as unremarkable tend to fade into the background, whilst others for whatever reason, leap to the front of memory.

Of course the reason may not always be a good one, but let’s just stay with the good ones for now.

I think among the best of times are those shared with others. Our trip to Egypt with dear friend Terry; adventures in America with Elaine’s cousin Jeff and wife Mary (special memories there!); plus European and UK visits with Julie and John, so many good ‘gigs’.

Closer to home our visits to Goodwood, especially the Revival, are among the best; Elaine Mike and myself went several times together. Sometimes we met others there including Elaine’s brother Colin and wife Soraya. We always had fun and Elaine would often have deliveries to make to stallholders who had bought items from her online shops.

My wife revelled in the vintage costume etc and needed no excuse to dress-up. She once was in the final best dressed 10 women there one day; but helping a fellow contestant who had drunk too much and fallen over did not really aid her chances to win.

They were good days that are fun to look back on and remember. Sadly continued cancer treatment meant Elaine became tired easily and all the walking round was too much, so she stopped going some years ago.

Mike and I continued but always enjoyed coming home to tell her all about our day, her interest was genuine; that won’t be happening again now, perhaps that’s a reason to remember other good days.

Wednesday 20th January 2021. Mid- morning.

I’ve been sat staring into nothing for two hours or more now. Yesterday we buried my wife so: “Today is the first day of rest of your life”-well you know where you can bloody stick that. The funeral’s over, Mike’s gone home, I’m here alone-alone just me-this is it from now on, you realise that don’t you.

My heart’s turned into a brick, everything around me feels threatening and black.

The phone breaks the spell, the noise like a dagger in the ether; reluctantly I move to answer.

“Yes, hello.”

“Hello we are calling to inform you of suspicious activity on your Amazon account, you now need to..”

I hang-up cursing them, why don’t these bastards get cancer and die? Why do they flourish? Why did my wife have to go?

Quite how I spent the rest of this day is lost to me, a wasted day is a shame, but I can’t help that; I now seem to be spending freely.

Thursday 21st.

I decide to visit the Vintage Barn at Cranborne. Elaine went into the Barn a few years ago as we were doing less and less fairs. Though the garden centre is open the Barn is still subject to lockdown, but I need to see how things are out there. On the way I visit Elaine.

It’s all a bit boggy, the earth is in place once more and a temporary marker carrying her name is in situ’. Bunnies or deer have eaten my roses leaving just the stems, but I don’t mind, that happens at home too.

I feel like an outsider visiting an attraction he hasn’t seen before and finding it a bit of an anti-climax, I don’t stay to long.

Neither do I stay long at the Barn. The staff are sympathetic and supportive but when I unlock the door and go in I am simply overwhelmed; Elaine is everywhere. She loved it here, the buying and arranging and selling of these mini ‘treasures’, which are still just as she left them, it was such a big part of her world. I lock-up after just a few seconds and sit in the truck lost, and fighting back the tears.

On my way home I stop off at Knowlton (see last blog).

It had a deep effect on me when Mike and I came here after the funeral; the yew trees with their offerings and memories particularly so. Today I’ve brought a memory of my own to leave.

In Elaine’s work room I hunted around for some simple marker that she would recognise and found it in a ball of vibrant pink wool. It’s a colour she loved and often used in her knitting and crochet.

A couple of dog walkers take no notice as I make my way around the ruined church to the yews. Unlike last time todays weather is dry and clear; windy yes, but the big sky seems higher somehow and the horizon a distant suggestion.

The breeze between the yews is uplifting and full of sound. The ribbons and other items hanging here appear to dance and sway to their own pulse, this may be a site from pre-history but there is life in this place.

Cutting a length of wool I carefully choose a small branch on my right to attach it to; I want it to billow out over the fence in the direction of the Barn, and it does just that. I can’t explain why but I feel close to Elaine right here, closer than I did by her grave. Why this is I don’t know, but maybe there’s more than just life here, maybe there is understanding as well.

I stay for a while breathing it in and talking to my wife, then I return home.

The next week passes quickly; despite the funeral being a sort of watershed there are still a lot of things to get through but I also spend time just sitting unable to cope with too much in a single day. The first blog ‘Carrying-On’ posted on Thursday 28th announcing Elaine’s death and giving our words from the funeral. It also states that I am going to finish the story as it were, so no pressure there!

I’ve also become aware of something else. My emotions and temperament are frayed and unpredictable. The grief is hitting me from all sides, wearing me down, gnawing constantly and I can’t shake myself clear of it.

This misery comes into its own on the night of the 30th of January, a Saturday (really early Sunday morning). I wrote on the calendar the next day- Black Night.

Those two words sum it up the best. For a long time now, particularly since her funeral I’ve felt darkness all around me, quietly positioning itself on the edge of my reason- waiting.

Tonight it makes its move.

It’s 12.15am and I’m going to bed. I turn out the kitchen light and reach for the familiar switch for the landing, but get instead the hall light above me; it has a yellow glow not altogether pleasant without other light, as I go to correct my mistake I stop dead.

I can’t move.

I am engulfed in a tidal wave of utter complete misery and hopeless wretched despair.

I’m shaking, sweat is forming on the backs of my hands, but I’m not hot. Then I start to cry.

No gentle blubber now, it is an agonised flood that physically rocks me forcing me to sit on the metal trunk by the side of the staircase.

That first blog was called ‘Carrying-On’ but I can see no point now in doing so; all I can see is years of desolation before me, and feeling like this.

“She’s dead Mark, dead, and she isn’t coming back to you not now not ever. You’ll never see her again, never hold her close, love her, support her, you’ll never hear her say ‘I love you’ once more, it’s all fucking gone forever, your life together is over- you might as well go too.”

Go?

“Yes Go, you’ve got the means, have you got the will?”

You mean death, kill myself.

“Why not? What’s the bastard point in hanging on here alone, because you are alone aren’t you? Oh people call or text but that’ll soon dry up and anyway they’re not the ones here alone at the end of the day are they? But you are and it’s empty here without her, there’s no point to anything now, GO.”

We discussed this once but decided it wasn’t right.

“You could be with her if there is some other life; if there isn’t then at least this agony will be finished; you won’t even hear the shot and it’s done or there’s the cancer med’s morphine the lot, still there in the larder, no one’s going to find you here in time.”

I’m sat shaking and rocking, tears and sweat soaking into the carpet before me. This can’t be happening am I going mad? A breakdown maybe, what did they use to call it ‘A Nervous Breakdown’ that was it, this must be it what else is there?

I am afraid, frightened of what now is seeming rational. All around me appears black.

“It would be so simple Mark then it’s all over, no more pain no more darkness. She can’t come to you- go to her; you’ve known others who’ve done it – John, Mark, Jimmy.”

But she has come to me, there’s been this strange synchronicity happening in what I’ve had to deal with, and in the silence, she was there and at Knowlton…

“Bollocks- you’re on your bloody own from now on, years of loss and grief it won’t lessen how can it, GO.”

But what if there is something else? What if for some cause I’d done this years ago, then found myself in a room with projector and screen? Then a film had started and I was shown my life that was meant to be.

Elaine, who was going to be my wife and we were to have three decades together; love, happiness, good days, each brushing away the cobwebs of doubt and despair from the other, support; life at its best- shared.

What would have happened to her if I wasn’t there?

“But she’s not here now is she? No more good days.”

Good days? Good day? What was it Mike said to me something about a day? Why can’t I remember?

I can’t stop the tears and the despair is absolute; this vile ‘conversation’ is like a tug-of-war and my reason and life are the rope; I am afraid to move scared of what I’ll do, if I do.

“It would be so easy.”

What was it Mike said, the day after the funeral, and before then, something about a day I must remember? This has to end, it’s got to end. Why is it so fucking dark in here?

“It will be so easy.”

Easy?

It’s as if that word occurred for the first time. Easy? When did Elaine and I ever do Easy?

All those years of struggle. Yes there were good times, many of them, and there was shite too heaps of it to shovel, but we did it together the two of us, a team for each other.

Fuck-all was ‘Easy’ but we found those gems of life in all the muck and held on to them even when the darkness threatened, we never gave up right to the end. To hell with ‘Easy’.

“But it’s all over and you’re stuck here alone- NO MORE GOOD DAYS.”

Good days? Good day! One good day, that’s what he said, Mike, that’s what he told me.

We were talking about it-suicide-a young girl, local, she killed herself- I think his niece knew her, he said: “I can understand it if you just can’t see the possibility of one good day left in your life. If it’s so bad that there’s just no hope then maybe it’s right, but what if?”

“If you can just bring yourself to believe that there is a chance of another good day ahead then surely it’s worth hanging on for; a day when the memories are still there but not quite at the forefront anymore , where they don’t dominate the moment and you can enjoy the day again. It might be fleeting but if it’s there once it’ll be there again and again, that has to be worth something it must.”

I stand without thinking and hit the landing light switch. Instantly I’m bathed in light from six 50 watt bulbs.

 Whether it’s the light or the recollection of Mike’s words or the combination, a massive flood of relief engulfs me; I’m still shaking but the tears have stopped, the atmosphere around me feels cleansed.

Was this Rock-Bottom? I had no clue or warning that grief possessed such power, such presence; this has been a terrifying but also an eye-opening experience.

I’ve tasted grief before, on more than one occasion, but never had a banquet like tonight’s placed before me; I’m feeling angry and a bit sick.

If I’d had the gun in my hand or the open morphine bottle, there is a damn good chance you would not be reading this now. I realise that this isn’t some evil crept in from outside unobserved, it is all entirely from within, of my own creation.

After this night I would never out of hand condemn those whose grief overwhelms their judgment and their reason, and I also understand why people die of broken hearts.

Elaine fought so long, so hard to hold on to life, and although I am basted in grief, that is not excuse enough to end my own.

She wasn’t afraid of death so I must not be afraid of life.

There has to be at least One Good Day out there somewhere, all I’ve got to do is find it!

To be continued…

Offerings

At heart Elaine was a true romantic and she was particularly in love with the Pre-Raphaelite times and works of Victorian Britain.

The idea of billowing, flowing romance; of rhymeless poetry penned in meagre garrets by ailing consumptives, and exquisite artworks created on canvas by renegade artists; thumbing their noses at convention and society, while all the time craving the patronage of both.

She lapped it up whenever and wherever she could.

When she moved in with me she brought along her collection of Victorian prints and drawings, which she then spent three hours one Sunday evening nailing round the walls of her new kitchen. They stretched floor to ceiling covering every inch, but I loved them too.

One of her favourite places was the Russell Coates Museum and Gallery in Bournemouth where much of this period of artwork is displayed. Before we met, she told me, she would often go there alone to look and dream.

We went together just once and I was aware that this was a new intimacy between us. This sharing of her special place with me was very important to her, almost akin to new lovers baring their nakedness for the first time.

This love of the romantic extended into the scene for her ideal funeral.

A windswept hillside churchyard. The sky black a thunderstorm raging; torrential rain.

The coffin being borne aloft by men in black frock coats and top hats.

The priest in front, leading the way across the slippery ground; the wind trying to strip him of his vestments. The followers behind, drenched to the skin.

At the graveside the earth boggy and sodden. As the coffin is lowered the rain and wind washes the tears from the mourners’ down-turned faces; the flowers they’ve brought, now useless be-draggled offerings, like weeds at a wedding.

Elaine would have loved this to have been her funeral- lucky for us it wasn’t.

Tuesday 19th January 2021.

Mike and I arrive at the Woodland Burial Ground just before midday, we are early which is what I want and we are both feeling nervous and on edge. My friend is worried about me and how the next hour or so is going to go, though he has said nothing I know him well enough by now.

The truth is, now we are here I feel a little detached from this morning; it’s as though I’m here to watch a short play that I don’t really want to see let alone be a part of, I’ll just be glad when we reach the end.

Last night I spent alone at home, tonight Mike is staying with me as Elaine had wanted. I’ll be more than glad to have his company, he’ll have the sofa as his bed where I spent last night and was visited by the silence, (see previous blog).

After I woke this morning I went for a walk in the half light up through the park where Elaine used to go after Bruce died and where we often walked together. Much to their disgust I shut the cats in as I wanted just my own company this time and they do so love to go for a stroll, all our cats have.

To this day I am not entirely sure I was alone but the walk did me good, and I feel a renewed strength to face this morning, something in the weirdness of last night has bolstered me up too; is her funeral the ‘peak’ and afterwards is it a gentle slope downwards to normality? Questions without answers at present but they’ll come soon enough.

On my way back I collect a stone from the track to go into her grave; I will also put in some earth from our garden which she loved so much.

It’s just after 12 o’clock as the first of the invited mourners start to arrive. They turn up slowly which gives me time to say hellos to most of them. The mood is subdued, Elaine didn’t want happy- clappy anyway, and she’s not going to get it today. The weather is brooding, grey, a bit cold and unpredictable, the wind fresh and getting stronger; she may yet get her Dickensian burial scene.

A grey hearse silently arrives bringing my wife to the party, whose invite she has steadfastly declined for the past thirty years. My emotions are subdued and strangely neutral.

I’m very relieved when Jane, who is to conduct the service, arrives. Now I can relax a little, we are in good hands.

Everyone stands around talking quietly, all reluctant to be the first to go in and sit; but once a few do, all follow. Mike and I are among the last.

Again the coffin, now set on trestles, looks unusually large; on it rests a spray of nine long-stemmed dark red roses from me. Elaine requested that everyone bring along some flowers to go into her grave with her and all have done so.

I don’t intend to give a blow by blow account of the service here; Elaine had mapped out what she wanted some time ago and we stuck 95% to her wishes.

There was music by: Leonard Cohen, Ellie Goulding and Johnny Cash & June Carter. Readings from, Nicholas Evans, Nancy Wood and Winnie the Pooh!

Elaine’s words were read followed shortly by my own that she never got to read or hear; Jane did a masterful job of weaving it all together, and as she read my words aloud I knew in my heart that I had to carry-on the blog. Anna had given a ‘thumbs-up’ to my idea of continuing it, to tell Elaine’s story to the end, now there is no going back.

As the indoor bit came to an end we sat waiting to follow on as the coffin was taken by hearse to the graveside. The weather was closing in and I wondered if Elaine was planning a soaking for us all at the eleventh hour; but it did hold off, just.

I’d asked that my roses be taken off the coffin and placed on the earth after her burial. Thankfully someone was thoughtful enough to take one bloom and leave it on the coffin lid, a gesture I will ever be grateful for.

There were further readings by Jane and then my darling was gently lowered into the waiting earth and everyone filed past to cast their offerings in with her; I was last with my buttonhole of snowdrops picked from our garden. I also dropped in the stone and earth from home.

Despite lockdown rules there were hugs all round, and I was grateful to Penny, Elaine’s friend and mindfulness instructor for taking my arm as we walked away.

Elaine may not have got her fantasy Gothic send-off, but I think she would be pleased with the dignified solemnity of the occasion and the genuine sadness of all present.

There can be no wake afterwards, as originally planned, so I give my thanks to as many as possible as the party slowly dissolves around me. Mike and I are last to leave and return to what is now just my home.

I am feeling very bleak and unsettled. Something is over, and I’m glad for it, but something else is close by waiting to begin. I can feel it now.

Mike and I have tea, as Elaine would have, then despite the worsening weather decide to go for a drive around. Just what do you do after a funeral when everything is closed down?

During this reluctant tour Mike has a brainwave and says; “Let’s go to Knowlton.”

Knowlton was a small hamlet just off the main Wimborne/Cranborne road; all that really remains now is the ruined 12th century Christian church that was built in the centre of a Neolithic earthworks.

It’s a strange place with an aura of eeriness and brooding. I have been here before so had my wife but I can’t at first remember if we had been here together; a while later I remember that we had.

It lies on the route we took each time we went to the vintage barn at Cranborne. This was a journey Elaine and I always loved. It is a super sweeping road to drive, and the fields and skies around you are always so vast and proud but without any menace or threat.

The light at any time of day, but especially the early morning, brings colour and freshness to the landscape that Elaine’s Pre-Raphaelites would have enthused over. They would have loved also the air of dark romance that hangs in the atmosphere of this melancholy ruin.

This afternoon though they may have preferred their warm studios as it’s become freezing cold, the wind is a demon and rain falls in torrents.

We sit in the car for a while and luckily the rain stops so we venture outside for a walk around. Not surprisingly, we are the only ones about and have the place to ourselves. We set off across the earthworks towards the church, there is little shelter and the wind cuts through us.

 I don’t fancy too much of this, a quick tour round will suffice, but then we notice something on the far side of the site and go to investigate.

There are two Yew trees growing close together and on them is an amazing sight of coloured ribbons, string, small toys, remains’ of flowers you name it and it’s probably there; coins have also been left.

We are not sure what it’s all for but a dog walker appears close by and we ask him. He confirms our suspicions that people leave these things as a form of offering to remember loved ones and to appeal to the ancient gods for help and good luck.

It all strikes a chord inside of me. I want to leave something for Elaine, coming here this afternoon wasn’t a chance thing I just know it. I don’t have anything with me only coins, but it doesn’t feel right to leave them so I resolve to return soon with something that has more of a feeling of her to it.

 It’s very curious, but stood between those trees I felt close to Elaine; I don’t know why that should be but it just was, I can’t wait to return. We head for home as dark grey becomes the dominant colour of the landscape and the rain starts once more.

Our evening and night pass with the aid of beer and curry plus programmes on Ferrari and McLaren. We don’t talk too much about the day but are both relieved that it is over, but what now?

I have a dreamless night, though it seems to me that I’m sleeping in a huge dark void just floating in nothingness, waking isn’t much better.

I’m up before Mike and make coffee. He appears and says he slept ok which I’m glad of, that settee isn’t the best of beds.

 We don’t bother with breakfast just coffee and talk. It is during this converse that Mike repeats something that he has said to me before, it sticks in my mind which is just as well, but I’ll tell you what and why next time.

Mike packs his gear as I tidy up and he’s ready to go by 9.30; I don’t really fancy being alone but have to be sometime. We say our goodbyes and he says he’ll phone me soon, I know he will but as he drives away the rain starts and so do the tears.

I can’t fully understand why, stupid I suppose, but I feel utterly alone in the world everything is black and hopeless.

I’m back indoors and sat on the settee, I can’t stop sobbing.

Two hours pass and I’m still sat there, all I want now is to die.

To be continued…

Silence.

Have you ever heard silence? No I mean it, think a little have you ever actually heard silence?

Not just quiet, not the library hush, but total emphatic all encompassing, silence.

The type of silence that seems to have an intelligence behind it; something thinking not just an absence of noise but something purposefully creating, or being the cause of the situation.

I have, so had Elaine.

We had just picked up the keys from the solicitors office. It was a house clearance to do. The lady had gone into hospital suddenly and then just as suddenly died.

I won’t name the town, but the building was on a through route and had once been a hairdressers during the 1960’s-70’s. The owner lived above the shop but the business had been closed down many years ago.

We arrived to take our first look, late on a wet Thursday afternoon.

I unlocked the door and as we stepped inside, closed it behind us. Enough light fought its way through a single window for us to see by and in front of us stood a large and beautiful rocking horse, but neither Elaine nor I moved another inch forward.

Shutting that door had pitched the two of us into another world, a world of silence.

It was deliberate, you could not even hear any traffic, there was absolutely no sound in the building, just an impression of heaviness weighing down, and dreary contempt for life.

“Why’s it so quiet?”

I nearly crapped myself as Elaine’s voice reverberated around us.

“God almighty Elaine!”

“Sorry but its’ so quiet- it’s unnatural.” And then;” Mark, we’re not alone in here are we?”

I had to agree; it felt like we were being observed by something or someone that was safe knowing we couldn’t see them. We started our tour through the building but stuck close together.

It was like stepping back in time; the shabby furniture and décor perfectly in tune with the mood of the place. The old hair salon on the ground floor still had all the equipment in it; apart from the dust and cobwebs, it could have closed yesterday.

The whole place just reeked of sadness, of opportunities missed and chances squandered and everywhere heavy, total silence.

We were here to see what needed to be done and there was a lot of work before us, but we always worked well together and never shied from a challenge.

Solicitors had searched around for personal papers ETC, though as it turned out, not very well. Otherwise everything was just as she had left it except some fool had turned off the fridge which was half full of rotting food as were some of the cupboards.

 Elaine and I returned at the weekend to commence our work.

Clearances can be quite sad. You are effectively winding-up the end of someone’s existence, dealing with and sorting their most personal effects. We always tried to do it with a degree of respect as we would want it done for ourselves.

It’s almost inevitable that you begin to form impressions of that person as you sort through their belongings; sometimes you even get to feel that you actually knew them.

This job was no exception.

We discovered personal correspondence that told us of divorce, affairs, broken promises and overseas liaisons. It was easy to read between the lines to find hopes and dreams dashed, of life becoming a chore and then a burden to be endured alone.

Everywhere there was sadness and the silence followed us around, watching.

I was there a lot on my own. I usually took a radio for company but it somehow seemed irreverent to put it on, so I didn’t. Instead I started talking aloud to the silence. I would explain why I was there and what I was doing at any given time. Then I started to talk about Elaine and myself, how we met, the on-going fight with cancer, how brave she was and how proud I was of her.

It may seem a strange thing to do, to you reading this, but I know that my words were not completely lost to the silence.

I began to get the impression that the mess in the kitchen, in particular the rotten food, was a cause of concern.

Thus one morning I donned rubber gloves and armed with many bin bags I tackled the lot, dragging the now empty fridge downstairs and onto the waiting truck. From there it all went direct to the dump.

On my returning I straight away felt that the gloom had lifted, something had altered in the oppressive atmosphere, this continued the more we cleared and cleaned. It was like life returning to an almost drowned body.

Our last visit was scheduled for a Saturday morning. Just odds and ends to clear up and a large cupboard in the salon to break up and dump. By now we had a firm impression of this lady.

Early on glamorous and hard- working, later on feisty but alone and lonely too.

We wanted to cheer her up so we brought along a radio and a can of hairspray.

Elaine said that she could imagine her on a busy Saturday morning bustling around her clients while the latest music played in the background; so as we worked our radio played ‘Sounds of the Sixty’s’ the music of her hay-day and we  played it LOUD.

Just before we left Elaine took the hairspray and sprayed it around the salon. Can a smell bring back memories to an old building as it can to us?

As we stood there Elaine said to me :”Have you left the outside door open?”

“No it’s all closed up now, why?”

“Because I can hear the traffic.”

Monday 18th January 2021.

Elaine’s funeral is tomorrow at 12.30pm. It feels like I’ve been working towards this day for months and months, but it will actually be exactly two weeks to the day that she died.

A lot of the official stuff is well underway, thanks so much to the help that I’ve had, yet I still cannot accept that she has gone and is not coming home to me again.

Even though I held her hand as life left her, I am still in a sort of denial. Maybe it’s a form of shock or perhaps a form of self- protection, either way reality remains firmly on the outside of my world.

All is set and ready for tomorrow but I have something here at home to prepare tonight.

Originally Elaine was to have spent her last night above earth here with me, but pandemic regulations have put an end to that; so I’ve devised a sort of ritual of my own even though her body won’t be present.

On our kitchen table I have arranged a selection of her favourite possessions. Among them her amethyst engagement ring, earrings that I gave her and those she wore in the hospice. A black and white picture of me taken when I was in my late teen’s ; some little vintage pieces that she loved and kept.

There is also a small enamelled heart-shaped box, which I bought her when we were first together, it contains the lock of her hair I took at the funeral home; and there is a framed photo of her with Bruce, in which they both look so happy,(this photo will also be present at the funeral).

A light is to keep vigil all night; it is to be her LED ‘candle’ a Christmas present which was at the hospice with her and glowing when she died.

I promised her I would sleep downstairs this night on our settee and I intend to do just that. I will have covering me the green and gold blanket given to Elaine at Christmas by the hospice staff, and present on her bed from then on, to the end.

There is a small bottle of champagne given to us months ago so I set-up two glasses we often used, that had belonged to my parents, and pour some into each, and then I toast-“To us, forever.”

Perhaps to some (if not all!) of you, I sound like a sad bastard doing all this; but Elaine would have expected it thinking her body would be here this night; and it is important to me, a kind of farewell without actually saying goodbye.

I stay up quite late; while I’m awake it’s not yet funeral day but when I sleep and wake it will be. I’m settled ok on the sofa, it’s neither comfortable nor uncomfortable, but I’m indifferent to that, what matters most now is to get through tonight and then tomorrow.

I lay awake listening to the clock on the wall and the gentle tick tick from the woodburner as it cools down, its work done for this night. The fridge-freezer in the larder adds its voice, at set intervals to the orchestra. Though I can see little in the glow from the kitchen, the familiar I know is all around me.

As sleep begins to take me I wonder if she might come and say goodbye this night; she will know where I am tonight of all nights. I drift off still wondering.

I’m awake, well half so, everything the same? I think it is; the faint glow from the candle barely saves me from darkness but it’s comforting nonetheless.

There is something else though, but I can’t think straight, what is it? Sleep returns again, and I’m its victim.

Dreamless I drift until waking once more. All as it was? No, but what? I half sit, listening; the small glow from the candle is still there and so is- silence.

Utter, complete and almost mesmerising silence. Deliberate.

The clock must have stopped, I can’t hear it; the fire must be cold, its contractions complete; is there a power cut, I don’t hear the fridge, I don’t hear a bloody thing!

The impression is of time stopped in this room. I don’t want to move in case I am ‘noticed’.

It’s just like when Elaine and I were stood in that hallway all those years ago, total, heavy and purposeful silence.

It’s watching me; Elaine? That you? You there? I know there will be no answer but nonetheless I hear, or feel the silence talking to me.

I still feel anger and fear at what has happened, and sadness to a depth I never knew could exist, but for a few moments this night I feel comfort; something here in this silence is talking to me lending a spark of hope, something which will become priceless to me when the real grief breaks through – there’s not going to be long to wait.

To be continued…

SIGNS.

One of Elaine’s greatest triumphs was her Vintage at the Village Hall fairs. They started with the idea of inviting regular buyers to our home, but in typical Elaine fashion, the idea grew and grew.

The fairs were a success right from the start and they soon out-grew our local village hall, so Elaine found a bigger venue in the Corn Exchange building in the centre of Blandford, the next large town along from us.

This was a much bigger hall to fill, but she had a list of stallholders in waiting so it became just a matter of getting more of the public through the doors on the given Monday morning.

Elaine spent freely on flyers and advertising ETC, but for the earlier fairs we did just a few road signs in the local vicinity which worked ok for the village hall, but the new venue being much larger, she wanted more publicity to get the buyers in.

She was adamant that a big sign was needed for the main roundabout on the outskirts of Blandford and that there should be signage on all the roads leading into town, at least two weeks prior to the fair.

Now I knew this meant a lot more work for me and I was, I admit, a bit of a dissenting voice here. I thought that ad’s in the local papers plus flyers and social media coverage would suffice, with a few signs to direct people on the day.

My wife would have none of it, and after her usual ‘joke’ of, “If you ever want sex again…” I set-to hastily making a stack of signs to put out including a bigger one for the roundabout.

Two weeks before the fair we spent a morning setting them all up and I took time to check them every few days to be certain they had not been nicked or shoved over (both regular occurrences later on).

On the day, Elaine decided to hold a survey. As people arrived they were asked how or where they had heard about the fair.

Only a handful had seen it in the local press, a few more from the flyers and about the same on social media. We had over 870 people through the door for that fair, and over two thirds of them knew about it due to the road signs.

So I was left with a certain amount of egg across my face, but to her credit Elaine didn’t scramble it too much.

For the next fair bigger and better signs were made including a two section one for the roundabout that required two full sized wooden posts to hold it up- and the crowds kept coming.

Thursday 14th January 2021.

I hear the cat before I see it: “Mmurroow.”

I have just returned to the car and opened the door after visiting the body of my wife, for the first and only time. She is lying at the Woodland Burial site near Christchurch before coming back to Wimborne for her funeral in five days’ time.

Walking back around the car, I look in the direction of the catty voice, and coming across the front of the building I’ve just left is the biggest domestic cat I have ever seen.

Now despite my being allergic to anything with four legs and fur, I love cats and they in turn generally love me.

When Elaine left her first husband she took her two cats with her. She went initially to live with Sonia, her then sister-in-law, but the cats came to me and despite my primary reactions we got on great. Since then Elaine and I have always had one or two cats.

 She loved big cats a favourite phrase being: “There’s nothing like a big fuck-off cat” and now walking straight towards me is a whopper!

It comes right up and I crouch down to greet it.

“Alright puss?”

“Murrroww.”

“What d’ya want?”

“Mmurrroww.”

It rubs itself around me as I stroke and scratch it, it damn near pushes me over. This is a BIG cat. An exotic mid-brown coat with darker tabby-like markings and light and dark spots all over. It sports a collar with a large tag displaying a phone number, but this animal is not lost its’ perfectly at ease in its environment.

I continue fussing it, then puss moves quickly over to the car and jumps in through the open door.

It then proceeds to jump around inside the car avoiding my attempts to catch it and leaving muddy paw prints everywhere. It finally settles in the back on Elaine’s old Puffa jacket which is still there.

Laughing, I open up the back door and it complains loudly as I brace myself and lift it out. It’s a heavy sod and, I’m hoping no one sees me as this animal looks to be expensive and I don’t want to be accused of trying to pinch the bugger.

After being displaced from the comfort of the car, puss heads off in the direction from which I had recently come, still complaining loudly. I watch it out of curiosity.

It goes along the path to the side gate and with hardly any hesitation it leaps onto the gate and looks around. Then it jumps down and moves away in the direction of my wife.

I say semi aloud: “Did you send that to try and cheer me up?”

The wind dances gently around me, but no voice replies.

The drive home doesn’t take long and this afternoon I’ve got a search to conduct in that very same home.

Elaine left a request that I give her friend, and dental hygienist Vicky Hargreaves, her pink pashmina and her pink handbag, both of which I had bought her. The pashmina was easily found but not so the bag.

A few cursory searches failed to turn it up so a more thorough attempt is called for. This is not a large house but I turn out every cupboard, every draw, nothing. Her workroom and all the gear in it, nothing. In the loft! Nothing. The sheds, nothing. By now I’m getting really pissed, I’m gonna find that bloody bag if it kills me.

Again and again I look everywhere, even in the truck and car and places where I know it couldn’t possibly be, nothing. I now also realise that other bags are missing too. Did she sell them? Give them away? Unlikely, but where the hell else is there?

On our landing is a large wooden toy lorry. Elaine bought it many years ago and could not part with it. On it sits a metal deed box with the name K.Winny Austin painted on it, something else she bought at a boot sale that she wanted to keep. On the box sits the elephant watering can that I bought and she saw and wanted for Christmas.

Now Elaine always said that she would let me know somehow that she was OK in the event of her death, some sort of sign that she was still around and alright. She just never said what.

I got it in my mind that the ‘sign’ would be this elephant can being turned in the night so as to be facing the bedroom door when I get up in the morning. Of course it never moved.

Don’t think me mad, drowning men really do clutch at straws. Believe in that if nothing else.

I search the lorry and move it the box and the elephant can several times to examine the hall cupboard behind- still nothing. I end up going to bed bemused and annoyed.

Next morning I get up and go onto the landing, the elephant is holding its usual position.

I’m still annoyed and say out loud; “Elaine, what have you done with those fucking bags!”

I go in the bathroom and emerge shortly saying; “I’ve looked everywhere in this bloody house-except-(and my eyes move to it) in that metal box.”

Sitting down awkwardly in the chair beside it and hastily lifting off the watering can I quickly open the lid of K. Winny Austin, and there gazing serenely at me is the pink bag and underneath it the others that are missing.

Why I didn’t open it before I don’t know. Elaine never told me she had put anything in it, I assumed it to be empty.

Then I glance down at the elephant.

In my haste and being on the wrong side to it I had turned it as I lifted it clear and put it down-facing the bedroom door.

I sit and stare and stare at it, its trunk held high just as I was hoping to see it one morning.

Then I laugh out loud, ”You lazy cow you had to get me to do it, didn’t you.”

Saturday 16th January.

Elaine and I were about as close as any couple could be and since she died, especially at night, I have wondered will I hear or see something. As I said earlier, she wanted to let me know she was alright after death, but the incidents with the cat and the elephant set me thinking. Perhaps I’m not going to see a ghostly Elaine, bathed in a glowing light, standing by the bed; or hear her calling my name when I wake in darkness one night.

Maybe it’s a lot more subtle than that.

In my dealings with all the official stuff that goes hand in hand with a person’s death, luck has been on my side. All this sort of thing is a complete anathema to me, something my wife knew only too well.

Yet I’ve rung at just the right time to reach the right person to speak to. Phone numbers, addresses and other info’ is at hand the moment I need it, and ideas have come to mind out of nowhere bringing most useful financial aid. I could go on but I expect you are getting the picture.

I feel her hand in this and I know now that if she were going to help me in any way and let me know that she’s still about, this would be it.

Perhaps I’m still clutching at straws but I don’t think I am, there is something else going on here.

I have already met with Jane Arnold, who is to be our funeral celebrant on the day. Jane lives on the outskirts of Salisbury, a city I love and know well.

Her small Victorian terraced house is a visual delight of quirky vintage and personal items, I love it, and Elaine would have too.

Sitting in Jane’s home by the log fire drinking coffee and talking of my wife, is an experience etched onto my memory that I will treasure.

We have organised the funeral arrangements as Elaine had requested with minimum adjustments which are unavoidable. I have written some words which Jane will read on my behalf. There’s no sense in me trying to do it, I know my limitations here.

I started this writing during the quiet hours at the hospice, when faint hope still lived but had no real voice.

When it was completed I had to take an axe to it as it resembled a biography of Elaine and myself and would have taken Jane a day to read out.

I’m pleased enough with the final version as to be quite honest I’ve never written more than a postcard in years and Jane likes it too, which gives me a real boost.

Now I’m sat here at home by my own fire, I’ve had a drink or two, and a mad idea keeps presenting itself to me.

When Julie a I were talking in the week, she suggested that I might write down how I was feeling in the form of a letter, perhaps one to Elaine, and then place it on the fire to ‘let go’.

The thing that’s come to my mind is-what if I wrote it on the blog?

Elaine simply loved the blog. She was so proud of it, setting it up herself and then gaining her followers it meant so much to her. But she left no instructions about it in the event of her death.

I don’t believe for a moment that she would have just wanted it to die with her, especially in an ‘unfinished’ state, but I doubt that she could see any way for it to continue, even for a while, after she was gone.

I’ve written the piece for the funeral, but, can I write over several months about us and bring her story up to date?

At first I convince myself I can. Then just as quickly convince myself the opposite.

Saturday night turns to Sunday morning, and still this nagging voice: “Write it on the blog.”

Is this you Elaine? Another subtle sign? Subtle, yet insistent: “Write the blog, you can do it, finish the story.”

There is only one person to ask, Anna Blake in America. I’ve met Anna when she had been over the previous two years, and one thing I do know is that from her I’ll get a straight and honest opinion.

You’d better start your influence on her Elaine if you want this to happen.

To be continued…

A BAGEL FOR THE JOURNEY.

                                            

Her scream wakes me up. It is the loudest most piercing scream I have ever heard, or ever want to.

 It is alive with fear, and it comes from Elaine who is in the bed beside me.

I cannot remember the date but it was early summertime last year.

I’m wide awake in a split second, the room is totally dark.

“Oh God no, oh Mark.”

“Elaine, what is it? What’s wrong?”

“Oh Mark put the light on quick.”

I hit the switch, turn, and see Elaine sitting bolt upright beside me. She is as white as a sheet.

“What’s wrong darling tell me?”

“Oh God Mark, he was there.”

“Who?”

“By the side of the bed.”

“Who?”

“Death.”

“Death?”

“Yes death!”

“What did he want?”

“He said,” “I’ve come for you.”

“What did you say?”

“I said, I couldn’t go, I didn’t have a bagel to take with me.”

(At this point I must say that Elaine loved bagels. For a slim woman she could just stuff them down. Personally I hate the bastards. To me they are like trying to chew a dense foam ring, but she adored them. Mind you, it had to be the plain ‘New York’ ones, you couldn’t fob this girl off with supermarket own brands.)

Her bizarre statement breaks the mood, and we both giggle a little. I put my arms around her and hold her close. She is still shaking.

“It’s alright, just a dream.”

“God Mark, it was so real, he was stood right there, so vivid so solid.”

“Why a bagel?”

“I don’t know, it was all I could think to say.”

“Well I’ve heard of a few coins to pay the ferryman, perhaps you wanted a bagel to give or share instead.”

The look on her face told me she didn’t fancy sharing her bagel with anyone, let alone a robed skeleton ferryman, but I carried on.

“Tell you what, so as you’re not caught napping if anything happens I’ll make sure you have a bagel with you, for the journey, OK?”

“OK, a bagel for the journey, sounds pretty good.”

I turn out the light, and we snug back down in the dark, but it played on my mind, what if it was more than a dream?

I knew as I laid there that it was playing on her mind too.

Tuesday 5th January 2021.

It’s around 11am, Julie and I are sat at the kitchen table in what is now my-and only mine- home. Only mine because my darling wife Elaine died a few short hours ago, in Forest Holme hospice. We are sat with pens and notepads and a list is being prepared of things which have to be done.

This is the sort of situation Elaine excelled in. She was good on the phone and computer and was systematic in her approach to official things. I’ve always been more erratic, was never keen on using the phone and had only sent a handful of emails in my life, prior to Elaine going into the hospice.

A steep learning curve lies ahead, though strangely, I’ll find all that I’m going to need is at hand or finds its way to me.

Julie wisely advises me not to start phoning banks ETC today, but just try and get through each moment and start tomorrow with the official stuff. I gladly agree.

Elaine left instructions for Julie to announce her death on her (Elaine’s) Facebook page, so Julie starts to draft out a simple notice to tell the social media world that Elaine has gone.

The phone rings for the first time today. Its Poole hospital calling.

Forest Holme does not have a mortuary so Elaine has been taken the short distance to the main hospital where, once the paperwork is completed she can be collected by the Woodland Burial people.

The lady who calls asks if I am satisfied that all was done for Elaine that could have been, or have I any complaints.

Far from it. I believe her treatment in the hospice right up to her death was second to none. Their aid and compassion to me was also superb.

She then asks; “Is it true, I’m reading here that she had been battling cancer for the last thirty years?”

“Yes, that’s correct.” I reply.

“She must truly have been a very strong woman, quite remarkable, what courage.”

I feel very proud, so many people are incredulous of the fact of Elaine’s tenacity in the face of such deadly odds. I believe her refusal to let it beat her down kept her alive, and us together for so many extra years.

Julie has completed the Facebook announcement, we read it through together, its right first time.

I have to register Elaine’s death which must be done at Poole but due to the lockdown can only be done over the phone. So I ring and a call-back appointment is arranged for 2pm.

Thank goodness Elaine had set-up files for our official documents ETC, it makes things a lot easier now to find the relevant information that is needed. But to be perfectly frank, Julie is taking the lead here and guiding me with carefully placed suggestions as I really am in a daze of disbelief at the enormity of this situation.

Elaine’s death is duly registered, it is a painless process, and Julie takes her leave of me mid-afternoon.

Mike turns up shortly after Julie has left.

He has been my best and closest friend for many years now. I first met Mike in the 80’s through my then oldest friend, Ian who sadly died in 1991, aged just 33, of cancer. It was the year Elaine was first diagnosed. They used to swap notes on the illness and treatments.

Mike and I bonded over a mutual love of classic cars, history and putting the world to rights over a cooked breakfast or beer. I would trust him with my life.

I admit to Mike that I don’t just feel lost without Elaine, but I also feel afraid, afraid for myself as to what happens now. How the hell do I cope without the one I love now that she has gone.

His advice is simple and solid, but his words don’t come sugar-coated.

“It’s one step at a time, one minute, one hour, one day just small achievements and you’ll get there. It’s not going to be easy Mark and it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better, and it will never fully be over. Your life will adjust to live alongside what you feel, but it will always be there.”

He looks straight at me but I make no reply so he continues; “But you will get through it mate. I’ll help you, so will Julie, Bob and others, don’t lose sight of that, you aren’t alone even if it does feel like it right now.”

His encouragement certainly does help, but after he leaves I’m alone with two cats and my thoughts in the home I shared with Elaine for 27 years and my brain will not allow in the fact that she is not coming home again.

I stay up as late as possible as I fear going to bed alone. But shortly after turning out the light I am totally overwhelmed with emotion. Grief, fear, anger all of it wells up and I cry and curse myself to sleep.

Waking up is even worse, as I am forced to remember she is still dead and I have to carry on living.

The next few days continue much in the same vein. It’s pointless here trying to list all the contacts and calls that had to be made and dealt with. Anyone reading who has had to deal with a similar situation will know exactly what I went through. Anyone who hasn’t, well count yourself damn lucky.

Both Julie and Mike were over each day up to the weekend, and their help and support was simply invaluable. Still I feel all the time like I’m wading through treacle and am surrounded by a very dense fog.

The focal point for me is to get the funeral sorted and over with, I can see nothing, absolutely nothing, beyond this goal.

I feel neither dead nor alive. I am in some God awful limbo land of disbelief sprinkled with fear and anger. I don’t realise that the real grief has yet to hit home. When it does, I soon learn the difference.

Monday 11th January, 10am.

I have a meeting at the Woodland burial site just outside of Wimborne.

Because of the covid lockdown situation Elaine’s funeral cannot go ahead exactly as we had planned. We are to be limited to just twenty mourners and there will be no wake of tea and cakes afterwards, as she had wanted.

Elaine’s body will ‘rest’ at the main burial premises about 15 miles away near Christchurch, and she is to be brought directly to Wimborne on the morning of the funeral, which is set for the 19th of January.

Our original plan was for her to come home to the Lodge before her burial, and to stay there the night with me. She wanted to lie in state on the kitchen table, the one we had sat around so many times, even before we were officially together.

Then she wanted to go to the burial ground either in a horse drawn cart or in the back of our old pick-up truck, maybe with me driving. None of this was now allowed due to the emergency regulations. I have to admit, I think it made things easier on me.

I have brought some items with me for her to be dressed in. She never did decide what clothes to be buried in, so the decision is mine.

Elaine often got up early to sit and write at her computer still in her pyjamas and dressing gown. So I have brought along some of her favourite jim-jams and an extra silky vest top to go underneath (she hated being cold). Also I’ve got her woolly ‘Rudolph’ socks, a cheap present I gave her at Christmas 2019, which she just loved.

It is arranged that I can see her in three days’ time.

Thursday 14th January.

I’m driving through a housing estate to join a semi unmade road leading into a large wooded area. The track ends at a modern glass and wood building low and sprawling, which sits contented in its surroundings. I’m here to see my wife for the last time.

There’s no one about as I park-up and just two other cars are here, looking lonely in a corner of their own. There is a little birdsong, but otherwise everything is quiet and still. It reminds me of a country churchyard where nature often seems subdued and reverent.

I find the entrance and am greeted inside by a smartly dressed young woman who asks; “Have you come to see Elaine?”

I reply yes, and she asks me to sit and wait for a colleague to come out and collect me. Everything is hushed tones and I’m nervously tempted to laugh out loud. I know that this is just the sort of thing that Elaine would be thinking.

Soon another woman arrives and respectfully asks me to follow her outside.

She leads around the building, through a side gate with thick bushes either side, to a wood and glass door which is the outside entrance to a small room where the body of my love is lying.

My guide unlocks the door then leaves me, asking that I close it behind me and let them know when I go.

I am now alone with Elaine for the very last time.

Her coffin is wicker and lined with a cream coloured hessian- like material. It is bigger than I had thought. It occurs to me that she might not have fitted too well on the kitchen table after all. She has on her pyjamas and I check that her wedding ring is present.

Then I touch her cheek.

Nothing on this mortal earth is as cold as one who has been dead a while. Even ice or frozen marble do not come close.

The cold seeps into my fingers.

I have brought with me a few things to go with her.

An old green t-shirt of mine, from when we first met. Elaine had requested it to go in with her a while ago and told me where she kept it. I thought it long lost or thrown out, I had no idea she had held on to it.

Next a lock of my hair, I snipped some of hers to go with me. Then my mother’s wedding ring that was returned to me after my sister had died.

Elaine and mum got on very well, and I’m sure she would be OK that her precious little platinum band was safe with her daughter in law. What use in my keeping it, hidden in a drawer only to be lost when I die.

In Elaine’s fingers I put a lime green rubber bracelet, on it is inscribed; Relaxed & Forward.

 Quite some time ago Elaine’s friend Anna Blake had sent her three of these, two blue and a green one. I wear one of the blue ones on my right wrist. Elaine attached the green one to Bruce’s head collar. On the morning he died I found it in his stable, snapped through. I kept it, stuck it back together but never told Elaine. I knew what I would do with it in the event of her death and here it is.

Then I place in our anniversary card from Julie and John, and another she had given Elaine in the hospice. I wrote a note too, what it said is between my wife and me.

Last of all, a bagel, in a paper bag tucked out of sight by her side.

She can keep it for herself, or if he’s really lucky, she’ll share it with the ferryman.

To be continued…

LISTS

Elaine was always one for getting things done and sorted well in advance, so as to be ready for the event if and when it should occur.

I’m not certain she was always like this. I suspect it was the possibility, or probability, of recurring cancer that got her thinking this way. But certainly in later life she was big on making lists, and was always pleased when something was accomplished and a line could be drawn through it.

A few weeks before she went into the hospice I noticed the words- Contact Jane Arnold-on a list, on Elaine’s desk.

Other things got crossed off but this name remained, so I asked one day, “Who is Jane Arnold?”

Elaine explained that Jane was a friend from the Vintage Fair days, who also happened to be a professional funeral celebrant.

Though we had most of Elaine’s future funeral well sorted, we had nobody to take the actual service, until Elaine thought of Jane. She wanted to ask me if it would be a good idea to get her over for a meeting, but she hadn’t yet plucked-up the courage to ask my opinion.

I figured if it helped Elaine it must be a good thing, so I readily agreed, and Jane was duly contacted.

I’ll be careful here, as I know Jane reads the blog, but I liked her and knew she was right, as soon as we met.

Both Elaine and I wanted someone to preside over her service who was professional, yet human with it, but not austere or pious. Someone with a foot in each camp of respect and humour but understanding of the fact that humour and fear go hand in hand.

Jane ticked all the boxes.

She was enthusiastic and humorous when it was called for, taking her leads from us. But at all times she was totally professional with an obvious care and a real love for her work.

We met on the Friday before Christmas, and none of the three of us realised just how fast things were now going to start moving. Elaine would be back in hospital that very afternoon, and by Monday afternoon she was in the hospice.

I remain deeply grateful that Jane’s name got crossed off that list.

Tuesday 5th January 2021.

It’s a few minutes after 8am and I’m looking down at the body of my wife on the hospice bed.

Elaine passed away- whatever that means- just seconds ago, while I cried and held her hand. Now I’m stood but I’m not aware of having done so, I just am.

The tears have stopped, abruptly, suddenly, just stopped. Like a tap cut off in mid flow.

There’s a coldness, not in the room, but inside me. It’s spreading quickly, as winter frost does on a pane of glass, but there are no pretty patterns here.

All I can see is the bed and Elaine, so still, unnaturally still. Nothing else exists in my world right now, just the scene before me.

But there is something else, inside, deep inside, there’s something talking to me. A flat sexless voice that’s gradually getting louder.

“How’s it come to this? Why? Why Elaine? Why your wife, didn’t she do enough, try hard enough? What’s she ever done to deserve this fucking room and this end?”

“What about all the rotten selfish grasping self- serving bastards there are on this planet, you know some of them for Christs sake, why aren’t they here dead on the bed instead of Elaine, or their bloody wives. Where’s the sodding justice in this? WHY THE HELL CAN’T………”

I guess each of us has a limit, a point where we are pushed so hard by others or events, that we simply snap. We don’t mean to or want to, it just happens and regret nearly always follows.

With me though there is a less distinct edge. I have known for a long time that there is a point within me that it’s not a good idea for anyone, or even myself, to venture beyond, but right now it’s just been kicked off a fucking cliff straight in front of me.

With all reason rapidly disintegrating, my minds become the landscape of Hiroshima.

I am aware, inside of me, of a ‘reaching back’, back to something normally too far away to touch. It’s not the body, more the spirit and it goes far further than this lifetime.

Back, back to something ancient and feral, not evil, it knows no allegiance, but its madness is rising faster within than I can check it.

 Its voice is in my head now and it whispers convincingly of rage of fury and blind mindless hatred.

“Mark, Mark!”

It’s Clare, I had completely forgotten. It seems I’ve been stood here for ages, but really it’s only been the few seconds that it has taken her to come round the bed to be near my side.

“Mark, I’m so sorry, I’m so very sorry, we all loved her.”

Her gentle words fell the demon with a single stroke, and it falls forgotten into the void inside of me.

“Mark I have to tell the others and get some help in here, will you be alright if I leave for a few minutes?”

“Yes, yes I’ll be OK, you do what you have to Clare.” (Where did that calm voice come from?)

“Are you sure? Do you want me to leave the door open?”

“No close the door and please don’t worry, I’m alright.”

She hurries out pulling the door shut behind her. Fuck the world it can keep its nose out of here for the next few minutes.

Again I look down at Elaine. There is no anger now, just sadness, a deep impenetrable well of sadness that is heavy, vast and impossibly silent. At its centre is what’s left of my heart.

I notice her right eye is still partially open, so I brush my fingers gently downwards against her eyelid, closing away that beautiful blue iris from the world forever.

She looks so small. She always was very petite. Only five feet and a few inches tall and never overweight. But what she lacked in stature she made up for in presence and personality, and she had a big heart.

Don’t get me wrong, she was no saint. Elaine could be as stubborn as a mule at times and she had the unfortunate habit ( to which she fully admitted ) of engaging her mouth three seconds before engaging her brain.

She could easily upset others by telling them the truth, as she saw it, whether they wished to hear it or not. But it was always with the best of intensions, she hated losing friends.

She possessed a wicked sense of humour, dark and sometimes merciless, but nearly always self-depreciating. She would not want to be the cause of embarrassment to others.

If Elaine saw someone slip on a banana skin in the street, she would laugh.

But she would then be the first there to help them up. Then drive them home, make them a cup of tea and feed their cat, and the next day she would return with a cake she’d baked to cheer them up.

That was Elaine, that was my wife.

She despised wasting time. Constantly coming up with new ideas, she was always on the go, as much that is as the cancer would allow, or the treatments for it. But she never complained about her lot. There was no “why me” with Elaine. It was more “why not me” with her, and she hated it when people moaned on about their own health issues, especially the petty ones.

Here was someone who despite all the shit flying off the fan in her direction, managed a full life in far less than full circumstances.

Many a person, and I include myself, would have sunk under the burden that she endured. The constant threat of unstoppable cancer and an early death, endless treatments to try and prevent this, which in their own right poisoned her body, all conspired to extract a heavy price for her survival.

She was and is the bravest person I have ever known.

I look around the room. Are you there? In the corner maybe, or perhaps by the outside door.

You could be by my side, invisible, unheard, watching.

You know the secrets now, the veil has lifted for you. The universe, God, how and why, but you can’t tell me.

Though you could be by my side the distance between us is immeasurable, and we never wanted anything to come between us. Only death has managed to do this, and even it can’t part us forever. Nothing and no one else ever did, or ever will.

Is what you believed in true Elaine? As this life has ended for you do you now remember that there have been others before? Were we together then? Will we be again in some distant future?

Although Elaine was born into a Jewish family she didn’t really hold too much with organised religions.

She thought that each contained a piece of the puzzle and that if people got hope and comfort from their own beliefs, then that had to be a good thing. Though she had no time for the self-righteous and falsely pious who look down on those who do not share their views.

Elaine believed more in a benign, all knowing and loving universe, being the God figure, and that the spirit of it is in us, and all things around us, in nature and the world in general.

She, like myself, had come to see life as a continuous circle. A cycle where each individual keeps coming back to learn more and more, though for what reason and purpose we could never guess.

Elaine was unshakeable that we had been together before and would be again. I hope she was right.

Voices outside the door break my thoughts and Clare returns with another nurse. Their sadness is not forced but is genuine and felt.

I move to the outside door and open it up. The rush of cold air is like a kiss from the new morning and is most welcome.

Outside the day is bright and I breathe in as deeply as I can, enjoying the physical presence of the air in my lungs.

 I feel guilty, guilty, that I’m still alive while Elaine is not.

The guilt of the survivor I suppose, unjustified, but guilt nonetheless.

Stepping back into the room I’m told there will be forms for me to complete and other formalities to sort, but that everything can be done to suit me at my own pace.

There has been a shift in priorities. The attention is now more on me rather than Elaine. It’s a crown that sits heavy on my head.

I collect my phone and go outside, it’s time to start letting the world know what has happened. The private moments are over, at least for now, and I call Julie first.

She knows by my calling at this hour what has occurred before I can tell her, and the heartbreak is evident in her voice. She tells me to hang on and that she will soon be with me, as her home is only a few minutes’ drive away.

Thank you Elaine, you certainly did know how to choose a best friend.

Next I call my best pal Mike. He’s not at home. I don’t want to call his mobile, his fondness for Elaine goes very deep, as did hers for him, and if he happens to be driving, well you get the picture.

I ring Colin, Elaine’s brother, we have been in constant contact. I know he is expecting this call but it doesn’t make it any easier.

Then I call Jane Arnold, the sorrow in her voice is real, she tells me to call the Woodland Burial people straight away, and she will contact them herself later on. I do so, and am re-assured by their response to my questions and I feel both Elaine and I are going to be in good hands.

I am so glad now that we did all this groundwork beforehand, to try and organise things from scratch, at this time, would be beyond me.

A couple more brief calls and then I get through to Mike. He too was expecting this but the devastation is obvious in his words. He’ll see me at home later, and I know I’m going to need him like never before.

 I’m bloody lucky to have a friend of his quality, they don’t grow on trees.

Julie arrives and we look at each other and tearfully embrace, nothing needs to be said.

The nurses remove Elaine’s earrings and are going to take off her wedding ring when I stop them.

Some years previously Elaine had said,” You’ll want to keep my wedding ring if I die won’t you Mark?”

“No”, was my reply, and for a second or two she looked crestfallen.

Then I explained that she would always be my wife, even in death, so the ring will stay with her. I don’t want it just gathering dust in a draw then ending up on some other finger after I’m gone.

She was very pleased with this, and my wedding ring from her will be with me when I’m laid beside her at last.

Julie and I pack-up both Elaine’s things and my own. It’s a thankless task but it has to be done so we just get on with it.

I’m reminded of times when Elaine and I had been away and would pack up our room on the final morning. We liked going away but returning home together was always fun too. This time going home won’t be fun, and the fact is nothing is going to be the same for me ever again. I know this, but am nowhere even close to grasping the enormity of it.

Once everything’s in the car and the final paperwork is sorted, it’s time to say goodbye to Forest Holme.

I give a last kiss to Elaine. I know that it’s just her body I’m leaving, she’s already gone, but I feel a bit like Judas leaving her there. In truth I am completely numb.

The drive home is uneventful and quick, Julie follows a few minutes behind me.

Back at the Lodge all feels alien and empty. So many things still exactly as she left them, and she’ll never move them again.

The Christmas tree and decorations, witnesses to so much happiness and joy over the years, look embarrassed to be seen, but there’s nowhere to hide.

Julie arrives close behind me and I stop thinking and make us both coffee. Sitting down beside her at the kitchen table she asks if I’ve got a notebook or writing pad, so I fetch both.

As I sit back down Julie takes out a pen, opens the notebook then looks at me and says;

“Right Mark, it’s time to start making a list.”

To be continued…

“YOU’LL BE ALRIGHT.”

“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…