A few weeks ago I was talking with Elaine’s best friend Julie; we were discussing Elaine’s book and possible ways of bringing it to a wider public. This had been the subject of a previous conversation between the two of us and Julie now mentioned that she had since been speaking with a friend of hers who has had cancer, now follows the blog, but has not bought a copy of the book.
Why not? Well, because Elaine dies, and she does not wish to be dwelling too much on how this could be the fate awaiting her also.
Julie could see her point and thought others may think in a similar way and, as we talked I was swayed to think the same too, after all who wants to be prompted that death lurks constantly in the shadows. But something didn’t feel quite right to me and I’ve since thought a lot harder about the whole reason and being of the book and I now believe that this line of thought is by-passing the point of it completely, a bit like reading the intro’ then jumping to the last chapter missing out all that is in between.
I encouraged Elaine to write about her life and the struggle with ever recurring cancer because I thought, as she came to also, that to read about her survival over nigh-on three decades with an illness which should have killed her long before, would be an inspiration to others facing a similar situation; showing the world that it is possible to live a fulfilling life despite all that that life sometimes throws at you.
The keyword here to my mind is SURVIVAL. Horse, Husband and Cancer is not a book about Elaine’s death; it was never intended as such, but it is a book about her survival.
She didn’t write about her death that was going to be left to me (though neither of us realised it at the time), she wrote about her life whilst being honest enough not to ignore that the end of it was inevitable at some time or another. But then isn’t that the case for all of us?
Stop reading this and for a moment or two look around you. At your family if someone is close by or a pet maybe. Glance out of the window, can you see birds perhaps, or trees plants and grass; can you see your own reflection?
Every living thing you just acknowledged will one day die, that is the only absolute in life and it comes to all, and unless you face execution or plot suicide you just don’t know when that ending is going to be.
I somehow doubt many of us could live comfortably if we were born with an exact expiry date tattooed on our foreheads. But though it is the only sure thing, to dwell on the inevitable ending is not to live, and like it or not, we’re stuck with it so have to make the most of the time we have.
Elaine’s death came at the end of her life, not the beginning or the middle but the end, yet the pages of her book sparkle with her words of wit and humour telling about her life so far; no punches are pulled the good and bad wherever and whenever they occur are laid bare, though always with hope too, standing immoveable on the side line.
She could have written about this some fifteen years previously, “How I’ve Survived Cancer Three Times to Date” would then the fact that she now is dead make such a work less worthy of reading?
Death and life are inseparable (on this earth at least), two sides of the same coin no matter how thin you beat the metal. Elaine and I both came to believe that it’s not about the length of time you live, but what you do with that time that counts.
Between birth and death comes the ‘middle bit’, whatever time that is it’s ours, and down to each of us how we live it.
“You are not responsible for the hand you are dealt, but you are responsible for how you play it.”
Elaine wasn’t really a great one for watching films but one that she did love and watched on several occasions was The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise. With all due respect to Mr. Cruise it was the storyline that she loved (I hope!) especially the ending where Cruises’ character faces the Emperor as they talk of the now dead Samurai leader they both admired for differing reasons.
“Tell me how he died” asks the Emperor.
“Let me tell you how he lived” comes the reply.
This to me sums up Elaine’s story and the book. It’s her telling of how she lived that is more important than my telling of how she died; but, two sides to a coin, they are inseparable and both voices have their place in the story, though to my mind at least there is nothing to fear in either of them. Hear one hear the other, they cannot harm you, only your own fears can do that.
I was sat with Marilyn one evening when out of the blue she asked me “Mark, are you afraid of dying?”
“No”, was my straight forward and honest reply.
“Perhaps I may worry about the manner of death but I’m not really fretting about the event itself. Elaine came to see it as the beginning of a new adventure, I try to see it that way too; what’s the point of my living in fear of death, it’ll come whether I worry about it or not.”
My answer wasn’t meant to be offhand or flippant in any way but I’m still somewhat numb around the edges about it all. Elaine and I lived pretty much constantly with possible death ticking off the years in our attic and, to a certain degree, just got used to it being there. It’s no longer there now, though I will admit to having strongly considered the option of inviting it back on several occasions since her passing. But I have reached the conclusion that unless I am prepared to bring it about myself I have no right sitting around on my ass wondering if it’s just around the corner for me; fuck that, Elaine would be the first to say “Get living, you’ve a bit in the middle still to complete.”
As far as death is concerned for me, my bag is packed and it’s next to the chair in the hallway by the front door; but I’m not going to be sat there waiting with it, oh no, if he calls and I’m out then Death can sit in the chair and wait, or come looking for me as he pleases.
Whenever and wherever he catches up with me (and he will) I won’t be afraid, we’re old acquaintances after all. I hope we can shake hands like gentlemen, I might even be able to say “Thanks- for taking the scenic route” but I’ll be okay in his presence as he’s my ticket to Elaine again, though what she’ll have to say about all that will have occurred since she left, well…
The near certain knowledge that one day death was going to part us had the positive effect of drawing Elaine and I even closer together and a trusting relationship of love, firmer than a promise freely given, was the result.
Did that love gain strength as time progressed? Yes I do believe it did. Due mostly to two souls determined for as long as possible not to be parted, thus causing the fire between them to burn brighter and fiercer.
Besides everything else we were allies; bonded together to fight a common foe our strength far outweighing the sum of our parts.
Deep within we both knew that though we were winning many battles the enemy only had to be victorious once to win the war; and make no mistake it was a war, a war of attrition. As I have stated before our lives became battlefields but oh! when the guns briefly ceased and the smoke cleared the views were beautiful.
“I wouldn’t change anything Mark, not even the cancer, if it meant we couldn’t be together.” Some of her last words to me in the hospice, and despite whatever it did or is still doing to me, neither would I.
It is an ongoing comfort to me that nothing and no one can take a single second away from what Elaine and I had. Neither death nor time can alter any of it, it stands above them both proud and defiant. It knows no ending.
To be quite truthful I have been far more afraid of living than of dying since I lost Elaine. Despite all that was going on in her life she remained a rock steady influence in mine. Knowing when she died that that influence was gone, at least in the physical sense, was and is, one of the hardest things I’ve had to bear.
I remember so vividly that last breath, then my standing up from the bed and just gazing at her there, so totally still; the anger and fear vying inside of me as to which would break out first.
Hopeless despair beat them to it.
I arrived home from the hospice that morning a few minutes before Julie joined me. Time will never erase the utter and total feeling of dread at that moment; I fear its memory even now two years later. Walking into our lounge, the vacant chair before her computer, now mine, an unwanted legacy like everything else around me that I can never give back.
The room itself a cold empty void, but nothing compared to the one inside of me.
Quite how I’ve managed to place one foot in front of the other since that moment I will never fully understand, but I have and will continue to do so.
“Fill in the middle bit Ted, you must fill in the middle.” She never said it as such in life but shouts it every day since she died.
With this post I am not trying in any way to belittle the genuine fears of others, far from it. But I do want to show that Elaine’s final and only book is, despite some of its content, an uplifting and inspirational read. It is deserving of being exposed to a wider audience, and that audience deserve to hear of its author’s hopes and fears’ in equal measure as she fully intended when she wrote it. I know there are friends of hers who have not bought a copy, sighting that they knew her anyway or don’t need it to remember her, so there is no point.
“Yes there fucking well is!!”
If you don’t want to buy it for you then bloody well buy it for her. I witnessed the huge effort she made to get it finished during the last year of her life in spite of increasing illness; and no, you did not know her as you thought, no one did, not even me.
I have since read was is not in Horse, Husband and Cancer amongst other writings never published and, putting that with my unspoken knowledge of her I can honestly assure you all that the book only scratches at the surface of what she, and I, lived through, but boy, some of those scratches run deep and are well worth exploring and passing on.
Paul is the publicity officer at Forest Holme and has read Horse, Husband and Cancer. We had coffee and I asked him for his honest opinion on it as someone who never met or knew Elaine.
“It’s terrific Mark, I don’t even like horses yet from the first few pages I was hooked, I want my wife to read it. I can’t believe it’s the work of a non-professional writer. Her zest for life and strength of spirit leap out at you. I felt that I knew her, what a gift to do that to a reader. When I got to your part although it was written as a series of blogs, it gelled so perfectly, I got to see Elaine from a completely different viewpoint; and your love blossoms through it all. It’s a stunning work.”
Dave (name changed) comes to sweep the chimney at home and maintain the woodstove. He is ex-marine SBS, a softly spoken man but I feel a deep one. He met Elaine a couple of times but did not know her well. Last year he saw a copy of the book here at home and he later bought his own.
He was here again just before Christmas and I asked him if he had read it.
“I left it for a while as I was too busy or too tired to start. Then one night I went to bed a bit earlier as I had an early call next morning, so I thought I’d give it a quick glance through. I couldn’t put it down, honestly Mark I couldn’t, I was still reading at 12.30 in the morning it’s so compulsive, you just have to know more. She’s a brilliant story teller and I love her ability to draw you into that story, I felt I was a part of it, like I was a witness to all that was happening.”
Elaine did not hide away from either life or death. Of course she wanted to live as much as any other also there were times when she just wanted bury herself away in the dark and forget; but the light within her, that WAS her, would not allow that to become the norm. She knew deep down as her words show that hiding away makes no difference, insomuch that spending time avoiding is wasting that time which could be better employed elsewhere.
She faced that which she lived alongside of for so many years determined still to have a life, a ‘middle bit’, and in spite of it all she bloody well achieved just that, I know I was there, and though she left this world over two years ago you can still join her on the journey through her life and experiences, anyone can, through the pages of her work; take a chance on that journey and I very much doubt you’ll be disappointed.
This book can’t cure neither can it kill, but it just may help if when trying to face down the darkness within, you realise that someone has shone a light and trod there before you.
Find the book here: Amazon UK Amazon US