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…


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?”


“What d’ya want?”


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…



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.”


“By the side of the bed.”




“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…


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…


“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…


“I don’t want to linger. I want to go while someone still has something bad to say about me.” -ELAINE KIRSCH EDSALL.


On a hot Friday afternoon in July 1990, whilst I was working on the cottage where she lived, Elaine came home and as we talked announced that she wanted to go for a walk by some water.

I suggested a local spot alongside the river Stour close to my home and she agreed that it sounded just right.

We drove over in my old Mini, and no one took any notice of us as we set out together on what was effectively, our first ever date.

Neither of us could have known then where that initial adventure was going to lead to. But since our first meeting some weeks previously, we both knew that the spark that existed between us had flared into a fire which was growing brighter and stronger all the time.

As we walked Elaine ‘casually’ held out her hand, and I just as ‘casually’, grasped it.

We walked and chatted quite naturally along the riverbank almost into town, then turned and headed back in the heat of the afternoon sun, towards the car.

With two fields left to cross we again came to a huge Willow tree close on the riverbank where we both spontaneously stopped and turned to each other. I pulled her close and that was our first ever kiss.

All through our years since then, on or around the anniversary of that first walk, we have trod those fields once more, and stopped to re-kindle that kiss beside the Willow tree.

Nearly twenty years or so ago we found the tree had fallen and were saddened to see our friend and witness lying on its side, seemingly a lost cause.

But nature had other ideas. The Willow held on and re-grew. The fallen trunk sprouted new life and it is once again a dominant feature on the riverbank.

The Lodge is surrounded by trees, they too have become like friends over so many years. One, a thick trunked Cedar of Lebanon, woke us as it fell at 3am on the 19th December 2019.

As the early morning darkness cleared to light, we discovered this old warrior almost at 45 degrees, and assumed it was the end for certain, but it too had other ideas.

 It is clinging to life, still being partly rooted in the earth.

When it fell Elaine would go over and talk to it, willing it to hold on and live.

Who would have thought then that it would out-live its encourager.

1st January 2021.

I’ve never been a New Year person. It always seems to me a sad time. More of a looking back to what you wanted that never happened, than a looking forward to what you to hope is going to be.

January, even before I lost Elaine, was never a happy or hopeful month for me, and I doubt it ever will be now.

After all the fireworks of last night, the quiet that descended over the hospice in the early hours seemed more pronounced and thought provoking than before. Elaine slept through it all.

I had a ‘bitsa’ night. ‘Bitsasleep’ ‘bitsawake’, but around 6.30 in the morning the hospice begins to stir into life and I bleakly think to myself for how much of this year is Elaine going to be able to, or want to, hold on for.

I’m not blind, or a fool. She is not eating and is hardly taking any moisture, and she is on some seriously strong painkillers. Regardless of the cancer no one can survive this way for long.

One of the nurses brings me coffee and toast and, as I sit and watch the staff going up and down the corridor I suddenly feel like screaming at them.

“LOOK she’s in here, why aren’t you doing something to make her better? Why don’t you treat her she’s your patient, your responsibility?”

I, of course, already know the answer. I just need to say it to myself.

“This is a hospice, not a hospital. There is no treatment left that can save her life. She’s here to be spared the pain and misery that her condition will bring if they do not intervene. The price is her silence, her unconsciousness, her deep slumber just as predicted, and a hastening of the inevitable”.

“Would you rather hear her screams if she were awake and aware?”

I feel foolish, chastised by my inner self and despite the coffee, the toast remains dry in my mouth.

As the morning progresses more visitors come and go for the other patients, and the voices of life beyond our room, steal in to remind me of an outside world. Nurses come to check on Elaine at regular intervals and Julie arrives in the afternoon giving me a chance of some exercise and welcome fresh air outside of the hospice environment.

The day ends much as it began, I’m left alone with my thoughts and my still sleeping wife.

Saturday 2nd January 2021.

Doctor Kevin and a companion visit in the morning. While Kevin and I talk the other doctor uses some of the small sponges on sticks which, when dipped in water are used to moisten the patient’s mouth and lips.

Her eyes are closed but at one point she playfully bites the sponge and refuses to let go. The game seems to amuse her and her smile tells that Elaine is still with us, despite the ever increasing drugs.

 Taking me aside, Doctor Kevin confirms that she only has a short time left, days at most, and as he has been correct about everything else to date, I’ve no reason to doubt his predictions.

It is so very strange to stand and talk about her impending death while she lies, eyes closed and smiling, just a few feet from us. Mostly in her own world, but partially at least, still in ours.

The doctors leave and shortly after I am given lunch, and then I sit holding Elaine’s hand, talking to her and trying unsuccessfully to stifle my tears and imploring God to wake me from this hell.

There are fewer visitors today, and after a while the only sound is Bill’s TV from along the corridor.

Now Bill’s TV was always a bit too loud but it never seemed to bother Elaine and I soon got used to it, but this particular afternoon the volume started to creep up and up, until, quite frankly, it got to ‘Spinal Taps’ number 11 on the scale.

It was simply deafening. I never would have thought that a TV could get so loud. I quickly shut our door, but it makes little difference, and none of the staff are around. Being restricted to the room I can’t go and investigate and it occurs to me that maybe he’s died and fallen onto the TV remote. It doesn’t seem very likely, but surely no one could be conscious in a room with such a horrendous sound.

Looking out into the corridor there’s nobody about, the noise is awesome, so I retreat back and decide to ring for help. As I’ve got the bell push in my hand I hear a door slam and hurried footsteps outside.


Again; “BILL, TURN IT DOWN, oh for God’s sake!”






In a few seconds came blessed silence.


“It’s OK Bill don’t shout, I understand.”

It turned out that the batteries in both of his hearing aids had failed, and so he was near stone deaf.

The nurses had a meeting on at the other end of the hospice, and then they couldn’t work out just what the noise was for a few minutes.

As for Elaine, she slept through it all. If she had been awake and capable of writing, this would have been just the sort of bizarre incident to be included into her blog, she would have loved it. Another observation on the quirky side of life that she wrote about so well.

Sunday 3rd January 2021.

Elaine became quite restless during the night. I called for help when at one point she said the word “Pain”, and the night staff gave her some extra injections to counter this.

I haven’t really talked much about the hospice staff, but I do truly believe that all of the warm and generous atmosphere that prevails throughout the building is down to them.

Early on, it was apparent to me, that those working there wanted to be there.

Doctor Kevin, who comes from up-country, told me he had waited until a place was available at Forest Holme before he moved down, as this was where he wanted to work.

Talking to one of the nurses one night, it transpired she had jacked in a good job in the banking sector, to re-train as a nurse in later life, because she wanted to work at the hospice.

Let’s face it, they aren’t there for the money. They are there because they want to be there, to help, to make a difference and they certainly do succeed in that.

I simply cannot fault the care and attention they gave to Elaine. It was second to none. I can understand now why she felt she would be safe there.

I noticed when they came to check the med’s or change the bed and make Elaine more comfortable they constantly talked to her, even though, later on, she rarely replied or possibly could not even hear them.

They would talk as if she were part of the conversation and ‘include’ her at all times. Whether it was one nurse or more they always told her what they were doing and why, and talked her through it. She was never ignored.

For me to single out any one person here would be, to do all of them a disservice. But there is one incident that has stuck in my mind that I just must mention.

Late each afternoon the yellow bin-bag in the room would be changed and it was nearly always the same man who did it. He would come quietly into the room, hold up the replacement bag and nod towards the bin, which was close by Elaine’s bed. I don’t remember him ever speaking.

When the bag had been changed he would look over to me, on the other side of the bed, smile and without a backward look leave.

As I got more used to him appearing I started to just say” Thank you” as he left and this was acknowledged by a slight incline of his head.

He obviously knew why I was there, and Elaine too, and I’m pretty sure he witnessed my frequent tears.

God alone knows how many times he must have been a spectator to this type of scene.

The last time I saw him was, I believe, somewhat later than usual on this Sunday afternoon.

He came in as before, and nodded to me, but he hesitated as his gaze fell on Elaine. He seemed slightly embarrassed, like someone caught out by something totally unexpected chanced upon in familiar surroundings.

He changed the bag, then as he turned he again looked at Elaine on the bed, then he looked up directly over at me. Our eyes, almost in guilty fashion, caught each other’s and I instantly felt his sympathy.

There was between us, for a fleeting moment, a shared humanity, a solidarity if you like.

I felt in that glance that he had shouted ten thousand words of silent support across the room to me, then he was gone. I swear as long as I live I will never forget that man, or that moment.

Julie comes in today shortly after lunch and I take the opportunity to get out for a while.

As the car has not been moved lately I decide to take it for a drive around the local area. Later I ring Mike to find he’s at his house which isn’t far away, so I go over to see him and have real coffee.

Talking to Mike, I become aware that I am nervous and jittery. There is something inside that is trying to talk to me, but I don’t want to listen.

Mike confirms that all is OK back at home, it’s then that I remember the bloody credit card bill that’s got to be paid. I could have gone back and done it this afternoon, but I forgot. It’s too late now, perhaps in the morning?

Back at Forest Holme, Julie is about ready to leave when I return, she says she’ll be back on Tuesday. She has known Elaine for 30 years plus, and I know her feelings are on a level with my own.

After supper I sit and read and hold my wife’s hand frequently. I prepare for sleep around 11o’clock but before I settle I feel the need to sit close to Elaine, which I do and stroke her hair and face.

Her sleep seems deeper, in fact I know it is, then out of nowhere the words come to me, and I speak softly to her.

”We’ve got to get out of here, both of us my love. You’ve got to leave one way, me another, but we’ve both got to get out soon. There’s no need to hold on Elaine, I know it’s just your body that won’t give in, I know your spirit want’s to soar and make the break.

 Go my sweetheart, because I can’t leave before you.”

She, of course, didn’t reply, and I’ll never know in this life if she heard me, but I still like to think, that she did.

To be continued…


September 2016.

Elaine had been on a new chemo’ regime for a while now. It involved a hospital visit every three weeks and four main tablets to take twice a day in between, plus a few others as well.

She was struggling with the tablets and seemed depressed with this treatment in general, also she was developing some serious physical side effects. On top of this she had stopped eating properly and was losing weight that she could not afford to.

I had become worried, as she was listless, vague and unlike her real self.

Things came to a head one Tuesday morning when she rang me at work to say that she had spoken to the oncology team at the Harbour Hospital and they wanted her there NOW!

I rushed home and took her straight down.

When we got there she was taken immediately to a private room and within minutes was in bed and hooked up to monitors and drips.

I will always remember her looking at me and whispering; “Is this it Mark?”

“I don’t think so,” was my truthful reply, but it was plain to anyone that she was very ill, and things didn’t look too good.

They feared sepsis, so pumped her full of powerful antibiotics which wiped out everything, and she was there for a week.

When she came out she looked as though she’d just walked from a refugee camp, she had lost so much weight and muscle tone. She was incredibly weak.

The chemo’ had all been stopped, but the side effects continued for a time, and they were horrendous.

I had to coax her back to eating with tiny bowls of porridge and meals of half a small veggie burger with a couple of florets of broccoli and a spoonful of gravy, which was laced with some vitamin powder that I had gotten hold of, and she didn’t know about.

She told me that in hospital she had felt so ill that she prepared herself to die, and had not expected to wake when she fell asleep.

Recovery was slow, and it was during this time that the decision was made to arrange and pay for her funeral.

This was because Elaine knew I would have enough to handle just dealing with her death, let alone trying to organise her send off.

Elaine was not keen on a traditional Jewish burial, or any of the local cemeteries either, nor did she wish to be cremated. But we have a local Woodland Burial Ground which she quite liked the idea of and, would I like to be buried there too, as she wanted us to be together.

I didn’t mind as long as I was dead before ‘moving-in,’ so we made an appointment to go for a viewing.

The man we met with was very nice, and decisions were made on type of coffin, service, wake and so on. Then as Elaine was too weak to walk far he took us in a buggy to see two plots that were available together.

One was end of row, the other next to it. Elaine wanted me to have the end one as I would have more legroom so the inner one was marked down as hers.

We agreed to pay for everything there and then, and now we owned two plots of real estate Elaine asked if we could plant some beans and potatoes on them until they were needed for us.

 Our guide wasn’t sure if she was joking, neither was I, as he had never been asked about vegetables before. But apparently others had asked if they could grow flowers in readiness for when they were buried, and he had to explain that they would all be lost when the grave was dug for the new tenant.

Though I had been back there on occasions since, it was Elaine’s only visit- until the last.

30th December 2020, late pm.

I’ve been back at the hospice a few hours now. Elaine is led down in bed but even from earlier on there is a change.

She seems not so much in a deep sleep but more just unable to wake up. She is also more restless, like someone living out a very vivid dream.

I have had some food, though it does feel strange, eating while she is led so near to me, but there is little choice.

I read magazines and books from home, and I’ve got a few beers and some whisky also, to see me through.

As evening has turned to night so the ‘voice’ of the hospice has hushed, and I’m left pretty much to my own thoughts.

How long will I be here?

What happens after I leave?

How the hell am I going to face life after Elaine has gone?

I know the only way to get through this is to plan for one step at a time, but quite honestly I could just run and run and keep running.

All that holds me here is Elaine, and she is everything.

The reclining chair turns out to be surprisingly comfortable, though the motors are fierce and it squeaks like hell. I do sleep OK but not for very long spells at a time.

I wake and check on my wife fairly frequently. I have been told to call for help if in any doubt whatsoever, and the staff are watching constantly.

It’s an uneventful night and morning brings coffee and toast for me to start off New Year’s Eve.

Elaine remains asleep but restless, and mid-morning the nurses come in to sort out the bed and it’s patient so I take myself off and walk the few minutes into Poole, and the shops. I want a newspaper and need to revive the alcohol stocks.

It doesn’t take long to do this and I’m soon on my way back, but I take a slightly longer route

as it’s so refreshing to walk in the crisp cold air.

My car is parked in front of the hospice, still covered in frost. It seems a good place to leave some cans of beer to keep cool, and as a makeshift fridge it works very well over the coming days.

Back in her room and Elaine still seems asleep, but she obviously hears me come in and says my name so I go to the bedside and greet her with a kiss.

She then surprises me by saying; “I want a cuddle.”

It takes me several minutes to work out how to drop the rail on the side of the bed.

When I’ve mastered this metal guardian I squeeze myself onto the bed beside my wife and for a few precious, and as it turned out final, minutes we cuddled together, sharing the moment with two syringe drivers who were sworn to silence.

One of the doctors comes in just before lunchtime. I’ve not met her before and cannot now remember her name.

She checks Elaine over, who remains mostly asleep, and then says to me; “I’ve been reading Elaine’s notes, is that right, she’s been fighting cancer for thirty years?”

“Yes, it’s all true, since 1991.

Then she said the strangest thing; “But she’s so small.”

“Yep doc, that’s my wife, petite, but with a big fighting spirit.”

“She truly must have, what a battle, what strength.”

The doctor leaves as lunch arrives for me.

After lunch I sit and read and hold Elaine’s hand as she is now sitting up in bed, eyes closed.

Later she wakes and has a few sips of tea, but the hiccups return and she stops drinking.

Her last ever food was around this time. It was three thin slices of a kiwi fruit which I cut for her from one which Julie had brought in for Elaine previously.

A fitting ‘Last Supper’ as she always did love fruit.

When Julie comes to visit Elaine it is usually early to mid-afternoon and I use these opportunities to stretch my legs and get some fresh air by walking around and around the block.

I try to plan my day, develop my own routine, if you like, to try and avoid being entirely ‘adopted’ by that of the hospice.

A hospice is like any other institution in many ways. I realised quickly, that once you are captive within its walls you soon, albeit unconsciously, go with the general flow of life there.

You are no longer part of the outside world. It is still there, but you are shut off from it, almost in a monastic sense.

Hospice is like a cog within a wheel, part of the whole, yet turning to its own decree and hurrying for no one.

I sense the need to counter this somehow, but do not want to push too hard against the walls which, to be fair, are not there to punish but to sustain.

I must be honest and say that before Elaine went into Forest Holme I had always thought of a hospice as a house of death, a place where the Grim Reaper stalked the dimly lit corridors at night, searching out the next passenger for the ferry.

I could not have been more wrong.

If any ‘spirit’ stalks there it is more akin to the Christmas one than the hooded shadow.

There was no sense of dread or misery or suffering. Instead I felt it had humour, laughter and fun with an uplifting feeling of optimism which, strangely enough, did not seem out of place.

Despite all this, I don’t belong here.

I’m not a member of staff and I’m not a patient.

I’m not really a visitor either as I am actually staying here now, briefly, but still indefinitely.

I have no real place here at all, and feel a bit like the Cuckoo in a nest, accepted, welcomed even, but still not truly belonging to the environment in which it is living.

The afternoon drifts into evening and eventually the cloak of night spreads across the last hours of the year.

Elaine became quite restless earlier on and complained of pain. The nurses are quick to counter this with injections to back up the syringe drivers and now my darling is much more settled and sleeping peacefully.

A coldness creeps through my own veins as I think how these drugs are now taking over not just her life, but her death as well.

I have a notepad with me and it’s now that I start to pen words that might be those that end up being read at her funeral.

It occurs to me just what a privilege it is to be with another human being, especially one whom you love so deeply, as their life slowly flickers out, not everybody gets such a chance.

Many die away from their loves, victims of accident or sudden fate, with no opportunity on either side for goodbyes.

It is my lot in life to be here now, and even as the early fireworks begin to announce a new year, a new start, a new hope, I know that for me what’s coming is a storm, a hell, the like of which I have never lived before.

But I would not be anywhere else but right here, right now, even if it were to cost me my life to do so.

To be continued…..


One of the longest spells Elaine had in hospital was in late ’96 early ’97, when she stayed in the Harbour Hospital at Poole for nearly two weeks.

This was when she had her second mastectomy and bi-lateral reconstruction. She was, I believe, the only patient in the hospital over the New Year period at the time.

As always, I stayed and worried at the hospital during her operation and went down to see her in recovery afterwards.

When she awoke she became convinced there was a white pony running around between the beds and I was duly dispatched to capture it, and under her instruction tie it safely to the end of a bed close by.

 (Strangely she ‘saw’ that pony again one evening in the hospice).

Later the drugs had worn off, and she screamed and swore as they tried to move her from trolley to bed. Elaine was their first patient to have had that particular surgery all in one go, and they were not sure how to handle her post-op.

I used to visit at different times, but often at late afternoon/evening when, as she healed, we would get her some exercise by walking around the mostly deserted hospital together.

We owned a blue Ford pick-up at the time and as I was often the only one in the car park I would, for the sake of convenience, park next to the hospital entrance.

I don’t believe that car park saw many pick- up trucks. It was more used to Mercs’ and BMW’s ETC, with the occasional Bentley thrown in, to make the others all feel inferior.

One evening, as I parked and was just getting out, a man appeared by the door next to me. A woman, who looked a bit like a nurse, was behind him.

Stupidly, my immediate thought was that Elaine had died and they had rushed out to catch me before I got up to her room.

Without any intro’ he fired into me. “WHY are you parking here! “

“Eh, what’s happened?”

“What do you mean by continually parking this truck here, this is a private hospital and so is the car park.”

The penny dropped in my head, and an edge came into my voice.

“I’m- visiting-my- wife.”


“My wife is a patient here.”

If ever a man wanted the earth to open at that moment and take him completely, this was it.

The woman stood behind him had developed a huge grin across her face.

“But you were parked here New Year’s Eve- all day.”

“Yes, that is when she had her operation. I stayed all day.”

“But as I rushed out to stop you last night you just waved at me as you drove off.”

“No, I waved to my wife her room is above the entrance and she was at the window.”

“I was stood in the entrance.”

“I couldn’t see you, I’ve no rear-view mirror ( it had fallen off a while back) I just wave as I know she’s there.”

“OH, God.”

Poor Keith, for such was his name. He was the manager or assistant manager I believe, I’m not sure now, and he thought I was just using the car park because it was there.

It transpired he had become obsessed with catching the ‘phantom truck driver’, but he’d missed me every time. He even admitted to looking under the back cover of the truck on New Year’s Eve, fearing there may have been a bomb hidden in it!

Ours must have been the only pick-up he had ever seen parked there, why he just didn’t leave a note on the windscreen I do not know.

He couldn’t apologise enough. Especially when I rubbed it in by telling him I thought that Elaine had died and they had come out to tell me.

When I told her, Elaine laughed her head off.

Later, on one of our evening walks, we came across Keith locking his office door for the night. She teased him with; ”We’ll bring the Range Rover next time.”

He managed a half-laugh and stole away quickly. We never did meet him again.

30th December 2020 (just).

I go up to bed later and later now. I do so as I hate going without Elaine there. She was usually in bed before me and my being alone is torture. So the light goes out moments before midnight and hopefully sleep will descend quickly over me.


I seem to have just drifted off when a horrible ‘clacking’ noise, I don’t immediately recognise, brings me back with a start.

 The room is half lit with an icy blue glare.

“Oh Christ, it’s my mobile phone!”

I snatch it up-12.18am-and an unknown number.


“Hi, is that Mark?”


“Hello, it’s Clare here, at Forest Holme.”

“Oh God no.”

“It’s OK Mark, Elaine’s alright.”


“She’s just woken up and got in a panic. She thought she’d missed seeing you and Kathy. I’ve explained that she hasn’t, but she is a bit confused and want’s to speak to you, shall I put her on?”

“Yes, yes do Clare, thanks.”

My heart feels like a slumbering diesel motor recently fired-up after several decades neglect, and now is trying to make up for lost time.


“Hello darling.”

“Oh Mark, I feel so stupid.”

Her voice sounds frail, vulnerable even, I just want to hold her.

“Mark I woke-up suddenly. I thought I’d missed seeing you and Kathy, I felt angry then afraid and I started to panic, I feel so stupid.”

“You’re not stupid darling, you just woke-up suddenly that’s all.”

“I know now Mark, I didn’t then it was horrible. I wanted to speak to you, Clare said she’d call.”

“Do you want me to come over now Elaine?”

“No, stay there, I don’t want you to drive now I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Actually you’ll see me today at about 10 o’clock, it’s well gone midnight now.”

“Oh alright love, til later on then, goodnight, I love you.”

“Love you to darling, goodnight.”

The phone falls silent. The blue glare from the screen briefly mocks my panic, before plunging me into darkness.

I flick on the bedside light, and head downstairs. I’ve not been drinking much in case of being called to the hospice at night. I figure I won’t be called again tonight though. So now I pull out a bottle of Jim Beam, pour half a tumbler full, and down the lot. Then repeat.

I’m at Forest Holme just before 10 in the morning.

I’ve been thinking hard since last night. This situation with me on tender-hooks all the time just can’t continue. As soon as I’m back from the hospice I become a bundle of nerves, taking the phones with me everywhere in case I should miss a call-THE call.

Many years ago Elaine was recovering in bed from some cancer related problem, when I took her some tea and we started talking about the possibility of her death.

We never did shy away from this type of conversation, but we didn’t make it an everyday topic either. When the circumstances arose the subject was discussed without embarrassment, and then left alone again.

While we were talking Elaine looked at me direct and with her customary big smile said:

“I won’t be afraid Mark, as long as you’re there to hold my hand.”

So I promised her I would be, and now I’m worrying.

What if she has a bad turn and I’m at home. It’ll take me at least twenty minutes on clear roads to reach the hospice.

What if I drive like a twat, crash, injure or kill some poor bastard and/or myself. That’s not going to help Elaine, no something has to change, and now.

I know what I need to do, just have to pick my moment.

As I walk along the side path to Elaine’s room I pass the window and can see she’s lying back in bed, eyes closed.

She looks up as I enter the room.

The ever present smile appears and she greets me first.

“Hello darling.”

“Hello sweetheart, you OK?”-she sounds tired.

“I am now you’re here. I’m sorry about last night Mark, I was silly for getting in a panic.”

“Don’t feel silly love, let’s just blame it on the drugs.”

“Alright, I feel better now.”

I take off my coat then go over and kiss her and, as I gently squeeze her hand, I realise just how weak she is becoming.

Before we can say much more a knock at the door heralds the arrival of Kathy, Elaine’s councillor. She’s on time and kitted out in protective gear, which now seems so normal.

Elaine perks up now Kathy has arrived.

I met Kathy for the first time yesterday, and soon come to understand why Elaine likes and trusts her so much.

I find there is a genuineness about Kathy, coupled with an ability to connect and listen without any hint of condescension or indifference.

I don’t think it is fair for me to say here what passed between the three of us. Much of the time it was just Kathy and I talking, with Elaine joining in now and then. But as it is Kathy’s profession to council others, it is not for me to share anything, that was said, in case it causes difficulty for her.

Suffice to say we passed 45 minutes together, and Elaine was all the happier for it, so was I.

After Kathy has gone the nurses come in to tidy both bed and patient and check the syringe drivers.

I take the chance to walk the few minutes into Poole to buy a newspaper and get some air. When I return Elaine is led down in bed seemingly asleep.

I’m trying to keep quiet but she hears me and asks; “Is that you babe?”

“The one and only.” I reply as I go to the side of the bed and kiss her.

 The moment feels right.

“Elaine? Darling?”


“Do you want me to stay with you here from now on?”

With eyes still closed her answer is one clear word.


I’m hovering near the open door leading into the hospice. I can’t go beyond because of the restrictions but a nurse soon comes along. It’s Mandy and I ask her what the procedure is to allow me to stay.

“Wait here Mark, I’ll go and talk to Sister.”

She’s back in a couple of minutes.

“Mark, Sister says you can stay as long as you need to. We can’t let you use the relatives suite as it’s all closed down at present but you can use the facilities here and I’ll show you how to work the recliner, they say it’s very comfortable. We’ll give you blankets and pillows to use and as Elaine isn’t really eating now we can feed you as well.”

I’m so relieved, I can be here for however long, but there’s things to do first.

I go outside and call best pal Mike, he already has our spare keys and the codes for home, and he is more than happy to step in and look after things there.

Then I leave Forest Holme and head back to collect what I’ll need for my stay at the hospice for at least the next few days.

At home I pack up what I think I’ll be needing, including alcohol and chocolate. It’s all a bit rushed, like a last minute military operation that’s just got approval, but I’m all done in an hour or so and decide to have a cup of tea before I return.

The cat’s eye me suspiciously from their beds but make no move to come into the main house.

As I’m sitting at the kitchen table drinking my tea my eyes wander to the mirror on the wall opposite. Elaine bought that mirror at a scout jumble sale years before we met, it’s been everywhere with her since.

For some years now we’ve pushed the Christmas cards we get around the inside of the frame, and every Christmas she drapes a large length of tinsel across the top.

It’s all there now, but as I stare at it, it seems so pointless-‘Merry Christmas Happy New Year’- fat fucking chance of that.

It’s like everything I know, everything I have and love and believe in is slowly being sponged away before my eyes, and I can’t do a damn thing to stop it. I’m powerless, trying to hold on to the handful of cold water that represents the life I know and it’s trickling out between my fingers no matter how hard I press them together.

I can’t lose Elaine, I just can’t.

 Please God, let me wake up.

How long ago it all seems since that operation at the Harbour 24 years back. So much of our happiness depended on its success and what we made of life, and each other, afterwards.

We’ve done a bloody site better than many would, in the same circumstances, but thinking of what we have lived alongside all these years, the enormity of it can easily overwhelm.

As I finish my drink the thought strikes me, it’s a quarter of a century since our honeymoon. We took the blue pick-up, it was the best vehicle we had at the time, we owned it for years. It’s long since been scraped but the memories remain intact.

They’ll live-on as long as one of us does- one of us.

Memory lane is too costly an excursion right now, so I head for the door. I remember the credit card bill that needs paying at the last minute, but decide to leave it for now-a decision I’ll come to regret later- I just want to get out of here and back to Elaine.

Tomorrow I’ll wake up in a hospice, on New Year’s Eve.

The honeymoon is over.

To be continued…..


Not so many people know that Elaine and I married each other twice.

The first time was December 29th 1995. The second time was July 18th 20??-  we could always remember the day but later were never sure of the year.

Our original wedding came shortly after Elaine’s divorce from her first husband was finalised. We hadn’t been living together for very long but I loved her fiercely, and over an evening meal of cod and chips at the kitchen table, I knelt and asked her to marry me.

She responded with a big YES, and then insisted we drive over to tell her parents, a phone call just wouldn’t do- but we did finish the chips first.

We were not exactly very flush for money at the time, so a budget was set of £500 for our wedding and the reception which was to be held at home.

I think about sixty people were invited. This being quite a tight fit as the Lodge isn’t all that big but Elaine reckoned on some being in the garden, for a smoke, while at least two people would be in the toilets at any one time.

We married at Blandford register office, 3pm on a freezing cold day. My wife to be looked stunning, and I fell in love all over again.

The reception went really well, but the cloud over it, that not many knew, was that the previous evening we had learned that Elaine had an aggressive form of cancer, and after our short honeymoon in Devon she would be coming back to surgery and chemotherapy.

I can only imagine how this must have played on the mind of a newly- wed woman. She must have worried so much. How was I going to view her after surgery then chemo’, bald as well as scarred.

Elaine didn’t do self- pity, at least not outwardly, and whatever her fears she kept them well hidden.

She hated the chemo’ as much as the surgery. When it was over she threw out or burnt the clothes she’d worn to the sessions and even chucked the earrings she had worn as the association was too much to bear.

“Never again Mark, not even for you.”

How those words were to come back to us in the coming years.

This was why she wanted a second wedding that would be happy, joyful and just for us. Cancer not invited.

We decided on July as both sets of parents had married then and the weather, hopefully, would be warmer.

Kingston Lacy Church- St Stephens- lies a short walk to the back of the Lodge. Elaine went to see the vicar in charge at home. I don’t recall his name but he was rumoured locally to be somewhat unconventional and mad as a box of frogs.

He didn’t disappoint. When she arrived at the arranged time, Elaine found him sat at the kitchen table with most of his breakfast down the front of his cassock, paperwork piled on every surface and much of the floor, and too many cats and kittens running wild to count.

The stumbling block was that Elaine was Jewish, the church is C of E, as am I- if you want to put a handle on me- and she did not want some, rather difficult to exclude, parts of the Christian service to be included for us.

The vicar dug his heels in, so did Elaine, but after much ‘consultation’ and a little giving of ground, on both sides, the arrangements were settled.

Thus on a beautiful summers afternoon, in July, we found ourselves walking up through the woods behind our home with Champagne and glasses in hand.

Elaine looked as though she had stepped from a Jane Austen novel.

She wore a gorgeous light summer dress and carried a posy of summer flowers, with her hair cut short she looked stunning. If she hadn’t been my wife, I would have married her again anyway (work that one out).

The vicar locked the three of us in the church and the ceremony went through beautifully, he even did part of it in Hebrew as a surprise for her.

We all drank Champagne then we covered a glass and broke it underfoot at the altar (it’s buried in our garden). The vicar took a couple of pictures and then we walked back home, for scones, jam and tea, and a one night honeymoon.

Out of our two weddings Elaine much preferred to remember the last one. I’m just happy that she wanted to marry me at least once.

26th December 2020-Boxing Day.

I don’t fear nightmares when I go to bed. I welcome the oblivion sleep defers on me. The nightmare begins when I wake from that mini-death into a new day.

It takes a split second for me to realise that I’m alone that she isn’t beside me, reality floods in, my heart is made of lead and the weight drags at my spirit.

Elaine’s not here at home, she’s at the hospice, not dead still living, but I know she will not return. She is still alive though, is there not hope if life is present?

Fate is teasing me. Dangling useless threads of possibilities that can never be, but wanting me to grab at them none the less, to make my suffering more and laugh at my impotent anger and tears.

Even though I know it’s hopeless, I don’t want to believe that this loneliness is to be my future, my waking reality.

I arrive at Forest Holme about 12.30 pm.

Elaine is sat up in bed, eyes closed. She still has her Christmas antlers on from yesterday. The batteries are nearly flat so I guess they’ve been on all night. I never do find out for certain.

Her LED ‘candle’ is glowing on the end- of -bed chest, and I turn it out (the nurses switch it on at night for her until I take over. It is on every night for the rest of her life).

Elaine soon wakes and we have hugs, and kiss hello.

“How are you feeling darling?” I ask her.

“Got very tired from yesterday so I slept well.”

“Any pain?”

“A bit uncomfortable earlier on. They altered the syringe driver, I’m ok now.”

I glance down at the little machine in its ‘sock’ beside her. The people who invent these things are the ones who deserve the medals.

We chat for a while about the previous day. Her eyes close frequently and she ‘drifts’ but isn’t actually falling into deep sleep at present.

Lunch soon arrives, and Elaine has some soup but only nibbles at the solid food. She sips at some fruit juice and the hiccups start again, later she tries a few spoons of pudding but really eats very little.

I’m silently willing her to eat more but my silence is not very effective.

Elaine dozes gently afterwards and I sit in the recliner by her side trying to read and holding her hand at the same time. Nurses pop in every so often to check all is ok with the driver and its patient.

The sounds of the hospice filter through to me.

That Christmas Spirit is still walking the corridors, and not far away some of the staff are singing Happy Birthday for one of the other patients.

Later Elaine wakes and gives me a big smile.

 “Are you alright Mark?”

“Yes I’m fine” I lie.

She then continues; “You know it’s good to have nice things in your life, our home, cars, all the material stuff that comes along. But at the end of the day none of it really matters that much. We own things for a while, then they just move on to someone else. All that really matters is what we are to each other, that’s what counts the most.”

I don’t know if she’s just thought of this now, or even if she’s asking or telling me, but it did make me realise how deep her thoughts were running.

She interrupts my thinking;” I suppose, at the end it just boils down to love. How much you love and have been loved by others.”

“Thank you for loving me Mark” she says quietly, looking straight into my eyes.

“You don’t have to thank me darling. I love you and you love me, that’s all there is to it.”

“You won’t forget me, will you Mark?”

“That’s not possible love. Even if I get old and senile I won’t be forgetting you. I don’t ever want to. You are my wife and always will be as far as I’m concerned. So don’t you go wandering off too far my girl. I’m not wanting to spend half of eternity trying to find you cos’ you’ve gone and gotten yourself lost somewhere.”

“I’ll be there for you darling, I promise.”

She closes her eyes and lies back against the pillows still holding on to my hand.

That short conversation seemed so bizarre, and still does even now.

The scaffold for the words was her impending death, what we both knew to be coming soon, yet we could just have easily been two people discussing a shopping list. There were tears playing close to the surface of my eyes but Elaine remained unemotional.

The medication was taking more than just the pain away from her I’m sure. Yet the more I think about it the more I believe that she had come to terms with death a long time since, and had filed those terms away so she could bring them out now when needed, to ease the journey, the transition, from here to……

The next couple of days follow the same pattern.

I go to the hospice early afternoon and stay four to five hours. I read and Elaine sleeps mostly, we never really do have any long conversations again.

Tuesday 29th December.

I leave home in the morning today because it’s a special day.

When I arrive at Forest Holme I’m greeted by everyone with, “Happy Anniversary Mark.”

Elaine has proudly told them all it is our 25th today. I wasn’t even sure she would be able to remember but she has told everyone who will listen.

I’ve brought a card for her and help her to open it as her co-ordination is not good and she isn’t very strong. I notice a second syringe driver has now joined the first.

She bought a card for me but it got left at home unwritten. It’s on the mantelpiece anyway.

We agreed from the first never to do anniversary presents. At least that makes things easier.

I get a big smile with my kiss hello and my wife holds my hand tightly.

“Happy anniversary darling.”

I wish her the same and we kiss once more.

Looking into her eyes I see such love coming from them it is almost like a physical presence. I see them now as I write this, I don’t think time will ever efface that memory from my heart or mind.

The impression I get now is that she has been holding on especially hard to get here.

It has been a personal challenge, a defiance against her illness to get to this date, twenty five years together, nothing not even cancer, was going to get in her way to be alive for this day.

“Hello Elaine.”

A petite woman with short blond hair and wearing protective clothing, is framed in the doorway.

“Kathy it’s you!”

The pleasure in my wife’s voice is evident.

Kathy has been Elaine’s councillor, on and off, for many years. She is based at the hospice but has been on leave over Christmas.

It’s her first day back and she was shocked to see Elaine’s name on the list of patients. Ironically Elaine has a virtual appointment with her arranged for tomorrow morning ( it’s the last entry in her diary).

Kathy stays a short while and suggests having a face to face meeting in Elaine’s room tomorrow, at the arranged time of 10am, I’m invited to attend as well.

Kathy leaves and shortly afterwards nurses arrive with a bottle of Bucks Fizz and two glasses for my wife and I. After merrily wishing us “Happy Anniversary” they leave us alone and I open the bottle and pour two half glasses.

We enjoy a short toast- “To Us” and Elaine manages one tiny sip and to be honest I don’t want much more.

I know this is our ultimate ‘fizz’ together, there have been lots before, I can’t even remember the first, what’s the betting I never forget the last.

To be continued….

Second Wedding
First Wedding


One year, 2006 I think, Elaine and myself had an alternative Christmas Day – on January 19th.

It came about because of Elaine’s nearly step- dad Leslie. I say nearly because Elaine’s mum sadly died just before they were due to marry, but Les remained close, especially to Elaine.

He was a nice man but difficult to get to know. The phrase ‘solitary as an oyster’ could have been written for him.

After mum’s death he liked, on occasions, to take Elaine out for lunches, though she dreaded his driving. So as we had no idea what to get him at Christmas we decided to take him out for Christmas dinner on the day itself.

First time was a place near Salisbury.

Oh dear. They were grossly understaffed and over booked. The dining room was uncomfortably packed. No music at all, so we were all listening to each other talk. A strange burning smell announced the early demise of the Christmas puddings.

Service was sloooow, then seemed to stop altogether. The food, when it came being fair, wasn’t too bad, except for the charred puds. We were trapped in there for six hours plus, Les seemed ok with it all but Elaine and I hated every minute.

The following year we tried again at a place near Poole.

Oh dear (again). They had jammed tables in wherever they could, it was heaving and hot as a Turkish bathhouse. Music was too loud and not even Christmassy, and people were talking too loud because of it. Kids, who obviously did not want to be there, were moving around, playing electronic games or jabbering on their bloody phones- as were many adults. Worst of all the food was unremarkable and easily forgotten.

All of this passed over Leslie’s head completely. For a thin guy he shifted a lot of rations, then afterwards he wanted to walk it off, so we headed for Sandbanks and a walk along the shoreline.

It was evilly cold, and walking back the wind bit right through us. Les didn’t seem to notice.

By the time Elaine and I got home my nose was streaming, my throat was akin to a piece of raw meat and I couldn’t stop shivering. Elaine was frozen to the bone.

Over whisky with honey and hot water, we decided that we deserved another Christmas, an alternative day to make amends.

January 19th was settled on to avoid our wedding anniversary (29th Dec’). Elaine’s birthday (7th Jan’) and the dates of my immediate families’ deaths ( Jan’ 21-22 & 24). With the advent of what has since happened its plain to see why I’m not a January person.

We had a tiny fir tree that I had rescued, which stood 15 inches high in its pot, so that became our Christmas tree for the day. We put some small baubles on it and tinsel too, but no lights as it wasn’t man enough, but it served very well.

There was a small chicken with all the trimmings for the Christmas meal plus a saved pud, and a budget was set for presents at ten pounds each (though we did both cheat a little here). Christmas Carols came via CD.

Little presents stuffed in ankle socks were there to wake up to, then later we opened the ‘bigger’ presents over tea, coffee croissants and fizz. Due to our budget they were mostly crap from cheap or charity shops though Elaine was quite taken with her coloured wooden set of clothes pegs.

The rest of the day we fooled around, read books, watched TV and then prepared the meal together for early evening. It was all great fun, and we always did agree it was one of our best Christmas’s ever.

December 25th Christmas Day 2020.

I was dreading waking up alone this morning and it is no better than expected.

In these later years we always tried to spend Christmas day alone together. We’d do Christmas stockings for each other to open, in bed first thing, with tea and coffee.

Afterwards Elaine would go off to sort out Bruce while I would make a start on preparing the veg’ etc for dinner later on. Then, when Elaine returned things would go much as I have just described above as the alternative Christmas Day.

It was never any use trying to get her to wait and open some presents later on in the day. As I stated in an earlier blog, she was like a big kid at Christmas and couldn’t contain herself where presents were concerned, whether giving or receiving.

We speak briefly on the phone, Elaine sounds sleepy but is cheerful and I tell her I’ll be there around 1 o’clock.

 Quite honestly it’s bloody miserable at home without her. I can’t bear to listen to the carols on the radio, though I’ve always loved them in the past. So I tidy up the house and prepare Christmas stockings to open with Elaine later. She has already told me where my stocking presents are, so I sort out his n’ hers and am ready to leave home by 12.30.

At the last minute I remember a box that arrived a while ago from Elaine’s friend Kimberly, who lives in the USA/Canada, and I take it with me as well.

When I arrive at Forest Holme I find a genuine Christmas spirit is abroad at the hospice.

The staff have given presents to all the patients and Elaine has got a lovely deep green bed cover with a gold pattern on it and the Charlie Mackesy book, The Boy, The Mole The Fox and the Horse, and though she already has a copy it is a wonderful gesture from them.

Elaine cannot concentrate too long on any one thing. Her co-ordination is becoming slightly clumsy and her eyes close frequently. I figure the drugs are on the increase.

She wants to open Kim’s box first and my pocket knife makes short work of the packaging. It is full of fun and delights. It is as though Kim somehow knew there would not be another chance, another Christmas. There are cosmetics and perfume for Elaine and quirky toys etc for us both plus four sets of toy antlers to wear on your head. Typical of my wife she loves these the best and with a little help pops on a set with small flashing lights, which she keeps on all day.

Her lunch arrives and she picks at bits and pieces of the meal-I help out a bit, but she does make a better job of the ice cream that follows.

We then have our stockings to open, though it’s me doing most of the opening. It’s fun, but bittersweet, isn’t strong enough to describe it all for me.

One silly item Elaine loves is a LED battery powered ‘church candle’ about four inches high. When switched on it has a soothing deep orange glow and it’s placed on the chest at the end of her bed, where it stays.

 The hospice has become quite noisy. Christmas seems to have cheered everyone. We keep the doors open so as not to be shut off from everything.

There are visitors in relays for the other patients, and the old boy, Bill I think, whose room is further up the corridor has his TV on too loud, but no one seems to care.

The hospice staff constantly check-up on Elaine to make sure all is ok, I cannot praise them enough. They do their work without any real intrusion on our time together and all seem so pleased to be there.

Elaine’s best pal Julie arrives to visit mid-afternoon, which gives me a chance to get out for a walk around and phone Colin, Elaine’s brother, and others. Due to the lockdown visitors are not encouraged generally, and as Colin lives outside the area he cannot visit at all.

I walk around for an hour or so. The air is crisp and refreshing but it’s all so surreal, like I’m playing out a part in a script and because I know the final act is imminent I want to hit pause and hold it there forever.

Back at the hospice Elaine is nodding off then waking, then nodding again. Julie and I talk awhile then struggle to hold back the tears as we hug our goodbyes. I will see her shortly as she and husband John have invited me to dinner at 5.30’ish.

Elaine still has her antlers on though they keep slipping as she falls asleep. She is obviously tired so I sit quietly beside her holding her hand and trying, unsuccessfully, to make sense of this day. Later I hug and kiss my darling goodbye and reluctantly leave around 5.30.

It is only a short drive to Julie and John’s home, and I’m grateful for the company the wine (one glass) and the meal, in that order.

Thank God for this couple, their kindness and friendship knows no boundaries.

I’m home by about 8pm. I was tempted to call in at Forest Holme on my way back, but Elaine would most likely be settled for the night and not wanting to disturb her I decide to call it a day for Christmas with my wife.

The Lodge is dark and cold, everything just as I left it hours ago. The Christmas tree looks forlorn, forgotten and embarrassed in its traditional corner.

As I sit on the settee and memories of so many warm and joyous Christmas times in the past, in this very room, come flooding back to me I am simply overwhelmed.

I know this has been the last Christmas together for Elaine and I. I also know that it’s this bastard I’ll remember down through the years without her.

Without Her.

How the hell will Christmas ever be without Elaine.

The idea of a Merry Christmas without her infectious joy and happiness for it all is to me right now, utterly impossible to imagine.

It’s such a cruelty that this should all happen at this time of the year. The memories will flood back as constant as the season, and just as bitter.

Tears trickle down my cheeks and though I fight it, I can’t stop the flood and weep uncontrollably.

How can such utter misery exist now, where such happiness lived before?

I cannot help but wonder where I’ll be this time next year, what pain will I be feeling?

Starring at the blank TV screen I find no answer, a voice inside says, “Ask yourself next Christmas Eve.”

To be continued…