A year ago today, the thirtieth of April 2016, just as the sun was setting, my beloved Grace slipped free from the boundaries of this world. Her three and a half year struggle against Ovarian Cancer was over and she was at peace. There would be no more pain and no more tears, at least not for her.
I’m still not quite sure what I felt. I think initially there was a sense of relief that it was over. Possibly as much for myself as for Grace. It is the hardest thing in the world watching the person you love die. Thanks to the wonderful care from St Raphael’s Hospice, Grace was never in any significant pain. But even so sitting beside her, reading to her, holding her hand, telling her I loved her and generally talking all sorts of rubbish, while her life force slipped away took it out of me. So relief that that part of the journey was over, was, I think, my first emotion.
Then the tears came.
I sat with her for quite a while, crying, still holding her hand while I remembered the wonderful life we had together. After a while, probably about half an hour, it occurred to me that I had best tell the medical staff that she had gone. I pushed the call button, they came in and very gently did what they had to do. Someone got me a cup of tea. One of the nursing assistants asked me if I would like something stronger and I accepted a glass of whisky.
After I had drunk the tea and the whisky I was together enough to call the people who needed to know.
Two friends, who lived close to the hospice came round. I was grateful, but it might not have seemed that way to them at the time. They offered me a bed for the night, as did the hospice, but I knew that at some stage I would have to go back to an empty house and an empty bed, so it might as well be tonight.
I knew the house was tidy and that there was clean linen on the bed because I had done all that the week before, the day that Grace went back to St Raphael’s. After she was settled, I went back home to pick up a few bits and pieces that we had forgotten. I decided to change the bed linen and tidy the house up. I was feeling quite happy. Grace was in a safe place, where the people looking after her, unlike me, knew what they were doing. She would like the clean and tidy house when she came home…… then it hit me, Grace wouldn’t be coming home. In the whole three and a half years of hopes raised and dashed that was, for me, the worst half an hour. Worse than the day we got the diagnosis, worse than when I had to leave her when she had her surgery, worse than when the Marsden told us “Sorry , but we don’t think there is anything else we can do.”, worse even than the night she died.
Sheila and Christine gave me a lift home and reluctantly left me on my own. I poured myself another whisky and drank it. I thought about finishing the bottle, but decided that it probably wasn’t the best idea and went to bed. Tomorrow when I got up I would have to face life on my own.
That was a year ago. This past week has brought back the memories and the pain of losing Grace. The hurt and the grief are not as acute as they were a year ago. We humans are resilient creatures, we learn how to adapt. We learn to fill our lives with other things. Not, I think, to block out the grief nor to replace the missing partner. We do it to expand our horizons so that the grief and sense of loss are not the only thing in our lives.
I thought that I was going to have to face life on my own. That turned out to be wrong. Friends, family and even in their own way, the company I work for have rallied round. Little things, like asking me if I would like to go along to an exhibition or go out for a meal make me feel included. My sister flying down from Scotland they day after Grace died so I wouldn’t have to be on my own. My friend Toby volunteering to come with me when I had to register Graces death. They would probably say that it was the least they could do, but to me it meant everything.
So where am I one year on? I’m still standing. I am more and more grateful for the wonderful thirty and a bit years we had together. Memories keep popping back to make me smile, or cry, or more often both.
The current “Humus Crisis” brought back memories of the “Great Humus Disaster of 2007”. Grace decided that she would like to make her own humus. She blended the chickpeas, garlic and oil together. She removed the cover from the blender to add the tahini and inexplicably forgot to replace it before switching the blender back on again. If you look carefully at the kitchen ceiling you can still see the evidence.
I am gradually finding homes for her stuff. One of her keyboards and the PA equipment are being used by Oasis Church and the other went to friend who had moved to a new house with thin walls. Bashing away on his piano at 10 pm, he thought, might upset the new neighbours. So he now bashes away at the keyboard (with headphones). Her bike is currently transporting his daughter to and from school. I have kept her e-bike for when I am feeling lazy. I am also still pootling around in her Little Lilac Car.
I still miss Grace, I always will, but I am also seeing that I could have a life that is as wonderful as the one we had together, a very different life, but one that I can love.
On that positive note I’ll end.
I hope that today will bring back your joyful memories of Grace as well. It doesn’t matter if they come with a tear as well as a smile.