Over the last few weeks since the passing of my Mother-in-Law taken far too soon by an unseen, unchallengeable foe that had taunted both the lady and those closest to her, I have found myself immersed in the need to fight back in some small way. I felt the urge to lash out at the cruelty of what life had thrown our way, for the second time in under a year. Both the mother and father of the woman I love, taken by cancer and each had, at one time, served in the medical profession in their lives. Ironic, you might think. That two people who helped to save and better the lives of many should be taken far too soon.
Lt. Col. Dr. Gerald A. Batson served in the Territorial Army for many years, but that was not what he was known for. He was one of the leading pioneers of what we know today as the heart pacemaker. This man, with his team, saved literally thousands of lives when they developed and perfected this device, giving hope to thousands who would otherwise have not survived.
Pamela Mary Winton was for many years a senior nurse SRN and served in local hospitals both in the North and East of the country, before a change of career took her to her own private residential care home which she operated with the help of a select staff. Again, admirable work.
My own father, many years from this world, was also taken by cancer and back then, the reality of the loss didn’t really register. Perhaps I never gave it time. Instead I ploughed into my work – eventually working myself so hard that I too found the inside of a hospital for a short while to recover from what the doctors had said was ‘exhaustion induced pleurisy’ or fluid on the lungs to be more precise. At the time, my work also saw me smoking heavily although I didn’t drink. It would be many years and some drastic changes to my life before I would sit and contemplate, as I do now, and decide to write. In that time, I pondered the woes of my life, the death of my father and what he would make of my sorry existence.
Granted, I worked – to the point of destruction, that hasn’t changed much to this day. Back then I drove buses for a living, every possible shift I could get, in between long drives south to my children only to return to an unhappy alliance with my then partner. It transpired that the more I looked at my life, the more I hated it, resented the stress of the things that were in it. I thought long and hard, examined my relationship, uncovered the truths of it, most of which were not too savoury and decided one day that enough was enough. I packed what I could fit into my battered car and left – then I called work and quit!
With my particular set of skills, not to mention many years of previous experience, I am fortunate to be able to pick and choose where and for whom I work. At one point many moons ago, I was self employed but things change as we get older, we want security and less hassle – not the opposite. It wasn’t long before I found my present position where I have been for the last 5 years now. Trucking. This career has stayed with me from my army days – those days I miss a lot.
I digress. Excuse me. After a year alone, my resolve to go out into the big wide world of dating began to pique once more. Again, as we get older, our parameters change, we want different things from relationships, even from those we surround ourselves with – not that my work allowed for much of that, it never has since I’ve almost always worked night shift. Bit of a closet vampire I think. By sheer chance, I met my present partner, we’re almost into our fourth year now, a record for me. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I decided to write, and I don’t mean blogging or facebook writing, I mean really write. Something serious, besides the usual ramblings and endless detailed love letters that my partner and I exchanged for many months in our courting process. Talk never did come easy to me, but give me a keyboard, a pen and some paper, or a mobile text service and everything seems to slot into place. The words come easily – they flow.
I soon realised that writing helped me to deal with the things in life that I would ordinarily bottle up – to be stored in the boxes in my mind marked ‘do not open until suitably drunk’ or ‘access denied, key long since thrown away’ you know the kind of places and the kind of things therein, I suspect. Then one day I began to write, focusing my mind into characters, personalities of the people, places and events in my life that had all amalgamated into the person I was. I created scenes as if I stood there in real time, right there in the vastness of my mind, becoming ever uncluttered with every new paragraph and after a while, it seemed that a great burden had been lifted, much as the burden lifts as I write this, now.
The writing of my first book did have it’s price, aside from the monetary cost to produce it – no, I’m talking about the determination to finish it, the effect that it had upon my relationship with the present lady of my life. It is very difficult to explain to anyone, besides another writer, why we need to do what we do and for me, it has become just that… a need.
“How can you spend so much time at that blasted machine?” My partner would scoff. I watched her eyes as she glared at me with steely contempt, jealous at the attention the story received that she did not.
I reacted logically as I tend to do, made a point of writing into the wee small hours after my shifts, taking my laptop to work to write during my shifts if I could, but it HAD to come out – all of it. Then late last year, after a relatively short demise and mercifully, her father passed away. It was akin to a breeze block being hurled at our family. The impact rocking the very foundations of our closeness, it underlined the differences in our own personalities and enforced the chasms in the ‘opposites attract’ theory for we were, and still are as a couple, complete opposites in almost everything we do. The stains left by death had already tainted me many years prior, I had hardened to its embrace after the passing of not only my father but his father before him – my grandfather. Another man I loved dearly. Death changes us irreversibly and at first we don’t realise it, it doesn’t show itself but it is none-the-less imprinted for all time. I have come to see it today as one of the necessities and inevitabilities of life – the ONLY thing that we can be 100% certain of.
In the same way, the passing of her father changed her, as I’ve no doubt my hardened approach to it also did, in some small way. I worked, she cried. I dedicated my first book to two great men, my own father and hers – as my way of honouring them, all the time trying to understand her grief which, when I look back at it, I would never be able to do. Partly, because I hadn’t known her father for very long and partly because when our parents pass, no-one can truly understand our personal grief or sense of loss. I could only hold her and tell her that I knew. In my logical, seemingly uncaring world of structure, work and solutions, I tried my best to pull her through. I tried my utmost to bring her from the darkness of grief, from the burden of sorrow and loss, tentatively tugging her back to tomorrow and the next day and the next. We made it through that… JUST.
My resolve strengthened as I joined an author group having spent months trying to get my book to any kind of standard. The resolve I had set to writing it was now overshadowed by a need to get it half way decent enough to sell. Frustrated by my own ineptitude, for the lack of knowledge I possessed and the ability to say what I wanted to say correctly, my attention soon became swayed by the talents of said author group and I learned more in a few weeks than I had in months. For that alone I am grateful to this day. Having completed my book, I took on board tips and knowledge, much to the dismay of my partner who, without sounding condescending, is quite the fragile type. She is every inch the lady, a soft gentle heart on her sleeve, requiring not only copious amounts of reassurance, but also as much physical closeness as is possible in my usually half asleep state between daytime and night time worlds on my days off.
When her father was taken, she changed. Noticeably. More to the point, WE CHANGED as a couple. The dynamics of our relationship became exposed, raw, susceptible. Somehow, we managed to adjust and continue until after a while, time healed the deep wounds and saw fit to allow us a false reprieve. My book took on new meaning, it immortalised both her father and my own, a small token of respect, a nod to two souls departed and the least I could do to set the record straight. When finally I finished the last edit, a calm restored itself to our home.
Death was not satisfied however, it has other ideas. It wanted more from us, much more than we were prepared to give. I have seen its emissary in cancer, I’ve witnessed the slow, degrading demise as the radiance is consumed. The subtle changes in the brightness of a gaze, the oopsie daisies of a dropped plate, spoon or cup combined with the creeping fatigue in the middle of a sunny day. Yes, I’ve seen the signs and for me, the initial medical checks upon my partners mother didn’t bode well, despite the reassurances and optimistic outlook we all tried to assume.
I knew. It’s a tangible thing, cancer. Pam knew too. Gentle and selfless as she was in the short couple of years that I’d known her. Amazing, courageous woman. I knew what was coming, what I didn’t know was when. In my logical mind I prepared for the the inevitable, I bolstered my defences and mentally laid the sandbags for the impending flood that was to come. The wall that surrounds me sometimes is ten feet thick – it has to be, for my family are scattered over many miles and aside from my sister, we are not very close as my partners is. I’ve evolved that way, learned to be strong emotionally. Had to be.
When death finally came to escort Pam from this world, it was peaceful, dignified and she was surrounded by those dearest to her, myself included. That wasn’t the end, not for Pam – not to me. It was the beginning of something we mortals don’t yet know, at least that’s what I tried to impress upon the distraught woman I love. There are no words, there are no actions that I, as a relative outsider can say. There is nothing I can physically do outside of wrap her in my arms, wipe away the tears and try to make some sense of it, even if what I say is conjecture. Nothing to take away the sense of utter emptiness that she felt, the feeling of being alone – which kinda hurts. I couldn’t even cry with her, despite my own feelings of loss, not least because the hardening of death’s caress many years before had already prepared me for this day – as it had her fathers passing just 10 months previously.
There are few times in my life when I have felt quite so useless. If it is broken, I can usually fix it, no matter what it is. If it needs doing, chances are I can do it and if I can’t then I am stubborn enough to learn how before I’ll concede defeat and ask for help. How do I grieve? How do I grieve for someone I loved as a mother yet who was not – at least not mine?
The question above would prove to be pivotal. It would again test the very fabric of my relationship to the limit and this time, it would be all or nothing.
I put out a call to write a dedicated anthology to a bunch of people I barely knew. If you knew me better, you’d know how hard that was for me to do. I did it though, for the sake of something I believed in. For a chance to fight back at something I could not destroy, something I could not fix and something that ran with it’s tail between it’s legs, cowardly back to the shadows and out of reach when it stole what it came for. I did it to prove that I do feel, that because I don’t cry, because I don’t stop, because life MUST go on in my eyes, that I’m not a bad person – different maybe, I accept that. For my partner it has been a hard burden to carry though to be fair, I have tried to lighten the load with surprises I have bought, evenings out and as much closeness as I dare. It wasn’t enough.
Our relationship reached its lowest ebb a few days ago, to the point where I wrote the first serious letter not pertaining to adoration that I have written to my partner in over two and a half years. We needed to overcome a barrier and I simply don’t have the vocabulary to do that in spoken words. My defences close in, the barriers come up for protection and we end up fighting and glaring at one another in an uneasy silence which solves nothing. After several nights of almost no sleep, followed by a couple of long shifts at work and my own screaming thoughts, the pressure to evict the turmoil in my head became too great. With hot tea, a dinner still prepared by my partner, despite us barely having spoken for days, I sat down to write.
The letter was thanks for my food, it was thanks for being who she is. It was proclamation of our differences, of all the things I have tried to do since we met, affirmation of the magic we had back then and the fact that what we have been through inevitably changes us all. It was written with love, written with fear of the outcome, of sadness at the possibility of finality. In a way it was written with hope, the hope of denying the inevitability of hatred between two people that evolves when neither is prepared to try anymore – I couldn’t allow that to happen. I wouldn’t allow that to happen, not now, not ever. I’ve seen it in my unenviable past before. It ended in a choice.
So I wrote, poured out my soul on paper – again. Only this time it wasn’t fictional. It was only too real. Eventually, after many sheets of trusty A4 and a 4am morning chorus of birdsong, I hauled my aching bones to bed. At 830am I was awoken, immediately wiping the lone tear from the cheek of my smiling partner who I knew had read my letter over her morning tea at the breakfast bar, just before the children awoke. I was barely awake, the clutches of sleep refusing to allow me to fully awaken and yet I smiled, I remember. That day, we exchanged many messages by text, as we used to do before the appearance of death to our world. The once ragged bond began to grow and rejuvenate, the weight seemingly shifted with the explanation of why I’ve committed so much time to the anthology and why it matters to me so much and yet, for all that, her love matters to me more.
It is my resolve to tell her more often, to LEARN to speak as I write, because life would not be anywhere near as rewarding without her.
Thank you for listening 🙂