We went to a party on Saturday night. It’s not the first time we’ve been out, the boys and I (or indeed I on my own,) since D-Day, and although I mainly want to stay at home curled up in a ball, I know it’s A Good Thing to go out and I need to make the effort. We need to socialise, and I’m determined that my hubby doesn’t just slip into obscurity, and become some legendary bloke who we all vaguely remember. No. He has a name, and we use it often. Still, I’m pretty selective about who I feel up to partying with, as the fixed social smile often gets wiped away by tears. For the most part, the small talk I used to be so good at makes me feel a bit nauseous, and I don’t want people to ask how I am because they won’t like the answer. For now, I’ve pushed away from the rest of the world and only brought my closest allies along with me for the ride. No. His closest allies. His dearest friends. They’re all I want.
Over a glass of wine and a few nibbles (we always wondered why crisps tipped into a bowl suddenly become nibbles, just because they’re in a fucking bowl,) somebody remarked to me that at least my hubby wasn’t in pain any more. What a cliché. I get it. I’ve known for the last eight weeks that clichés exist for good reason, because they’re often painfully true, but really? That comment tipped me right over the edge. Let me tell you something about my husband.
He was brilliant. For the last five months of his life, he was in constant pain. Truly awful. His liver tumours were growing and he struggled for breath as his lungs kept on filling with fluid. But, his attitude (and a hefty supply of morphine and dexamethasone) meant that that didn’t stop him. He carried on working until he could barely work any more, was riding rollercoasters with me, our boys, and a bunch of chums at Blackpool Pleasure Beach one month and a day before he died, and even squeezed in a week’s holiday in the sunshine. We returned home three weeks before he passed away. But dying was never on the agenda.
He didn’t want to die. He had no intention of leaving us. He fought tooth and nail to stay. Was he in pain? Yes. Did he mind? Yes. Could he have gone on for longer? You bet. He had not given up. Pain was just an inconvenience that he had to put up with in order to stay with his adored boys, but giving up or dying were not on the list.
I sat with him for almost every moment in those last days. Those long, surreal, dark days. He needed me to administer his meds and help him to the loo. We talked about inconsequential things, and important things, and his mind began to shut down. In the early hours of the morning, he wanted to know where Prestons of Potto were based, and then proceeded to piss on the hall floor. He then shuffled back to bed with his oxygen tube in one hand and my hand in the other, but decided to adopt a Scottish accent for the journey back. He began not to remember that he was dying. It was probably a blessing, because he had been too stubborn to let go, and would not have ever given up of his own accord. Ever.
That hand-holding, though. Those beautiful hands that had been so animated; they were the first thing I fell in love with nearly fifteen years ago. Those hands that became, like him, emaciated and uncomfortable to hold on to, and not the fleshy, slightly wrinkled (but his) hands I’d always held. But they were there, and there was a pulse. He was still inside those hands, somewhere. He could squeeze mine, or I could kiss his. Or kiss his face, or his stubbly chemo-ravaged head. When there was still a pulse, he wasn’t there – he was gone in all but heartbeat and breath – but I could hold his hand. He was still him, and he was ours to love.
When he was gone completely, a waxwork took his place. One moment, we could hold his hand and love him – HIM, the man, the person, the daddy – and the next, we were touching something with as much life and texture as a piece of plasticine, or a doll. But at the same time, that doll was so familiar, wearing my husband’s favourite t-shirt, wedding ring in place, and his wristwatch still ticking, even though everything in our collective world had stopped.
Those hands, like the rest of him, are dust. His wedding ring lives on my finger now, but there is no longer a hand to hold. Would he have carried on, despite the pain, until now? Of course, and beyond. And if he could have done, we’d still have that hand to hold, and to hold us in return.
Is it a comfort to me that he’s not in pain any more? No, because the pain, for him, and for the rest of us, was better than his not being here at all.
Love Fanny x