The other day, someone asked me,
Do you miss him?
I was a little girl – probably nine or ten – when I first encountered a death in the family. My father’s mother. We called her Wee Granny. I don’t remember her. Hardly surprising because the only time I did ever meet her, I was an infant and she never left Scotland. Glasgow, to be precise.
Next, it was Big Granny. Now, I do remember her. I have vivid memories of her trip to South Africa. I also have vivid memories of my time with her – as that three-year-old – on the eve of our departure from the UK, en route to Johannesburg. She’d been ill, and my mother had been called to her deathbed in England. About a month after her to South Africa, Granny died. I was about 16.
Neither of those deaths had a profound impact on my young life. Mainly because neither of the grannies had been part of my everyday life. Ever. In a world without the Internet and social media, intercontinental, trans-hemisphere communication was by letter. Trans-Atlantic telephone calls had to be booked and were reserved for life – and mostly death – emergencies. And telegram.
Because we were so far from blood family, my parents built close friendships with contemporaries. Members of their inner circle substituted for grandparents. So, the death that first really hit me was Uncle Ritchie. That time taught me two life lessons. Firstly, that death hurts. And secondly, that bad news really does travel fast – via routes least expected. I wasn’t living at home and was in the throes of my first-year university exams so they decided I should not be told. Little did they know that among my circle of friends, was somebody who had also known Uncle Ritchie. I didn’t believe her. I rushed to the payphone.
They didn’t want me to go to the funeral. They couldn’t stop me.
In the years that followed, I lost friends, colleagues and acquaintances: car accidents, illness and suicide. With each death I learned that grief is as individual as the person for whom one grieves. That lesson was hardest when my parents died within eleven months of each other. My mother, unexpectedly after a short illness. My dad, although of cancer which only emerged after Mum died, The Husband and I always believed, of a broken heart.
It’s no secret that my mother and I were not friends, but she was my mother and her death hit me like a sledgehammer. I wept for months. Dad and I, on the other hand, had a special connection which deepened after she died. I miss him and wish him here more than I do her. Nearly a quarter of a century later.
The death of a parent, even as a thirty-odd year-old child, changes one’s world. Suddenly, somebody who, from the beginning of one’s memory, was always there, and integral, is just gone. That is an enormous adjustment.
Nothing, however, prepares one for the death of one’s life partner. Oh, you can prepare in your head. I knew, in my brain, that with a significant age gap, biology and statistics suggested that he would die first. But the brain and the heart don’t work together very well especially when the older person is healthy, fit and never got ill. Especially when the stock response to hearing his age was an incredulous, “Really, I thought you were ten years younger than that!”
The Husband died exactly a month short of his 77th birthday. He went to hospital to get better. The operated and removed what had made him suddenly ill. He came through the surgery with flying colours. So well that the medical staff called him their miracle man and even with all the post operative pain and discomfort, his lust for life had not diminished. Three days after that surgery, he developed a clot, was rushed to ICU and intubated. On top of that, he had an infection, and he went into organ failure, and I was called to his death bed. Not ready to give up, few hours later his body had rallied, and he’d turned the corner and continued improving. Until. A series of hospital-based infections eroded his already compromised body and, eventually, his life. For the last 37 days, thanks to being ventilated, he could not speak. He could, though, communicate, and in our last conversation, he was still determined to come home. That was his plan. That was our plan.
Three days later, he died.
For seven weeks I had been home alone and visiting him in hospital. I put stuff on hold because he was coming home. This could wait. That could wait. He was coming home. I put the laundry away. I ordered a chicken for a Sunday supper. He was coming home. Knowing he’d be weak and not be able to climb stairs, I began planning to move ourselves into the guest room.
Marriage is “in sickness and in health”. They warned me it would be a long path after six weeks in ICU and the extent of muscle wastage. If it meant his coming home and – again – grabbing the brass ring, it was what I had signed up for.
I chose to sign up for a life with him. It was a choice. And we made a life. We scrapped and disagreed – as all married couples do. But he was the person I bounced ideas off. The Husband was the last person I saw as I went to sleep, and the first when I woke up. I’d reach over in the night to see that he was warm and still breathed. My worst nightmare was waking up and he’d be gone.
I am living my worst nightmare. He is gone.
I am not alone. I am not lonely. I am lonely for him. For my friend. The person I chose to spend my life with.
I miss him all the time. I shall miss him always.
Until next time
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa
If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
- re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
- and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.
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- lastly, graphics are created using partly my own photographs and Canva.