‘Just four small words’

   ‘Life expectancy … three years.’

  Just four small words; each one innocent on its own; not condemning.  Perhaps I can move them around, change their sequence; change their meaning.  I try, but it doesn’t work so I filter them through the bubble-wrapped cocoon in which I place my mind.  The words can’t hurt me there. 

   We walk through the hospital car park. You hold my hand, as you always do, and I feel the quiet strength of your love through my fingertips.  We get into the car as if this were just a normal day and not a head-on collision. 

   I summon a gentle, tranquilising breeze and it picks up the words and the pain and it carries them away to a distant place where they can settle and do no harm.  I don’t need the bandage or the antiseptic cream that you offer me.  It isn’t necessary.  There is no wound.  So why am I crying? 

   I put the windscreen wipers on to wash away its tears.  But the tears are my own.  I try to keep it together, to match your strength, but I cannot see a world without you in it and I just crumple.  You put your hand upon my knee then and squeeze; the gentle, loving, squishy, sort of squeeze that always makes me laugh.  It does and you laugh with me and for a moment we time-skip into normality, into the expectation of the crazy, wrinkly old age that we’d planned. 

   ‘We sell the house -’

   ‘And go backpacking around the world.’

   ‘Or, buy a yacht and go sailing around the world.’

   ‘Do you know how to sail?’

   ‘Nope.  Do you?’

   ‘Course not.  I’m into dry land and backpacking.’

   ‘You like being on the water.’

   ‘When did that happen?’

   ‘Lanzorate … nice big catamaran … FREE WINE … all day long.’

   ‘Oh, yea!  I remember now … I just love sailing.  We should definitely buy a yacht.’

   I sit here now and I can recall nothing of that drive home, on that day, when first we knew.  What did we say to each other?  Did we even talk?  What is there to say when the words stab straight through your heart?

   ‘Cancer.’

   Thump.  The pain strikes and hammers home.

   ‘Multiple Myeloma.’

   Multiple Myeloma?  I haven’t heard of that … I reach out and clutch at a straw … so maybe it’s not that bad. 

   ‘No cure.’

   The straw slips through my fingers. 

   ‘Life expectancy varies greatly from person to person.  In this case, the disease is advanced and aggressive … three years … maybe a little more … maybe a little less.’

   What do you do with that?  What do you do when someone calls time on your life?  Do you put all your dreams in a basket and fish one out like some fairground game of chance?

   We walk back into our home, on that day, when first we know and it wraps its love around us.  We are part of its memory, you and me. We are the plaster on its walls; its bricks, mortar and stone and our story flows through its life-blood.  I know then, that although our landscape has changed, we will get through.

   At first our lives spin out the same, well trodden, old routines and I draw strength from it.  We go to work, come home, eat, sleep, laugh, make love; go to the pub and visit friends.  You still tell those rubbish jokes and I still laugh at them.  The drugs are working.  They don’t make it go away and we can’t outrun it, but they suppress its rampant appetite for overdrive.  And I love you more than I could ever believe was possible for just one heart.  And I begin to hope. 

   We plan our holiday of a lifetime.  You say Singapore.  As a young soldier you were stationed there.  We take out the album and reminisce through photos of a strong, fit and healthy, beautiful you. 

   The day comes and we fly into our dreams, Singapore, New Zealand and Fiji.  We play in the sea and swim and sail.  We watch the beauty of sunsets and dawns and dolphins and whales.

   You take my hand and look into my eyes and there is so much love in it that it almost breaks my heart.  Looking back, I think that you knew then the limit of the days that we still had left together and that I would not accept the reality of it.

   I’m glass half full.  You’re not.

   I’m best case scenarios. You’re ‘Plan B.’

   But there isn’t a ‘Plan B,’ not for me there isn’t

   You were always the strongest.

   And I was always the most optimistic.

   I bring you home from our holiday in a wheelchair.  Your strength is failing, though your will is not.

   Then there is the chemotherapy, the radiotherapy, the blood transfusions, more drugs and more drugs, the hospital visits, the hospital stays and then when they say they cannot transfuse you any more, St Michael’s Hospice.   You go by hospital transport and stretcher.  I go by car and terror.  And, once I get my bearings, I find that there is much to cherish there.  It’s not the sad reverence of silence, but the sound of love and laughter that flows through that place and it touches all whose journey takes them there. 

   We stay for a day or two; then you turn to me and say that you want to go home and because you want it, I want it too.  Had I been brave enough, I would have understood the meaning of the words that you left unsaid for they lay, waiting, just below the surface.  I didn’t, because I didn’t want to look.

   I’m glass half full.

   I’m best case scenarios.

   There isn’t a ‘Plan B,’ not for me there isn’t.

   There was so much help, on that day when we came home from the hospice, that it almost overwhelmed me.  It was planned, programmed and executed with the greatest of care and precision. 

   ‘The visiting nurse will call each day.’

   ‘The doctor will call in regularly.’

   ‘The wheelchair and the commode will be delivered tomorrow.  Is that OK?  You’ll be able to manage for one night won’t you?’

   ‘Yes.  Thank you.’

   ‘There are lots of different drugs.  We can supply a daily dispenser to help manage dosage and frequency.  Would you like one?’

   ‘Yes.  Thank you.’

   ‘We can arrange Macmillan nurses if you’d like?’

   ‘Macmillan nurses?’

   ‘So you can get some sleep.  They will sit through the night with … the patient.  You need to make sure you get some rest.’

   My head spins.  I’m so tired and terrified that I can hardly recall life before this.  I barely know my name or where the bathroom is.  But I know that in the passing of a precious, unattended minute our journey together could end.  I won’t let that happen.  Not possible that I’m not with you.

   ‘No, there’s no need.  Thank you.  I really appreciate it.  But it’s fine.  I’m fine.’

   I’m not, of course, and they know it, but they give me my freedom. 

   Its dark now and there’s just you and me lying beautifully close together for one last night in our bed.   I cling to the moment and wrap it up, soft and gentle, and put it away with our dreams.  

   In the morning a pale February sun tries to shine its light through the window.  I hear the soft low, slowing sound of your breathing through the drugs that dull your pain.   We have but a few seconds left.    

   I tell you that I love you and hold your hand as the last breath leaves your body and your spirit soars.

   Sweet dreams, my love.   


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