Love lost, read and found
It is hard to be philosophical about things if they are tied to a rope that is anchored in pain. No matter how calm the surface waters may seem, the anchor that keeps you steady lives in a place that is dark and runs deep. You’d think with the passing of time, it would become been easier to write about suffering and loss, and yet after nearly three years and when I try to write about that period of time, despite trying to be philosophical, I can’t hide what will always be raw. The emotions through this piece had me feeling disjointed, but I hope you stick reading ‘til its end.
When you are living in what you must face is the ‘very now’, for someone you love that ‘now’ can be fast running out and all that they have left to give you, are their remaining wishes.
You only really know you’re saying goodbye to your loved ones when you’re left meeting with their ‘Dying wishes’.
When someone you love is close to dying, it’s hard to know how to cling on. Everyone you count as being someone special in your life is brought together in time at the same time and they are coming so say their goodbyes. Everything is changing around you and the landscape of your life is being redrawn under your feet and all around you and it’s hard to know how to hold on.
When the fabric of your make up is being re-stitched and you are seeing much of your old you disappear and as everything you have fades away from what you know, clinging on to the dying seems like all we have left. Meeting with your loved one’s dying wishes is ‘now’ the thing that keeps you ‘together’ and how you make the love of those whose life you face leaving, the part of them that lives on and on!
In the so many months that followed my coming undone, I tried in vain to re-stitch the rip in the fabric of my very soul, to get up from the rug under my feet that was no longer there, but I was almost impossibly lost without the tapestries in life that defined the walls of my home.
I kept wondering why God wouldn’t let Kath revisit me even if just in my dreams, but the days and the nights just passed on by completely empty. I thought I would meet with total elation such a new encounter but the waiting for it to happen was almost as futile as the expecting her to one day walk back in the door of our home. Seeing Kath alive again in the flesh, was reduced in status to the stuff that dreams are made of, but even in dreamlike fashion such a reunion never happened.
Having long come to the realisation that Kath and I were truly no more, holding on for meeting again in my dreams, was like reaching for the comfort blanket that wasn’t there. It was more than two years in this barren manner when unexpectedly one day long after perhaps giving up on such prayers that God answered one of them and then I finally found out and I knew.
Perhaps things do happen for a reason and having found out the hard way I welcomed the news, perhaps God had been saving me from unravelling completely, giving me all the memories that I need in the daytime to function and then making sure I was protected from pain in my sleep.
I have come a long way ‘now’ from the night where time just run out, but it took just one word in a dream to be dragged right back there and to feel what it was like to be ripped open once more.
In my long overdue bittersweet dream not come true, I didn’t meet her face to face but instead she called on the phone from somewhere distant and even remote and I only got to hear her voice say just one more word, but it was so very far from fleeting and as in only the way that dreams can do, one word can open you up and cut deeply and profoundly move you. In its wounded echo, I read many things and everyone one of them opened up doors in my soul I had sought to baton shut, and now wide open they made my heart start to ache. I could feel the loneliness in her tone and touch the sound of despair, I could feel on her own how frightened she was and how cut off from everyone she had become and was subsequently feeling, and in my bones I could feel her terror of hopelessness of fighting for survival in the face of her impending doom.
It wasn’t the stuff that dreams are made of, but in just one uttered word I could feel it all burning my senses, in just one word in a dream she told me it all and then I was right there back at her bedside and yet perhaps for her, as close as that was, I was just still too far away.
There was no blanket to draw any comfort from no matter how closely I pulled them up to my neck and as I awoke from my dream and for the whole of that day and a few others more, I couldn’t shake the feeling of overwhelming dread.
I felt like I was back living on the cliff edge of a one way slippery slope and recoiled constantly reliving what she had had to face in those final days that had become for us, the precipice of our ‘very now’.
It’s the kind of a ‘now’ for someone you love, you hope you never have to face because all that there is coming is the free fall, and when ‘now’ is fast running out, the only thing left is the plummet. There isn’t even the time for proper goodbyes when they are turning towards meeting their maker, and all that your loved ones have left to give you, are their hopes of hereafter and the remaining wishes they are leaving behind.
Yes, you know you are really saying goodbye to your loved ones when you’re left meeting only with the echo of their ‘Dying wishes’.
In my long anticipated dream of reconnecting, she called out to me with the sound of her familiar voice that I had longed to hear, but that came kicking down doors and cutting me open, just by calling my name, ‘Kevin’!
Going back to that period in our lives I can tell you; it is hard to know how to cling on when the one that you love is there in front of you dying. Kath in her final hours was not quite the same Katherine I knew, she was fading away from everything that had been true.
As her life lines started to unravel Katherine quite simply knew she was dying and in her coming to terms with all that her impending death would mean, she, like anyone else in her place, wanted to leave this world having left some things complete.
Already as the future prospects of beating cancer had started rapidly diminishing, Kath had started to think of things she had ever started or ever put on hold and about plans that she had had for our daughters’ future and that she had to suddenly accept she would not see personally happen, and in that solemn accepting mindset of grim revelation, she started to hand over the baton knowing that she had carried it as far as she would be able to. From this point going forwards, it was up to anyone else if they would pick it up and choose to take it any further.
By the time I eventually looked back at all she had be-quested, it had already taken me over a year to pick up on one of her first wishes; to get our daughters back to swimming lessons, and it had taken a lot of juggling schedules to fit this weekly commitment into an already ‘hectically impossible’ labelled calendar that was fatedly rewritten in her passing. Despite the lengthy wait however, by cramming more into a day than was reasonably expected, this one of her wishes was relatively easy enough to make come true.
Some of her other more heartfelt wishes I had honoured already at her funeral where time did not afford me the luxury to reflect but just to instinctively re-act to meet the burial wishes of my wife. With these all ticked off in my duty to oblige, there was still more pressing things to achieve and one of her last wishes proved far more testing and yet despite such a wish I was impelled to comply, but I became frozen in time, within a story of a long roll of twine in the middle of a tug of war that was hard to know at each end, if anyone was even pulling!
Where either end started or finished was far out of sight, and so like a forlorn haberdasher I was left reeling in yarn from both sides just to find how the strands of the story had become so undone.
My anguished dream of reunion, I guess inspired why I feel compelled to tell this story and the tale of the legacy of just one of Kath’s last dying wishes, but I have struggled with knowing how to tell it and with which end of the rope has had me in knots. With so many doors to open and close the choice of route is of heart and the soul, but I draw on my feelings from both ends of the journey, partly the reason my account has strands of both the philosophical soul and the raw emotional heart.
I think the following re-count of the story has me being fair in the telling of its tale, but as with most complex stories, life adds ingredients of its own to spice up the flavour and I can’t say here for sure if I’ve stirred it up well, except to hope I have dished it up fairly and tastefully.
Well this is a tale of an undying wish that I guess has been seven years in the making, a persistent itch in the back of the mind on a seven year stitch which in truth I don’t know for how long I had been scratching. In its ever present permanence, living but somehow put on hold, such scratching never leaves a healing scab alone or even to form though you long for the day to be able to call it scar tissue.
I think before I go on, I’d like to make clear my intention that this is not in any way a tale of bitterness or any blame. I like to think of it in the following way; when a bomb goes off it explodes in the faces of many who up until then may all have been heading the same way. In the blast however, everyone gets scattered in different directions and then need all types of inner healing before their wounds let them continue on their way. The journey perhaps then in this instance, however personally testing, may not be as important as its destination!
In the shell shock of the devastation, the destruction can be wide or very deep and many cracks can be caused from deeply embedded emotional shrapnel and these can range from tiny fissures in the heart to cavernous craters that fill up the soul. The heart is such a complex thing with so many chambers and each one has a door to your soul that even the mind struggles to know where to find each opening key!
This is why I think it’s fair to say here, that the journey to the end of this tale doesn’t fully matter just as long as you pull on its rope. This undertaking somehow helped just get us there. I will add here, that many were personally emotionally brushed on getting to the destination and yet what everyone involved really wanted was the one same goal, finding the way back onto the road that led in pilgrimage of the honouring of Katherine’s last few living wishes.
If everyone involved in this healing pursuit found that they had to do much soul searching, I think it would be fair to say they journeyed from the very heart and somehow we all managed to open obstructing doors without fully knowing if we had found all the keys. Perhaps it’s also fair to say that before some were able to open some doors, they firmly shut a few others first but anyway, where in our soul can we really say a story truly starts if we don’t even know in our heart how or if it ever ends?
In these kinds of stories, the starting point is somewhere different for all of us involved and this we all know will be the same of our end. Thus so, the journey is just as important in the defining, because we being mortal, are fallibly built to leave things behind for others to finish, to live and exist in inherited relay and to eventually pass on the baton for someone else to end, and here in a tale of such relay, it both ends and starts anchored in this dying wish!
If life equips us with all the tools to read the signs on a journey, it also just as easily distracts our eyes from being able of seeing them all, and where we end up despite all belief is in a figment of defied imagination in a tainted present that lacked the gifted presence of any foresight. This, when and if we are lucky, is why we are rewarded at an end, with the payout of bitter compensation in hindsight.
Having read this far, you will already have more than noted my indirect story telling of this short life tale is not exactly one of ‘A to B’. Neither making ‘a bee line’ or taking heed from ‘as the crow flies’ has helped me find the sentences to be more direct and not knowing where to start or to end in my trying to explain, I am trying to tread ever carefully in my choice and subsequent use of any words and show some tender sensitivity to the those who form the crux of the story. Perhaps in doing so I am failing to write the ‘X’ that marks the spot. So with that danger in mind from here on if I can, I will eradicate some ambiguity and meandering misguided attempt at subtext and just blurt it out in bold font. This is just the context as it comes to my mind, but please note that there is no exact chronology here, but maybe in the order of things, perhaps that doesn’t even matter.
Somewhere a seed was sometime set free and it somehow tried to split into many pieces. Each fragment on falling where it had came to land, was for a while hopelessly lost on grieving soil that no amount of falling tears could ever nurture. The dispersal of this seed came from a diminishing blossom bearing the pod of some of my wife’s dying wishes, but her dying final flourishing effort also threatened its very safe dispersal, splitting it up into tiny pieces that became scattered to the wind and to chances. Each fragment part took separate journeys along the way, where some were baptised in salt water tears but failed to make their part seed imbibe, while others burned in fire and in flame but still only pain resided in place of any germination. Only time and it’s warm cleansing rains would bring fresh and life giving waters, instinctively knowing that a seed’s purpose is to be nurtured into becoming a seedling.
Kath’s wish would have been easy enough to achieve by taking one of a number of a few short cuts, but for the wish to come true and set its torch bearers free, it meant taking a quest into the murky waters, the likes from which most of us still willing to journey, were jaded already from wading its grieving waters.
So much for blurting it out as I still haven’t really made even a start, but that’s reassuringly topical in theme to the nature of the story, so drawing some comfort from the parallels, here are the random parts of my telling.
Katherine was a person in life who loved to pick up many new challenges and I think it is fair to say without meaning it as any kind of a slant, about half of the new ideas and things she started were never finished. Yet this is not a fault in her character so much as it was an amazing trait, as Kath over the years was willing to try it all and in most cases more than was realistically possible. Here in this aspect we were so alike, the only difference was Kath would still complete more than I would leave even started.
This is not a bad thing I guess and I say in hindsight and for example I use Kath’s attempt at learning to play guitar and going for a phase in her young adult life, to weekly guitar lessons. The guitar that she bought with great intention fell quiet within about a year of its purchase and became a household relic that lived in a corner for twenty years until one day our oldest daughter picked it up and asked me to buy her new strings and when I bought them I wondered if things were just repeating, but unlike her mother before her, Hannah has never put it done and plays really well now without having had any lessons. It is hard to believe that Hannah penned and sang her tribute song to her mother; ‘Goodbye never ends’ on her mother’s guitar and that so many years after Kath’s original impulse to learn, and then some time more and after her death, that our daughter picked up that baton and took it further.
This is just an example of things like these that number many and are served here only to backlight the stage to the story, and so now moving swiftly on, when Kath, years after adamantly deciding her third caesarean was her last, reversed that set in stone decision and decided to once again try after all, and it was not very long after, that ‘we’ were pregnant.
This in early 2008 is where this story probably starts, but its influence probably comes from another tale still as yet untold and about seven years even earlier but I learnt this only later in hindsight. It was not by someone leaving, but by what they failed to leave behind, but that is another story living on hold patiently awaiting one day and it’s telling.
At this time of her life, Kath, pregnant and expecting for the fourth time, decided she wanted to start to crotchet on a more serious note than she had done in the past. She has two close friends who were fairly dab hand at it and who helped encourage her mindset onto its journey, offering advice and contributing to the project which was to make a baby blanket to go on the cot of our as yet unborn baby.
I can vaguely recollect this now as I look far back in time picturing Kath and her friends either one or even two, visiting drinking tea in front of the TV with their wool and their needles busy, and while over the years they chatted endlessly in such fashion, only a few crochet squares were ever made, the progress somehow as with so many other whims, came to a halt and became long forgotten, well in my mind at the very least.
We all have things at the back of our minds we know we have put somewhere on hold and I like to believe in this way they are not really forgotten so much as left waiting their moment in time, hopeful that despite the lengthy wait, the time is indeed one day coming!
Our youngest daughter Imogen was eventually born and in the day to day rush to raise her, the baby blanket remained an uncompleted idea in the never making.
Fast forward nearly another four years of family bliss and my wife Katherine and I got the news that she was ‘now’ terminally ill and to blast our unending bliss ever open, at best she would only live two more years.
The thought of saying goodbye to your ever so young loving children and not being able to be there to guide them in their early lives must be a terrible thing to have to face and I don’t know how anyone can do so, let alone process what Kath must have had to wrestle with in coming to terms with such terrible news. Instead of the two years we could have hoped for, the next seven months proved that to be just a fading luxury that counted down ever too fast to be able to get our heads around what was really happening, and yet Katherine never lost hers.
Somewhere along that seemingly short cut journey, she started to compose her rational thoughts and plan for what she wanted to leave behind, both for herself and for others, and what she needed to do to make it happen, but rational thought is hard to come by for anyone who is affected by such terrible news and in Kath’s immediate circle, many of us were truly scuppered by her prognosis and found it hard to know what way was up or down let alone comprehend any way forward. No one could believe that she could die, and Kath after coming to terms with her impending mortality just wanted to get her house in order but all around her, we were all reeling from day to day to take it all on board.
I don’t know at what point exactly Katherine started to realise how quickly things were happening or even that she had to make plans without me or at what point I realised I would truly have to face the fact she was leaving me on my own, it was all just happening so fast that there was no time to adjust! At some point unnoticed along the line, fate had decided she just had to take her unfairly dished out medicine. Perhaps if things hadn’t of happened so very fast I might have noticed more of the signs but then and into the brew that we were being asked to swallow, the bitter taste of disorientating side effects scuppered us anew!
As Kath’s illness got more and more of a serious grip and she was in constant escalating pain, Kath was prescribed more and more oral Morphine and the more that she took, the more that the side effects came along too. Some of these side effects and patterns we had become used to from just the previous year when her Father Ernest was ill and now they had started to show themselves once more. I remember him at the Hospice just a week before he died, starting to have hallucinations and talking to his long dead brother Len just as if he were stood there beside me and in the room and when I asked Ernest who he was talking to, he pointed to the invisible Len as if I was blind for not seeing him.
Now just a year later, Kath was being affected in a similar same way. At first the side effects were limited to sudden jerks of movement as if she was falling just as she was trying to get to sleep and always awoke having just nodded off with a shudder that made me jump just as much as it did her. This was something that took getting used to in the bed beside me, and each time she awoke in a startle from feeling herself falling made me fear we were getting close to the final plunge, and it was only of little comfort to know the bed had broken her fall. These were signs and I knew it, we both did, but often we lay there together in silence not wanting to burden the other any more and in those moments the quilt was often pulled tighter around our necks in the search for some other comfort.
Every time she jumped in her sleep I just wanted to hold her tightly and make her feel like she was safe but due to the ache in her bones, she could only take the weight of my arms around her for only so long and to be honest before very long enduring these symptoms at home, she was admitted into the hospice and then faced having them through the night there instead and without me.
Despite how each one of her sudden jerks made me flinch, I’m sure I would have hoped it could have gone on for a much longer time to come than it did in the end, but the side effects and increasing dependence on the Morphine was just an obvious sign of how fast the Cancer was progressing and in the blink of an eye, those sudden jerks were joined with some hallucinations.
Kath would tire easily towards the end and at times the sad truth is that On some occasions sometimes I did not know if she was making sense or if she was talking to me while she was drifting in and out of sleep. Some of our end of day conversations over the last few weeks turned out to be full of many incomplete sentences that took ages to say just a few sleepy words. Other times I may have wrongly dismissed some of her incoherent murmurs just as babbling hallucinations caused by the high dosage of Morphine. I wish I could have every one of those incomplete exchanges back, but just as with many missing pieces of dialogue as she was having with me, she must have been having with so many others who came to visit her despite the words in her sentences starting to slowly diminish.
In between these moments of sleepy half consciousness, Kath of course had many hours where she was still her usual full alert self. I remember during one of these days while I was sat at her bedside in her room at the hospice and her longtime work friends was visiting and we were all chatting for a while when Kath asked her to pass her the green bag behind the sofa. We both looked around the room and towards where Kath seemed to be hallucinating and pointing aimlessly and when I asked her what bag she meant, she replied ‘the bag with the knitted wool’ and then I told her that she was mistaking the room in the hospice for our home and that their was no bag or sofa here in the room. I told her I would have a look at home and then dismissed that as an episode of the ‘morphine effect’ and never gave it any more thought.
Just as similarly and by coincidence, earlier in the week when Kath had been more mobile and seemingly much stronger, she had been able to walk around the hospice and not being so room or bed bound, she had been able to join another one of her closest friends, also an ex work colleague, and me in the visiting lounge for a cup of tea. It was great to see her up and out of her room and I still had hope then that she would be discharged in a couple of days and that they would get her medication just right to make her more able to cope daily and to come back home to her daughters and me.
As she sat there chatting to her friend and me, they noticed that there was a sign next to a basket of wool and some knitting needles for the Hospice’s own project of getting people to knit squares that would later be sown into blankets to be used around the rooms of the hospice and both Kath and her friend started to knit some. If I had been more of myself and in less traumatic circumstances and troubled times, I am sure I would have made the connection to when they used to do the same some years before when they used to often get together to chat or just visit.
So many people visited Katherine those ten days in the hospice and it was hard to keep track of all the conversations had as each friend came and went. Each one who left, took a dying part of me with them and I knew in most cases, the next time I saw them, I would be missing part of me. One of those was another of Kath’s closest friends and on the day that she came to say her parting goodbye, like everyone else that had done so before her, she came out of Kath’s room crying. When she composed herself enough to be able to talk, she asked me where was Katherine’s knitting bag that contained the start of Imogen’s baby blanket as Kath in one of her last wishes, had asked her to complete it.
My wife died the very next day in the early hours of the morning, this time as she fell the bed did nothing to stop the plummet.
This period of time in our lives was not the easiest for any of Kath’s friends and as close as they once all were, with Katherine missing the friendships all kind of imploded.
It turned out that Kath had also previously asked one of the other friends to complete the baby comfort blanket but then had seemingly forgot. Luckily they had agreed between them to complete it together, but then in the stress of the immediate handling of grief, they had fallen out very seriously and couldn’t find way to undo the harm of what was done or failed to be said.
The seeing of Kath’s circle of friends fall apart right on top of her death was more than I could handle and I can’t say if I reacted badly but I felt like the world around me had exploded and I also know I wished I could have reacted somewhat better, but I was devastated to lose my wife all of a sudden and have her dying wish put so dramatically on hold, while only time now could take a long hard look at what had happened and more than a while to resolve the way to pick ourselves up and move forward.
Sometimes we shut so many doors in our hearts and we might do so, to protect ourselves from bleeding out, but it can be very hard later to find a way to reopen a door that may lead to a battered soul.
With a frantic search around the house, I found Katherine’s purple knitting bag, but it had only some balls of wool and some knitting needles but not anything else that had been made, knitted or complete.
As the months passed agonisingly by, I found myself sifting through more and more of Kath’s things and one day came across a rolled up green plastic bag at the back and bottom of her wardrobe that I had seen on many occasions and ignored, and when I opened it up I found the long lost or rather forgotten completed crochet squares that Kath and her friends had years ago jointly started to make a baby comfort blanket for our then as yet unborn Imogen, but that had been left since as another incomplete thing just left on hold. There weren’t that many completed squares and certainly not enough to make a blanket, but one of Katherine’s other wishes that kept hitting me hard came to mind, ‘Please don’t let Imogen forget me!’ I knew I had to move forward with getting the blanket completed. I. Am sure I thought it over and over but eventually I called both of Katherine’s crocheting friends and separately asked them to come and collect the balls of wool from my house and if they were willing to take up the baton and continue working on the blanket alone and both were willing and keen. One of them also took one of the squares that Kath had been half way through in making and it still sat on the very needles she had put down so long ago and she told me she would do a little something to show where Kath had done her last stitch and then she asked me if I just wanted it still to be a baby blanket that I could put away as a keepsake for Imogen of her mummy, but I decided I wanted something that Imogen could use now with immediate effect and that I thought that this would be what Katherine would have wanted. It took a couple of months more I think until on their own they had made all the squares and there was enough to make a patchwork crochet comfort blanket big enough to cover the size of a child’s bed and then I gave the responsibility of knitting it all together to the friend who had come out of Kath’s hospice room crying, having just been bequeathed of this one last mission.
I don’t know how or if we all got back on the journey or if wounds are tender and still to heal, but I do know in my heart that many doors between some of us still remain to be opened, but then time is just a road to the soul.
Seven years after it was first started, the memory blanket has come to be completed and found the way to where Katherine wanted it most. Sometimes in our dreams when we plummet and fall we are relieved when the bed is there to catch us, but the feeling shakes us up because we know we can’t take for granted waking up in time and at all. When the fear of that starts to set in, along with your wishes you pass on the baton and then reaching for your comfort blanket and to the waiting is all you have left.
In meeting with someone’s dying wishes there is always a part of them that lives on and on!
Katherine’s last stitch is now marked on our daughter’s completed blanket by a little red heart and in her dying wish she has opened many doors of her own, Imogen goes to sleep every night under the blanket but not before she’s located and pointed out mummy’s little heart and I don’t know if that is the stuff that dreams are made of, but I do know that far from forget her, Imogen’s sweet dreams under her comfort blanket are easing my wife’s resting soul.