Chapter Two

Patsy and Kenny arrive with even more flowers and  fewer words. Desperate looks are exchanged as Patsy waters the  blooms with yet more tears and Kenny gives me his usual bear hug which says  all that words cannot.                                       

We talk about the holiday we’d planned  together and tearfully  agree to cancel all bookings. They are prepared to do whatever I want to do, go wherever I want to go : Riva del Garda, St.Anne’s, North of Scotland, The Lake District. Maybe it is too soon, too stressful, too painful to consider. I say that it is of little or no consequence where I go, as my broken heart will go too.

I scream silently that I want to go wherever Hugh is.

I can see the suffering in Patsy’s face, the care and love in Kenny’s eyes. What would I have done without them?

From the moment our world began to crumble on that awful Thursday morning, my dear sister and her husband were there  with all the emotional and practical support they and their girls, Mhairi and Lindsay, could muster.Throughout Hugh’s illness and right up until he was laid to rest they never left us.

They boosted our hope, courage and strength as well as giving us comfort, security and eight more shoulders to cry on. They helped us laugh, pray and recall so many happy times  shared by us all – countless birthdays, particularly Hugh’s 70th in St.Annes , holidays to Italy, France, America and Ireland, family weddings, my retiral from teaching (was it only last June?) and ensuing 60th birthday celebration in the very grand Poyntzfield House near Cromarty – Hugh was so proud of all his organisation! Then there were the Christmases…

As we remembered, we watched Hugh  closely, stroked his arms lovingly, held his  hands gently, soothed his  brow tenderly, always alert and  ready to summon help when it became necessary to do so. For there were many things we could not do for him and there was nothing he could do for himself. How had it come to this? But this  is how it was and for twenty three agonising days and nights we  prayed and we prayed storming the heavens and all  therein asking  for the impossible. For so we were consistently reminded : a recovery is impossible .There is no hope , no hope at all.

But look, we would say, he moved his hand, his arm, his leg………..this must mean something……..

‘I’m sorry, no,’Agnes the Archangel would give a tight little smile and shake her head  with the certainty of a high dependency nurse who has seen it all before. The lesser angels would smile knowingly and fuss around their patient with no less care and attention than was given to all their charges.

So I prayed for smaller miracles .

‘Please open your eyes,Hugh.I need to look in your eyes.’  He did.

One of the many crises saw Anne still  about forty minutes away from the hospital as Hugh seemed to be breathing his last. Everyone was there but Anne. That would have been a burden too heavy for her to bear. Joe felt so badly for his sister that he was prepared to stand outside the room so that she wouldn’t be the only one not present.

‘Don’t leave us yet, darling.Wait for Anne.’ And he did.

On another day, when he seemed so responsive to our touch,I begged him  to show these ‘hopeful signs’ to the medical staff too.

‘You’ll have to let the doctors know that you are in there, Hugh.’ And he did , much to the surprise of all .

Sadly this happened only once but I knew then that he had heard me.

I cannot speak highly enough of the care and support given by the nurses of the Coronary Care/High Dependency Unit, not only to Hugh but to immediate family, extended family and close friends. It was second to none. Until he was moved to a general nursing ward we felt we were in safe, caring and efficient hands.

Patsy and Kenny take their leave just before Pauline returns home from work. I am ready and waiting for her with carefully chosen blooms selected from my permanently overflowing vases. Pauline looks tired.

Had things been normal she would have  been throwing herself into a chair and unleashing all the exasperations of her working day.But nothing is normal anymore.

She sees me standing silently in the hallway and, reading the need in my face, turns without a hint of protest  back to the car.Time  is of the essence. The cemetery closes soon and  she knows  that I have an anniversary to celebrate .

Mornings are bad. The grey light of dawn that prises  open my aching eyes  heralding for some  a new day full of promise – perhaps a dream realised – highlights for others and for me the stark reality that everything is as it was yesterday and the waking nightmare has begun again .

Alongside me the bed is flat and cold and the chilling stillness of the room reinforces his absence. I hear no morning cough to clear the tubes, no creaking floorboards as he pads to and fro engaged in the business of his morning routine  of tablets to take, blinds to open, mail to read, newspaper to rescue from the letter box . Stupidly I wait to hear the shower being switched on  or the kettle being filled or the toast popping up – but there is nothing – nothing but this unspeakable stillness crowding the room. I turn my head and see his spectacles, his watch and his blessed hearing aids carefully arranged by his bedside.Family members smile unsuspectingly from a photo frame. A compact disc  entitled ‘Essence’  sits waiting to release an evocative  violin to those strong enough to listen . This is dear Bernard’s tribute to his old music teacher.

His small but selective CD collection nearby, ranging from the sublime ‘Superstar’ to the even more sublime Callas, sits in stunned silence beside his chair. A small reproduction  of a fresco from our chiesa in Riva del Garda hangs poignantly on the adjacent wall  reminding me of all that was glorious about our visits to Italy. My whole body convulses with great choking sobs as the stillness is at last agonisingly broken.

Sadness, frustration, anger, disappointment, hurt. All these have made me shed tears throughout my life but never did I think that I had such capacity for the sighing and sobbing, the weeping and the wailing and yes perhaps even the gnashing of teeth that I am experiencing now. I  have, too, this overwhelming sense of unease (or is it guilt) that I am merely indulging myself for attention. After all, as I write, I am perfectly in control now, am I not ? So, do I choose my moments to be dramatic  and is my timing so perfect that I can cry  on a whim  and deliver such a believably passionate performance  each time ?

I pause briefly to ponder the questions I have  just posed myself, and an image of Hugh, sitting looking gently at me, opens the floodgates once more. I am desolate. Is this  what I glibly referred to once as being heartbroken ?

I remember I used to chide a class of young children about their noisy behaviour by telling them quietly  that they were making me sad and breaking my heart. I would ‘mend’ it by sticking two strips of sellotape, like an ‘x’ on top of my jumper. The children were fascinated and  would cease their chattering to watch this lengthy melodramatic manoeuvre. Silence would reign for a while. Thereafter I only ever had to reach for or ask meaningfully, ‘Has anyone seen the sellotape?’ in order to keep and maintain the peace. I used an expression which I could not possibly have appreciated at that time in my life.The children obviously saw the sadness and disappointment in my face and reacted with love and concern. It seems to me now that those children had more understanding of the pain of a broken heart than had their teacher.Has this come back to haunt me ? Oh, God, guilt, guilt and more guilt. I feel that everything is my fault…………..

I should have seen it coming .I should have  wakened earlier, acted more quickly, been more alert, more aware, more decisive ,more calm, cleverer…… oh God,….oh God – and now I’m wailing again – stop it ,stop it,

‘STOP THAT CRYING NOW – OR ELSE !!…..’  Oh God, where did that voice come from? Is this why I feel  so guilty about crying? Surely it can’t be because I want to draw attention to myself .Who is here now to listen? There is  only me.

Who was it who said that grief is very like fear. When I am not listening to myself crying I am aware of a rising panic within  me : trepidation, anxiety, suspense agitation………Oh God,I am so, so tired …. but it’s morning and I hear Pauline stirring . A new day.

Pauline pops her head round the door.

‘Bye, mum, that’s me going.I’ll give you a ring .’

‘Okay, darling,’ I say sleepily as if just awake,’I’ll see you later.’

Once again the house is eerily quiet .If I lie here it’ll all start again.I can feel it welling  up.

I get up briskly and begin to talk myself through my new routine, making asides to Hugh as I go.

I put on  his slippers, make the bed, arrange  his things on the bedside table  and then sit down in his chair.Is it my fevered imagination or did I move as slowly as this before you died Hugh? Maybe it’s something to do with wearing your slippers…..I even grunted as I sat down just like you always did……..oh yes you did….. I start to recite  some formal prayers but find  it difficult to concentrate  and so resort to my own compositions . My mind begins to wander from the sublime to the ridiculous. Reality cuts through my meanderings and I realise that Anne will be here soon . I exercise my strict new routine: shower, hair, dress, porridge and only then  sit down and read the mail. Suddenly I find myself booted and spurred and waiting for Anne to arrive .Oh my God, I’ve turned into you,Hugh . I’m early!

I am taken totally by surprise as a smile spreads across my face and I realise  that I am reflecting what I imagine  would be Hugh’s reaction to my new found punctuality.He used to say, with sheer exasperation,

‘Here she comes, the late Mrs.McAlinden .’

And there you go, my dearest Hugh, now not only late, but never.

to be continued…