On Losing, Wondering and Tea
CategoryNorth London Hospice
Thank you for always understanding the subtext, even when I didn’t realise there was any. The sub-text behind every “I’m fine thanks how are you?” that really meant I don’t have the words to express the way my heart is breaking and I have no way to try and cover up the cracks that are starting to show but I’ll tell you I’m fine because it’s far more convenient and I don’t want the hassle.
You saw past me in the way I wanted you to, but the way I’d never admit to. The way that gave me permission to curl up on the hospice sofa in the same dirty jumper and tracksuit trousers I’d worn every day for the past 3 days because I didn’t really see the point in taking care of myself when I was figuring out what my life was going to be like with a gaping hole in it. You allowed me to understand my own pain and you let it be about me when I needed it. Heck, you reminded me it wasn’t about me at all when I needed it too, although those times are harder to admit to.
Thank you for being there outside the room when I was sat on the big green chair next to the bed, watching him sleep and trying to imitate his breathing patterns with mine because that was the only way I thought I could be close to him. Thanks for coming to untangle the headphone wire from around me when I’d fallen asleep listening to songs I thought were going to give me answers to the way I was feeling. I searched for the answers in my religion, in novels and songs and you know, I found them in the person who I’d been mourning long before he died.
Thank you for treating him like a man with 80 years of wisdom and worldliness and not like someone who had ceased to be able to look after himself. He was hurting too, and I know that now.
When he stopped being able to hold my hand back because he didn’t know what in this world was going on, you were there. You never tried to make it better, together we watched the cracks appear and we watched things get worse and you stood next to me when I wanted you to and when I thought I didn’t want you to and merely your presence reminded me that sometimes it’s easier to open your heart to someone you don’t really know.
And I did, tens of times and each time you smiled and you offered me a cup of tea for the fifth time that day and you never tried to make it better. You let me know that sometimes silence is the loudest sound we can make. It was okay for me to make it, and it was okay for him to make it too, even when I thought it was the most unjust thing in the world that he couldn’t respond to my I love you’s anymore.
You let me feel sorry for myself day after day and reminded me that when I was outside the room, back against the wall, staring into space that I was lucky enough to have the person I had begun mourning lying there, and he was breathing and sometimes I got so absorbed in my own feelings of falling that I forgot what I was even holding on to. We all knew that soon I’d have all the time I wanted to sit outside the room in despair, and until that time you made sure that I made all the memories I could.
And when that time did come, it came on an unsuspecting day. It was a Thursday morning and everything was the same as it had been for the past three Thursdays and I was sat on the green chair next to him and I thought the same thing I’d thought most days. I want to go home, and actually I don’t need to be here every minute of every day. Okay, so I’ll go right now into reception and tell mum that I want to go home and she’ll drive me home and I’ll get the thing that I wanted the most – to sit on the sofa in front of the television and watch other people’s lives, watch other people be upset, watch other people trip over things and I would laugh because… it wasn’t happening to me.
And I did get to go home that day, with a Marks and Spencers carrier bag full of his things because just like you said, it would be peaceful and quick. And he chose that Thursday morning to see what it would be like to leave suffering behind. And you were there, ready and positioned to do what you do best. To catch the falls of the people whose lives have changed in a second. The people who turn their fingers into clenched fists so they can hold the anger of their hearts in their hands, the people who when they hear the words, don’t know what else to do but hold their face in their raw palms and pretend they want to be alone when actually that’s the last thing they need. And you know, because you always know.. Time and time again. In the moment when we think we can’t find a way out, the moment that hurts the worst right in our guts, when we feel so wronged by some higher power, you give us unspoken permission to ride all those waves and when we feel like coming back to shore you have your arms held wide, and a cup of tea ready…because there’s always a cup of tea ready.
Thank you for being the embrace that held my family when I didn’t think I could give it to them. Thank you for letting my beautiful Nana walk around in barefoot and leave empty mugs all over reception because she was desperate to make this place that housed her dying husband feel like her home too. When she insisted that she wanted to sleep here every single night so she could take care of her love the way she had for the past 60 years you didn’t try and talk her out of it. You put up the bed every night and took it down every morning and made her toast for breakfast and gave a wash bag just in case she felt like thinking about herself for a second. She never did, and you never made her feel bad about it.
Thank you for being right, about feeling okay again and for understanding that it’s okay to eliminate the guilt that comes with not crying every single day because that will never bring him back. You didn’t get annoyed every time I rolled my eyes when you told me he was really all around me, and you kept your voice soft when I raised mine to demand you bring him back. You didn’t let me say sorry when I pushed you away because you were the one that told me sometimes silence is the loudest noise we can make and we made it together most evenings when my mum and grandma would talk with the nurses in hushed voices to receive an estimation of much ticking the clock had left to do. You sat with me and told me the fact the clock was still ticking was the most important thing. And when I raced out the chair to sit with him longer and soak every moment of this beautiful time I had left you bowed your head and smiled slightly because that’s exactly what you knew was going to happen.
And as we packed up the things that painfully reminded us of the last 3 weeks, and the last 80 years, I thought your work must have been done. But as I sit in the quiet room of the hospice that currently houses 20 bouquets of flowers that will be used tomorrow to decorate wedding of a young patient who expressed her last wish was to have the wedding of her dreams to the one she loves, I realise just how wrong I was. Somehow you find a way to give your world hundreds of times over. You support families whose worlds come crashing down around them. You give them substance and strength and support, and tea. You facilitate people’s understanding that losing someone you love is shit and painful, but it gets better if you let it. How difficult it is to take that first blind step if you don’t believe there is anyone there to guide you through.
You make miracles every day, and this has been nothing but a painfully inadequate attempt to express how thankful I am, and how thankful I will always be.