Wednesday, December 22, 2010

68. Goodbye my love

At five o’clock on the afternoon of 21st August 2001 Tom was obviously in great pain and in some distress. An Angel appeared from Hospice, I cannot remember who called her, and she attached a morphine patch to Tom’s chest. He got back into bed, closed his eyes, never to open them again. But he talked a lot, mostly about the Royal Air Force, and kept moving his hands in a restless manner. I wondered if I might hear some loving words of farewell. “I love you darling” or maybe “Thank you for looking after me so well” something like I had seen in the movies. But no!

Tom hoarded things. He never threw anything away, not a piece of string nor a piece of paper. His desk would be covered with newspapers and the only time I could get any of them cleared would be when Sister Lynn was coming to bathe him, and I would shame him into reducing the stack. So I should not have been surprised when his last words to me were “No, Biddy!” “No what, darling?” I asked him. “No, that is this week’s Sunday Times!” To the very end he was protecting his newspaper.

Jeni was there when, at midnight, Tom’s heart sounded its last beat. I cannot describe the relief I felt as all the years of pain died with him. I wept, but realised that right now there were things to be done. Jeni went to make the necessary phone calls, Maureen drove over from Stellenbosch. Sister White arrived and, with the help of another nurse, bathed him. Then I helped them dress him in his favourite pyjamas made of a teddy imprinted warm fabric that Helen had given him for Christmas. His feet were very cold so I covered them with a pair of warm woollen bed socks that Maureen had knitted for him and, because he always had a handkerchief in his jacket pocket, I tucked into his pocket a handkerchief with a teddy bear embroidered on the corner that Juliea had given him. Tom loved teddy bears and had a large collection, ranging from a big Harrods Millennium Bear down to two tiny bears dressed as a doctor and a nurse. The undertakers would soon arrive and the nurse said she thought it would be better for me to go and sit in the lounge and not see the departure. So I kissed him farewell, wished him a safe journey and, sitting on the settee holding Jeni’s hand, listened to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto so that we would not hear the “noises off”. Maureen would not leave Tom; she had loved him very much, and awaited the arrival of “the wagon”. How blessed I was to have been able to care for him to the very end and that he was not alone with strangers.

Long before Tom died he had written down everything I would need to do after his death, who had to be notified, addresses, etc., etc., which, in the event was most helpful. On one page in this book, in large letters, was written “NO FUNERAL, NO FLOWERS, NO FUSS.” And that was the nature of the man; he never wanted to be a bother to anyone and was acutely embarrassed by displays of emotion

The following day Juliea joined us, so there were four women who loved him dearly, laughing about the things he would do and say, turning out the drawers of his desk, reading some of his funny poems and remembering him with so much love. No Funeral, No Flowers, No Fuss. People thought it strange that there was no funeral, not even a memorial service, but none of the friends who really knew him could be there so there was no point. My greatest hope was that, like a poem he once wrote, he was up there with his old mates enjoying a draft or two.

Later my dear friend, Jenny, painted a lovely portrait of Tom’s three favourite teddy bears, having a Teddy Bears’ Picnic and that is his tombstone. It is not something to lay flowers on once a year in a cold, windy cemetery, I see it every day, and it makes me smile. The picture will eventually go to Travis, the little great grandson he never saw.

People think I am quite awful, grieving widows in particular, when I say that every good wife deserves a few years of widowhood! But, I was only seventy five when Tom died, and the women in my family tend to live to a great age, most almost reaching a century, so I had better get a life.

I sold the flat at Cap D'or, it was much too big for me, and bought a cosy two bedroom unit at Somerset Oaks where the people were very friendly, and there was a nice social club. The new flat needed gutting and refitting, and so while all that was being taken care of I went on holiday.

No comments:

Post a Comment