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Saturday, 27 March 2010

Goodbye Norma Jean

A friend of mine phoned yesterday afternoon with some terrible news. His wife died suddenly on Monday night from a brain haemorrhage. He apologised for not letting me know sooner, but he had had a number of things to do!

I’m still in shock. Since I heard I’ve been numb with images, sounds and memories surfacing unbidden. As he talked a palpable chill welled up within me. “It could be my wife” I thought, “God, how would I cope.” And then the horrifying certainty that one of us will die before the other. And that macabre mind game started playing in my head, “What would be better, for me to die first or my wife to predecease me?”

Selfish thoughts when I should be thinking about my friend and the wrenching, retching feeling he must be going through. God, did he sound lost, as if somehow part of him had gone with her trying to hold her back, knowing the finality of the severance but still holding on.

“You’ll come to the funeral, it’s on the 9th,I’m trying to arrange somewhere for the wake – will let you know.”

“Of course, have you told so and so, is there anyone you want me to tell?”

“I’d like to tell so and so, but don’t have their number; do you have it? Could you phone so and so and let them know.”

“Of course, Oh I’m so, so sorry.”

“I’ll e-mail you the funeral details and all. Good bye.”

It didn’t click in initially but as the afternoon wore on, the numbness began spreading. By the time I went to bed, I was almost shivering with a chilling fear of what is to come.

My mother’s death (a brain haemorrhage) in Spain after I’d returned to England thinking that she was on the mend. I walked into the house, the phone rang –she’d taken a turn for the worse.

My wife’s father’s death, diagnosed with cancer of the liver after a severe bout of vomiting. Within a month he was yellow with jaundice and as we walked round his small allotment he said “I don’t think I’ll come through this.” “Of course you will Ron”, I replied. He didn’t. His last night was horrid; loss of control of his functions, embarrassed, and in pain. His wife sat holding his hand through it all.

My mother in law’s death. Dying slowly at home with her two daughter’s by her side as they watched her slip away.

I first met Jenny in 1974 at an English Literature evening class. That’s where she met Chris her husband to be. She arrived with her foot in plaster having sprained her ankle falling down some steps while on holiday in Beirut. Chris was getting over the break up of his first marriage.

I remember the long weekend walks we’d go on as a group – sleeping in youth hostels. I think there’s a photo somewhere of Chris and Jenny rushing half naked into the sea near Alfriston. It wasn’t hot it being late autumn.

I remember how they took me in after things had gone wrong in my first marriage. Chris smoking, talking intensely, Jenny coming up with practical points and topping up the wine glasses.

I remember them at my fiftieth birthday party; when Peter and I who shared the same birth year held a joint do and invited old friends from our days in Belsize Park and Hampstead, where Chris and Jenny moved to after their marriage.

I remember the last time I saw Jenny when she and Chris came up to London to see mutual friends who were moving to Leeds.

Many of the people we both knew I expect will be at Jenny’s funeral. Such a bitter sweet occasion, picking up the threads of lives that have spun a different tapestry these last 30 odd years.

And I write this blog.

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