Preparing to say goodbye
Since that day on 19th March 2015, when our lives were shattered into far too many pieces, I often prepared in my head how I would cope when the time came. There were many scenarios; me being with Gary, Gary passing away during the night and even Gary recovering and slowly getting back to his normal self. However, no matter how much I may have planned or evisaged what would happen, I was never and will still never be ready for what was about to come.
Even though I am writing this, it still does not seem real that my wonderful, fun loving husband has died. He had just celebrated his 52nd birthday. In essence, he was only half way through his life. Granted, Gary lived life to the full and had probably achieved more in his 52 years than most will fit into a full lifetime. However, he still had much more life to live and every day it haunts me that he had to go too soon.
Back to Reality
After experiencing such a wonderful summer, the return to chemo and twice weekly hospital visits hit us hard. In addition, the month of September saw me return to work. Despite initially planning to take a 1 year maternity break, following Gary's diagnosis I cut this down to 6 months. However, once we assessed the financial situation of SSP (sick pay) alongside maternity, it was clear that my maternity would need to be cut back further. I therefore, very reluctantly, returned to work when Darcey was 4 months and 2 weeks old.
My head and heart were having an intense fight over this decision. I knew it was the most sensible decision for my family. Not only were funds extremely tight I also knew that Nathan needed normality and Mummy going to work when he went to school would really help. My heart however had other ideas. My heart wanted me to stay with my baby girl. I had, for so long, silently imagined us as a family of four. When I found out I was pregnant (after giving up all hope that I would be lucky to have another baby), I vowed to myself that I would enjoy every moment of the first year and not rush back to work. To therefore take the decision to go back to work that September tore me apart.
So, I went back to work, Nathan went back to school and Gary and Darcey settled down to some prime Daddy and Daughter time. With me back at work and Gary attending hospital once a week for chemo, at 4 months old Darcey enrolled into nursery. I had visited the nursery during my maternity leave but it would be Gary dropping off and collecting Darcey. The nursery for Darcey is on the grounds of the hospital which was very handy as Gary could drop her off, have his chemo and then collect her afterwards. That must have been another surreal moment for Gary going from the hospital ward one minute to the baby room at nursery the next. As with everything though, Gary did not bat an eyelid and carried on as if it was the most natural thing to do. So Gary was main carer and this really hit home when one session of chemo over ran and Gary asked me to collect Darcey. I had Nathan with me and both went to the nursery. I was met by the Assistant Manager. I explained who I was and that I had come to collect Darcey but as they had not seen me before they would not let me collect her. "But Mummy, you are Darcey's Mummy" said Nathan looking puzzled. What could I say to that. This turn of events was another dig at me that I was not caring enough for my daughter. "It's ok" I said hiding the real pain that I was experiencing. "We'll wait for Gary and then come back". With that Nathan and I ventured over to the Oncology waiting room and waited for Gary to finish. After 30 minutes the three of us went back to the nursery and with Gary by my side, I could finally collect Darcey.
So for the next two months, we settled into the routine of school, work, chemo and nursery. It was a very tiring couple of months as I adjusted to being back in full time work and caring for Gary and the children in the evening's. Unfortunately it would only get harder once we hit November.
It's not looking good.
Sat in the Oncology waiting room, I once again marvelled at how many people were affected by this horrible disease. Every now and again a hospital bed with a pale and gaunt patient is wheeled through. I had no idea where they were going but my heart always sank as I looked at the relative/friend who accompanied them. I wonder if Gary will ever be like that? As I glanced over at Gary he still did not look too unwell. He had definitely lost weight and was suffering pain with acute pins and needles from the Chemo but he was not gaunt or looking like he was at deaths door. The information we received that day from the consultant therefore came as quite a shock.
This was the first appointment with the Oncology consultant without Darcey. Since she was only a couple of weeks old she had accompanied us on each visit. Without her I had no distraction to focus on. Normally I'd be rocking her, feeding a bottle or taking her for a walk. Now I just had to focus on my surroundings and face up to the reality of being in Oncology. Gary and I went into the Consultants office and sat on the now familiar plastic chairs. Once again a nurse was present and a box of tissues left purposefully on the edge of the desk. Gary and the Doctor had the usual how are you chat and then we got down to business. As always my voice had left me and without Darcey to occupy my thoughts I focused on breathing and not letting the extra large lump in my throat escape in a flurry of tears. I was an emotional wreck whenever I walked through the doors of Oncology and usually only corrected myself once I was back out of the doors, heading towards the car park. Naturally though I kept those emotions hidden as best I could to save Gary having to deal with my pain on top of his.
Before heading into this appointment we were both aware that Gary was on a bit of a downward slide. We thought it was the new treatment and hoped that following this appointment the chemo would be changed and Gary would get back to how he was before our holiday. This however would never be an option.
We decided to be up front and ask the Doctor the truth about where Gary was in his treatment. Now I'm not saying we had ever been lied to but we had never asked that precise question. We just assumed the next course of treatment would work out and thus we had no reason to ask any further questions. The consultant told us directly "It's a bit of a mess inside. The bowel cancer has not grown but is still present and causing concern. The bile duct cancer (she called it the proper medical term which I can never remember) has spread. There are spots on your lung and liver and the tumour has grown around the peritoneum." I was trying to maintain eye contact to show I was listening whilst trying desperately not to cry. The consultant continued that they will try another cycle of chemo to ease symptoms but and I quote "it does not look good".
Facing the Truth
That visit to the consultant at the end of October was the turning point. After 7 months of not facing the truth, we finally looked at each other and we both knew, our happy ending would not be happening. My mind immediately rushed back to the first moment we met; way back in Portugal, November 1997. We were acquainted previously after I first arrived in Portugal the June of the same year. However, it was not until November that we finally got together. I won't mention the several Barcardi's (my drink of choice at the time) or the offer of "come back to my place for a party, everyone is coming" However we finally got together, it is a moment that will always stay with me. From that day on, 21st November 1997, was the day my life changed. We had our ups and downs like any couple but Gary brought out the best in me. He gave me confidence that I was lacking and gave me my self belief. I love him with all my heart and although he is no longer here, I continue to grow in strength and thank him for making me who I am today.
We drove back to the house in silence. Each of us trying to digest the information we had just been given. I squeezed Gary's knee in an act of togetherness. Speaking was beyond me but I needed to show that I was here for him and in that moment a squeeze of the knee seemed to do the trick. Unlike after the first diagnosis, I did not rush off to work. Gary and I went home and after months of trying to ignore his illness we faced the truth and planned for the future. At this stage we honestly thought we would still have at least one year or more, so we looked at long term financial plans and set about trying to clear our debt.
The last few months had hit us hard. SSP and maternity pay was no match for the dual salaries we were used to. Despite signing up for every benefit going, our outgoings were almost double the incoming and we were struggling. My return to work was helping us to slowly claw back. We had even accepted charity donations in form of grocery supplies, which were warmly received, even though I felt a bit odd accepting them initially. Often the focus of cancer is on the individual who has the disease but the affect is far more wide spread. Our whole family dynamic changed after Gary's diagnosis. We literally had to change our way of life overnight, particularly on the financial side, whilst still trying to provide for our children and not letting them be too adversely affected by the changes. No mean feat for anyone.
So Gary and I tried to work out a 2 year plan to clear debts and to ensure we spent quality time as a family. Gary was in his element planning holidays for us. Gary and I were going to hit South Africa in January 2016 and after that Gary was planning a solo trip to Cornwall, an area he had not yet visited. We also had Darcey's first Christmas to plan which was only a few weeks away. Despite the bad news, we had things in the pipeline to look forward too. Now reading this you might be thinking how were we planning a trip to South Africa when we had no money. Well Gary was planning to cash in one of his pensions to cover this. I however, knew we would not reach South Africa as we could not get travel insurance for Gary. Well we could but it was over £6000, more than the cost of the holiday. There was no reason to share my concerns with Gary though, just the thought of travelling and being able to plan was keeping Gary happy and motivated.
As a young child I often dreamed of my wedding day. I was never (and still not) a "girly girl" so perhaps my dreams of a white wedding were a surprise to some. However for me, I dreamed of the big white gown with long flowing train and veil. Think Princess Diana but slightly smaller to fit into a local church. I had big dreams and was determined to follow them through. I recall telling my Dad when I was younger that I would get married st St Paul's Cathedral. I guess he was rather relieved that I settled on a quaint village church instead.
My own fairytale wedding took place on 19th November 2005. St Mary's Church, Hampshire was my St Paul's and Mr Gary Molloy was my Prince. I remember waking up on my Wedding day with the same butterflies in my stomach as I had as a little girl on Christmas morning. My resplendent gown hung from the wardrobe door, the crystals shining in the glimmer if the morning sun. It was a perfect November day; clear blue skies and although a bit chilly, my heart was over flowing with warmth. Everything was perfect. I stumbled slightly on my vows, my bottom lip starting to tremble as I mentioned the word "husband". I was so in awe of becoming Gary's wife, the thought of finally calling him my husband was overwhelming. We stuck to the traditional vows and when agreeing to love him "in sickness and in health", I did not expect to have to adhere to this vow quite so early in our marriage.
Fast forward 10 years and Gary and I were celebrating our anniversary with a long weekend in London. Our wonderful friends booked us into an exclusive hotel and we enjoyed the peace and quiet enjoying "us" time without small children or hospital wards coming between us. As with my 40th Birthday plans, I had envisaged what we would be doing on our 10th Anniversary as early as our 1st Anniversary. An exclusive hotel, foreign shores and decanted wine were on the agenda. In reality, we managed one out of the three. Gary was not drinking alcohol and foreign travel was no longer an option.
By November, Gary was having difficulty walking and so a week before our London trip he had been to the hospice and they gave him a walking stick. When I came home from work that day and saw the walking stick in the hall, I crumbled. My legs gave way and I had to force myself to the stairs so I could sit down. Here in our house was a walking stick. It was an old person's walking stick in our house but there were no old people living in our house. Our house was a young family home with a 6 year old and a newborn. A walking stick in the hall next to the pushchair was completely out of place. I pulled myself together and walked into the lounge where I was greeted by a smiling Gary. "Look, I've got a stick so I'll be OK when we go to London" "That's great" I said once again hiding my true emotions. It was then that I realised our lives were heading down different paths. Gary found the walking stick as a new lease of life, enabling him to enjoy our weekend away. Once again, Gary was focusing on the positive. I saw the walking stick as the start of the end. My fun loving, carefree husband who supported me above everything could now hardly look after himself, let alone me and the children. I had to step up and face facts. Gary needed my support. It was that moment I knew I was now head of the family. My children and husband now depended solely on me. I was the bread winner and most able person in our house.
Our 10th Anniversary was a wonderful, if rather emotional weekend. We arrived in London on the Friday afternoon and after checking in to the hotel we headed out to dinner. Normally we would walk for miles before deciding on somewhere but it soon became obvious that even with the walking stick, Gary would not cope with too far. We found a Lebanese restaurant and ordered a feast. However once it arrived, Gary could not eat anything and he only just managed to drink his small beer. Once again, I had to hold back the tears. This was not how I had envisaged our 10th Anniversary. I looked at Gary. My beautiful husband was changing in front of my eyes. My social butterfly was turning into a wall flower and I couldn't fathom this. We left the restaurant and I supported Gary down the road to the hotel. We agreed to have a drink in the bar (mainly for me) and as Gary sipped his water and I gulped down a large glass of red, I once again marvelled at how our lives had changed. We had actually swapped roles in our relationship and this was scary.
Our anniversary weekend was full of mixed emotions. Little did I know as we celebrated 10 years of marraige, that would be the last weekend that we would be out and about. The week after our London trip, I found myself rushing Gary to hospital due to the acute pain he was suffering.
I was at work and having left Gary in bed that morning, I phoned to check how he was doing. He answered but I noticed his words were a bit slurred. Suddenly the phone went dead and I panicked. I rushed home, with a work friend in tow incase I needed help and found Gary in bed struggling to breathe. I went into emergency mode as the situation we had coped with for the last few months suddenly became real. I got Gary to the bathroom and helped him to get dressed. My mind kept telling me this would be OK but my body did not respond so well. With shaking hands I telephoned Oncology and explained the situation and they advised to come straight in.
Previous visits to Oncology had been met with jovial nurses and smiling faces. This time the seriousness of the situation was apparent. Gary was put in a wheelchair and we waited for our assigned nurse, Tracey. Tracey had been introduced to us at our last consultant appointment. It didn't register then but as I looked at her name badge now, I realised she was involved with Palliative Care (a rather better way of stating End of Life care). After being checked over by the Doctor Gary was advised that he should be admitted so they could drain his stomach. I had only noticed recently that although Gary had lost a large amount of weight, his stomach was looking like he was expecting twins. I guess I was wrapped up in the moment but after he passed away, I had read that this was a clear signal that end of life would be soon. Another indication was the slurred speech and the incoherent ramblings. Gary remained in hospital for one week and during this time I had noticed that he sounded odd, as if he was drunk. I was actually rather embarrassed how he spoke as he was saying some really silly things to the nurses and was always repeating himself. Again this was a sign his body was slowly shutting down but at the time I thought he had just spent too long on the hospital ward and needed to get back to normality.
The Friday he was admitted into hospital was tough. Friends and colleagues were as always amazing and pulled out all the stops to look after Nathan and Darcey. I ferried them here and there before heading off to see Gary. Children were not allowed on the ward but I did manage to sneak Nathan on to the ward for a much needed cuddle.
Hospital wards have never been a favourite of mine. The smell of disinfectant wafts up your nostrils as soon as the automatic doors swing open. There is also the hand-wash that must be used both before and upon leaving. Despite washing my hands several times when I got home, the hospital smell was still there. I visited Gary as often as I could in the week that he was in hospital, usually straight from work, before I collected Darcey. Gary's parents were also visiting in a pre-arranged week's holiday. Although Gary was in hospital for the duration of this visit at least they were able to spend quality time together and for me, it gave peace of mind that he had company whilst I was at work.
We were both very happy when he was finally discharged. For me, it eased the struggle of fitting in visiting times in amongst childcare and work commitments and for Gary, just being home in a comfy bed and being able to switch the lights off at night time was a blessing. Unofrtunately though, it was once Gary was home that we both realised, the future was not looking rosy. Two weeks after he returned from Hospital, Gary was admitted into the Hospice.
The Heart of Kent Hospice is located just 5 minutes drive away from our house. I didn't realise it exisited until now. However it would soon become Gary's last place of residence and I would soon know the staff by name and become a regular in their coffee shop.
The word "hospice" conjures up many images. I thought this was just where people go when they are old and there are no beds available in the hospital. It was also a place, I thought, for people with several mental or physical disabilities to go for respite care so their loved ones could get a bit of peace and recover themselves. What I didn't ever imagine was that a hospice would become a word that I would forever associate with Gary. However now, whenever I see of hear the word, I am taken back to a small room with a hospital bed and the lifeless, cold body of my once warm and energetic husband. Even now, writing this brings a tear to my eye. How did this happen? Why did my Husband end up in a Hospice? Why does life work out how it does? Who knows the answer to any of these questions. All I know is that it did happen and here I am writing about it.
It was Tuesday 15th December that Gary was "invited" to the Hospice. The weekend previous, we had struggled at home and it was obvious that I needed help to look after Gary. I vividly recall rushing up to the bathroom as Gary called for help. He didn't have the strength to lift himself off the toilet. At first this seemed quite comical but as I strugged myself to lift him and injured my back in the process, tears started to fall uncontrollably down my face. This should not be happening to us I thought. I could hear Darcey gurgling loudly downstairs, obviously being entertained by Nathan and my heart sank. I tried to wipe my eyes but as I helped Gary to the bed and helped him get dressed our eyes met and we both knew, now was the time to get outside help. I telephoned the Hospice to see if Gary could go in for a few days. The initial thought was to get Gary looked after, pumped with a few drugs to get him mobile again and get his strength up in time for Christmas. This break would also give me the chance to relax a little as I could feel myself starting to crack. I had been holding the family together for quite a while now but holding down a full time job, being Gary's carer and raising a 6yr old and baby was starting to take it's toll. I won't even mention trying to be a housewife and keep the house clean and cupboards stocked with food. Something had to give before I did.
So, on the Tuesday I went to work in the morning and then around lunchtime, collected Gary and drove him to the Hospice. We "checked in" and whilst I went to park the car, Gary was shown to his room. By the time I managed to find a space and come back Gary looked very settled and the nurses and volunteers fussing over him. My first thoguhts on the Hospice was how very different to a Hospital ward. Yes there was still a "hospital" smell but only faint and the staff seemed a lot chirpier and happy to chat. I couldn't help myself but as I was shown to Gary's room I peered into some of the other rooms to see who else was here. Most patients were very old and there were a few disabled guests in the coffee shop. I started to feel a little like I shouldn't be there. I guess, on all accounts, I shouldn't have been there. I was 40yrs old and my Husband had just turned 52yrs. Neither of us should have been there!
Gary was comfortable in his room and I could see that his body could now relax. He no longer had to worry about the burden on me or how he looked infront of his children. The staff and volunteers at the hospital were amazing. Cheerful and caring but putting on the serious face if it was needed. Everything was done in a "it doesn't matter, this happenes all the time" way which made any strange request or little incident a lot easier to deal with.
A couple of Doctors came in to see us. I noticed they always spoke to Gary directly and although throughout Gary's illness I felt I was being pushed aside, at this time it seemed appropriate and the right thing. Gary's speech had really deteriorated and it was quite difficult to understand him. However the Doctors continued to speak to him and amazingly understood his every word. Looking back on this conversation I feel a bit foolish. Gary and I both mentioned that we were happy that Gary was in the Hospice for a few days and we were hoping that when he came out he would be fit and healthy for Christmas. I know now that the Doctors knew at this stage that it would never be happening, but they did not tell us. They let us believe what we wanted but this was a good thing and the Doctors obviously knew this. Why should they tell us Gary was going to die when it was obvious neither of us were ready to hear that.
I stayed with Gary as long as I could until it was time to collect Darcey from the nursery and Nathan from his friends. Coming back to the house that night was very strange. When Gary was in hospital I was welcome for the brief bit of respite but knowing that he was now in a hospice was very strange to accept. I put the kids to bed with a fake smile plastered on my face and then let the tears roll. This would soon be my bedtime ritual and one that would last for a long time: Happy and smiley during the day, a complete mess and lost soul come 9pm.
Whilst in the hospice, Gary had asked me to log on to his Facebook account and post a short status advising where he was. He wanted it to be uplifting so, whilst pretending to him, I mentioned that "I" had checked into the hospice for a couple of days so that Nic could wrap up the Christmas presents in peace. "I" was doing well and would update soon. I had Gary's phone as he was too weak to function with it and read all the messages of "get well soon" and "enjoy the nurses !" comments. I was inundated on my social media account too. Everyone wanting to know what was happening and if there was anything they could do. I really appreciated all the concern but at that time, I couldn't respond. I was so tired and having my husband in a hospice was pushing me over the edge. I didn't have anything polite to respond with so I ignored everyone and put my head under the duvet in the hope that my current life would end.
Goodbye Daddy xxx
Friday 18th December 2015, the day my heart broke and the day I knew life would never be the same again.
Since the start of Gary's illness, I could feel that my heart was slowly starting to break. It started with a few chips and I thought I had managed to glue these back together in the summer, particularly during our holiday in France. However the cracks started to grow in September and once we hit December it was clear that my heart was never going to look or feel the same again.
On the Thursday, I finally plucked up the courage to ask one of the Hospice Doctors what Gary's diagnosis really was. My concern up until that point was sorting out Christmas. Should I pack the family up and head down to my parents as planned or should we stay in Maidstone if Gary wasn't able to come out of the Hospice. Eventually I reasoned that if Gary was still in the Hospice, I would take the kids to my parents, and on Christmas Day once presents were open, I would drive back to Maidstone and then drive back to Hampshire for Boxing Day. Again, in times of distress, it is strange how the actual reason for the distress is not seen as important. For me, my major dilemma the week before Christmas was how I was going to sort out the Christmas presents if I didn't know whose house I would be in for that period. The concern about Gary not even being alive for Christmas was not something that I had really thought about. How wrong was I?
So, it was on the Thursday that after 9 months of not wanting to hear, that I finally found out the truth about how aggressive the cancer was. Although I guessed that all was not well, when I finally heard the words, I was knocked for six. After all, when do you ever think about the day that you will be advised your 52 year old husband is dying. That his body is shutting down and that it will not be long before he dies. Well, I had never even contemplated this. Not even when we walked together through the hospice doors, did it ever cross my mind that I would be leaving the hospice on my own.
My colleague and friend from school was with me that day. I finally realised that I couldn't do this on my own and I needed support. Anne had been a support and confidant since day one and I honestly do not know how I would have coped without her. We were taken into a small side room, no tissues this time, I guess they run out in a place where death is a common occurance. I surprised myself that I managed to get the words out. Throughout this journey I always found that I was stuck for words but then I always had Gary by my side. That day, I was on my own and had to find my voice. Perhaps it was God telling me this is how it was going to be from now on. He was giving me a couple of days practise before he sent me out in the world without Gary by my side. I don't recall much of the conversation, I guess just like in a car crash, the actual traumatic event is always a blur. It is as though my brain does not want to remember that time. I do not want to be reminded of the day I was told quite graphically what was happeninng to my husband's insides. What I do remember is being told, repeatedly, that I do not need to worry about what to do for Christmas. It was unlikely that Gary would reach Christmas day. It was explained to me why Gary was acting as he was. Apparently the cancer had hit his liver and lungs and these organs were now starting to close down. I was told that his body would not be able to control it's temperature and that his hands and feet would start to get cold due to changes in curculation. He would be very drowsy and not want to eat or drink much. The closing down of the liver was causing his slurred speech and I was told to expect his breathing to change quite dramatically. The body naturally produces mucus in the breathing system however, when you are dying and no longer moving around, the mucus can build up and cause a rattling sound when you breathe. It was also explained to me why Gary's abdomen was so swollen when the rest of him was thinner than a size 6 model. This is called ascites which is a build-up of fluid between the two layers of the peritoneum. Ascites develops if; Cancer has spread to the peritoneum, the liver is affected by cancer or cancer is stopping the lymphatic system from working properly. Gary had all of these hence why he was suffering quite badly.
After hearing the news, I realised that I had to inform Gary's family. I had tried to shield them from reality, perhaps an error, but I knew from conversations with Gary that he did not want them to worry, particularly if there was nothing they could do to make things better. I couldn't however inform his Mum and Dad that he was dying. How could I? They worship Gary and quite rightly so and I knew that I would not have the strength to tell them the news that no parents should ever hear. Instead I phoned my parents and asked my Dad to contact Gary's sister, Niki and explain everything. I'm not proud of this decision and I wish I had had the courage to speak to them directly but I couldn't. It was hard enough trying to speak to my own parents.
Although Gary was not talking, I managed to speak with him about his family coming over. He was concerned that his parents would not cope with the journey and pleaded with me to ask them not to come. I didn't know what to say to this. Of course I wanted to honour Gary's wishes but I wasn't sure this was the correct decision. Then I looked at Gary and knew that it was the right thing to do. Gary's parents had to remember him as he was. The fun, talkative, gorgeous, ever loving son, who worshipped his Mum and was ever respectful to his Dad. Even in his last few days, Gary was thinking of others and wanting to protect them from things they should never see. All I can do is hope that this was the right decision but it is what Gary wanted and at this time, that is all that mattered. Another thing that mattered was asking Nathan to come and say goodbye.
I don't have many regrets in life, but one I do have is not taking Darcey to say goodbye to Gary. The last time Darcey saw her Daddy was Sunday 13th December 2015. She was 7 months and 21 days old. She had just started trying out mushed up food and hadn't even learnt to crawl. These are basic milestones for a newborn baby. Losing a parent is not one of them. This turn of events is something never mentioned in the baby books that I read. I know Darcey will never remember that she did not say goodbye, but I do and that is something I will never forget.
I did however take Nathan to say goodbye and that is when my heart finally broke. Please, for one moment, picture taking your own child, neice, nephew or friend at six years old to give their Dad one final kiss goodbye. Even now, when I know quite well that this did happen, I still can't believe it is something that I had to do. I don't thing my hormones ever recovered from giving birth before my body had to try and cope with the mixed emotions of doing something so unreal and so unimaginable.
Friday 18th December 2015, a school it was the last day of term. Everyone was full of the Christmas spirit and over excited about the christmas party later that afternoon. I walked into Nathan's classroom and although he knew we were going to the hospice, he wasn't keen to miss out on the Christmas fun. At six years old he should be running around hyper, counting down the days to Christmas, not on his way to the local hospice. He did however come with me without much distress, he did ask on the way, why he had to go and see Daddy now instead of after school. I didn't even flinch and with my eyes fixed on the road ahead, I calmly answered, because Daddy is dying and he might not be here for much longer.
I could tell Nathan was not comfortable in the hospice and I don't blame him. Niki was here by now and was next to Gary chatting about the life back in Northern Ireland and what was happening in Richhill. Nathan and I walked into Gary's room and if you were listening and not actually watching what was going on, you could easiley have mistaken us for a conversation in the local coffee shop. We talked about the flight over and what Nathan had asked Father Christmas for. On the Wednesday Nathan had been in his school nativity and we had a video of the production on CD. We were all sat on Gary's bed watching the school production as if we didn't have a care in the world. You would not have thought that Gary was dying. True, he could hardly speak and was drinking his water through a straw but Nathan didn't see any of this, he just saw his Daddy and was proud that his Daddy could see him in the Nativity. After all he had one of the main parts. Soon, I knew it was time to go. Nathan was getting restless and Gary was starting to get sleepy. I whispered to Nathan that he should give Daddy a big kiss and tell hime how much he loved him. It was difficuolt trying to get the words out without my voice breaking. Nathan asked "why?". "Because you won't see Daddy anymore, he is dying". I replied. Nathan gave Gary the biggest hug you will ever see. He then turned to me and it was clear he wanted to leave. I said goodbye to Gary and Niki and would return after school. Nathan however would never return. The last time Nathan saw his Daddy he was 6 years, 7 months and 27 days old.
We walked out of the wards but by the time we got to the cafe, Nathan crumbled. I carried him out of the hospice with his face hidden in my neck. I put him in the car and strapped him in, I was lost for words so just stroked his face and patted his hair. Not ideal but what else could I do. Nothing at this time would ever change the fact that he has just said goodbye to his Daddy. The man who made him and who guided him through his first 6 years. I drove away from the hospice, constantly looking in the rear view mirror to check on Nathan. He was slumped in his chair staring out to space. We hadn't driven far when the sobs started to come. Muffled at first and then loud, ear shrieking sobs. I pulled into the nearest place suitable ran out of the car and around to Nathan. I picked him up and held him tightly, tears falling down my cheeks in unison with his. We were at the train station, in the car park but I hadn't really registered this. All I cared about was this limp, broken, young boy that I held in my arms. I prayed to God there and then to please help us get through this. Please look after Gary and please give my number one son the strength to get through this. Tears eventually stopped and we drove back to school. Nathan was just in time for his Christmas class party. He was heistant at first to go in but then off he went and started dancing around with his classmates. The resilience he has is amazing. Thirty minutes ago he was saying good bye to his Daddy, now he was dancing along to "Merry Christmas Everyone". He astounds me in everyway and I am so proud of him.
Till Death do us Part
If I thought my heart had broken on the Friday when Nathan said goodbye, it is clear to say my heart completely shattered on Saturday 19th December 2015 at 13.30. Trust Gary to pass away exactly on the half hour. He was always precise and everything had to be spot on. So although this is the worst possible moment for anyone to go through, I raise a slight smile when I think even when crossing over the line and travelling to Heaven, Gary was true to form.
After I finished school on the Friday I went back to the hospice. Gary was lying very still and no longer had his eyes open. I noticed he was breathing with the aid of a small machine. I still did not question what this was. Even at this stage, I felt better not knowing. The nurses and volunteers at the hospice kept popping in to make sure all was ok. I really can not express my gratitude enough to them. They are all angels. Perhaps thats what they do; be angels to prepare their patients for their new lives when they will be surrounded by angels.
Niki and I spent the next few hours chatting to Gary, aware that he was still listening although no longer talking. At 6pm, I rushed off to collect Nathan and Darcey and get them fed and bathed before I went back to the hospice. The nurses had suggested that Niki and I stay the night. They never said, this is it but did mention they were not sure how much longer. I thought back to all the strange and surreal conversations I had had since Gary was diagnosed. Once again, these were words I never thought I would be hearing at 40 years old. My mind whizzed back to that day at the hospital as I carressed my baby bump "it's Cancer". Fast forward almost 9 months to the day and I am being advised that it was not long before my husband died. Back home, I phoned my friend who was on standby to babysit the kids and prepared an overnight bag. That was another surreal moment. Usually a babysitter arrives and there is much jollyness as we anticipate a night on the tiles with promises of "we won't be late". This time it was a very somber, "I'll be back around 10am. Thank you for coming over".
I headed back to the hospice with my overnight bag, stopping off to get a microwave curry for myself and Niki. Another surreal moment, shopping in the late night Tesco store before heading off to the hospice for my final meal with my husband. Not of course, that I knew it would be my last meal and we didn't eat together but it some sense, it was our last meal. Our actual last meal as a family was on Sunday 13th December. Nathan and Darcey were having a Christmas craft afternoon; making personalised Christmas Stockings, christmas music was on the radio, Gary was in his chair watching the kids and I was making a chicken and ham pie (and helping to making the stockings and making sure Darcey didn't eat any of the craft items). It was a lovely family moment, made all the more special as Gary actually made it to the table and even ate something. Family dinners for the last few months were usually me and Nathan as Gary could only stomach some plain soup whilst sat in his chair and Darcey was only just on solids. Many a time, I had slaved away making a Sunday lunch determined to "continue as normal" but only myself would actually eat anything and by then, I was too fed up to finish. Our food waste was horrendous. Anyway, that Sunday, everything was perfect. Perhaps Gary knew this would be the last supper. For whatever reason, it was perfect and now whenever we have chicken pie, I remember that day and smile to myself.
Back at the hospice, Niki and I settled down for the night. I was strangely comforted sleeping in the same room as Gary and being able to listen to his heavy breathing. For the last few days I had slept alone and when you are used to sharing a room with somebody, it suddenly becomes very lonely when all is quiet in the house. Even though I was on a small fold up bed, I probably had the best night sleep for a few days.
I awoke early on the Saturday. Looking around the small room, I was confused where I was. I then remembered and looked over to Gary. He hadn't moved since I closed my eyes. He was peaceful and still, just the sound of quiet breathing filled the room. Niki stired in her make shift bed. None of us knew what today had in store. Perhaps if we did, we wouldn't have woken at all.
In my efforts to keep life as normal as I could, I left the hospice at 10am to take Nathan to a prebooked haircut. I caught sight of myself in the mirror and realised it wasn't my reflection looking back at me. What I saw was a haunted pale face, someone who looked familiar but it wasn't me. Who knows what Nathan was thinking at this time.
We returned home from the hairdressers and released the babysitters. My brother was on his way down to take over childcare so I could go back to the hospice. It has been said that when a person is dying they wait for a sign from a loved one before they go. Who knows if this is true but I returned back to the hospice around 12.30 after family chores were complete and children were settled with Uncle Matthew. One hour later, Gary died.
Back in Gary's room, nothing had changed since I left. Nikki was by his side and Gary was laying peacefully. I noticed his feet were in socks, he never wore socks at home as he was always hot. This I later discovered was his body slowly shutting down. His hands also felt cooler but his face was still warm and to my touch, felt like smooth liquid gold. His wrinkles and weather beaten skin were now pearls of soft silk. Many a night we had laid in bed, face to face with my hands cupping his cheeks like I was holding on to a precious jewel, smothering his lips with soft gentle kisses that only a husband and wife will ever know. I am lost in my thoughts when I open my eyes and reality hit me head on, Gary's body was changing in front of my eyes.
The nurses came into the room to check on how I was doing. Was there anything I needed. "Yes" I responded rather meakly. "I want a cuddle." If Gary had opened his eyes just then he would be laughing out loud, for the nurse came up to me a gave me a great big squeeze. I thanked her then looked in Gary's direction and then it must have clicked. Of course she muttered and between the two nurses they shifted Gary a bit further to the side of the bed and repositioned him so so could lay in his arms. I snuggled up close to him and closed my eyes. Nikki and the two nurses tiptoed out of the room and pulled down the blinds to give me some privacy. Nikki later mentioned that when they closed the door on us there wasn't a dry eye amongst them. I guess it is not everyday they see a young couple soon to be parted.
I snuggled up to Gary and breathed in. I wanted to smell him, to remember him through every sense of my body. I closed my eyes and for a moment the two of us were relaxing on a sun drenched beach getting ready to doze off after a lunchtime drink (or three). Thailand, The Maldives, Mauritius, Dubai or perhaps Spain. We had visited several destinations but at that moment the destination did not matter, I was snuggled up to my favourite person and that was all that mattered. Gary's irregular breathing and strange whistling noise bought me back to reality. I opened my eyes and sat up. Bending my head towards Gary, I held his face in my hands and kissed him softly. "It's Ok, you can go now. Please don't worry about us. I'll look after Nathan and Darcey and I will be fine. I'm happy for you to go now. You have given us everything. You can relax now, it's time for you to go". I had read somewhere that a loved one on the verge of death looks for a sign before they finally let go. I could see that Gary was at the end so holding back the tears and being as strong as I could I kept telling him to go. I didn't want him to face anymore pain. Although I so wanted him to stay with me forever, I knew deep in my heart that I had to say goodbye. If you love someone let them go. Well, except for my children, I have never loved (and unsure if I ever will) love someone like my love for Gary. It was therefore time for me to put him first and release him from his pain. I spent the next few moments just looking at his face, stroking his hair and holding his now cold hands. Occasionally my vision was blurred by the tears but as I blinked them away, he became clear again and I just stared at him not knowing what else to do. I leant over and gave Gary another kiss. He let out a groan as he took a sharp inward breath. I waited a few seconds for him to exhale but he didn't. I waited a bit longer but still no breath out. I had read about this as a sign of the end of life. Was this really Gary's last breath? I could feel my pulse beating quicker and quicker and my fingers started to tremble. Come on Gary I thought to myself. As much as I said he could go, I didn't really want him to. Please Gary don't do this, I thought to myself. I finally pulled myself together and pressed the alarm call. A nurse came rushing in. I can't recall what I said intially but then I asked the nurse if I should get Niki. Yes came the reply, so I ran around to the cafe where Nikki was on the phone. "Quick" was all I managed to say and we both ran back to the room. Again my memory is a bit of a blur at this stage, probably nature's way of erasing the heartache. I do however remember looking at the nurse and seeing her nod. I knew then that Gary had died. His eyes were open and his mouth slightly a jar from breathing, an imagine that I find difficult to get rid of even now. The nurse left Niki and I alone with Gary. He looked so peaceful, it may be a cliche but it was true. Niki and I just stared at Gary both of us lost in our own thoughts. I don't know what I was feeling. I was numb but strangely calm. I guess we need to tell people was all I could mutter. 19th December 2015 at 13.30, exactly 9 months since the first diagnosis, my gorgeous, fun loving, larger than life husband had passed away from cancer.
You never know what life has in store and I certainly did not expect this. Time now to inform parents and friends and to go home and somehow explain to Nathan and Darcey that Daddy had died. How on earth was I going to do this? There was certainly no chapter in the baby books on this topic!