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.