A message of love and hope, at Christmas.

Folks,

I haven’t been on this site for a while. I had a whole bunch of stuff to deal with, as we all do.

To make up for being so quiet for so long (!), I am sharing a personal essay that I wrote to try and express or explain why my husband Tom, meant so much to me and the things that have happened he died in January 2022.

It is a bit of a long read, so maybe grab a tea or a coffee, take a breath and chance on me, and read on…

**All Shall Be Well, and All Shall Be Well and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well: **

A Record of Love

Prologue

From 2013 to 2022, I was loved – truly, madly, deeply by my husband, Tom. Ours was a joyous love, a complete love, a gorgeous, glowing time of happiness, laughter and joy.

And then Tom died.

Myelodysplastic Syndromes, a particularly unpleasant blood cancer, decided to come for him with a grim determination that outstripped all treatment. Tom tried so hard to hold on, to live, but the cancer was remorseless. It took him from us, robbed us of our future together and froze me in time.

Tom lived his life with great love – for his family and extended family and particularly, with a generosity and kindness that was without limit, for me. In the words that follow, you will see how much his love meant to me, I who did not think I was ever worthy of love in any way.

Yet, in the depths of despair after Tom’s death, I suddenly found reason for hope, reason to continue, reason to keep on living.

What follows is my attempt to describe what happened and how Love found me and held me, until I was ready to inch forward again.

These words have been swirling inside me, like a murmuration of starlings, over the past 10 months. In writing them out, they, like me now, are free.

The End of The Affair?

I have long admired the work of Graham Greene. For me, The Heart of The Matter is his masterpiece. A book I have returned to many times, with its tale of love, doomed, thwarted, lost, misunderstood. But when I was trying to understand, comes to terms with, to survive, one of my life’s biggest challenges, it was to The End of The Affair that I turned for help.

You see, the past 18 months have been the hardest of my life. I was in a love affair with Tom from December 2013 until January 2022, when he died from cancer.

Tom cared nothing for religious belief. His view was straightforward “when you are dead, you are dead”. And now he is dead. Gone. His things remain, photographs of him remain, memories of him remain. All the evidence of his existence remains. Everything, save him.

The End of The Affair records the aftermath of the passionate affair between Bendrix and Sarah, their estrangement, her death and his struggle to overcome his loss, his anger, anguish and despair. At the end of the novel, we learn how Sarah found belief, faith and redemption and in its dying embers we see that there is a chance that Bendrix, despite his anger and rage, will find this, too.

Our affair, Tom’s and mine, was passionate, too. From our first encounter on the phone, when I was in London and he was at home in the Alps, a place I came to love, we were inseparable, in sync, connected. His death, the end of our affair? Unspeakable. And ultimately, untrue.

For in Tom’s death, I found redemption and hope, through Love. Love that transcends space, time, cancer, mortality, lack of faith. I found the answer not in rage and hate, as Bendrix did for so long, but rather in trusting the revelations of a Love that came to me when my pain at Tom’s loss was at its most acute.

In these moments of utmost torture, I received messages that flow from Love. Messages that reassured me and carried me forward. Messages that are from Tom, of that I have no doubt.

Tom

I had a troubled childhood. My parents divorced and my mother remarried, and we moved to seaside town. My mother was a State Registered Nurse and lived for nursing. Our home became a business – a residential nursing home for the elderly. This was one of the first “rest homes” as they were known then in our county.

This meant that we lived alongside elderly people. Their bedrooms were alongside ours and we shared facilities like toilets and bathrooms. It would not be allowed now, but in the 1970s, it was acceptable. We were expected, even though we were only children, to help extensively. Lifting vulnerable people onto the commode or helping them to the toilet, chaperoning them in the bath, taking around meals and cups of tea.

There was no privacy, ever. No respite. I became used to people coming in, living with us and then dying. I saw many of them, elderly people of whom I had become fond, laid out, ready for the undertakers. This was normal for us. But it was not normal.

My sister and I suffered abuse at the hands of a trusted family friend – but no action was taken. I had undiagnosed depression, disordered eating and longed to escape. To cope, I tried to make everything right for everyone else, stuffing my own sense of unworthiness out of sight.

We came to the attention of a local youth worker, who saw that we were unhappy and encouraged my sister and I in all sorts of ways – to believe in ourselves, to consider ourselves worthy. To try for university – and escape to a fresh start.

I found making relationships difficult – following the age-old pattern of settling for anything, rather than holding out and respecting myself for who I was and what I should have expected in life and love. I hoped for better, accepted far less, loved myself least.

I got married in my late twenties, to a kind but overworked man. We were together for sixteen years. I tried very hard to accommodate to the situation, but a friend said, after we separated, there was no room for me there.

This was right. Separating and starting again was very hard, but necessary and I learned a very great deal about myself – that I had courage, that I took steps to find happiness in ways that others would not do, and that I could do it in ways that meant that, years later, my ex-husband and I remain on good terms.

And then. Two years after my separation. By chance, I met Tom. My perception of the world, on meeting him was like one of those movies where the film switches from black and white to colour in ways I could scarcely believe. Tom, in his gentle yet persistent way, helped me to see that I had value. That who I was mattered and that I didn’t have to keep trying to fix things. That I could, and indeed should, have lovely things.

Tom supported me in our relationship for eight years – across continents, stages, day of day challenges. He shared his life and his luck with me, and introduced me to a world of love, light, laughter. And to skiing, from his home, high in the Alps, a place that he entrusted to me and that is now my home.

Those who knew me before him, welcomed Tom. He was a feature in my work, coming with me to events and travelling around the world with me, at his own expense. He was welcomed everywhere and fitted in with everyone. All new to him, this was my work and vocation. I could rely on him completely and, I hope, he on me.

As Anthony Seldon described, his relationship with his late wife was one so close that he did not know where she ended, and he began. For Tom and me, it was the same. We wouldn’t so much complete each other’s sentences but would think the same thing, in the same way, at the same time.

Tom was always active, alert, curious. A keen photographer. A loyal brother, uncle and friend. A quick sense of humour, cultured, curious, clever and a dab hand in the kitchen. I thought we had a lifetime ahead of us – of more of this gorgeous same.

And then, we didn’t.

Tom started to slow down, just after we got married in the Autumn of 2020. To sleep most of the day. To find the most basic functions, walking, standing, more and more of a challenge. Something bad was up. Walking as tall as we could, we headed towards the hospital, for tests, appointments, letters, phone calls. We walked together into the whirlwind. His diagnosis of total bone marrow failure - cancer.

I watched Tom suffer as myelodysplastic syndrome pulled him down. I saw him go from being fit, vibrant, sharp, funny to endless pain, deafness and anxiety. I did not understand what was going on right before my eyes. I could not accept that he was going to die – surely, he would survive, he was Tom, invincible.

As he became weaker and weaker, my role was to be strong and calm. He needed that from me, and I gave this for him as best I could – hiding the fear and panic, the tears and the anticipatory grief. I remember one night in bed with him next to me, silently screaming in the darkness, with fear and horror of what was happening, of what was happening, of what to come. The nameless terrors, biding their time.

His style was calm stoicism. Our strategy was to accept it, never to question why it had happened. To be brave. To keep going. And we did, separated while he was in hospital for 8 long months in 2021, where our time together was restricted, thanks to Covid rules, to an hour a day. Just me. No other visitor allowed. He became bedbound. He lost his hearing. He lost a large chunk of cognitive ability. He was losing himself.

By the end, his arms were covered in the most horrible bruises and scabs – symptoms of the disease running its brutal course. He could not leave the scabs alone and was chided for picking away at them by the nurses and to my shame, by me. I should have seen it – he was quietly self-harming to cope as once, when encouraged to stop he said quietly “it helps me”. I see that now. Only now, when it is too late.

In those days, I travelled back and forth to the hospital from home, an hour by car each way. A nervous and uncertain driver, in Tom’ big green car. When I got home, exhausted from the visit and the road, Tom’s portrait paintings in the sitting room would all look at me – questioning me in silent reproach that yet again, I had not brought him home.

Tom’s decline increased rapidly in November into December 2021. No treatment was working, even the blood transfusions were failing to give him a boost. Because of tiny bleeds in his brain, his ability to communicate by phone was disappearing – leaving us both even more cut off. Throughout our love affair, we had always been in contact – texts, messages, calls, time in each other’s company. We were in sync, the whole time.

And now, his phone, so much our talisman, holding us together, was increasingly dropped on the floor or left untouched. He was slipping away from me – a little more, each day.

He was finally transferred to the local hospice, where we could be together around the clock. He was there for 14 days. A terrible thing happened on 11th day - the penultimate brutality of the disease I had come to hate with every fibre of my being. Tom was being helped with pain-relief and anti-anxiety medication and was conscious, if confused, for most of the time.

This terrible event was the cue for medics to approve and start the end stage. The industrial sized syringe driver, unconsciousness…his laboured breathing over three days and nights while C, his brother and I, sat as his sentinels. He was never alone.

And then, the end. I was there in his last moments, with his brother C, holding Tom as best I could, whispering how he is loved, and loved, until his last breath. He stopped breathing…and I didn’t. Our synchronicity snapped.

Grief took me into its care. This is a rather odd expression but the one used by the undertakers when they came to collect Tom from the Hospice. “We have taken him into our care” they told me when they called the following day, like he was an orphan. Which I supposed, in a way, he was. For he could not come back to the home we had shared. That was home for me because and only because he was there. I had never known the sense of “home” like that before Tom. So, he an orphan, and me, homeless.

Grief took me into its care. Grief affects everyone differently. There is no map. There is no guide. There are no short cuts. The only way I can describe it is to see it as an ocean, with those grieving plunged in without warning or courtesy, swept along, dragged by its riptides, thrown high by its waves and pulled down and under by its currents.

In an episode of Will and Grace, a grieving Karen Walker sits by her best friend’s coffin and cries to her “They keep asking me – what do you need, what do you need? I need for you not to be gone”. I watched that clip over and over – recognising Karen’s answer – for it is the only answer. That said, gifts of homemade vegetable lasagne from neighbours, are good, too.

I poured out my love for Tom into the darkness at night. In bed, endlessly. Or in the now silent kitchen at the counters where he could always be found before, chopping, tasting, offering me a taste of something he had made. All the gadgets he used most days, including his favourite, the “super whizzy whizzo”, now standing idle.

Come back, darling. I begged him. Please. Just come back. Endless repetition of the same words. My chest was bursting. In pouring out these words, I found a momentary release. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t weep. All I wanted was Tom. And he was gone.

Love came through about two weeks after he died. I was awake, eyes closed, in our bedroom. I was aware of an extraordinary light in the room and was entirely calm. I felt him close, lying behind me, spooning as we did so many times. I felt calm and assured, as I had always felt when he was alive. He had come to see me, on his way further on. It was beautiful. It happened.

The second time followed weeks later. I had a very bad night of grief. I lay in the darkness, calling for Tom, hour after hour – begging him to please come back. Finally, I got to sleep and woke the following morning. I stumbled to the shower, back to the bedroom, into the dressing room, the usual morning routine.

I went back into bedroom to pick up my phone to go downstairs and stopped short. I could not believe my eyes. For there, on his side of the bed, on the pillow, was the order of service from his funeral, with photograph of Tom, taken in Val d’Isere. This little booklet had been on the sideboard in the sitting room the night before.

I had not moved or touched it. I would not have put that there myself as that would have been weird for me to do that. Somehow, it had made its way to right next to me. I can only explain that it was Tom.

The third time, I was walking between Muswell Hill and Highgate on a crisp, Autumn morning. A bluebird day, as we say in the mountains, blue sky and sunshine. I had been feeling guilty for ages, guilty for being alive and having ahead of me a beautiful life.

Tom had left me very well provided for, but I only had this, because he was gone. And he had not wanted to go.

I could not stop the guilt churning through me. Then, suddenly, as clear as if he was walking alongside me, I heard his voice say “I am in a better place” - meaning, it’s ok, go and enjoy those things because, I want you to and because I have something so much better here. I am happy.

I knew in that instant that Tom was in what some readers may recognise as the company of Heaven. That he was loved, secure, surrounded by those he had loved and lost. That he was ok. That his lack of faith didn’t matter because Love determined, as Dame Julian of Norwich saw in her revelations of divine love, that all would be well, no matter what.

In that instant, the guilt lifted. This message was a very Tom thing to do. To ease my worries, to encourage me to go forward.

Finally, to Cornwall. I was one of the organisers of a big event and was hosting one of the final sessions. We were outside in one of the event spaces on the site, talking about philanthropy. The date? November 4th. For Tom and me, our second wedding anniversary.

I was chairing the session, but my mind was wandering… Two years ago, at that exact time, Tom and I had been walking through the sunshine, hand in hand, to the Register Office, our vows in love and married life. It was the last walk of any distance that he made.

Back at the event, my professional mask was slipping and my chest was tight. Suddenly, I noticed a movement on the floor of the tent. A robin had hopped in. It bobbed close and looked at me quizzically. There is this expression “when robins appear, a loved one is near”. I was winded. I couldn’t just pass this by. If that was Tom or from Tom, I couldn’t just carry on with the session.

I took a seriously big risk and asked the participants – about 20 people – if we could stop for a moment. With everyone looking at me with curiosity and surprise, I shared with them that it was my wedding anniversary, that Tom had died, and a robin was here. I said to the robin “thank you, Tom, thank you for coming”. There was a pause and then the participants burst into applause. I blew the little bird a kiss as it flew away. At the end of the session, separately, two other people came up to me to share they too, had been recently bereaved and that moment in our session had helped.

All these moments mere coincidence? Maybe. Does that bother me? No – for I believe all these moments are a manifestation of Love. Manifestations to show that, even though Tom’s life on earth had come to an end because of cancer, his presence continues. Love is come again.

The Healing Place

In November last year, my friend, A, first told me about his house overseas which they described as a healing place. They said that I could go, should go, whenever I was ready. In November, this seemed impossible, unattainable, out of reach.

After Tom’ death, I had no time to grieve. I was pitch-forked into the requirements of probate administration, trying and failing to save his business which had got into trouble because he had been ill and we had not known. I was snared in awfulness and problems, working teams of lawyers and accountants. Drowning in the stress and the awfulness of months and months.

And all the time, the healing place was there, waiting.

November 14 2022, I went there. I had not realised, as I got on the plane at Heathrow, how tired I was, how broken inside after all the events of the last few years.

As I walked through the door, the house enfolded me in calm and love. The peace of the house was very present, very generous, very kind. One of the first things I saw, when I stood in the kitchen, alone here for the first time, was a beautiful tree, its branches wide in welcome. The tree, it seemed to me, was saying that I should not worry, that it had got me and would hold me safe.

And so began my healing time. After months of broken sleep, I began to sleep through the night again, it was like being a small child again, rocked to sleep in the safest cradle.

In the garden, in the daytime, I saw bees, busy in the lavender, coots cruising the lake and butterflies dancing through the lawns and rose gardens. I sat in the sunshine, turning my face to the warmth.

My diet improved. I started to take care of myself again, in ways that had long been lost.

My sense of perspective changed, all settled into a new rhythm, a new approach. Hope flickered faintly, sputtered and then took flame again.

The house, encouraging me, lifting me and showing the way, in its love and abundance.

I sensed Tom with me, encouraging me to look forward, to go forward, into the future that awaits me.

His love stretches backwards in my life and forwards beyond his – an ever-present warmth and blessing that will hold me, always.

We cannot comprehend the scope, breadth, depth of the Love of God. It transcends all things, faith, life, death, everything. I believe this with all my heart. And because of this, no matter what, all manner of things will be well.

Epilogue

I am writing this in the Alps, where I have returned for Christmas.

I was dreading facing Tom’s first anniversary but now, I think I can keep going. The words of the Easter hymn, Now The Green Blade Riseth, share the essence of how I feel just now, and in particular, the last verse:

“When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,
Still thy touch can call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green”.

Listen here - Now the Green Blade Riseth — Choir of Ely Cathedral - YouTube

                              **********************

My friends here, thank you for reading to the end - I know that was a long one… We walk together through grief, and I wanted to thank you for walking with me, as we head towards those we love, who have gone before us and who are waiting for us to come home.

21 Likes

Thanks so much for sharing this beautiful post with us, @Vancouver. Wishing you a peaceful Christmas. :blue_heart:

2 Likes

Thank you and very best wishes for Christmas to you and all your colleagues.

Thank you, i wish you a peaceful Christmas x

1 Like

@Vancouver that is the most profound and heartfelt account of grief and healing I have read in a long time. You really do have a gift for writing and should share it as widely as you can. Thank you so much for sharing it with us; it spoke to me.

I too have discovered that death and grief has started me on a new spiritual journey. I’m trying to be open minded and open hearted. At our wedding, and my husband’s, Steve’s, funeral the words, “So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” I have been lazy in my own spiritual development. I was brought up sort of Christian. My faith was weak and I decided that, just like your Tom, when you’re dead, you’re dead. I realise now that of course, love lives on, our dna lives on in our children or our siblings or other family members. Love indeed does transcend the every day and mundane and is the only antidote to the mean, the wickedness, the evil and the sadness we see in everyday life. There are always people who help, who love and quietly go about caring for others. I now try to look for those people, those moments of kindness, love and compassion - they are my healing. I know I won’t ever be religious but do I hope I can be spiritual. And that begins and ends with pure love and compassion.

May your future be filled with love, peace and compassion as you continue to live your life with Tom in mind. Take care,

3 Likes

Thank you, my friend @JJBee, thank you. Love lives on - absolutely. Bless you for your encouragement and support. Putting pieces out there is always a bit of a leap and I am so glad you found something in these words x

This comes with all love at Christmas and in to the New Year, where we walk forward with our loved ones with us,

Vx

2 Likes

Thank you for posting this .it gives hope where it is lost.i lost Robert 5 weeks ago suddenly and have waves of intense sadness…i have a faith in God which i have felt stronger in the past few weeks…Robert was my soul mate the only man i have truly loved

1 Like

@Vancouver
Thank you for sharing this message. It is both fascinating and uplifting.
I do not feel I have had any messages from my husband but I do have a faith and a belief that we will be together again one day, which gives me great comfort.

xxx

3 Likes

Thank you for writing this, it really resonates in my deepest pain I could hear music, what is this? Is the radio on in the kitchen? Nothing on, the music became clearer ‘amazing Grace how sweet the sound I once was lost and now am found ‘ now at times wherever I am and am feeling such loss I hear the music. Also Allan my partner had joked that I should take some of the gold framed pictures off my walls (about moving in) and when he died alone in his house and I didn’t yet know he had died I found one of my gold framed pictures off the wall and neatly on the sofa (it was a large picture) so many things have happened I cleared his house and have his things around in my house I like having his presence around love does continue

2 Likes
Back to top