Saturday 22 August 2020

Today is my wedding anniversary

Mr and Mrs Bedford

Today is my wedding anniversary.  Four years ago today, I married Mr Bedford in a hospital side room, and became Mrs Bedford.  It was a hot, sunny day, all our families crowded into the hospital room in their best clothes and though there was much light and joy, it was also the saddest day.  The groom, Mr Bedford, had six weeks and one day left to live.  We knew he did not have long, but none of us really thought it would be so soon; we must have guessed deep inside though, because of the haste in which we arranged the wedding.  The side room in the hospital was transformed with balloons, an afternoon tea with bone china and dainty cakes, and bunting.  The tiny room had to double up as a registry office and party venue and so I made my vows to dear Mr Bedford with my eye on a lavish cream tea just feet away. It is common knowledge that I love cream teas.  That is why his family, my new in laws, provided it.  

Mr Bedford and I had been together for over eight years.  We thought often about getting married, but never quite got round to it, we somehow managed to evade the seriousness of it.  Of course, we knew we would end up married but every time we tried to think about it, one or other of us decided we needed more time.  Life was full enough as it was, without weddings to think of.  I would have been his third wife, and he would have been my second husband.  We had done it all before, it did not seem terribly urgent.  And, of course, we used to argue like mad.  Are we right for each other? we would think after we had disagreed about the millionth thing that day.  Is this the right person for me?  But there was a bond of deep friendship that could not be overlooked.  Our arguments were always resolved, mostly because Mr Bedford had the courage to address difficulties and insist we talk them over.  I liked to flounce and sulk, which was water off a duck's back to Mr B.  Tell me how you are feeling, he would say, and I learned that it was safe to do so.  Tell me the truth, said Mr Bedford, and I found that he respected my opinion, and took me seriously if I told him whatever truth I had, even if it was hard to hear.  Mr B was a proper grown up.  No amount of pretending I was fine when I was not would fool him.  I learned that it was safe to speak my truth, and that of all people in the world, Mr B would respect it. Even if he did not like it, he would respect it, as long as it was the truth. 

 We were exact opposites to each other, we were so very different that when we could not agree on something, it was like talking to someone from another planet.  But when we were in harmony, due to our deep underlying friendship, we were unstoppable.  He was a detail man.  He liked to read the small print, and he was forensic in his thinking and analysis. He needed to be, he wrote serious case reviews on some dreadful child abuse cases, and his detective skills, his interview techniques, and his ability to research, remember and apply the law was astonishing.  I on the other hand, am a fairy.  I live in a world of imagination, creativity and instinct. I made plans as I went along, I took risks and did not care about rules.  I was extroverted, he was introverted. I looked up at the sky, marvelling at the clouds and space, and he looked down, fascinated by the detail of the stones and pebbles on the path ahead.  We would take each other by the hand and show each other our worlds.  Look!  he would say, at this fascinating detail here on this path, look at all the millions of things to study.  I would point up to the sky.  Look! I would say, at all the space up here, the stars and the clouds, look at all the magic.  

When Mr Bedford became ill, he was stoic.  He had been an NHS man for most of his career, he managed hospitals, he was a trouble shooter when things went wrong, he became a specialist in managing super bugs in hospitals, and spent time trying to improve waiting times in A and E departments all over the country.  But when his health began to deteriorate, no one picked up the symptoms.  It's your heart!  They said, and in fact, it was stage four cancer.  It was picked up in hospital almost by accident.  Mr Bedford, the NHS man, did not fight.  He took his diagnosis on the chin, so to speak, and began to put his affairs in order.  Part of this was to propose to me.  

The tennis champ, refusing to give in.

We went on a tennis holiday just after he knew he had cancer, or rather, I joined him on his tennis holiday because he was beginning to struggle with his energy.  As a dedicated tennis player, he needed to be on the court, as one of the team, and to not give in.  His colleagues cheered him on every time he got up to play, and he displayed his iron will in not letting the exhaustion stop him.  He was a star, they all loved him.  But back in the hotel room, his face grey with the effort, his legs giving way, he lay down and slept where no one could see the toll it was taking.  But he would not give up.  I loved him very much on that holiday.  He was so brave.  He did not complain once.

Alan had cancer.  By the time it was discovered, it was too late.  He tried chemo but it made him so ill that they would not continue.  His decline was very fast. Then, on the 18th of August 2016, from his hospital bed on the ward attached to drips and lines and tubes, after a gruelling operation that did not entirely work, he proposed.  Marry me, he said.  Of course!  I said, and we burst out laughing together, all our differences forgotten and the giddy joy of having finally agreed to get married making us giggle and hold hands.  It is the only time I saw Mr B looking bashful.  

The bashful Mr B.  Engaged at last. 

Alan's delightful family took over from here. Somehow, they made a side room in the hospital into a paradise of colours and festivities.  They organised the whole thing, while I rushed off to arrange the fastest appointment I could with the registry office.  We arranged to be married in three days time.  August the 22, at the hospital.  Yes, the registrar said, we have done urgent weddings at the bedside before, we will be there and all will be well.  I found wedding rings, but had to buy a chain for Alan's ring as his hands and fingers were so large, nothing would fit and we could not wait to order a special wedding ring.  So, he wore his wedding ring on a chain around his neck.  On the day he died, I took it from his neck and wore it myself for months.  We both knew I would do that.

The wedding tea

Oh, on the day, on our wedding day, Alan's brother David got him dressed in the ward with the curtains around the bed.  Everyone on this and the surrounding wards knew he was getting married, it was almost heartbreaking.  They were so happy for him.  Alan wanted to wear a smart shirt and trousers.  Control and dignity were important to him. He wanted to walk into the room, but could barely stand, and so had to accept a wheelchair.  His iron will could no longer keep his body in check.  I tried to wheel him into the wedding room, thinking it would make a brilliant entrance, but I couldn't control the chair.  I kept wheeling him off at right angles into the wall. This annoyed him and we nearly had one of our arguments, but I could not deny that it wasn't very dignified to have him wheeled in backwards with plaster all over his smart clothes.  He asked for me to get a nurse, he didn't want us lurching into the room like drunks, and so a nurse wheeled him in gracefully and everyone cheered.  After we said our vows, he could not keep himself upright in the chair, and was wheeled back to his bed, a married man, while we all stayed and had the cream tea. Mr Bedford found it hard to keep his head raised and his eyes open when we said our vows.  "Look at me!" I said to him, "I will not marry a man who cannot look at me!" and so he did.  He gave one of his little private smiles, and I knew he loved it. 

Later, when everyone had gone home, and I had dropped guests off at the station to get their trains, I went back to his bedside, where I spent the rest of the afternoon in my best dress sitting beside my new husband as he lay motionless and exhausted, holding his hand.  The sun was shining, the balloons and bunting were removed and my new wonderful in laws quietly took everything away so that I did not have to.  I was deeply happy that day, I had married my Mr B, I was Mrs B, and I had gained his family, his most excellent family, as mine too.  I had in laws to boast about, I had a husband to love and to be proud of, and I had a job to do.  The job, we both knew, was to see him out of this life, and to go with him as far as I could, with his brother David and his son Chris.  But that was not today, that was not on the agenda on the 22 August 2016.  That day was my wedding day.  

Six weeks and one day later, on the 23 October 2016, his brother, his son and I held him as he died.  Mr Alan Bedford and I, Mrs Antonia Bedford, had had six weeks and one day of a perfect marriage.

Happy Anniversary Mr B.  Love from Mrs B. 

The wedding afternoon, holding my new husband's hand.

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Monday 10 August 2020

You're going to die.

Some older zombies 

I know this.  You know this.  We all suspect it, but we don't let it in if we can help it, and quite right.  Once we experience a death we see that life is finite.  How can we stop living, we ask? How on earth can we accept such a thing?  And yet, no matter what we think, say or do, at some point, we will, as my mother used to say, push off.  

Life takes on more meaning once we accept it will end.  It is a strange old journey, life.  Every time we think we have it sussed, something happens and we realise there is more to learn, more to experience, more to do.  Life keeps throwing us curved balls, but we have to keep going.  In amongst the curved balls are times of real happiness too, like when we love someone who loves us back, or when our children are born, or when things go well for us and we can pay our bills or perhaps when our achievements are all that we hoped for.  We plod on, but whatever life we have, and choose, death is the final state.  Death puts life into perspective.  Once we get over the shock that it is real, we can get a grip on our lives and make those decisions, do those things, be that person that we have been putting off.  Our lives are in our hands.  How will we live?  Who will we be?  

No one ever said life was easy. But it is amazing.  It is up to us to make it work, and take risks.  We may not end up with the thing we wished for, but the journey we took to get there will have been a whole lesson in itself.  Realising that we have only so much time can focus us brilliantly on how we are actually living.  It has a way of forcing the issue. I argued with and had a huge dislike of my husband Alan's political views.  It seems that I was locked into being right at all costs and unable to concede an inch.  I understood, after he died and it was too late to tell him, that I did not have to agree with him.  It was not so much that I disliked his politics, it was that I could not be wrong.  As part of my missing him after his death I made myself look at his views, remember what he said, and recall how he behaved in his life.  I also remember his saying that he was once as rigid and uncompromising as me, and that he understood what I felt.  I hated that at the time, but it makes sense now.  He was a lot older than me, and had the gift of being able to change his mind if the arguments were good enough.  The risk for me here was humility.  My husband would never have laughed at me if I had listened to him and changed my mind a bit.  He would have admired me.


Probably don't take this risk

We can't avoid risk, things could always go pear shaped, that nice safe job that we took because it didn't ask much of us and stretched out over the years in secure and peaceful anonymity may suddenly tell us we need training in bomb disposal and single armed combat.  That wasn't what we signed up for!  We all know about the risks of being rejected, disliked, got rid of, abandoned, shown up, humiliated, shamed and so on. To some degree, these are present both in the tiniest of things, like making a phone call, to large things, like being shown up in public.  But there is also the risk of things going well.  We may take a risk and succeed with happiness, success, belonging, achievement.  We may fear going to the doctor when we know something is wrong.  When we do take the risk of being told we are in a bad way and we have only months left to live, quite the opposite happens and we not only have a clean bill of health but we marry the doctor.  

I think, as with all things, it all comes back to how well we know ourselves, how much we like ourselves, and how much of our power we have given away.  If I am afraid, my fear is likely to dictate how I act and react.  That may feel like survival.  Everything feels risky and a challenge.  If I decide to take a risk first, and then I feel fear, like working for an exam, an audition, an interview, my fear is part of the process but not the instigator of it.  If I know myself well, if I am self aware, I may make informed choices and understand risks to myself, my work, my surroundings a bit more - I may be able to pick myself up if it does not work out, and not give up completely.  At the moment, I am seeing such huge aversion to risk, real or perceived, that I wonder if we have all lost the plot. 

What are you afraid of?

My friend is a long term cancer survivor, a palliative care nurse, and over sixty.  Over the past few months she has faced hostility for going to work, and returning home.  She is
  •  vulnerable because of her cancer long ago, and the complications that are part of her life now    
  • working with people who are going to die in the hospice, some of whom are old 
  • old herself.
The hostility she has been dealing with is so strangely illogical and so unreasonable that it has left her sad.  The main concern is that by going to work she meets people who are not only elderly, but moribund.  By being outside in the air too, which is so buzzing with a single virus, she is perceived to be carrying with her this single virus that will kill not only her (which she asked for, she shouldn't have gone out), but all the neighbours and those in her village.  She should know better than to put them all at risk by leaving her house to carry on supporting the dying, and herself an elderly cancer survivor too.  The people who are angry with her are safe, well, solvent, and locked into a paranoid self concern.  My friend knows herself well, is unlikely to put herself or anyone else in danger, and does not make unwise decisions where health is concerned.  Over forty years a nurse, she has worked out what is practical and what is not.  She has carried on working and has probably helped some of their relatives and friends die with a friendly hand holding theirs, because not only are they not allowed in to visit, but they darn well wouldn't have gone anyway.  Too dangerous.  Every person for themselves. 

She had dealt with this with grace and courage.  She has begun to ask people what they are afraid of.  It is her belief that they are all afraid of death.

At the moment, I wonder if death is our number one fear.  Our fear of being ill right now is not just about having to rest for a day or two, it is about death.  It is the certainty of death.  We have linked the virus to our own death, and it is coming to get us.  We do not know much about it but we know an awful lot about the risk it poses to us, to our families, and to the whole world.  We know that the risk is too big to manage, and that we are encouraged to be terrified of each other, ourselves, and all known surfaces. 

Our deepest fears of survival are triggered.  I wonder if we are acting from our lizard brain, the oldest part of our brains that governs such things as survival, being territorial, hunger, thirst and habits.  I think our need to survive this one virus has frightened us into a complicit isolation where our safety is so threatened, we have forgotten who we are. I do not blame anyone, the narrative we have is very frightening, and would challenge the most easy going person.  But somehow, underneath it all, is, I think, a fear of death.  As someone I know says, we have lost perspective, we are all OK and we will survive.  And as someone else I know noticed, most people are more afraid of what others think of them if they do not join in the public dance around not getting the virus, than actually getting ill.  I met with a friend a while ago who was delighted to meet me but not where anyone else could see.  No, she said, she wasn't in the least concerned about getting ill, she just did not want anyone to see her and judge her.  So perhaps it is not all about the fear of death, it is about the fear of social disapproval too.  Heavy stuff. 

We are all going to die.
That was quick

When my friend has enough answers to her question, "What are you so afraid of, " I will publish them.  It will be good to see what people say, it will help me understand why we are so lost in our fear. 

Until we do die, we are very much alive.  I looked online to find an alternative view to the narrative on the pandemic, and could not find anything beyond the fact that all those who question it are Brexiteers and climate change deniers.  That made me feel a bit misunderstood.  And so I am back to my main thought.  We are all going to die.  If that is so, and I believe that it is, I am going to take a risk and get on with my life.   I do not see you as a threat.  I do not believe that if you pass me by on the street, in a shop, on a bus, that either of us will fall to our knees and pass away (unless we get shot, or have a heart attack). I am not going to wash my shopping bag if it touches yours, or put my shopping on a sterile mat for a few days before unpacking it.  I will shake your hand if you offer it.  I will hug you if you want it.  When you are fearful and alone, I will come and visit if you ask me.  What are we afraid of?  I am certainly not afraid of you unless you want to hit me over the head.  In our day to day lives, I am not afraid of you, and I am not afraid of this virus.  I am taking the risk and celebrating life. 

I am celebrating my birthday this year with a reggae disco in my garden. I will be dancing to 
the Jolly Boys here, the oldest reggae band in the world. 

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