Friday, 5 April 2013

Good night and God bless (I)

John Dillon Humphreys, 13/11/1927 – 18/03/2013

Gentle, noble John, my beloved partner, passed away the day after I wrote the last entry. 
On 14th February he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and secondaries in his spine and liver.  Barely a month and four days later his exhausted body gave up the fight.  I had intended to nurse him at home where the two cats he loved so much would be close by, and with the assistance of district nurses, but he never returned from his second visit to hospital. 
His younger daughter Jo spent many hours driving up and down the motorway to provide support and company, and the load was made lighter by her presence.  The time we had with him was so very brief, but I would not have had it any other way.  If he had sought clinical advice about his extreme tiredness over the previous three years he may well have discovered that he had not escaped his years of smoking, and that every puff of the cigarette had been one puff of air less when he needed it the most.  However this would have meant three years of uncomfortable and painful treatment, with his strength and morale being sapped little by little, and too long to have to live with the awful truth.
At first when his mind was clearer we talked to him, and he was never in any doubt about how much he was loved, and by how many.  Although he knew what was happening he remained philosophical throughout and showed little inclination to examine his feelings – as usual.  Jo asked him once if he was frightened, and he replied “Not really.  But I am curious about what’s going to happen the day after...” 
In the last two days in hospital he slipped into unconsciousness, and on Monday 18th March I had just left at 1 p.m. after sitting with him since 5.00 a.m., and Jo was with him when he peacefully took his last breath half an hour later.  That evening my ginger cat Rusty was nowhere to be found, and for the first time ever in 12 years he didn’t come bounding in when I called him.  I tried at fifteen minute intervals till 1.30 a.m. then had to give up.  John would never have gone to bed until he found him, but I was just too tired and on autopilot.  I left the cat flap open but there was no sign of him the following day.  My kindly neighbours saw me unable to cope with all this, and set to work – one walked up and down the road calling him and shaking a box of biscuits, and the other called at every single house in the road asking the owners to check their outbuildings in case Rusty had got shut in by mistake.  There was no sign of him.
While Jo sorted out the intricate paperwork required after a death and contacted the vicar and funeral director, I started advising people by e-mail, and tried to explain to John in my head that in a matter of hours we had gone from a household of four down to just two – just me and Banjo, my other cat.  I also begged him to help me find Rusty.  I didn’t think I would ever see my little ginger cat again, wondering if a fox had got him or he had wandered too far and got lost.  He had a chip under the skin, but who ever cares about picking up a stray cat, taking it to a vet and having it checked just in case?  It all just about pushed me over the edge. 
So at 1 a.m. when Rusty casually let himself in through the cat flap in the study where I was sitting, I screamed and just about squeezed the breath out of him as I blubbed at him about his poor sense of timing.  He just purred.  His fur was in perfect condition, with no sign of his having been in a fight, or slept rough in the field behind the house; he wasn’t hungry – just thirsty because he had had no insulin for 36 hours – he was warm and unharmed.  Perfectly happy, and glad to see me.
I was determined to write a eulogy which I would read out myself at John’s funeral – in fact I had started it a couple of weeks’ earlier when he was still at home.
“Whatcha doin’ Tich?” he called out.  I stopped and went to sit on the bed with him.
“You’ll never guess.”
“Try me”.
“I’ve started on your eulogy”
“Saying anything nice?”
“Nope, I’m telling people just what a nasty person you were”.
We smiled at each other.
“Will you show it to me when it’s finished?  There could be spelling mistakes...”
“Of course Humph.”
“Don’t forget to tell them about Bath Abbey.”
“Of course Humph.”
But we ran out of time. 

Afterwards I had plenty of time in which to write it – in Britain funerals take place at least a week after someone has died, and my employers at the hospital had been generous with me, insisting that I take as much time off as I needed to look after John and recover afterwards.  I also had time to prepare a slide show for my digital frame with over 360 images of him, his family and friends. 
In between times I slept, the cats with me on the bed most of the time.   One morning a few days after his death, the doorbell rang at 05:17 a.m.  I had just changed the doorbell a fortnight earlier, from a buzzer to one with a Big Ben chime, like an old grandfather clock.  The first half of the chime woke me, and I had jumped out of bed in fright as the second half sounded.  I had no intention of answering the door; I put my head out of the dining-room window and called, but there was no one there.  Annoyed, I went back to bed, and as I drew the quilt back over my head I suddenly smiled to remember that John would get up between 05:00 and 05:30 every morning to let the cats out, and that – who knows – maybe he had made the doorbell ring to tease me, and to remind me to open the cat flap.
Rusty and Banjo followed me about the house all the time, and Rusty would bring me ‘presents’ of the feathered variety (alas) to cheer me up...  Then one evening I had to go out to John’s car to collect things from the back seat, and left the front door of the house open.  The bleeps and flashing lights from the remote control added to the slamming of the car door brought both of them galloping out the door at top speed.  Rusty realised straight away it was only me and ran off, but Banjo came right up to the car to where I was standing having just slammed the door and stared at me with his eyes as big as saucers.  There was absolutely no doubt that they thought John had returned. 
John had asked to be buried in a church cemetery in Bathampton.  In the family plot there, his elder daughter Alison had been buried in 1996.  She died at the age of 43 of complex neurological problems which had beset her from the age of 27, and he wanted to be with her, as will her mother eventually. 
We had expected some 50 people to attend the funeral on Wednesday last, the 27th March, but more than twice that crammed into the small church until there was standing room only.  A song of his composition about the river Avon was sung by a professional singer friend of ours, and twenty-five members of the Bristol Gilbert & Sullivan Operatic Society came to sing one of the best known songs – “For he is an Englishman”, (from HMS Pinafore) which described John so well.  His friend Bill read out a beautiful poem by Max Ehrmann, and I read out my tribute to him without mishap and was pleased and comforted when the congregation laughed in the right places and gave me a clap at the end.
Thank you, thank you for the supportive comments, and to all who showered me with flowers, cards and kind words, and to my relations and neighbours who continue to keep an eye on me.  It has buoyed me up when I needed it most.
On Monday 18th March 2013 the world stopped spinning for a brief while, but now it is back on its orbit, and I must take up my life again without John’s love and support.   


(I’ll share with you the text of my tribute to John in Part II, and the poem by Max Ehrmann)
-oOo-

4 comments:

Theresa aka Tessie Rose said...

What a beautifully written post. I'm terribly sorry for your loss. I know you had a wonderful life together. I wish I could say something to make it better. You will remain in my thoughts and prayers. God be with yo!

Joyful said...

A beautiful tribute to your beloved John. I love the photo you've used. He was so handsome. I'm so pleased that you have a lot of local support as some of us who might be there to comfort you are so far away. You continue to be in my thoughts and prayers. God bless. xx

Sara said...

I'm so sorry about your loss. It really isn't fair that good people are taken before we are ready to lose them. You have written a lovely tribute to him and to your life together. May you continue to find comfort in your memories.

Lonicera said...

Thank you all three - I've been so moved by the lovely messages left for me. Thank you again.
Caroline

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