A typical Sunday evening. When I was a schoolboy, it was the ushering in of that time of day, marking the end of Alan Freeman's Pick of the Pops, faithfully broadcast weekly on BBC Radio 2, to give way to Cliff Adams' Sing Something Simple, with its gentle theme choir oozing from the mono radio speaker. This, in turn, signalled Mum's taking out the ironing board from the cupboard to press my school uniform in preparation for another week. It was that time of the weekend when my heart dropped at the prospect of facing our P.E. master three times a week, who seems to have gotten a thrill in whacking forgetful pupils across their buttocks with a size-eleven sole of a plimsoll, and to cause the four walls of the spacious gym to resonate at his booming voice. It also reminded me of muffled instructions from the rest of the staff which sometimes I didn't fully comprehend, along with verbal teasing from other pupils in the classroom. And oh yes, not to forget: The daily morning assembly where I was under compulsion to sing hymns under threat of punishment and to pretend to pray to a Christian god I denied ever existing, let alone knowing personally. That awful Sunday evening feeling which, except during school holidays, had always arrived as regular as clockwork.
|The exact kind of radio unit we had in the 1960's.|
Fast forward half a century. Alex and I are on our computers, with myself enjoying retirement and without that anticipation of that Monday morning feeling encroaching into my soul. Just another Sunday evening spent quietly at home. That was when my beloved started to complain of a growing pain throughout her thigh and lower leg, and after taking several painkillers, her slipping into unconsciousness. Unable to wake her up, I tried not to panic, but instead phoned the non-emergency, out-of-hours number to speak to the G.P. After getting through and carefully describing her symptoms, an ambulance was dispatched to our home. It arrived shortly after, with a crew of three paramedics and a doctor, who all remained at our home with their failed attempts to revive Alex back into consciousness.
During their attempts, whilst waiting about twenty minutes give or take, I sat in the armchair, close to tears. One of the paramedics, seeing my distress, tried to soothe me. Terrible fears gripped my soul. The fear of her death and an ensuing life of widowhood. Not that I cannot cope in living on my own. I lived that way for nearly a quarter of a century after flying the nest in 1976. So it wasn't that.
It was the threat of going through the rest of my life without her company. Without her love, without her devotion to me, without that deep, thankful appreciation for me, and without her reassurance. And without returning this equally strong love and commitment. Living in crushing loneliness and utter silence, except when broken by the sounds of recorded music or broadcasting live voices issuing from inanimate plastic, wood and glass cabinets. But from such sources I could never enjoy intimacy, a hug, an affectionate gesture, a word of appreciation, the feeling of love, or just company.
The love we have for each other has always been unmatched by anyone else. Not even from my parents as rightfully, Mum and Dad were devoted to each other, as we are at present, and they have put their children - my brother and myself - in second place in the family. So the love we have for each other remains unrivalled. So how distressed did I feel as I watched my wife remaining unconscious whilst the paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive her? More thoughts entered my mind while I was sitting in the armchair. Why is she unconscious?
The thought which tormented me most was the possibility of an overdose of painkillers in her attempt to ease her aching leg. She took some Tramadol and Ibuprofen pills together, both medicines prescribed by her doctor. The Media is good in passing on stories of cases of drug overdosing, causing the patient to fall unconscious before silently passing away. Could Alex be another statistic? A song came to mind, a popular number of the 1970's: Cat Steven's Lady D'Arbanville. It was a reminder of this song which brought me close to tears. A short extract is quoted here:
Lady D'Arbanville, why do you sleep so still? I'll wake you tomorrow...
Lady D'Arbanville, your lips are like winter...
Lady D' Arbanville, why do you breathe so low?...
I loved you my lady, though in your grave you lie, I'll always be with you...
The description in the song sounds shockingly like my wife's condition, and I hope it was just a song. Before then, I knew nothing about how Steven's relationship with the real Patti D'Arbanville ended, which was the inspiration behind the song. Because of my ignorance of its background, the song kept on giving me feelings of torment. Now, after checking on the Internet in preparation for this blog, I'm happy to say that not only is she alive at present, but also has four children.
As I sat there, I tried to reason what life as a widower would be like. Within the last few years I have had a number of near-identical dreams of moving back into my old bachelor pad to resume life as a single person. The worst thing about these dreams was that they kept recurring, with some so startlingly vivid, I have never forgotten them to this day. Was I spoken to by some entity in those dreams? The idea of fulfilment intensified such fears. And as she was being attended to, I tried to visualise what life as a widower would be like. Anything resembling my former life as a singleton? In some things, yes. Chances would be that our landlord, Bracknell Forest Homes, may decide that our three-bedroom abode is too big for a single tenant, and offer me an apartment as an alternative.
Then would I find comfort in Travel? Could a life of long-haul travel be revived? As I have always said to my wife: If ever she was to die before me, I'll find comfort by passing through the airport. Closely connected with travel is hosteling. It was at these hostels where I always found company, especially at the Member's Kitchen, where I often talked with someone at the next cooking stove. Travel and hosteling were in those days a panacea to the waves of loneliness I often felt as one free and single. But I also know full well that Travel would never be the same again. The times I look back at our honeymoon in Rhodes, where we strolled along the deserted beach under a night sky, occasionally seeing shooting stars streaking across the heavens, and listening to the gentle lapping of the sea. The times when we hiked together, cycled together, sailed together, boarded the train together, as well as flying together. The times we dined as a couple, even al fresco under a warm, starry night sky. And the times without number when we looked into each other's eyes with the beach, palm trees, or even an archaeological site in the background.
No, travel would never be the same. Alone, such has lost its appeal. But supposing that I have never met Alex or married her. Sure enough, by now I would have a much larger photo album library, depicting snapshots of parts of the world I haven't so far got round to visiting, such as India, South Africa and New Zealand. But again, what would have been the purpose? Once dead and gone, what would have become of these albums? Most likely all going up in a big bonfire, as it would have been unlikely any member of our extended family ever wanting to keep them. Then not to forget that famous king of Israel writing about "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, a chasing of the wind".
But most of all, I looked upon the threat of widowhood as a life without love. Real love. To be looked at as "Gorgeous" and constantly reminded so. Loved and accepted as I am, without the need for any change, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. With her gone - this - above all other things, will be sorely missed. It is the sort of love none of my family members can give. Sympathy, yes, if I find myself forever alone, but nothing of the love I have enjoyed as one of a couple.
The doctor decided that Alex is to go into hospital, and she was laid on a stretcher and taken to the ambulance waiting outside, with myself sitting next to the driver. The blue lights were blazing and the sirens wailed at every junction and red traffic light. At the Resuscitation Ward, there she lay, still unconscious, while I leaned over the safety rail fitted alongside her bed. But by then I had lost faith in prayer. That's one of the reasons why I seldom attend prayer meetings at our church. In the way it often appears, prayers - which in themselves can be hard work - are constantly offered towards heaven which at times seem to hit a bronze shield of a sky, and return unanswered. But that evening, as I watched Alex slowly gain consciousness, I leaned on the railing and had a desperate chat with God.
First I began thanking him for his gift of life, and that it was he, God, who brought us together in the first place and gave us to each other, as I belong to her as much as she belongs to me. Then I began to acknowledge the Sovereignty of God, his omniscience, his omnipresence and omnipotence. I thanked him that long before either of us were ever born, he already knew us. And furthermore, as I spoke softly, I declared my thankfulness that the exact number of days we are to live has been decided in Heaven, and sealed from eternity past. Also from eternity past, every work, plans, thoughts and feelings were already recorded long before we were even born. And that includes our decision for each of us to turn to Christ for salvation. Hence God's predestination to life was out of his foreknowledge of the choice we would make.
Then I remembered the statement which appears in Psalm 139:16, which reads:
All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
As I watch Alex regain her consciousness, I felt fortified in Christ. And a reminder that Once Saved Always Saved being so reassuring. By then it was half-twelve in the morning. One of the doctors affirmed that she will spend the night as an in-patient, and further tests will be carried out on the next day. I booked a taxi to take me home, which was about one in the morning.
At home, alone in the dead of silence, I thanked the lord for his goodness, and even reminded aloud to any evil entity within the house that this risen Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. Why have I said this? Because I'm fully aware that every evil entity in this world is terrified of God, and also in the past, when we were in bed together, our Hi-Fi unit downstairs in the lounge has, on occasions, turned itself on by itself. Several times, and always between 1.00 and 2.00 am. Any CD left inside started to play. On one occasion, it tuned into a radio station which we never listen to, and the crackly sound floated upstairs. Fortunately, nothing out of the usual happened that night Alex was away.
Suffice to say, all the tests carried out proved to be negative, and she was discharged from hospital by the following evening. Her recovery was quick, and it didn't take long before life as a couple returned to normal. However, I still have one regret. That is, the doctor's inability to find something positive, and therefore presenting a case to zero into the problem for proper treatment. Instead, her life outdoors confined to a wheelchair continues, as no proper diagnosis and cure has so far been found. This has tested our faith from time to time, causing me to ask: "If Alex had been alive when Jesus was around, no doubt He would have healed her totally there and then, simply by a word from His mouth. Why doesn't it happen now?" This is what makes prayer difficult. A lack of miraculous results. At least it's still edifying to know that indeed, regardless of how much or little faith we have, if God is with us, who can be against us?