True to my philosophy of “humour above all”, my up-beat Christmas letter included:
“And yes, we will have freshly brewed coffee. You see, K. is unwell. She got a cold about 6 weeks ago which went onto her chest, and she had bronchitis for the first time ever. After looking after me for 18 months, with all that stress and worry, she must have been very low because this innocuous illness has knocked her down completely. It has out lasted two courses of strong antibiotics, then moved into her sinus – the usual place for her. It almost went, but has returned and she is now on her fourth set of tablets. So I am on kitchen duty. Everyone K. tells that “He is doing all the cooking” is singularly unsympathetic. Remarks like “Make the most of it”, and “It’ll do him good” I find quite subversive. I think she should get a new, more reliable set of friends. As regards the coffee, my view is that if I am to make the effort to provide warm drinks, then why not grind the beans and do the job properly. The amount of effort is not that much different. Climbing the stairs without spilling the drink is far more important.”
The truth is more prosaic. It’s hard for a carer to let go and sit still, to stay in the warm. Maybe she felt ineffective, or guilty or helpless as she watched my struggles. We started bickering about mundane things, like shopping, what to eat etc. Worse, K. found it almost impossible to clear her chest, and her coughing became persistent and painful. Almost every morning we awoke to a bed drenched with her night perspiration. Eventually K. agreed to a regime that saw her in bed much of the time, and absolutely banned from even talking about going out of doors, but not without a struggle! Not a day passed without a crossed word.
I spoke with the nurse. “Feed a cold, starve a fever – what should I do?”. “Stay in the warm, and plenty of fluid, soups and hot drinks” was the reply. My attempt to fatten her up had been misguided. I now felt flatter, as did K. who was once again confined to the house – this time with a nurse’s say so.
And Christmas? Arthur, now house bound, wanted us to visit him. But his house was always so cold that K. had put her foot down “Never again in the winter!”. How to tell him became a non issue. The phone rang with the unexpected news that he had died in his sleep, the cremation would be in the New Year. He was my mentor; my son’s Godfather; my only true confidant; the only man who was my true friend for forty two years. I was devastated and broke down. After the eulogy, his brother said “She took it rather badly” pointing to Arthur’s Indian next door neighbour, and alluding to her sobs. As I confessed that it had been me, his eyebrows rose. How low we have both become. The winter skies, the perpetual cough, the daily struggle to cook and clear up after, and now this. Somehow we have to break this mood, but how?
Then we saw an advert in the weekend paper that promised sun and blue skies. It was supported by the picture of a cat, fast asleep in the crook of a tree with that daft well fed look that cat lovers know and recognise. We were captivated, energised, and burst into activity. We had booked the trip by 5:30pm one Saturday, and were on the plane at 6:30pm the next. We are going SKIING!