A letter to Paul: You had the easy bit

Paul-Last day at home
Paul-Last day at home – October 2015

Dearest Paul,

It’s been more than 148 days since we last communicated, since you stopped breathing and your body turned off the support system for your wonderful brain. I told you that day to let go, that we’d all be okay and that your body was letting you down. I begged you not to hang on for me or your family and I’m so glad you didn’t linger for weeks like the doctor said you might.

Slowly the memory of your pained, drawn face with the open mouth in the shape of a downward boomerang is fading. It’s being replaced with memories of you laughing, arguing, looking at me with love and amusement and the wonderful expression you’d get when you’d talk about technology, physics and the future.

However I’m in more pain than ever. I miss you and us so much that it eats away at me when I’m alone. And I’m alone most of the time.

I hate waking up – especially when I’m having a dream about you. I hate leaving work because I’m going home to a lonely house and another night eating dinner by myself. At least the MASH re-runs are still on, watching them reminds me of being with you. If I prop some pillows up on the other side of the couch I can sometimes trick myself that you are sitting there and, for a few seconds, that nothing has changed.

During the day I do my best to put on a veneer and sometimes the veneer goes deeper than surface. I can laugh, I can get into discussions and feel excitement and pride. Then, it breaks and I’m left scrambling inside to build it up again.

It’s exhausting. I come home at night and have no energy left. I feed the cats, I (occasionally) do a bit of housework, I heat up a frozen meal and I sit on the couch and either play games on my phone or watch some TV. Most times I’m in bed by 8 pm.

I wish I hadn’t thrown out all of your painkillers. I looked for them before I remembered throwing them out. I had a really nice bottle of red – our favourite Shiraz – to drink with them. Because this pain is so constant and the stress of trying to live with it every day is pushing me beyond endurance.

I’m crying so much. In the mornings before work, sometimes during the day at work, at home, in bed. The thought of weekends fills me with dread. I’ve sat at my desk on Fridays pretending to work, but in reality sitting there broken as I hear people laughing and excited about their weekends. I linger so as not to have to answer any questions about what I’ve got planned and to put off my inevitable lonely homecoming.

My friends are fabulous. You know Bruce and Julie and Alister and Adrian and you met Natalie. You didn’t get the chance to meet Lesley and David and their family and that’s too bad – they’re wonderful, big-hearted, smart, funny people. You would have hit it off with David big time.

Your mum has been amazing. She and I talk 3 times a week and are supporting each other. That feeling that she wasn’t having her pain acknowledged is gone I think.

You know my relationship with B and R and the kids is broken. I don’t know if it will heal – I hope so. Just now, I’m in so much pain I can’t take any more.

I was going to go out and do all sorts of adventurous stuff and I broke my elbow and had to cancel it all. No kayaking, no boogie boarding, no abseiling, no fishing, no snorkelling – nothing until September. So people tell me to get on with my life, but I can’t.

We got tax returns. Some of it went to paying the accountant to wrap things up for us. He is nice, you were right.

I am going to visit Angie in Hobart for my birthday/Easter long weekend with some of the money. Bruce and Julie are going to look in on the cats and I’ve made a set of keys for them.

I don’t know when and if to hold a remembrance ceremony for you. You never liked big fusses. Remember how we were going to have a joint 51/49 party between our two birthdays and call it “100 years of Johnson excellence”?

I saw Leo the other day. He looks good but his mum is unwell. He was so sorry he didn’t come to your party that last weekend you had. He really liked and respected you honey.

I wish that you and I had believed in an afterlife. I used to think that comforting lies were crutches I didn’t want or need, I know now why people invent those pretty, comforting fantasies.

Perhaps it’s just as well I don’t. It could be my atheism has saved my life. If I did believe there was an afterlife, I would have ensured I was in it to be with you a while ago.

However, I don’t know what it has saved my life FOR. This pain is awful. Emotional pain. Physical aches. The inability to sleep. The struggle every day to give a shit, to not give in to the urges to

  • run away
  • stay buried in bed with the cats
  • drink myself into oblivion
  • take enough pills to sleep through the hours I have to spend alone.

Spending time with friends is great, but only if I’m with people with whom I don’t have to pretend. Yet I feel sorry for those people because I’m sure I’m a downer and they must be getting sick of me by now.

No one knows what to say and I don’t know what I want to hear besides “Wake up! You’re having a nightmare and talking in your sleep!” and it’s you saying it.

I’ve gone through periods where I’ve been so angry at you. For not going to the doctor sooner. For drinking that cheap, crap wine. For not leaving that situation that was stressing you out and making you so angry. Most of all – for working so much that you forgot how to have fun and be yourself.

I loved hearing you giggle and laugh. Your brother and nephews brought that out in you. I could bring it out in you. The cats could. I loved seeing you fishing, you were always so handsome and happy with the sun on your face, the wind blowing around your luxurious grey hair (can you ever forgive me for taking you to that barber?)…

I miss you coming up behind me and sliding your arms around my waist and kissing my neck. I leaned back against you and felt so loved, so safe, so taken care of. Now there’s nothing.

I’m having to fight our previous landlord on the rent they think they’re due. Having to deal with the VOIP phone not working. Having to deal with paying bills, going to work, keeping the house clean, focusing, caring about things, keeping my shit together.

Caring about things is often hard. It’s all just sawdust right now. I can care short term but not deeply or for any length of time. My heart is so wounded and I’m so embarrassed by losing it so much that I just want it to prune up most days. But when it does, it’s as if I can feel my physical heart sitting like a cold, sluggish lump – pulling against all those connective tissues as a dead weight.

A friend said something about looking forward to the day the “old” Kerry was back.  She died that day in the doctor’s office, holding your cold hand as we heard your death sentence coming out of the mouth of our GP.

Another Kerry emerged – tender and strong, feeling and protective of you. She died the day you did.

This Kerry started life off in shock. Cushioned somehow she went to see family, moved house, got through the holidays.  Then, the numbness and optimism faded and the remains stripped off. This current Kerry feels jagged emotions. She can distract herself for sometimes an hour, then it always comes back. No message of love or a reminder to pick something up at the store on the phone. Fleeting thoughts of what frozen dinner is in store for me tonight? Physical pain when her elbow is bumped which reminds her that she is sentenced to six months of not being able to get fit and challenge herself.

This Kerry feels sadness and anger. She occasionally feels moments of happiness and contentment and treasures those, but she isn’t the child-woman of a year ago. The lightness is darkened and the pleasure of interacting with others is always weighed up against energy reserves. Do I have enough energy not to let my anger and sadness break through? If not, better not to expose it.

You had the easy bit – dying. Whether you’re frolicking with unicorns in a magic rainbow kingdom or your dissipated energy is circling the cosmos — you’re done with it all. All the struggle, pain, anger, frustration, fear – you’re dead. It doesn’t matter to you that I’m having to deal with the everyday shite admin of living, or all of this anguish and pretending. And that makes me so pissed off at you! How dare you leave me with all this bullshit hard work to deal with? Jeezus, Johnson – we were a TEAM! And now I’m stuck here trying to make it work. Probably mucking things up. Every fortnight the mortgage is due and is paid and I breathe a sigh of relief. Hey, look at me adulting all on my own! And why am I on my own? Because YOU wouldn’t go to the doctor after that cough you caught from M’s stupid decision to take her ill father out with you didn’t go away. Maybe they could have caught it at Stage 1 or 2 and we could have had 10 more years together!!!

I loved you so much. I would have given you half my liver – remember I asked to be typed and if it would help – I would have given you more than half of the years left to me to have more time with you. You big bonehead. You had to go and die and leave me behind.

3 Replies to “A letter to Paul: You had the easy bit”

  1. Dear dear Kerry

    The thing that I most keenly understand about death is that the worst of it does not come before or even at the point of death, it is always after. Sometimes long after. As the reality sets in and the shock wears off and the awful dull truth that IT HAPPENED finally starts to hit all the cells in the brain and heart and body, it’s easy to wonder how you can ever survive that. It can be a dark, lonely, horrible, spiritless, agonising place. Much worse than what you’d feel at a funeral.

    A number of years ago I came across this quote by Annie Druyan about losing her life partner Carl Sagan that I thought was profound. I am in no way saying “get over it”, however I am posting this so that you can see at least one other woman who came out of the other side and was able to find a new way of living after losing the person she loved the most in all of eternity.


    I send you hugs and hope. You will find a way of living well in time. It’ll just be a hellish ride but you’ve got lots of us around you who are witnesses to your journey and can at least hold your hand.

    Best always


  2. Thank you Kerry for sharing your pain. This helps me to understand more so maybe I can help others. Here is a poem that some people find helpful. Take care Kathy

    Grief is like a River -Cynthia G. Kelley
    My grief is like a river,
    I have to let it flow,
    But I myself determine,
    Just where the banks will go.
    Some days the current takes me
    In waves of guilt and pain
    But there are always quiet pools
    Where I can rest again.
    I crash on rocks of anger
    My faith seems faint indeed
    But there are other swimmers
    Who know just what I need
    Are loving hands to hold me
    When the waters are too swift
    And someone kind to listen
    When I just seem to drift
    Grief’s river is a process
    Of relinquishing the past
    By swimming in Hope’s channels
    I’ll reach the shore at last.

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