this (griev­ing) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Judy Ni­chol

IT’S been four months, and it’s un­be­liev­able still that my hus­band of 42 years is no longer with me: at the din­ing ta­ble, the movies, our favourite restaurants, fam­ily gath­er­ings, and in bed — my tummy lean­ing into his back, breath­ing in uni­son.

How­ever, he is still with me in the gar­den, where we buried him last month, my three sons and I.

We dug a hole deep enough for his ashes, then placed the me­mo­rial stone/plaque un­der­neath the bird feed­ers he’d made and loved. I read a short poem, We Speak Your Name, that I’d also read at his cre­ma­tion.

It was sud­den, his stroke, one Fri­day morn­ing. The am­bos got him to hospi­tal within half an hour, a very promis­ing sign.

His right side was af­fected. There was talk of re­hab for two weeks, then home for re­cov­ery. How­ever, things took a turn in the af­ter­noon when a Code Blue was called: a med­i­cal emer­gency, as he sud­denly had trou­ble breath­ing. Doc­tors and nurses ex­plained the need to move him to in­ten­sive care, to insert a ven­ti­la­tor.

We fol­lowed, we waited, we prayed. We were sent home and told: ‘‘We’ll ring you if need be.’’ The phone rang at 2.30am. “Come in …” The doc­tor told us straight: “He may die, we are try­ing to save his life.”

My three sons and I sat stunned, star­ing, shocked. I said: “I haven’t told his brother and sis­ter yet.” Doc­tor said: ‘‘Ring them.” I phoned.

For four days in the in­ten­sive care unit, in shifts, we squeezed his hand, stroked his face, re­as­sured him we were wa­ter­ing the gar­den and feed­ing the rosel­las, lori­keets and pet cock­a­too. His eyes stayed shut, with an oc­ca­sional flicker, but he squeezed our hands in re­sponse.

On the fifth day, he wrote the word “pills” and I ex­plained his med­i­ca­tions. I was over­joyed, then ush­ered out as doc­tors did their rounds. An hour later, I en­tered the ICU with one of my sons to be told: “Great news, he is breath­ing on his own.”

We walked to­wards his bed, he gave a lit­tle wave with his good left hand. How­ever, by the time I reached his bed­side, held his hand and started to talk, sud­denly his eyes glazed over. What?

Nurses rushed to ad­just ma­chines, we were ush­ered out again and in the cor­ri­dor heard: “Code Blue, bed three, ICU …”

The rest is a mys­tery. No an­swers: a pos­si­ble sec­ond stroke and se­vere brain trauma caus­ing a re­s­pi­ra­tory ar­rest. The worst mo­ment of our lives. We had to reach con­sen­sus on re­mov­ing life sup­port.

We grieve. It is fit­ting that he is still with us, in his gar­den, rather than in a ceme­tery.

I talk to him ev­ery day.

Re­view wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 420 and 450 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to this­life@theaus­

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