Gordon and Margy have been happily married for over 40 years. (I have to say here, or Margy would be very cross, that she is Margy with a hard G, the same as her beloved Gordon, and not as in giraffe.)
Gordon and Margy celebrated their Ruby Wedding anniversary last year with all their friends and relatives around them – brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews came to celebrate. Sadly there were no children of their own at the celebration; despite a lot of very pleasant trying no children came their way during their marriage and therefore all their spare love not meant for each other went to much loved brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. And this love is reciprocated. Gordon and Margy are adored by all their family and friends.
Gordon worked for a building firm until a couple of years ago when he took retirement. He measured things and wore a hard hat from time to time. At least that was how Margy described his job. Margy worked for the same building firm until about 30 years ago when word processors and computers took over from typewriters. She hated these new ways of working, she hated losing the ping when she came to the end of a line and she absolutely hated finding that her hard won and well preserved shorthand skills were no longer of any use. So she resigned and got a job in a vet as receptionist where she reluctantly learned how to use a spread sheet on the resident computer. She loved her second career and somehow a lot of stray and unloved dogs ended up sharing the lives of Gordon and Margy. They became the children they had never had and shared their love. The animals more than made up for having to learn these horrible computer skills,
Life was good, very good, until a year ago. Gordon and Margy were so looking forward to Gordon’s retirement. They had plans. They had a motor home which had only been used for weekends away so far, and their new plan was that they and the dogs – they had three – would set off and see Great Britain. Margy especially fancied Scotland but not in the midge season. Gordon too wanted to travel north of the border; he was looking forward to visiting the Kingdom of Fife; it sounded so romantic. And anyway he could visit St Andrews and see the famous golf course there if they went to Fife.
But Margy started developing symptoms around about the time of Gordon’s retirement. She didn’t give these symptoms much though at first, after all she was getting older and things never worked as well when you were old as they did when you were young.
Her symptoms were not much at first: a bit of dizziness and visual problems which she put down to needing new glasses. And then she got pins and needles in her feet that wouldn’t go away and she felt very unsteady when she walked. Even getting her words out became a problem and she was one who could talk for England. “Bloody old age” she reckoned was the cause of all these changes.
Gordon too had been noticing these small changes that together were getting in the way of Margy enjoying life and he was worried. He suggested she see their GP but at first she refused - “Don’t be so daft, it’s just me getting older.”
But when she started peeing and couldn’t get to the loo in time she agreed to go to the GP. Margy was very proud and always looked and smelled good. Her favourite perfume was Rush by Gucci and she wore it every day.
After many investigations the GP had bad news for Gordon and Margy – she had multiple sclerosis and no, it would not go away but rather it would get worse and no, the GP could not say whether it would get worse quickly or slowly. They had to make changes in their life to accommodate this unwanted but permanent visitor.
The news was a horrible shock for Gordon and Margy; there were many tears and sleepless nights and questions to all sorts of health professionals. How on earth were they going to manage this awfulness?
All their family and friends came around and promised to help but Gordon and Margy knew that this was something they fundamentally had to manage themselves and they thanked them politely and said that if there was anything they needed they would be sure to get in touch. Gordon amd Margy were nevertheless very grateful for these kind offers
They tried the Scottish trip in the motorhome. It was Ok but very difficult. Margy, by this time, was having difficulty with stairs and the steps into the van were high and steep. And the toilet was very narrow and uncomfortable. Margy was needing more bathroom help by the time of the trip and there was no room for two people in the van’s toilet. She was less able with her hands as well so Gordon had taken over the cooking and cleaning at home and these would be his responsibilities on their travels in the motorhome. And then there was tiredness, total all-day fatigue. Margy would fall asleep in the chair in the middle of a conversation. She burned herself sometimes as cups of tea were spilled as she dropped off to sleep. Life was no longer good – life had become hard work.
They took a wheelchair to Scotland, just as a precaution. It was needed more than they realised and the St Andrews’ cobbles were not welcoming to an elderly man pushing his elderly wife in a wheelchair. They came home early and the motor home was sold. Gordon and Margy’s travel dreams were put to one side.
At home, the intimacy and physical love that had always been an important part of their relationship became difficult. Their love making before had not included the words and phrases such as “Oh, I’m sorry” or “Does this hurt” or “Just wait a minute while I get more comfortable” or “Are you sure?” They made do with cuddles, warm, affectionate, as–close–as-possible cuddles.
Then there was guilt. Margy felt very bad that she had ruined the end of their life together. She felt that Gordon deserved more than this – a sick wife with increasing physical needs that really he should not have to think about. He should be planning trips and outings rather than daily visits to the chemist. Margy even suggested that she went to a care home for a week or so or they employed a carer to live so he could go on holiday. “But where would I go? How on earth would I enjoy myself without you? Don’t be daft. Just no. I don’t want to talk about this again” was his reply.
Gordon too felt guilty because although he adored Margy he wanted more from his retirement and his thoughts too did drift from time to a time to when he would have time to himself. And then he felt so bad for having these thoughts that he was extra attentive for days. Life without Margy was unthinkable.
With reluctance they accepted help from their family. A rota was organised and a niece or a nephew came and sat with Margy while Gordon went to the pub or played bowls – or just had free time. The family also took over their shopping – or at least they organised deliveries so that Gordon did not have to go to the supermarket where he worried all the time that Margy had fallen or burned herself with another dropped cup of tea.
As for the dogs, they were found new homes. It was just all too much for Gordon looking after the dogs as well as Margy. This was another huge loss for the two of them, another dream had disappeared.
They moved house. They moved from their dream bungalow, made just as they liked it over the years and where they hoped to end their days together, to a smaller bungalow with all sorts of aids and adaptation to help Gordon help Margy – to make multiple sclerosis less of a problem. They hated the bungalow that was more like a hospital ward than a comfy home. And it was only in this hateful place where everything was a reminder of how things had become that they occasionally bickered and got upset about the state of things. It was as if multiple sclerosis had taken over their lives, which, in many ways, it had.
Before too long Margy needed permanent nursing care. Gordon sold their home and bought a studio flat near to the care home where she was now living so he could visit daily. It was the only time they had lived apart in nearly 50 years and it broke his heart. He could have moved in with her, the home had facilities for couples to live together but Margy said no to this. There were a few tearful and even angry conversations about living separately as Margy told her well-loved husband that he had to get used to a life alone. He had to get used to a life without her – even a life with someone else one day and they might as well start now.
Margy wanted to prepare for the end of her life, something that she knew was coming sooner rather than later, without him with her all the time. Her next step was too important a step to take with onlookers, no matter how loved the onlookers might have been. And although it broke her heart to think about it, she wanted Gordon to get a bit more used to a life alone.
She even told him that after she had died she wanted him to be happy and if that meant with another woman then that was OK. Permission was given for him to marry again. At this Gordon burst into floods of tears, no. way, he said, could Margy be replaced in his life
Margy was ready for her death when it eventually came. She was fed up with living, or at least she was fed up with existing with multiple sclerosis. She had no faith, she had no God, and she was not afraid of what might come next – or even if nothing came next. Anything would be better than being dependant on others for almost every aspect of a very limited life. Anything would be better than these feelings of being useless, of being unable to do much and this lack of dignity no matter how hard her carers tried. She knew Gordon would be very sad but the family would rally round and look after him and one day he would be an active citizen enjoying life again.
And that was what happened.
About the author
Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching and her first children's novel will be published shortly. She is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire 45 years ago and is married with three grandchildren