Wednesday 13 March 2024

Moving on by Judith Skilleter, sparkling wine

Phyllis was widowed six months ago. Her husband died after a long illness. When the end came he was ready to go and she was ready for him to go. Not in a selfish sense, but she could see the pain and indignity was putting him in an emotional and physical place from which he could never recover. Her husband was unhappy with what the illness had reduced him to; he felt less than half of the man he used to be. He did not want the world to see him in this state and Phyllis knowing he was a proud man, did not want that either.

Her husband died at home. That was his wish and Phyllis knows that she could not have done more for him – apart from helping him to die which was his wish in the weeks before his death came naturally. They had talked about going to Dignitas in Switzerland for assisted dying but her husband was determined to be at home until the end. And as time went on he was too ill to get to Switzerland anyway.

It is now six long months since his death. All the messy stuff has been sorted and all the bills paid. All the finances and pensions and insurances and banking have been settled to her relief and satisfaction. But why did it have to take so long? All is left is for his ashes to be spread in the garden when the spring planting time comes along. That was his wish, for his ashes to help future life.

And it is about now, when there is nothing to do, nothing to consider that the pain of her loss hits Phyllis. She had been told that after all the administrative work of bereavement is done then the pain will take over – and she didn’t believe it. How could anything be as painful as watching your husband of forty-five years die slowly and painfully. But they were right, the acute loneliness cuts right through and cannot be lessened.

Phyllis is also angry – with both her husband and herself. Their roles within the household had always been shared and now Phyllis is having to consider things that were never before her responsibility. New skills have had to be learned and at a time when her brain seems scrambled. Phyllis can now, albeit reluctantly and slowly, find her way round a computer, she can change a plug and she is driving more. Her husband loved his cars and he loved driving. Phyllis was more than happy to sit next to him and read. What a mistake. Phyllis has over the years as a passenger lost the concentration and confidence that makes a competent driver and getting behind the wheel is a scary process. As for other tasks gardening is now paid for as will be decorating, when she gets round to it.Phyllis resents the fact that she has acquired new responsibilities and  she also is angry with herself that she didn’t take an interest in these before her husband’s death, even before he was ill, even perhaps throughout their long and happy marriage. It might have made a very difficult time less so.

And after six months the support from others has died away. More than once she has been told that she should be getting over it by now. “What a load of bollocks” thinks Phyllis. She has been advised to get out, find company, have fun, take holidays. “Total crap” thinks Phyllis. She has been told “He wouldn’t have wanted you to mourn.” “Perhaps” thinks Phyllis “but he also knew it would be difficult for her and her husband’s advice was the best advice. “Take each day as it comes; don't rush into big decisions and take comfort in what we had for so long. We were very lucky and it will not be easy adjusting to a life alone. Allow yourself to be sad but do not avoid the little bits of happiness that might come along” Her husband had been a very wise man.

But where does all this need to love, need to care for and need to be with go when there is a death.   Does it just hang about and remain unfulfilled until there is space for it once again in her life? There is a horrible feeling of betrayal if something comes along that she enjoys. Staying with the sadness is a permanent link with her husband and she does not want to lose it.

Phyllis’ grown-up children are aware of how their mother is dealing with the death of their dad. They have ideas to help and have suggested that she stays with them more often. Phyllis tried this once or twice but each time she left early to return home where her memories were. They have suggested a holiday, a holiday with them all together to celebrate their dad, but Phyllis wasn’t keen. “No thank you, I am fine at home at the moment” was her reply to the invitation.

The family know that their mother is not being awkward – it is just that the time is not right, yet. It is a difficult time for all of them.

About the author


Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching. Her first children's novel The April Rebellion, has recently been published. Judith is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire 45 years ago and is married with four grandchildren. 

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