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Angry Widow's Open Letter To Friends and Family: Your Visits RUINED My Precious Final Moments

Angry Widow’s Open Letter To Friends and Family: Your Visits RUINED My Precious Final Moments

Whoa… this just the misdirected raw grief talking, or do you think Michelle has some valid points? 


By MICHELE CHRISTIE |Article Source/Dailymail

Dear family, friends and acquaintances,

You will all know by now that in the early hours of August 22, my beloved husband Dick finally died. You will not be surprised by this because during the final precious months of his life, as he suffered the unspeakable pain and awful indignities of terminal cancer, you visited him at our home in your droves.

I counted the days between his diagnosis and his death. There were 150 of them. I wish I could say I’m grateful for your prolonged and constant visits to Dick as he was dying. But actually I’m not. On the contrary, I feel compelled to tell you now, as I wrestle with the raw grief of losing him, I feel only deep and abiding anger.

I’m angry because you robbed us of our final days together. You stole from us five irretrievable months we had hoped to savour together, just the two of us. We had wanted to sit, to soothe each other, to talk, sometimes to cuddle. Instead we endured an invasion. More than 100 of you called and your visits were an intrusion.

You may by now be feeling indignant. Doubtless you’ve convinced yourselves that your visits were prompted by a selfless desire to cheer up a desperately ill man. After all, you’d given up time from your busy schedules to sit with him and entertain him with stories of your own happy and fulfilled lives.

And of course I know you grieve for him. I’m certain you feel his absence acutely. But I also believe that by monopolising him and draining him of the last dregs of his energy you were being insensitive and self-serving. You were encroaching on time that should have been ours alone — and for that I am finding it hard to forgive you.

Let me tell you, now I have the leisure — my days as a widow stretch out before me interminably — how it was for Dick and me.

For the 13 years we spent together, nine of them married, we were blissfully in love. And although Dick was a gregarious, well-liked and respected member of our small Devon community, we were a private couple. No one stepped over our threshold unless they were invited. We did not keep an open house. We cherished our privacy, our time together.

Our home, a Victorian lodge near Chulmleigh, set in 12 rural acres, in which our animals — alpacas, geese, ducks and chickens — roamed freely, was our haven.

Dick ran his landscape gardening and fencing business and during his leisure hours he kept our house and grounds immaculate. I worked as a self-employed private nurse — I still do — and we asked for little from life, other than the joy we derived from being together.

But when Dick became ill, it seemed as if he became public property. A grief which we had hoped to share privately suddenly became your business.

Dick would beg: Please, can’t you tell them all to go away?

Dick was 15 years older than me and was 66 when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on March 25 this year. His symptoms were jaundice and abdominal pain: his GP referred him for an ultrasound scan. I went with him and because I’m a nurse, with a rudimentary knowledge of reading scans, what I saw made my blood run cold.

The disease was advancing inexorably. Secondary tumours had spread to Dick’s liver. The cancer was in its terminal phase, graded stage four, they told us.

I remember reeling with shock and fear. Inwardly I was howling. Outwardly, however, I tried to stay calm, and I did so for Dick. He was offered chemotherapy, but his consultant was clear about the prognosis. Treatment would extend his life for only six or eight weeks, and would make him feel unwell immediately.

At that stage, Dick still felt vigorous and energetic. He opted not to have any treatment and I recall feeling strangely proud of him. I thought then we may be able to share a few bittersweet weeks of calm together before the onslaught of the pain.

On the contrary, it struck swiftly and cruelly. Within a few days Dick was on escalating doses of painkillers. The pain would plateau then peak as if the tumours were having growth spurts, and in those early days we both grappled to take in the full horror of what was happening to him.

We had no time to acclimatise, to talk, to hug, to cry. Because you, his well-wishers, had started to arrive. You came with solemn faces and empty words, or with brittle cheerfulness and idle chit-chat. Either way, you infuriated us.

We wanted to be alone with our thoughts. Instead we were forced to be gracious hosts: me procuring endless cups of tea; Dick wearing a mask of bravery although pain often threatened to engulf him.

And then there were the phone calls, necessitating the endless, wearying repetition of awful news. And the cards — well-meant, I know — that seemed already to be consigning Dick to his grave. They contained expressions of sympathy and condolence. ‘But I’m not dead yet,’ he’d point out.

Of course, I know you all had good intentions — you were Dick’s chums or neighbours, his relatives or friends — but he was my husband, the man I shared my life with: my partner, my best friend, my lover. In short, my other half.

Dick and Michele on their wedding day in Venice in August 2005. Dick died from cancer on August 22 this year

As one wave of you was succeeded by the next, we found ourselves alone only during the hours of darkness, when I would carry out the nursing tasks that should have been done during the day — bed baths, administering drugs, painkillers, suppositories — before we both fell into an exhausted sleep.

And what galled me most was that, as soon as you left, your duty done, your consciences appeased, your own lives would continue as usual. You’d go to the cinema, for a meal with friends, enjoy a country walk. I’d read your jaunty postings on Facebook — your visit to your dying friend merely an interlude in your happy, fun-filled existences. We, meanwhile, were left only with our grief and pain.

By then the sole breadwinner, I continued to work. I’d try to cram my nursing into four hours each morning, and it took a heroic effort to maintain a cheery face for my patients when each moment away from Dick felt like an eternity and my heart was breaking.

Then I’d rush home to find some casual acquaintance — often someone who had never stepped over our threshold when Dick was well — occupying my place next to him on the sofa.

I’d perch on a stool and offer heavy-handed hints. ‘Dick really needs some lunch,’ I’d say. But still you remained; garrulous, intransigent, apparently oblivious to the fact even desperately sick people need liquids and nourishment.

You drained the last dregs of his energy, just so you’d feel better

Dick was, you all know, a generous, kind man. He would never publicly ask you to leave, but privately he would beg me: ‘Please, can’t you tell them all to go away?’

And I tried to, but you were too thick-skinned to take my hints.

‘He’s terribly tired today,’ I’d say, apologetic. ‘Would you mind making it a brief visit?’ And when, three hours later, you — and sometimes your exuberant children, too — were still crammed into our sitting room, I would look at Dick’s dear, brave, stoic face and want to weep.

As his cancer progressed ineluctably, he knew he wanted to remain in his own home, not in hospital. And he was able to, because I could nurse him. But nursing is a private and intimate job and there were many indignities my husband did not want to share with you all. Often he would vomit after eating, so when you were there he did not eat. He did not sleep either — he was too polite to ask you to leave while he took a nap — so leech-like you sucked his dwindling energy.

Then when you finally left, he would collapse. So there was no time for us to do as we wished; to hold hands, to cuddle, to quietly reflect on shared memories. And I bitterly regret the loss of those days we could have spent together, in our own self-contained world. When Dick was diagnosed, he was given between four and six months to live. That’s 120 to 180 days. He struck the middle course exactly. And during the 150 days he lived we had just eight days on our own.

For two of these we escaped to a hotel in Fowey, Cornwall. ‘We just need some peace,’ Dick had pleaded.

But we soon realised he was too ill to be away from home too long. So we carved out some privacy for ourselves by duplicity. We returned to our house but pretended we were still away, just to stem the avalanche of unwanted guests.

I wonder now if you even paused to consider how much we craved each other’s company and how utterly we adored each other?

Both of us had been married before — Dick was the father of three much-loved, grown-up sons, while I have two dear daughters, now in their 20s — when we met. He’d come to do some work on my garden.

I was then 37; he was 52. He was strong, ruggedly handsome, a charmer. I saw the twinkle in his eye and instantly fell in love.

I wonder now if you even paused to consider how much we craved each other’s company and how utterly we adored each other?

We were together for four years before we married, in 2005, in a secret garden in Venice. It was a love-match. We’d hoped to grow old together. But of course the cancer thwarted us.

When the end came it was swift. Dick started to vomit blood. His closest family called to say their farewells and three days later he died at 1.15am in my arms.

Alone with him at last, I gently washed and shaved him, dressed him in his shooting gear — he loved to go pheasant shooting with 15 of his friends — and made him ready for his final journey. Then I covered him with our duvet and snoozed beside him, our last night together in our marital bed.

Since that day, my sorrow has been almost unendurable. I’m trying so hard to understand that you all loved him too — of course you did — but I cannot shake the sense I’ve been cheated.

So I’m writing this letter to you all now, not only as catharsis, but also as a plea. I beg you all: please pause to consider, when next you have a friend, a colleague, a relative, a neighbour who is dying, what would they want? And I think you’ll find the answer is a little privacy; a modicum of normality; some peace to be alone with their nearest and dearest.

We could have coped, Dick and I, had you each limited your stay to 15 minutes; had you paused to ask, ‘May we call?’ instead of assuming it was your right.

We could have managed if we’d had some time that was sacrosanct. Ours. Instead you took it all.

Few in our circumstances dare broach the subject — it seems churlish, ungrateful, unkind — but most will, I’m convinced, share my feeling that dying is a deeply private and intensely personal affair. It is also utterly exhausting — emotionally and physically — for the carer and the cared for.

So next time, I implore you, be thoughtful. Ask if your presence is welcomed, and if there is the merest hint that it isn’t, please stay away. No one will think less of you for it. On the contrary, your tact and sensitivity will come as a welcome relief.

Now I have unburdened myself I can’t pretend I feel any less sorrow. There is still barely a minute of each day when I do not think of my husband, hot tears welling in my eyes. And the anger has not abated either.

But I have broken the taboo. I have spoken out and, in doing so, perhaps made it easier for others like me to make a simple request: please, for pity’s sake, just leave us alone.

Yours hopefully,

Michele Christie