24 August 2015
Exactly two years ago, while we were on holiday in Portugal, Chris had a seizure in the middle of the night. She’d never had one before. It came out of the blue, without any prior warning signs. We were both asleep when it began. I was woken up by the bed shaking. At first, I thought it was an earthquake. But she was having a full-blown clonic tonic fit: she was unconscious; her body was rigid; she was having violent spasms; she’d bitten her tongue and was breathing with difficulty. I called her name over and over again as I held her against me, trying to make sure she didn’t choke.
Help arrived, first in the form of a wonderful Icelandic nurse called Hjördis who was staying nearby, and then of the paramedics who bundled us both into an ambulance and drove us over the mountains to the nearest hospital. The hillsides were aflame with high-summer forest fires. It was like a scene from Danté or, if you prefer popular culture, from a Hollywood disaster movie.
We learned within a few days, from the results of the various scans Chris had in hospital, that the root cause was almost certainly a tumour located deep in her brain. This diagnosis was confirmed when 8 days later she was flown home by Air Ambulance and admitted to Gloucester Royal. Neurosurgeons agreed that it was inoperable and Chris decided with my support to “wait and see” rather than risk more damage by poking around for a biopsy.
Medication controlled her seizures and we had a year symptom-free before new tumours began to cause problems. Before another six months had passed, Chris died. I had thought she was going to die when she’d had the seizure in Portugal. I learned subsequently that she might have done, had her will to live not been so strong.
Every day we had together after the seizure was a gift. Thank you, sweetheart, for coming back from whatever unknowable place you went to when the seizure took hold of you, and for giving us the time to learn to love each other properly.
We went about our lives
as though immune from the shifting
of the continents, unaffected
by the mountains growing inch by inch,
and the abyss that deepened daily
under our feet.
We didn’t see it coming –
the earthquake that shook our world.
The flickering of the seismograph
went unseen; the tectonic plates
inside your head buckled
and strained invisibly.
Until the fault-line slipped,
like San Andreas, collapsing
California into the midnight sea.
I thought you’d never come back.
But you weren’t ready to leave.
You pulled yourself up from the depths
into my outstretched arms,
like the survivor of a great tsunami
and promised you’d stay
for the rest of your life.
You kept your word
my blue-eyed girl,
you snatched a glorious year
from that dark ocean
so we could learn to love
and be loved
[9.5 is the highest rating on the Richter scale of any recorded earthquake]