Just after New Year I was told I had terminal cancer. Now in my mid-60s, I have taken quite a philosophical view that I’ll be gone before I can collect my state pension.
Thought of the day
The lost are never really lost. They’ve gone before us, as we say, marked with a sign of faith. And they’re never silent. In the laughter of memory, in the sigh of grief, they speak to us. They say, you’ll never walk alone. And one day soon we will — like this wonderful room — breathe easy again.
From Eulogy For The Lost by Frank Cottrell Boyce (performed in St George’s Hall, Liverpool, March 23, 2021)
The problem is my husband — he is acting like the proverbial ostrich. It’s a second marriage for both of us. I was divorced, his first wife died suddenly and tragically. I know he still misses her dreadfully, but I’m at an age when that doesn’t bother me.
When I do go, I’d be happy if he met someone else to keep him company, and, more importantly, organise him.
He’s a good man, happy to do the cooking, washing etc — but ask him to do anything technical/practical and he has no idea. So it all falls on me, as well as the household accounts. I spent more than 25 years working in a High Street bank so that comes quite naturally.
Back to my problem . . . I keep trying to talk to my husband about my funeral arrangements and so on, but as far as he is concerned I don’t look ill and I’m not in any pain (yet) and so therefore I can’t be that bad.
I really need some advice on how to convince him that in a few months, or however long my particular piece of string is, I will be gone.
This week Bel advises a reader who doesn’t know how to make her husband accept that she is going to die of cancer
The quiet, wise courage of this letter has taken my breath away. You show no self-pity (let alone bitterness) but simply wish a good life for your husband after your death, knowing he will need somebody to look after him, as you do now.
Always a practical person, you know it is important to look ahead and make arrangements, but feel sad that he refuses to engage with the subject. You say (so admirably) that you can ‘take a philosophical view’ and yet how terribly lonely all this must make you feel. You are the one who needs tenderness and care at the moment and it is absolutely heart-breaking that your man is in denial.
Of course, I am sure he is suffering inside and wondering why death should visit women he loves twice.
He is probably terrified, feeling totally inadequate and stepping back because he can’t cope with his own emotions, let alone yours. People are like that: they flee from reality because they know they lack the strength to deal with it. But understanding all that (and you sound so generous) doesn’t help you, does it?
You don’t mention children or other family members, but I hope you have good friends who can give you some support. Talk to people as much as you can, and if your husband has a sympathetic friend or relative, you could get that person on side and ask for help.
I suggest you write out very clearly what kind of funeral you want, with suggestions for readings, poems etc. You certainly sound strong enough to do this.
Then you have no alternative but to ‘corner’ him one evening, when he is relaxed, and show him the document. Refuse to let him leave the room on a pretext — and tell him how much you need him. I suspect you’ve grown so used to being the strong one who takes charge of everything that you find it hard to hold out a hand to anybody and say: ‘Please help me.’
Having endured one divorce, you have developed the habit of protecting this husband — to your own detriment. But now fate requires him to find inner strength and he must be made aware of it in no uncertain terms.
Medieval poets and clerics knew the refrain, ‘Timor mortis conturbat me’ — and indeed the fear of death does disturb most people. That’s why it’s so hard to stop and think about it.
Yet we must, each one of us, because how we contemplate the prospect of our own deaths has a direct influence on how we live our lives. You are there right now, showing grace and strength, and I pray he can support you.
The anti-vaxxers next door scare me
I am 79, vulnerable and have shielded with COPD and chronic asthma. My husband and I have obeyed the lockdown rules and have had our first vaccinations. We are looking forward to the future.
We have neighbours (whom we like very much) who belong to a religious group called SOZO.
All through lockdown they have been having supermarket deliveries and then people come to collect food from them. So far so good, and I have no problems with this type of charity. Recently, we were talking in the front garden and I asked if they had had the vaccine, but they said they were not going to ‘on moral grounds’. She asked if she could explain why, but I was a bit angry and said don’t bother.
Their attitude has made me frightened of my neighbours. I don’t want to see them. Is their attitude widespread? And, if so, how can we be sure that we are all safe?
My question is how can I talk to my neighbours without showing how angry I am with their ‘moral’ stance, which I think is immoral?
Since I am awaiting my second Covid jab with eagerness, I am wholly on your side about vaccination.
I’ve had letters from readers who aren’t, but if you remember that more than 29 million of us have had their first jabs — and three million have had two — then I reckon they are totals to be proud of.
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
But there is that anti-vaxxer minority — and, like you, I disapprove because they’re doing nothing to help us climb out of this pit. (Don’t write in protest, anti-vaxxers, because you will only waste your time!)
As for your neighbours’ ‘moral grounds’, well, I presume it’s a tenet of their particular religious group and so there’s nothing to be said or done. Whatever . . . I’m with you.
You refused to hear an explanation (and I can understand why you were frustrated), but the question is now how to go on living amicably next to neighbours you always liked.
They are people who believe in helping others and I suspect they’d always be ready to help you and would be distressed to know how much their view upset you.
Honestly, I see no reason for you to be ‘frightened’ of them, when social distancing gives you every excuse to keep them at more than arm’s length, while still enabling you to smile, wave and be polite.
Deal with anger by taking deep breaths and reminding yourself that anger is pointless because it harms you, not them. So step back (literally) and value all that you liked about them before this happened, and reflect that the goodness has not changed because of this one disagreement. I hope we all get our second vaccinations soon!
And finally…I can imagine loss because I’ve known it
ASKED the hardest things I’ve ever done, I’d pick ‘officiating’ at candle services for bereaved parents, one in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, and one in Southwark.
After my address, I read out hundreds of names of dead children, given in by their parents. It was deeply moving and uplifting to talk to the families.
Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.
Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email [email protected]
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Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
Those events came about because I’d been closely involved in the establishing of the national Child Death Helpline (childdeathhelpline.org.uk) in 1995, and talked to groups belonging to a wonderful charity for bereaved parents called The Compassionate Friends (tcf.org).
In those years, it was my mission to give meaning to the stillbirth of my second son (at full term after a very long labour), by writing and broadcasting about bereavement.
A 1976 article led directly to the founding of the Stillbirth Association (now SANDS, sands.org.uk) and I’m proud to be founder-patron. I was also honoured with a citation (presented by the Queen) in 1984 by the bereavement charity Cruse (cruse.org.uk).
Why do I tell you? Last week’s letter from ‘Cynthia’ asked what to do with her dead child’s belongings. I suggested she keep treasures, donate clothes, books, toys etc, and maybe make a ritual of burning papers.
Some sympathetic emails came from readers, two with the lovely suggestion that the clothes of a loved one can be made into a keepsake (lovekeepcreate.co.uk).
Sadly, some bereaved parents were shocked and angry I should dare suggest Cynthia actually tackles her problem. Accusing me of ignorance, they objected to me saying I could ‘easily imagine’ her feelings.
Fair enough; they wrote out of permanent grief. Yet the truth is, I can, for the reasons above.
And what is empathy but reaching out? I’m happy Cynthia was grateful: ‘I want to thank you for showing us a way forward and I will let you know how we get on.’