It's coming up to the second anniversary of Greg's death and I'm surprised at how my feelings keep changing. All part of the grieving process, I know, but nevertheless strange to experience it for oneself. Two years ago, I'd just come through six years of hell, living with a full-time, non-functioning alcoholic. Six years of us both shouting, weeping, frequent trips to A&E, doctors, detox, counselling clinics, queuing at supermarkets with cratefuls of whisky, cleaning up toilet accidents on the carpet, because he could not make it in time. Not to mention the sleepless nights worrying whether I'd wake up at all the next morning, because he might forget in a drunken stupor to put out his cigarette and burn the house down. In addition there was the shame and embarrassment of being seen out with him, as he never washed, cleaned his teeth or changed his clothes and had lost all sense of social propriety.
The climax of these six years was the final week of his life up to 6 March 2010. Looking back now to his final visit to A&E at the very end of February 2010, I was annoyed that yet again here we were wasting doctors' time over something that was in his power to stop and that his many promises over the previous years never to get in that state again had been broken. He was admitted to a ward and I was forbidden to visit him, as there was an outbreak of the winter-vomiting bug and visitors were not allowed. I was furious with him and stormed out of that casualty department, both soul-destroyed by yet another broken promise, yet elated that I was going to have a night or two on my own where I could sleep peacefully for a change in a smoke and alcohol-free zone. An oasis of respite in a desert of despair.
A few days later, I was to be tested on the principle of "be careful what you wish for......." as he was moved to Intensive Care for the last 5 days of his life. It was only then that the hospital allowed me to visit him, but by then he was already unconscious. Watching him die was harrowing. Physically he no longer looked like my husband. The alcohol had ravaged his face, his hair and his body. Gradually bit by bit his body was delivered over to the toxins. His lungs were full of water, his kidneys started to fail and his liver was diseased beyond help. He was bleeding internally and because of the kidney failure he was swelling up like a sumo wrestler, but his skin could not cope with this sudden increase in size and was bursting all over, oozing liquid or blood. I could no longer converse with him as he had been sedated to the extent he was unconscious. The only sound in the room was that of the life-support machine. I didn't even get to say goodbye, although I whispered it to his lifeless body.
My life changed drastically from then on. I heaved a sigh of relief with thoughts that the living nightmare was finally over and I could dare to breathe freely again. I picked myself up and started to deal with the many practicalities that came steam-rollering in. People to tell, a funeral to arrange, letters to write, bills to pay and accounts to close. Once the hurly burly had stopped, my daughter had returned to university and I was alone, I threw myself into house projects to distract me. The house had been badly neglected as Greg had had neither the health nor sanity to do it himself any more and all our spare money had gone on his cigarettes and whisky addictions, so there was no possibility to get a professional in to do it. It was a case of killing two birds with one stone - a much-needed refurbished house and a distraction for me. Whenever I thought of Greg, I was still angry for what he had done to himself and to us. That anger inside me was hard to shift. I couldn't cry at the funeral or in the weeks and months afterwards, even when I tried as hard as I might to think back to the more distant happier times.
Then came a period when I mellowed a bit. I thought how sad it was that he was missing out on things...such as Kay's progress at uni and her placements at hospitals. He was missing out on important world issues too, as he used to work as an international journalist. Things like the demise of Gaddafi and bin Laden, the Euro crisis, the London Olympics, the Middle East problems to name but a few would have had him working extra shifts when he could still work and had him sitting on the edge of his seat shouting at the television news in his retirement. Now, he would never know these things and I felt a certain sadness that he wouldn't know them.
Next week is the second anniversary of his death and I find my anger is subsiding even more. Possibly it is due to the fact that the passing months have helped to erase the nightmare. It is true that when I read some of the archive to this blog, I have to pinch myself that things were actually as bad as that. On the other hand, everywhere I turn there are constant reminders. Programmes on TV highlight the escalation of binge-drinking, SOS buses, fly-on-the-wall documentaries featuring doctors dealing with alcoholism. Even some of the soaps carry alcoholic storylines. Kay is being confronted with it too in the line of her hospital placement. She recently examined a 57-year old man who was an alcoholic in the final stages. To cap it all, I heard Alistair Campbell say on a recent Panorama programme that maybe Labour got it wrong introducing a 24-hour drinking culture to this country. Tell me about it! What have I been saying all this time?
Two years on, I miss Greg like crazy. Selfishly, I wish we still had our golden years together to explore the world and see a bit more of life or just muck around at home together. I wish he were here to potter as he wished, switch on the radio or TV and soak up all the current news. I wish he were here to see Kay as she grows into a beautiful independent young woman and I wish he were here to grow old disgracefully with me. I do appreciate better now that he had an illness he could not fight, a sort of depression that can physically kill. He would not have wanted to cause suffering to his family. He did not want to die. The illness dictated it. His broken promises did not just let me and Kay down, they hurt him too, because he believed he could fight this disease. His last words to me in that A&E bed were "the drinking stops now, I promise".
I am no longer angry with him (although I am angry with a society that could allow it to happen and turn a blind eye to our repeated pleas for help.). I am no longer sad. Instead I ponder; I question; I yearn. But I still cannot cry. Maybe that phase is still to come.