Tuesday 16 February 2021

5 years on - a letter to Steve

Can it really be five whole years since your last breath?  

The run up to yesterday's anniversary was all too familiar in some ways...Six Nations rugby matches to enjoy on the TV (and a repeat of England's victory over Italy!) plus memories of Valentine's Days past, with your last card to me still having pride of place on the mantlepiece in the bedroom where we had our last conversation on the morning of 15 February.

But in other respects, it's been a year like no other - something happened which was unimaginable this time last year.  The world has been closed down with the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.  Plans to mark my significant birthday abandoned before they had got beyond the ideas stage; travel arrangements, hotel and B&B bookings cancelled; contact with family and friends for the most part limited to phone calls, WhatsApp messages, emails, FaceTime and Zoom meetings; groceries and other items delivered rather than shopped for in person...And the human touch limited to those you share your house with or in your support bubble.

For many people, it has been difficult living with uncertainty about the future.  I won't pretend it's been easy for me, but the experience of supporting you through mesothelioma for the best part of 7 years has helped.  I know much better now how to live in the moment and seize opportunities as they arise.  From being an inveterate "planner" with a good idea at the start of the year as to what would happen and when during the next 12 months, I got used to living with time horizons no further into the future than your next quarterly assessment.  Even looking ahead during that three month period came with health warnings that things could change without warning (and they frequently did...) So in that respect, I was better equipped than most to deal with the strange times we have all experienced since the first England lockdown in mid-March 2020. 

In other respects too, I consider myself to have been more fortunate than most when it comes to living through lockdown, with a garden to enjoy, a park at the end of the street and lovely walks close by. The street's WhatsApp group has been hugely supportive of each other and is still going strong. I'm now on friendly first name terms with most of the people living in the street; I've got to know some of neighbours much better as I talked to them from a safe social distance while taking a series of lockdown photographic "rainbow" portraits to keep the creative juices going.  

I have a confession too.  There is another man in the house! Don't jump to conclusions - I don't think that anyone could take your place...But when working from home became not only possible but mandatory, our son returned to live in the family home whilst working remotely.  We never imagined back last spring that he would still be here approaching a year later, so we've had to adjust as we've gone along.  

It's been mutually beneficial.  Lovely to have someone to talk to, hug from time to time, do the heavy lifting/carrying so as not to aggravate my back problems while pain management injections have been cancelled during the pandemic.  He's got me out walking, encouraging me to explore an area I thought I knew well, but now realise had not really got off the beaten track.  I'm much fitter as a result!

In return, he's had someone to discuss work with, cook meals for him from time to time, share a love of walking with and convert to "Strava" to keep track of where we've been.  It will be strange when he finally leaves..whenever, that will be...

I've had little face to face, in the flesh contact with our daughter and her husband since the pandemic stopped "normal" life.  We did manage a weekend away in the Cotswolds for my special birthday...

...and have had occasional socially distanced meet ups since then, but it's difficult when they currently live so far away.  So most contact has been "virtual".  However, they are in the process of buying a house within walking distance of here.  If that all goes through, it will be wonderful to have them so close at hand.  Fingers crossed!

I've used the lockdown periods to progress work on the house, which is moving forward after the disruption of building works in 2018/2019.  I think you would approve of the things that have changed.  As I stripped wallpaper, I even discovered a note we wrote on the wall in 1995, the last time the living room had been stripped back to the plaster.  You can just about make it out...Quite nostalgic...

As I write, we are in lockdown 3, but at long last, there is some light at the end of the tunnel as vaccines are rolled out. I've had one dose already.  It remains to be seen when life will return to the "new normal".  Where we will be when I write this time next year?  

I can't finish without mentioning the Mesowarriors, who were such a big part of our lives for such a long time. I'm still in touch with friends in the UK, USA and Canada who lost their loved ones to mesothelioma, like me.  We are bound by a common thread which not even a pandemic can destroy. Although you lived much longer than most diagnosed around the same time as you in 2009, the amazing Mavis Nye (diagnosed around the same time) battles on, Wonder Woman that she is - acting as a focal point for those who find themselves dealing with this man-made cancer either as a personal diagnosis or as a loved one/carer.  Hope lives on through her, and long may it last!

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