Just after New Year I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Now that I am in my mid-sixties, I am quite philosophically of the opinion that I will be gone before I can collect my state pension.
Thought of the day
The lost are never really lost. They have preceded us, as we say, marked with a sign of faith. And they never remain silent. In the laughter of memory, in the sigh of grief, they speak to us. They say: you never walk alone. And soon – like this beautiful room – we will be breathing calmly again.
From Eulogy For The Lost by Frank Cottrell Boyce (performed at St George’s Hall, Liverpool, 23 March 2021)
The problem is my husband – he’s acting like the proverbial ostrich. It is a second marriage for both of us. I was divorced, his first wife died suddenly and tragically. I know he still misses her terribly, but I’m at an age that I don’t mind.
When I go I would love for him to meet someone else to keep him company and, more importantly, organize him.
He is a good man, likes to cook, wash etc – but ask him to do something technical / practical and he has no idea. So it all falls on me, as well as the household bills. I’ve worked at a bank on a High Street for over 25 years, so that’s natural.
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 sick and I’m not in pain (yet) so I can’t be that bad.
I really need some advice to convince him that I’ll be gone in a few months, or however long my particular string is.
This week, Bel advises a reader who does not know how to make her husband accept that she will die of cancer
The silent, wise courage of this letter is breathtaking. You do not show self-pity (let alone bitterness) but simply wish your husband a good life after you die, knowing that he needs someone to take care of him, as you do now.
Always a practical person, you know it’s important to look ahead and make arrangements, but you feel sad that he refuses to deal with the topic. You say (admirably) that you can ‘have a philosophical vision’ and yet how terribly lonely all this must make you feel. You’re the one who needs tenderness and care right now and it’s absolutely heartbreaking that your husband is in denial.
Of course I am sure he is suffering inside and wondering why death should visit women he loves twice.
He’s probably terrified, feels totally inadequate, and takes a step back because he can’t deal with his own emotions, let alone yours. People are like this: they flee from reality because they know they lack the strength to deal with it. But understanding all of that (and you sound so generous) doesn’t help you, right?
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 possible, and if your husband has a lovable friend or relative, you can get that person out of the way and ask for help.
I suggest you write down 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 choice but to corner him one night when he’s relaxed and show him the document. Refuse him to leave the room on a pretext – and tell him how much you need him. I suspect you’ve gotten so used to being the strong man in charge of everything that you find it difficult to reach out to someone and say, “Please help me.”
After going through one divorce, you have developed the habit of protecting this spouse – to your own detriment. But now fate requires that he find inner strength, and he must become aware of it in no uncertain terms.
Medieval poets and clergy knew the chorus “Timor mortis conturbat me” – and indeed the fear of death bothers most people. That’s why it’s so hard to stop and think about it.
Yet we must each of us, because how we think about the prospect of our own death has a direct impact on how we live our lives. You are there now, with grace and strength, and I pray that he can sustain you.
The anti-vaxxers next door scare me
I am 79 years old, vulnerable and shielded with COPD and chronic asthma. My husband and I followed lockdown rules and had our first vaccinations. We look forward to the future.
We have neighbors (which we really like) who belong to a religious group called SOZO.
Throughout the lockdown, they delivered supermarkets and then people come to pick up food from them. So far so good, and I have no problems with this kind of charity. The other day we were talking in the front yard and I asked if they had the vaccine, but they said they wouldn’t do that on ‘moral grounds’. She asked if she could explain why, but I was a little angry and said don’t bother.
Their attitude has scared me of my neighbors. I don’t want to see them. Is their attitude widespread? And if so, how can we be sure we are all safe?
My question is, how can I talk to my neighbors without showing how angry I am with their “moral” attitude, which I believe is immoral?
Since I eagerly await my second Covid shot, I am completely on your side when it comes to vaccination.
I’ve gotten letters from readers who aren’t, but if you remember that over 29 million of us have had our first injections – and three million have had two – then I think the totals are to be proud of.
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail …
But there is that anti-vaxxer minority – and, like you, I disapprove of it because they are not doing anything to help us climb out of this pit. (Don’t write in protest, anti-vaxxers, because you’re just wasting your time!)
As for your neighbors’ ‘moral grounds’, I assume it is a teaching of their particular religious group and so there is nothing to say or do. Whatever . I share your opinion.
You declined to hear an explanation (and I can understand why you were frustrated), but the question now is how to live friendly with neighbors you have always liked.
They are people who believe in helping others and I suspect they would always be willing to help you and feel sad to know how much their opinion upsets you.
Honestly, I don’t see any reason for you to be ‘afraid’ of them, while social aloofness gives you every excuse to keep them more than an arm’s length away, while still being able to smile, wave and be polite.
Dealing with anger by taking a deep breath and reminding yourself that anger is meaningless because it harms you, not them. So take a step back (literally) and appreciate everything you loved about them before this happened, and remember that the goodness hasn’t changed as a result of this one disagreement. I hope we all get our second vaccinations soon!
And finally … I can imagine loss because I knew
EARLY the hardest things I’ve ever done, I would choose ‘officiating’ at bereaved candle services, one in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral and one in Southwark.
After my address, I read hundreds of names of deceased children, given by their parents. It was moving and uplifting to talk to the families.
Bel answers questions from readers about emotional and relationship issues every week.
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Those events came about because I had been deeply involved in the establishment of the National Child Death Helpline (childdeathhelpline.org.uk) in 1995, and spoke with groups belonging to a great bereaved charity called The Compassionate Friends (tcf.org). ).
In those years, my mission was to make sense of my second son’s stillbirth (full-term after a very long delivery), by writing and broadcasting about bereavement.
A 1976 article led directly to the creation of the Stillbirth Association (now SANDS, sands.org.uk) and I am proud to be a founder patron. I was also honored with a quote (presented by the Queen) in 1984 by the grief counseling charity Cruse (cruse.org.uk).
Why am I telling you that? Last week’s letter from ‘Cynthia’ asked what to do with the belongings of her dead child. 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 nicely suggesting that a loved one’s clothes could be turned into a keepsake (lovekeepcreate.co.uk).
Unfortunately, some of the relatives were shocked and angry. I would venture to suggest that Cynthia is really tackling her problem. They accused me of ignorance and objected to me saying that I could “easily” imagine her feelings.
Fair enough; they wrote out of permanent grief. But the truth is, I can, for the reasons above.
And what is empathy if not reaching out? I am glad that Cynthia was grateful: “I want to thank you for showing us a way forward and I will let you know how we are doing.”