Winter came in August; fourteen years ago today and all of a sudden.
You’d been ill; malaria again, and this time bad enough to need quinine. You’d endured a week of dizziness, nausea and hearing loss from the drug before recovering, and then we’d spent a quiet week together.
I’d been preoccupied by something, so it hadn’t been quite the rest we both needed then, just as I had been preparing for another trip, the fever started again.
It had been late, too late to intrude on our doctor neighbour.
“Treat it as malaria” was the general advice, so we did.
Then during the night, you kept waking me; telling me I needed to do things – right now – trivial tasks.
At first I’d been annoyed, then worried. By the time morning came, I was scared. You were out of bed and rushing around, organising a dozen different things – all imagined.
I called the doctor. He gave you something to help you rest. It didn’t work
I was due to leave that morning, but I couldn’t go with you in this state.
“Leave her with us.” The doctor had said. “She needs rest. We’ll look after her and the children. The best thing you can do is go away as planned. When you come back in a few days she’ll be recovering and things will be better, you’ll see.”
I allowed myself to be persuaded and headed off with only slight misgivings. The day was uneventful. In the evening we prayed for your recovery and then I slept – long and peacefully.
The next morning I was up before dawn, gathering the mail and preparing for the day’s trip. At six, everything was done and I called on the radio ready to leave.
“Something’s happened. Stay where you are. I’m coming to you.”
Nothing registered. I couldn’t think what might be wrong. I sat trying to figure it out for fifteen minutes until he arrived then, just as he stepped out of the car, somehow I knew.
“She’s dead isn’t she?” I asked
He nodded his head and put his arms around me. I don’t remember feeling anything.
Some time later, the day’s plans cancelled, I talked to the doctors over the radio.
“Is she dead?”
“Yes, she’s dead.” There were tears in his voice.
Ice ran in my veins, tendrils of frost wrapped around my heart; heralds of winter.
The rest of the day is a blur, seen through a numbness. People visiting, offering condolences. The ones I remember with kindness didn’t quote scripture, didn’t say anything, simply put their arms around me a cried.
You need to be told it’s ok to cry.
Later they took me home. The nurses had dressed you, laid out your body. You hadn’t particularly liked that dress. It didn’t seem important.
I sat with you for a while, touched your arm; marbled skin – as cold as stone. This wasn’t you. I didn’t stay long.
I went looking for our children. I found our daughter and she smiled up at me. Something broke inside. How do you tell your five year old daughter her mummy’s dead?
I talked to her for a while and then took her to see your body. She touched your skin as I had, recoiled at the chill. I hated doing it but I didn’t want you just to disappear from her life.
Our sons were too young. They wouldn’t understand, wouldn’t remember.
I remember the kindness of friends; people who helped me to cry, and then to laugh; people who helped me to get up and live when all I wanted was to stop. It lasted a week, packing up our life.
The rest seemed unimportant then. You were gone and that was enough to face. Leaving my job, my home, my friends all seemed small by comparison. I had to go home; there was nothing left here.
Then the winter storms hit. A six month wild ride of raw emotion. Afraid to leave the house. Unable to face people. People unable to face me – crossing the road to avoid me. Bad days then finally not so bad.
Fourteen years on. You’d be proud of our children – confident, happy, caring, living life to the full.
Me? I still wander a winterscape, looking for signs of spring. Faith, hope and love still exist because I will them to, but I only see signs of the love – in the eyes of our children. It brings a little warmth to my winter.
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