Those of you who have been reading my blog posts for some time will remember that my sister, Judy, died when she was a couple of days under 46. What I haven’t told you, I think, is that Judy lived in the US for about ten years after having a nervous break-down.
At first, she lived in Carmel with our father and his second family, then went back to Zanesville to stay with our uncle’s family. During the first year she was away, my mother flew out to visit the family, too. Patty (my mum) and Judy, along with Ethel, Patty’s very elderly mother, went sailing on the Ohio River – or maybe the Muskingum – I’m not sure and wasn’t given loads of details. The upshot of this bit of the story is that, on the boat, Judy met a much older man who was called Charley – and was married to him by the captain of the boat.
Some months later, Judy and Patty came back to England but Judy could not forget Charley who often wrote to her, asking her to come back. Even though she was around 35 and he was about 80, she had actually fallen in love with him, so she said farewell to us all and went back to Charley and they married (for real) and lived together for the next nine years or thereabouts.
I’ve told you this so that I can publish a short piece of writing that I found recently which Judy wrote a few months after Charley died. I’m sure you will find it as beautiful as I do.
“When Charley died, we (a nurse from the hospice and myself) had been by his bed for four hours. I’d phoned the hospice when I couldn’t wake him and the nurse came and examined him and told me that his ‘system was closing down’. She offered to take him to the hospice but I told her that he wanted to die at home. We sat there. I had a glass of Southern Comfort. Charley’s favourite. A lot of times we thought he had died because there was a long time between breaths. We looked at each other and suddenly he would breathe again. Then he stopped breathing for good and we didn’t look at each other because we knew. Then she took out her stethoscope etc. He was dead. A few minutes later I said, “Are you sure he’s dead?” because I couldn’t believe it. She examined him again and said, “Yes”. She asked me if I wanted to be alone with him and I said I would because I thought that was the right thing to say. I was still lying next to him with my arms around him. She went downstairs and I wondered what I was supposed to do in our last moments together. I kissed him on the lips. I said “Good-bye, Charley.” It didn’t seem to mean anything.
A few weeks later I took Dagwood (a cat given to Charley and me for a wedding present) to the vet. She had to be put to sleep because of a neurological problem. I held her in my arms, too, while she died. I cried. I thought of Charley and the way he called her ‘that damn cat’ even though I had come across him from time to time, making a secret fuss of her. I thought of Charley up in heaven (which I don’t believe in) saying, “How did that damn cat get here?”, and I laughed. It was the first time I had really cried and really laughed. I felt guilty that the tears and laughter were for Dagwood – but I guess they were really for Charley.”
(The piece of writing above is as she wrote it, aside from the occasional comma.)