At home I have a big bathroom. Built and decorated by Mike. So big that it has two basins, each with a mirror above it. “His ‘n’ Hers”. Two basins are not common in European bathrooms. Houses don’t usually have the space.
In between the basins and the mirrors, stuck to the wall with blu-tack, is a yellowing, curly-edged, typed piece of A4 paper. A love letter of sorts. I don’t read it so often anymore, but a few weeks ago, Medjool asked about it and I explained what it was.
A letter. Or more specifically, a long sms message. Written by Meg Jones to Mike when he was first diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. I was so touched by the message that I sent it to my phone, then to my email, made it into a word document, printed it out and stuck it up there. Over three years ago now.
Powerful words. Of love. Of support. Of caring. Of understanding. Of recognition. Of “I am with you in this, and here’s how”. Words from a woman who felt/feels about Mike some of what I felt/feel about Don. A deep and strong platonic love. At the time of Mike’s illness and treatment, I read the letter many times. Over the months since Mike died, I have read it a handful of times.
Re-reading it again a few weeks ago, I was reminded of its power, its support during those fearsomely terrifying days, weeks and months. And for the first time, I was truly able to absorb its wisdom, the breadth and depth of experience inherent in it, its powerful message of love and support. Here’s how it goes.
Hi Mike. Good talking to you. I’m here when you need me. Let me give you some scenarios:
- Wake up at 3 am with “thoughts”? No problem. 9 pm my time. Best time to talk!
- Denial wears off and you think you might die? Well, as discussed with my son when he hit this wall the third time out of hospital: we all die. It’s just a matter of accepting that (which you have done) and then talking through what that means to you with someone who cares. I’ve done that with my son and I care about you.
- Really wrestling with the death monster? I’ve had 9 friends and family die, starting with my mother, just under 5 years ago. I am rarely out of this loop. So I know what it means to want to talk to someone (a) about pizza toppings just because you don’t want to talk about what’s really up, even if you could find the words. Happy to talk pizza toppings. And (b) happy to run through the spectrum of stuff that comes up when you think through the “what ifs”.
There is bizarrely a lot of humour in these talks, a lot of sadness and a lot of deep breaths. And there’s a lot of “moving on”. Denial is rigid. It’s extremely important at points in the outset of big news, because it’s a buffer to “information overload”. One couldn’t deal with all the information at once anyhow. Not enough mental, let alone emotional and spiritual absorption capacity.
Yet there must be a springtime of the soul, when the denial thaws and spiritual curiosity comes forth. There are no answers during that period, just “what if” and “what do you think?” questions and discussion points. Happy to shoot the breeze with you at these points.
I am an economist, not a therapist, but I’ve enough experience, latterly learnt, to know the value of listening, saying “I dunno”, talking pizza toppings and the hard stuff. Nothing is worse than isolation in these times, and sometimes family are the ones you feel you need to be brave for.
Whatever the scenario, you have my phone number. I am here for you, Mike. I’ll call you on Wednesdays at 7 am. You can call me whenever you want.
I don’t know how often Meg and Mike talked Pizza Toppings. I don’t know how often he called her spontaneously. But every Wednesday without fail, at 7 am New York time, 13h00 our time, as Mike’s body was being pumped with chemo, Meg would call him.
Sometimes I would be in the hospital room while the calls went on. They were typically calm, gentle, quiet. Sometimes Mike said more, sometimes less. Sometimes he fell asleep. But Meg was there. Every Wednesday. And took him how he was.
As I reflect back now, I feel that there was an anchoring there for Mike in the storm of his last months. A beacon shining brightly from New York to his hospital bed. Company in the shadows of the valley of death.
What a gift of love and presence.
Hard-earned wisdom, tough topics, wrapped in the softest of love.
Thank you Meg. I know now what a precious gift that was.