“No, he’s definitely not near the end. We’ll be installing a central line.”
I didn’t know what that was. I went around the screen and approached the
bed. “The doctors are going to help you. I’m going home. I’ll see you
As I walked to the door, I passed another bed in the large ward. I could hear a
family whispering that there was someone else there in very bad condition.
They glanced up guiltily as I passed. I turned and looked back. There was no
one else in the ward. I went out the door, down the stairs, and out into the
sunshine of the late afternoon.
The phone rang at seven the next morning, July 20th. An unfamiliar voice said I
should come to the hospital as soon as I could. When I arrived, I was shown
downstairs. Duncan was lying on a gurney, deep in the basement of the
London Clinic, attached to a machine that was keeping him alive until a priest
could be called and I could get there.
The nurse said he couldn’t hear me and wouldn’t be able to respond, but I
leaned close anyway and said, “I love you,” “Don’t worry,” and then what I
knew was a lie — “I will be all right”— as she shut off the machines. When soft
bells dinged, his dark eyes turned to the sound and then back to me. Then,
nothing. All the knowledge, memories, joy, and despair that were in that
brilliant brain of his, gone.
I yelled out in that medicinal, clinical space, “You said you’d never leave me!”
I can still hear Duncan quote from his favorite movie, Zorba the Greek: “Am I
not a man? And is not a man stupid? I am a man. So, I married. Wife, children,
house, everything. The full catastrophe.”
Duncan and I, we had the full catastrophe.
I had held Duncan in my life as well as I could, and then let him go. He and I
had lived with so much fear throughout our early lives and our life together
that we prevented ourselves from going right to the point of intimacy before
his death. To glimpse the loss while still in his presence would have been
unbearable, and so unfair, as he was still there and his present self needed me.
Our human frailty prevented us from achieving more, but we loved each other
as well as our limitations allowed.
And now I was alone. Like coming out of the house after a hurricane to see the
broken trees and telephone poles on the ground, the storm was over—but the
cleanup would take years.
Modified and reprinted from a section of “The Full Catastrophe: A Memoir”
(2016, She Writes Press)