It’s 4am. On Midsummer’s Day 2021, my husband of over 30 years died. Ted’s cancer had metastasized.
That terrible day we waited five hours for an ambulance, during which time his bowels repeatedly drained the last of life from him, leaving him humiliated.
He had been treated at our nearest hospital, but when the ambulance crew arrived and saw this pitifully thin old man, they decided he might have had a heart attack and should be taken to a hospital further away.
Despite my pleadings, we sat in the ambulance for half an hour while they rang that hospital. It was ‘procedure’. Meanwhile, my husband — strong-willed and brave — lay in his own faeces, finding it increasingly hard to breathe.
The distant hospital eventually directed the ambulance to our closer one — as I’d been begging.
Months later, I relive the horror of Ted’s final hours, whisked off wearing an oxygen mask to die shortly after . . . and I am angry, hurt, defeated to my core.
If I ask the over-worked, over-bureaucratic NHS for an explanation why common sense didn’t prevail that day, I will receive a stock reply. After all, yet another old man with cancer . . . two a penny. What’s gone wrong, Bel? We see it everywhere, in ‘the lessons will be learned’ culture where children die at the hands of sadists while their families have been warning of danger for months.
On one hand, we see regulation so tight there’s no alternative but to follow the rules at the expense of sense. On the other hand, such lax regulation that the end result is much the same. Harm. Grief. Nothing can be done to stem the tide of indifference. Does it start at the top?
I don’t know how to stop myself concluding I’m just another old bird who may as well accept the fact that there’s little left to do, but to fade away. Yes, I could seek grief counselling. Yes, I could lean harder on my kind family. But the hollow inside has nothing left to fill it.
And while millions may be given to the NHS, while working people struggle to cope with National Insurance to pay for it, what will be the good if the fundamentals remain as they are? I know the NHS performs miracles on a daily basis. But so much is wrong, too.
What happened to caring? How do I ever get back any faith in this life? I am suffering so much and can’t move beyond last Midsummer’s Day.
This week Bel advises a woman who was devastated by the way her husband was treated in the final moments of his life
You describe a nightmare scenario and I am absolutely horrified you and your husband had to endure such suffering.
Thought of the day
Think of the thousands… who rise each day and go to sleep without ever thinking evil or doing evil, whose hearts are set upon their wives, their husbands, their fathers and mothers, their children, upon the harvest and the spring rain and the new wine and the new moon. Think of them in every land and every language… think of … how they turn from pain and misery and injustice.
from The Road To Cana by Anne Rice (U.S. author 1941–2021)
All those reading will, I know, feel sympathy for your ongoing grief and trauma at the memory — and angry, too, that the paramedics followed ‘procedure’ instead of listening to the person who knew what she was talking about.
In a small way (not remotely comparable) we recently experienced the consequences of an officious 111 call handler opining ‘suspected Covid’ for no reason in my mother’s notes — making things subsequently difficult with the GP.
I mention it only to ask — how dare these people think they know better than close family?
The crux of this heartfelt email is, I think, your question, ‘What happened to caring?’, one that will be recognised by the many readers who have almost grown used to feeling powerless, all the more so the older we get.
Why did nobody listen to the family members who reported their fears about child abuse? Why did the paramedics not listen to you? So many whys.
When bureaucracy (or ‘procedure’ or box-ticking) takes the place of empathy and common sense, people feel more and more alienated from the society of which they are a part.
Nowadays it seems we are required to accept untruths as matters of faith (for example, like proclaiming the NHS is the envy of the world and all doctors and nurses ‘heroes’) and accept new doctrines (such as the denial of biology at the heart of the so-called ‘gender wars’) even when they contradict truths experienced daily. When people say ‘the world’s gone mad’ they mean it’s driving them mad.
The ‘harm’ done by deception and double-think is to make people (like you and me) feel angry, disillusioned, helpless, and depressed. And also so very tired.
What can be done? Nothing, I fear. Which is far from helpful, I know, but I’m not going to insult you with glib optimism. You wrote your email in the lonely, blue hour of the morning, just to unload your feelings, and all I can do is sympathise. But I do advise you to talk to anyone you know who can offer a listening ear. Grief counselling (see cruse.org.uk) can suit many people; others find it just as helpful to ‘unload’ to those they love.
Honestly, I don’t think you should try to shield your family and friends from what you are going through. Share with them photographs and memories of Ted. Recall his sense of fun and all the good things he did.
And whenever your mind flashes back to that terrible night, pinch the back of your own hand and consciously focus on a wonderful memory instead. The ‘hollow’ inside is not empty, it is a boundless repository of love; the only antidote to pain.
My perfect life is suddenly falling apart
Until a few weeks ago, I thought I was happily married with two children and the lovely home we’re making perfect.
Then my husband said he wasn’t happy and hadn’t been for a while, since before our youngest was born a few months ago.
He says we have nothing in common apart from shared values, we don’t talk any more . . . the list goes on and each week the goalposts keep moving. For example, I tried to work on not getting angry, but he said I was wrong for biting my tongue.
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
Last week, I asked jokily: ‘Don’t you love me any more?’ and he said: ‘No.’
I am absolutely heartbroken. He now says I’m too sad and he doesn’t want it affecting the kids. The three-year-old told him: ‘Mummy is sad’ — which broke his heart as he knows he caused this.
We’ve agreed to try counselling, but I’m struggling with the initial appointment with Relate.
He wants to work to keep our family together and still pictures us growing old with the kids. We’ve agreed to date nights etc. I’ve asked for a timeframe as I can’t have it hanging over me for ever, but he’s reluctant to set one.
How will we get past this? How will I not be paranoid he’ll stop loving me again? How will I cope if we break up? How can I explain Daddy stopped loving Mummy when the children ask?
My head keeps spinning and I don’t know how to move past it and focus on making things right now.
My first word to you is ‘Stop!’ It so happens that I’m writing this just after Valentine’s Day, glad that all the hyped-up nonsense is over for another year.
Yes, it’s harmless fun, and indeed my husband and I have always given each other a card, until this year. But sometimes it is not harmless, because couples reach a point where they expect much too much of each other, get fed up with the grind of children and routine and start to think that’s the end.
But listen, this is the beginning! I had to edit your letter, but you list all the things on your husband’s mind, from doing up the house to getting promoted.
You also say you put weight on in pregnancy, which makes you self-conscious. In addition, both of you have been working your socks off to make the house ‘perfect’. And it’s all too much, for both of you.
The first thing you must understand is that you and your husband are going through the kind of ‘dip’ experienced by countless couples, most of whom (I reckon) survive it, because they love their kids and love each other, too.
The important point is that love does not — and can’t — remain static. Changes in life — like a new baby, or anxiety at work — can shift it off the path, or on to a parallel course, where real adjustments must be made. But it doesn’t mean love is over, just that this is a new reality, and that new reality can lead to a deeper, more mature kind of love, if you let it.
The trick is not to panic and wail: ‘Oh my God, it’s all over! What shall I do when I’ve fallen over the edge?’ (as you are doing), but to take a deep breath and say: ‘Hmmm, OK, this is a bit different, so how can we find our way through?’
I’m pleased he has said yes to Relate, but not sure why you’re finding it hard to get an appointment. Call your local centre and/or start with online services. The process might help calm you down.
In your longer letter, you reveal your anxiety about the house, children and marriage makes it hard for you to relax. Your request for a ‘timeframe’ — i.e., a deadline for when he thinks things will have improved — is a bad idea.
Look, you’ve just had another baby. You also have a three-year-old. Like those babies, the house needs work. Your husband is exhausted. So far, so normal. Stop second-guessing the future, cut both of you some slack, forget the ‘perfect’ home and work on the next stage of your imperfect, shared life.
And finally… It is never too late for a life change
A friend gave me an unusual Christmas present — a box of ‘Untranslatable Words’, published by that excellent outfit, The School Of Life, which describes itself as ‘a global organisation devoted to teaching you how to lead a more fulfilled life’. Anything which helps to that end is a good thing (see theschooloflife.com).
Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.
Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email email@example.com.
A pseudonym will be used if you wish.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
Every so often I pull out one of the cards to see what new word I can learn. Today’s is the German, torschlusspanik. It means literally, ‘gate-shut-panic’ — and probably originated in the Middle Ages when people rushed back into walled towns and villages before the curfew, dreading being shut outside in the darkness.
These days it means that anxious feeling you might have when you think your options and chances are diminishing. In the dark night of the soul you might wonder if it’s too late to have a child, to change careers, to make that long trip, to cut loose and be an artist.
Mid-life crisis? Yes — when your cherished dreams dance around your bed, retreating as dawn comes near, leaving you wondering anxiously whether you’ve missed the boat.
You might think my own dream trivial. I always wanted to celebrate my 75th birthday riding pillion on a Harley-Davidson ridden by my husband, heading to the Florida Keys, visiting Ernest Hemingway’s house and quaffing beer in the sunshine.
But that birthday came and went last October when Covid had made foreign travel impossible and now I fear I shall never achieve my aim to be a biker hen for the last time (dodgy hip, you know?) in a leather jacket.
Pathetic? I know. But some imaginings are not so much frustrating as fun because while you have them there’s always the possibility they might come true.
I often advise people that it’s never too late to make a change in your life — and I still believe that to be true. So I made up toroffengenuss. I hope it means ‘gate-open-delight’.