It didn’t seem like false hope at the time. And it still doesn’t, despite what I have l learned about myself since.
Oh, all my friends and professional advisors would say it was so predictable, cliché even, the rebound effect. But I dismissed all that. Somehow their assessment, disguised as concern perhaps, diminished what I experienced. I was in love. This was not a cliché, it was real.
But how real?
The fog of grief was real enough: I lost concentration, I had no plans, I was forgetful. I couldn’t sleep. I knew there were things I needed to do to start putting my life back together, but not today, maybe tomorrow. I went to grief counseling; I read many books about grief. I finally read The Emperor of all Maladies. All I wanted to do was escape all this grieving stuff.
And there she was.
She was a friend of Marlene’s; they met about eight years before Marlene died through a mutual colleague from Marlene’s school. She lived only a few blocks from us in Nepean and thus began weekly visits. Usually Wednesdays. For most of this time I was at my downtown office and so I rarely saw her. But I heard a lot about her. And when I did see her there was an instant liking. Her name was Emily.
What was it about her that was so endearing? How was it she magically garnered people’s affection, and appreciation? She was gently extroverted, but she wasn’t a gusher. You sensed in her a perfectly authentic person, even though, no doubt, she had her secrets. Her warmth and good humour always came through. She was a lot like Marlene in temperament. Everybody loved her. There was an obvious connection.
The friendship between the two of them became increasingly familiar, easy, strong. She often would just let herself in the house and call out ‘Hi Marlene!’. The dogs, already alert to someone at the door, would rush to greet the ‘intruder’: ‘Hello guys,’ she would say to them, in her usual enthusiastic way. And then, as she realized I was at home, she would say, ‘Good morning Mr. D!’, an admixture of familiarity and respect. She may have been a bit intimidated by me – the professional person with the briefcase – in a way she wasn’t with Marlene. She never called me Doug, so I countered with Ms E.
The three of us would chat and banter in the front hall. ‘You look very smart today Mr. D.’, Ms E would say. I would reply with something clever and Marlene would check me; Emily would chime in; they were like a tag team of wrestlers ganging up on me. They would look at each other and smirk, relishing the power they had over me. Emily would make her exit, giving Marlene a hug, and then me.
It was perhaps two years into the relationship that Marlene asked her if she would be willing to mind the dogs for the weekend, look in on them morning and evening, put them out for their ‘poodles and peedles’, feed and water them, and give them a little company. She countered – ‘Actually, if you don’t mind, I could move in for the weekend, and just take care of the whole house.’ Over the years she did this favour for us many times, once lasting two weeks while Marlene and I took a memorable river cruise on the Danube. In time Emily knew the house better than Marlene herself.
As the weeks became years the Wednesday visits became a natural part of the Jordan household experience.
Then came Marlene’s illness and rapidly deteriorating condition. Marlene did her best to hold up appearances, but Emily was not deceived. One Wednesday as Emily announced her arrival, I called to her, ‘We’re in the bedroom, come on up.’ I was sitting at Marlene’s bedside chatting about the future, and scheduling her treatments, and her now weekly Wednesday consultations with Dr. H. When Emily realized what we were talking about she said, ‘I should give you two some privacy.’ I replied, ‘You have become part of this family, you have a right to know what is going on.’ As I told her the whole story, she started to cry. Marlene beckoned her to come around to the bedside; she reached for her to give her a hug. They clung to each other for a long time; tears poured down all our faces.
As Marlene’s disease progressed it was becoming increasingly evident, despite her efforts to keep up appearances, that she was getting weaker and had less energy than in previous months. I worked from home more and more. Her social times with people were mostly conducted from her bed. I felt better about Marlene on Wednesdays knowing Emily was with her, allowing me to go downtown to my other office, my other life.
One day as her time with Marlene was wrapping up I met Emily at the back door to thank her. I thought I was just giving her the usual professional Ottawa two cheek send off, but as she turned her face to me I found myself giving her a real kiss. Our lips met and held ever so briefly. I felt electricity, and then a certain remorse. Ms E just smiled and twinkled at me.
‘Goodbye Mr. D. Have a nice day.’ And she was gone, bouncing out the garage and on her way.
When I brought Marlene home from hospital after her seizure Emily soon arrived to see her.
She went straight up to Marlene’s room, no cheery, ‘Hi Marlene’ this day. She looked at Marlene on the bed then sat with her; Marlene took Emily’s hand and, uncharacteristically, she started to cry. Emily began to cry too, and then to weep, uncontrollably. She threw her short muscular around Marlene’s neck. I came over to the two of them. Emily swung one arm around my neck still clinging to Marlene with the other.
I needed more and more assistance with Marlene’s care. I could not manage Marlene round the clock, seven days a week. The neighbours rallied. Marlene’s sister volunteered to sit with her on Tuesdays. Lee next door was on call for emergencies, and she answered the call several times over those six short weeks.
And Emily was there every Wednesday morning as usual. I asked her if she could arrange her schedule to sit with Marlene more often and so she began to come every Friday as well as Wednesdays.
After five weeks of this home hospital care Marlene’s condition had deteriorated to such an extent that I could no longer cope, despite the help from so many. Finally the palliative care doctor authorized hospice care for Marlene. Hospice Care Ottawa West had a vacancy; the transfer ambulanece arrived the next day, Wednesday, Emily’s usual day. I asked her if she would mind accompanying Marlene to the Hospice in the ambulance, I would then be able to follow in my own car. Of course she would. As Emily climbed in beside her and the doors closed behind them, I wondered what thoughts had gone through Marlene’s mind as she left the house, never to return. She showed no sign of saying goodbye, or even looking back. For her, it was about moving on to the next step. For me there was overwhelming sadness.
I asked Emily if she would be able to visit Marlene at the Hospice, as she traveled only by bus. Of course she would, as often as she could. And true to her word she was back again on Friday and then again on Saturday morning. As noon approached I asked her if she needed a ride home. She seemed a bit awkward at that point and hesitated a long time before answering.
‘No,’ she said, ‘my boyfriend is picking me up; we’re going to his cottage for the weekend.’
You could have knocked me over with a feather. For a surreal moment I couldn’t understand what she was saying. I had no idea that she had a boyfriend. Why had she not spoken of this boyfriend before now? More than surprise I was upset with this news. Feelings of disbelief and confusion flooded my mind. In that instant I was jealous of this unexpected existential threat. I recovered myself, and hoped my consternation had gone unnoticed, but the awkward moment continued. Emily had noticed. There seemed to be an unspoken dynamic between the two of us.
Emily visited Marlene twice more the ensuing week, stroking her hand, feeding her applesauce, coaxing her to drink. She did her best to bring her usual cheerful demeanour but it was clearly an effort. Her last visit was on the Thursday eight days after Marlene arrived at hospice. Marlene went into coma on Saturday and died the following Saturday. I never felt more alone.