I have been putting off this piece for quite some time, and I cannot promise this will be the last word. Something tells me I will be rewriting this one the rest of my life. Just thinking about writing this brings a tear to my eye. In my mind, this story always begins where it ends.
I’ve tried to warn you that this blog covers loss and this piece gets right to the nub of it, or at least one loss in particular. July 26 was our wedding anniversary, and in 2014 it was also the day my wife, Larissa died.
Ten years earlier I was standing in the back garden of my rented home in Barnack, near Stamford on the Cambridgeshire/Lincolnshire border. I was talking to someone on the mobile and trying to clean up some things. I turned and saw her for the very first time. She has brunette hair with a slight reddish tint and she wore a dark red and gray frock with a pattern of little dragonflies. She was pretty. Very pretty. And as our eyes met a broad smile spread across her face.
After a week of dating we went to dinner at a local Chinese restaurant in Stamford. I was feeling nervous about the pace of our budding relationship. We had both just come out of relationships that had ended badly. I told Lari that I thought we should slow down and take a breath. She smiled and made it clear she thought I was being silly, but whatever. Two weeks later we were back in the same Chinese restaurant, different table this time, and I was suggesting we move in together. She smiled the same smile again and said she was glad I was able to go from stupid to sensible so quickly. So was I but I didn’t say anything.
We moved into her rented house in Netherfields, near Peterborough. I think we were the only non-muslim residents on the street. It was a fascinating place. In the short time we lived there together we watched several wedding marches down the street, had some tense moments with one neighbor who kept trying to put their rubbish in our bins rather than buy more of their own – necessary since they had at least a dozen people living in the house. And then on the other side was an informal mosque and community of Afghans. They were treated much more like outcasts by the other neighbours that we were. Seems there was some bad blood between the Pakistanis and the Afghans I was not aware of. But the Afghans were our favourite neighbours. They came and introduced themselves and asked if they made too much noise and brought us lovely food treats – a favour we returned as and when we thought we were making something we thought they might like and could eat.
Lari had been in the process of trying to buy her own house. It was difficult, it turned out, for two reasons: first, she was self employed as a Kumon instructor, and second, because her previous partner ha dnot only emptied her bank accounts, but had also forged her signature on credit card applications and spent them up to the limit.
Lari had managed to restore a lot of her savings through hard work and frugal living, but she was playing musical chairs with credit cards offering interest free one-year on transferred balances. She did her best to hide the stress but I could see it in her and I could feel it myself. Typical selfish me, I began to question whether or not I should be involved with someone so deeply under water. I asked a friend and she said, ‘if you love her, you don’t really have a choice.” She was right of course.
I had recently sold the house in London to pay off my own ex and had some cash. I offered to go in on a house with Lari but she was determined to get a house in her own name, and I already had the farm in Italy in my own name. So I said, why don’t I just pay off the cards and let’s be done with it. Once I did that, she qualified for a mortgage on a wee place in the heart of Stamford. It needed a ton of work but it had charm. I said I would cover the cost of restoring the kitchen and bathroom so we could move in more quickly. The rest would be sweat equity and time.
It turned out to be the wisest handful of decision yet made. We had a great little house, in Lari’s name, decorated to our taste, done by our hands, and aside from her mortgage, we were both debt free. Thus began four years of joy. I thought I had known what love was before. Boy was I wrong. It’s been written that soul mates aren’t found, they are made. I couldn’t agree more. Here we were, two incredibly different people from very different backgrounds with very different tastes and experiences, and yet we clicked. And each day the depth of that click got deeper.
Four years after that day in Barnack, I had planned to pop the question on St. Valentine’s day as some not-so-subtle pressure from her nibs was coming my way. But before I could utter the words, she burst out with no small measure of frustration, “Are you ever going to ask me to marry you, or what?” I told her yes, in fact, that very day, but now I was so put off that I might have to change my mind. She flicked my head for that one. Lari spent the rest of the day calling and emailing anyone who might possibly have any interest in our news. Some of you may have received such a call.
We got married by the local justice of the peace in Stamford. The only appointment we could get was a weekday and we needed two witnesses. Fortunately, who friends, Kim and Rachel, were both on maternity leave and were available. Both were heavily pregnant but happy to help. The official checked our identification and then asked Kim and Rachel if they were the witnesses. Kim replied, deadpan, “yes, he said he’s done with us and wants the brunette now.” The official looked up, ashen, mouth agape. Dead silence. Then we all burst out laughing and a look of great relief passed the official’s face. The rest of the day kind of went the same. It was fantastic.
Fast forward to early 2013. We had been thinking a change was due. Lari had complained of stiffness and aches and pains here and there but we both did and assumed it was just the aging process. Then she passed some blood and we immediately went to the doctor. Tests were ordered. We read up on the internet where cancer was mentioned as a possible cause. We were terrified. The tests were done and we were given the all clear. The pain continued and some swellings began to appear. The doctor referred Lari to a rheumatologist, thinking it might be arthritis. We were just relieved it was not life threatening. The rheumatologist ran some tests, all of which were inconclusive. Pain meds were issued but ibuprofen seemed good enough.
With the threat seemingly gone, we wanted a new adventure. Lari’s mum was diagnosed with Alzheimers and wanted us to be closer. But Lari and her mum did not get along well. Lari’s mum didn’t want to move to the UK or Italy. She basically wanted us all to move with her into her old home and look after her but neither of us really wanted to move back to SF. There were too many bad memories for Lari in that house. Someone mentioned Hawaii and the rest is history.
The pain grew more acute after we arrived in Hawaii and we visited the local clinic. They thought it might be a kidney stone. The night before her scan appointment it got much worse and I took Lari to emergency in Hilo. There they did a scan and gave us the grave news. Lari had advanced kidney cancer and would be staying in the hospital. I was told to go home.
In the coming days the news got worse. Stage four, metastatic, liver, bones.
Six months later, after chemotherapy, pain management, and all the accompanying side effects of the two, and Lari’s body just couldn’t take anymore. I gave her an anniversary card in the morning. She asked me to stay in the room with her that day. I lay on our bed and read her stories from the internet while she lay in her hospital bed on the other side of the room. She dozed on and off all morning. The hospice nurse had told me the time was near but I just couldn’t imagine the end yet. Then around 1pm, Lari said, ‘oh crap.” I asked her what was the problem. She said she needed to go to the bathroom. I went to her bedside, ready to carry her to the bathroom as I had done before. I sat on the side of her bed and she put her arms around my neck. I leaned back to pull her up slowly. As we became vertical, she whispered in my ear, “wait, wait, just wait …” I stopped moving and felt her head rocking a little so I supported it from behind with my hand. And then she exhaled in my ear and her arms went limp. I laid her down gently. Our story was done.
This is just one story of loss. I have a few myself now. And we all do. There are billions of stories of loss from across the entire history of our species. We will each be the receivers and authors of such stories. And each one changes the lives it touches. But this piece is just about the real face of loss. There will be other pieces here where we can talk about how we react to loss, how it changes us. But for now let us just take in the power of loss. Happy endings may or may not come, but this piece is not an end, it is just a part of a bigger story. So let’s not charge to a happy ending. Let’s just sit for a spell and take in the might of loss. We can talk of transcendence another day.