‘Life after losing a spouse: It’s the little things that mean the world’

Oct 08, 2020
Mike's fictional story deals with life, loss and hope. Source: Getty

I thought it was gone for good, yet another victim of my failing memory. I’d turned the house upside down trying to find it but without any luck. Then, today, I was cleaning out the filing cabinet in Barry’s office and there it was! I’d been planning on doing this job for months but always found an excuse to put it off. Procrastinator should be my middle name!

Anyway, I’d pulled out the file marked Medical and Dental and started going through all the old specialists’ bills, dental appointment reminders, HCF letters and the like. Why do we keep all this stuff in the first place? Beats me! Well, among all the accounts and correspondence was an open envelope containing one sheet of paper. When I lifted it up to investigate, I noticed immediately how heavy it was. I extracted the paper and, lo and behold, out it fell – the gold talisman!

I have to admit, I burst into tears! The sight of that talisman sent a jolt through my whole body. I have no idea how it came to be in the filing cabinet but can only assume that I’d put it there with some medical papers after I’d returned from the hospital.

The talisman was on a gold necklace and had been a present I’d bought for him on our first trip overseas. Barry had wanted to treat me to something special for our fortieth wedding anniversary and the trip to Thailand had been his idea. We had always wanted to travel but, what with raising a family and paying off the mortgage, there had been precious little time or money for that.

We were staying at a lovely beach resort at Hua Hin on the Gulf of Siam. After checking into the hotel I insisted Barry take a nap and used the time to slip out and find a concierge whom I asked for help in locating a jeweller. Luckily, there was a reputable business in the resort complex and they had a great range on offer. I explained to the store assistant what I wanted and after inspecting an amazing array of items, decided on the little gold Buddha on a matching chain.

Later that evening, Barry arranged a romantic anniversary dinner right there on the beach – I’ll never forget the moon on the water and the sound of the surf as we enjoyed the most incredible seafood you could imagine. It was during that dinner that I’d given him the gold necklace with the Buddha talisman on it.

“It’s a chain,” he’d say, in his dry tone, “necklaces are for women.”

But then, when he opened the velvet-lined box and saw what it was, he looked up and said, “Aw, you shouldn’t have.”

“Do you like it, really?” I’d asked.

“Sure do hun,” he said and, poking a stubby finger at the talisman, “So what’s this?”

“It’s a lucky charm, a talisman.”

“Here, you’ve got to do it properly and put it on for me.”

I got up from the table, took the chain from the box and stood behind where he was sitting to do as he said. The clasp was in the shape of an ‘S’ and just needed to be hooked through the opposing link and squeezed shut. The jeweller had explained that this type of clasp was always incorporated in 22 and 24 karat gold as it was part of the total weight which determined the price.

After making sure the clasp was secure, I just felt so much love for the man that I wrapped my arms around him from behind and planted a big kiss right on his bald patch!

Barry never took that chain off until the day he was admitted into hospital last year. He’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just three months before and we were told it was inoperable. To say we were devastated by the news would be an understatement but Barry was so brave. I can see him now, sitting up on the gurney in Admissions as the doctor filled out his details on a clipboard. He was terribly weak, poor darling, but managed a cheeky grin before trying to get the chain off.

“It’ll only get in the way if they want to do X-rays and stuff,” he said, always the practical one. An Asian nurse came to his assistance and removed his necklace deftly then dropped it into an envelope before bringing it to me. He lasted just five days after being admitted and died peacefully in his sleep.

I really don’t know how I got through those first few months – it was like being in a bad dream. Oh, the kids were great and rallied round and so did the neighbours but, in the end, you’re the one who has to cope with the loss: the empty armchair, the sometimes unbearable quiet, the lonely bed. And the times when you come across the old familiar handwriting in the margin of a book or an instruction manual when you can’t work out why the washer’s playing up.

The last few months haven’t been easy but I keep telling myself that I’m not the only one to experience this pain but the prospect of a lonely future without the loving companionship I’ve been used to for the past forty-odd years seems almost unbearable.

But then I stop and think of all the good times we had and that lovely second honeymoon in Thailand. I smile and think of that night on a moonlit beach when I gave him his gold necklace – I mean chain – with the little Buddha talisman and left a lipstick smudge on his bald spot.

Mike Henry is a fiction writer.

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