You all know how this story ends - our hero didn’t make it.
How long have I been staring at this line, the empty page.
I do not want to write about it
But I have to
No I don’t
I will not write until I want to
I am at the Dubai Mall in a restaurant overlooking the fountains and the Burj Khalifa. Italian music plays in the background and there are little bubbles stuck to the slices of lemon in my glass of San Pellegrino water.
I am broken and I feel as if I cannot breathe, yet I stand in deep gratitude to so many people who held and helped and cared and love us.
Look at how much I’ve already written.
Laptop battery ran out.
Do we have batteries? I think mine is also running out. Once someone I didn’t know thought it was very funny when I said ‘battery aziz’ – I still don’t know why.
A little boy who loves me said to me
“Your husband died and you are very sad.” Without giving me time to answer he carried on
“ .. and your heart is broken
into a million pieces.”
And I could feel it happening, like a frozen hand relaxing its hold on my heart and I was filled with the beginning of blinding white pain. Just for an instant, before I smiled and chatted to him about strings and giants’ rings and other magical things, of stardust and moonbeams and undreamt dreams, and things that never rust, pirates and gypsies and far off lands and all such splendiferous stuff.
Let us make much ado and raise a hullabaloo
for this moment will n’er come again
The coffee pot is on and the tea kettle is too
There is sugar and cream and honey for the brew
There are cakes and crumpets and sconces
and creamy butter aplenty, enough for one and all
So come on by and sit for a spell
in the parlour or on the porch, or out around the garden well
where the air is so sweetly scented with honeysuckle.
I miss honeysuckle.
Dubai does not smell of honeysuckle
and the people are see-through.
I am back in South-Africa. Psychologists believe human nature is to move away from pain towards pleasure. I have had the tendency to run away from pain ever since I was little, and yes, sometimes I just ran. But there is nowhere to run - the pain is everywhere. They keep telling me that it will get better, but it keeps getting worse.
And the endless paperwork and words like
It has been six months. Six months. I cannot believe he is dead. I cannot believe that Tinus died – I never once thought that he would not make it. I type letter by letter and that is a bit how my world feels. Letter by letter, I keep waking up in the mornings in my bed, the same window the same curtains, the same surreal feeling of Groundhog Day – again, another day. Another day. Another day. And he is still dead.
How am I going to do this?
We agreed that morning, I don’t remember what the date was, that he will collect his scan results from the doctor and we will meet at Uno, (restaurant) since I had a morning job which finished at 12, and he could collect the results at 12.
When I walked in he was sitting there – and in spite of agreeing not to look at the results before I am with him I could see that he did – that the news was not good. The tumour in his liver grew by 7cm in 18 weeks. I remember holding his hands – I remember how tightly he held onto me, and I to him. Tears were running down his face as he said “I am going to do chemo again.” And after looking down at our hands he looked up into my eyes and said – as if angry with himself: “How quickly am I giving in.” Meaning that he will not be carrying on with his regime of alternative treatments and instead go back to chemo … giving in to the accepted norms.
I told him that when you have a big cut on your hand that is spewing blood you put a big plaster on it very quickly – we know that chemo worked before, it is completely understandable that he opts for chemo, and that doesn’t mean that he should stop with the lifestyle and alternative treatments. I suggested that Skye and I cancel our plans for the Camino and that instead we all go to SA where we have more support from our friends and family and he can do both chemo and alternative treatments. He and Louis had separate “boys-only” holiday plans ... he never told me what it was and I don’t want to ask Louis about it.
On the 8th of June I came home from work in the afternoon and he was pale and clammy and very tired. At that point he stayed at home permanently with the approval of his boss – what an incredible gift that man (David Greer?) gave us. Tinus spent his days with Louis, who finished his IGCSE exam by that time and was home as well. They played a lot of “Age of Wonders” together (computer game.) Tinus also won a playstation 4 at the Video Games Live (VGL) show and the two of them played some flying thing on that as well. I am not sure of the exact order of events … dammit I keep forgetting things, I never forgot anything.
Point being Tinus lost a lot of weight and he was very weak. I was painfully worried about him all the time and constantly had to keep myself from loading him into the car and pitching a tent on the lawn of the City Hospital. But that afternoon/evening he started complaining about a pressure on his chest – so off we sped to the emergency room, (apologies from here on for grammar etc mistakes, I know some of my readers have issues with my creative use of tenses – I am not re-reading this) me thinking … heart attack! We waited in emergency room, nurse came to ask regular questions, name age etc. So Tinus tells her he is 66 – no jokes. I became cold to my bones and I think in that moment I realized something was badly wrong. I hugged him gently and told her he is 45. That morning at 2am he became aware of his surroundings again, looked up at me with those beautiful blue eyes of his and smiled that deep “I love you” smile and said: “Oh my love, it is your birthday, and I had such plans.” I just laughed and said that we will celebrate my birthday when he is all better.
I am owed a birthday.
I never got to know what plans he had.
Our family have .. I guess now it is had … a few birthday traditions. I found the Swiss Army Knife where he hid it in his cupboard only in September. The kids told me that he bought me that for the Camino.
Yes, the Camino. We finally convinced him to go to South Africa and he asked me to do the Camino for him. If you are not sure what I am talking about google Camino pilgrimage. He and Louis left for South-Africa and I keep running that whole day before they left though my mind over and over again. We sat in the ‘red lounge.’ He love sitting on the sofa on the right where the morning sun shone. We sat there and just chatted all day – two of his companies’ HR people came to see him for something or other but the rest of the time it was just us. That was a perfect day, we packed, I think that was the first time in our 25 years together that I actually packed his suitcase. And for the rest of the time we chatted, about things that mattered. It was not on purpose, or perhaps from his side it was – me stupid optimist – but that was the last day for just us. Then I took him and Louis to the airport, he travelled as an assisted passenger because he was so weak, and I hugged him tight and someone pushed him away.
The Camino is another unfinished chapter. We were so worried all the time. We spoke to Tinus on a daily basis but I also called Ulrich every morning and every evening. I made Ulrich promise me to be honest with me; to tell me how Tinus is really doing – and I will come home only when Tinus or Ulrich tells me to come home. Tinus’ health improved so much that he took walks with his mother by the river, he spend a lot of time doing what he loves best, just being with friends, celebrating life. I was told afterwards by Tinus’ mother that that was some of the best times of her life, I also know that this time was very meaningful on different levels to almost each and everyone of our friends and family. Tinus spent a lot of time with Louis, one of his best friends who lives in Canada just happened to be in South Africa and the two of them spent some time together. Yes, everything seemed to be going so great. And yes, everyone was upset with us for not being with Tinus - we were upset with ourselves for not being with him. But we couldn’t not do the Camino, because he asked us to do it for him, so he can get better, and if we give up, we give up on him getting better. So we prayed in the Notre Dame, we walked the streets of Paris, we watched the French country side outside the TGV window change to mountainside, we climbed a huge bloody mountain in the pitiless rain alone next to each other, the sucky sounds of our sodden feet the only words on the mulch covered path under ageless trees. In this deprivation of light our skin is all the more sensitive to the freezing rain. It did not pound or sting, but fell on our faces like bitter little kisses of ice and ran down in tear-like drops from our jaws that were clenched tight to prevent the chattering of teeth or perhaps our screams of worry and fear to escape. We stopped somewhere high for a moment as the sun broke through the gloomy clouds in shafts of light; looking at the incredible distance our feet carried us and our worries. It was one of those golden sunlight moments. Drops of water trickled down my body as I stood there, my gaze fixed on the horizon, staring at the beauty of this world we live in when Skye said: “If you want to go to South Africa we can.” As the clouds continued crying, I felt the rightness of that idea fall around me like a velvet cloak. When we got to the next cloister I called Ulrich and he said it is time for us to come home. Ulrich told me later that when he told Tinus we were coming home his face lit up, but then he said he hope it isn’t because we were worried about him, and Ulrich said no, it is because of the rain.
We travelled for two days, dragging our worries with us as our soggy shoes squelched through airport after airport until my brother collected us from Cape Town International and took us to the hospital and I didn’t recognize Tinus until he looked at me with those blue eyes and Skye burst into tears.
And that was where the world stopped being nice and the days were one long nightmarish moment where I was silently screaming in my head without taking a breath until he stopped breathing and everything became blinding white and silent.
I couldn’t sleep if I wasn’t with him so the hospital gave me a squeaky lazy boy-type chair to sleep in and one morning we sat on his bed like teenagers, cross-legged, with our knees touching and our fingers entwined and he asked me:” Do you think I am going to make it?” And for the first time I wasn’t sure, and I told him so, but said that I am not ready to give up yet. And I asked him – what do you think? And he said he is not sure either, but he doesn’t want to give up yet. It was then that he said to me “I want to get out of hospital and I want to be with you and the kids.” And although I knew it was a bad idea, I put if off as long as possible, and then I got him out of hospital. That first night was a nightmare. We were going to stay in my brother’s house since my parent smoke in their house. Tinus was in pain and extremely nauseous and a disorientated, and there were many many people all making arrangements, saying what needs to happen, being there – trying to help. And friends of a friend of Tinus’ wanted to come and pray for him and inbetween all of this these lovely people are arranging to come from a far away town and then Tinus decided he doesn’t want to see anyone and I have to let them know please don’t come and then Tinus wanted to go to Cape Town for an appointment at an alternative doctor he made and I had to find a way to transport him without causing him too much pain and I couldn’t find a place where I could refill his oxygen bottle and eventually I paid an ambulance to take him to Cape Town and the alternative doctor didn’t have proper facilities for him and I eventually managed to book us a place which ticked all the boxes I needed ticked caring for my terminally ill husband – I arranged for a night nurse and in the dark night I opened my door to a Zimbabwean I have never seen in my life before and I shook his hand saying “please come in, look after my husband, I need to sleep.”
I slept for a few hours and the little bit of recuperation made me realize I am being unreasonable, unrealistic, insane. Tinus belong in the hospital. At that point already he displayed three states of consciousness – completely aware and alert, sleepy and disorientated or deep sleep. I waited until he was completely aware and alert and apologized to him, saying that I am so sorry but I am going to cancel the rest of his alternative therapies and take him to hospital, I am being irresponsible keeping him out of hospital. He needs to be at a facility where he can receive proper care. He needs qualified medical care.
It was raining and misty, I could barely see as we drove through the Southern Suburbs, the long way to Panorama in the Northern suburbs, past so many of our memories. He had his hand on my knee, and every now and again I would cover his hand with mine (manual car) and I wished I could just keep driving, just keep driving in that perfect moment. Where he is with me, gently snoozing, occasionally lifting his head to look at me and smile into my eyes.
The time at Panorama was a bit of a blur, but there are moments of such intense clarity. I was beyond exhausted. Tinus’ brother Cobus and Tinus’ mom took to staying with Tinus alternatively some nights. There were so many people, his mother, his brothers, friends and my family. Lizana told me about the angels. On the Saturday I asked my brother to bring Louis and Skye to come and say goodbye to their dad. I said to them that we need to sit on Tinus’ bed and talk about what we will do so that he will know that we are going to be ok. “But Mom, Louis said, “I don’t know if I will be ok.”
Louis and Skye were with Skye’s friend Ronita’s family in Melkbos. It was a Monday. Tinus wanted me to get the money out of his bank account into mine. I have signing powers on his account but on the Saturday the bank manager wouldn’t believe me: “I can see your signature here Mrs. Olivier but there is no covering message accompanying it.” That Monday morning the oncology ward’s social worker spoke to me and explained to me what to expect when Tinus dies. She said to me that people say that you take three months to recover from the loss of a loved one, and some say that you take a year. But, she said, it takes a thousand days. Three years. Three years. And I remembered – three years ago the oncologist in Somerset-West told me that if we didn’t find the tumour in Tinus’ lung, he would have been fine, and then in three years’ time he would’ve just died. And I wondered if it was worth it, was it worth it, knowing for three years, for three years hoping and fighting and fearing and be-f-king-lieving that he will be fine, that he will recover, that somehow it was a gift that we discovered the tumour and that he could fight it? Wouldn’t it have been better if he just died? ‘Cos he was about to die… three years later.
Ronita’s mom called me to say unfortunately a friend of hers is bringing the children to me as her other daughter has taken ill and needed to be taken to emergency. I took the children to find alternative accommodation where all of us will be able to fit. The bank manager called me to let me know that I can transfer the money from Tinus’ account to mine. I took the kids with me to a nearby restaurant which had internet access and I transferred the money from Tinus’ account into mine. We went back to the hospital and the four of us were together. Tinus’ brother had to go somewhere and his mother went to the little patient lounge to have tea or a break, I can’t remember, but it was just us. Skye sat on Tinus’ left hand holding his hand, Louis sat by his feet and I sat on his right where all the drips and things were. We spoke about what the kids did over the weekend when Tinus started breathing very deeply – if you climbed Kilimanjaro you may know – that deep-deep breathing you have to breath when at the top, like there is not enough oxygen in the entire world to fill your lungs. I could see that it was upsetting the kids. So I asked them if it made them feel worried, and they said yes. And I asked them if they wanted to go to the lounge and be with Ouma Alma for a bit, and they said yes, and I told them to kiss and hug Daddy and tell him that they love him and they did – Louis laid his head on Tinus’ chest while he held him for a long moment and then it was just the two of us. I went around the bed to his left-hand side and Tinus put his arms up and stretched them out as if wanting someone to pick him up, and I knew what was happening, from what Lizana told me. “Oh my love, God sent his angels to come and fetch you, go with them.” I needed him to go in peace, I told him that I love him, and then I kept saying peace, peace my love, peace. His breaths became further apart, still deep long breaths, but with longer and longer spaces in between. And then he just didn’t breathe again. I waited in that unbelievable silence for a while, and then I pressed the call button and told the nurse I think Tinus is dead. And things became blurry again.
The funeral was beautiful – as they say. But it was, the light was unbearably beautiful.
The norm is to say someone lost his/her brave battle against cancer. Tinus didn’t lose his battle, Tinus NEVER stopped fighting. God came and stopped the fight. I am so glad Tinus found the faith of his father again; he went straight into his God’s arms. Have you read that book “The fault in our stars” ? If you did you will know about the bit where the girl posted on Facebook “I feel as if we have all been injured in your fight.” And we all have lost much.
In Dubai I was watching CSI or NCIS or something similar and in the story the woman realize that her husband faked his own death. And there was a voidspace nanosecond where I was so excited – maybe maybe Tinus isn’t dead!! And then suddenly I was crying breathlessly and I felt something inside my shoulder ripping apart, Louis and Skye held me as I clawed myself out of that pit of frozen blades. I wake up in the mornings with tears streaming down the sides of my face, making little puddles in my ears, but no pain, no sadness, just void.
The kids are settled in hostel and I have sort of gathered myself. I almost – but not quite – feel as if I live in Hopefield. I still feel a bit like running. Sometimes I cannot bear to have anyone close to me, I want to sit alone in the dark and hurt and not let go of the hurt as if it somehow still connects me to him. But I can now look at photos of Tinus with a smile. This morning, as the three of us sat on our beautiful stoep having breakfast they told me of their week - many moments of intense happiness and I said to them; look at those moments, how happy you were there. Can you see that we are ok? Aren’t our minds interesting - almost like a toddler: When the toddler is crying bitterly and you say with your oh-so-happy voice “Oooo look adda pretty panda” up comes the little face and if there is a pretty Panda quite soon the little frown has turned upside down.
We will always have a great sadness because we miss Daddy so terribly much, but we have gotten everything from him that we need to be fine. We have the deep sadness because we had such happiness. The sadness sometimes just jump on me out of nowhere. The clouds, the grass, the sunset, my happy children, my breath – all of these things make me cry. But I have these times where I realize that I am not hurting all the time anymore. Tinus was so worried that we are not going to be ok. He was so worried about me. But I think we are ok, if not quite yet, we will get there we will get there.
Thank you so much, for each and every one of you who loved Tinus. Thank you each and every one of you who love me and the kids. Thank you for standing with us, for helping us, for holding us. Please don’t let go just yet.