Loss of James
Death is a reality of life.
Waking up thinking the love of your life is having a bad nightmare only to discover it is your nightmare that you will never wake up from.
That was only just the beginning.
James and I met in a local pub, got talking and it all went from there. We were happy. We had all our life ahead of us, started planning for it all, planning holidays, talking about growing old together, joking about stories we would tell our grandchildren. He was the picture of health, his only unhealthy habit being a love for pizza and chocolate ice cream. A fit, healthy, 30 year old farmer with his whole life ahead of him, sleeping peacefully on an October evening. James took his last breaths in his sleep in my arms at home in the farm cottage, in the early hours the following morning. Every second of that Tuesday morning is burned into my memory forever and I relive it every single morning. Waking up to his moaning, his breathing changing, his lips going colder. I fought for him when he couldn’t, I kept his heart beating when he was too weak. I dragged him from the bed, I will never forget the weight of his limp body in my hands, I lay him on the floor, interlocked my fingers and pressed the heel of my palm into his chest counting with the 999 operator “1,2,3,4” over and over, I wasn’t giving up, I loved him so much and so I fought as hard as I could, did exactly what the 999 operator told me. I kept fighting. My arms ached from the effort of full body weight required to try to keep his heart beating, my body covered in sweat from the workout that is CPR, my disheveled hair cascaded down my face and back in messy straw-like strands, tears simmered just beneath the surface of my glazed eyes like water put on to boil, I did everything I could, but no matter what I did my compressions didn’t bring him back. My panicked and distressed phone call to 999, the quick response rate of the ambulance service, none of it could stabilise him enough. The paramedics were in the cottage within 13 minutes of me picking up the phone. When they took over CPR from me, I started sobbing, holding the beautiful Labrador in my arms, she whimpered and I wept, watching the paramedics work on the man we both loved with all our heart, I held their saline bag and tried to help in every way I could, following any instruction, all while starting to cry for James, all the trauma and the fear of what would happen next.
It took two hours to get James into the ambulance after the paramedics arrived. He wasn’t stable enough to move. Every attempt we made to move him would result in him ‘rearresting’. The two days in hospital passed in an emotional blur fuelled by sugary tea, lucozade and bananas. My mind and body were numb. My legs couldn’t support me, relatives had to help me walk into resus in A&E, had to catch me as I collapsed in the corridor when we were told the outlook wasn’t good, had to comfort me as I continually sobbed in the relatives room. Then he was moved up to ITU. He was on life support, machines working on behalf of his organs. His family and I were at his bedside, supporting him, loving him, we were all there for him. I refused to leave him. I stayed by his side with my forehead resting on his all the way through the night, tears spilling over my eyelids when I couldn’t hold them back anymore, making tracks down my cheeks and hitting the bed or James’ cheek. I tried my hardest to clench my jaw, grit my teeth and hold back the tears, it took all my strength to stay as stable as possible to be strong for him, be strong for his mum, his poor mum, stood at her only sons bedside not knowing how to go on. Do any of us know? But every so often a great tremor would overtake me, tears would race down my cheeks as my throat tightened and I gasped for breath through my quivering lips, as my body shook with gut-wrenching sobs that tore through my chest escaped and my head would hang while all my limbs shook and my chin trembled, offering up all I have to save him. When the doctors and nurses required us to leave his bedside I would take the short walk out of the Intensive Care Ward on Level 5 around the corner, over the bridge and to the lifts to go down to the Costa Coffee located on the second floor, after pressing the button for the lift I glanced over my shoulder and recognised the corridor with the double doors just to my right, of course it was the unit I had gone to just months earlier to wait for James’ and mine good friend to wake up from another of her many difficult brain surgeries, I wanted to be there when she woke up, even if she didn’t want to see me, I would wait in the waiting room in case she needed anyone. As I waited for the lift, it dawned on me, oh god poor girl, how on earth am I going to be able to tell her about James? Tears would form and I fought to stop them from falling, stop them from spilling out over the rims of my eyelids, but every so often I couldn’t hold them out much more, wet hot tears would poor out and stream down faster than my heartbeat, while involuntary whimpers escaped my wavering lips. All while begging him to fight, pleading with God to bring James back to me, to all of us. Despite the efforts of myself, paramedics and the NHS staff both in A&E and ITU, there was no bringing him back. Apparently, there are more than 30,000 cardiac arrests every year that happen outside of hospital, and there is a survival rate of less than 1 in 10. So the reality is the odds were stacked against James from the beginning. But there wasn’t a chance in hell I wasn’t going to give it my all to try to save him.
I stayed until the very end, sat with him while they turned off the machines, 31 hours later. Visibly watching the electrical currents from the machines racing around the room, making vibrations in the air, until the machine was off and they stopped. Silence. Silence has never seemed so terrifyingly silent. The mechanical noises from the breathing machine, the beeps from the heart rate monitor, all ceased to continue their tasks. The tubes were gradually removed by the very attentive nurses in the intensive care unit, each one had tried to give him the chance of continuing his life. No matter the hard work the skilled and compassionate medics did to help his organs, he was already braindead, he was already gone. It’s the kind of heartbreak time will never mend. I will never forget the moment the consultant confirmed James was braindead, and therefore dead. If someone’s braindead, the damage is irreversible and, according to UK law, the person has died. It is when a person on an artificial life support machine no longer has any brain functions. This means they will not regain consciousness or be able to breathe without support. Permanent brain damage or death can occur within minutes of cardiac trauma if blood flow stops. So while James officially on any records died in hospital on Wednesday evening, in reality it is likely he died at home, when the catastrophic cardiac failure occurred, causing irreparable brain damage. The realisation he died so peacefully before anyone could do anything brought a little comfort… I almost wanted to stop time, hit rewind, and then pause. Just stay cuddled together in bed forever.
The trip home from the hospital was numb. The 27 mile drive went by in a blur, sat in the back of my mother’s Volvo behind my dad’s driver’s seat my eyes were fixed on the floor, my mind focusing on my breathing. But I was insistent that I had to tell all 4 of my siblings and my ‘honorary brother’, that is my cousin, myself. It was important. I had to tell people myself for James. I couldn’t be a wimp and let my parents do it for me. I had to do it. No 24 year old dreams of telling people her boyfriend she planned on spending her life with has died. But this was my new reality. A truly heartbreaking and devastating reality, in which I feel like my heart has been ripped from my chest and I have been left with this void where my body has been torn open. But reality nonetheless.
After returning home, then came having to tell people. Having to tell his friends. Having to face the world. How do you tell James’ friends he is dead? He is gone. How do you say James has died? No words do it justice and no words are good enough. What do you say? What is there to say when there is no real explanation? I felt a sudden sickening sensation throughout my body, clearing my throat I built up the courage to inform his friends that his trip to hospital was fatal. I perhaps became very blunt about the whole scenario, but there was no beating around the bush, he was dead and gone. No matter how I say it, the reality remains the same.
Walking back into the cottage, a few days after he died. The place it all happened. A place that had been filled with happy memories, hope and dreams, was now a place of tragedy and heartbreak. I went just to collect my car and pick up some face wash; everything else that belonged to me could be left for now, it wasn’t urgent and could be dealt with at a later date. But I was told to take it all, I had to get everything and go. So mustering up all my strength I slowly climbed the stairs, every step suffocating me more and ripping my insides to shreds while shattering my heart. I reached the top, took one step into what was our bedroom and collapsed, breaking down on the floor, lying on the exact spot I had dragged him to, the spot where I fought with hope and determination to save his life, the spot where I had dripped with sweat putting all my energy into keeping his heart beating, the spot where it all happened. Spots of blood now stained the pale blue carpet from the paramedics inserting tubes and needles. Black marks now smeared across the walls from all the medical equipment that had been dragged in and out on that morning. His sister had removed the bedsheets, but everything else was exactly as we had left it on that panicked Tuesday morning, with a cottage full of worried family members. Now with him gone, I just lay there and cried, cried into the carpet where he last lay, beside our bed where he took his last independent breath. Lying there took me right back, I hear the moaning of his nightmare, the change in his breath, I could feel the cooling of his lips, the weight of his body, the compressions to his chest, the ache in my arms, it all took me right back. I sobbed for him, for our love and for all that happened.
The first few weeks, few months, are filled with a surreal confusion fueled by denial, searing pain, and unbearable sadness. Every day is hard. New reminders and things to face appear every second. The grief is so overwhelming it is almost hard to breathe. Mornings are hard battling the harsh reality that it isn’t all just some horrible dream. Daytime feels numb and surreal, as you wait for him to appear, or his face flash up on your phone screen to ring you telling you he is already out in the tractor working on the land, or to receive a snapchat, or meme on Instagram, or article link on Facebook messenger, but none of it ever comes. Then night creeps in, you know you will have to crawl into bed alone and afraid of having to face all the heartache again tomorrow. You cry into his pillow, deep heartbreaking sobs of sadness that will never leave you. You feel alone, hollow, a shell of who you once were. You feel so terrifyingly alone, like no one or nothing will ever take away that sensation. The constant pain, like the knife that is consistently in my heart, was being twisted over and over a few times a day in the early days.
My nightmare was only amplified by further difficulties that left me feeling abandoned, rejected and alone, I was cut off and discarded. My broken heart was shattered repeatedly by words and actions of others. But I survived. I will always hold onto those moments I had to say my goodbyes in hospital, especially given as there was no funeral, no memorial, no commemoration of his life. I will always be grateful for the friends that supported me, that kept me going when I couldn’t see a way through the storm. I was left with a broken mind, broken soul and broken heart.
They say ‘tough times always reveal true friends’ and they are so right. In your darkest moments, you discover people’s true colours, see both good and bad. So many people surprised me, gave me a whole new appreciation for humanity, life and friendship. Early on, in the first few weeks, I was greeted by a constant stream of caring visitors, who shared in my loss and pain. Loss is loss, it is no less or more for anyone, we all lost the same person, we all lost James. Seeing his friends, my friends, my family, helped; they have all shown me what true friendship and support is. I was asked so many times about my sleeping and eating… I will be honest eating was hard to start with, especially in the hospital, I couldn’t swallow, it was like a mountain sized lump was lodged firmly in my throat and would not move, eating was impossible, but after the first few days following his death and being forced to eat it got better. Sleeping on the other hand…sleeping was hard, I was so lucky to have friends who sent me lavender oils, aromatherapy oils, pillow sprays, candles, but nothing seemed to work, and I still often have trouble sleeping, but not for lack of people trying to help. Life is about appreciating the relationships you do have. The loved ones who are with you through highs and lows, and have your back from beginning to end. It’s more than just a trusted circle of individuals, it is your lifeline in this world. When you go through any catastrophe in life, it is the only thing you need, that lifeline, people. Woodrow T. Wilson said “Friendship is the only cement that will hold the world together”.
But, time goes on. That’s one of the hardest things. You’ll find an influx of people at the beginning…but then the flowers start to wilt, the text messages become less frequent and people go back to their normal lives with their loved ones, leaving you on your own, alone. You have to face the fact there is only you to look after you. Everyone else has the luxury of being able to walk away.
Everyone grieves in different ways and you’ll find often people don’t know what to say. More than once I found myself having to be the one to try to carry the conversation. People would sometimes look at me with expectation, waiting for me to give them a clue as to what was and wasn’t ok. But people also can say some very silly and almost hurtful things, like: ‘you’re young, you’ll find someone else’ or ‘I know you miss him but you at some point you have to move on’, I heard variations of these in the first five weeks following James’ death, and not to mention that I was told in the hospital corridor while we waited outside ITU for the doctors testing for brain activity “You’re too young to let this ruin your life. You’ll be ok, and you will move on”. It’s easy to say don’t take things people say to heart, but I will never forget how much those words at that moment hurt, no matter the intention behind them, they hurt. In a time like this, after everything with James I heard some of the nastiest comments from people, whether intentional or not, they come out wrong maybe, but words do hurt. Then comes socialising. Socialising. How do you put yourself into a social situation after losing everything? I did it. I started going out, going to the pub, to meals, to celebrations. But the entire time, I miss him. I notice he isn’t there. Everyone else chats and gets on, and often I will fall silent, at a loss for words. Because how can people act so ok? And then people say such things like ‘you’ll be ok’ if for some reason you say you’re a bit down today. Or people pull you to one side and ask ‘why are you so quiet today, have a drink, get over it’. Socialising, even just speaking to people is hard. Yet, I am the type of person who needs people, so I continually put myself in social situations, in the hope that somehow it will help, if not me, then at least it might help his friends knowing that I am there and I feel and share their pain, even if they can’t show theirs, mine can sometimes be written all over my face, although I try my hardest to put my makeup on, practice a smile and put on a tough face to show the world.
Losing someone you love so much, so suddenly, in your arms, so young, gives a unique perspective and teaches you that life is short and precious. No matter what happens in life, some things remain true. People change. Love hurts. Friends leave. Things go wrong. But always remember that life goes on. The consequences of losing a loved one so suddenly lasts a lifetime. Time won’t make end the pain, but it will numb the pain. Scars can only show us where we’ve been, they do not dictate where we are going, and although through all of this it hurts, we must remember life goes on.