In the first week of December 2016, I brought my husband home to die. At 21:31 on Monday, January 23, 2017, as I held his hand, he left me. I remember the minutes before, and the minutes afterwards. My mind has closed against the moment when his great heart broke, and his beautiful spirit, as sailors say, crossed the Bar.
Death is the invincible enemy. You may see its approach, you may accept its inevitability, but nothing prepares you for the moment when you the survivor must yield, when you lose, when you surrender. When everything you have, everything you were, and everything that was, falls away beneath your feet, and the world is shattered, and nothing will ever be the same.
It will break you. It will bring you to your knees. And sometimes, sometimes on your knees in that darkness, that wasteland, you will fumble and stagger and rise, because you must, or die yourself.
And you think, when thought can form: Who am I? What am I doing here? Where am I going? Is there a future?
I walked along the river road into our village, alone, thinking these things, early mornings with mist hanging on the water and low over the fields, herons standing in the frost-
And I thought: my England. That was what he called it, and he gave it to me like a gift as he gave so many things, the most profound and magnificent of which was his love, and his life, his heart; but also this country, the great span of her history, her courage, her standards, the strength and humour of her doughty people, who had welcomed a Canadian girl more than thirty years ago, and among whom she still makes her home.
What am I going to do, Dougie? How am I going to get through this? And as if he had spoken to me, I heard him say, Write your way out of it. It’s who we are. It’s what we do.
I am working on a new novel, researching it, hearing their voices, seeing visions, making notes. But it was not that book that spoke to me. It was CORONACH. I read it again for the first time in years, and knew what I had to do.
It had not quite finished with me, CORONACH. The soldiers, the lovers, the enemies, the vast sweep of events, the compelling truths of life and death. And I knew death, and the bitter path of the one who walks alone afterwards.
So I wrote. The hours passed; the seasons passed. The vase of spring flowers on my kitchen table was filled with my roses, and then the orchids I brought back from Singapore in June, where I went to commune with ghosts, his and mine among them; the orchids became asters and chrysanthemums; rain fell, snow fell; I wrote and discarded and rewrote; I sat in silence and listened as the characters spoke to me and to each other. What they truly wanted to say, perhaps had wanted to say for years, before I had been able to hear them.
There is no time now, there are no seasons; summer comes, and does not touch me; spring is devoured by winter. There are no memories of these years, because they are not lived. Time’s only significance is my severance from him.
I wrote out of love, and grief, and loss. I hardly felt the passing of time: I detached myself from all unnecessary distractions. Only the words and the power drove me.
It is finished, and I am preparing to offer it to you, the reader. As long as life and as fiercely truthful, CORONACH is a story of great love and great loss.
Time, passing, bears me from him, and across the bitter waste of years he lives: he is alive, vivid, laughing, tender, and passionately beloved.
This is my tribute to him.
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