Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Feedback

Many years ago, I delivered a keynote speech at an education conference in the South of England. There must have been more than 500 people in the room to hear my pearls of wisdom on 'Transition and Coping with Change' and the whole affair filled me with excitement and dread in equal measure.

At the end of the day, everyone who attended was asked to fill in a feedback form and grade the quality of the speakers and their messages to allow the organisers to evaluate the impact and quality of the event.

A week later, the organiser of the conference called to give me feedback on my speech. I am always keen to know how my messages are perceived because it helps me improve my work and adapt it where it may be necessary to do so.

On the whole, the feedback was excellent and I was thrilled to note that some 350 delegates had found my messages useful and inspiring. On a scale of 1 - 10, my speech had scored top marks and people had been very taken with what I had to say.

One person was disenchanted. They had scored me a 7 on the scale with a comment that read 'This speaker did not meet my needs and I didn't learn that much from her.'

I was gutted. It was all I could do to focus on the negative response and totally ignore the other lovely comments and I remember being so affected by it that I actually considered that my work was worthless.

For the first few months of my new normal, I realise that I still had the propensity to focus only on the negative aspects of my old life. And believe me, there were not many negatives.

My old life was truly amazing - it really was. I know that it is easy to look back on the past with rose tinted spectacles but before I took the train to this new normality, I had so much to be grateful for and happy about.  I had the best part of eight years with Bebe and we lived a life of true adventure together.

We were the absolute best of friends for a start, and couple that with shared dreams, a zest for life, the deepest level of trust and the joyful intimacy that comes with such a relationship then it may be difficult for you to imagine why I found myself in a loop of negative thought after my soul mate died.

And you would be right to wonder.

The negative and depressing thoughts that saturated me in the early days, weeks and months, stemmed from the last couple of days we had together. I cannot even begin to describe how traumatic it is to see the man you love most in the world, slip into such heartbreaking decline in physical and mental health.

In our makeshift bedroom that was previously our dining room, he lay sleeping for most of the time. The nurses came a few times a day to give pain relief and the carers came to make him comfortable. Night turned into day and then into night once again - and I did not leave his side for more than a brief moment.

The straw that broke the camel's back and the overriding moment that I have until recently been trapped in, was the decision to administer the anti-anxiety medicine.

When someone is so desperately poorly and the morphine dose is so high, it most likely causes frightening hallucinations, terror and confusion. The medicine at that point comes in the form of a highly powerful sedative and instead of injection, it is administered via a driver that constantly feeds this into their system.

It brings calm to the sufferer immediately. But for those of us left in a state of consciousness it heralds the beginning of a stark realisation that the point of no return has been reached.

When we first returned from the hospital, not really knowing how much time we had ahead of us, we began to talk about and process the news that we had received. We had always done this kind of thing together, through the ups and downs that life had delivered but this time we stopped short in our analysis.

'I never want us to think or talk about what happened at the hospital ever again,' Bebe said 'I just want to live my life and get the best out of it that I can.'

He made a choice that day. The choice to only focus on what he could do. The choice of refusing to go over the trauma of diagnosis again and again in his head or in any discussion with me or anyone else.

 'We are where we are' he said.

After he died, I was indeed where I was. Completely and utterly stuck in the last 24 hours of my life with him. My brain refused to playback the images of our beautiful holidays in the hills of Andalusia, or dancing in the kitchen together every Friday evening. It seemed to have blocked out any memories of my tall, dark, handsome husband curled up with laughter when watching our favourite comedies or proudly announcing that he had been offered an opportunity to work for a great company.

No matter how I tried to conjure them up, my mind would not replay the joy and pride of his dutiful day as a godfather to his niece and neither would it afford me the happy memories of him neck deep in bubbles when he underestimated the power of a jacuzzi and radox at our holiday cottage - the time I had to scoop them out with a saucepan as he sat screeching with laughter because he couldn't work out how to turn it off.

Instead, I was gifted with the memories of the final and difficult 24 hours. They haunted my waking hours and my thoughts were only relieved by sleeping pills, as I lay in the bed that we once shared so cosily.

After a couple of months, the doctor refused to give me any more sleeping pills for fear that they were addictive. No shit Sherlock.

It was at that point that I realised I had to do something about my thinking. If Bebe had given me so much strength and joy in life then began to realise he could bring me the same strength and joy despite our now separate worlds.

As I lay there in bed, unable to sleep, I reached out to his spirit in hope that he may inspire me. I asked myself what might he say to me, if he knew that I was trapped in those final hours. And I could hear his voice. Not literally you understand, but in my head I could recall his deep, matter of fact but gentle tone.

And in the stillness of the room, and the quietness of the night, I stopped crying. I closed my eyes and imagined him looking at me, with his 100 yard stare and deep brown eyes. I visualised him smiling and taking my hands in his hands. And then I heard him speak to me.

This is what he said:

'What on earth are you doing Honey?
Why are you reducing my whole life with you, that was full of so much energy and laughter, to some pathetic moments before I died?
What was the point of me living, if all you will remember is me dying?
You have to stop this now. We promised that we wouldn't go over it again and again. 
I know how much you love me. I know you were there for me.
Honestly, you have to let this go because it breaks my heart to see you reliving it.
If you are going to remember me then for goodness sake choose some decent images - you have plenty to choose from. Most of all, I shudder to think that you are remembering me like that. I was better than that. I am better than that. 
And so are you.'

These words did not come beyond the grave. I do not believe they were sent from heaven or spirited in from some afterlife. I don't believe in such things and they do not bring me comfort. In the new normal, everyone has their own belief of what happens after death. We respect that we all have the right to believe whatever feels right for us.

I do believe however, that these are his words. When Bebe died, part of me went with him. But more importantly, part of him has stayed with me.

And for that, I am thankful.

For Bebe: I refuse to do you a disservice by obsessing over those final hours. I will honour your life by remembering only the best of you. I will share good memories with those who knew you and bring your tales to life with those who did not know you.


  1. WOW Elizabeth - reading your post makes me totally relate to how I spent my last week with my Husband in hospital / hospice, deteriorating before my eyes, drugged up with 2 drivers and feeling so helpless and I too relived that week for weeks after he passed away.Your post is very inspiring, it brought tears to my eyes, thank you for sharing. Claire x

    1. Thankyou so much for taking the time to read my blogpost Claire - I am sorry that you can relate to it but I am genuinely glad that you drew some inspiration from my words. I think it is completely normal that we get trapped in the memory of those final days - how could we not be deeply affected as we witness everything at such close quarters. But life is not a still moment or a static photo - or even a clip from a movie that we must play over and over again. It is a memory yes, but I have realised the power of swamping it with other fantastic memories and they are the important ones aren't they? xxE


Thankyou for taking the time to read my blog. I am interested to know about your experiences and your thoughts.