In her most recent letter to her late husband, John, co-author of Good Grief, Anne Mayer Bird comes to terms with the pain he must have suffered through in his final years and how things have continued to evolve in the world over the last few months.
Anne’s Letter to John 16 June 2021
My June letter comes late for good reason. On 3 June I had my right hip replaced. Due to osteoarthritis, my right hip had decayed to the point it just didn’t work any more and I spent about three months alone in the house pretty well unable to use my right leg and in great pain.
It took me a while to unravel what it was and then, due to extended Covid lockdowns and a huge NHS backlog, my GP urged me to go private. Wonderful middle daughter Lise has driven me to all my many appointments, including meeting my surgeon, a day of pre-op tests, X-rays and so on.
Both the surgeon and anaesthetist had talked me through the operation, which should have headed the afternoon list at 1 pm. But as I sat in my room, starved of food and water, the clock just went round and round. Apparently, a different consultant in the morning was doing brain surgery and encountered a terrible problem, rendering him unable to give up the theatre (the small private hospital has only one). I was eventually operated at 5.30 pm and it was ghastly.
They now give an epidural instead of general anaesthetic and it was the most painful injection I have ever felt. After what seemed many jabs with a super size needle, when the stuff started going in it felt as if my right side was both on fire and about to explode. I really yelled. Then, when numb, they gave me nothing else so I was fully conscious and awake. Believe me, having a hip replaced is like having Euston Station built within – shoving and hammering and lots of cutting through tissue and muscle. Two hours of Hell.
By then it was so late they hurried me through recovery and back into my bed, with electrodes attached to my good leg giving me regular jolts, apparently to ensure it keeps working despite the trauma to its counterpart. If I ever need the other hip done, I think hemlock will come first. It was also the first major operation I have ever had – at 87!
I have now been home for about ten days, sleeping in the big room in a rented hospital bed and with a young Welsh actress staying here to help out a bit. She left yesterday so last night was my first night alone. I can walk (just) but have had a lot of extra problems since I got home including inordinate swelling of my right leg (first thought to be a deep vein thrombosis and now possibly a minor heart problem slowing circulation) plus a bout of gastro-enteritis. Enough enough.
But it is odd that since I began to go entirely lame and be in constant pain way back before Easter, I have a new insight into your final years. Unless you are in pain and increasingly disabled, it is hard to know what your loved one is going through. I appreciated your suffering but now I can FEEL it, and it is no fun whatsoever.
Back to the world outside my little universe. Boris has extended the period of social restrictions from the original promised June date to mid July. There is a new Covid variant and loads of new cases, mainly among the younger population this time. The first casualty was our second attempt to lay your ashes to rest next to Salisbury Cathedral. The school cannot entertain us indoors (nor will it be able to because they finish before lockdown) so we are now looking at a new date in July.
I get confirmation today and hope, at this third attempt, to finally bring it off. Although I have loved having your ashes in your studio, I know how much it meant to you to sleep eternally next to the cathedral you loved and which meant so many things in your life. I will get you there, I promise.
Otherwise, the world spins on. G2 leaders have just had summits in Cornwall and Brussels and today President Biden meets Vladimir Putin for the first time. Covid still rules the world and kills millions of people in both developed and emerging economies. Holiday plans come and go. We now self administer horrible tests called lateral flow which tell us if we are positive or not. Theatres open and shut; people are isolated within and cannot go to the bar. Events like weddings, funerals, and any outdoor festivals are uneven; some can go ahead as test cases but most are severely restricted. The same with sport and the Tokyo Olympics, postponed a year, may well have to be held behind closed doors as Japan has been hard hit.
Pasquale just arrived as I type this. The garden looks glorious. He has worked so hard to keep it as you wanted it to be. It rained most of May and we have had a dry, sunny heatwave in June; it may not work for humans but the garden seems to be loving it.
The girls and grandchildren are all OK, though this has truly been a difficult time for the young. Your eldest granddaughter now runs a pub and the hospitality industry has been hardest hit with all the closures. Her sister is still working for an estate agent but doing a degree with Open University. The other three are at different stages with university courses, but these are much curtailed and distanced by the virus.
The next letter will be sooner (promise) and you will hopefully find me more like the woman you remember. I am determined to return to her. You are still so present in my life and will always be so. What a love match we were/are. And how lucky to have discovered that experience, even if it had to be second time round.
All my love,
Anne Mayer Bird’s book, ‘Good Grief: Embracing Life at a Time of Death’, co-written with her daughter Catherine Mayer, is out now. It’s available to buy from your local bookshop, Bookshop.org, Hive, Waterstones and Amazon.
Read her previous letter here.