Welcome to today’s post – The circus has come to town because that’s exactly what it felt like following Nick’s death, if you haven’t caught up on that post, you can read it here.
Also this week, my daughter Claudia noticed that a circus has set up near our place, and she has taken to running around saying, ‘The circus has come to town’, so this is also a nod to her.
Nick was gone, it had happened approx. 5.07am, 5th February, 2011.
All that was left was his frail body. His face had lost all expression, he didn’t even look like Nick anymore. To me, this was just his physical form, the Nick I knew had left his body at the moment, he took his final breath.
After walking out and telling our families the news, there were instant tears and wailing, as you could imagine. His mum tore into my room and grabbed at her boy, trying her best to hold him through her tears. She couldn’t be consoled, neither could his father.
I just remember walking through to the kitchen and trying my best to be normal, yet knowing in that instance that everything had changed, nothing would be the same again.
Knowing I had to be in charge, and that this day would be my toughest yet. Nick wasn’t with me, to tell me what to do next, to support me when I needed him the most, it was the first time I ever felt truly alone, it was all on me from here on.
It was too early in the morning to start making any arrangements for Nick, so instead I made coffee and my sister, Franca and brother in law Eden set about sending out text messages, letting our friends know what had just happened. Phone calls were made to close family members, asking them to pass on the message, because telling so many people was emotionally draining.
At one point, remembering we had to tell his work and some of his other friends and knowing their numbers were only in Nick’s phone, I made the bad judgement call to send the message from his phone.
I always imagine the look on their faces getting an early morning message from Nick, hoping it held good news and then reading it to learn of his passing instead. My personal apology here, if you were one of the people who learnt about it this way, i’m so sorry.
There was a constant buzz in my place, phones beeping, calls coming through, I could hear the relaying of his week, ‘yeah, he went in on Monday….they didn’t think he’d go so soon…she’s holding up really well so far…..so strong’.
It went on and on. I was so thankful to have everyone else fielding the calls for me.
Arrangements were made without my input, my sister would stay with me the night with her then baby. They didn’t want me alone, I protested but they wouldn’t listen, too scared that i’d have a meltdown when everyone left.
For the record, I never did, but my family were amazing and so supportive, both then and now.
The visitors started to arrive, the crying got louder, but people were also congregating in smaller groups, talking in whispers. ‘Is she ok?……no, really, is she alright?…..so young…..i just saw him this week.’
Family came that I barely knew to pay their respects, I smiled politely, offered them a coffee, thanked them for coming.
Nick was still in our room, the visitors came in and went straight to him. Pawing at him, kissing his hands and face, crying over his body. I’ll tell you now, Nick would have hated it, but I couldn’t stop them, they wanted to see him. Being of Greek (Nick) and Italian (me) backgrounds, I knew this was just their way of mourning.
It was getting to be early morning and I had a job to do. What most people wouldn’t know about having a loved one die at home, is that once it happens, you need to have a doctor visit to confirm the death and to sign off on a death certificate. You can’t proceed without funeral arrangements etc without one.
I thought this would be easy enough…cue naivety here!
Firstly, I tried to find a quiet corner of the house to make the calls, signalling to my family that i’d be 2 minutes, just needed to make one quick call. I called the hospital doctor who’d we’d dealt with, thinking he’d pop right over, but no, he was busy and wouldn’t be able to make it.
So, I started calling around, to our home hospital doctor who’d come to visit every second day, he to was tied up with living patients, who had priority over a dead one apparently.
I found the number the palliative care unit had given me, they also couldn’t come out to where we lived, it was out of their area code, they’d been assigned to us when we were living in the city. Another dead end!
I had a brain wave to call Nick’s family GP, I ran out to his mum and asked for the surgery’s details, and gave them a call, nope, also a no go, tied up with patients all day and they didn’t do home visits. Well, Nick sure couldn’t get to them!
Arrgh, I was starting to lose my cool, until finally I called one of our home nurses and pleaded with her, she gave me the number for a doctor who we’d only seen once, but she thought might have been on our side of town today doing visits. I called and begged him to come by, luckily he remembered us (Nick always left a lasting impression) and he offered to come in a couple of hours.
Crisis averted, but it made me realise this was such an easy thing when you pass away in a hospital, there’s usually a doctor who do this for you in an instant.
I regained my composure and still I stayed calm and in control.
Knowing that the doctor was coming, I thought I’d better get Nick looking good. I asked everyone to leave my room and closed the doors behind me.
Finally, we were alone again. I went and sat by him and in hushed tones (because the house was full of people!) I apologised to Nick for all the hands and groping and had a laugh with him about the number of people who’d come out to see him.
I got a wet towel and gently wiped down his body, I changed him out of his pajamas, putting on a brand new pair and finished with a spray of his favourite aftershave. Nick was always conscious of his appearance, telling me ‘people will always judge you based on how you look, whether it’s right or wrong.’ I knew he’d want me to make him look his best. If I could, I would have put him in his favourite jeans, but it was tough enough to wrangle his legs into pajama bottoms!
The minute I opened the bedroom doors again, there were people waiting to see him, honestly, if I could, I would have charged admission and made up Claudia’s university fund. (Damn, why didn’t I think of that at the time!)
More coffee and countless, ‘how you holding up?’ conversations later, our doctor finally arrived. Again I asked for privacy, as the doctor examined Nick to tell us what we already knew. I asked that he remove all the bits Nick had from his body, mainly the morphine pump and to close off his chemo port on his arm.
Within 20 mins he had finished what he needed to do and left me with Nick’s signed death certificate, with his cause of death listed as metastic pancreatic cancer, malignant ascites and deep vein thrombosis.
I felt like every eye was on me, as the home doctor left, most were too scared to come and talk directly to me, I think no one could really believe that I was ok, watching me for signs of a breakdown.
Waiting for me to cry and scream, ‘this isn’t fair’, but that wasn’t me. My sister was surrounded by people asking her, ‘how is she?, no really, how is she?’. Thinking somehow she’d have a different answer for them, than I had.
I was just doing what had to be done, someone needed to be in control of this day, because everyone else had fallen to pieces.
I wasn’t being ‘strong for my daughter’, as everyone suggested, I was just being me and as I learnt, I can handle tough situations and times of crisis without falling apart.
News of Nick’s death had spread like wildfire, he had touched the lives of so many people. I felt awkward accepting people’s offers of condolence, when I felt the people that truly needed it, were his parents. They had never quite believed this would happen, they were distraught and that’s putting it mildly.
I was going to be ok, I had mourned Nick’s death with him and watched him die a little more every day, since his diagnosis. This hadn’t come as a shock to me, we spoke of it often. I was at ease with what had happened, as much as my heart was broken, I knew it was what had to be.
I had promised Nick on his last days, that I would be there for his parents, who he knew would need the support more than I would, he cheekily said to me, ‘mum and dad are going to drive you nuts, but please ignore it and be there for them.’ And I can honestly say, I have.
Though it would have been easy for me to fall into my own grief and ignore the hurt of everyone around me, I instead chose to be their strength when they couldn’t get up anymore.
I will leave you with this one moment from that day, it was getting later in the day and all I really wanted was to have a shower. Having been on the go for so long, I needed to freshen up. Nick was still holed up in our bedroom and we had an open en suite off it, so I knew i’d need some privacy in order to have my quick shower.
The house still had some visitors, but it was mostly close family, so I went about excusing myself and asking they didn’t go into my room for the next 15 mins, my sister passed word around too and I quickly rushed off and closed my bedroom doors behind me, very firmly.
Finally, I was alone, and I found the only piece of quiet, in this otherwise crazy circus of a day. As I started to get lost in my thoughts, letting the hot water wash over me, I heard the familiar sounds of our bedroom doors opening and 3-4 people entering my room. I froze, here I was at my most naked and vulnerable and I had people less than 2 meters away from me, crying over Nick.
Surely they must have noticed the closed doors and heard the water running?!? That they’d been so impatient to see Nick, that they burst in anyway. He wasn’t about to get up and leave, he’d still be there in 15 minutes time.
That’s when I lost my cool, I turned off the water, grabbed my towel around me and started yelling, ‘could you please leave the room, i’m trying to have a shower.’ Luckily the slight partitioned wall, meant they couldn’t see me and they sneaked out, while I regained my composure again and then started to laugh at the absurdity of it.
Because even in the worst of days like this one, after losing the love of my life and spending hours trying to round up a doctor, having my home filled with visitors and having to convince everyone I was ok, I still able to laugh at the shower scene!
It was ok to laugh.
There has to be some light in an otherwise dark day.
I’ll leave it there for today, and will focus next week on the rest of the day and the lead up to the funeral, oh what fun that was!
Let me know if you try and find the light in an otherwise dark day too?
Feel free to share this post, you never know who might draw some inspiration from it.
And lastly, welcome to all my new readers and thank you to everyone still reading along and leaving me comments. I love hearing from you.
Til next week, Michela xx