As The Ruin Falls
As The Ruin Falls
The pain of waking up without her beside me is unbearable. Habitually, I continue to turn over to wake her up, and am faced with nothing but a cold, bitter emptiness. Worse still is the knowledge that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of these mornings to come. Tomorrow, I will turn to wake her, and she won’t be there; the next morning will be the same, and the next. I almost detest our wedding photograph, glaring at me from my desk. I do not know the couple pictured there. Their smiles seem to mock me in my grief.
Could I ever forget her dying words? How she told me, with so much certainty, that I still had plenty left to live for? Could I forget my promise to fulfil her dreams? To visit the farthest parts of the world, so that one day, if we are reunited, I can share with her the experiences we never had in life? And how could I forget her final request: that we would not grieve; that we would celebrate her life instead. I do not grieve because of her; I grieve because she is not here. She has been stolen away by that which took both my mother and my father: cancer. Time and time again, I have seen its destructive power. If I were next on its list of victims, I know that it would not show mercy in putting me out of my misery. Cancer doesn’t just kill – it destroys. I wish not to remember her appearance in those last weeks, when her body was so ravaged. However, hers is an image that is forever imprinted in my mind.
This pain, they say, will not last forever. Eventually, it will fade away, they tell me. There is some comfort in my grief – a tiny, shimmering light that is bound to grow larger. It is born out of the simple fact that, for a short while, we were one. After all that she has taught me, I will never be the same. If I’d known what I was to endure for the sake of her love, I still wouldn’t have had to think twice about it. She has been the greatest teacher I have ever known. Ours was a costly love.
I neither looked for her, nor asked for her. I was entirely self-sufficient. No woman I had ever met had presented any sort of challenge to me. None gave me much reason to pursue friendship further, let alone love. The pursuit of knowledge was satisfying enough, I thought. I changed my mind the first time I saw her. Her very presence was enchanting. From our very first meeting, until the final moments, I was transfixed.
Her wit could more than match mine. Her debates both captivated and frustrated me. Yet more captivating than her intellect was her charm. She somewhat domesticated me. She’d just smile as sweetly as last time, and speak as gently as she ever had. Years of living alone had turned me inward. It’s true. Without ever saying a word, she showed me what love really was: that in every sense, no man is an island. Simple as that. She taught me community as much as intimacy. She gave me peace, reassurance, and pleasure; given more readily than received. For it is better to give than to receive…
She understood my eccentricities- they made her smile. My flaws as being human did not repel her. The more time I spent with her, the further away from myself I moved. Yet, in doing so, I saw more of me than I ever had before. Did she know? I was so grateful for her, for helping me to realise, even at this late stage in life, that other people really matter. The days of living only for myself are over. I crave companionship over intellect, and will seek to please more than I seek to impress. I will, my love.
We weren’t to know that she was sick until it was too late. I should have recognised the signs, but I could not believe that anyone so perfect could be tainted by something so evil. I had seen what cancer could do. It was a silent, deceitful illness. It had consumed my parents from the inside out. If I could have somehow transferred the illness to my own wretched body, I would have, but she reminded me that, had I been sick, her suffering would have been the same. She never once complained. Never had even a moment of self-pity. I still carry the guilt of knowing that much of her agony was born out of mine; in watching me fret, she suffered. She did not fear death as much as I feared life without her. How could I live in this house, in this country, in this world without her?
That final week seemed to last so long, yet pass so quickly. She insisted that she would not die in a cold, sterile ward. She stayed in the comfort of her own home. Although her body was failing, her mind remained as brilliant as ever. Those last days were some of the most joyous I have ever spent. Death may take her body, she told me, but he may never have her character. We would laugh in his face for as long as we could. Her eyes seemed to dance as they reflected the light of the fire. She was strong – the strongest, perhaps – but even she could not stop the bridge on which we were both standing from breaking. Before long, she would be lifted from it, and I would be plunged into the icy water beneath.
I can’t forget how we talked together on that last night. She knew that she would not see another day, but she was not afraid. She had confidence that her life would not end with death – that, when she closed her eyes in this world, she would open them in paradise. There was some comfort in knowing that her suffering was drawing to a close. She begged me, on that night, not to give up on life. She said I should keep living as if she was still with me. I should continue with the plans we had made before this tragedy befell us. She said that I should not grieve. Instead, I should make my life a celebration of hers. I promised that I would. Every day, I would remember her smile, her energy, her enthusiasm for every part of life.
My greatest and most private fear was that, when she was gone, I would revert back to the solitary life I had lived before I met her. As well-hidden as I had kept this thought, she knew it. I don’t know why I was surprised. She could often tell what I was thinking by just glancing at me. She put my mind at ease on that night. "I know you’re afraid of what’s to come, but, as long as you remember me, you won’t be who you were in those days. There’s so much to live for now that you couldn’t crawl back inside your shell if you tried. Please…don’t worry. Nothing could bring you back there…nothing…"
I was holding her hand when she died. It was the first day of spring, her favourite time of year. At 6:03am on a Sunday morning, just as the sun crept over the windowsill, my wife, my companion, my best friend, breathed her final breath in this life. Even as my heart was breaking, I was glad that her suffering had ended. She looked more peaceful than she had done for months.
I let go of her hand and shakily brushed her fringe away from her forehead so I could kiss it for the final time. Sobs racked my body as I promised her that I would always remember what she had taught me, that I would never again be who I was before. Tears fell freely onto the bed. I watched as what was left of my old self, the ruin of a person that I had been, crumbled and fell with them. I knew, in that instant, that a lifetime of such pain would be worth it, if only it brought me a moment of her. This pain, this relentless throbbing, I would not exchange for the entire world; for the pains she gave me are more precious than all other gains.