Rich had a phenomenal sense of humour, and it stayed with him, no matter how much pain he was in or how poorly he felt. Whenever he was in hospital he kept the doctors and nurses amused with pure ‘Rich quips’, and even managed to crack jokes once the anaesthetic had worn off after surgery. Each time he attended a chemo session, he’d look forward to teasing the staff, and they loved him for it in return. There can’t be many patients whose oncologist plants a tree for them in their garden in their memory.
Humour got us through every NF2 obstacle, and helped us see a way forward when often times we were dealing with news that was never comforting. We’ve never used it as a way of denying or deflecting the reality of living with disability and a life limiting condition, more as a buttress, a way of bolstering our courage and determination to go on, when we knew that somewhere along the line, although admittedly in decades rather than now, we’d face our worse nightmare.
Even when Rich was in a coma, comedic things seemed to happen which I know would have had him bent double. When I tried to order his favourite razors, so that he didn’t get cut to smithereens by the nurses using NHS ones, it took me a good few minutes to realise that the website I was looking at was not displaying pictures of shaving implements. That is what shock does – delays your normal responses, and here I’m talking about the shock of Rich’s seizure and cardiac arrest, so I sat for a while feeling confused. And then I realised. Rich bought his razors from cleanshaven.co.uk and the website with the dot com suffix does not sell razors. If you now google the other website, be it on your head. Those are not pictures of razors. When I told the nurses in ICU, they were in hysterics. Only I could end up accidentally looking at porn when trying to look after my seriously ill husband.
Which brings me to now. Rich’s death has meant that my sense of humour has become much, much darker. Those of you who have experienced profound bereavement will understand. Very little now gives me genuine pleasure, but a shared understanding of death with others who are living this, means that we can connect over for instance what not to say to someone who’s just lost their husband. Big clue, telling someone “oh well, life goes on” seconds after they have told you, will likely mean that the friendship just ended, and with our new ‘not giving many f****’ attitude, we won’t really be bothered that it has.
If any of you have been watching the new Ricky Gervais series ‘After Life’, about a man who’s just lost his wife, and think that his behaviour might be a bit extreme, the opposite is true. Most of us who have lost their spouses are sitting there recognising ourselves on screen, and laughing not because his behaviour is out there, but because it’s behaviour that we recognise. I swore before Rich died, but now I’m potty mouthed. I was also quite bolshy, and now I’m probably like marmite. A little bit of me worries that some people might not be able to manage even more of the ‘Hayley bits’ that Rich loved so much, but that he loved them means that I’m not really bothered about how they’ve become more pronounced. Loss like this impacts on everything, so it was inevitable that the things that don’t really matter would fall away, and for me that’s mainly any desire to present a socially acceptable front, in a society that is not designed to support people experiencing out of order bereavement. I was never any good at pretending to fit in, or wearing a mask. Neither of us were, so like it or lump it, what you see is what you get. Take it or leave it.