A book that should be read by everyone who is alive now and who will eventually die, i.e. everyone. A ‘must-read’!!
Let me first make one thing clear: whilst I did, of course, cry when I was reading this book, predominantly Lynda’s journey from her cancer diagnosis to her passing, I smiled more than I cried. At times, I laughed. One example – an occasion which should have been 100% sadness and darkness but which was mixed with humour and laughter. Christmas 2014: Lynda SO wanted to be at home with her family on Christmas Day but she had to stay in hospital over that ‘festive’ period. The comedy that was her husband, Michael’s, efforts to prepare the Christmas lunch, his panic, the continuous phone calls to the hospital, it was comical and heartwarming. This is not a morose, depressing book. I’m not saying that it’s a joy from start to finish, it is not – it is a tragic story but it is also inspiring, uplifting and life-enhancing. This is an important book because the messages and lessons apply to all of us and, taken onboard, these lessons can improve the quality of all of our lives now and can make the bad times easier to navigate.
An admission: I love Lynda Bellingham. I didn’t know her, I never met her but I love her. Reading her book, I was blown away by her attitude, her outlook on life, her fortitude. She was incredible. Oh how I wish I had met her.
Lynda Bellingham was an incredible lady, so loved, adored and respected, so selfless, caring, thoughtful and giving, a lady who loved her family and her friends and a lady who loved life. The letters she wrote and left for her family, letters to each of them, are testament to that selflessness and thoughtfulness, to the fact that Lynda’s thoughts and concerns were for those who were going to be left to cope after her passing, concerns for others much more than concerns for herself. In the most awful of circumstances, Lynda still looked for elements of fun on what became a rocky, bumpy road – Lynda found some wonderful, smooth stretches of road on the journey from the dreadful diagnosis to the tragic end of her life. Lynda found those stretches of road because of the kind of person she was, strong, courageous, so courageous, so determined, so in love with the people around her, so in love with life. What a magical grandmother:
“…Only now am I beginning to understand what being a grandparent is all about. It is not, in my opinion, filling your time with your grandchildren because you have no other life, nor is it about babysitting endlessly while your daughter or son goes off to work to earn more money to have a bigger house. It is to offer the other side of the coin, the little things that maybe get forgotten in everyday life, like manners, or seeking advice on parts of life that they can’t ask their parents about. To me, it is offering a different view of the world and letting your grandchildren know that there is always someone rooting for you. Being a grandparent also gives you a sense of the continuation of life…”
How beautiful is that take on being a grandparent? The juxtaposition of the tragic journey that Lynda was on, the suffering, physical and mental, with the x-ray vision that allowed Lynda to see the beauty in and of life, it’s mind boggling.
I don’t think I take life for granted. I’ve had a ‘close call’, my life nearly came to an abrupt end, I know that life has to be lived while we’re here, that it’s fragile and can be over at any moment, no warning, but I don’t think anyone can really feel life as much as those who have been diagnosed with a terminal condition, as much as those who know that they have months, or weeks, left to live. Lynda, in her wonderful book, describes clearly how heightened her senses were after her diagnosis, her enjoyment of being with her devoted husband, Michael, with her children, step-children, sister, the rest of her family and friends.
When Lynda arrived home after a stay in hospital:
“Now that I was home again, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, but I went and got into bed on Michael’s instructions. What bliss it was to be in a proper bed with crisp white sheets and the smell of lavender. I lit some candles and revelled in the feeling of my head on a pillow that was not rubber. I looked round my bedroom at the photos and all the familiar nick-nacks that make up one’s life, and I seemed to see it all through new eyes. I was so pleased to be alive”.
Another beautiful example:
“….But the surprise at the end of the meal, and only someone like Heston Blumenthal could think of this, was to bring out an ice cream trolley and watch the waiter make you a mini ice cream cornet with nitroglycerine. It only takes five minutes to freeze the mixture and present you with a perfect cone of yummy ice cream, topped with sprinkles of your choice. It was a fantastic finale to a perfect lunch, and I was so proud as I walked out on the arm of my beautiful boy (her youngest son, Robbie, who worked in the restaurant). That day will stay with me until I die.
Again, time rears its head and decides just how many more such moments I may have. I’m trying to make sure that every occasion is enjoyed, every Sunday lunch, every birthday. Spontaneity is very important, because it is too easy to make plans and stick to them rigidly when sometimes it may be better for all concerned to go with the flow. In the last few weeks I have begun to feel that maybe I cling too hard to ‘plans’ especially because they make me feel secure. Doing the same things creates a sort of timetable and pattern to everyday life but actually it is not always very satisfying.
A couple of weeks ago we were coming back from a chemotherapy session, as usually we go straight home and have dinner and go to bed. But that night as we were passing a very popular pub in Highgate called the Red Lion and Sun, I noticed they were advertising fresh oysters and a bottle of Pinot Grigio as a suggested evening meal. I know how much Michael adores oysters so I shouted ‘STOP!’ loud enough to be regarded as an emergency procedure and we parked up and had a fantastic night.”
Tapping into Lynda’s enjoyment of times and moments between the devastating diagnosis and her passing, I realised something very, very important and that is that when a terminal condition is diagnosed, as in Lynda’s case, it does not necessarily mean that life ends at that moment. Of course, some people are given horrendous news, that they have weeks or days to live and that they’ll never leave hospital, that must seem like the end but in cases like Lynda’s, when you are told that you’ll hopefully have a year or two, it is not the end but it is the start of a new phase, in some ways an awful time but, in others, a time of heightened senses, deeper pleasures and a closeness with loved ones that can only perhaps be experienced in those circumstances.
“I know it is a cliche (e acute) but once one has seen the horizon beckon it is a duty to take each day as it comes, and grab every opportunity to enjoy the hours and days you have left”.
From this, I take that we must do that even when we have not seen the horizon beckon!
“Sometimes during these last few months I have marvelled at how deceptive time can be. A minute can last for hours and an hour passes in a minute. I have tried to grasp every moment and savour it because, although it is such a cliche (e acute), it is so true that we just do not appreciate what we have, and we must learn – I must learn – to live in the moment, especially now that I know my time is limited”.
To that, I say that for all of us, time is limited so we should all live according to Lynda’s philosophy.
The night I finished reading Lynda’s book, I went to bed and lay awake thinking about her – thinking about and mourning the passing of a lady I never met. That tells you how powerful and well-written Lynda’s book is and what an incredible lady she was! Now, three days after I finished it, I feel the tears welling up again.
A tragic story but, as I said before, uplifting, positive, life-enhancing and inspiring. That was Lynda Bellingham. I hope she rests in peace and I wish her family all the very best for their futures. I have just started reading Michael’s book, ‘My Lynda, Loving and Losing My Beloved Wife, Lynda Bellingham’. More tears…