I doubt whether there could have been a greater contrast between my first twenty years in England and my following ten years in Venezuela. I am reminded of the saying “From rags to riches”. What happens after riches? It could be back to rags again or, if we learn from experience, we may return to a different kind of life completely. Another saying is “The grass is greener on the other side”. Everything has meaning only when we know its opposite. Would we know what light is if we have never seen the dark? When we suffer the horror of war we appreciate the value of peace. When sickness attacks us, we realise how lucky we are when we are well again. How dull everything would be without the power of opposites!
When in Venezuela, we had likes and dislikes just like everywhere else. At first it seemed like paradise until I began to get used to it. For example, I discovered that having enough money solves only some of our problems. I began to wonder what else does?
Back in England, for a while I deeply appreciated the changing of the seasons after endless sun. Then I got used to it again. But, I was no longer the Jean Pain I was before. When we notice and make use of new experiences we create changes within ourselves. What I did not know then was that I would go on changing, as the experiences I created for my own well-being often taught me unexpected lessons.
In retrospect it is much easier for me to recognise the changes I have made. For starters I realised that I appreciated just how rewarding having children and creating a family can be, even though, in many ways, I often found my relationship with Bob difficult. Like most of us, I clung to my belief that there was such a thing as a perfect marriage.
I now know without any doubt at all, that it is not easy to adapt oneself to another human being when we choose to spend the rest of our lives together. Yet, unless the differences are very extreme there are always some advantages at the same time except where, for example, one partner happens to be an alcoholic or given to uncontrolled violence. I know of more than one couple who got divorced and eventually got together again after an absence of some time. I was one of them. I waited until my children were more or less grown up before we got divorced. I was then fifty years old. It was all very civilised. There were no arguments and both of us felt it was the right thing to do at the time. I could easily have remarried more than once, but some inner wisdom told me it would be a mistake. It was and it wasn’t. Had we not lived apart for five years, still seeing each other regularly, we would not have realised that it was much better for us to live together as friends, rather than man and wife. We had a further twenty-plus-five years together, each of us respecting the other’s privacy.
Bob was seven years older than me. He had always been well and strong. I thought he would never become seriously ill. I ran my private practice as a psychotherapist at home and at the same time I had gone back to academia and was in the middle of studying for my PhD when Bob began to be what my mother used to call it, not himself. His symptoms were slight but ominous. I felt apprehensive and urged him to go to see our doctor. He was reluctant to do so but eventually he went. When the result of the blood tests came through he was rushed into hospital that very day. He had prostate cancer. He wasn’t expected to live for very long. He was in a semi-coma for a week and was so ill that he didn’t want to see anybody. “Why doesn’t grandpa want to see us?” said my grandson Oliver. “Because he is very, very ill and will die soon. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. He has not got the strength to see anybody except his doctors.”
After five days, during which we rang the hospital every day there was little change. My daughter Kate and I decided we would go and see him anyway. He was himself again and he looked at us with surprise. “I think I know you two” he said in his usual whimsical way: he had a great sense of humour. Hospitals are busy places, no-one had looked inside his mouth. My nephew and his family came to see him.
To everyone’s amazement he was allowed to come home. My nephew is a doctor and asked if he could examine his uncle. On his tongue was what looked like a woolly white rug. It was a case of thrush and no-one had noticed. “This is what is killing him” he said. “He must take medication at once.” He went straight to Tesco’s, brought back what was needed and gave him the medicine immediately. He left a note for our doctor to put her in the picture.
Thrush is a common ailment but I had no idea it could be so dangerous especially with a man who had cancer. He made a quick recovery. It was like a miracle. He was soon going for walks and working in the garden. He was still dangerously ill from the cancer but he continued to visit the hospital and he began to get better.
Before this happened he was reconciled to dying. Now that he knew there was hope, he and all the rest of the family were overwhelmed with joy.
He lived for another two years and died at home in the early morning in the presence of Kate and me, just before his eighty-fifth birthday. For reasons that I will tell you later, it was the best two years of our long relationship.