Healing Steps on a long journey by Michael Fitzgerald

Every single one of these people helped to keep Bridget with us for thirteen weeks despite the initial prognosis of six to eight weeks. One of the nurses said to me one day, “it was the love and care she got that kept her going” and looking back, I now see that myself.

On the 28th May 2020, I begin another step along the path of coming to terms with my bereavement.

On this date one year ago I received a phone call from the secretary of Bridget’s oncologist, “Please make your way to the hospital Michael, the doctor would like to talk with you.” She said.

Immediately the alarm bells started ringing in my head, this is not good I thought to myself because she knew that when Bridget was in hospital which she was at the time I would attend every day, I explained to her that both James and myself were already on our way and would be there in thirty-five minutes or so.

Bridget had been in excellent form prior to her admission to hospital this time, and to be honest what was happening seemed almost surreal. On the previous Friday we had just finished breakfast together which was our usual daily ritual, I went upstairs to get ready for the day ahead when my phone rang, to my surprise it was Bridget ringing, I answered expecting it to be a pocket call but the words I heard are etched in my mind and will always be with me “Mick, I need you” I ran down the stairs and found Bridget on the floor unable to get up.

I helped her to a chair, checked her out and immediately noticed a weakness in her limbs. I told her that I was calling for an ambulance to which she replied “It’s alright it will pass, someone else might need it more than I do” I told her that I was no expert but I could see that something had gone wrong and the hospital was the place to sort it out, so an ambulance was called.

It was now a few days after she was admitted to hospital, as I sat outside the office of the oncologist my mind was playing scenes and scenarios at almost lightning speed through my head. It was the first time in the eight years since Bridget had been diagnosed with cancer that I was there on my own, the other people waiting for their appointments would stare down at the floor or aimlessly into space trying to avoid eye contact this was not unusual by any means and eight years of going through that door had taught me not to make small talk because the waiting room of an oncology specialist is a room of very mixed emotions.

The door of the office opened and out came the doctor who called my name much to the displeasure of the waiting patients, I had only checked in with the secretary minutes before, “come in Michael” he said, he started adjusting the screens on his desk and lifted up the huge paper file that had been put together over the years that Bridget had been in his care. I was not in the mood to wait for the relevant screen to populate on his computer and as he tapped out the letters on the key board I just let my emotions do the talking,

“Look doctor, I have known you now for over eight years, this is the first time you have met with me personally, Bridget is here in the hospital at the moment, I guess that the news is not good, you do not have to start pulling up files to show me how the disease has progressed, just tell me straight up how long has she got.” I said.

He was totally thrown by my question but I have to say his answer left me stunned, “between six and eight” I was waiting for him to say months but in that micro second he added weeks. “Weeks” I said, unfortunately that was his prognosis.

“Have you told Bridget?” I asked, he gave me the look that he keeps in reserve for delivering bad news so without him uttering another word I said OK I understand you would like me to tell her to which he just nodded his head, he then told me he would be up to the three of us when his clinic was finished and he shook my hand and I left to make the long journey to the room that Bridget was in.

Some people will think this was a heartless thing for a doctor to do, but to those of you who knew Bridget you will fully understand why he made that decision. Very early into her illness she had asked him not to tell her when her time was drawing to a close, she wanted to hear it from me personally in her own space with James by her side, Just the three of us, it turns out he was just following her wishes and when Bridget asked you to do something especially as momentous as that it had to be done her way.

She took the sad news remarkably well, with hindsight I guess that she knew what was coming and when the doctor explained the likely path the final illness would take she began to organize how we were going to get her home and what would be needed to make her last few weeks as comfortable as possible. That precious time I can look back on now and say that without the kindness and love of all her family it would have been impossible for me to manage the situation alone.

Mary and Geoff literally gave us their home, we came and left as if it was our own, and as her illness progressed through to the final stages I had a bed beside Bridget in the same room which meant I could be with her throughout the day or night. Lisa, Mary and James were remarkable in so many ways where they got the strength and energy to keep going I don’t know but I am eternally grateful.

Matty, Kirsten, Rachel, Stephen, and Sarah all played their part in making Bridget’s final days as happy and comfortable as they could be under the circumstances, there was one thing that she loved to hear, and that was the sound of the younger ones playing or laughing it would bring a smile to her face despite all she was going through.

One more group of people that I have to mention are the health care professionals from Palliative care, Daffodil nurses, the team at the health centre, local doctors and the amazing staff at Adrian Dunne’s pharmacy every single one of these people helped to keep Bridget with us for thirteen weeks despite the initial prognosis of six to eight weeks. One of the nurses said to me one day, “it was the love and care she got that kept her going” and looking back, I now see that myself.

So as you can see from what I have written today, another milestone has been reached on my journey of healing, I find it hard at times, it can be lonely and without doubt I miss her, but to each and every one of you who have touched my life in the last year, I thank you for being there to listen to my ramblings, to say hello, to just pass comment on the day or weather, you may not know it but that time you have given to me is precious and I fully appreciate it.

In the past year, I have received messages from people I have helped through my posts on Social Media. Thanking me for opening up and expressing my feelings, it is not a thing men usually do, but knowing if I can help just one person that helps me, it’s a two-way thing.

“A real friend is someone who sees the pain in your eyes while everyone else still believes the smile on your face.”

Michael Fitzgerald is a proud father and member of Arklow RNLI for over 40 years.

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