Four weeks ago to the day, K and I attained legal recognition for our partnership. In the evening, we were joined for a celebratory dinner by our two witnesses H and C, as well as three members each from our respective families: my mother, sister and cousin, and K’s mother, father and sister.
Despite having been together as a couple for the past 21 years, this was actually the first time that our two immediate families had been fully brought together. However, as we worked our way slowly through the vast, superb meal, laughing and joking and revelling in the sheer excess of the occasion, none of us were to know that it would also be the last.
Last Saturday morning, as I lay in bed, still shaking off the excesses of the previous night’s revelries in Athens, the phone rang. It was K, sounding shaky and upset. The night before, his sister M had collapsed in a restaurant, and had been rushed to hospital, where it was discovered that – aged just 36 and in seemingly perfect health – she had suffered a massive stroke. Now in a critical condition, the doctors were trying to establish the extent of the damage to her brain. The next 48 hours would be crucial.
It was a disorientating and somewhat numbing experience, watching the Eurovision finals on Saturday night whilst knowing the gravity of the situation back home. The relentless gaiety of the show sat oddly alongside the concern that I was feeling for M, K, and K’s whole family – four of whom were cutting short a holiday in Portugal to be by M’s side. At the sound of the German entry (“I’m never ever gonna leave you to cry on your own…“), I broke down completely. Following this catharsis, the rest of the night became easier to bear. I hooted and hollered and clapped my hands, and got drunk on smuggled vodka at the after-show party, and didn’t get to sleep until well after dawn.
It was an even more disorientating and numbing experience, writing my final piece for Slate magazine on Monday afternoon whilst knowing that, following a dramatic and wholly unexpected turn for the worse that morning, all hope for M’s survival had been extinguished. (Even the doctors and nurses were in tears.) Having to stay in London to finish the piece (it took seven hours), and missing the last train up to Stoke-on-Trent in order to do so, was one of the toughest judgement calls I have ever made.
Against all expectations, M clung on until 4am on Tuesday morning. Her funeral takes place in Macclesfield next Friday. I’ll be delivering a short eulogy; M’s close friend J will be reading a self-composed poem; and M’s gifted, articulate 12-year-old cousin E will be delivering her own personal tribute, which has completely floored the two family members who have been made privy to it. Proceedings will begin with Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” (Van Morrison being a favourite of K’s entire family); they will end with an exquisitely appropriate song from Diana Krall, with lyrics co-composed by Elvis Costello, called “Narrow Daylight” – a favourite of M’s, selected by her partner R. All of us are striving to make the ceremony as beautiful as possible, in tribute to M’s remarkable beauty, both inner and outer.
Up until its final week, May 2006 had been one of the happiest times of my life, and I’m only glad that I appreciated my extraordinary good fortune while it lasted. But this isn’t even about me – it’s about K’s family, who live their lives off-blog and who will continue to do so. Next Friday, at around 11:30 am, please spare a thought for them.