We met at a barbecue, a short ten years ago. For a number of years our paths crossed on a regular basis, and I entertained them to dinner in my home on a number of occasions. Oliver & Grace* were about ten years my senior, and I was fascinated by the story of their journey to true love.
Growing up in the same area of a Belfast suburb, Oliver & Grace first met in their teens as members of the same youth organisations. They quickly became friends and were soon inseparable. Grace’s mother did not really like Oliver, not for any particular reason, she just felt he was not right for her daughter.
Grace’s family were moving away, at short notice, to the UK mainland. She was only informed the evening before departure – not an uncommon situation back then – children were often excluded from plans or arrangements. Grace was rather forlorn when she told Oliver her news, but promised to write as soon as they were settled into the new house.
Two days later, Grace kept her promise and wrote to Oliver urging him to write and tell her all the local news.
A week later, she wrote again, and the one after that, but no reply was forthcoming. Waiting a couple of weeks she tried again, but no joy, she still never heard from Oliver. Sadly, she decided, Oliver had forgotten all about her or was not very keen to keep in touch.
Grace, settled into the routine of her new life and Oliver drifted to the dark corners of her memory box. With time Grace trained to be a nurse and after several years opened her own nursing home. Her mother died suddenly and as an only child, the funeral arrangements and clearing out the family home were down to her.
While grace was clearing her mother’s desk, she found a folder containing a bundle of letters. At first she thought that they might have been from her father, and sent to her mother before his death many years earlier.
Turning the bundle over, Grace gasped. The letters were all addressed to her and not her mother. The handwriting was familiar and a tear escaped from the corner of her eye. Oliver had written. Not once but every week for several months, long after Grace had stopped and thought she was forgotten.
Why? Why? Why? Asked Grace. Her mother had never mentioned Oliver’s name since they left the shores of Ireland, yet she kept these letters. All unopened!
It took three full days for Grace to work up the courage to write to the only address she had for Oliver and she included her phone number along with the address. Two days later the phone rang as she was about to make dinner.
It was Oliver.
Food was forgotten. They talked for a couple of hours, catching up on all that had happened in the intervening years. They vowed never to lose contact again. A month later Oliver travelled over for a long weekend.
Within the year, Grace sold the Nursing Home to her deputy, then packed up her belonging and headed home to marry Oliver. They never looked back. They were a wonderful couple, meant to be together and brought joy to all around them.
In the latter part of last year Grace became unwell and suffered great pain, seeking the help from her local medical practice, painkillers were suggested and prescribed, with Grace being told it was muscular. Showing no sign of abating, the pain increased all the while and stronger painkillers were administered. Oliver worried, but Grace tried to reassure him.
One morning Grace looked grey and unable to sit up in bed. Oliver decided he had enough. He changed his plans for the day and went straight to the doctor’s surgery. He did not mince his words and told them that he was prepared to sit there all day until a doctor came home with him to see Grace.
A doctor did go with Oliver. On examining Grace, he had her admitted to hospital immediately. Tests and scans began. Two days later Grace was told she had cancer.
Oliver went to see the Consultant and discovered the pain was due to a large mass pressing on Grace’s spine. As that sank in, Oliver asked, like we all would “How many years would you say Grace has left?
Years? Said the Consultant. I am not talking years. At most two months… or one!
That night Oliver phoned their few close friends to break the news. Tom and Anne offered to collect him the next day and take him to the hospital.
Tom got no reply to the doorbell, which was unusual, Oliver was always ready on the doorstep when someone was coming to collect him. Eventually Oliver found someone with a key and they went in to find Oliver was lying on the kitchen floor the kettle on its side on the floor beside him. Oliver was cold.
A Doctor was called. It was the same Doctor who came to see Grace, he thought death had occurred eight to ten hours earlier.
Tom now had the task of informing Grace, who was now unable to move her limbs, of the death of her beloved Oliver. He also undertook to make the arrangements for the funeral.
The first of the two months have past, but it is a waiting game for Grace, with her condition worsening with the days.
I hope for her sake the end comes soon.
The lesson for all of us is to: LIVE NOW. Make the moment a worthwhile one!
* Names changed for obvious reasons.
UPDATE: Grace died on 25th January 2013. R I P