Loving Christmas Linda – The Final Embrace
It was Christmas Eve and the Hartley household in the village of Clerembeax St Giles was decorated for the season.
A large fresh cut tree stood in the corner, perfuming the room and was festooned by a myriad of assorted baubles, ornaments, tinsel and lights.
Christmas cards of all shapes and sizes adorned every surface and more hung on bright red and green ribbons suspended from the picture rails and bright colored Christmas garlands hung gaily, crisscrossing the ceiling.
Outside, through a break in the dark clouds, a shaft of week winter sunlight shone through the window reflecting off the garlands and painted random patterns on the walls and ceiling.
76-year-old Paul Hartley sat watching TV in his favorite armchair in the front room of the house he shared with his wife and soul mate Linda, the woman he loved more than life itself.
Both of them had been married before, but Linda was the love of his life and they had spent 30 years apart before they found each other again, when their own Christmas miracle happened 25 years before.
And as a result of that Christmas miracle they had had 25 years of incredible happiness.
Paul and Linda had made good use of the years they had together to make up for the lost time when they were apart and as a couple they had had the fullest of lives.
Christmas had always held particular significance for them, it was their favorite time of year and had always been so, because their most meaningful moments together happened at Christmas time, finding love together, losing each other, finding each other again, and marrying each other, that’s why Paul called her Christmas Linda.
And because Christmas was so significant to them they did Christmas big and they relished every moment, they would pack away all the ornaments and pictures, and replace them with the festive decorations they had collected over the years, then there would be a houseful on Christmas day and Boxing Day where they shared the celebration with family and friends, and when the festivities were over they would fly off to the sun for a few weeks, just the two of them.
Neither of them could abide the New Year’s holiday so they took themselves away to enjoy each other’s company.
But alas on their 26th Christmas together the season held no joy for Paul, even James Stewart in “It’s a wonderful life” could not lift his spirits and the reason for his gloomy disposition lay in the next room, where the dining table used to stand.
Where they had so many wonderful Christmas dinners, the room full of the happy chatter of good company, the table heaving under the weight of Christmas fare.
But in its place now stood a stark and clinical hospital bed and laying upon it the most precious thing in his life, Linda, surrounded by all the paraphernalia of terminal illness.
Her once vibrant body riddled with inoperable tumors, their evil spread consuming her from within and as the cancer was so far advanced, when it was discovered she refused what little treatment there was on offer and she also stubbornly refused to die in hospital or a hospice.
Linda said she wished to die in the home where she had known such great happiness, so how could he refuse her such a simple wish?
He employed a private nurse who sat with her at night and Paul tended her himself by day and he watched her dying by inches every single day, it seemed to him to be the cruelest of punishments for being so happy.
Paul’s first wife was taken by cancer and that was hard enough to bare.
It was always so hard when someone you love suffers before your eyes, but as much as he loved his first wife and as hard as it was to watch her die, it was nothing compared to the intolerable despair that he felt losing Linda.
She was not only his wife she was his love, his life, his soul mate, she was the one, the love of his life, his Christmas Linda.
He would sit with her and read to her, sometimes Dickens, Stephen King or Tom Sharpe, depending on her frame of mind.
On her brighter days she would have him tell her jokes, she always said he was the only one who could make her laugh.
Her brown hair with its soft curls had long since turned silver and the sparkle was only rarely present in her eyes and the laughter that used to play around them replaced by pain and it was on the morning of that Christmas Eve when Linda told him what she wanted for Christmas.
She was always at her best in the morning but on that morning, she was having a good day so after she had eaten breakfast she asked Paul to pass her the Mahogany filigree jewelry box.
It was a very precious object to her, not valuable in monetary terms, but precious nonetheless, it was the very first Christmas gift he gave her, and she treasured it, and she often told Paul it was her most prized possession, after him.
As he handed it to her she smiled and just for a second there was a glimpse of her loveliness shining through the pain and she patted the bed and bad him sit next to her and as he sat on the bed next to her she took his hand and said quietly.
“I have to say this to you today because I’m having a good day and I don’t know how many good days I’ve got left”
“Don’t be silly” he protested, and she squeezed his hand and then gave him a look which said that he knew very well that she wasn’t.
Linda carefully opened her jewelry box and from a draw within it she took out a neatly folded embroidered handkerchief which she placed on her lap and carefully unfolded it to reveal that inside were a dozen capsules containing her medication.
Linda looked at him with her soulful eyes pleading with him and as the realization of what she was asking sank in Paul violently shook his head.
On her good days she had salted away some of her medication until she now had enough to hasten the end and she squeezed his hand again and said
“Please do this for me”
She explained that she didn’t want him to do it right there and then she just wanted him to agree to do it when the time came, but that that time would be very soon.
“It’s the only gift you can give me this Christmas” Linda asked looking in to his eyes and then he added
“I love you more than anything in the world and I know with all my heart that you love me”
Paul could say nothing as the tears welled up in his eyes.
“Please do this thing for me” she pleaded, and his heart was breaking at the choice he had to make, let her suffer an agonizing conclusion to her life or end her suffering and kill her.
“I just can’t do it” he said through the tears and got up and left the room, she didn’t call after him because she knew he would be back, so with tears streaming down his face he grabbed his coat and went out the front door and went for a walk.
The day was cold, grey and damp and clouds scudded across the December sky and any hint of the promised sunny intervals in the forecast were not in evidence, it was the kind of day that chilled you to the bone, but he didn’t feel the cold at all, he just felt numb.
You had to be alive to feel the cold and he was dying inside, and he walked for miles under the grey skies along the woodland paths they used to walk together, his mind in turmoil his eyes red with tears.
If he did what she wanted he would lose her forever, the loss of her would be devastating, but not to let her go would just be selfish.
Paul’s head was spinning, and he didn’t know which way to turn, images of their happy moments together swam in and out of focus, then as he walked into a clearing in the woods where they once made love on a sultry afternoon, there was a sudden break in the clouds and the woods were bathed in winter sunshine and all at once he knew what he must do and hurried homeward.
When he returned to the house Paul went straight to her bedside where she was sleeping, so he sat in the chair at her bedside and rested his head on the bed beside her then he felt her hand gently stroking his hair.
Paul sat up and her hand moved to his cheek, so he took it in his own paw and kissed it softly and then said
“I’ll do whatever you want me to do”
A week later Christmas had past and he was glad of it, it was without doubt the worst Christmas of his life, full of tears and sadness instead of happiness and laughter
There was no wondrous Christmas feast, no table laden with Christmas delights, no hearty laughter or light-hearted banter, just an endless stream of visitors, friends and family, as cheery as was possible, putting on a brave face as they all came with forced smiles to bring the season’s greetings, but all leaving with tears, knowing that Linda would not see the spring.
Paul tried not to be ungrateful, but every visit ate into the precious time Linda and he had left but he knew how important it was to Linda to see everyone and say goodbye.
Even the doctor called in to make sure she was comfortable and in between visits Paul would sit watching the needles dropping from the tree as if each dropping needle symbolized Linda’s plight.
And as he sat alone in his favorite armchair on New Year’s Eve staring at the pine needles scattered beneath the tree he tried to come to terms with the fact that Linda would die with the old year.
Since Christmas Eve when she made her request of him, Linda had been in good spirits, she had seen everyone in the world that mattered to her and said all the things she needed to say so Linda had decided that morning, that enough was enough.
Paul tried to remain cheerful for her, but she could see through it
“I know you’re hurting too” she said, the pain etched in her face and with that they made their plans for their last day together.
Firstly, Paul phoned the nurse and told her she should have the night off to enjoy the New Year’s Eve celebrations with her family and she was very grateful and accepted his explanation without question.
After that he filled the room with lighted candles and in the flickering light Linda and he spent the evening together looking at photographs and reliving the great times of their life together and played the music that formed the soundtrack of their shared life then an hour before midnight she handed him the folded handkerchief.
He opened it and inside were now close to twenty capsules, and one by one he broke them open and emptied the contents into a wine glass and when he was finished he filled the glass with Port and gave it a stir and put the glass on the bedside table before sitting on the bed.
Paul took her hand and kissed it and leant forward and kissed her mouth and started to say good bye, but she put her hand to his mouth, so he reached over and picked up the glass and held it up to her lips and she took a drink, then a little more and a little more until the glass was empty and he wiped her mouth with the hanky and she burped and then she laughed that wonderful laugh that he loved so much.
The candles sputtered, and the flames flickered and then squeezing his hand she said
“I love you so very much”
“I love you too” Paul said as he sat holding her hand in his and then they just sat in silence looking at each other in the candle light until her eyes closed.
The Village clock began chiming the hour and her hand went limp and her breathing became shallow and then all the pain in her face was suddenly gone as the clock chimed twelve, marking the passing of the old year and unknowingly marked Linda’s passing.
He couldn’t have said how long he sat there holding her dead hand with the tears streaming down his face, but as he sat there he knew what had to be done.
Paul poured himself a large whisky and sat in his favorite armchair where he wrote a long letter explaining what he had done, and what he was about to do.
With the letter written he put it into an envelope and placed it on the mantelpiece where it would be easily found, then he drank his whisky and reached into his pocket and removed the contents, placing them on his lap.
He filled the syringe with the insulin he had stolen from the doctor’s bag the day before and injected himself with the full syringe and as his eyes grew heavy he could feel Linda’s hand on his shoulder and felt her fingers in his hair and as he drifted into a coma she whispered
“I love you” in his ear as his eyes closed.
When they opened again he couldn’t believe what he saw, it was a place that was familiar to him, it was Millmoor as it was more than 50 years earlier and it was snowing, and the street was full of happy smiling people and there among them was Linda, larger than life, vivacious and self-assured covered with snowflakes and laughing.
It was his snow angel, his Christmas Linda with snow covering her like sugar on a doughnut, a delicious confection he would have gladly consumed, wrapped up against the cold in a red woolen hat and coat and a long-knitted scarf draped about her neck.
Still laughing, she shook her head and the light brown hair that hung beneath her hat danced about her shoulders and the snowflakes fell away from her soft curls only to be replaced by fresh ones.
There was a rosy redness on her cheeks almost matching the hue of her coat and she was young again, they were both young again and they had gone back 55 years to the scene of their first embrace.
Linda threw herself at him and she hugged him so tightly and he smelled her hair as he held onto her and was intoxicated by her scent which over whelmed him.
They were stood at the taxi rank and snow fell onto Linda’s soft curls as they took their place in the queue and they kissed.
All too soon a taxi arrived, as it had done 55 years earlier, but this time they both got in and through the winter wonderland they departed, this time never to be parted again.