Catriona Olding

Life with Low Life: my happy years with Jeremy Clarke

‘Am I gonna die today, Treen?’

I kissed his cheek.

‘Darling, your oxygen, blood pressure and pulse are fine and you’re a good colour. Since you woke up you’ve had a poached egg on toast, plain Greek yoghurt with berries, granola and maple syrup, a Snickers bar, a piece of fruit cake, a baked fresh mackerel with tomatoes and a Mini Magnum. It’s two o’clock – if you do die it’ll be from gluttony.’

Jeremy was modest, kind, passionate and loving. He was a great laugh and a terrific dancer. We had a blast

This was early May. Jeremy, paralysed from the chest down, was attached to three syringe drivers for pain control and had a urinary catheter in situ. A few weeks earlier he’d told me and the local doctor he wanted to die at home in our bedroom, with its spectacular views south towards the Massif des Maures. Dr Biscarat agreed that Jeremy spending his last weeks up here with me, nestled into the cliff, surrounded by his books and with nightingale song drifting in the windows would be an undeniably better option than hospital – if palliative care could be arranged and I could cope. It could. I would.

Because the bedroom is so small, our double bed had been pushed against the clothes cupboard door to make way for the hospital bed. I wore the same two pairs of jeans and four T-shirts for weeks. There were only a few inches of clear space between the hospital bed and cave wall. Electric cables were taped to the floor. Caring for Jeremy in such a confined space was difficult. Our bed became a nest and office for me – and the nurses’ and carers’ work station. Apart from sprints to the kitchen, bathroom, washing line and bins, I spent 24 hours a day in that room for seven weeks.

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