The more I write about the period of Marc’s illness, the more complex my thought patterns become. What started off as a simple chronological account of events has begun to sprawl in my mind. I find myself recalling little things which happened in the early days of Marc’s hospital stay that have been missed out of this blog, because I had forgotten about them until recently.
But that doesn’t mean that I should leave them out. Even though I have moved past them now in terms of my more recent posts, I still feel they warrant inclusion, as every detail of that time seems important to me. There are new details I remember each week which I marvel at, and want to incorporate them in this increasingly complicated tale which describes the most difficult period of my entire life.
For example, as Marc was first admitted to hospital on Tuesday 24th June, we were due to go camping with friends the following weekend. A large group of our friends, many of whom Marc has known since his university days, go on a weekend’s camping at Shell Island in Wales every year. We had never managed to join them before, the years leading up to this point had been busy with Daniel’s birthday celebrations as he was born in June, around about the date they always go. That year, we were determined to make it. We’d bought a family sized tent (previously we’d only had a small, two-man affair, not being huge fans of camping) and had even gone as far as to purchase some airbeds and junior sleeping bags for the children.
It seems ridiculous now, but even as Marc was in hospital on the Tuesday, I went out and bought a camping stove for our trip, fully believing that Marc would be well and home again within a matter of days. Now, I thought, I would only need a bottle of gas for the stove, and I was determined that when Marc came home I would have everything bought and packed up ready to go.
To this day, I have never bought gas for that stove.
But with Marc’s situation becoming critical, it actually got to the Thursday before I realised that I needed to let them know that the Littlemore family would, yet again, not be coming on the trip. Informing people of such a life-changing event is complicated. Some of the people we know did not find out about Marc’s illness for weeks. A few didn’t actually realise anything was wrong until he was finally out of hospital three months later and we announced his homecoming on Facebook: the first positive announcement we’d felt able to make so publicly.
It’s funny, but over the course of a lifetime we meet so many different people, and over more than thirty years Marc and I had been lucky enough to build a wide circle of friends from different places: school, sixth form, university, work, hobbies… the list goes on. As the years pass, our relationships change, some remaining closer than others, and inevitably we would see some of our friends on a regular basis, while others we only saw from time to time. This meant it was totally possible for us not to hear from some people for a couple of months.
In terms of a huge life event then, immediate family and friends know what is going on first, then work colleagues – a strange one, because you might know them far less than others, but you can’t hide an absence from work without explanation. After the essential people know what’s going on, it becomes more complicated. But by the second and third day of Marc’s illness I was beginning to realise that someone needed to let other friends, ones who perhaps we saw less regularly, know that Marc was in a such a critical situation. They cared about him and deserved to know what was going on. But facing the sheer number of people who I would need to contact was overwhelming.
Like I said earlier, at this point I was pretty much completely avoiding Facebook, and didn’t post anything on it the whole time Marc was in hospital. I’m not one for posting the minutiae of my life anyway, and my posts are largely positive, celebrating happy moments or perhaps commenting on or sharing articles I find interesting which are posted by others. I certainly wasn’t going to post on Facebook about the devastating events that were happening to my family. I don’t even know how I would have gone about composing such a post. I also didn’t want people I hardly knew to find out about the situation before potentially close family and friends were aware of it.
A phone tree
But I couldn’t face phone calls either. Between sorting out the children, visiting Marc and dealing with my own emotional state, the days were difficult enough. Phoning numerous friends with such upsetting news and dealing with their potential reactions was something I didn’t relish. So I delegated.
Not intentionally at first. In terms of the Shell Island weekend, I sent a text to Chris, one of Marc’s closest friends, on the Thursday. It was to the point and simply explained what had happened, and that we would not be coming on the trip. He responded with the utter shock and disbelief I was becoming accustomed to, and immediately asked what he could do.
Without thinking, and knowing the party going camping to be a large one, I asked if he would pass on the message about Marc’s condition to the rest of the group so I didn’t have to. He agreed, and so our ‘phone tree’ was born. In the weeks following Marc’s initial illness, I would send Chris regular texts, filling him in on what was happening. Throughout this time, he faithfully forwarded my messages to upwards of twenty people, saving me an awful lot of time and stress doing it myself.
The benefits of text messages
In most of my communication from this point onwards I resorted to text messages, which are so much easier to compose and also ‘copy and paste’ from, as my communication of choice. I would construct a general update every day, which contained the medical facts of where Marc was up to, his treatments and how he was responding, the levels of support he still needed and so on. Then I would take this core message and, adding various comments at the beginning and end of the text depending on who it was intended for, send it out to whoever needed to receive it: my parents, close friends, whoever had messaged me that day to ask how he was.
If the text was meant for someone close, I might add some comments about my own state of mind that day, how I was coping, what I was thinking. A more distant acquaintance would simply get a pared down version of the facts. And those I had spoken to very recently received only the most up to date information, as they already knew most of the content. It sounds really callous now, thinking about sending almost a blanket text to people, but it was the only way I could cope at the time, and saved me so much time each evening, when the job of replying to messages had become almost hour-long.
A vital support network
Thankfully many others offered to take up the mantle of keeping everyone informed about Marc. My parents kept their respective sides of the family up to date with how Marc was, and Linda did the same with her family. One of my university friends did the same with that branch of people, and work colleagues did the same.
One of the most remarkable information systems was that of my drama group. I was in constant contact with Clare, one of my closest friends, but what I didn’t realise at the time was that every Tuesday, during the regular announcements at our regular musical rehearsal, Dan (Clare’s husband) was giving the entire company of Annie Get Your Gun an update on Marc’s condition. When I found this out it floored me. The fact that so many people cared so much about us that it was necessary to make a weekly announcement was so touching. But they did.
I am eternally thankful for those people who realised how difficult it was for me to keep in touch with everyone we knew and offered to be a branch in a phone tree letting everyone who cared about Marc know how he was. I’m also sorry that there were some who, when we announced on Facebook that Marc was finally home from hospital, contacted me in horror to say that they’d had no idea he had been ill, and why hadn’t I let them know, as they would have been there to support me. The simple answer was that I couldn’t have coped with contacting any more people than I already had to. That I didn’t doubt that they would have been there for me had I asked for help, but that for whatever reason I hadn’t contacted them, not letting them know was not a purposeful slight against them.
But as a huge network of friends, old and new, young and not-so-young, near and far, found out about what was happening to us, their reactions began to filter back to me in a variety of ways. I have already mentioned those who offered to give the children lifts to and from various clubs and take care of them while I was visiting the hospital. Others sent gifts of activity books and sweets for the children, perhaps realising that I would need as much help as possible entertaining them during Marc’s absence, my mind occupied with other things. I received texts and cards with offers of help with the grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, cleaning the house even. And a number of friends sent me prayer cards, telling me that we were in their thoughts and that they were constantly asking God to help us. I cannot express how much I appreciated all of this support. It got me through what was the darkest of times, and it meant so much to me that so many people cared.
Needless to say, we never made the camping trip. We have still never been to Shell Island, but I hope that one day we will. Recently though, it was Daniel’s ninth birthday and we used our tent for the first time, camping in the garden with the children overnight. It was fun, and made me think one day we will be able to manage family camping holidays.
And now Marc is better and it’s ok to joke about it, many of his friends like to remark on the lengths he is prepared to go to to avoid going camping with them. I’m always grateful that we can finally find humour in the situation.