The thick mist hung over the grave like a ghostly cloak, waiting to surround the cold, rigid body of Jane Powers. As she was gently lowered into the dank hole, which would be her final resting place, or so we all assumed, her husband once more held back the tears, just as he had for the last five days since Jane died.
Jane had been diagnosed with a brain tumor almost exactly one year before. She was thirty-five, full of life and trying for their first child. At a moment in her life when she believed it could never be better, she soon proved herself to be right. It began with the headaches. Migraine was diagnosed by her doctor until a month later when the pain became so bad that she pleaded with him for stronger pain killers. Once her short term memory began to falter she was quickly assessed and the MRI scan showed a tumour in the temporal lobe, which turned out to be malignant and untreatable.
Peter did all he could to make her last few months as comfortable as possible. There were days when they laughed, days with tears but most of all an unbearable ache in both of their hearts with the knowledge that soon they would be separated forever. They played a sort of game where they would treat each day as though it would represent a year. In the evenings they would discuss that day as though it had been much longer and try to imagine that they were having a full life together. Sometimes it worked but sometimes it didn’t and they cried, holding each other until they slept. Now it was over. No more pretending. They were now separated forever.
The following weeks drifted into months with hardly a murmur. Peter lived in a psychological bubble; where only eating, sleeping and work played a part, except for the long nights awake remembering his lost love. He had been told that the heartache would recede over time. He had been told lies. If anything his loss became more painful as the year slid from winter through into autumn.
It was in late autumn when he lay in bed one night in an extremely depressed state. He had begun drinking heavily to ease the pain, but knew that this would not help him in the long term. He lay thinking about the future. Did he even want a future? Should he simply end it now? It all seemed so pointless without his Jane.
That night became a turning point for him. His own logic and strong personality were telling him to pull himself together. Move on. Be positive. Listen to the birds singing again. Return to his hobbies of running and hiking. He decided to get rid of the car and buy a motor bike, and during the last October week would travel to South Tirol in Northern Italy, hiking on some of his favourite mountain routes. He would shake the tiredness out of his limbs and get going again. She would have wanted that.
Cruising through the Brenner Pass on his way to a hotel in Sterzing, Peter felt the calm throb of the Triumph 650 Bonneville resonating through his spine. He glided easily around the bends, feeling the warm October air in his face. He had made the right decision; this felt good.
Parking the bike in front of the hotel Peter hefted the bags from the back and entered the reception. He stopped abruptly at the counter, realizing in an instant what a fool he has been. The hotel ‘Schwarzer Adler’ was where they had stayed before. They had even taken a holiday in the honeymoon suite for a week after they were married. Peter, on seeing the same receptionist, and anticipating the first question, felt the hot sweat begin to build above his brow. He turned to leave but in the same moment changed his mind. He couldn’t just simply run away from the memories. He would focus on the good ones.
The question came as anticipated. “Hello Mr. Powers, how are you today? Are you travelling alone this time? We had been hoping so much to meet your lovely wife again.”
During the last sentence the receptionist realized that something was dreadfully wrong by the expression on Peter’s face. Her final words tailed off, hardly audible.
Peter choked on the words as he said softly, “my wife died a few months ago. She had a tumour which…..”
“Oh! I am so sorry”, she whispered. “Please forgive my clumsiness. I just wanted to ….”
“Please; it’s all right. You have no need to apologise. I am coming to terms with it slowly.”
After checking in and unloading the bags he decided that he could fit in a good afternoon hike up to the Jaufen Pass. There was a hut at the top where he could soak in the high mountain air and blow the last cobwebs away. The next day would be a big one up the Hochfeiler, where at 3500 metres he could test his stamina again.
The walk was exactly as he remembered the first time with Jane. The sky was blue and the autumn clarity of the air allowed some tremendous views. He climbed strongly, taking each step with vigour and breathing deeply, enjoying the punishment he was giving to his body with the effort of the ascent. He sat at the pass enjoying a cool Weiss bier and although still burdened by a longing for past times, he considered those events and fond memories with a good heart. Repeatedly he thought that he had made the right decision; this felt good.
The walk back down to his bike was fast. Despite the beer in his stomach he began to trot, stepping between the rocks with nimble alertness, as he had years before.
Prior to leaving for Italy he had still been prone to emotional troughs which would leave him weary and drained. Since setting off on the holiday he had somehow managed to keep this buttoned down, until it drifted into him again like an unwelcome storm though an open window. He was not ready for the sudden onslaught of memories and pictures whizzing through his brain as he tackled the sharp bends on the road back down the valley to Sterzing.
He saw Jane smiling at him from the hotel doorway. He felt her soft caress as they lay together dreaming of their future life and family. He had taken his mind completely away from the road.
As he came round the last bend, banking steeply rather than easing off the throttle, he overran slightly onto the oncoming lane at the same time that a two cyclists were heaving their way up the steep slope, chatting side by side. It was over in a flash. He banked harder to avoid them; the bike dropped; he was off sliding down a track with the Triumph still slowly pumping its powerful tone. Bike and rider collided into a small wooden hut.
At once the two unhurt cyclists ran to help and it was clear that Peter was unconscious. His head was twisted at an angle which could only mean a broken neck. One of them tried to talk to him and provide some rudimentary comfort while the other called the emergency number from a mobile phone.
Within minutes the air mountain rescue helicopter was rushing Peter away to the hospital. He was still alive, but breathing was sporadic and the injury was life threatening.
In the emergency room, with cables and tubes all around him and a host of doctors and nurses Peter stopped breathing. His body shut down. His brain began to die. He became clinically dead.
Jane held his hand and smiled lovingly. He was confused. How could she be so real? His mind must be playing its old tricks again.
“My darling, I have waited. I knew you would come, but not so soon. The time here is so tranquil and bearable that another seventy years would have passed in a moment. I could have waited that long without fear or regret until you arrived. I love you so much and now we are together again”.
While Jane spoke her husband slowly realized that he was also now dead. The tears ran down his smiling face and his happiness at their reunion almost smothered him.
“Are we truly together again?” he said disbelievingly. “Can this really be happening?”
Jane laughed. “It’s true. We are together for always.”
They lay together, holding each other, barely daring to breathe in case the magic would be broken. They didn’t speak any more but just clung together.
Eventually Peter moved to place his arm around her and on seeing his left hand he promptly froze in horror. He could see right through his own hand, and as he stared in disbelief the hand became even fainter. He quickly checked and saw that his whole body was disappearing. He looked at Jane with the awful realisation that she was fading too.
“Oh God! No! Please don’t take her away a second time. Jane, what is happening?”
She continued to smile. She was calm and reassuring. “Don’t worry my love. We will meet again. I am here and will wait for you. Never be sad for me. Go now and enjoy your life.”
Peter’s words drifted, as he did, into nothingness.
A team of medical professionals surrounded Peter. The scene was chaotic but somehow very controlled. A nurse continued with chest compressions while another connected him to a heart monitor. A young trainee doctor checked his airway under supervision. A senior male nurse connected a drip and the consultant pondered what caused the arrest and if there was something they could treat specifically and immediately.
He reached for a defibrillator and shocked Peter. There was no pulse. He tried again but still no pulse. He looked at the clock. Almost three minutes. One last try.
He raised the charge and asked everyone to stand back. Bumph! The pulse was back. He still had a chance.
A nurse wiped the sweat from the forehead of the consultant. He breathed deeply.
“My colleagues, today I think we should pat ourselves on the back. We have just saved a life.”
A new momentum energised the team. They finished off the remaining details. Peter would live, after being clinically dead for three minutes. All functions quickly returned to normal and although his dislocated neck would hurt for some months, he should make a full recovery.
Lying in his hospital bed three weeks after the accident Peter had a permanent smile on his face. He had told no-one about the reunion with his wife. They probably wouldn’t believe him. He played her words over and over in his mind.
“…….another seventy years would have passed in a moment”, she had said.
Peter considered this deeply and decided that he could now live his life to the full. She would be there when he was ready. He pondered the idea of visiting her immediately, and giving his life for that. No, he would continue and spend his time as fruitfully as he could, in the knowledge that she was there, watching and waiting.
The three minute reunion had changed him. He was serene in the knowledge that there is more to life than he had originally thought. There is another place. A place where there are no illnesses, no wars, no killing. There is a place where people can just be, once they have lived this life.
He would spend his life trying to make the current place a better one for everyone and would always look forward to the moment when he would be reunited with his love forever.
Lying in that bed he made this a firm promise to himself.
“But not yet”, he said to himself smiling cheekily.