I make photobooks with a service which occasionally sends me bittersweet email reminders of past albums. Today’s was from our tour of American Civil War battlefields. Can that really have been only three years ago? Doug was so well! He could still use a camera. He could shower, shave, and dress himself. When we sat with other couples at dinner I adopted a Bossy Wife persona and hoped people would assume he was quiet, rather than hear his struggles to converse. He had a few seizure-like episodes, but always in the mornings, before we met the rest of our group. He slept through movies and bus rides, but was alert when we reached each site.
The majority of his book collection is non-fiction, with several shelves devoted to the American Civil War. He held on to that vast store of knowledge, and three years ago he could still access it. He’d previously visited some of the battlefields with his late Dad, and had happy memories of that holiday. (So much so that one day we bought his Dad a souvenir. By then I had realised that it is kinder to pretend his parents are still alive than to keep retelling him the sad news of their deaths.)
This was the first time we booked an organised group tour, and I was hesitant. (It was not inexpensive.) I have no regrets, I’m so pleased we went. With hindsight, we had less time left to travel together than I had hoped.
What I do regret are trips we didn’t take together, plays we didn’t see, things we didn’t do . . . things I didn’t do. I’m sorry I didn’t learn how to play Chess, I’m sad that we didn’t go out dancing together more often, I wish I’d resigned from my job sooner than I did.
When I feel sorrow at something we left undone, I try to remind myself of all that we did do. We never went to Dieppe, which was high on his bucket list, but we did go to Ypres, and the D-Day landing beaches. We walked many, many miles across England together. We rented a narrowboat with my Mum and step-Dad for a week. We vacationed in Mexico with my Mum, sister, nieces, and nephew. We visited Scotland numerous times, including a Burns Night celebration in Burns’ birthplace. We packed picnics and went for day trips. We were regulars at our local pub’s weekly quiz night. (And, I remind myself, through the first years of our marriage we were both working and I was earning a PhD; we made the most of our limited time and budget.) In Canada we’ve explored corners of Algonquin Park, walked all our local hiking trails, and travelled from Vancouver to Toronto by train. In our homes we baked, we played Scrabble, we listened to music, we spent hours silently sitting next to each other reading (history for Doug, fiction for me).
We made friends, we built a life - a good life - together, we have a language-for-just-us and code words and in-jokes.
It’s a balancing act, but just thinking about all the cheerful memories I could list here shows me that my happy memories far outweigh my sad memories. For me, this counts as a win.
(photograph: Antietam, autumn 2017)