I was a youngster maybe 9 years old; I watched an elderly Chinese man on the television screen he talked about the finding statues in a hole in a field. He was describing what would become known as the terracotta army. I was obsessed, I went to the library I got out books about China, I read all about the history and then for years and years those statues were ever present in my mind. I knew that one day I would get to China and I would go to see them for myself.
I met a man called Seth Goodburn in the late 1980s we both worked in the same company, he left through redundancy then came back and we worked together again. In 2004 after a 6-year relationship we were married; we went to the British Museum and saw the touring exhibition of statues from the terracotta army. I was in awe; I stared and stared at them, it made me all the more determined to get to China and see them all in their glory.
In 2014 after much discussion and years of saving, I went online to book the trip of a lifetime to China and Hong Kong, we would take in the Great Wall; the pandas at Chengdu and the terracotta army, I was so excited. I must have got the point of booking about four times and four times I clicked away. Something was making me uncertain, an uneasy feeling like something wasn’t quite right. The following week, I brushed aside that feeling and I clicked the link to complete the transaction. In September 2014 Seth and I were due to go to China. It was a special year we were both going to be 50 and it was out 10th wedding anniversary so it was a celebratory trip of a lifetime.
Seth was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic in May 2014 just six weeks after I had booked the trip and we both knew that his lifetime would end way before September and for me it felt like my life would also be over. We both knew we would never get to see the terracotta army together.
Most people know that aching, desperate feeling that comes with bereavement, the fog, the lack of clarity, the searing heat of tears, the confusion, the sinking pain that seems to make your chest cave in with an invisible weight, the constant feeling of nausea, the inability to move – paralysed by pain.
I know that pain; I have experienced it many times in my life, the death of grandmother when I was a small child, the death of my friend Martin when I was 14, the death of my cousin when I was 18, the death of my dad suddenly when I was 22, the deaths of grandparents, aunts and uncles, then my mum in 2007. All evoked some if not all of the emotions, I felt a despair in very different ways over a period of many years.
Then in 2014 the inconceivable happened Seth was diagnosed with late-stage cancer of the tail of the pancreas. The cancer showed no signs or symptom until metastasis had taken place and by the time the symptoms showed themselves there was no treatment just palliation, palliation the only option as the time ticked away.
Seth died 33 short and heart-breaking days after his diagnosis. I was traumatised, unable to believe that Seth was no longer here. I was angry, I was alone, I was lost, my whole body ached with the pain of loss, my mind was scrambled, confused, mixed up, unable to think or function.
The trauma of the loss, was so difficult to deal with and my anger was ever present. I hated pancreatic cancer, I hated the fact that there was nihilism, there was nothing that could be done…. but there was also interventionism, with healthcare professionals continuing to treat rather than having a brave and courageous conversation about the reality of our situation – a reality that would culminate in Seth’s death,
It was the lack of communication, the lack of compassion, the lack of human kindness and empathy, a disease that wrecked its havoc with impunity, a disease that gave Seth no chance of surviving, a disease where survival rates had barely changed 50 years, all of these things made me angry.
For weeks after Seth’s death, I remember sitting on the floor in front of the sofa and hitting the cushions repeatedly, hitting, hitting, hitting, hitting for hours at time. Until my hands and knuckles were red raw, the next day my hands would be stiff and sore from the constant pounding. But it was the constant pounding that was cathartic, dissipating some of the anger, each punch seemed to bring just the tiniest sense of calm.
The pounding seemed to last forever, some calmness eventually descended and bereavement counselling helped me to find a way out of this immobility and helped me to move forward
In 2014 I truly was – deprived of a close relation or friend through their death, I truly was bereaved, I truly knew the pain of bereavement, I truly was traumatised by the loss of Seth. I knew because pancreatic cancer gives patients and their families little time, the stark reality is that 1 in 4 people diagnosed die within a month, for every 10 people diagnosed, 1 gets potentially lifesaving treatment, 2 get chemo and 7 in 10 get no active treatment whatsoever, there is often little time to plan, to have conversations, to share love, to prepare for the inevitability of death and bereavement.
In 2015 I went to China I went to trek the Great Wall to raise funds for Pancreatic Cancer UK at the highest point on the wall I scattered some of Seth’s ashes. I also went to see the terracotta army at Shaanxi I stood before the vast expanse of 2000 year old warriors and wept, I wept tears of sheer despair. The physical manifestation of the warriors seemed to wrench my heart, it felt so wrong to be there without Seth, we were supposed to be there together. Despite the loss, the lack of companionship, the lack of Seth’s presence, Seth’s love was with me that day as it is every day, I may have been bereaved – deprived of a close relation or friend through their death, but I am constantly surrounded by the love Seth and I shared.