The kindness of strangers…and a general catch up
It never occurred to me that my husband might lose a close member of his family before some far-off point in the future. But unfortunately, as most of us discover to our cost, life and death are respecters of no one. There is no orderly queue for births or deaths – both happen when you are least expecting it. For sure, as John Lennon once sang, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
During our trip to Eastbourne to visit his sister and her husband in late November last year, I began to realize that it was not just possible that my husband might lose a close relative, it was a virtual and tragic certainty. My husband’s sister told us then of her terminal cancer, which at that stage was in remission. She was very calm about her illness – almost matter of fact about it. She faced up to it and still continued to live her normal life.
She was a quiet woman, gentle but brave, who had made her plans and was determined to make as little fuss as possible about her illness. From then on, when the cancer started to reappear, that is exactly what she did, speaking to her brother regularly on the phone and calming him when she had to report the merciless progress of the cancer. It had affected her body but certainly not her spirit.
Always calm, always piercingly intelligent and straightforward, she dealt with the final and most ghastly period of her illness by taking absolute control over her frail body, refusing what she knew were useless treatments and almost hastening her death – mostly I suspect in order to help those who loved and cared for her the most, her husband and mine, so that they could cope and carry on. She didn’t want any fuss, either before or afterwards. No sombre funeral service, no religious niceties.
She simply looked death squarely in the eye with great courage and accepted it, very like her own mother had done courageously too, many years before.
I stood back as her health deteriorated. She was a dignified woman and that is how she remained. Most of all, it was her courage and acceptance of her fate that moved me. She really was very brave. And by her actions she undoubtedly did make it easier for the two men in her life, her husband and her much younger brother, to cope. I’ve no doubt at all that was her first consideration.
So, for example, it was during the train journey to visit her in hospital that he learned she had passed away. He thinks she had said her final goodbye to him a week earlier when she could see he was visibly shocked by the deterioration in her condition. I reckon she had said “enough” to herself and wished to spare him any more grief.
So this week since Sunday has been a very sad week for my husband. He knew it was coming but that doesn’t make it easier. He has spent the week quietly mourning the loss of his beloved sister, who was his support, long before we met. He has had great support from his own Rabbi – Daniel Levy in Leeds – and has been attending synagogue at Western Marble Arch in London to say Kaddish for his sister, where the fantastic minister, Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld, and the entire congregation have both been extremely kind to him. They were equally kind to Ben and me when we attended on Saturday. They could not have been more welcoming. My husband derived great comfort from them all.
London as a whole had a considerate, kind atmosphere about it during out stay. The Paralympics brought out the very best of the tolerant, all-inclusive British spirit. It has been a pleasure to be there.
Bereavement doesn’t suddenly go away however – it leaves feelings of shock, grief, numbness, high emotion, rawness, anxiety and worry. It is very, very unpleasant. All anyone can do is take the advice I give my clients, who in their way too are going through a loss: take it day by day, step by step. Talk about it. Let your feelings out. Don’t bottle them up. Cry. Grieve. Don’t be afraid to take consolation from others, don’t try to be too strong when inside nerves are shattered. Get into the fresh air, clear your mind if you can. You shouldn’t try to run before you can walk. You can’t do it.
Other people who have leaned of my husband’s sister have also sent messages, cards and letters from around the world. To all of them he is very grateful.
Many thanks too are due from us both to everyone at SFL LLP who has stepped up, including Practice Manager Morna Rose, and Cameron Paterson, an experienced political journalist who has joined our team at SFL LLP to edit this blog. He has authored many recent posts and I’m thrilled to see that he has ignited sparky debates!
Currently we are recording our highest ever number of blog readers, so many thanks to all our readers and especially to those who contribute and make it as lively as they do! Informed posts on any family topic, whether from lawyers or non-lawyers, are always warmly welcomed.
Finally, something to look forward to. Next week sees the long-awaited publication of a consultation paper by the Law Commission entitled Matrimonial Property, Needs and Agreements. This paper, which is embargoed until 11 September, will undoubtedly produce considerable debate as to the potential for the reform of laws relating to needs and non-matrimonial property on divorce or the dissolution of a civil partnership.
I have been nominated by the Law Commission to give a practitioner’s response to the media, so there will be more from me on that subject next week.
Photo by Basher Eyre
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Marilyn Stowe is the senior partner in Stowe Family Law, which has offices in Yorkshire, Cheshire and London. With more than 30 years’ experience handling divorce cases and family law proceedings she is regarded as one of the most formidable and sought after divorce lawyers in the UK. In 2012, Marilyn became one of the first solicitors to qualify as a family law arbitrator.
All persons mentioned in the scenarios are fictitious: details have been deliberately changed in order to protect identities and other confidential circumstances of my clients. All advice and information on this blog including posts written by guest authors, is given only as a general guide to the operation of the law on the date of publication. Readers must place no reliance whatsoever on the content of this blog and must always obtain their own legal advice. Marilyn Stowe, Stowe Family Law LLP and guest authors accept no liability whatsoever arising as a result of reliance upon its content.
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