When my wife died I was lost. We’d been married for thirty years, and when I retired we spent most of our time together.
Over the past few years we hadn’t bothered with friends much, just did our own thing, went away for weekends, pottered around the house and the garden. She was so much a part of my life that when she died unexpectedly, after a very short illness, I felt more alone that I’ve ever felt in my life.
We never had children, so I didn’t really have any kind of family support.
You read all this stuff about a loved one’s spirit coming back to give you comfort, to say they’re in a happy place and not to worry about them, but nothing like that had happened to me. I even went to church for the first time in years, I prayed over and over, asking for some kind of message from Linda, just to know that she was still somewhere around, that she wasn’t gone forever. But there was nothing. Not a vestige of anything in the house, in the bedroom, even in her beloved garden, where she spent so many happy hours.
Reluctantly I had to face the fact that all that stuff about an afterlife was so much hogwash.
Depression is as bad as you’ve been told, and worse. It drains away your life and leaves you hollow. I used to like messing about doing up old cars, but I just couldn’t be bothered anymore. I used to play golf, but now my clubs just gathered dust. I was no longer interested in watching football or anything else on the telly, I couldn’t be enthusiastic about food, in fact I had hardly any appetite. I couldn’t sleep for longer than a couple of hours, and the more tired I got, the worse my insomnia became. And one morning I woke up and thought what’s the point of any of it? Why force myself on? Who would care if I wasn’t here?
So I drove out to the motorway and I parked nearby. Got out of the car, and walked over towards the barrier. I began to climb over, planning to run out in front of the biggest, fastest truck. But just as I was about to jump down I thought about the poor truck driver. How would he feel, having my death on his conscience? Regretfully, I trudged back to my car.
Out of sheer desperation I went down to the doctors’ surgery. Surely someone there could help me? Maybe they could give me some pills to help me to sleep. Or what was that stuff, Prozac, that cured depression? Neither Linda or I had had much to do with doctors – we’d luckily both been pretty healthy up until her final illness.
The receptionist was very nice, but she explained that there was no chance of seeing anyone. But as I walked away, I think she must have somehow sensed how I was feeling, so she said, “Look Mr Henderson, no promises, but if you’d like to wait, I’ll try and have a word with one of the doctors and see if they can fit you in.”
“Thank you,” I told her. “I’m sorry, it’s just I don’t know where else to turn.”
For a couple of hours I watched the miserable procession of people getting up and striding off to the different rooms. I was tempted just to give up and go home. But something stopped me – maybe I just couldn’t face going back to that empty lonely house. Or maybe I was afraid of being tempted back to the motorway for my appointment with a speeding truck.
“Mr Henderson?” A woman doctor came out of one of the rooms and walked across to me. “I’m Dr Rogers, please come through.”
She had a lovely face. I don’t mean I fancied her, nothing like that. Truth to tell it was months since I’d even noticed women in that way. No, I mean she had one of those smiles that cheers you up deep inside, and you don’t quite know why.
In her room, I told her everything: how I was feeling, how I was afraid I might do something silly, how I didn’t know what to do.
“You say you want to believe that Linda is still surviving somehow,” she said at last, “that her spirit lives on?”
“Yes. It’s ridiculous of course.”
“It’s not ridiculous at all,” she told me seriously. “And why are you so convinced that your Linda has gone forever?”
“Because it’s true,” I said to her. “I tried and tried to contact her. I’d have given the world to have some kind of sign or message from Linda’s soul, her spirit or whatever, but nothing ever happened. When I looked down at her in the coffin, I remember thinking that all this belief in life after death, is nothing but wishful thinking. I could see that her body was just a shell. That Linda had gone. Gone forever.”
“Well, Mr Henderson, you’re right, her body was a shell, but that was because her spirit had left it. Personally I passionately believe that there is an afterlife. I believe that your Linda is probably with you right now, even though you don’t realise it.”
“Life after death?” I couldn’t believe my ears. “You really believe in such a thing?”
She nodded. “Believe me, Mr Henderson, I believe in life after death as much as I believe that you’re sitting there in front of me. Oh yes, just because you can’t communicate with Linda doesn’t mean to say she’s not trying to communicate with you. It’s like a TV tuned to the wrong channel.”
“Really?” I was bemused at her serious expression. “But you’re a doctor! How can you believe something that isn’t proved scientifically?”
“A great many doctors are religious. We see a lot of miracle cures that can’t be explained scientifically. And we see so many people die, many of us believe that the earthly life isn’t the end. I’m certain of it myself. Absolutely certain.”
“Thank you doctor. You’ve been very kind. I appreciate your help.”
While I’d been talking to her I’d felt fine. But when I got out of the room, away from her kind face and sympathetic words, my legs went to jelly, and my depression came back with a vengeance. Dr Rogers had undoubtedly been a very special person, so nice and kind, and she’d offered me comforting platitudes. But she hadn’t given me any pills.
In reality, it had been an utter waste of time.
Believing in an afterlife? Admittedly she had been infinitely kind and well meaning, and she had obviously chosen her words to try and bamboozle me into some kind of contentment, in an attempt to lift my depression.
But you know what?
It hadn’t worked.
Life after death? What nonsense.
She must have taken me for some simple minded moron, an idiot, someone who’d readily fall for her fairy tales.
The disappointment of everything, and the sheer tidal wave of misery, came over me all at once, so that I had to sit down in the waiting room again, and suddenly I found I just couldn’t stop myself crying. Not wanting to draw attention to myself I fought against it, struggling to regain control, hoping no one had noticed me.
No such luck. The receptionist I’d spoken to earlier came across with a box of tissues and sat beside me, putting a gentle hand on my shoulder.
“I am so sorry, Mr Henderson,” she told me. “I’ve tried and tried to help you, but none of the doctors have had a second to spare and surgery’s closing in ten minutes. I know you lost your wife, but the fact is we’ve had a terrible tragedy here too. One of our doctors died yesterday, suddenly, with no warning, and everyone’s had to rally round and cover her appointments. Frankly we’re all stunned, we can’t take it in.” Her voice became hoarse and a tear appeared at the corner of her eye. She pointed towards the room I’d just come out of, with the name ‘Dr Marian Rogers’ on the door. “We haven’t even been able to bear to clear her drawers or even lock up her room. You see we all really loved Dr Rogers. She was the most popular doctor here. I’ve had patients say they only had to look at her face and feel her kindness and warmth and they’d feel better immediately.”