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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Death is Hard Work

"Life is eternal and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon. Life is eternal as we move into the light, and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight." ~ William Penn, Quaker and British American

Les spent nineteen days in the Hospice of St. Francis, ostensibly to gain more pain control so he could have a few more months of fairly high quality, pain free time. Sadly each attempt to tweak his meds or offer some other means to control the pain worked miraculously for a day but no more before the pain came raging back as the cancer galloped forward across his lower back and up his spine.  

During those nineteen days the Berkhamsted Hospice of St. Francis staff and volunteers all got to know and like Les; we were both taken care of with great tenderness--from Patrick, the custodian who slipped his head gently in the door each morning to ask if Les minded while he cleaned the room, to Chris, the head chef who came to Les' room to ask him how he was enjoying the food and was there anything special Les wanted? Whatever it was, Chris would make it for him.

Les' particularly enjoyed Sandy, the cheeky physical therapist who worked with him to try and get Les adjusted to a wheelchair he could wheel himself. She, like me, was determined to do everything possible to help Les return to the boat. Sandy told Les one day as I worked side by side with her, "You are very fortunate in your better half." Les pretended to be indignant, his lovely brown eyes sparkling as he replied, "How do you know she is the better half? It could be me you know." Sandy smiled and patted Les' knee then said drolly, "You are both absolute diamonds but she has a few more carats." He threw his head back and laughed.

I was allowed to stay and live there with Les the final week. My clothes were lovingly washed, dried, ironed and returned to me each day. The food was incredible--freshly prepared each day from scratch. The volunteers were the soul of kindness. Each and every single person from the cleaners and kitchen staff right through to the office and medical staff treated us both with deep gentleness, dignity, respect and the greatest loving care it has been my priviledge to experience under such circumstances. We were deeply grateful to Dr. Pender whose expertise in end of life care allowed us to make that three day trip to London. It was a gift and you helped make it possible.

Les was supposed to undergo an injection treatment On January 25th which has good results for pain relief but sadly death caught up with us and Les' life began spiraling inward toward death. Neither of us was ready for this to happen so quickly and Les desperately wanted to come home and die but the bloody cold weather destroyed any possabillity of that in combination with the advancing cancer which pain made it impossible for Les to walk anymore. I quickly called local family and they came each to say a last goodbye. Those farther away who could not make it called me and I held the phone to his ear so they could tell him they loved him.

Because Les was not ready to die he spent four furious days and nights fighting death with every molecule while his body went into a spin and began deteriorating. Les had such a tremendous strength of will and a huge strong heart so filled with love he didn't want to leave me, the boat, or the people he loved. He never quit on anything or anyone he loved and cared about in his life and he wasn't going to quit now although he was unconscious for all but the barest moments here and there after Friday night when he came around as soon as his son Kevin arrived. I knew Les was waiting for Kev and we had about four lovely hours laughing as they teased each other and talked, father and son saying goodbye with such love and good laughter. One more gift. Apples and trees, Kev, apples and trees.

Les dropped into a deeper unconsciousness on Saturday. Since sound is the last sense to go, I read out loud to Les, the blog post in 2013 titled Bliss! and then I went to my blog So This is Love and I read all the way through our Wiccan wedding vows and played Shania Twain's song From This Moment for him.
For days I had been an emotional wreck. After reading the blog posts my heart was suddenly at peace and I knew I simply needed to be there to witness and see it through with him as he has always done for me in the last five years. We did everything together in our life and we would make this final journey towards his death together to the end. The Hospice staff put a Do Not Disturb sign on our door and left us in peace and privacy, only checking in with each of us to ask if there was anything--anything at all that we needed, if we stepped out of the room and to kep Les' pain med pumps topped up and make sure he was comfortable. 

On his final night phlegm built up in his throat and chest--the infamous death rattle. Still Les' spirit fought on. His breaths were fast, like an engine seeking to rev itself up for a run at one last hill. They sounded like a rattling bass drum. His skin was on fire with heat as his body's system started burning its final reserves of energy. I crawled into bed next to him, laid my head on his shoulder and curled his left arm around me. I lay there all night as our bodies vibrated endlessly with each heaving breath. Every exhalation reeked of death, as it soaked into my hair and skin. I did not care; I would gladly have burrowed my way into his dying body to take his place. I talked to Les, I sang to him, and I let him know how much he was loved. I kept telling him it was okay to let go and I had been telling him for several days. I said, "Your love has made me a competant woman and I will be all right. Please baby, let go. I love you and I always, always will. Please don't suffer any more." I thanked Les for loving me and for every thing, small and large he had ever done for me; right up until the days before he died, Les was still seeking to make life easier for me. He took care of me in every way he could think of, from first to last in our time together and he made it plain that it gave him great joy to do so. 

Tuesday morning at 6:30 a.m. I rose and cleaned up in the bathroom, spreading rose scented lotion on my skin so he could smell it. I opened my computer and played a two hour sound track of Birdsong in the forest. Then I pulled open the window shade and let the golden morning sun caress his face. Les' breathing began to slow down. 

His son Kevin and I sat on either side of Les' bed. Kevin tucked the boat keys into Les' right hand and I took it in mine. Kev held his dad's left hand and in a few short minutes his life wound slowly down until he took his last breath. As he did so I whispered tearfully in Les' ear, "Let your spirit rise with joy my Best Beloved. Follow the light."

A short while later two Hospice attendants came in and told me we could take as long as we wanted in the room--all day if need be. I told them I wanted to wash Les' body and annoint him with oil. Together the three of us completed this task and afterward we dressed him and arranged his body on the bed. They had changed the sheets and pillow cases, and covered him gently with a clean blanket. Each time we had to move a part of Les' body they spoke to him, "Les we are going to lift your arm now so Jaqueline can wash it." They were so loving and reverential in their respect for my husband's mortal remains. His wedding ring--not off his finger once since I put it on him on our wedding day--was removed and I slipped it onto my left thumb, the golden circlet still warm with his life. I annointed Les' forehead, heart, hands and feet with rosemary and lavendar oil and said, "As a priestess of the Goddess I annoint your body with love. From the lap of the Goddess we come into this world and unto Her we shall return. Follow the light and live in paradise. Blessed Be."

I showered, dressed, and we emptied out the room of all personal belongings. Hospice staff came and hugged us, held us, and spoke about how much they liked Les and what a truly lovely man he was, throughout the day. We were directed to be sure and order something to eat even though we didn't feel like it. All of mine and Les' clothes were taken away, washed and dried and returned to me two hours later, the smell of death completely removed. 

The Hospice provided towels, razors, shampoo, bath gel and anything else we might need. Nothing was too much trouble. A while later I heard the door to Les' room being opened and I turned in time to see one of the medical aids stepping inside. Five minutes later she came back out, hugged me and walked away. When I stepped back inside the room, I found Les' features had been rearranged so instead of wearing a haggard death mask, he looked as though he was asleep--with a cheeky smile at each corner of his mouth. A lovely sunflower was lying on the pillow by his head. As I walked down the hall to get some lunch I stopped at a small alcove across from the office. A candle had been lit and Les' name was written on a card and placed in front of it. On the shelf next to the candles were two flat heart shaped rocks painted with gay designs, cuddling together. The office secretary--a woman who I had never spoken to before--saw me pick up the hearts, start to cry, put them back and rub my chest above my own heart. She jumped up and sped to me, wrapping her arms tightly about me while I wept on her shoulder. All through the day as we waited for paperwork and lunch, dozens of staff members and volunteers came to offer hugs and tell me how impressed they were by the depth of Les' and my love for one another. 

In the afternoon Kevin and his partner Adele came back to NB Valerie and warmed it all up for me. Two days previously they spent a whole day thawing out the boat with electric oil heaters, making sure the pipes hadn't burst from the cold while I was unable to return home to attend to a fire. Kevin went through all of the boat's systems making sure everything was okay and he started the engine and let it run. They both tidied up the boat, folding clothes and hanging things up, putting Les' trainers away so I wouldn't come undone when I returned home to find his things spread out everywhere, sweeping and cleaning for me. I know how hard it was for Kev to go to the boat without his dad--the first time ever. I am so very grateful for their love and help all the way through.  

The Hospice social worker kindly drove me to Hemel Hempstead at 2 p.m. the same afternoon, accompanying me to the registry office to help me with the paperwork so I could register Les' death. I chose to do this right away although I was nearly staggering with exhaustion after everything I had been through because I know how much time things take in this country and I had been warned it could take time to actually book a slot at the crematorium. Sooner done the better. Then we went to the funeral directors and I arranged for Les' body to be collected and cremated, staggering out after signing paperwork to the tune of £1576.00-for picking up his body from the hospice, delivering it to the funeral home, holding it in stasis until a slot opens at the crematorium, delivering the body there and collecting the ashes.

Home Without Him
Back on the boat after Kev and Adele went home, I was able to indulge myself in private grief throughout the night. Although I hadn't slept in nearly five days for more than three hours, I still couldn't sleep because Les wasn't in bed beside me. I tossed and turned, sobbed and talked to his spirit, and sobbed some more, rising this morning with the knowledge that today I began another life without my Best Beloved at my side. Outside the world was shrouded in a grey mist and fog as though nature itself was mourning the loss of Les' soul. I walked up to Cowroast lock, stepped up and walked across it and back down--something I have not been able to do for almost two years due my badly deteriorated arthritic knees. Now I have two total knee replacements. Les insisted I get the second one done before he died and the surgey was 12 weeks ago. It is not every man who literally gives his wife two good legs to stand upon. How I wish Les could have been here to witness the moment! I can see his shining smile, deep laugh lines radiating out across his cheeks and the corners of his sweet brown eyes. I know he would be proud of me.

I am fragile, destroyed and utterly spent. I am okay as long as I am on the boat, surrounded by Les' love in all the things he did to NB Val to make it comfortable for me and to allow me to cruise on without him. I am all right outside in nature. It is when I go into town and see the bus stop where we last waited for the bus, or I go to the Tesco in Tring for groceries that I break down sobbing. I've spent a lot of time buying our grocieries in that store, looking for the things Les loved and to turn down an aisle and see his favorite cereal absolutely undid me. People stared and I didn't care. A fellow boater was kind enough to take me all the way out to the Tesco in Aylesbury so I could replenish my empty larder this morning and not fall apart.

A grateful thank you to the amazing medical staff and nurses of Rennie Grove Hospice at home for working with me and Les since August to ensure he was pain free and able to get the most out of life as long as possible. I am deeply humbled the care you provided

I am deeply thankful for my British family--who have stood strong for me; for loving me, accepting me into the Biggs fold and making room in this family for me. I love you all deeply, each one of you: daughters in law Ozlem, Bevvie and Jojo, step-son Kevin and partner Adele, and a passle of grandchildren (Jack, Jordan, Kiernan, Kiera, Lena May, Nicole, Teo and Batu-all of whom make life so sweet.)

For my North American family whom I miss desperately: I'll be home as soon as I can and we will go to Kamiak Butte where Les and I were married and scatter his ashes there. Your love has always sustained me. My daughters Shiery (Sparky) and Jesse helped to make me the woman I am today and my son in law Ben, daughter in law Kelli, and grandsons Mike, Matthew, and Connor are the lights of my heart.  

Grateful thanks to friends, family, and blog readers who has called me, emailed me from across the world, posted tributes to Facebook pages, and posted loving and thoughtful stories and pictures in boater's blog posts about Les and me. Deep thanks to Marilyn MacDonald in NewZealand who called me Saturday morning to offer me strength, love and peace for the journey; to Jennie and Chris Gash on NB Tentatrice and Sue and Ken Deveson on NB Cleddau for offering up their homes to me if I need a place to escape to for awhile and to Andy and Tina on NB Ytene,with whom Les cruised for several years and whose love and friendship know no bounds, and to Carol and George Palin on WB Still Rockin' for loving friendship and a helping hand.

My thanks to all the CowRoastarians who have called, emailed, and stopped to hug me, and offer help--"anything you need Jaq--anything and you let us know." This little slice of the cut is home to some of the loveliest boaters who have supported me and Les through the last six months of our lives.

Gratitude as well to Darren Killick, the marine engineer at Cowroast Marina. When I told him this morning that Les died yesterday he threw his arms around me and held me while I cried, saying how much he liked Les and what a lovely man he was. Darren told me not to sit on the boat and fret; that I was welcome to come over to his shop and sit and chat with him if I needed a break or someone to talk to. He said if I had any questions about the boat system or any trouble with anything to come and get him and he would sort it for me.

For the time being NBV and I are staying put. Many thanks to the Yeoman's on NB Dreckly who are allowing me to sit in their mooring here until the end of March after which I hope to wind NB Valerie and head north. I will cruise along and scatter Les's ashes in all the places along the cut that he loved and where we shared such joy.

A deep and loving offering of gratitude and love to Bryce Lee in Canada who was the very first phone call I recieved after letting folks know Les was dying. Thank you for having my back Cousin Kindheart, and caring so deeply about both of us.You are family and always will be.

One final and most important offering of deep gratitude to Nancy, my hospice volunteer mentor and teacher. I had thought, back in 2009 when I signed up for the three month course, that I was being trained to serve in my local community. Now I know that the universe had a larger gift of service for me to undertake and I would never have been prepared 'nor could I have helped Les in any truly meaningful way if not for everything I learned from Hospice of the Palouse. I received an email from her this morning in which she shared with me a touchingly true thing: Grief is love after the beloved dies. Bright Blessings Nancy. 

There will be no funeral service for my Best Beloved. I find funerals rather morbid with the coffin, the flowers, and the hearse followed by mourners with long faces. Les wasn't religious in any particular sense of the word and he abhorred organized religion. While he was not a witch he was married to one and he appreciated the basic tenets of my spirituality. I am working on a Celebration of His Life. I am sorting out a venue and family are sorting out pictures and things. Once it is all planned out I will let folks know--friends in the boating community across the cut, and personal friends, the details about where and when. I will ask those who attend to give some thought about their favorite "Les" story and share it with all of us. We will share pictures projected on the wall, music appropriate to Les' life, and we will hopefully remember Les with huge gulps of laughter, a few tears, and great love, for that is what he would want. We will have cake, sandwiches, drinks, and then release some balloons into the sky at the end. We will have a party to honor his memory.

Some people go through life collecting other people; "how many friends do I have on FaceBook?" "Who can I network with to gain my own ends?" Les didn't collect people; he gathered hearts wherever he went. He told his son that he was " deeply happy I married Jaq. She is such a good woman. She has taken such good care of me and I wouldn't have lived this long without her. I met so many people and we have friends all over the cut and over in North America because of her." In typical Les style he attributed it all to me, but he was equally involved in making friends everywhere he went. He was just too humble to see it.


Quaysider said...

... lost for words but you are in my thoughts - beautifully written post. xxx

Carol said...

Hi Jaq,

Thank you for this blog and letting us all know how you and Les coped in his last few days. You both well deserved all the help and kindness given to you by the hospice staff and we thank them for that.

The future now awaits you Jaq with all your memories in your heart and in Valerie. Stay strong, we know that you will be well able to handle Valerie on you own just as Les showed you.

If you need us at any time, if you need company we're only a call away. If you still want your sound system sorted you know that George will be there. All our love. xx

Nb Triskaideka said...

So sorry Jaq to hear you very sad news. We only met the once & waved in passing a few times, but everyone's words show what a lovely man Les was. Our thoughts are with you and your families at this very sad time. Love Ali & John NB Triskaideka

Jennie said...

Jaq I am very moved by this wonderful blog post. You know you have a wealth of family and friends ready to help you in the coming months and years. What you and Les had was so very precious. He was a very lucky man to have met you. We will see you soon - I hope you sleep better tonight. Love Jennie & Chris, nb Tentatrice xx

Anonymous said...

A fantastic love affair which has sadly finished way to early


Sue said...

Les will be very sadly missed by all that knew him. So very sad.

I am in awe of your decision to have a moment in time when all can celebrate this great man's life.

I am sure in the weeks, months and years to come you will become an extremely competent single boater, you love the life, you love the boat, you love the cut and you love the people.

And those people are all there to make sure you are well looked after.


Judith nb Serena said...

A beautiful post. Our thoughts are with you. Love and hugs. XXX
Nb Serena

Dragontatoo said...

Ben, the boys and I love you 1000 Swedish Fish ❤

Unknown said...

Rest in peace Les. Thoughts with you Jaq.
Elly and Mick in Oz

Marilyn, nb Waka Huia said...

Jaq darling, be as fragile as you like - just be aware that your fragility is only possible because it is centred in your core of strength. The evidence of that is your ability to write this post so clearly and eloquently while in the midst of grieving.
I do worry that the keyboard is floating in your tears but no doubt you will mop it dry and carry on;-)
We are carrying your heart in our hearts and we are carrying Les's heart in our hearts too.

Not sure when you are planning the celebration - if we are in the UK, you know we will be there with you!

Love and more of those Biggs hugs, Marilyn and David xxooxxoo awhi, awhi, awhi. Kia kaha.

Arthur said...

Jaq, beautifully written from the heart! Having had experience of very good palliative care in our charity efforts, Jen and I can easily say that your experiences here are no less than exceptional! Little left to say except to send positive thoughts and to look forward to Les's celebration of life. XXX

Tom and Jan said...


What a beautiful post.....

We have misplaced your phone number and would like to call you. Can you please send it to us either by email or leave it as a comment on our blog (we won't post it)

Tom & Jan

A Heron's View said...

Thank you for sharing all of this about Les and yourself it was very enlightening.
We have never met, I am just another blogger and a pagan so Blessed Be.

Dave,Beryl Bradshaw said...

Jaq Our deepest sympathy on your sad loss. You gave Les lots of Love now you need some of our's given willingly All our Love Beryl & Dave Nb Sokai.The CCing community has lost a True and much loved Gentleman XXXXX

Anonymous said...

So very very sorry for your loss. A true love story I will never ever forget. Long term blog follower. Sue NB Zoƫ xx

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing your last few days with Les. I am so sorry I didn't get to see him when I called in that time back in August. As now I never will again but you write so beautifully that I felt I was there with you. A virtual hug is on it's way to you. Lots of love and I will see you on the cut Kath NB.Bobcatxxx

Bryce Lee in Canada said...

It's been a very few days since Les's physical body died.
Sadly whenever any person we know and love dies, a bit of us dies with them.
In the case of the residents of NB Valerie, a very large amount of Jaqueline died
with the passing of Les.
Yesterday (January 28) it was more warm here in Southern Ontario than normal, the temperature outside was hovering around freezing without the wind which would have made it all that much colder. Was in a contemplative mood, so hopped in my truck in the late evening (parked inside, out of the cold) and drove to an area that I could view from a height the west end of Lake Ontario (one of there Great Lakes) and Hamilton Harbour.. Mike & Phll Muir on on NB Garnet would know the location, near Bayview Park.

I sat there, with the engine idling and the heater on full blast and thought, about the man and woman I have never met. Of the past five years of their wonderful existence together and thanking the flow of electrons and messages between the town of Pullman Washington State and NB Valerie that brought these two people who were destined for great things, together.

Life for most of us flows in cycles, some have predetermined schedules, others seem to make their own cycle. For Mrs. Biggs, sadly another cycle is beginning, one which none of us wanted to see. Cancer
as are all fatal diseases, cruel. If not cancer it might have been something else. None of us are going to dwell on this plane of existence for ever, sadly. And if I may say, most of us are on the downward slope; with good management and the support of friends and family members hopefully none reading this will experience a sudden stop in the long distant future.

There has been an outpouring of stories (I especially enjoyed the historical treatises that Les would write) and interactions of life on the cut. Where i live such is well nigh impossible; passage of all vessels stops for at least three months a year due to winter, some more extreme than others. And the vessels are generally ocean-going in size; mind some of the Great Lakes are oceans to themselves. And to quell thoughts it is all fresh water and we do not experience tides.

Reading the tributes to Les and his wonderful wife Jaqueline I personally regret not having met the two of them together. I'll expect to see the spirit of Les on the other side if and when, hopefully not for many moons. Jaq however remains, surrounded by her adopted family, however loved by all her have met her. Her "American" accent doesn't faze me one iota; I think its is changing to be more a British accent with Washington State overtones. Perhaps one day in the future I too shall carefully walk the plank
and be welcomed on NB Valerie.

Anonymous said...

Ah Jaq, beautiful words for a beautiful man - I'm so glad that you were with him to the end and that his spirit lingers within and around you.

All the best

Sue & the Indigo Dreamers

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thank you Quaysider. May our bows meet sooner rather than later.

Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Carol and George,
YOu've both been stalwart friends since we first met when I said to Les, " I really like those two; hey are definitely my kind of people!" He agreed of course. I so appreciate all your kindnesses over the last five years. I will put a radio in but I am changing my mind about what kind. Goodbye Valve amp (sucks up too much energy) hello Pioneer car radio! Still sourcing ceiling speakers as the ones I wanted were actually only available in the USA!

It will be wonderful to see you both again.
Love Jaq xx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Jennie and Chris,

I do know and I am very grateful for your friendship and the help you have not only offered but come through with. YOur help made life much easier for us those last few weeks, whenever I needed to refill the coal bucket. I look forward to seeing you both soon.

Love Jaaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Sue,

All you say is true, but I would add one thing; I will be a good single handed boater because I had the best of instructors. Les was such a blazing good boater, it was a plasure to watch him work a flight of locks. I know I will feel him most closely when I am at the tiller as that was his very favorite place and mine too.

Jaq xxx

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs