WHAT IFS

Dear John

I have sought consolations, and one (which doesn’t really help much, but I struggle to invoke it, because I feel that it should), concerns the ‘what ifs’.  The permutations of other things that might have happened.

If I can try to see this outcome, this horrible thing that has happened, as just one of so many things that might have happened, at any time – perhaps it will seem less horrible, and more understandable.

When we went to Menorca, on our last holiday together, we drove to a couple of really remote archeological sites.  One was an old settlement which included some standing stones, one was an old tomb – the oldest enclosed burial site in Europe, or something.  Both could only be reached by hire car, and had only minimal facilities – one person standing in a little hut selling tickets and giving instructions.

In both cases it was quiet, with hardly any other visitors around, and very hot.  We walked around sweating in the hot afternoon sun (‘mad dogs and Englishmen’).  It was quite a trudge over bad terrain.

You might have had a heart attack there.  I would have had to run back to the solitary attendant.  The chances of an ambulance reaching you in time would have been small.  They would have had to carry you over the stones to the car park.  They would have had to drive you miles to who knows what small foreign hospital.

That might have been your death.

A few years before that, we went to Cairo on a day trip from Cyprus.  It was a long tiring day, and again very hot.  You went down into the Great Pyramid.  Down a forty five degree tunnel – such a severe slope, and having to crouch down.  I tried a few steps and gave up, knowing I would never be able to make it back up again.

But bravely, you went down into the hot bowels of the structure, and told me afterwards that there was then a straight part, then up and down again, before you got into the room at the centre.  I was worried at the time, and worried afterwards at the thought of you – not exactly young and slim and fit – struggling down into that oppressive heat and closeness, and then back out again, with other tourists forcing you to hurry along as they climbed out behind you.

What if you had had a heart attack down there, inside the pyramid?  Who would have carried you out?  How long would it have taken?

That might have been your death.

We have had years of flights, years of car journeys and train journeys.  You, or we, might have died in an accident at any time.

Or your poor heart, which was destined to fail when it did anyway, might just have failed a little earlier – in bed that night, the previous day in the supermarket, the day before that at work, when I was away for a few days a week or so before.

I could draw a tree of permutations.  All the times and circumstances when you might have died.  But you didn’t, in all of those.  Each of those deaths didn’t happen, you always had a little more time, a little extra time with me.

Not dreadfully helpful, but maybe there is some slight consolation in thinking – well it could have happened two years ago but it didn’t, it could have happened ten years ago.  At least I had the last ten years.

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