Recently, someone died; someone who was everything to me.
‘How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand… there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.’
~ JRR Tolkein
Throughout my social media and blogging ‘career’, without being particularly secretive, I’ve tried to maintain relative anonymity – not for shame or any lack of confidence in what I do – but rather because I have seen far too many advocates go down the road where their ‘brand’ – their ego – eclipses the Animal Rights cause. One needs look no further than events of the recent past to discover examples. At the very start I made up my mind that it would never happen to me and I’ve been genuinely pleased every time that someone I’m speaking to refers to There’s an Elephant in the Room without knowing my connection to it. So having always kept myself to myself, few who know me will know what I’m going to say. Now, although no less passionate about my chosen cause, I’m struggling to find the focus to write, despite receiving so many kind and encouraging messages of support that have meant a great deal to me.
I turned 64 last month and death is no stranger to me. Born without grandparents, I lost both parents before I reached 30 and have wept over the graves of many loved ones of various species in the years since then. From those who were closest to me, I learned that although it never really stops, I could – eventually – live with the pain of their loss. Looking at death from a different perspective, I spent decades with the reduced life expectancy of advanced lung disease and subsequently faced the risk of my own death by undergoing transplant surgery seven years ago, a chance I gladly took in the hope of staying a while longer with the two people I have always loved most in all the world; my sons.
For most of their lives, my world has revolved around my sons, and our bond has always been the most treasured thing I shall ever have. I remember writing so joyfully of the day three years ago when I watched my younger son marry his soul-mate – a day that I would not have survived to see had it not been for the priceless gift given to me by my transplant donor.
So against that backdrop, I’m sure most will instinctively know why this death has devastated me; why this was the horror that I have written about so often as an animal rights advocate; the one thing I always knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I could not bear to face.
My younger son died in hospital on 02 June 2020. We had not been permitted to be with him through the 15 long days that we swung between hope and despair, living for the phone calls with doctors and nurses; some optimistic, some not so much; struggling through endless days and nights of crushing dread. Meanwhile, infection, driven by his autoimmune conditions, raged through his pain-racked body and everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
My precious son died on a bright day in early summer, while the world was shuttered and locked down because of a virus caused by the brutality of humanity towards our fellow earthlings. His death was not caused directly by that virus, although I can’t bear to think of the loneliness he endured at his separation from those of us who loved him so very much. In the end his wife and I broke the lockdown restrictions. He was alert and spoke to us when we arrived in the hospital, both of us hoping beyond all hope that he did not realise the crisis signified by our arrival.
With breaking hearts we sat with him as the light of his presence faded, both willing him to be reassured, to know that at last he wasn’t alone. We sat holding his hands for 15 hours, counting his every breath, until the final one came gently and then there were no more. A part of my soul died with him. He was 33.
Although I truly have no idea how, I will go on living because I cannot do otherwise. I owe it to him. The life force that continues to move blood through my veins and oxygen through my borrowed lungs is that same life force that he was fighting so hard to hold on to, despite facing a battle he couldn’t win.
On a sunny day in early summer, my beloved son, my dearest friend, the most extraordinary person I ever knew, left me. I’m writing by way of explanation for my absence, not seeking sympathy. My writing has often been called a gift, a weapon for use in the fight for the rights of our victims, so I’m really going to try not to stop. My son would want me to keep writing. He wouldn’t want to see me dissolving in despair when the lives of so many billions are at stake.
It may take some time, but the next time I write of the mothers who are the victims of our species, of their grief and the anguish of loss and separation that underpins every aspect of the monstrous regime of brutality that provides breast milk and eggs, dead flesh and body parts to supply the demands of nonvegan shoppers and consumers, it will be with the raw edge of a new understanding.
What is inflicted on them is indeed the nightmare that every mother dreads, but the agony is infinitely worse than I ever realised.