I have always thought of myself as the strong, independent type. I grew up as something of a “latchkey kid” in South Africa. For as long as I can remember I got myself to school every day. In the afternoons I came home to an empty house. You get used to your own company. After a while you even get to like it.
All that changed when I met my wife. I’ll never forget the day she walked into the gym where I worked. It was like one of those western movie scenes where some stranger walks into a saloon and the music stops. She certainly took my breath away. The guys behind the counter immediately turned on the charm. My manager was a body builder with Mediterranean looks. I knew I didn't stand a chance against such competition. I shrugged and sighed to myself, carrying on with my work as if she wasn't there.
One day a few weeks later she came up to me and said she liked the music I used in my classes and asked if I could make her a tape. She handed me a blank cassette and quickly left. Inside was a small note with a message saying that she was crazy about me. Her name was Ronell. To me it was the most beautiful name I had ever heard.
Three years later we were married and starting a family in our new home in England. We argued in the first couple of years. Not a lot, but enough to make us both wonder if we had done the right thing. I could not help but think perhaps my independent upbringing was an issue. I loved being around Ronell, but I was also single-minded and stubborn. We agreed that we would both give it 100% and that we would build our lives on God’s solid foundation.
In 2015 we celebrated our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary. I realized that, during that time, I had changed. People often call their spouses their “other half” and it is true. After so many years you stop being an independent person. Your lives become intertwined to such an extent that you become more like a single unit. At least, that is how it felt to me. This was especially true after the kids flew the nest. I realized that every decision I made and every action I took was centred around Ronell.
I remember putting together a two-picture photo frame for our anniversary. The one on the left was from our wedding day. The one on the right was a photo we took on the ferry—our first trip without the kids. Ronell's wedding dress train seemed to flow into the second photo, forming a white path. She said that represented our future lives together. I told her I was looking forward to spending the next twenty-six years together. She said she was looking forward to falling in love with me all over again.
We never made the next anniversary. The cancer that had been quietly spreading through Ronell's body attacked her quickly and without mercy, robbing her of her health, then her mobility, and finally her life. When she was taken to the hospital in Delft I gave notice at my job and on our house and moved in with her. They did what they could to make her comfortable but they made it clear there was no chance of a cure. She was given the use of a wheelchair and I took her for long walks around the hospital.
Ronell said she wanted to go back to England and we arranged to get her moved to the hospice near our home in Blackpool.
She passed away less than a week later. I was due to return to Holland the next day with a van to collect all our things from the house. Friends were helping out at the hospice and I gave them instruction for Ronell's day-to-day care. I would return five days later. That afternoon, as I held her hand, she took her last breath.
At that moment my world fell apart. All my strength and independence evaporated. I had imagined I would continue without her until we met again in Heaven. Now, suddenly, I felt utterly and completely lost. It was like being torn in half.
It has been almost a year since she passed away. I still feel lost but I am learning to cope. The waves of grief are further apart now but their ferocity has not subsided. Music tends to bring on the tears. Certain songs remind me of her. I have to be careful in public places where they play music.
Writing helps, which is why I bared my soul in this blog post. Thanks for listening. It is therapeutic, putting my thoughts down on paper.
This evening I returned to an empty house. I am, it seems, a “latchkey kid” once more. Curious how life can do a full circle like that.
I don't know why Ronell had to go home. I believe God had a good reason for taking her. One day I will know that reason. Until then, all I can do is pray and wait. I believe I will see her again, God willing.
It may be a cliché but I really am lost without her. She truly was my other half.