I can’t find a way to introduce this post, other than with the simple, heart-breaking truth: on Wednesday January 23rd, my beloved partner of twenty-eight years finally passed away.
The average survival rate for people diagnosed with stage four lung cancer is currently just a few months. But Steve surprised everybody by surviving for nearly two and a half years, thanks to an NHS that provided free access to four rounds of chemotherapy, countless courses of antibiotics and a ground-breaking trial of genomic medicine. When active treatment was no longer appropriate, the length and quality of his life was vastly improved by weekly visits from our family GP, in partnership with the palliative care he received both at home and in the hospice. Throughout his illness, Steve was admitted to the resuscitation ward in A&E three times, had sepsis twice, with constant bouts of lung infections in between. He survived each crisis thanks to the calm skill of paramedics and urgent care staff, but also his sheer determination to live and his unfailing hope that somehow, he would.
After all the near-death experiences he survived, I still can’t quite believe that this time, it really is all over. Regrets and ‘what ifs’ circle like dark Dementors, but I am trying to keep us all focussed on what we gained during these last two and a half years, not what we lost. Since that terrible September day when we learned of his diagnosis, we have celebrated three family Christmases, rung in three New Years, and celebrated five more birthdays of our two young sons (now aged 18 and 14 respectively). We had a family holiday on the Isle of Skye, he and my son enjoyed the successes of their beloved Celtic and – casting our principles aside – after twenty-eight years we finally got married in a joyous, hilarious Registry Office wedding on Friday 13th.
As I write this, the house is unbearably still. The oxygen machine that pumped air into his lungs 24 hours a day is now silent. Plastic tubes coil around the house, waiting to trip me up. Everywhere I look: the wheel chair, the orthopaedic stool, the portable cylinders that provided just enough oxygen for two cups of coffee in a café – if we were quick. The house is cluttered with the paraphernalia of his illness, but this, I have to remind myself and our boys, was not him.
Tomorrow I will phone the oxygen suppliers and the hospice to ask them to take away all the things that both supported and constrained his life. I will then meet with our Funeral Director and begin the process of salvaging my Steve from the wreckage of his disease. I know many people see funerals as just something to get through, but I welcome this opportunity to remind my boys and myself of who their father really was. I want us to remember the walking holidays, his love of Scotland, football, books and ideas. I want us to appreciate and value how utterly devoted he was to our young family, and how because he was completely without ego, he gave up his career to bring them up so that I might persue mine. At first, I was worried about how I could possibly sum up his life in a 45-minute ceremony, but over the past few days it has become clearer through the many messages I’ve received from friends and family. Although different people knew him in different decades and cities, every single person uses the same word to describe Steve, for above all else he was kind. As one friend put it, he simply radiated kindness.
Two months ago, Steve wrote this advice in our son’s eighteenth birthday card: ‘Stick to the values that we as parents have taught you. The most important of these is kindness. Caring, being respectful and kind to others, comes way above any personal achievement.’
I have lost my soul-mate, my boys have lost their father. But his legacy, love and kindness, remains.
RIP Stephen Hogan 1959 – 2018.