01st Aug2011

Jane’s fencing bag

by Dutchcloggie

With her fencing kit from the last time she used it. Probably around June last year. Freshly washed, ready to be used again.

Her mother took it home for storage when we moved to the flat and had no space. I picked it up today. First, I could not get it out of the car. I left it on the back seat and went into the flat.

After an hour of only thinking of The Bag on the Back Seat, I went to the car to get it. When I opened the door, my heart just stopped. I used taking a picture as a tactic to keep my composure. Life is different when seen through a lens.

I finally got it out and put it in the wall outside. I could not bring it inside yet. My hand were trembling as I feared a complete collapse when opening the bag. I was afraid of what I would find inside. How would I respond to what was inside? Opening the bag would show me a snapshot of when things were still reasonably OK. Things packed away in the expectation to be used again at some point. A reminder of a life halted. A river stopped mid-flow.

Shoes, her breeches and other fencing clothes. The little towel she used to wipe her forehead. Her mask. The bandana she wore on her head. Her sweatband. As if I was looking at her body.

Feeling upset but composed, I rummaged through the bag. Looking for something but not sure what exactly. I zipped the bag up again and brought it inside the house. I felt quite pleased with myself for not crumbling into a heap.

That lasted about 4 minutes. In fact, it lasted until I sat down to relax. Tears just did not stop coming. I walked up to the bag and got all the clothes out. I sat on the floor and hugged the bag. Crying and crying and crying. For about 30 minutes. Leaving big wet patches on the bag.

I was going to give the kit to the fencing club to be used by others. But I don’t think I will ever be able to do it.

Fencing was probably the only thing Jane and I never shared. I tried it just so I knew what she was doing but I don’t like it. Too much like physical chess for my liking. Maybe this is why it was so extremely painful to go through the stuff. It was 100% Jane. Something I had nothing to do with. Something she absolutely loved and was hers alone.

Her mental decline was mercilessly exposed after the radiotherapy in 2009. A sport that requires logic, speed of thinking, forethought, planning and a fast reaction speed was probably the worst thing she could have chosen.

Firstly she no longer fitted in her own kit and had to use the club’s borrowed stuff. That hurt. What hurt more though was watching her attempts at fencing whilst seriously impaired. She was slow to respond, could not think ahead and generally just stood there whilst other people let her win or let her hit them. That was nice of them but it was absolutely soul destroying to see. She wanted to get back to it so badly but she cut an extremely sad figure. A complete shadow of the woman who had competed in championships and won trophies only a year before.

Things got a little better and she did return to fencing between March 2009 and June 2010 but she was never the same again.

Another stark reminder of how incredibly gut wrenching it is to see an extremely bright woman, an academic, a PhD student, a fencer, struck by a brain tumour. And not just in any place in the brain. Some people are ‘lucky’ and have a tumour in a location of the brain that controls body functions. So they might lose the ability to walk. Or hear. Or see. But at least they remain in control of their faculties until the end. But not Jane. She caught it in the place that made her what she was. The place that controls memory, logic, ability to process information, personality. So I never knew how she felt in the last 9 months of her life. We both knew she was dying but she was unable to discuss it; either because she could not find the words or because she could not comprehend it.

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