I have long been an admirer of the work of Michael Korda, both as an editor and as a writer. His latest book, Passing, is the story of the death of his wife. Its sub-title is A Memoir of Love and Death.
I came to read Passing just last week. I have had the book for a number of months, but the very recent death of Rachel, our eldest daughter, made me fear opening it. I swallowed my fear and entered the book. Rachel was born with global physical and cognitive delay that we only began to understand in the course of the first year of her life. She would never talk or walk or become independent. Because she needed total care, she became the centre of our lives. At the onset of puberty, the hormonal changes in her body triggered a seizure condition that needed to be controlled by medication. Our lives, including the lives of her sisters until they left for university, became even further regimented. If this sounds grim, it was anything but. People on the outside only see the work, rarely the reward. Rachel was not just joyful, she was joyous. She filled our lives with love and meaning and, when she suddenly died, she left a large and ragged hole in each of us. What made this harder, I came to understand, was that none of us had ever had to give up any part of Rachel before. We had never had to come to terms with those increasing distances that life inserts between family members – no first date, no learning to drive, no going off to university. Our loss was like falling off a cliff. It was the morning of 14 May this year, just after seven o’clock. The paramedics and fire fighters had been summoned and were calmly, unhurriedly treating Rachel as a person with a breathing problem – the reason we called. As they prepared to give her oxygen to help her, she suddenly looked up at me, calm and loving. She then closed her eyes.
For the next twenty minutes, as we stood numbly frantic, we clutched at possibility until we could no longer. Rachel was just thirty-four. Strong, a fighter, she had simply worn out.
Passing is beautifully wrought. Michael Korda's candour and bravery explained to me just what and how much had been compressed into those few unending moments in May. I think I can write again.