harry diamond's memoir


My life fell apart at 5 o'clock on Saturday, October 10, 1987. Jackie and I were watching television in our bedroom when she said, "Henry, I'm sore," in a voice filled with weariness. I put my arms round her as she slumped back in the bed and said in a panic, "Jackie, can I get you something, a drink, medicine, anything?"

can you get me into the papersThe pupils of her eyes slid to one side and she was gone. I laid her down gently and walked out of the house and up and down the street in a daze looking for someone to tell. The street was empty so I went back into the house and phoned Harvie.

Joel Lee our family doctor arrived shortly afterwards along with my friend Jack Miller, but I don't remember phoning them. I do remember Jackie's funeral the next day, throwing earth on her coffin as is our custom, walking away from the graveside in a daze, trying to remember what people were saying to me.

I didn't weep a lot in the first few days because the relief of tears wouldn't come, but I've made up for it since. Michael couldn't get home from Israel in time for Jackie's funeral; he arrived the day after. He stayed with me a fortnight but we didn't talk a lot about the only thing I could think about, the all-consuming desolation that filled my soul.

I stayed in the house a week after Jackie's death. Michael did any errands that were necessary. Then I went out for some fresh air. I was shocked to see cars and buses running, people walking in and out of shops, vanmen making deliveries, children playing. I wanted to shout at them, "What do you mean by carrying on as if nothing has happened? My Jackie has died. Don't you realise that?" I was lonely, cold, bewildered, mentally and emotionally exhausted.

Two or three weeks after Michael went back to Israel I flew out there to stay with him for a while, but we still didn't talk much about anything. He seemed rather withdrawn and preoccupied with his own thoughts. Michael wasn't married when Jackie died so there wasn't anyone to talk to while he was at work. I didn't know anyone else there so I walked about the desert screaming at the heavens and asking unanswerable questions.

Eventually I went back to work but I didn't do anything. I felt that everything I had ever worked for had collapsed in ruins. There wasn't any point in it all any more. My deputy David Bell and Audrey McCormack my secretary and the rest of the staff in my office in the City Chambers carried me for a long time and I shall always be grateful to them for that.

I think a lot about when Jackie and I first met. I saw her dancing with someone at a youth club. I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. During the evening I managed to talk to her and told her I was a newspaper reporter and that sometimes I was sent to the theatre to do a review and please would she come with me next time.

I took her to the theatre a couple of weeks later and she told a friend she wasn't going out with me again because I was boring! I probably was, too. My mind was filled with newspapers and running after stories and I wasn't very good at thinking up things to say to girls. We did go out again, though, for a couple of years.

I vividly remember the first couple of sentences of my speech at our wedding dinner: Nine years ago today I left home to serve my king and country. Today I leave home to serve my queen, turning, smiling, to touch her gently. The guests applauded loudly with delight.

The tears lasted a long time. I can still cry when something triggers me; in fact I'm doing it as I type. I had come to regard myself as quite skilled at what I did for a living. I was confident, independent, and arrogant. Sometimes this arrogance showed more than it should have done. But it was all swept away in one afternoon. I was a heavy smoker for more than 40 years and I put away a fair amount of alchohol but a few days after Jackie died I poured the contents of my drinks cabinet down the lavatory and threw my cigarettes away because I was in great danger of settling into a chair and smoking and drinking myself to death. I didn't want to do that because I realised how hard it would affect Harvie and Michael.

Harvie has telephoned me almost every night for years just to ask if I am alright and Michael telephones from Israel if he hasn't had a letter or a phone call for a couple of weeks. I am very lucky to have two such sons.

Loneliness is something I never thought much about when Jackie was here. I suppose it was because I was never lonely. I know all about it now, though. I know also that the attitude that nothing matters any more is wrong and destructive but I think everyone has to go through this phase and survive the best way they can. Some people benefit from counselling and some don't. I preferred to bite the bullet and stick it out by myself but I'm not recommending this course to anyone else.

My effort to take counselling wasn't at all successful but I'm not blaming anyone for that. A few weeks after Jackie died I was sitting at my desk in the office when I was overcome with such a sense of desolation that I walked out and went to the office of the Glasgow Council for Voluntary Service in Bath Street to ask about Cruse, a group which helped the bereaved. As it happens there was a meeting that day and I was directed to a room where a number of men and women were gathered having tea. By an interesting coincidence I had written a press release to announce the opening of the then named Volunteer Bureau in March 1974.

I was offered tea and biscuits but no-one made any kind of fuss ahout my arrival. Everyone knew why I was there. One woman asked me if I was interested in old-time dancing. Another asked me if I would like to go a bus run or was I interested in bingo. It became obvious very quickly that I lived in a different world from these people.

I don't want to be snobbish about it but they came from a different social and professional class from myself and had different interests. It was obvious I was not going to get the kind of help I needed. Maybe I could have got it if I had tried but I was too spiritually beaten to say anything.

I noticed a well-dressed man sitting on a settee not saying anything so I went over and introduced myself. He told me his name and I said, "I don't think this is for us."

"No," he said.

"Let's go somewhere for a coffee."

That started off my friendship with Bryce Aitken, a civil engineer whose wife had died about the same time as Jackie. We went to the theatre and had dinners together and were friends for two or three years until he, too, died of cancer. Bryce had introduced me to a neighbour, Bill Allan, a retired banker, who lived two or three doors from him in Bearsden on the outskirts of Glasgow and who was also a fairly recent widower. Bill has been a good friend ever since. About three years ago he married a charming lady named Isobel and both of them are my friends now.

A number of other people helped me through the difficult days and still help me to keep my sanity; Jackie's cousins Marlene and Harry Berkley, Ezra and Susan Golombok, Freddy and Florence Levine, Gerald and Pamela Levin, Gerald Strump, Irene Markson, Kenny and Linda Davidson, Jackie Monk and John McLaughlin.

I am also grateful to my old friend George Todd in whose villa in the south of Spain I spent two holidays during which he listened with patience and understanding to my woes. And then there is Elsie Greig, who worked in the marketing department of the gas industry until her retirement. I haven't seen Elsie since the 1960s but she wrote to me from her home in Angus after seeing an article about me in the Scots Magazine. I wrote back and told her Jackie had died a few months earlier and she has been writing words of encouragement to me regularly ever since.

Nearly 200 people wrote to me after Jackie died and in the following few weeks I answered all the cards and letters, some of them from America, Canada, Australia and mainland Europe. I still have a regular correspondence with some of the writers. Other people with whom we had been friends for up to 30 years suddenly seemed to vanish from the planet and I never heard from them again.

Nine years after Jackie's death I can now say there is life after the death of a loved one. It might not be much at times but it's better than the alternative. A lot depends on the individual's determination to survive and be useful again, even to strangers. They won't be strangers for long.

Despite my commitment to my religion I am filled with doubts. I have difficulty in reconciling the existence of a deity with all the misery in the world, the millions who die of starvation, the victims of wars, the so-called free will human beings are supposed to have but in fact often have no control of any kind over their lives.

Sometimes I think there isn't much point to it all but the sensible half of me tells me that's wrong. If it were not for my Jackie there would have been no Harvie and Michael to meet Rejane and Yaffa. There would have been no Tiffany and Gideon and Yuval and Ophir, my four grand-children, to bring brightness and goodness into my life and each other's. Maybe they are the answer to my dilemma.

Some time after my visit to the Cruse session I went to see Dr Philip Millington, a lecturer in the bio-engineering department of the University of Strathclyde, who was vice-chairman of Cruse. He told me there were many people like myself, professional men, who had difficulty coping with bereavement.

"We don't have enough of them to form a group," he said. "They just don't make themselves known to us. This repression of feelings by men is responsible for all kinds of breakdowns among them. Professional men are particularly vulnerable. Up to the moment of bereavement they are fully occupied with business and social life, self-possessed, confident and secure. Suddenly they find themselves bereft of all these things but pride does not allow them to tell anyone. They don't want anyone to feel sorry for them as that makes them feel diminished as indivduals."

Woman were different, said Dr Millington. "They tend to form groups easier than men. And if they are over 45 they tend to avoid getting involved in relationships with men. They don't really want to marry again."

For a while I considered starting a group for professional men but I felt I had enough to cope with. I did speak to one or two people but it was difficult to get them to commit themselves to regular meetings. One man confessed that he felt so lonely one day he tried to think of a way of having a minor accident so that he could be taken to hospital where he would among people he could talk to.

The problem of loneliness among men was highlighted by a Samaritans report Behind the Mask in May 1995. Mr Simon Armson, the organisation's chief executive, stated that more men were committing suicide for a variety of complex reasons. One of them was loneliness and the need for a close supportive relationship. "Single, divorced and widowed men over the age of 24 have suicide rates three times greater than those of married men, " said Mr Armson.

An earlier report by the Samaritans revealed that the pressures of living in the 90s, combined with a reluctance to talk about feelings, could be too much to cope with.

Cruse now have more professional men coming to them for help and offer a one-to-one counselling service for professional people and anyone else who wants it, a service which was introduced about five years ago. Men are still a problem, though. Generally they are still reluctant to bare their souls.

Yvonne Alexis, chairman of the Glasgow branch of Cruse, says there are many one-time responsible, working, family men who become derelicts, sleeping in doorways and under bridges, because they have lost a wife and her companionshop, can't talk about it for one reason or another, and no longer have the will to do anything but exist..

I have now left the house that Jackie and I and the boys lived in for so many years and moved into a comfortable little flat. I just couldn't take it any more, wandering round the house where every corner had a memory.

Like so many other people in a similar situation I am reluctant to laugh with the crowd and say I'm alright in case anyone should think I have recovered from losing Jackie and am now enjoying life. Thanks to my family and friends I am alright much of the time but again like so many others I carry a sorrow which is never likely to go away.