The Invisible Woman

I’d like to tell you about Tara, The Invisible Woman.  Tara is not her real name but it has a strong and heroic ring about it which seems appropriate.

I hardly know Tara; in fact I’ve only met her twice.  Yet she has become a part of my life and occupies my daily thoughts more than any other person apart from my family and close friends.

Her’s is a tragic story, which deserves to be told because it is one of quiet heroism; the kind that goes on behind closed doors and therefore is neither seen nor appreciated nor well understood by the wider world.  It is not the type that wins medals yet I believe it is a type more common than most of us realise.

Tara is a carer. 

A few years ago – and not so many years at that – she met a wonderful man who thought she was a wonderful woman.  It was a second marriage for both.  I don’t know anything about Tara’s life before that; don’t know much at all about her really, but I do know that she and this man were very much in love.  Life seemed wonderful and full of promise.  They became involved in the creative life of the small and pleasant town in which they live. 

Then, almost four years ago, he was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour.  To say that both their lives changed in that moment of diagnosis is so gross an understatement that I’m struggling to find words to express the immensity of that change.  The man – I’ll call him Duncan because this also strikes me as an appropriately heroic name – is an academic whose career has been one of quiet distinction.  He is an excellent writer and an inspirational lecturer much loved and admired by his students (of which I was once one).  He is able to combine great intellectual gifts with great humanity – a thoroughly decent, witty, kind, loving, lovable, erudite, entertaining and wonderful human being.  He has been able to put all those qualities to good use in this time of terrible trial by maintaining a blog on which he has recorded not only the stories of his life but also, on an almost daily basis, details of his cruel illness and its treatment.  Thus his friends and family and quite a few interested strangers have been able to travel this long, hard road with him, at least in spirit.  Thus we have learned of the expensive drug that has enabled him to travel this far without loss of cognitive power but which could never offer an ultimate cure.  Thus we have suffered with him (albeit at second hand) the gradual but inevitable decline of his body and all its functions.  Thus we have come to know the large and small agonies and discomforts and indignities of terminal illness. Thus we have followed with love and sorrow his valiant battle to stave off the inevitable end.  Throughout, the blog and its regular postings and room for comment have enabled us to engage with him and, in doing so, freely express not just our love but our admiration  for his courage and good humour and ability to continue educating and entertaining us just as he used to do in the university classroom.

But what of Tara in all this?  While, understandably, Duncan is the focus of all our affection and attention Tara remains in the shadow.  Not just the grim shadow of death, as the Bible has it, but the dim, dark, unknown world of the carer.  Hour after hour, day after day, month after month for almost four years now she has had to put her own life on hold.  She has to undertake 24 hour a day nursing and monitoring duties, run the house, do the shopping, answer the phone, worry about money, handle the 1001 little jobs that everyday life in a complex world requires, be the driver, clean up the messes, deal with health professionals and the health bureaucracy, be continually supportive and encouraging to Duncan, answer all the well-meaning but often thoughtless questions as to his health, deal with equally kindly-meant but often foolish health advice...and that’s not all of it!  It’s just all that I can think of on the spur of the moment but I know there is much, much more.  And all this has to be done despite lack of sleep and her own occasional health problems and in the face of her own sorrow and fear and constant worry.  I don’t know, but I feel sure that Tara must often suffer that dark night of the soul when future terrors loom large. I can’t help wondering if she ever lets rip and wails: “Why him?  And why ME?”  Because, whichever way you look at it, life has dealt her a bum hand. 


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