“Whatever it takes’ is a short story that takes us through the lives of George and Liz, an ordinary but extraordinarily content couple and how their lives take a turn one unsuspecting day. The events that unfold show the couples’ struggles to cope with their new reality and eventually with a will to fight and do whatever it takes, the story unveils Liz’s path back to the ordinary”.
It was a beautiful, bright Monday morning. Liz was overflowing with excitement and potential energy. She was eagerly discussing their future with her husband George, while both of them were sipping on their morning tea in the cozy living room. Early morning plans and discussions over a hot cup of tea were a part of their daily routine. Only a few years away from retirement, the most common topic was future plans, with each plan more exciting than the other.
Liz, the dreamer in the family, loved to spend a lot of time thinking, planning and talking about things that she would like to happen, even if it seemed improbable or impractical to those around her. She was a hardcore optimist and opportunist who strongly believed in the philosophy – “ Luck happens when preparation meets opportunity and optimism”.
George was the realist- independent, practical ,stubborn, aggressive and grounded. He worked diligently, whether at a job, in a relationship or any task at hand. He was conservative in his approach and preferred to always adhere to a well planned schedule. Of course, ha had his dreams too, but they were always rooted in ambition, drive and determination.
Eager to start his workout, George, the fitness enthusiast, was getting distracted with Liz’s hyper enthusiasm. But on that day, nothing- not even her husband’s impatience to get started with his morning routine could dampen her spirit. Scooby, their German Shepherd pup who was just a few weeks old, could sense her excitement and was wagging his tail so fast that it had become a blur.
George, Liz and their daughter Ann had just come back from their overseas trip – a beautiful holiday with their son Jake, who was working in London. While on their trip, Ann had announced that she wanted to get married to her boyfriend, Danny. So, the conversation took a turn from retirement plans to wedding plans. Liz, the meticulous planner, wanted to discuss everything in detail. Little did she know that their future was going to be an emotional roller coaster ride from the very next moment.
That beautiful, bright Monday morning turned out to be the most dreaded day of her life, a day that she could only recall with the most intense emotional pain. That day taught her that even well thought out plans and dreams can change in an instant. On that ill- fated day, she watched her husband fall off the treadmill. What followed was a blur – neighbours rushing into the house, hurried and raised voices, scrambling into a car and rushing off to the nearest hospital.
As she gradually collected her thoughts while waiting outside the ICU and wondering what was happening around her, she braced herself to hear what the doctor had to say. But no amount of preparation could have helped her stay composed on that day. George was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease and his prognosis was extremely poor. It was a devastating blow to the family and totally unexpected as George was always a health conscious person who meticulously followed a healthy diet, in spite of being a foodie. Physical fitness was one of his top priorities. He was quite regular with his routine blood tests and was extremely proud of the results.
Both George and Liz were born fighters who refused to succumb and crumble in the face of tragedies and hardships. George underwent an emergency surgery. When he recovered, they went home ready to face all the challenges bravely. Scooby, though just a young pup, could sense the tension and stayed calmly by their side. George and Liz decided to do “whatever it takes” to live their lives to the fullest and fight against all odds. Each day they had to reach deep down inside and find a way to make that day count and a reason to be grateful. There were days when they had to muster all the courage to keep going, when all that was left in them was just their will to do so. It was heartbreaking for Liz and the children to see George calmly accepting the harsh reality, trying hard to overcome the illness and get back to work. Although getting back to work seemed like a Herculean task, George was convinced that it was the only way forward for him. Ever the hardcore realist, he believed only his passion for work would keep him in a positive frame of mind to face the gruelling follow-up treatment.
What surprised Liz the most was that George never talked about his illness, the prognosis or the treatment. There was nothing- no anxieties, emotions or worries that George and Liz wouldn’t share with each other but for reasons of his own, George decided not to discuss his illness at all. Even then, his only concern was his family and the pain and agony his family was going through. Liz always managed to create a positive environment for her husband. The children, including Ann’s fiancé, Danny and dear little Scooby supported George and Liz with all their love and positivity. Scooby attached himself to George and refused to leave his side whenever he was at home. When George would leave for work, Scooby faithfully followed Liz around. It was like he could literally feel the trauma that George and Liz were going through.
Inevitably, the topic of Ann’s and Danny’s wedding came up and George was very particular not to advance the wedding date. Liz didn’t want to go against her husband’s wishes even though she was worried about the year long wait for the wedding, especially because the prognosis was dreadful. So, the treatment, wedding planning and shopping went on simultaneously.
It requires no major effort to live a normal life. But you must push yourself to see how far you can really go and that’s exactly what George and Liz did. Their attitude was based on the belief that they would do “whatever it takes” to fight destiny. That belief strengthened them and helped them to strive forward with great optimism. That year, as always, they celebrated Christmas, New Year, their birthdays and wedding anniversary with friends and family.
They fought hard for a year and a half. The change in George was gradual. Over weeks and months, he started looking weaker and more tired. Eventually destiny took over. For Liz, her whole world came to a standstill, but with Ann’s and Danny’s wedding just days away, she numbed her mind and moved forward as though in a trance. Feeling her pain, Scooby never left Liz’s side. Liz and her children didn’t even get time to mourn their terrible loss. They had promised George that they would move forward bravely and they kept their word. Liz willed herself to stay strong and hold her head up high, mentally blocking all thoughts of George and how he should have been there amidst the celebrations.
Surrounded by friends and family, the wedding went well. The next morning when the celebrations died out, the harsh reality struck. Looking back, she could never understand where she summoned the strength from to dress up and host a wedding, just days after she lost her husband.
Soon, the newly weds had to go back to their jobs and Jake returned to London. Liz was all alone in her house, except for Scooby. As always he never left her side.
Only very few people can understand that emotional pain is so much worse than physical pain. If more people knew that, they would be kinder and more compassionate towards others. Sadly, the raw emotion and terrible anguish of a person whose heart is broken is something that many people prefer to run away from. They don’t understand that there is no greater gift that you can give the people who are grieving, than just to be with them, talk to them about their departed loved ones, walk down the memory lane with them and tell them stories and tales of happier days gone by.
Liz struggled with her loneliness. She missed the one and only person with whom she could share anything and everything with. She missed the future that she was supposed to have with George. But she tried hard not to fall into depression and to gradually come back to normal life. She soon realised that though she had a huge circle of friends and family, she would have to fight it out on her own. The saddest lesson she learnt was that even siblings and children have to carry on with their lives.
To add to her pain and helplessness, there were so many loose ends to be tied up, many financial matters to be attended to and some major decisions to be taken care of regarding her future. These were all absolutely new to her, as these matters were always attended to by George.
The only consolation was that she didn’t have to worry about her finances as George’s years of dedicated hard work and financial planning provided her with a secure future. Liz felt grateful for that and for having shared a beautiful, loving life with George for three decades. The pain of missing him was a reminder of the joy of loving him too. She was grateful for her children who supported her with their unconditional love. She was grateful for Scooby, the one and only living soul that was with her day and night. He helped her to stay up and about with his young energy and excitement. His unconditional, adoring love gave her strength to move forward and do “whatever it takes” to live a meaningful life.
Liz often talked to George and thought of him as her Guardian Angel, who would continue to guide and help her all along the way. She promised him that she would move on bravely and make him proud. Travel was her passion. George and Liz used to enjoy their vacations and the time spent together. The first step she took to get back to normalcy was to start travelling. She would travel everywhere with Scooby. On longer journeys, when she travelled to far off places, she left Scooby with Danny and Ann.
Liz was always a people’s person and she became an active member of a few ladies clubs for both fun activities as well as social work. She was a qualified counsellor and did counselling voluntarily for all those who needed her help.
Liz valued relationships a lot and for the same reason, she used to tolerate a few hurtful people in her life. The frustration kept building up in her, but she always had George by her side to help her deal with it. George constantly tried to make her stronger so as not to tolerate such intense negativity from others. Only in his absence did she realise that she had to respond strongly to such negativity and not allow it to affect her peace of mind. She decided that she had no more time for such hurtful and damaging people in her life.
She had no more energy to suffer through someone else’s drama anymore and there was no need to justify her actions. She realised that no one will understand her lonely journey and that it really didn’t matter whether anyone agreed with her or even supported her. She learnt to become self centred and to start doing whatever she wanted to do, because she had looked death in the eye and understood her own mortality.
Through all her emotional pain, she continued to find reasons to smile. Clawing her way back up from the depths of despair was not an easy task, but she managed to do it. Grief and pain helped her to shed the layers of protection she had amassed in her lifetime to unveil the real woman in her.
She learnt to be independent and with every decision she made, her independence grew. She learnt to be in charge of her finances, to go with the flow and allow the universe to bring her what she needs and when she needs it.
She realised that anything and everything can be taken away from her in the blink of an eye and that made her appreciate the simple things in life. Soon she realised that she was indeed as strong as George wanted her to be, probably because she just could not afford to be weak. She summoned all her inner strength to do “whatever it takes” and let go of who she was in the past and use all her courage and faith to focus on who she wanted to be in future.
She knows that George was and still is proud of her and that is all that matters to her.
Fifteen years went by and Liz is all set to celebrate her 70th birthday with her loving children , grandchildren and dear old Scooby, who is now blind in one eye. There he is, limping across the room getting pampered by Liz’s grandchildren. He continues to be Liz’s biggest support system, along with her children and grandchildren. She still doesn’t know how she made it through, but she came out of it stronger than before – definitely not the same person who went through the ordeal.
Happy Birthday Liz – You can be proud of yourself, for all the strong decisions you had to make. Even though it was tough, you stood your ground. You didn’t give up on yourself and despite everything you went through, you always found ways to keep a smile on your face every single day.
Author Name : Ms. Minu Suresh Jacob
Place : Cochin