When I was 19 I often popped into the local hospital on my way home from work to visit my dying Great Aunt Alice. She slept a great deal so it was not unusual to have to wait twenty minutes or so for her to wake up and realise I was there so I always took a book with me. She was in an open ward with about five other beds and one night I noticed there was a new addition to the ward in the bed in the corner by the window.
Almost spectral in appearance with protruding collar bones, sparse white hair stuck out in all directions, a sunken leathery complexion and no teeth, the ravages of time had evidently been particularly unkind to her. However it was her screaming fits which attracted the most attention as she would scream and flail her bony limbs around kicking all her bedclothes onto the floor revealing herself at regular intervals, at which point I had to turn away, wondering how on earth my Great Aunt could sleep through it all, though when my Great Aunt finally awoke, she complained about the new incumbent and opined she ought to be in another place, not the hospital.
One evening the noisy mad woman was up to her usual antics, with world-weary nurses attending to replace the bedclothes and tuck her in for the umpteenth time.
My Great Aunt sighed equally world-wearedly. Much to my surprise a dapper-looking elderly man then rounded the corner into the ward. Immaculately dressed in a 1940s style woolen coat and turn-ups, replete with trilby hat and well trimmed moustache, he made straight for the bed in the corner with his bunch of carnations. The mad woman stared at him without a flicker of recognition as he laid them on her bedside table, sat down beside her and took her hand. He started talking to her in a low voice as if sharing endearments. She said nothing, except to hold his gaze and lay utterly still, as if completely at peace. Eventually and reluctantly he got up and his last sentence to her after he kissed her was completely and heartbreakingly audible. 'You're all the world to me, Elsie'
Minutes after he left she reverted back into a crazed swearing wailing banshee, scarcely human.
I found myself astonished at his devotion at the time, but over the years I have come to be more and more touched by the memory.
At around the same time I remember reading a local news article where a gentleman in his 80s who had lost his wife shortly after their golden wedding anniversary was asked if he had any regrets.
'Yes', he replied. 'We weren't together for long enough.'