Meningitis in your words

Mark Porteous's story

  • Location: UK
  • Categories: Bacterial meningitis
  • Age: Adult 25-59
  • Relationship: Parent
  • Outcome: Bereavement
Mark Porteous
Mark Porteous - Meningitis in your words

So this time of year is always a beast for me. Do you want to know why? It’s not SAD, although I’m sure it plays a part. It’s more of a mixture of emotions. We have my wife’s birthday and soon after it happens to be Valentine's Day and also my father-in-law's birthday. However in the middle of that bundle of joy there is the anniversary of my dad’s death. You’ll know that because he often crops up. It’s something of a cornerstone in my life and last week marked twenty years without him. He died after a severe battle with meningitis aged only 50, which for anybody that has raced into their 40’s is reasonably terrifying.

Around this time of year I start to play back, in my mind, some of the trigger points. There is the moment where I had to say goodbye to him in the ICU (intensive care unit). The overwhelming suffocating hysteria that follows as your mind tries to comprehend what just happened. There are the moments leading up to him having to leave the house for the hospital where the disease had got the better of him, his eyes crossed and he’s on that last path, save for the fact we didn’t know it. I wonder since then what must have been going through his mind. It’s rather triggering. When he was in the hospital my sisters were marvelous. They showed such open heartedness and kindness towards him. It fell from them so easily. For me, the product of boarding school, I had a more traditional approach; I didn’t know what to do. There are two moments I have that I’m pleased I somehow managed to evoke. I held his hand and told him I loved him. It’s sad to think how hard that can be. I also told him, before he even became very ill, that I was sorry. We had had a monumental fight a few months previously. We had become very distant and barely spoke. It was a physical fight as well, which for me is something approaching bizarre. I just thank (whatever it was that moved me to) to say sorry. The relief was palpable and I dread to think the damage I’d be harboring had I not.

My sister and mum went to his headstone the other day. I couldn’t be there, which wasn’t ideal. I saw them in the old church we used to go to as kids. During the first few anniversaries I would leave some of his favorite bands CD’s by his headstone. Dad rock, Zeppelin and what have you. I saw how they faded over the months and it gave me something to think about. That sense of nothingness when it comes to death. That infinite nothing that tells us we’re in the belly of nature, the realm of a quite patient science that doesn’t single any of us out with some malevolent evil but simply deploys its method. There is no reasoning with that, you can’t wallow or wade in some kind of endless turmoil, you just have to stand back and admire our privilege. We are here, we made it. Get on with it, whilst you can.

As I think back over the slab of time, the tiniest wink in space time, that he’s been gone it falls rather quietly. I tend to think back to what he had missed and then wonder if he wasn’t in some capacity with me, or any of us. It’s a lovely fairytale ideal. There is a hint of truth in that though. The brutality of what all of us face in death is that our parents made us; we carry them in our make up. Some of us believe God is not here on earth but is our souls, within us; our kind actions and examples. Perhaps you could say our loved ones are in us or we force ourselves to appreciate those moments they would have.

I think about what he’s missing out on. Well that is a rather crushing thought. I wonder how he would have felt lying there in and out of consciousness and there’s the trigger. An almost electrical charge that fires in your mind and sends a lump to my throat or tension in my hands. I have good friends in their fifties. What is it to battle, unknowingly, for your life in a hospital feeling your energy drain from you. Yet another trigger point that one has to live with because that’s life. I just thank the correct process that he was finally taken to an ICU in London where he was to die in peace.

The train-ride up to say goodbye, my God what a dream. One foot in front of the other almost drunk with it all. The dizziness and the autopilot that your brain puts you into. You cope for a while. What world did my dear mother slip into? I have an idea but I hope I never have to live that exhausting seemingly never ending raking nightmare.

He was a good man. He was an old soul and a very kind one even though he was drafted into the 1950’s boarding school trough. He was tremendously lucky to find my mother just like I was to find my wife. It changed his life. I’m not sure every man of that era was able to find love or express themselves. He was a lucky man. We lived in that luck for a long time, more than some. In that black nothingness, that is the wonder of nature, I can fire that joy and luck and perhaps, slightly defiantly say I had a great father. 

William Porteous
March 2024

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