One of the many reasons that I loved Louise so much was that she was extremely analytical and reflective. Always thinking, always challenging, always seeking the truth but always realistic and flexible enough to recognise that when she found it there was likely only to be ambiguity and uncertainty. It gave her great wisdom and insight and an acute awareness of and identification with the needs of others. It was what made her so passionate about championing the socially excluded and was partly why she was such an effective and popular doctor. Louise would spend hours at the end of the working day reviewing case notes and re-thinking earlier consultations. This would often give her fresh insight and lead to improved outcomes for her patients, who loved her for it.
When Louise was struggling with her periodic episodes of depression, however, this analysis and reflection was focused internally. She worked ceaselessly to reach an understanding of her condition, its causes, its symptoms and the factors which led her to recovery on each occasion. As a consequence the house is filled with notebooks in which Louise attempted to set down her thinking, metaphorically stripping herself bare and examining every aspect of her inner self. Her laptop is similarly well populated with documents performing the same function.
I can't help but come across these notes from time to time. Before Louise died I would never have even contemplated looking at them. They were intended for Louise's private use. She would and did share her thoughts with me on a very regular basis but these were the refined conclusions she had reached from the rough working in her notebooks. I respected the space Louise needed to get to that point.
But now I have a dilemma, and like many I am suddenly confronted with I have no answer to it. Do I now have the right, or perhaps even the duty, to read these notes? I want to understand, need to understand, why Louise decided she had no option but to kill herself (or rather, why the illness led her to believe she had no other option - there was no free will pursued here). Insight on this may help me to come to terms with events. It should help me better understand the most cataclysmic event ever to hit myself or those I love. Surely I have a right to know what it is that has take my wife from me and reduced me to a state of despair?
And yet surely Louise also retains a right to her privacy even now. There is no 'read upon my death' instruction scrawled across the front covers of the notebooks. Just because Louise is no longer here do I really have the right to go and examine every aspect of her most private thoughts? And if I did, would it really be helpful to me? I am having difficulty enough dealing with my own grief, loss and guilt. The only way that I can do this is to block out from my mind the very worst aspect of all, which is the pain and torment Louise suffered. I saw the effects of that darkness. I know what it did to her on a day to day basis when she was at her lowest ebb. And of course I have, and re-read almost daily, her lengthy farewell letter to me which summarised her turmoil. But to expose myself to the daily fluctuations of her raw, unprocessed innermost fears and feelings, and at a time when there is no longer an opportunity to respond to them, to reassure and support the woman that I love so much, would surely be a particularly cruel form of self punishment. If I open the door even slightly to Louise's torment there is no telling what it may do.
So for the moment I am securely preserving the notebooks and backing up the Word files. This is partly because the more of Louise's voice I keep the more alive she remains, but also partly because I haven't resolved the question of what I can or should do with them. I know that I can't bring myself to look at them yet but I may need to do so at some point in the future when I am better able to deal with what I will find. Or it may be that I will never have the strength but our nephews and nieces subsequently want to learn more about why they have been deprived of their wonderful Aunt.
Perhaps we will understand more in time, but now is not the moment.