An Instinct For Kindness                                                             For the dedicated AIFK website, please click here (opens in new window)
                                                                                                                   
On 6th November 2010, at Leeds-Bradford airport, I boarded KLM flight 1546, to Amsterdam Schiphol.  With me were Allyson, my ex-wife and old friend, mother of my eldest son, and her sister Vivienne.  We had return tickets all, just in case.  From Schiphol to Zurich.  From Zurich a taxi, Allyson's wheelchair strapped down and her strapped in it, comically in the centre of the open minibus, looking like she was riding chariot and we laughed about it as the unfamiliar landscape of Switzerland sped by, postcard pretty.  

We spend three days in Pfänikon.  It's a pretty town, clean as a whistle and with mountains spectacularly reflected in a deep, tranquil lake.  

I shan't be going to Pfänikon again.  Nor will Vivienne, I shouldn't think.  And Allyson...

Allyson arrived back at my flat a fortnight later.  Or rather, a version of her.  It was sooner than I had imagined.  Damn efficient, the Swiss.  We'll take her up to the Chevin, when the time is right.  Me and the family.  We'll say some words while the Yorkshire wind takes her.

Sodium Pentobarbital can cause vomiting, if you swallow enough of it.  So an anti-emetic is administered, half an hour beforehand.  You have half an hour, when you can phone your son, back in England, read some of the cards, remember your childhood

A solution of Sodium Pentobarbital is the worst tasting thing you ever put in your mouth.  I don't know this for certain, of course, but the grimace that Allyson pulled told you it was no milk-shake.   The doctor had warned her, a few days before, in one of a series of careful euphemisms.  The taste is bitter, you must swallow straight down.  Practice doing so.  The quantity of a large brandy.  They give you a chocolate, afterwords.  It's Switzerland, they have chocolate for everything.

Back at the hotel, me and Vivienne.  Everyone is looking at us, or pointedly not looking at us.  We smell of Death.  That's how it feels.  We are taboo.  We are disgusting.

In Allyson's room, the following morning we are packed and ready to go, stunned as cattle.  A chambermaid is at the open door.  We have bin-liners full of redundant medicines and nappies, we have suitcases with our clothes in, we have a electric wheelchair, dismantled and gaffa-taped for ease of transport.  We are weighed down with the clutter of guilt and grief and helpessness.  The chambermaid sees it all.  I have seen her around, these last three days, not to speak to but they've worked around us: coming back to change the sheets when we're downstairs for cups of tea.  I wave her away, signalling, do next door first, but she stays there.  I say, in bad German, the other room, thank-you.  She stays there, sheepish but stubborn, looking at Vivienne.

Deine Schwester, she says eventually – and it's a question - your sister?  I translate for Vivienne, who starts like a guilty thing as if the Police have called.  Yes, I say, her sister.

Ist besser fur Sie, says the maid, impelled to continue no matter what.  In a soft tone she says, ist besser fur Sie, jetzt.  I denke so.  Ist besser fur Sie.  Again I translate but now the tears are thick lumps in my throat and Vivienne's eyes are not her own, either.  Thank-you, I say, yes, it's better.  She was in a lot of pain.  

My mother says the chambermaid, softly, touching her own heart, my mother.  The same.  And so it goes.  The first of many who will touch her own hearts, to touch ours, to show that we are not alone.  In a shitty world, full of Lies and Adverts, incurable diseases and curable cruelty, the human instinct for kindness, for empathy, shines through stubborn.  And there rests some kind of Hope.