The hospital's chapel was located far enough away from the bustle of the main building to be almost completely silent, something for which Kath was grateful. She had only been sat on one of the pews for a matter of seconds when she heard footsteps approaching from the back of the room. She finished her prayer before looking up.
"I'm sorry I didn't mean to disturb you." The priest said softly, delivering a warm smile to Kath.
"It's all right Father, you didn't." Kath replied equally softly, but with a slight rasp to her voice from where she'd been crying. He didn't require his years of experience of reading other people's emotions to tell him how upset she was, it was written all over her face. He walked toward her and sat on the pew in front, turning just enough to see her face.
"I'm Father O'Neill, the hospital chaplain, is there anything I can do to help?"
"I don't think so Father, but thank you."
"Only sometimes it helps to talk about these things…" He continued, sensing that in this case perhaps a little persistence was required before she would be willing to open up to him.
She paused and thought about it. She had been sat alone, turning things around and around in her mind to the point where nothing made much sense anymore and her telephone call to Mike had only clouded the issue further. Perhaps talking about it, vocalising her feelings was exactly what she did need to do, and who better to help her decide such a deeply moral decision than a priest?
"My husband", Kath started hesitantly, "Simon, was in a car accident last night. The doctor is suggesting that we withdraw treatment, because it's highly unlikely that he's ever gong to get better. And I've seen cases like this before… people who are never going to wake up kept alive on a ventilator just because their family can't bear to let go… As a nurse, I want to end his suffering, as a Catholic, I want to sustain his life… I don't know what to do." She began to sob gently. Father O'Neill produced a small packet of tissues from his inside breast pocket and offered them to Kath. He had found in his time as chaplain that they were every bit as important to his role as a stethoscope is to a doctor's.
"And what about as a wife, Mrs..?"
The prompt only provoked a new and even more heartfelt cascade of tears as her memory of her feelings for Mike, and the kiss they shared flooded back. She fought hard to control her emotions, sniffing back the tears until she began to feel sick. All the time she could feel Father O'Neill watching her, giving her quietly questioning glances but remaining silent. It wasn't his job to probe, only to listen, but her own guilt made it seem to Kath as though he were screaming at her to divulge her wicked secret.
She summoned every last ounce of strength and said with a trembling lip, "Kath. My name is Kath." Somehow, she didn't feel the title of Mrs Shaughnessy, the title that she had once been so proud of, was something that she deserved right now.
"Kath, you've told me how you think you should feel. But how do you actually feel?" she searched the lines of his face for the correct answer, but if he knew it he gave nothing away.
"I care about him, I don't want him to be in pain. I don't want to prevent our children from mourning him for my own selfish reasons" She replied at last.
"It's not selfish to love someone, and to want to keep them with you."
"You don't understand…" she whimpered. He waited, and Kath knew he was waiting for her to confess. She looked down at her hands; her fingers were still interwoven as though they had continued to pray although her mind had been distracted.
"At the time Simon was being brought in here… I… I… I was with another man." She waited, her head bowed in penitence, for the priest to cast her into Hell.
Instead all she heard him say was "I see".
"No… No you don't. I kissed Mike. I'm a married woman. I've always taken my wedding vows very seriously, vows which I made before God. And I broke them, and now Simon's here!"
"You blame yourself for your husband's condition?"
"Yes!… No… I don't know" She dropped her head into her hands.
"It seems to me that you are faced with two distinct problems. Your husband's condition is independent of your feelings for this other man. You mustn't confuse your guilt with the real issue. You have to do what is best for him, for you and for the rest of your family."
"What should I do?" She implored.
"I can't answer that for you, but I think you already know the answer."
"I don't think I need to tell you that adultery is a sin"
"I didn't sleep with him, it was a kiss, that's all. It shouldn't have happened I know that, but I didn't… I wouldn't…" Kath said in shock. She stared at the priest willing him to believe her. It was clear from her earnest expression that she was indeed telling the truth.
"I'm sorry I didn't mean to suggest…um…" Father O'Neill replied awkwardly. He berated himself for jumping to conclusions, something that he was always having to tell the young priests fresh out of the seminary not to do. The way she had been speaking it was most natural to assume that she and this other man had been involved in a full-blown affair. O'Neill had certainly seen a good many people less guilty over greater sins than just a kiss. One thing was abundantly clear though, she must have extremely strong feelings for this Mike person to be in such a situation. He couldn't help but feel sorry for her.
"All I can say is that it would be wrong to harbour feelings for this other man whilst you're married." He decided to leave it at that, he'd done his duty as a priest and that was as much as he could do.
Kath let his words sink in. Although she felt uncomfortable admitting it, they made sense to her. Her first duty was to her husband, to look after him, to care for him. She didn't want to see him die, far from it, there was still, and always would be, a part of her that loved him very much, but she knew now what she had to do.
She knew what her decision was.
"Mum?" Danny's voice called her from her thoughts.
"I've been looking all over for you. Er… Kate and Rob have both arrived now. I think it's time we talked." He said nervously as he hovered in the doorway. Kath nodded her agreement and stood up.
"Thank you for all your help Father." He stood up and shook her hand warmly.
"It's what I'm here for. May the Lord be with you and your family Kath."
"Don't often see you in here for breakfast Mike." Charlie said as a tired Mike wandered past him with a tray of food.
"Oh Charlie, I didn't see you there. Mind if I..?" He indicated the empty seat opposite.
"Be my guest. Are you OK Mike? You look shocking."
Mike grimaced, "Thanks"
"Sorry, but you do. You look like you haven't slept?"
"I haven't, not properly at least." He glanced down at his breakfast; it looked distinctly unappetising.
"Tough shift?" Charlie asked, shovelling in another mouthful of fried bread.
"I wasn't at work."
"You want to talk about it?" Charlie offered, placing down his cutlery and leaning slightly across the table.
"No. But I know what you're going to say, and you might be right. I suppose I could do with a friendly ear at the moment."
"So go on then, what's up?"
Mike took a deep breath, "You know Kath Shaughnessy?"
"Your Ward Sister, yeah, our paths have crossed. I don't know her very well though, for some reason Ward Sisters don't seem to like me much!" he grinned mischievously.
"I know her well. Pretty well at least". Mike said softly, glancing around them to make sure no one else was listening.
"You saying what I think you're saying?" Charlie replied in equally hushed tones.
"We're not having an affair if that's what you're thinking…"
"But? There's definitely a 'but' there somewhere"
"Last night I went to her house and to cut a long story short, we kissed." Charlie hadn't seen Mike looking so guilty since he'd started seeing Rachel years ago.
"Oh. Doesn't her son work around here somewhere too?"
"Yeah, but Danny's the least of my concerns right now."
"Yes, but not in the way you might think. It turns out that at pretty much the same time Kath and I were together, her husband was getting himself into a car crash. From what Kath said, it sounds like he's not going to pull through."
"Tell me about it. The worst thing is, I think she sees me as the bad guy."
"It takes two, you know."
"That's not really the point though, is it? Charlie, I really…care about her. I'm not sure I could handle it if she hates me."
"Do you really think that she does? Hate you, I mean?"
"Hate might be the wrong word, but things have changed now. I'm going to be a constant reminder to her of her unfaithfulness and it'll be even worse if he dies."
"What are you saying? You're going to fall on your sword? Leave here?" Charlie questioned more than a little concerned about his friend's decision.
"I've been thinking about this all night and I can't see any other option. Can you? What would you do in this situation?"
Charlie thought about it. He had been in a reasonably similar position with his affair with Baz, but somehow he didn't think that advising Mike to 'get her pregnant and marry her' would be very helpful. He shrugged.
"Where are you going to go?"
"I'm not sure. I've been head-hunted for a few jobs lately, I might chase one of them up."
"You are going to talk about this to Kath before you go though, aren't you?" Mike looked back down at his food, "Mike!"
"We'll see." He said, knowing that that was the last thing he wanted to do.
"So are we all agreed then?" Kath said solemnly. They'd all come into the discussion with much the same thought. That Simon Shaughnessy, their Simon, their father or husband had already been lost to them. He would never recover, never retake his place in their lives. None of them had wanted to be the first to say it, but they all agreed.
Kath, Danny, Kate, and Rob stood around Simon's bed. Each gazing down at him, thinking how peaceful he looked. The accident, although causing severe injuries internally, had left him with barely a scratch. If it weren't for all the machinery, it would be easy to believe that he was just asleep.
Kath listened patiently as each of her three children said their own personal goodbye to their father. It broke her heart to see them like this and she found herself wishing that he'd died instantly in the accident. It might have saved some of their pain, although at the same time she knew that if he had, she would have wished that they'd had a chance to say goodbye, and tell him how much they loved him. There really was no 'better' option.
As she listened to her children, in the back of her mind she tried to plan what she wanted to say. How she'd express her feelings towards the man that she'd spent the majority of her life with. Nothing seemed wholly adequate. She wondered if the right words even existed. When it came to her turn to talk, she kissed his forehead and as she drew herself back up whispered so that only he could hear; if he could hear:
"I'm so sorry Simon. I do love you."
Seeing that now all the family were stood ready, quietly clinging on to each other for support, Dr Crowther walked towards them, hating what she knew she'd have to do, but knowing it was for the best.
"Now?" she asked softly. They nodded collectively, a fluid movement of remorse.
She pressed a small red button on the ventilator and the gentle whoosh of the pump slowed, then stopped. Within moments, the bleep of the heart monitor drew it self out into one long tone, that even after the doctor turned it off, still echoed in Kath's ears. It was a reminder that with Simon, a part of her had died too, and now she was about to start a new life.
Go to Part Seven