"Uncle" Ted and "Aunty" Lily were family, whether they were related to us by blood or not. My kids adored them as much as I did. We ate together, spent days at the beach together, celebrated birthdays and anniversaries together. So when Lily knocked on my door early that morning with tears in her eyes, I knew.
They came rushing in, four of them, their green uniforms and tired eyes showing signs of another night shift nearing its end. And yet, the speed and energy with which they came bundling through the door, well, it was as if they had only just started. All the while, I knew deep down that it was too late, but just for a minute, watching the paramedics running up the stairs, I dared to hope that maybe they knew something I didn't.
Moments later, the first of them came back downstairs, empty handed and sullen faced.
"I'm sorry," he said, genuine regret in his eyes, "there was nothing we could do. I'm afraid Ted's died."
He went on to explain that Ted had probably passed away during the night, and probably just drifted painlessly away in his sleep. I was glad to hear that. Small mercies are all we have to grab on to when there is nothing else left to do. Lily was sitting by the table in the kitchen. She knew too, but somebody had to tell her. I didn't have the strength to do it, so I asked him if he would. He put a comforting hand on my shoulder, nodded gently, and walked towards the kitchen.
"He's died, hasn't he?" asked Lily, her voice as broken as her heart.
"I'm afraid he has. It's probably been some time, and it looks as if he just fell asleep."
He was so kind, that paramedic, I wish I'd asked his name. In fact, they were all so kind, but I could hardly remember any of their faces, so I'd probably have forgotten their names too. Once they'd cleared up, they each came in to make sure Lily and I were OK. One of them made us tea, the sweet, warm liquid slowly thawing our numbed minds. It's the drink that cures all ills, at least temporarily. For Lily, and thinking back to my own parents, I feared that this might be the beginning of the end. She promised to stay strong - she meant it, too - and I promised that I would always be there for her. From the day Ted died, six weeks ago today, I checked in on her at least once a day, even though I knew that she had carers twice daily, morning and evening.
Then, tonight, the carer knocked on my door. She couldn't get in to the house. Lily wasn't answering the door, and the key was still in the lock. As soon as I walked up to the house, I knew. The police broke the door down, and once again the green uniforms went rushing in. Once again I hoped I was wrong. Once again, as the first paramedic came back downstairs, I knew that I wasn't. He put an arm on my shoulder, told me what I already knew, and that he thought that Lily had obviously decided that she couldn't live without Ted, and had chosen instead to join him.
As I looked at him properly for the first time, I was surprised, but relieved. This was the same paramedic who'd been here when Ted died. At least he understood. At least he knew. He knew that I was not just a nosey neighbour, that I was more than a simple bystander watching it all from the sidelines. It wouldn't make a real difference in the long run, but at that moment, as I stood there engulfed in sadness, it just felt right.