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Sunday, June 28, 2009

UK: Rip it up and star again

GLASGOW, Scotland / The Sunday Herald / Life / June 28, 2009

After the singer Edwyn Collins suffered two severe strokes, his partner Grace Maxwell had to rebuild both their lives

By Teddy Jamieson

IN  THE DAYS IMMEDIATELY AFTER she found her partner Edwyn Collins lying on the floor of their north London home semi-conscious, unable to speak, his face lopsided, his body contorted, Grace Maxwell didn't get much sleep. But when she did, she would dream, and in those dreams the musician and former Orange Juice frontman wouldn't be sick. "He was back to normal," she recalls, sitting in the front room of that same house in Kilburn, four years after that evening in 2005. "You know when you've had a bad dream and you wake up and whoosh, it's just a dream," she says. "This was the reverse. I remember coming out of a sleep and having to accustom myself to what was happening. Every time you closed your eyes you had to open them again and reacquaint yourself with the horror of what was going on."

Collins had suffered a brain haemorrhage. It was a Sunday and Antiques Roadshow was on the television. The following Friday he slipped into a coma and another bleed was discovered. Against the odds, he lived, but survival was not without its costs. The two haemorrhages had scoured a path through his brain, destroying connective tissue like a river in flood washing away bridges. Communication to the right side of his body was gone, leaving him completely dependent on others for all physical functions. He was diagnosed with aphasia, a condition that left him bereft of words, bereft even of memories. In those days, Maxwell faced the loss of her partner and the father of her teenage son, Will.

That  was then. Today Grace Maxwell is bustling around, making tea, asking Will to turn his music down so she can hear herself think. He looks the spit of his father way back when."I've got to watch I don't project the young Edwyn on to him too much and go, Oh that's so like your dad'."

These days Grace Maxwell is allowing herself to dream again. She has a plan - a vague plan for a woollen future. She wants to move out of London, up to the north of Scotland and Helmsdale where the couple have a house now. "Edwyn loves London," she says. "He thinks his work is in London. My theory is if I can shift the work to the north of Scotland then we can both get what we want, which for me is some sheep. There it is. Some sheep."

Just over a year after Collins's first stroke Grant McLennan, singer of the Australian band The Go-Betweens, died of a heart attack at his home in Brisbane. He had once shared a record label with Collins. They even shared a flat in London at one point. His death was a huge shock to Collins, says Maxwell. "He kept returning to thinking about Grant and the randomness, the arbitrariness of it. He goes: Grant died and I got to live, so when you're here you need to love your life and enjoy it' and that's what he's doing. Packing it in. Cramming it with stuff."

She knows what he means. Of course she does. This is her story as well as his. "When you come out the other end you want to make plans because there's no point being here and not being happy," she says. "Choose happiness." [rc]

What is aphasia?
Aphasia is a total or partial loss of the ability to speak correctly or to understand or comprehend what is being said. It may be caused by brain injury or disease. It's most often caused by a stroke that injures the brain's language center, located on the left side of the brain in most people. Some people with aphasia recover quickly and completely after a stroke. Others may have permanent speech and language problems.
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