Island Blog – Lift

First day waking away from caring duties found me tumbler, after broken sleep. For months now I have been up 3 or so times in the night to help the Admiral onto the commode and back into bed again. Sleep has to re-learn the ropes, it seems, like when you have a newborn with disregard for anything but its own needs. It takes a long time to become accustomed to the merger of day and night, for it to become the norm. You look in the mirror at a baggy-eyed face that rather too closely resembles your grandma’s, and she is 83. But with a new born, you know it will eventually pass. Not the same as a carer for a man with dementia, because dementia presents a very different agenda.

I spend the day, mostly, in bed and reading. Reading other’s stories is my lifeline just now, wandering through a forbidding Alaskan landscape or traversing borders closed to the likes of me, a woman, alone, on the run; perhaps the tale is told of a pioneer community, ‘gifted’ lost land on some faraway emptiness, woo-ed by authorities who offer hope when there is only death and starvation. This woman finds her way but not until the chapters are well on into the 20’s or 30’s and during that journey she suffers great loss, overcomes gargantuan fears and grows into the wild spirit she knows she needs to be in order to survive. Such stories captivate me, draw me in, tell me my troubles are easily turned into opportunities should I just find perspective on them.

I rise, at times, make coffee or tea, wander outside to the pub benches and listen to the twitter of goldfinches in the big old trees around me. I doze, lying languid and sated with a storyline, my ears filled with sweet music until it is time for a long warm bath. The first night there was lobster on the menu. It might be on again this night. Anticipation fills my mouth and I smile. Fruit of the sea, my sea, the sea that keeps this island afloat and in the same place, huge mountains of rock, 90% of which are deep below me, fastened to the goodly earth and teeming with life I will never see. People I know wander by in the sunlight, stop and talk. I know most people here so there is news to exchange and smiles to warm us both. But talking tires me at this time. Hearing others terrible tales of relations with dementia, past or present, is not what this rest is about. I make my excuses and go back to my room.

Refreshed and changed I order a glass of wine and pick up my book. Out here folk are beginning to arrive for drinks and a carry out meal; some are driving home from work; some walking dogs. Behind the windows of these little cottages, someone is preparing food, checking that children are clean for school the next day for the first time since March, packing school bags, filling snack boxes, nervous. I turn back to my wine glass to see a tiny fly struggling black across the ruby red surface. Carefully I cup it on the tip of my little finger, lifting it back into the air. I watch it and it marvels me. At first, wings soaked and flat against its yellow striped back, it wobbles and tips. Slowly it eases one wing out, its back legs wiping both surfaces with deft movements. Then it tips its body forward to do the same for its back, its belly and face. I see a tiny golden proboscis curl out and in, so tiny, so perfect. For some minutes it wanders over my hand, faltering as it encounters a hair the size of a tree, stops, moves around it, moves on to the next tree-hair, and all the while cleaning, tipping, proboscis darting in and out. I am entranced all the while to be watching such minute perfection, so privileged to be seeing the whole process of repair.

Then someone comes and says hallo and the little fly lifts into the sky as my own heart sinks. I wanted to see more, to inhabit this secret silent time without loud voices, without questions, without the need to counter or present but just to watch in absolute silence the genius of Nature. The way I felt is never the way I feel around people, much as I love and need them. It seems to me that communication is not always about loud voices and a news exchange, nor of advice given, helpful hints proffered, nor teetered by another’s experience of what they think I might be going through. This fly and me communication I could feel right down to my held breath and beating heart and it was more powerful than any of that. I didn’t want it to stop. I wanted to follow the fly into the sky and to know it, how it lives, where it might land next, what it might feed on, that perfectly formed creature that can effortlessly lift from the noisy world moving lightly and in silence up up and away into the blue.

Island Blog – One Day/Two Days and Rest

A sudden break, like sun coming through the clouds, a chance, a lift. One of my boys arrives, says, Go, Mama, I’ll look after dad for 2 nights.

Initially, I panic. I have not left home base since March 16th. Is the village still there? Do I have a mask? How does this thing work? For decades I have known my way around the island, its little temperamental twists and turns, its moods, its people. I know when to change gear for a steep rise and how to round the bracken that disappears the single track road when it falls away again. I know what to say to someone and when to not say anything at all. My car is as full of fuel as it was 5 months ago. Daily I apologise to Maz the Mini for my appalling neglect, patting her snouty bonnet now adorned with bird leavings. I watch them land, peck at the wing mirrors, pausing for birdish thought, eyes alert and scanning for the hawk. I know how they feel because that is how I feel now as I pack a few things, make a few calls in search of a room, my stomach doing flips, my eyes darting.

Needless to say things are a whole lot easier than I imagine. I am welcomed, Maz flies me down the road, and the village is still there and waving smiles and tipply fingers. But the coaching inn is busy, the car park full of bullish beasts decanting children and parents in shorts, chattering into the sunlit warmth. What shall we eat? Where can we sit at 2 metres apart? How do we eat with this mask on? All very weird. I order a glass of wine, find an empty picnic table and peruse the menu. I know the chef here is an excellent one and there is lobster for a special. I watch the families, finally freed to visit the island, laugh and eat from cardboard boxes, sans masks. The sky turns mackerel, folds and rolls of cloud scales as far as the eye can see. A chance of precipitance. I don’t mind. I have today and tomorrow and a son to thank for it. I’m wound up and restless but anyone who cares for another will know this inner weather. It will take a long while to come, to feel rested, restful. Living on tenterhooks for months and months leaves a legacy. Rest, they say, and I chuckle.

One day, perhaps, when this is over and my insides relocate to their rightful places. One day…..

Island Blog – A Diamond Day

This day we gather for our son’s wedding to his lady love. Well, some of us gather in person, whilst others zoom in, virtually, to bear witness to promises made and happiness shared. This day will be remembered for many years to come. Impressions will stick, spoken words and tributes will be held inside the human heart; moments will be re-lived over and over again. Even as I write, cars full of excited guests and family members traversing the land are googling directions, tweaking outfits and wondering how they look. There will be laughter inside these cars, anticipation and the odd snap of tension as a tail back tails back. The time they all aim for is 1pm on board MV Emma Jane at Dunstaffnage Marina. The sun has appeared, the sea loch is calm, the air soft and kindly. I did my famous Be-Off-Rain dance yesterday and, despite a few clouds, it looks like I haven’t lost my touch.

We cannot be there in person so we are two who will zoom. I want to hear the words, those vows, readings and speeches in real time. I want to see the well-tweaked outfits, the smiles, hear voices and laughter, see children in their wedding kit, the groom and the bride in immaculate finery, their joy complete for they have fought hard to bring this day into their life. Postponed in its original shape since March (thank you Covid) this new wedding design is smaller but none the less valuable, like a small diamond instead of a big fat garnet. The diamond twinkles more, however small; distinctive and distilled into perfection. You must look at closely at it in order to appreciate the way each tiny face catches sunlight and reflects it back like a gift.

This young pair have found each other when neither were looking. They have weathered storms within and without and held on tight. I am proud of their courage and resilience and in awe of their beauty and strength. This day brings to both of them a dream, a completion, a new beginning. Despite the changes they have had to make in order to bring us all together as witnesses, they are making it happen. They never wanted a big fat wedding anyway. What they value most is family, a few friends and their children.

To James and Emma – on this, their diamond day.

Island Blog – The Admiral and a Flag

Please excuse my absence from this page. Although I seriously doubt that my blog is a lifeline for anyone, I do feel a bit odd when I don’t scatter my thoughts across a page to then fire it off into the ether.

Things have, in truth, been a bit diplodocus of late. A urinary tract infection has the power and the subtle and silent energy to turn a flat pancake of a time into a spiralling ball with intent. It upskittled us all, not least the one with it. However, the doctor is a wise and intuitive man, working out what the demise might mean, and it seems he was right, to a degree. Nobody can stop a dementia decline and each blow will manifest itself in that decline. The old Admiral is a frail thing now, still aware and still smiling but much quieter and much more unable to work the field independently. It is very hard to watch. It’s like bereavement, only not. The one slowly disappearing is still very visible in the room. It can go on for years. I hope not. We all hope not. Once a good quality of life morphs into existence, there really is nowhere to go. But there are wee chats, albeit mostly me ‘wee chatting’, and there are laughs when I co-ordinate wrong, or misunderstand a request, guiding him cheerily in a southerly direction when it is clear to him he was headed true north.

He has humour and acceptance. We have talked about the after life. He believes in one, as do I, although neither of us give it a name. He says he doesn’t want to leave me, and I said, well you have to go first. If it was up to me to stick a flag in new territory, we’d end up in a bog with no view and the local shop 10 miles away. He chuckled.

T’is good. For now.

Island Blog – Sinklight, Ice and Curiosity

When I was a child, I broke a massive rule. Not one of us was allowed anywhere near a food source and that included the larder filled with delicious leftovers and the big Prestcold fridge, fatly green and bulging into the room like she needed all of the attention. At the top, there was a freezer mouth, with enough room for ice cream, home made lollies and not much else. One day, whilst not being watched, nor followed, which was rare, I opened said mouth and noticed a spill of orange juice from the lolly rack. I could not resist. My hot tongue came out in anticipation of a sweet lick.

You may well guess what happened next. My hot tongue met arctic ice and melded. I was stuck. I could not move. I couldn’t even cry out because cry outs depend on a free tongue and mine was absolutely not that. I don’t remember what happened next, although I do know that my suspicious mother would have been quick after me, no matter where in the house I had forayed alone. I am sure she was kind with warm water. I am also sure she was harsh with remonstrations. My tongue, my poor tongue, was half ripped apart by then, the sheer terror of being trapped my driver.

I do remember, inside that terror of being caught in flagrante, that I did pause to look deep into the void mouth of that fat-bellied Prestcold fridge. I saw, just for a few moments, an arctic landscape. In spite of my mother’s studious attention to levelling everything so she could dust/control it, I saw lift. There was no light in there beyond the backlight from the neon (oh dear) kitchen light, and the gusts of my panic breath, that altered the ice mountains ahead of me. I wondered what it would be like not to be stuck by the tongue, but, instead, free to roam those mountains. And they were mountains. A big grown up woman looking in might tut about needing to defrost, but me, on my tippytoes and absolutely stuck by the tongue saw different.

I like seeing different. Today has been a day of sinklight. Rain from dawn to dusk. Endless, confining, tongue twisting, stuck. We have many of these days, and many more to come. But, through that sinklight we can stand on tippytoe and move into the landscape. It isn’t what we think. It never is. With my vulnerable back to the room and my tongue stuck, therefore the whole of me stuck, I could choose. Panic or look in. I chose the latter, even knowing the butt whacks would come soon enough. I think that was the very first time I made such a choice and the power of it has never left me. Once a curious child learns to look beyond the situation it is like a whole new world opening up. There is this thing, this one thing and yet it is not just one thing at all. The difference is held within the hands of curiosity.

Obviously I am not still stuck to the ice. Obviously it hurt a lot and obviously I was gently melted off, possibly pre butt whacks, I don’t remember that bit. In the days of Now, I see many things that may look dire at first, that may ‘stuck’ me for a bit. But I have learned how to look again in curiosity and it serves me very well indeed. As I care for an ailing, failing husband, a whole lot of what I do might make you recoil in horror. It did for me, at first, but not now. Now I see beyond the obvious drama of it, deeper into the landscape, following with my eyes the contours of new land, ice land, desert land, rolling land or sea, skies that go on for ever. This is hope. This is faith. I am not stuck. Nor are you. It is all in the curious looking.

This is the only way to live.

Island Blog – Shift, Fly and a Dog’s Questions

This afternoon I walked into Tapselteerie, as I do every single afternoon, small terrier bounding afoot. She is always full of ridickerluss bounce as if we have never walked this way before; as if she and I are about to discover a gruffalo nest or a ferocean of fairies. I pointed out the conkers to her, the star moss, the positive pebbles I hid that someone has moved on, but she just looked at me like I was a weirdo. Her plan is to locate the biggest and longest stick she can find and then lift. She waits for me to forward, then runs full tilt, whacking the backs of my legs with half a hazel tree, thinking it hilarious and most satisfying. I don’t mind. She thinks I don’t know what’s coming, but my advantage is my human brain. I have worked out the math of this particular pole, considered the level of scratchy branch activity, the then width of the track, the level of recent rainfall and its ability to soak my calves. It’s a daily game and only infrequently I am required to say enough is enough. This day was one of those times. The pole would have held up an elephant’s weary head, no bother.

Up in the woods I heard childlaughter, my favourite sort. Poised on a rock and looking like a dream, a little girl squeaks with delight as her father completes the construction of a swing. I can see she will begin on the rock, but the fall away of the hill and the subsequent leap into the sky takes her 20 foot off the ground. She is tiny, wiry, slim and excited and I want to hide. I see a thousand disasters, but she sees none of them and nor does her father. He has swung many times higher in his time, almost to the moon and back, and, for all I know, touching moon base. He is, after all, my son and all of my children are risk takers and always were. I have no idea where they got that from. After successful launch, momentary panic as she looks down to see the blue planet below her tiny butt, followed by a happy landing back on the rock, the game is on, the shift from land to outer space completed.

Back home there is a shift. A sudden shift. In the journey that is dementia, this is oft how it works. Plateau, shift, level out, plateau and shift again. Everyone involved needs to catch up, learn, accept, take action. This is where we are now. Just 2 weeks ago the plateau felt like it was staying flat, for some long time, with only little skips and twirls that showed a gradual demise. But now on this road, the pilgrim has met landfall and it seems there is no way around it for him. He doesn’t want to eat, cannot move anywhere or anyway without help. We, his family, are coming to terms with that but I won’t say it is a natural nor an easy thing to come to terms with nor accept. How could it be? This is Dad. This is the strong provider of 50 years and then some, the one who knew the answers to everything and, if he didn’t, never let on. I remember a violently horrific North Sea crossing when I was so terrified I thought I would faint clean away (but didn’t), with a force 10 gale battering our boat, full sails up because it had come in so fast there was no time to reduce, nor crew (me being terrified) to strap on, walk the slippery deck in lashing rain, and then find the strength to work the winch. But, and but again, he never left the helm, navigated us home to within a few maritime feet of home harbour, using his skills and whatever stars he glimpsed. 17 hours of rocking and no soft cradle in sight, but he got us home and intact. This is the Dad who took risks, flew high and taught all of us to trust in him and to shut up and fly.

This shift is tough. I want to reach out to anyone and everyone who is going through this end game or who has gone through it. My utmost respect and admiration to you all.

Even the dog knows something’s up. She keeps looking at me, a million questions in her eyes.

Island Blog – Friend, Ships and Wide Open

If I was to ask you – how many true friends do you have – might you have pause for thought? Let me help you out with a definition or two…..

A true friend is always wide open. They may not be able, at the very moment of your ‘massive drama’, to speak with you on the phone, or rush over to your place. Perhaps her granny has just fallen into the wheelie bin whilst searching for her missing dentures; perhaps the kids have buried the dog in the sandpit and all she can see is a wiggling mound; or, maybe, she has just burnt the strangled eggs, is late for work, can’t find the kids, the granny or the dog and her partner has gone off with both sets of house keys. But, rest assured, this true friend will be thinking of you all the way through her own massive drama and will make contact the very first moment he or she can. Then when he/she hears of your pain, she will not compare it to hers. She might not even mention it. She will listen, respond without fixing, suggest nothing unless you ask for such, just leaning into your flow of pain, putting her hand in yours and saying – Let’s sail together on this.

This probably narrows the list down somewhat. On reflection, you might think, I wouldn’t go to this person, or that with my massive drama because it will pass and if I tell him/her I will need to follow up once the missing members of my family are re-located, returned to the upright and able, once again, to breathe. Or, perhaps this person might think you weak, or fix you with some cutthroat bright solution which will confirm she knows you’re weak. How long has she thought that about you? It gets worse, this line of thinking. It heads one way only, into the pit of all that you feared, have always feared. And now it’s the truth. You are a lame duck, a pathetic wimp of a woman and nobody likes you anyway. You can see the neon flashing sign above your head. It reads, Loser. So don’t add this one to your dwindling list. Nobody is that desperate.

This true friend might not be the first person who comes to mind. After all, not one of us is immune to self-protection. Most of us keep our true selves very private, considering what we will reveal and how we will reveal it on a moment to moment basis. There are things I have told no-one, not never, and I am sure you are not so different. But when you look at your list, pondering each name and reflecting on past history, shared moments both good and uncomfortable, you will eventually get that list down to about 2, if you are very lucky. And this, my friends, is absolutely normal. We may have hundreds of acquaintances, but the true friend, the one who just sails along with you, keeping a respectful distance when required, one who watches you fly the crests of monster waves as a purple storm approaches, or who keeps her eyes on you as you head towards jag-toothed rocks in some crazy game of Chicken, and who prays for your safe return, well, she’s the truth.

In a perfect world, this would describe a mother or a father, or both. Parents who do not load their own expectations of supreme success onto the soft-boned backs of their young, who do not reward according to achievements; who welcome you home late, under-age drunk, in suggestive clothing or with a biker boyfriend twice your age and with no space left for another tattoo; A loving mum and dad who, when you fail your exams for the third time, or when you tell them you cannot spend another day in this college, university or relationship, no matter how much of a messy split, will welcome you into loving arms and who will stand beside your decisions for all time.

I hope I have been that mum. I suspect we all do, we mums. To be a true friend and a parent is not simple, however. We want for our kids what we didn’t have for ourselves. We know, as they don’t, how tough the world is on colour, creed, race, sexuality, relational splits, career women, traditions, freedom of speech, independency. The labels live on. In fact, they are thriving. Nobody escapes the criticism, the labels, the judgement. But a true friend, one who sails beside you, who sees who you really are will make all the difference in the world. Even if this friend lives miles away she knows you without needing to own you; you don’t have to start from the beginning with her, not ever. She knows that you will fill in gaps if you want to and not if you don’t. She may well challenge you, you can be sure of that. But inside that challenge there is only heart, only love. You can tell her to truck off, as she can tell you to do the same, but she is authentic. You are authentic. Your true friendship is authentic.

Ok, so now we might be down to one. Still lucky.

Island Blog – Windstitch,Cloud Shadow, Birdlight and Fox Gloves

This wilderlight dawns a beauty. Sunshine goldens the little garden and birds catch it in their wing feathers as they lift and flutter overhead. Rainbow snow. Birdlight. I wonder if they know how much they delight, these little wild things. How on the grass they look like jewels and how, above me, they trill a healing melody. The poppies have survived another night of sea-wind and I welcome them with a smile and a word or two of encouragement. This morning, however, someone has sewn a stitch or two into that cloak of chilly salt-laden breath, arresting it, offering a challenge to change, to turn about face. The resulting warmth eases my bones, kisses my face, softens the tension in my skin, like a promise of something wonderful.

This morning a carer came back after 18 weeks of me managing on my own. She was almost as beautiful to see as a bird caught in sunlight, which is what she was. Together we showered himself and tidied up and the bubble of chatter, the catch up of news and opinions on various subjects lifted me yet further. Although I would not have welcomed any incoming before now, I am glad of human encounter that isn’t all about one person’s needs, moment by moment. Suddenly I found myself present in the unfolding dialogue. She complimented me on my hair cut. I told her she looked really bonnie, even though she was gloved up, face half hidden by a mask and crackling like a bonfire in her plastic apron. We discussed the village, a place I haven’t seen for weeks, the number of visitors cars, the walkers, the camper vans, the motor bikes. I had not realised how empty my mouth has been of anything that isn’t care related and the words flew out like birds, the laughter too.

Although we will remain isolated for some time to come (my choice), it is good to hear that life is waking up once more. Some folk have been trapped in small flats in cities, or alone in bed sits, and these folk must be twisting in the wind by now, desperate to catch on to its tail coat and to fly once more. To share a view, a joke, a meal, a conversation is what we all need and what we all miss, like fresh water when access to it is denied.

Sunlight tunnels through window slits as we move around the sun, illuminating the ordinary. A line of carpet, a vase of garden flowers, the shiver of iced tea in a sparkling glass. The doors are wide, the soft breeze fluttering the bird-curtain. Before the bird curtain, there were oft more birds inside than out, bashing against windows, terrified hearts pounding in tiny ribcages. When we are suddenly trapped, we panic. All of us, humans, animals, birds, insects, all of us. And we were trapped for a long time.

I watch cloud shadow on the far hillsides. Foxgloves disappear into it, then leap back crimson purple. We are like that. Lost in shadow at times, or caught up in a twist of wind, swept off our feet or shivering in sudden dark. It passes. Everything passes, be it what we want or what we don’t. Over this, over wind, time, sickness, cloud shadow; over times of exhilaration, loved ones, intense joy. Over all this we have no control. The very best we can do is to stand tall, rooted, blooming, ready for whatever comes.

And equally as ready to let it go.

Island Blog – Tuning, Turning and Today

I awake this morning knowing that I have been out of tune with life for a bit. I know it because, on awakening, I feel in tune once more. Instead of a night of mares and violent interlopers and slugging through the days quite certain that my internal cheerleaders have downed their pompoms and left for Ibiza, I floated inside the arms of sleep all the way up to 3.30 am. Going quietly downstairs to make a cup of tea, I noticed how dark it now is. Only last week, it seems, it was light enough to show me the way. Perhaps, I say to myself, it is the turning of the seasons that has set me at a discord; perhaps it is the unwinding of lockdown and the threat of incoming, be it friendly or hostile. This bubble has lived us pleasantly since March 16th, weeks passing like minutes, moons waxing, waning and all days are Today. We needed nothing more.

Of course, the current subject matter of care home, separation, guilt, grief, loss and fear may also have colluded in my needing a re-tune. Time is the best one for that, but we are impatient; I am impatient. When I might expect to back on my feet instantly, life is telling me Stay Down Awhile, you ridiculous woman, but I don’t take kindly to being told. I battle on, expecting my mood to lift with my feet as I troughle round the daily do’s and grow furious when it stays limp as old lettuce.

Trusting, however, as I do, in the spirit world, the one I cannot see, touch or control, softens my wires and loosens keys that have gone rigid of late. The tunes I played sounded like a mess of angry cats; hurtful even to my own ears, going nowhere, no cadence, no major lift or minor bend, just a racket. From this morning, I can hear the lilt once more of harmony, melody, flow and the relief runs through me like warm honey. Nothing has changed. All will go ahead, in its own time, at its own speed and all will be well. I know this now, even as I know that discordant days will come again as we make the journey to a new place and time. However, knowing this doesn’t disturb the melody for I have learned that life is not a set piece of music, but, instead, one that changes over and over again. All I need to do is allow it all to happen, to accept the sad times, to sit with them, say Hallo, and wait for them to move away.

Times like these we learn from, if we notice, stop, say Hallo and wait in trust. I wish I had understood this as a young woman instead of turning from the darkness, fighting the demons with sickeningly inadequate weapons, thinking that if I sang loud enough the melody would find me once again. So much time wasted in ignorance. But I am thankful to understand it now because I do not believe in the bad press; I know the nightmares are just unpleasant dreams and that all days are, simply, today.

Which, I am reminded, is Winnie the Pooh’s favourite day of all.

Island Blog – Poppies, Tides and Hugs

There is something deep about a hug. Like an ocean flowing over, through and around you. It won’t drown you because you can breathe underwater. Enveloped inside big strong arms, feeling the pressure of warm fingers, the familiar smell of home. I am home. You are here. You and I are, for the length of this hug, as one body. My love flows to you as your love flows to me, right down to my very core, fizzing along my capillaries and through my muscles and over my skin like the first sip of champagne. When we part, the tide has turned. From slack water to ebb or flow. Birds lift in anticipation, fish swirl in the depths, sensing a change; seaweed flutters in confusion. Which way now?

After months of slack water, these son-hugs turned the tide. Tall, strapping men, fit and healthy, warm and soft, gifting love and support, hugging. They have to bend down a bit for a hug with me and even further down to hug their wheel-chariot dad, but they can flex and stretch, rise up again effortlessly, as once we did. Buried in their chests I breathe them in, remembering. Not so long ago they dandled on my knee, fed from me, squealed their delight, screamed their anger and now look at them, fathers themselves with knees for dandling their own little ones. How fast life travels, how fragile it is and yet how strong. How long is a life? There is no answer to that. What matters, it seems to me, is what we learn during that life through observation, sail correction, through the anger and the joy, the near drowning.

Moving through a morning of poppies, I feel the inner shift. Tomorrow, if the wind rises, these crimson wide-open petals may be ripped and stripped. I saw them as buds at 6 am. By 7.30 they showed me a cadmium red mandala. By 8 they were face-up to the sky, black mouthed, anticipating insects, their petals combing the breeze like silk. To seize the day, the moment of lift, as they do, teaches me. To show me life is beautiful, fragile as poppy petals, strong as sons, and, most of all, to be truly lived, no matter how long or short. No matter at all.