Island Blog – Finding me on Sundays

I’m not sure I like Sundays. I notice more things I don’t want to notice, such as nobody here and nothing on the cards and the wrinkles on my fingers and those bone-age knuckles that would need no ‘duster’ to take out a big man, had they the strength. Saturday, now, passes like a slip of a thing when Saturdays were always more of a yahoo. I don’t think that helps.

Sundays in my young past were a hair wash/get ready for school panic; or a back to work dread. Saturdays were always better. No preparation angst rising like indigestion. It was just a yahoo with crazy plans and sauncy clothing and opportunities, even as a daughter/married woman/wife, when me and him would often suddenly book a dinner table somewhere, just because it was Saturday and Sunday gave enough room for the aftermath. Now Sundays offer the same but without the Saturday fun. Doesn’t really work for me. Funny that I am still stuck in that life calendar.

This is my 3rd winter without him. Although I am, mostly, okay about ‘tempus fugit’, it feels like I am fumbling about, my fingers combing through the times, the timeline, and bringing up nothing more than seaweed or old hair as from a drain. Even as I grow into someone I never knew, nor recognise, I have this pull back to the past. Let me go there, let me have what I had; that sort of nonsense thinking. But, nonsense or not, it is how it is. This bereavement/grieving thing has no shape, no tidelines, no dateline. It is the weirdest of all times of my life as it is for anyone else who knows what the heck I am talking about. There is an identity loss, that identity having been set in place decades ago, refined, pruned, nurtured and encouraged to bloom. It will never be easy to ignore that, nor to walk away. New identity? What on earth does that mean? But, we find it, I am sure, because so many have.

And I am ready to love Sundays, to learn and to find a new me, no matter how hard the work.

Island Blog – Dancer

This lovely day I am aswirl with thinks and memories and some very deep hurt. Bereavement, however much of a relief it might be, does not adhere to a timeline. Recently I have gone through the however many stages of grief backwards, flip side up, out of order or all before lunch. I make the mistake of berating myself for this chaos but only until I literally wash my hands of any control. This chaos is not birthed from me. This chaos just snuck in and is currently picking away at wounds and digging the black hole even deeper than seems possible. I had no idea there was so much space inside for black hole-ness, one I cannot navigate nor have a conversation with because any questions I send its way just echo back to my ears in triplicate minus an answer. All I can do it seems is to trudge through the hours of light and the longer hours of dark until this chaos gets tired of chaoting and moves on to bother someone else. If, I tell myself, this process actually looked like one I could understand, I might be then able to formulate an algorithm, one that would guide me step by step up and away from the turmoil. But I can grasp a hold of nothing. All is smoke, mist, cloud wisp and yet so heavy and solid around me. I cannot run from it, nor hide. I change my thoughts but my mind is colluding with the chaos so quickly does it shift back to the black. I get the Amy Winehouse song now because I feel it, just like she did. It takes huge and determined focus to remain in the positive when I am not having to pretend to the Out There, a role I can play with ease. A song, a phrase, a catch of light, a lift of birds, among my beloved trees, all can shunt me back to a memory that cuts like the sharpest of knives. I remember, I remember, I remember. I remember that song, that disco tune, Chain Reaction, the one you always played for me when the dance floor was empty and it was up to me to bring the kids off the walls. You grinned and watched me taking over the whole floor, spinning, moving, electric, fiery, wild. Many years ago, yes, but it comes back so clear, that smile from the stage and my smile back.

I suspect this dark time is a good thing and I don’t fight it. I sit with it, walk with it, let it flow through me, no fight, no fight. It is exhausting, upsetting, deeply painful and my mascara is invariably decorating my chin, but when I remember saying to my counsellor about 4 years ago whilst in the thick of caring for a man who still looked like my husband (sort of) but who was not that man, that all I wanted was to cry real tears, so taught and fraught and caught up was I in controlling my whole self, I realise I have achieved my goal. And there is a feral beauty in that for it has been a deep longing for many decades.

I smile as I realise how drawn I am these days to running water, a waterfall, a trickle, rain, a slow tidal dance as if my eyes are glued; it takes something loud to snatch my attention away. Walking this sunshine afternoon, I found my favourite tree. Looks about 100 foot tall, its topknot fingering the clouds, a softwood, strong and with the girth of half a country. I remember it holds water after rain until the water pools in a holdcup where two great limbs conjoin. Then, all of a sudden, the level raised to meniscus as it hits the air, it begins a spill and a walker by is soaked. I stood beneath the massive giant and looked up. Drops from way up there landed on my mouth, nose, eyes, head and shoulders. Ha!! I chuckled. You minx! I moved back a little only to be pelted once again from another branch. Game on! I said and for a few moments, a few playful moments, I and the giant made each other laugh out loud as he stood still and I danced, just me, alone on the floor moving to the song of the singer and the rhythm of the rain.

Island Blog – Very Blessed

This day I wake early, faff a bit, clean something, clear another. I like a tidy home. It was never tidy when I lived with a husband who didn’t do ‘tidy’. He scoffed, and said, oftentimes, that he considered it an affliction, like exzema or asthma. Even if it didn’t look like it I did honestly try to outrun his scoffing but it had faster legs and was canny. It could hide in corners and wait for my back to be turned. And it was very successful. In the end I gave up, to a degree, focussing on my innate skills and gifts and, to be honest, clearing up has never been one of those, even if I did, over time, morph into the extension of a broom, a mop or a dishcloth for decades.

I know what is happening later and I am so excited about the happening later thingy. Just a few weeks ago I would have cancelled. I know I would. I was very into cancelling and not just through lockdowns but way back into the caring years when I had lost myself. Everyone does, I hear it through the mouths of others, their tongues working out the consonants and verbs and pronouns and careful, so careful to halt the flood of emotion that could turn any sentence into a grammatical flood of nonsense. I can ride that flood with them, that wave, even if the words follow no particular order. I know, and yet I have no idea, how they feel. All loss and grieving is different, even if the name is the same. Mother. Father. Brother. Sister. Husband. Wife. And, God forbid, Child. But we can go into the rapids together, we can understand, to a degree and by more degrees than those who have not experienced such deaths.

There is a meeting of Bereaved Carers. How brilliant it that! The only people in the room will be, well, bereaved carers. I feel both safe and excited to meet whoever comes. I know the facilitator and she is like a sparkle, so we are all safe. We have a room to ourselves. We can talk out all the shit we feel, or not. We can go into awful detail without wondering if the rest of the room will barf and run. We know each other even if we don’t know each other at all. We drink tea, well they do, but it is strong coffee for me. A teapot lands on the table, a fat bellied old fashioned Derby, I guess, and it is warming, just the look of it. I managed to lose a teapot, I speak out loud. Me too, says another. How did we do that? We think in a communal sort of think. Well, I say, I reckon I must offered my teapot for a bigger group one day and then forgot to collect it. She, with the twinkly eyes and barely a wrinkle on her face nods. Maybe, she says, and we laugh. Actually we laugh a great deal, about caring, about death, about loss and emptiness. We laugh about the slow movement of time, the way we fill in the hours, the way we coped in the thick of caring.

It is delightfully freeing. I am certain each one of us leaves feeling humbled. There was she who dealt with that. She who coped with this, and not just once. There was the one who dipped and lifted, faltered and regained footing over a very long time. We may not see each other for a while but we will all remember this day and think of each other. Each one of us will remember the laughs, the gallows humour, the private sharing that will help us to heal lonely wounds. And, all thanks to the intuitive support we are offered. The Mother Hen. Argyll Carers. Support through caring, through the horrors, not afraid to take whatever gets yelled down the phone or straight to face.

I think we are very very blessed.

Island Blog – Swanlift, Labels, Honey and a Captain son

This day I drive the switchback to the harbour town. I only go there these days on a specific mission, never to wander nor to dawdle, as once I did. As I heft right down the steep brae and see the tongue of the Main Street sticking out like thirst, it is coloured up with tourists, the many who are here for a longing, an escape from lockdown. I am so not joining them. They wander, holding ice creams, takeaway coffees, bags of shopping, children, all loving the tidal sweep of the bay, the seagulls fly, the fisher boats, the chip van. I swing right into the harbour car park and meet a tailback. There are just so many places for the parking and I get it. You arrive and you want to park. That’s all, but it is not enough because all the spaces are taken so we tailback, hover, pause, exercise patience and not patience. I am here to meet up with my captain son as his boat is in the harbour for a couple of hours before turning seaward once more with his passengers. We bench sit for I cannot go aboard. He brings tea, a chef made biscuit wrapped in a paper napkin and delicious. We talk of our lives, his young family, my aloneness. We watch the in and out of boats, of visitors in yachts, of locals checking their own launches and sailors. We say hallo and I watch faces. Of the ones I know as friends, I see the toll Covid and isolation has taken on them. Some visitors come too near and my mask hand twitches. They laugh, cough, move on and here I sit scared as a mouse, even on a bench in the sea air.

What happens to us in such times? It thinks me, much, of those (including me in the past) who felt scared just being around people, never mind an invisible virus. We were labelled as those with mental health issues. Now, I am one who would fight to the death to blow all labels into the stratosphere, no matter the smug relax of those who choose it at some committee meeting and then tootle home delighted with the fact that they don’t fit the confines of any label. So, right now I am afraid. And then I am not. This fear is tidal. It rises, full moons itself and then subsides into seaweed and sand. It is real. Very real. But I would stand at the gates of Challenge and shout ‘ Don’t label us!’. I would. And I will tell you why. Any label fixes a person. It might be on medical notes. It might be a long term tenant in someone’s mind. Oh, he, or she, has mental health issues. How ridiculous and how wrong is that! Does this mean we who have gone down like a swan in a swamp, cannot find a way out? Of course not. We can fly again, lift from fear again, become wonderfully white and light and flighty once again.

It is a thixotropic place. In the language of honey spinning, that honey gift from the bees, this word means honey that refuses to spin. It is mostly heather honey which is why it is common to buy heather honey in comb squares, wax included. In life it symbolises the same thing. A refusal to spin, to melt and demur. What I find in these times is that I oftentimes need to remind myself to relax my shoulders, raise my neck, breathe and go forward, especially en route to what I consider the Big City, bubbling with way too much busy life, a life I felt so easy peasy in before. Suddenly it presents menace. My honey refuses to spin. It is still there but affixed in a wax hexagon that will not let it free. I am not saying I like it. I love to flow. I love people, connectivity, chance encounters, but now I am confounded, afraid and my body is telling me she is not happy.

I know that I am bereaved broken. I know that learning how to live alone after almost 50 years is not going to turn me into a confidently independent woman overnight. I know, because of this, that I have mental health issues. Fear, accentuated; sleepless nights; hypervigilance; squewed thinking. of course I flipping do. It thinks me of anyone who is so labelled and who feels less-than, diminished, isolated because of that awful label. (all labels are awful). When any one of us is in a dark place the last thing we need is labelling. We are not what ‘they’ tell us we are. We are just in a dark place, a dark well, looking up at the light and just a bit terrified of moving towards it because we have no idea of what that light might throw on who we really are now, in the aftermath.

Island Blog – Fear+Courage=Brave

I remember ordering a dress online and when it arrived and was miles away from wonderful on me and in itself, poor material, wrong swing or no swing at all, duller than the image I ‘bought’ promised, I realised with a sink and a rise that what I was really buying was the young, fit, beautiful woman who modelled it. Hey and Ho. Life lessons that really teach us are rarely pleasant like ice cream. They are more like constipation medicine, good for you but utterly vile in the taking in. And Life doesn’t change her style. No, indeed. You begin to realise that which you have fought against for longtime is never going to be a perfect sunshine sail across an expanse of gentle water with just the right breeze to luff and exhilarate, beneath a cloudless sky and with a nice landing ahead, accessible, safe, easy and without challenge from other yachties. It does happen but never expect it. Such is Life. She is always feisty, dammit.

Anyways, this covid/bereavement thingy has certainly sucked out my self-confidence which was never strong to be honest. The expanse of time between what I took for ordinary to now when nothing will ever be ordinary again, is huge. I can’t even see the other side of it as I come into land, into a new land, one with hand sanitisers at every docking point and the whole world hidden behind masks. Even the thought of driving the switchback into the harbour town scares me. I must not, I must, I have to, I am in chains. The skipping across the little harbour road into the arms of a friend is no longer okay. The touch of a friend, no. And, as the island opens up again to visitors, albeit monitored and controlled the volte face of it is very alarming. I know we need their cash but all of us have loved the year of just us. The wildlife has benefited, the flowers too, the roads are in better condition, but the businesses have really struggled to stay afloat and, sadly, some will drown. I don’t like the thought of that, these brave islanders who came in better times, worked to establish something vital and beckoning and then who had to shut down, and for a long long time, maybe too long time.

Today I walked with a good friend. I told her, when she told me her possible plan for our walk (way further than I have gone for decades) that it scared me, that I might not want to go that far. Was it memories? After all, I had walked, driven on a tractor, a quad, that far out into the Atlantic so many times without a single dither. Maybe. I don’t have a handle on an answer to that. But it queried me and I thought about it. Maybe, as older folk, or as a folk with a trauma on their shoulders, we stick to the small world we have created for protection. Over time, this small world begins to challenge our breath, our breathing, as if we had pulled a polythene bag over our own head. Maybe. It makes sense. I haven’t been anywhere for well over a year and even before that, whilst caring, I pulled in my world like a comfort blanket, for safety and also in order to feel the edges of it, to be in some sort of control, when the daily demands threatened to take me over. But now things want to change, so they tell me. I am fearful but, somehow, equipped with the courage to brave up. It sounds ridiculous that I feared walking over land I know as well as I know my own body, land that is soaked with over 43 years of memories, land with which I bonded at a physical, emotional and spiritual level for a pivotal catch of my life, above which my children grew into feral crazy beauties, where decisions were made, changed, adapted and developed hour after hour, day after day, season after season.

But, the truth is, I have allowed my comfort world to smallen and now it is time to brave up. Although this, this walk, this day with this good friend was just a baby step, I loved it. I felt no anxiety, no fear. I knew as I always know with her that I am safe. She is feisty as hell but so kind and so emotionally wise. I already knew this but I can still doubt myself listening instead to the rubbish inside my head, the judge talk, the fear. I am learning to notice and to control my thoughts. It will probably be a slow process so I will be required to live a lot longer.

That’s ok with me. I am braving up, no weapons, no defence, just trust, good boots and caution on buying online frocks.

Island Blog – Lift

Some days awaken me dark. I never know why nor when. All mornings are dark on the other side of window but on the inside there can always be light. It doesn’t seem to be up to me. My days are ordinary and samey. I do my chores, eat, sew, write, clean and wash. There is almost nothing in the diary beyond reminders to call someone or to write a thank you letter to all those who sent condolences to me and the kids.

On mornings when the dark permeates through my skin tissue to bury itself deep in my interior being, I just know that, day long, I will need to work hard; not at tasks but on myself. In fact, tasks can take a running jump on mornings such as these. I had one yesterday, closed down the phone, hid from passers by, and barely managed a stitch or a word. I didn’t speak out loud and my walk was a trudge.

What I know is that these days are random and could be lethal if I believed in them, if I thought, for just one minute, that this is IT. It isn’t. All I need to do is to open my eyes to the outside world, to see, to feel the enormity of eternity, of nature, of circles, of life living herself on, no matter what my piddling day is like. It isn’t easy, not for any of us. But, if I engage with the dark, I spend all day blind and I refuse to go that way. Just because I am a sexagenarian and counting, just because I am disillusioned, doubting, noticing aches and pains, feeling old and stupid and hasbeen does not mean it is all over. I may have found my way through a long and complex marital relationship with a less than uxorious husband; I may feel anger at thoughtless words and unkind acts of dominance, but I survived it did I not? Better, I am still dancing, albeit slowly nowadays. Inside my heart I am Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and Tigger, Owl and Kanga with a touch of Eeyore and Rabbit on dark days. And it is ok. It is all ok.

This morning woke me at 5 am, as usual, and I felt light and bright and ready for anything. This is how life is, at least for me. I sat with a strong black coffee and watched a tawny owl on the telegraph pole. I heard it mew and then shriek and fluff its magnificent feathers before silently flying away to rest. I considered the day before and the other such days. If I didn’t ever experience them, might I believe that life is always easy to live? I might. Thus, these dark days are of immense value because they teach me resilience, patience, humility and more. I know that my core strength grows with me and 67 years of core strength sounds pretty good. Instead of weakening, that power is still mine to wield and wield it I will. If all it does for me as I grind my way through the uncomfortable process of bereavement is to show me that, although I am a small ordinary woman, I have power, tremendous power, power I choose to use for the good of all of us. If I can lift from the bog of eternal stench with a chirrup and a good measure of Tigga then I can, perhaps, lift others up too. I can reassure, show the way out and up. I can tell them it is ok to feel dark. It will pass. It is, obviously, better to feel light and bright but that will pass too, and it is a mistake to expect the world or other people to keep that light shining for us. The key is to accept we can feel dreadful without dumping it on anyone else; without blaming someone else for it, as I have definitely been guilty of; without giving it any power at all.

And on dark days, I recommend looking out. If the dark is not getting our attention, it gets bored pretty damn quick.

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.