Island Blog -Still Breathing On

I meet with two other widows over coffee in a brightly lit cafe/chocolate factory. All last night I was fearful, not of meeting them but of going out at all. I had to choose paint, collect a prescription, buy soap from the best soap shop in history deliver a huge landrover tyre to the garage for unpunctuation and leave my own mini there for an hour or so. She, my mini, Miss Pixty Forkov, was having an argument with her onboard computer and I don’t blame her. She was telling me her tyres were fine thank you very much whilst her screen flashed me dire warnings of certain disaster. This long list of things confounded me, overwhelmed me and I had to take 3 deep breaths prior to firing up the engine. I realise this to be ridiculous. I have driven this tootling switchback road up and down endless hills and skirting 2 lochs for decades. But nowadays it can take on monster proportions inside my overactive imagination and it has everything to do with Covid restrictions and fears and widowhood.

Needless to say, once my lungs are well pumped back up again and my head silenced, all tasks are completed with ease. I arrive at the cafe and settle down with a double shot cappuccino to wait. I can feel myself calming down as we talk about how life is for each one of us. All our husbands died differently. All of us are still somewhat lost without them, no matter how pragmatic, how busy with ordinary tasks we may be. We feel abandoned and rather pointless. We live on for our children, not quite yet able to say we live for ourselves, having not lived for ourselves since we were 20 and that was half a century ago. What happens to souls after death, I wonder to myself. Is there an end date for a soul as there is for a body? If not, heaven must be overcrowded when I consider the thousands of years humans have been living out their lives. I look at my friends, two good strong women whose faces show me what they must see in mine. More lines, eyes not so bright, mouth busy but changed somehow, the ends pointing chinwards in repose. Is my heart broken? Is yours? We all agree. Yes our hearts are broken, our lives as we knew them stopped forever dead. It doesn’t mean we won’t heal, although the scars will always be there. It doesn’t mean we sit around feeling sorry for ourselves but it does mean we give life to these deaths in that we talk about them, about our dead men, the impact on our children, the legacy of loss, of father loss. You only ever get one of those.

For my own part, as the most recent widow, I have only just come to a place of acceptance, a sort of quiet river flowing underground. Sometimes this river hits a confoundment of rocks that cause a lot of hiss and spit, spume and roar. Other times a waterfall, rapids and quiet swirling pools. There are bends and long straights, deeps dark as the middle of a forest at midnight, shallows where fish skitter and reeds wave softly from where they root, denied air. I inhabit the ground above this river, walking alone. The river compels me, beckons me, calls to me and offers me continuity, hope and a future even if I have no clue what that future will be. I know, as my friends know, that our children watch us now like hawks, picking up on every stumble, every doubt, every fear. Mum is all we have left now. Mum must go on and we will make bloody sure she does, the old bat.

When we separate back into our own solitary lives, having covered most subjects in the book of subjects, I know we all feel lighter because of what we all have in common and because we are not afraid of death any more. It is not a word whispered as it was before we watched it happen to our life partners. At the very point of death, when we turned all practical and businesslike, we left a part of ourselves behind for ever. We can be afraid of driving short distances, of imagined dragons, but Death has no hold over us now. We met him, after all. We watched him cross the room. We felt his presence. We are taller now, stronger now and more likely to laugh with abandon at things we might well have censored before. We are woman, invincible and still breathing on.

Island Blog – Not One Word

Although I make a considered choice to live in the present and always did, there are times when my brain and I are not working in sync. Like today. Today I feel 107 and furious at myself. I ask, Why are you feeling like this? even as I know the only way to trudge through such a day is to allow the unpleasant feelings to come to me so that we can have a wee chat. I don’t want to, nonetheless. I want to bat them away and for them to go bother someone else. But they are ours, says Myself and I roll my eyes at her. So damn wise she is and infuriatingly so, especially as I know her to be right. I whine a bit and decide to write a blog on the whole fiasco because writing is my therapy. There is nobody here with whom I can discuss this, speak out my feelings and receive reassurance. Not any more. The ordinary little conversations of old are now firmly parked in the past as I would not assault a passer by with my whines and moans. It just isn’t done, duckie, I hear my old ma say to me and I bat her away too.

My way of meditating is to walk entirely in the present moment, noticing everything and so I trudge out for a walk, noticing. I notice that the hungry deer are stripping the moss from the base of the big old trees. I notice a new primrose and the fat slug of an incoming tide as it squeezes through the narrows. I notice the sky, flat white and remember I need milk. I notice that the potholes have been filled in and that my neighbour’s attempts to keep out the rabbits is failing again. By now I am bored stiff of noticing and my brain still whirls and whorls, chuckles and gloats. Shame, it hisses, guilt and shame, regret and a refusal to accept that it is as it is and it was as it was and it will be…….Stop! I yell, and startle another walker, causing her wee dog to bark. Sorry, ignore me, I say and she smiles kindly. We wander together, my brain finally silenced with its ‘you are never enough’ nonsense, its criticisms and judgements, its false truths, the lies it tells me about me. I tell her I feel ancient as those trees today and she tells me she is going stir crazy with being stuck at home. She also finds her meditation in walks and we laugh a bit together. It helps.

I listen to an audio book for distraction, empty the bin into the wheelie, lob the wine bottles into the glass bin, the empty ones, of course. I think about supper. Good lord girl, its miles till supper! I know, I know, I snap back but this day has lasted a whole week and I am bored of Time and her achingly ponderous walk, as if she’s in trudge mode too. Next door my young neighbour is busy with planks and angle grinders. He is doing up the kitchen or the somewhere inside the house and he is positive and occupied and productive. As you were once, says Goody Two Shoes. I sigh. I remember. I also remember wishing I wasn’t any of those things but could, instead, sit for a long while watching a sunset or a bird or the grass grow. How strange is this life, so full of care etc etc. Used to be my favourite poem. Nowadays my poems of choice are on loss and loneliness, empty days and long. sleepless nights. Perhaps I need a poetry rethink.

I know that days like these come unbidden and unsought, that they blindside me and that I am always ill prepared for their assault. I know I have to get through them and that they will, like all things, pass. I imagine I am stronger, have grown in some way because of them but it sure doesn’t feel like it at the time. Acknowledging that I am only a newish widow, lonely, looking back on my life and the mistakes I now regret, is key. The judges are there and probably always will be but they will fade if invited in for that chat, or so the books tell me. I am not sure I can trust myself to be civil, however. What will they look like? My mother? My husband? That crow of a teacher who decided I was the devil in a frock? Probably all three and others too who helped me feel I was never enough. How does anyone converse with such a group without losing their cool? I don’t have an answer for that, not yet, maybe I never will. But wait……maybe I just let them in, pour them tea, sit them down and let them have their say. Once the tonguing is done, perhaps I rise with dignity, smile and show them out, saying not one word.

Yes, that’s what I will do. Let them think what they like. They think they know me but they don’t, not as I do. I check my brain. It’s asleep.