Island Blog – The Widow’s Might

Having admitted to the existence of this ghost, named it to you all, I now need to reel it in. Not literally, of course, for who can say he or she has ever reeled in something so insubstantial and yet so powerful? Grief can bring it in, guilt too, fear, of course, and with regret not far behind. But acknowledgement of such an invisible source of anxiety must surely be the springboard from which I may dive into the water. I hated high diving as a girl, all that empty space between me and my arrival into elemental change. But this is the only way. I know it. So many of us wander into the evening of our lives carrying the weight of ghost denial. I want clarity of vision. I want to know where my feet are taking me. I want a clear mind and as healthy a body as possible. But the deconstruction of this anxious state must begin with the admission that it is there in the first place. I may look like I am always cheerful, impish, strong and in control but that is my walking lie. And it isn’t just me who lies. We all do.

Facing down my innermost fears is not to deny they exist and nor is it to spew them out to anyone who would stand long enough to listen. It is an intensely private palaver, one that requires consistent and focussed attention, practice and the daily revival of faith in what can be, what will be as the work progresses. Pretending is out the window, as is denial and hoodwink.

I am alone now. A deal of that is very good. I have freedom to do what I please. I have only myself to think about on a moment by moment basis. I have time to think things through without being on constant duty. There is no more caring to be done. My children are grown. They live their own lives their own way. We are all still grieving, although for different men. Some have lost a father; some a grandfather; me a husband. All the same man and yet not the same at all even if we did share a big chunk of history. Our responses to this loss manifest in a million ways and the time it takes for healing will be different for each one of us. Nonetheless we are joined on this path and thus able to support each other even if we don’t necessarily relate to each other’s process. What we do share in common is the legacy the ‘lost’ man has bequeathed us. There is genuine sadness that he is here no more; there is anger at unfinished business; there is frustration at the imperfections of our relationship with him whilst he lived; there is confusion at the void into which we all now walk, and there is fear as we stare into the open maw of it.

So, what’s to do? Well, we can do nowt about the way ahead, for it is simply that and there is no other choice. There is no map for this journey, no chance to stop and recalibrate the satnav. We are less one in our family, one who controlled us, decided for us, and who genuinely believed his way was the right way. This could have been a conversation but it never was. A man of his time indeed. In his certainty he knew a woman’s place was inferior to that of a man. He knew that children needed strong discipline. He knew that he was the man of the house and that his word was IT, and that strength of mind kept us safely contained for all of his life and a deal of our own.

The ghost flits through me. Being free is both exhilarating and scary. The well-built structure of life is crumbling. It needs to come down now for it is compromised and the rain is getting in, the render cracking and the beams rotting. All of this is just as it should be for there is a new structure to be designed and built for each one of us. What we all need is the courage to move towards it, to step into the maw, to dive off the high board; to keep faith close by and to work with the ghost on our lacks and fears. And this widow is stronger than she thinks. She will relocate herself, the one she left behind 49 years ago, and she will look back on this time with pride and a smile, the widow’s might in her hands.

Island Blog – The Circus, Night Fairies and Life

I have baked a honey cake and drizzled it, put a wash on, changed a bed, dressed, applied slap, made a cauliflower cheese for supper, wished a grand-daughter happy unicorn birthday, swept the kitchen floor, prepared a salad, ate breakfast, fed the birds and the dog, danced to Ronan Keating’s new single and it is now 7 am. There is something manic about me, I am beginning to believe. Residue automatic morning-ness from when the tourist business was up and running, endless children, many of whom I didn’t know, also up and running, and food food food required by hundreds kept me cartwheeling from first light. Half the time there was little point washing up as meal demands bunched together like giggling girls on an outing. I whisked, beat, baked, stewed, roasted and steamed mountains of produce. It thinks me I am unable to step out of those running shoes, even now, when days are slow and gentle, mostly, with the exception of the odd crappy day wherein I cannot run for the life of me. My legs are leaden and my mind is a roundabout on speed. However, I am happy to report that such days are rare, not least because I can’t be bothered with any sort of sickness, mental or physical, disallowing either much space in the room. Be off with you, I say, but don’t go bothering anyone else because you are just not welcome. Try outer space.

Mornings bounce me like Tigger. I wake with the birds and absolutely cannot turn over for more sleep. Despite my passionate love for my recycled plastic bottle filled duvet and my feathery down pillows, I have too much energy fizzing through my veins to lie a minute longer. I have to be quiet, though. Himself won’t rise till about 8 and my kitchen is a floorboard below his bedroom. I don’t think they lagged things much in the 1870’s. I tiptoe through my tasks, interested, excited, curious and particularly curious when I discover that the washing pile is gone. Who has gone-d it? There is only me who washes in this house. I discover it a little later through a downstairs window, bobbing like bunting on the line. I have no recollection of hanging it there. Perhaps I didn’t. Perhaps the Night Fairies did it for me. How sweet they are. I remember them from my young harassed mother-days. They always surprised me with their kindnesses but there were times when I would rather they told me what they’d done because I might then have avoided wasting precious time in search of something I knew I had left just there the night before. Just there stares back at me emptily. I began to suspect collusion with the Night Fairies. Once, when I was certain of a pile of bed sheets awaiting a spin in the belly of my washing machine, I found them half way up the stairs, draped into an Aladdin’s cave and with two guilty looking collies curled up inside, each one enjoying a bowl of muesli.

Perhaps when life has been a circus for long enough, the circus becomes the life and each performer becomes the circus. I think I have. And I don’t mind one bit. I think the circus training has kept me bouncing through all sorts of horrible, kept me mostly up and taught me that nothing in life is going to get me down for long. I just wish I could share this with everyone else. Life is such a precious gift, and always too short. Living it right up to its end is the only path to happiness.

After all, stumble stones can always be turned into building blocks.