Island Blog – A Letter

Ten days since you died my husband. One week till your hillside funeral. All of your family think of you every minute, probably more often than even that. Memories come back, moments resurrect and stand tall, blocking our path. And yet we move on, doing normal things with an abnormal head on and a heart all flapdoodle but still beating. Mine feels like wings, as if there’s a bird trapped behind my ribcage unable to escape.

This morning I cleaned your room, now that all the hospital kit has gone. I took my palette knife and some white filler for all the many holes left in the walls, holes that remind me of hand rails and other attractive supports, no longer needed. Neither are the holes. There is a big enough one in me and in our little island home, even if I can move about more freely. The furniture is not pinned to the edges any more for easier wheelchair access. Actually, I did think you were a bit over the top in that particular demand. A wheelchair isn’t that wide, after all. Then I realised you had lost your innate spacial awareness and the evidence of that loss is scraped along doors and lintels and walls. You were pretty nippy in that chair, nonetheless, turning on a sixpence, making U turns and scoots forward when space allowed, and even lurching at great speed down the ghastly yellow ramp which is now looking for a new home.

The leaves are beginning to turn now. Conkers (we always looked for them didn’t we?) are landing on the track but I haven’t found a big one yet. You told me you always won conker battles and you also told me that you soaked them in vinegar overnight, making them like concrete. Scabious peppers the grassy banks finding the best sunshine spots. I saw 6 kittiwakes the other day, your favourite bird, flying seaward up the loch. I don’t think I have ever seen them here before. They came just for you.

The garden is looking a tad tatterlicious and the sweet peas gave up fighting the last big wind, but even broke-backed they bloom and their scent keeps wafting indoors, reminding me how much you loved them. I pick them for the house but soon they will be over for the year. Season rolls into season. You knew the sound of each one, its taste, its demands and its gifts. As one thing dies, another begins to live and that is how you saw life and death – the same circle, a never-ending story.

I am so happy that your dying was peaceful. No fight at all, no panic, no fear, just a soft leaving. And you wanted to go, you said so, to anybody who was listening. And so it is and was and ever will be when someone who cherished every second of a long adventurous life finds the living just too much. We didn’t want you to go but knew you did. We also knew that your living state was very compromised. But even at the last, your humour shone through those cloudy old eyes. Even knowing that the Great Beyond was calling you, hands held out in welcome, you whispered to me ‘ I don’t want to leave you.’

And then, you did.

Island Blog – To Fathers

I am not a father. Never will be and there’s somewhat of a relief in that secure bit of knowledge. I don’t think I realised just how much of a weight a wife and children were, and still are, on a father’s shoulders. He mustn’t cry, of course, no matter how lost or useless he might feel. At least, not in public and most of his life is in public, wife demanding, children requiring clothing, adequate food, toys, space, tuition, guidance and a massive Christmas gift. Never mind that there are five all expecting a massive Christmas gift, whilst taking all the rest for granted. I did too. I took him for granted and that is what we do until we notice something, or look back and join the dots because unless you have experienced living life as a father, you, like me, haven’t a scooby. Not a clue.

On raising children in the most humanly perfect of ways, which, naturally, was our plan, fathers have to take the buck, one that always stops with them. Fathers, if they are the main breadwinner, must leap out of bed every morning for decades in order to be whoever they are required to be on any given day. If it is an off-to-work day, then the mental suit is on and the tie tied right. All the way there, he must leave behind the father role for a few hours and immerse himself in whatever business or job lies ahead of him with all its associated demands. Then, knackered and possibly fed up, he must come through that front door and become husband and father with enthusiasm and wisdom. Blimey. That is quite a lot of requiring.

If, like me, a mother is exhausted herself by end of day, she may nip and criticise, demand and wheedle. She may offload her worries, fears and reports on the children as she might empty a dumper truck full of multiple flotsam, jetsam and other random things right into his lap. He may have only just sat down, but she hasn’t had that pleasure since he left at 07.30 so why should he be allowed now, now that she has to cook dinner, clear toys, bath the unwashed, read stories and all in the secure knowledge that Groundhog Day will come tomorrow and all the tomorrows until the children become adults and fledge? Blimey. That is quite a thixotropic thought.

Good fathers are often judged by the memories they make. Bad fathers, ditto. Of course, the same applies to mothers but this blog is not about them. I doubt there is a single father anywhere in the world, one that wants to be one, that is, who doesn’t take great care to be the best he can be, all the way up to the end. Then Life kicks in, a rogue player on the field, one with tremendous tackling skills and a complete disregard for empathy. Demands overwhelm, families get noisier, cost more money every year and never seem quite as happy as this father saw in his mind’s eye. The happy toddler becomes the door-slamming child who refuses broccoli and ignores all pleas for a stable conversation. Blimey. This is the truth and then some.

So, please raise a toast to all fathers, to yourself if you are one, to your dad, your work colleagues, your neighbours, your friends and your extended family. Consider, and remind yourself of the sacrifices these fathers have had to make in their lives. Fathers…..remember the times when everything swam along like happy fish and then remember the times when storms lashed your shores and terrified you. I salute and celebrate you. All of you excellent, strong and resilient men.

To Fathers.