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 – Confucious

He knew his stuff, this ancient philosopher. His modem operandi was this:-

The philosophy of Confucius, also known as Confucianism, emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, kindness, and sincerity.

I’m in. However, in this uncertainty, I get muddled, I feel doubt, I feel fear. I am sure that way back in his day, there was plenty of that. How someone rises themselves above all that worldliness beyonds me. I think I am practicing all these goodly things. I know I am. And, then, a call comes in from the council, who need to speak to himself, not me, and to tell this confused man that our shielding has now come to an end, that warm, safe bubble is now burst, and that we can now go shopping (that’ll be me). Now that visitors are about to be let in, to stay in their holiday cottages, and those who will now frequent the local shop, the street, the walks, alarms me. Part of me gets it. I am, after over 3 months of ‘bubble’ more than ready for interaction, conversation, smiles shared, freedom of movement. The other part, the one that keeps me restless at night is the one that knows this is not done. It will flick back, and in the winter, when folk like us are even more vulnerable.

Meantime, I walk. I find wild honeysuckle in the woods, cascading over a dying and fallen tree like it was all disco lights and smelling like a peach garden. I notice wild mint, new clover, hear the twitter of tits working a tree. I notice my footfall, one step, then the next. I know what I going back to. Confusion about headphones, connections, calls (from the council) where nothing was clear and certainly not lucidly communicated to me. What happened today? The council woman wanted to talk with him. I get the political correctness of that, but he has no clue about how life is run in this home. Not now. So why didn’t she speak with me?

I know that everyone is doing their best in these times. Me included. But this burst of the secure shielding bubble, when I know this is not going away, not for many months, confounds me.

Confucious said it all. In a perfect world, this is exactly how we should live. Actually, even in an imperfect world. But, you know, you other carers out there, this decision to hold to such magnificent principles is just not humanly possible day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute and thought by thought. I’m saying this because I am daily confounded, daily dealing with the ‘right’ decision, the best way to act.

It is exhausting. I’m waving.

Island Blog – Sharing the Story

This morning I decided to sort out my freezer. It didn’t take long as there are only 3 drawers below the fridge but you’d be surprised how much of a farrago I can create over time. Most of the bags of bits are translatable into something I recognise but none of the tubs have labels so it is anyone’s guess as to what their contents will thaw into. Something dark could be blackberry compote or red onion gravy and it does tend to matter which one gets served as pudding. I pull out one such tub and a bag of something that looks like meat thinking, rather devil-may-care, that whatever is in the tub will somehow be workable. I am nothing if not inventive.

Now it is all of 9 am and there’s a whole day stretching out ahead of me expecting to be noticeably and productively lived. Can’t disappoint it. So, what next? I know, I’ll strip the beds and wash the linen. Well, my part stops after stripping and that takes ten minutes. Next…….I could hoover the carpet if really pushed or I could ignore the crumbs and keep my eyes on the future. I choose the latter. There is a top and a skirt waiting to be conjoined which may or may not work. My sewing is enthusiastic, my imagination wild with ideas, but my skills at logic have always come home last. I can see, in my mind’s eye, this classy home-assembled frock, wowing all who see me in it (which won’t be anyone till the Autumn) but there is a gap in my Dom Sci training. I must have looked away at some point and it’s too late now. However, this doesn’t stop me forging ahead, and it takes some time to pin, tack and sew the parts together. I take the dry washing upstairs and have a chat with my soft toy collection. They are a motley crew of characters collected over time. A couple of them appeared one day attached to a small child who decided they could do with some granny time; some are left after my own children grew out of them, knowing that I never would; one, Sheepy, fell out of a window in Sauchiehall St Glasgow which is where I found him. He was flat, filthy, sodden, and cross-eyed but after a good soak and blow dry, he fluffed up nicely and has been here ever since. He is still cross-eyed but far less flat. The whole surface of the chest is covered in little people and they all grin at me as I rise the stairs. They are my little team of supporters and I always smile back.

The important thing, I am finding, is to stop my mind falling into slumber. If I entertain myself and my mind with a routine of sorts, allowing the odd dash into spontaneity and unlikelihood, whilst sustaining a healthy approach to the necessary round of small things, I can make it all the way to the evening. To enter into a day with no plan of action just doesn’t work for me. And, yet, it used to work so well. I could plan all I liked but then a child falls into the bog or gets stuck up a tree, or leaves home, aged 6, in a wild fury, to mention but a few of the many things that always happened should I dare to make a plan, it was essential that I moved to plan-less mode. In these unusual times, however, it seems important for a well-laid out daily plan to be well-laid out and implemented. As we are all confined to quarters and some to eighths or even sixteenths, I imagine we all feel this. After all, there is a limit to how many times you want to count the roses on the wallpaper, or sort the freezer, or hoover the crumbs. Small things get bigger if they are given enough attention. And that can be good and it can be bad. If the small thing appears as an irritation and is allowed to grow, I could find myself in a frightfully bad mood by lunchtime. On the other hand if the small thing is a kindness gift, due attention given to detail and presentation, then everyone is happy.

My key is to hold on to the constants and the perpetuals. Okay they might be soft toys or they might be out there in nature, like birds and rocks and daffydowndillys, for those of us who can see nature between buildings. I am aware there are many who would have to look very hard to see nature at all in this time. The odd pigeon might not cut the mustard. Drab streets, rules about going out, and so on. It’s just tougher, as it always is, among those for whom everything is always tougher. But now, here comes the leveller. Nobody is privileged against this enemy. No amount of wealth or privilege makes one jot of difference, and we are all afraid at times.

In times of ‘strait’ and fear, of lack and loss, thinking outside of ourselves is most helpful. The day will take its usual length of time to keel over so we may as well entertain ourselves and everyone else we can think of right up to night. Sharing what we have, teaching each other, working together, thinking outside of self, sharing ideas, recipes, jokes, stories, all these create bonds that no enemy can cut. Developing a relationship by asking questions and really listening with empathy sets that relationship up for life. Investing in what we can do for someone else has consequences, beneficial to all parties. Too long we have only shown interest in our own lives, families, friends, work and choice of sandwich filler. A change of heart demands action. I agree that we need to take care of ourselves in order to stay the right way up, but it is good, nonetheless, to remind ourselves, gently, that we have this golden opportunity to do something we have never done before. Like sending an I Love You message, just because. Maybe someone you know could do with talking about how they feel. Maybe they might need pulling closer to the fire to hear a story.

We will all have stories to tell once this is over. We can start writing it now.

Island Blog – A New Path

I have begun. Pulling jeans out of the jeans drawer, way too small, way too skinny-legged for me now and, yet, held on to like a Precious, just in case I awaken one morning to find my skin tighter across my bones and my belly flat. How bonkers is that! I even hold on to dresses that have been the wrong fit for years and they hang as from a gallows tree all pretty and flouncy and empty of breath.

But it is hard to let go of them. Within those folds lie memories of what was, of who I was, once when the carefree in me sang in a higher key; when the crone didn’t huddle in a wrinkled corner, beckoning. But they are cuckoos now, these frocks and swingle skirts and they aren’t the only ones holding those memories. Jeans, boots, tops and froufrou; halter necks, strapless, slim-lined, tight-waisted – for family weddings, parties, dances, ceilidhs, stage events at book festivals, I will remember you when you are gone, all by myself.

I take a big bag upstairs and begin. There are button boots with cuban heels still in their boxes, worn once, maybe twice; there is a sparkly sequinned sheath bought years ago in a Glasgow shop, electric blue and minus a few sequins now and a sheath. A sheath. I will never ever wear a sheath again. Inside that wardrobe hangs my past. In the depths of the dark they call for their release, like long-term prisoners from a cell and it is I who am their jailor. I have no idea if anyone will find them, eyes ablaze with excitement, pull them off the rack and take them home, but what I do know is that I need to let them go, for them to breathe new air, to adorn, possibly, a younger body, one inhabiting the carefree, careless of the lack of sequins.

It thinks me. Not just of clothes but of life as a whole. Letting go is being open. It is also being vulnerable. If my wardrobe stands empty, what then? What if I am invited to something swish, some event that requires a dress, or a pair of button boots and all I have to hand are wider frocks and flat plimsolls? Will I still go? Having little or mostly no access to shops I cannot replace any of them short term. Besides, I loathe shopping with a vengeance. I can go into a dress shop and be overwhelmed within 3 paces, so overwhelmed that all I see is a blur of colour and rack upon rack of 25 dresses all in the same style but in different sizes. I run for Costa.

Letting go of old things, old ways of being, old beliefs that birthed when I was young and carefree, and are now quite obsolete, is not easy. But….This is what I believe. This is what I think. This is how I do this. If I let go of any of these, what do I replace them with? Well, replies my inner guru, Nothing. You just wait patiently for something else to come in, something new and right for Now. But, I am not patient, I snap at her. I want things to be there when I need them, people too, help and support and more carpet cleaner. She only smiles. I can feel the warmth of it and I know our conversation is done.

When life feels like a wobbly back tooth I can panic. I can think I am all alone in the world, the Only Weirdo at 67, the one whose insecurities are alive and kicking and whose self-doubt is as fat and magnificent as the Taj Mahal only without the bejewelment. But (and there is always one of those) when I sit and talk with other women of my age, even if their lives are markedly different to my own, I hear the weirdo in them too. They confess their own insecurities and those insecurities rhyme with mine, they harmonise, they match. It seems we all feel these things and I am mindful of the arrogance that thought me I was the Only One. What changes me are these encounters, these shared laughs about missing sequins and memories hiding in the folds. They also have held on as if youth might return one day with her confidence and her wahoo and her carefree danceability.

We agree, this Other Weirdo and I that she is not gone; nor is she beaten into submission; nor is she dead on the gallows, empty of breath. She has quietened down, yes, she has felt foolish and turned in, but she has something within her that has replaced her trust in the world. Trust in herself. Yes, it’s like a toddler learning to walk, this trust, but it has potential, even now, even when life has bashed and scarred with all that is thrown the way of every one of us.

In the light of this knowledge I am inspired to greater heights. If I think, just once, that keeping ‘this’ will bring back my vim and vigour, it has to go because I am not trusting in myself if I hold on to the old. Not just clothes but old beliefs, old ways of doing things, old lies. I will no longer pick through the rubble of what once stood four-wall-tall. I will gather the bits I can carry and make a path.

A path into whatever comes next.