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 – Cloud Stories

Waking each morning in this grounded world I take myself through the normal routines, pulling back the duvet, opening the curtains, dressing, finding sneakers for a barrier between my night-warm feet and the cold floor. The only bit that isn’t rooted in this grounded world is the moment I open the curtains. Now I am connected not only with the physical world but also with the cloud stories. They tell me weather, for one. They show me looming hailstorm or a blanket white sky cover depending on their spread, their individual shapes, the plans they have for me. I may have been able to guess their plans prior to that curtain opening ta-da! I would, after all, hear rain slamming, trickling, falling straight or slanty. A cloud dump of hail is deafening, scary even, making me wonder just how strong the panes of window glass are, how much they can withstand. An overnight fall of snow brings a silence like a long held breath and we respond by holding our own, for snowfall is gaspworthy. But, there are none of those shenanigans this morning. Just weather silence, as if there was none to be had this day. No weather at all. Perhaps after endless storms, days and nights of fighting between heaven and earth, everything seems quieter. I feel like a child consoled into peace after a long parental row.

The sea spreads out before me, wide and only a bit rippled. Seabirds split the air, rising, wheeling, keening like lost souls only to land in lines on a rocky bluff, their heads facing the sun warmth, their white chests bright and round, puffed out for preening. They mutter quietly to each other, lifting now and then to perch beside someone else for new conversation. Rainbows appear all the time, their pots of gold lying ocean deep, unattainable. Other island appear and shrink back as the light changes. What looks like an old broch shines, illuminated until the sun shifts round a bit to show me some other natural marvel of basalt and granite. White spume bursts against the coastline even now, even when all I see are a few ripples. Submerged rocks, the pull and thrust of the tide and a living, breathing wind make sure of this; this spectacular explosion of bright white water hurled ashore, snatched back, worked up to a new froth and hurled again. Over and over and over. Ships have foundered. Ships have drowned. Get these hidden rocks wrong and your connection to the world is cut like a ribbon at a garden fete. You are now open to the sky. A part of a new cloud story.

In the evening, as the sun sinks into the sea, the clouds show me castles, pink-tipped, scallions turning into rapunzel towers in minutes. I lift my thoughts into the storyline, guessing, imagining, seeing dragon shapes, eyes watching me, wild horses running free, a baby reaching up, a turtle, the sharp outline of a wolf. Sometimes when the clouds touch the distant island I see whirlwinds, spinning tops. A line of hail greys the distance, moving like a murmuration of starlings, lifting, flowing, at the wind’s bidding. I want to take a photograph but I know that by the time I get outside the palette will have changed completely. Those pink-topped towers, that deep grey face of a beneficent giant, those capering children will have been turned off by some captious old god. So I stay still just watching the weave of a storyline, letting myself lift into each moment as it passes. Then, as night begins to steal the day, bit by bit and the cloud stories are left to themselves, I turn back to the grounded world, a supper to cook, a fire to light and curtains to close all the way up to morning.

Island Blog – Hope for Change

There’s a hum I hum when things infuriate or frustrate me, when I meet a bump in the road. It, the hum, begins in upper case and probably in B minor, my favourite key and the one that fits best between clenched teeth. These bumps in the road are not just there for me, but for all of us at times. Of course, there can be no actual bumps inside this house because, if there were, himself would be tipped, all ungainly, from his wheelchair and then I would be tasked with the job of lifting him up. Neither of us want that. Once he is down there, gazing at the cobwebs, the seat of the wheelchair is as far away as base camp, Everest, or it looks like that to me. So, no bumps allowed.

However, actual bumps are not what I’m talking about. I mean bumps, as in ‘stops’ in the running of a life; things that go wrong without asking if it’s ok to go wrong. They could be little things or huge things, but, either way, they alter facts. Life herself makes a subtle shift in a new direction and it is easy to get left behind as she turns away. Standing by the roadside is not taking anyone anywhere, so we are expected to accept this shift and to turn with Life. We can do this in B minor, with clenched teeth, or we can take on the major key and loosen our jaw. I am actually sick to death of loosening mine. I have done it a zillion times and will, inevitably, be required to do another zillion times before the fat lady sings the whole flipping song. But, being sick to death of this required repair work on my attitude is not all that helpful. I get indigestion, for starters, and then cross and then crabby and before I know it, the bump has become a Monroe, one I will really struggle to climb.

Rebecca Solnit (another favourite) said that ‘Change comes, not by magic, but by the incremental effect of countless acts of courage, love and commitment.’ And I believe her, however fed up I may get with all these acts of courage, love and commitment, required daily. I may be an official unpaid carer but so is everyone else. If we don’t care, we might as well walk into the sea with stones in our pockets, for life has no meaning at all. The danger in our country now, perhaps across the world, is apathy, not caring, giving up, shrugging at the gift of Life and making no effort to engage with our fellow humans. With Christmas coming, many are thinking of others in a wonderful caring way, but that mustn’t stop come January. If, like me, the opportunity to improve my attitude comes at you daily, hourly, minute by minute, then we are the lucky ones, for we have no choice in the matter. We cannot be outfoxed by a bump in the road. I have learned and still am learning that I can make or break a situation with my attitude. I can make someone smile, or make someone cry. I can lift and encourage or cut down and break. That power is immense and we all have it. The choice is down to us. We may not be able to predict a new bump in the road but if we have decided not to make this broken world any worse than it already is, we can find our way around the bumps with laughter in our eyes and loving care in our hearts.

That way lies hope, change and the first few lines of a new song, one we can all sing together.