Island Blog – A Tundra Meet Without

Talking with an old friend today, I found my thinks coming into my mouth in words. It’s interesting how, when this happens, words can jumble like something as yet un-sorted through, like a crowd in disarray and in need of leadership and organisation, like kids in an unsupervised playground at break time. In both of these, the dominant factor is escape from a confined space. In the first, a big poly-bag, in the second the limitation of a desk, the well-breathed air of a morning’s lessons and the four walls that surround. It’s the same with the release of words after long hours of nobody to speak with beyond Myself (and she is always lurking) the dog, the geraniums and the disinterest of Radio 2.

My friend says something about her own loss and bereavement and there’s a tidal wave rising in my throat. I can feel it and I swallow down, mostly to no avail. I can blurt. The very best of us can blurt after all even as we may pretend we absolutely never do. It isn’t that I want to fix my friend, not at all. How can I ever know, no matter how much she tells me how life is for her, understand fully a sadness I cannot imagine? This applies to anyone I meet. We are all unique, in joys, in pain, in experience, in a zillion other ways. But the impulsive desire to connect on common ground is only human. If I care, I care, but my words need leadership. I am not a helmsman, nor helmswoman , nor helmsperson or whatever title is now socially acceptable. I am an excellent crew, Himself told me this oftentimes and he liked having an excellent crew for a wife. In fact, he liked it so much that I was never taught to helm at all. Funny, though, I do remember basking in the glory of being a First Mate as if the glass ceiling didn’t bother me one bit. I think differently now. I digress…….

I know I am more distant than my friend in terms of the death bit and by many months. I also know that I am planets away from her experience. But the grief we share, the common ground, is still tundra for us both and here we can meet. We fill in time, we tell each other. We do a little thing and then another little thing after the first little thing as we crawl our way through the days Without. And here we can help each other. We can laugh together about the extraordinary and astonishing things our friends say with good and loving intent. ‘Are you ‘there’ yet?’ ‘You should get out more, dress up, volunteer…’ All questions and suggestions are kindly meant, we who are crawling through the tundra, know this. But we can be lonely out there. We didn’t know we were going there at all but here we are, stumbling over the rocks of guilt and regret, passed the cacti of lost opportunities seen through the sharp looking eyes of hindsight. We trip over raised issues unresolved for ever. We shiver in the ice-winds of anger and burn in the sandstorms of confusion. We long for butterflies and an oasis of shade, the promise of an end to this timeless wandering only to find yet another mirage that shimmers and shivers into another day of the same.

And we laugh as we eat our lunch in the island sunshine. We sip our coffee and erupt into nonsense as our eyes connect and sparkle. We remind each other that, before this, we were girls, wild girls, brimming with hope and trust and now, now, in this swathe of tundra, we know we want to find that spirit once again. We take a wander around the island charity shop, laughing about what neither of us can wear again, but how we did once, oh we did once. And we part. I drive home left and she goes right. I know that both of us have been lifted this day. We found an oasis and it was no mirage. Although we both return to filling in the hours, we will remember each other and we will smile. We will both have learned a new something, a new way to look at an old thing and this, I believe is what life really offers each one of us. It is no easy ride for anyone. Not anyone, but the anyones who decide to be open, looking out, honest about how they feel and best of all, courageous enough to ask for help, well, they, we, have the best chance of moving onward. Not to forget, no. But, instead to learn to live on Without. There will always be a missing, no matter the relief initially felt (in my case) at the death. There will be months, years of just getting through each day, but one day, one day, waking up will feel good and the day ahead will be full of promise. I know it.

Island Blog – I wish as you wish

It doesn’t matter how much he or she irritated the bejabers out of you at times. It doesn’t matter how many times you may have wished them away for longer so you could drown the goldfish, sleep wide in the bed, eat what you wanted or go out spontaneously and without curfew. Once they are gone, we are all lost. With my logic head as Speaker, I get it. Of course we are lost. We have been with this person of irritation/love for decades. We know them, or we think we do and they knew us as they think they did. There was a compliance, a working together, a stand-back or fight thingy. A thingy that became our normal.

When our normal is thrust into outer space, just like that, no matter the months or years of caring nor even if the separation is sudden, we are actively lost. I say ‘actively’, because it is just that. When the whole thing about living together stops dead, we just don’t know who we are anymore. Active still wants to be active. We find things to do and over-do. We still have the momentum we always had but what is lost now is purpose. Why am I still doing this, this getting dressed/ stepping out thing when I come home to nobody, not to the smile, the questioning, even the sharp remarks about how long it takes to go to the local shop?

Most of us are productive, action folk, oftentimes because that is what life needs us to be. Just think about it. I mean, who on earth sees the massive role they are suddenly required to ontake when they fall in love? Well, not one of us, that’s who; suddenly wife; suddenly husband; suddenly parents; suddenly carer. And then it stops. Dead. We were running with it all, weren’t we, and fast, just yesterday and then we meet the buffers. I don’t know if you have experienced meeting the buffers on the inside of a train with a driver who wasn’t ready. Well I have and it sent sandwiches and old ladies off piste and flying wide. Not pretty, neither of them. It is way worse in life. Way worse. Did I miss something? Was I being selfish, looking the other way?

When a partner dies, we may be relieved. I was and I am not afraid to speak it out. Although I was the primary and the (godlovethistitle) unpaid carer, not everyone goes through it and I am glad of it. Nonetheless this place is my experience and thus I cannot imagine sudden death, the shock of it rippling for ever, the inner questioning, the self doubt and the regret for all the words unsaid, the loving gifts not given. Let me tell you, those of you aforementioned, that the I feel the same sans your experience. I wish I had said this and not said that. I wish I had asked more questions, been kinder. I wish as you wish.

And the ripples go on. Think not, no matter how he or she irritated, that the ‘lost’ will dissipate soon. It won’t. And do you know why? Well, I’ll tell you. It is because you care. Even in storm conditions for years, even when you just wanted out, even for a month or a year, the human heart has a deep sense of allegiance. It is nothing to do with logic. It is who we are. So if you know loss as a wife, a husband, a father, a mother, a partner, a sibling or a friend, rest easy my lovelies. Let the ripples flow on because they will even if you build a dam. It takes time to be okay with the loss of someone and then, eventually, to find yourself, a shrimp in a desert, yet still strong enough to find the sea.

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 – Circle, Cheat and Language

I write much about the circle, the cycle of life and death. My belief is that we are too afraid of both. We take life for granted, afraid that the life we know will be taken or destroyed and when that life is threatened or stolen, we cannot accept it. Well, I get that bit. When someone beloved dies it is nothing less than catastrophic. But death? If we could step back a bit we might just be able to acknowledge that nothing lasts forever, no-one lasts for ever. That sounds sensible, as long as I am not the one with the beloved who died. It doesn’t matter how it happens, expected, sudden, too young, too soon, it always cuts like a knife and that wound takes forever to heal, if, indeed it ever does.

So how do I walk my talk? I have no answer right now because each time I hear of a young life snuffed out before that person had a chance to shine, I feel a punch in my gut. This is not right. This is not the order of things. Life is a cheat. I look for reasons even if I really don’t want to find them. I hesitate and dither. I want to see that vibrant person laughing across the table from me, that snapshot that I take into my heart and fix on my wall. I don’t want to think about any pain or struggle. I don’t want to know that someone as young or younger than my own children has gone. I cannot imagine the grief of a parent in the face of a young death, their chances of ever recovering. It is a stone too big and too powerful with ripples that go on and on and on.

So, I am not so smart about death, it seems. As much as I would like to be as peacefully accepting as those in cultures who are taught about loss and about death as an honourable and inevitable place of spirit and connectivity, I founder on the rocks. I know those damn rocks and have foundered and foundered, not when my husband died because his death was sort of natural and his age made it all sort of okay, but when a child dies. A child dies. It is too much to bear. I sit here, useless and sad, wondering and clueless. I can do nothing, say nothing because I know nothing about this and I pray I never will. My mum died first and that is how it should be, but it is no given, as I know.

I honour anyone who knows what it is like to bury a child, however old that child was. I know a few and when I think of them I stand on tippytoe, on the rocks, waving like a fool because what else is there to do in the onslaught of such a storm? They are alone and will always be, in that grief. I ache for mother, for father, I wave for them but I am not them. I am a million miles away with all children intact and with a heart full of sadness. Life is a cheat, but so is Death. We just don’t know the language of either.

Island Blog – Ebb and Flow, Days of Minutes

This life without himself can feel like a loss even thought he was (often) a pain in the ass. As, I imagine, was I. The days are minutes to be filled, and I am advised thus:- to write my list of things I want to do in this new life when nobody ever asked that question in the old one. Not never. It begs the question. What do I want? Well, I don’t know. Can someone tell me please because I know that place, a place of ‘no I don’t agree’, of ‘seriously….what?’ of ‘okay then, if I have to.’ This is my comfort zone which btw has abandoned me. The peripheries of my world are blown like a bubble burst and the world beyond is one scary zero. I turn back. I oftentimes (love that word) do. But what I turn back to is a day of minutes and there are many, oh so very many. So, I don’t like this minute thing. I don’t like this nothing, nowhere, nobody thing. So what? Hmmmmm. So what.

I was once alone, for about five minutes having been expelled from school(s) and college and my first job. Sacked. I was, so they told me, a muttering disturbance, a rebel in the corridors of whispers. Had I been not me, I probably might have led a revolution but I was never that courageous and I laud the ones who did, who will do in times to come. I was taught to be a lady. Not to upheaval, not to upset, but nobody taught me the wisdom of being such a creature. It isn’t about being a doormat. No. Being one of those lady women is to be wise living with attitude. within structures, confines and male domination without aggression, without fight, without loss of self, but clever enough to get what this lady wants. I wish I had learned it from my mother’s milk but she had not the skills to help me there. I am learning them now.

So, I walk, run, dance, play within the minutes of days. No, it is more than that. I am loving the journey. Yes there are times I wring my ankle on memories, on moments, but I am still a dancer. I watch my bone-awkward fingers as I work my keyboard. I say, hallo, swollen joints, well done you. Just see what you have done, achieved over the minutes of days in your life. My toes, bent and bony, my body skinny and scarred. Hallo you all. Well flipping done.

And then, suddenly, as though my thinking has been heard and taken to heart, in comes the painter to redecorate the upstairs rooms, ridding them of short term history, the falls, the clutches at cupboard doors pre a fall, the rust, the grease smears, the smoke of an old pipe. All opened up in brilliant white, fresh, the promise of a new future, a new strength of days. Then comes the gardener, to cut my grass. I kept my grass long, my dandelions fierce for the bees and butterflies till now and he gets that. Now the bees and the butterflies are sucking from the bluebells so it doesn’t feel so bad to cut the heads off my favourite butter yellow sun-followers.

This is the flow. People come in. Someone leaves the table. Nobody else can take that seat, but the loving hands that reach out can somehow help the day of minutes into something else, something that has new life, that can move on into more days, more minutes and can, with their investment, change everything.