Island Blog – The Missing

I’ve been thinking about the Missing. A lot. Like all day long and deep into the nights, nights that no longer call me from my bed about 4 times to give assistance to a dying man. In conversations with my kids and through old and resurrected conversations with my late mum (she was never late btw) I can see how the rose-tinted specs get pushed on to a widowed face.

Who would want to remember the bad times? That’s where I got to. There were plenty. Aren’t there always, in a long marriage, or even a short one, come to think of it? During the years of demise, 10 in my case, when dementia (no capital D for it) slam dunks a wild and living soul, I remembered the bad times too often. I was never sure if the behaviour was what it had always been, or was, now, compromised into something I was required to allow. I still don’t know. What we are as young, we become more so, as old. I have heard that, read it and believed it as I watched my dad demise, my mum and my granny who smiled her lovely smile as her last breath left her body.

However, notwithstanding and by the way, my husband who had been a grumpy so-and-so, at times, over the years, mellowed into the man I first met. Now, I know, perfectly well, that once the prize melts into strong arms, she is both cherished and compromised. Her own identity struggles to breathe at times and I was no different. However, at first I was IT, the Golden Girl, the Answer to All Problems, the Filler of the Black Hole in him and, latterly, I walked with that crown upon my white head. Oh, there you are, I told him, and he smiled like he knew what I was talking about. And, maybe he did.

Over time, life trashes us, or does her best to do so. The world and all her demands, chips away at our ideals and our dreams. We are lost, confused and angry and the one person who gets the gut punch is the one closest. I was always the closest. It is, was, puzzling. In a perfect scenario, that person would be unpunched for decades, but this is not how it works.

Notice that I give both Life and the World the ‘she’. I don’t do that by mistake. She’s can be manipulators, dividers, hoodwinkers. I know I was and it was survival, although I am not overly proud of such a tactic. Women come from a place of caring, of protecting, of surviving in a world that is still (for goodness sake) a man’s world. Men forage, hunt, grunt and fight for their space, oft clumsily, oft without the depth of human understanding that their women have. I have no idea who thought this was a good plan. If you believe that God made Eve from Adam’s rib, then she is already sunk, like for over 2000 years for she can never really be herself, joined as she is by history and an idealistic plan.

So, the remembering and the missing. I choose to focus on all the wonderfulness of my life with this exhausting pioneer, as did my mum. I know who he was. I have the scars. But without him, I would have been a nothing in particular and thus I am proud and glad to have known him. In the last days, when he came down for breakfast, me having washed and dressed him and scooted down ahead of his extremely slow chair lift, my arms full of bed sheets and so on, he would always coracle through in his wheelchair, all rosy-cheeked and looking like a little boy, and say Good Morning, with all the enthusiasm of one who loved every single day of his long life.

And that is the Missing.

Island Blog- Rule of Thumb

The dawn turned the far hills blood red. Although Father Sun rises behind my home, he makes his presence known in casts of colour, short-lived but marvellous to see. The sky, flat and brushed with Payne’s grey, Rose Madder and Ultramarine looks like it is unsure about what to do next. Threatened storms may roar around us as they often do, we who stick out into the Atlantic like a determined finger, independent of any weather forecast. It thinks me.

In a few days I will have been married for 48 years. We both will. A lot of what happened over those years were not as I had dreamt, nor planned. My ideal of a marriage is not so unusual. White knight, independence, the freedom to make my own choices, take my own actions, sing my own song and all under the loving and approving smile of a benign king. I would share the throne, choose my own frocks, laugh loudly when I wanted, speak out my truth and be heard. I’m not saying this never happened because it did, but where I thought this would be a rule of thumb, I found, at times, that I was under said thumb and unable to rise to my full stature.

Did it damage me, this thumb thing? It did not. Instead I have learned that on many of those remembered and unremembered times, I had a lesson to learn. I would have been, and can still be, too quick to respond, to act, to speak out. My vivid and often unrealistic imagination could have launched me into trouble without that thumb. I thank the thumb owner, that’s what I do, now that I can look back and join up the dots. I married a man 10 years my senior for a very good reason, even though I didn’t do so consciously. Somehow, my sub conscious knew what was best for me, what or who would keep me safe from danger, from myself.

I would never, even in my wildest dreams, have lived the live I have lived, the one I shared with my king. I would never have known the exciting highs nor experienced the awful lows without him and his thumb. In balance, and this is where the dot joining comes in, my life, our life together has been extraordinary from the beginning and all the way up to the now. When I recall our adventures, the spontaneity of them, the sudden Let’s Go thing, the way we led our children into independent thought, creative action, kindness towards all living people and things; the way we laughed and partied, invited and welcomed, shared and made ourselves known in the work we collectively undertook. The way we steadfastly marched on through bad times, poor times, times when our inventive strengths pulled us through. And the way we made a difference, made memories that so many others share and still remember with fondness and a chuckle.

It was never plain sailing, not for either of us. I doubt that marriage ever is, for anyone. But, to survive and thrive through such a vast ocean of years is to have made many sail corrections. Thousands. Millions. And we have, and we still are making those corrections, working with the winds of time, rising over and over again, no matter how big the waves, how fickle the chop, how far away the next peaceful harbour.

I feel honoured and proud. We did it. We got through. And we are still here, still breathing, still sailing towards a new horizon. Together.

Island Blog 159 On Marriage

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It all starts with a Wedding, that’s what I say.  When I get an invitation to someone’s ‘Marriage’ I have this strong urge to call them up to correct their grammer, or is it grammar……….. because the wedding is the bit when you make impossible vows and completely believe in them, and the marriage is the rest of your life together.  So not the same thing.

These vows are written in stone, or so you think at the time.  They also ask of you more than will ever be asked of you in any other part of your life.  What seemed like an uphill struggle before, when you were free and single, evanesce as you face the stark and solid truth that the old mother-in-law has the upper hand and, what’s more, always will.  Now that I am one myself, I feel very unsure of myself at times, and rightly so.  The old type of mother in law was comfortably certain of her place on the family throne, whereas we unsure ones watched them from the servants gallery and vowed we would never be like them.  Well, mostly we are achieving just that, and, in doing so, in approaching with more tact we are making new mistakes.  It is the way of things.

I don’t remember if I promised to obey or not, but what laughs me a lot, is that it matters one way or the other. The animated discussions I have overheard concerning which words are left out and which put in to a wedding ceremony adds a value that most certainly dilutes in time. I suppose in the olden days, if someone didn’t obey or honour or cherish and it was brought to the Judgement Mound and proclaimed before the Wise Men, and if it was found to be true, due punishment would have been administered, its legacy, shame.  Nowadays, the Judgement Mounds are covered with heather and bluebells, their ancient role all but forgotten.

After the fluffery wuffery of the wedding, and the first halcyon days of playing house, the serious business of life clicks in.  We put away the wedding dress and don the apron.  It’s not a bad, but a good thing, because scrubbing a floor in a wedding dress is asking for trouble. So, we move on into our new days, we two people who have made the biggest decision of our lives.  No maps are handed out.  We will now sail into uncharted waters, learning from each other and working day by day to weave a new cloth from the colours each one brought to the mix, very different colours, different histories, different understanding of light and dark, texture and balance, give and take, up and down.  Who will lead and who will follow?  Who will let go and who will hold on.  Who thinks of solutions and who chews over the disaster?  None of this has really been revealed as yet for neither of us have stood the test, not yet.  Falling in love is a momentary thing.  Staying there, when things begin to annoy and upset, letting them take their place in the weaving of the cloth when all you want to see are the vibrant colours of joy and happiness, is quite another.  The trick is to let that happen without feeling a sense of loss.  The trick is not to imagine this woman is trying to mother me, when she shouts at me for sock-dropping, or that this man is trying to control and contain me, when he challenges the cut of my dress  The trick is, the trick is………

The goodly thing about Goodly Life is that it keeps waking us up each morning with birdsong or Chris Evans or the dooby doo of an alarm clock, or a baby’s wail, or that eerie silence that tells you it snowed overnight.  We keep waking, we keep feeling hungry, needing a walk, a cup of tea, a chat with a friend.  Our brains must plan school mornings, bus time-tables, train schedules and packed lunch boxes.  This is it, this is life and this, shared, keeps us moving through our daily rounds, bumping into each other, working out the best way to do this or not do that, until gradually we weave ourselves into one cloth.

If any of us knew what lay ahead, we might never begin.  How we learn to deal with whatever comes along, is all in the strength of that cloth, the warp and weft of it, the necessary tension, the edging.  When storms prevail and loud black clouds hang overhead all packed with lightning flash and cold wet rain, we can use this cloth for shelter and warmth, but it will only give back what we have woven into it.  The history we make together is not solely of our own pasts, but it is a new thing.  We bring in children, carving their histories out for them, at least, in the very beginning. Each of us is a new creature, with unique quirks and gifts, thoughts and concerns.  Each one of us sees a thing differently, even if we mostly agree on the image it creates in our minds.  However,  there is one thing I have found to be almost universal, and that is the instant and unconditional love a parent feels for their child.  I know life can sour a relationship, but after the angry words are spoken and the protection in place, I still believe this love surpasses all other loves, and it never fails to astonish on first encounter.  I remember it each time a babe was born from me, that however scared I may have been of dangers unknown, I knew I would protect this child’s life with my own, and I still would.

At this end of a verrrrrry long marriage, there is a very colourful cloth around us, five colourful children and their families.  Nobody could say we quietly got on with our lives together, obeying the rules, but, instead, raved against the wrongs, laughed and lived wildly, generously, and mostly in complete chaos.  On this day, we look at each other and we both marvel.  How on earth we managed, against all the odds, to be celebrating 43 years together, even all ‘vowed up’, is a mystery, and not just to us.

What larks!

Island Blog 127 Reasons to Stay

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Since writing my book, Island Wife, I have received many emails and letters from women whose own story relates to my own.  Some of them are short, some long and detailed, but many of them have the same question to ask me.  Why did I stick with my marriage?

The ‘how’ of it, I can answer.  Despite what appeared to be going on, and growing shape and form, I could always find one good reason to stay, one reason, however small and squeaky.  There may well have been a thousand reasons to leave, but it only took one to keep me in place.  In the early days, the reasons numbered five.  My five children.  I was confident and strong in the knowing that, were I to abandon ship, they would be damaged.  I make no judgement, nor did I ever, on women who do leave.  In fact, as I re-investigate my heart right now on this matter, I feel no critical twinges, nor any sense of superiority beside those good women who made a choice, a really tough one and one not without considerable personal angst and pain, guilt and fear.  I just couldn’t do it myself, not for long, anyway.

I used to watch other wives and mothers, as they flew in on warm winds to stay at Tapselteerie for their family holidays.  I warmed myself in the light of their eyes, eyes that told me they had found a nourishing bond in their own relationships, and that they were, yes, happy.  Of course, I have no knowledge of them now, but those glimpses into another’s life both helped and hindered me.  On the one hand, they made me envious.  They had managed to find a man who honoured them just as they came to him, not in need of any re-arranging, not faulty.  The new light they brought to the marriage was something he needed, wanted to be around, in order to find fulfillment.  He basked in it, sought her wisdom, let her be.  On the other hand, they made me feel that, had I been like them, I would also deserve such freedom within a relationship.  Oh poor little me.

As the children began to try out their wings and, eventually, flew the nest, I became increasingly aware that I was being abandoned by the five who gave me context.  Who am I now?  is a question I often asked myself, as the rooms hollowed out and the quiet of ‘just us’ settled like dust.  People, friends, told me that this was now my time to do something for me, and, yet, after decades of not doing something for me, I had no ideas at all.  When someone has ploughed the same furrow for that length of time, investing fully in the work of every day, and night, it is almost cruel to take it all away and to offer a wide horizon.  What could a no-longer-girl like me do with a broad horizon?  I’ll tell you what she does.  She stands there looking at it, mouth open, eyes wide and head empty, and then dives back to wash the kitchen floor, just to feel safe again.

In a different sort of relationship, one I observed in others and dream-wove from novels and movies, this woman would be given free rein to investigate, to research new roads, and, most importantly, encouraged gently to find her own wings, to grow new confidence as just herself in a new context – that of the big wide world.  If that encouragement is not proffered, and if it matters as much as I think it does, then she will hold to what she knows.

I know about monkey mind.  That chatter inside a head that always works to undermine walking out a dream.  I have worked hard to quiet that voice, and still do, for it is not the truth.  To imagine another life, without stepping into it, is just that.  Dreaming.  I found my way, by writing my story and setting it free in the big wide world.  You might say it was written in the hope for understanding, for empathy.  You might say I hoped it would bring a flash of remorse and a new beginning.  And it might do all of these.  It has already brought me a new self-confidence because to have a well-known and respected publisher take up your book, you must be able to write, and in these times of excellent writers, doubly so.  It has also taught me that feeling sorry for myself and doing nothing to change my situation is, well, pathetic, at best.

In those times of finding just one reason to stay, I discovered other ones, hiding in my attic.  In any relationship, there are at least two people, each with a very different perspective on life and ideas on how to live it.  Bring into each mix, parental baggage, school history, sibling rivalry and so on and then dress this damaged person in cowboy boots, or high heels and call it an adult.  Then shove it out into a world of high expectations, judgements, parameters, boundaries, social constraints and no mappage, no DIY manual on the subject, but only other opinions formed by those who came before, each one lumbering along under the weight of their own ‘stuff’.

I believe I have just found a new definition for Chaos.

Living now, each day as it comes, I learn something new.  Something new about me, about my marriage, my choices, my life thus far.  I still find reasons to keep walking, keep looking around, keep my heart soft and my stride strong and purposeful.  I have bad days, black dreams, bouts of self-pity and I can still make the house shake with a powerful door slam, but these are just a part of the whole.  What I love is a challenge and life is always thus.  I find only momentary delight in winning an argument if my opponent just backs down, remaining certain still of his own belief.  I find there is little (if any at all) point in going over who said what and when and in what tone of voice.  I find no future in paying the slightest attention to either of us in a grumpy mood. I am learning that perspective is king, and that grace is his queen.

At the end, whenever that may be, I will reflect on my choices, made by me, for me, and be content to know, not that I got it right, but that I got it at all.

Island Blog 12 – As you sow, so shall you reap

I love that saying, although it is written in a rather old fashioned way.  To me, it means I put everything into everything, from cooking supper on an ordinary Monday, to dressing up for a book launch.  Haven’t got to that bit yet, but when it comes, I know I will give it wellie.  Its not always easy to do, especially around the dull to-do list, month after month, nor is the ‘sowing’ part always obvious to the naked eye.  For example, as I spend my days with my son and his wife and very new baby, quietly in the background, just helping as best I can at this time of immense change in their lives, I notice things.  I notice that he orders baby clothes with great care and enthusiasm.  I notice that he changes nappies and takes the baby out to give his wife time to sleep, for her nights are no longer her own.  I notice he bothers to shop for groceries after a long day at work, and these are just 3 things I notice.

What he is doing, is ‘sowing’.  He is investing, not only in his child, but more importantly, in his wife, in the woman she really is and this investment will pay off for the rest of his marriage.  Not that he has planned it this way, of course not, but he is doing it because he is unafraid of looking soft in the head.  All the young fathers I have met nowadays are similarly unafraid.

So Hallelujah say I for this ‘informed’ generation! They must have read all the right books, for they have certainly U-turned on their own fathers technique, or lack of it.  Or, is it simply that Love will ‘out’, no matter what, given enough time?

Either way, my heart is smiling for the little ones of today.  The big ones too.