Island Blog – Grief, Music and Cooking

I miss him. It’s like I am forgetting the last ten years of caring and remembering the before times, the good times. I wake at 2 am, cold, and turn to borrow his warmth. It really shakes me at first until I remember where his body now lies, in the frozen ground. I feel the warmth of his hand in mine, that I Am Safe Now feeling. I never slept well, unlike him but he always woke enough to calm whatever storm was going on inside me. I miss him. I wish I had told him he was my everything but I did not. The way we changed, the children who came and whose needs became our modus operandi and our division bell, the way life upped and downed us, all stopped my mouth. Why didn’t I say it? I just don’t know. My deep need for independence was of such importance to me that I forgot to remember the basics. Ah, regrets! All I can do now is to talk to him as I move alone through my days. I am thankful for the rise of good memories even as they do not come without guilt and regret. This is grieving.

Downstairs I flip on the radio. The Living Years by Mike and the Mechanics. A tad cruel. I think back on Mike, Angie and their two sons in our big kitchen at Tapselteerie. We are sharing tea and cake and Mike is telling my kids, whose eyes are on stalks before this celebrity visitor, that he had never had a guitar lesson in his life, that he taught himself in his bedroom. It is just what they needed to hear. it doesn’t matter how you develop your passion, he says, just as long as you do develop it. Remember that. When I look at my five children now, as adults, passionate about their work and with barely a qualification between them, I know they took Mike’s words to heart.

I empty the fridge drawers of veg. Onion, garlic, butternut squash, sun-dried tomatoes, apple, ginger, lime, red pepper, leek and kalamata olives. Add honey, balsamic vinegar, tinned tomatoes, white wine, herbs and seasoning. It simmers now on the range and will last me days. I always cook for a platoon. Old habits die hard. I make a flavoured olive oil (extra virgin) mix and pour it into one of those sealable jars. I soak more sun-dried tomatoes for a little, chop them and add them to the oil mix, for later, for lunch perhaps, in a tortilla wrap, not that I have ever worked out how to fold those damn things effectively. I always need a shower after a tortilla wrap. The music plays on.

Poppy dog comes downstairs. She doesn’t mind that it is still night time for most people; she just works with my wakefulness and if I am up then it must be breakfast time. I boot her out into minus 2 degrees for a quick pee and prepare her food. Dried kibble topped with raw carrot slices and a few bits of chopped chicken to draw her in. Kibble, after all, is a bit dull on its own. I order a small extending lead for our daily walks for she is going deaf and no longer hears my callback should we meet another dog. Although she is all bark and no bite, or all fur coat and no nickers, it can alarm folk, the noise and the rush of her. I think of how it is these days without tourists and of how all that will change when they return to walk around Tapselteerie, to lose themselves inside her wild beauty. We islanders have enjoyed a year now of peaceful bliss even as we need visitors and their cash. One side of the coin and the other. It thinks me.

Ten years of caring and I am glad it is over. 49 years of marriage and I miss him. How tricky it is to find perspective in those two opposing thoughts. How fine it will be when I do. When he was declining, I became practical and cool. I stayed that way right up to his dying. Perhaps I became what was necessary and productive for the times but now, as I begin to soften, I have regrets. Can anyone hold balance when facing the appalling horrors of dementia? Perhaps not. One day I will write on this, but not yet. My inner writer tells me there are many miles to go yet. Many miles too, till morning.

Island Blog – Ice, Clarity and Skeletons

An ice-white day, from start to finish. When I awoke at 3.30 a.m. I walked out, barefoot, in search of the Aurora. She wasn’t playing, not yet. But if we are graced with such weather again, maybe next month, she will dance in the skies behind my home and I will watch her as my bare toes meld with the earth. I recall, well, coming outside from a robust and loudly musical ceilidh, to see her dance her lights across the stars, and for quite some time, until my mouth threatened to freeze wide open and my toes grew chilblains I wouldn’t meet till the morning. I will never forget that night. March 3rd 1993. Funny how dates can stick when others flounder grey and insubstantial within the soup of memory, like slime.

I walked the whole round today. I have avoided it for days, maintaining to myself that I am always tired and, thus, justified in my short walk which isn’t a walk at all, not really. Some of my friends, my sisters, my brother, speak most jauntily of a mere 7 miles and twice a day, and, whilst they cover this ground in my mind, I am left slouched and idle in my 20 minute trudge through a ‘not-walk’. So, this day, this ice day, this day of clarity when Ben Mhor, so clear and so near, looks like the whole mountain might suddenly appear in my kitchen, I decide not to agree with my trudge self, but, instead, to walk on. And, I am glad of it. I could feel the eyeball searing cold of the Atlantic hit me as I curved myself around the apex, even though there was not a stitch of wind, nothing even enough to shimmy a leaf. I paused, often, to really look. Striations of ice lay on the stand water, water that will, possibly, give birth to tadpoles in the Spring, whereas now it just reflects the sky in rainbow connections. The trees, skeletal and defying identification for I am great with leaves and considerably less great with bark and shape, lean over me like big sisters, strong and well rooted. The ground is caramel with fallen beech leaves, glowing eerily in the light of the sinking sun, sienna with a touch of ochre. The track is puckered with ridges of frozen mud, elevated by boot trudge, by the hooves of horses, the snatch-track of bikes and I feel a peaceful calm run through me. My pace is timpani inside the silence. A jay screeches, a woodpecker cuts the silence and I watch it lift and flip away. Ravens, their voices so confident, commenting on the day, black and slow in flight, flap lazily through the blue. Lady Larch, the queen of the woods, catches all the orange of the last sun. In a human world, she would be a model. She is certainly tall enough.

A constellation of star moss lines the track on my homeward walk. I stop to marvel at the frost-bright crowns each stem wears upon its head. On the track, the grey stones have grown an old man’s stubble, white with light, but, unlike an old man’s stubble, it melts beneath my fingers rendering the stones an immediate ordinary. I come back through my little wonky chops gate. The latch no longer meets its docking. T’is a winter thing. Come Spring, it will happily click shut again, but, for now, I must needs elevate one side of the gate in order to connect with the other. Inside the fire yet burns and as merrily as it always does, the smile of welcome; welcome home. I make tea and press play on my talking book, resuming my place as observer to another’s taut and well paced story. My story is not well paced. It is only in the re-telling of a story that any well-pacing can be brought to bear, as if distance from the drama matters. And, I concede, it does matter. In the thick of the drama, however undramatic this drama may be, everything is sharp, frozen even, and with no recourse to sensibility. On the other side of any story, the eyes of the observer are essential, even if the observer is she who lived through that story, or he for that matter.

Veg roasted, candles lit, fire encouraged into a new and warmer flame, I am content. I have walked further this day. I have watched ice halo star moss; I have laughed at my ignorance of trees without leaves and stood beneath those massive skeletons in awe. I saw the Atlantic buffet, albeit kindly, the basalt and granite shoreline; I studied the ice diamonds on the track, one I walked today. Walking on diamonds.

Every girls dream.

Island Blog – Twister

03.30. I wake, come downstairs, make tea. I flick lights on. It’s cold down here. The rain makes the conservatory roof sound like it’s a floor for a troupe of small tap dancers. I stopped the oil flow for the kitchen range, ready for a Monday flue clean. I stopped smoking, something that made sense a few days ago and one that now wonders me. I turn Bon Iver, Holocene up loud. There is nobody here, now, to disturb, and the last line, ‘I can see for miles and miles and miles’ is both a taunt and an excellent description of my husband. He always saw for miles, oft missing the trudging en route to that distant dream. That was my work, Judy, Jude, Wife, Woman, Worker, married to Popz, Topz, the Admiral, Estate owner, Whale Father, Recording Engineer, Fairbs. The Dreamer.

Richard. He didn’t like his name. I thought that weird until I realised I didn’t like mine either, or didn’t relate to it. When I spoke his name he always said Uh Oh……am I in trouble? So, ok, can I call you darling? Honey? No. It was a minefield for years until he finally landed on Popz. Relief, for sure, but also a distancing for me, his wife, a shift he didn’t notice but one that estranged me. He was a complex man, warm around titles, cold around himself.

All this doesn’t stop the missing. Yes, I have the house back, my choice of music to play up loud, the chance to crunch celery anywhere I like but he’s been irritating me for decades and now I wouldn’t mind an irritation or two. What does a person do when there is no chance of that again? Move easily through the days? I never did ‘easy’. Life was never easy. Life was a twister. Life with Popz, Topz, the Admiral was a twister.

I will be glad to light the range again. Somehow the cold outside of me makes the cold inside of me colder. I guess this is grieving. A new housemate.

Island Blog – Into the Mirror

Last night I dreamed the strangest of dreams. Everything is acceptable, believable, in dreams. The craziest happenings are, well, just normal. I had driven miles to a place in the middle of nowhere, a place of one house at a time and hundreds of miles apart. In between, vast cornfields. Poppies and other wildflowers grew at the edge of one such field, although I never found the responding edge. Chances are it was a three day drive away, so huge was this crop of golden stems. Man food. I considered those who were here before, the wildflowers, the great trees, the wildlife, all working together in a synergy we have never successfully simulated.

I parked at the end of a track but could see the guest house nestled in a halo of man-planted, fast growing shrubbery and whiskery trees. I was extremely tired and considered, for a while, sleeping in my car. But the longing to lie down between crisp cotton sheets overtook such thought and propelled me towards the door and check-in.

My room had no walls. Not one. It seemed quite normal to me. Furniture, a desk, a cupboard with hangers, a chest of drawers and a chair created the illusion of a contained space. There was even a door in a frame, attached to nothing. I lay awake a while staring out at the cornfield, watching it vanish as the dark intensified. Then I slept and deeply.

I awoke to the sound of the door opening. A manservant (I knew him by his dress and his demeanour) came in with a silver coffee pot to fill my cup. I asked him the time and when he told me it was 9 am I was astonished. I never sleep beyond 6. I rose, dressed and headed out for a cornfield walk. A man walked by on stilts and I greeted him, watching him lope through the corn in long easy strides. Two children played with a stuffed giraffe. I heard their laughter before I saw them. This giraffe was a fully grown male, or had been, once and it was lying on its side. The children jumped over his neck, a skipping game of their own devise. The girl, breathless, sank down to wrap her arms around the long neck, her little fingers scratching over the glass eye. I watched them a while. All still perfectly normal.

On my return, I found a woman entirely dressed in pink in a warm motherly sort of way, sitting at a trestle table upon which sat pots and bowls of red jelly and a round mirror on a stand. She tipped jelly from one container to another, studied her work and noted her findings down in a little book. I stopped to greet her, thinking she was my hostess but she assured me she was not. I lingered awhile watching her work. She was lost in it until she suddenly came back to me and smiled, turning the mirror around until I saw me looking back.

It thinks me; not what it all meant because dream divination is not my skill, nor my interest, but more, why the mirror? I know that at the end of every road is a mirror. I read it once, heard it said often. The mirror shows me, me. It also shows what is behind me, the places I have been, my part in a created past, my past, my creation. How I felt, how I feel when catching sight of my reflected self is always a surprise. I look like that? Seriously? From behind these eyes of mine I see ahead. I see you but I don’t see me and when I do, it takes me a few seconds to acknowledge my own face. It brings me back to me and a lot of questions. Am I happy with myself, proud of my achievements? Am I kind and compassionate, strong and vulnerable, humble and yet ready to fight for my beliefs, for others, for justice? Only when I have made answer, settled my initial fright, can I turn back to looking out.

I remember one counsellor (been to hundreds) suggesting mirror work. Back then I could barely look myself in the eye, turning hurriedly from a snap reflection in a shop window. Now I get it. The mirror is vital as a reminder that life is not someone else’s problem, but my own. The walking out, of Me, matters. Not just to others but much more so to myself. All the great and good know this, taught it and still do. All religions hold loving self as a basic truth, a first step, the very heartbeat of life. Until we can look long and steady into that mirror, sorting out all those failings that make us turn away, we will live only half a life. We will snap back into our shame and blame as great pretenders. We will arrive at the final day and wonder what happened.

I want to meet that last mirror with a long hard look, no secrets, no shame. I want to see the miles and miles of my past just as it was and know I did more than okay. And then, to move on.