Island Blog – Ma, Him and the Canyons of my Mind

Ok so yesterday was yesterday. In looking back I always ask myself, What do I learn from the day before? I am quite unable to just let it go without a considered and mindful consideration. It has come to me, puzzled me in its intensity and thus has a message. I won’t miss that message. Although the terrain through which I inched my snail-like hours swung between a tricky wade through old porridge, a vast empty desert that scalded my skin and burned my toes and an endless stretch of bog with pummets of strong grass and sinkholes to trip me, I knew I had something to learn, to understand.

It has only been 12 weeks since he abandoned me to me; since he fled the nest and left me with a thousand words in my mouth and as many questions. Although I can now choose white lights over those miles of coloured ones, choose where I put this chair or that little table, choose when I walk the dog and where I walk her without having to say where I am going, I find such a freedom both heady and terrifying. All those little things we said, like Look at that! or It’s our granddaughters birthday on Monday, or Shall we play scrabble? Maybe it was Do I feed the orange tree or shall I wait till next weekend? Now there is no him to say it to, even if, latterly, I got little response. The warm being that was there and not there was still there, was here. I remember my old ma saying to me when I furioused at her for his lack of interest in me ‘At least you know he is there.’ I didn’t get it. Dad had died a long time ago. But I get it now.

Today, this day, the day after porridge, desert, bog day, I feel an acceptance. I know that I spend a lot of time in the canyons of my mind, wandering like Alice sometimes and like a refugee on the run at others. I am looking for a new land, after all. I know it will be there one day and that this ‘wandering’ is very important. I will not stay fixed like one of those old Scottish stone markers still planted and dating back to the days of Rob Roy, my forebear. One says 25 miles to Oban. In a car it is half that. Walking the ups and downs, traversing the bogs and avoiding musket fire en route meant more miles on foot. It meant something once, a reassuring marker and guide but nowadays it is obsolete and I know this is important to ‘get’. Fears nowadays are not of musket fire, nor of sudden ambush from the reevers or royal soldiers, loyal to the king, but of the inner enemies that live inside a mind. I work to challenge my mind, to stop as I wander through its canyons and to notice, to notice. Birds of prey flying high means something is dead beneath. A song bird means trees and fruit are not so far away. A scampering rat means there is a predator around, something with a higher shelf life. Geese, swans and ducks mean water. Distant laughter means humans.

This may sound a bit weird but I have know since childhood that I live in many worlds. It compromised my dreams and confounded me as a young girl. Now, in my evening life, I get it. And in that knowing comes responsibility. I need to pay attention and to learn, even when I sometimes feel fed up with all these learning requirements. I never know what any day will bring but I have chosen to notice and to pay attention. Sometimes, when I meet someone and look into their eyes (not in a weird way) I can see they also live in many worlds. I also see that this world has managed to tame them and I am sad. My ma always said, after we chatted about the fact that I was born in Westmoreland which has now become North Yorkshire at some human’s whimsy hand, that I would have been burned at the stake had I lived in an earlier time. She didn’t really get me and no more did I, but latterly when we had time together she was open to my ‘nonsense’ in the fondest of ways.

So I walk on through the canyons. They do not meet my eyes as I look out of my window. They are not in the conversations I have with friends or passers-by. They are not in legal documents nor in the discussion about what grave stone we should erect for himself who fled the nest and left me to me. But, and this still astounds me, he ‘got’ me. It infuriated the bejabers out of him often when the worldly requirements were required, but he did say I was his spiritual guide and that I was the one he came to when, on rare occasions, he could speak of his own porridge, deserts and bogs. And sometimes he would walk the canyons with me.

I’ll rest with that.

Island Blog – Alice and Me

I have noticed this. In the morning, when I awaken, could be 4, could be 5 and sometimes a glorious sixer, I think new thoughts, like a child, and all those thoughts are interrupted by questions. What is the morning like beyond those blackout curtains? What will the weather do, what will I do? What shall I wear? Do I smell coffee #obviously not? Where’s the dog? That sort of thing. All fresh and spontaneous and floaty, newish, new, light as air. These Alice questions follow me to the bathroom as I wash and brush and take a look in the mirror. That grounds me. Oh, hallo Old Wise Fool, I whisper with fondness. I have no idea why I still whisper, but I do. Decades of early whispering gets stuck in a woman’s DNA.

I descend the stairs, avoiding the stairlift chair. Let me tell you about that. A week or so ago, my little grand girl was chair-lifting herself up and down. All the grand girls know the rules. One at a time. Ask permission first. She had gone through that process. I, on the other hand, being Wise and Foolish, had not checked that the duvet cover, draped over the bannisters, was clear of the workings. She ground to a halt, my little grand girl. Oh, Gaga, she said. I’m stuck. I should let you know that when they call me thus, they refer to Lady Gaga and not the alternative meaning. When I called the engineer of chairlifts, he was most kind and said he would pop over shortly to sort the twist of thick material now almost a part of the cog mechanism, so melded it was, and is, still.

As I descend those same stairs, I notice that early thoughts don’t all come with me as if they know they are dream thoughts and know their place. The Alice in me meets the day about half way down. The day before has its own residue, and rising. We meet for conversation. It’s like I grow up every morning, from dream child to sensible old woman. Sometimes there is a collision. Other times, a collusion. Either way, it is new each morning.

As the day grows and develops, bringing with it a list of things to fill in, such as lawyer’s letters requiring originals of every important document, plus my own ID, for goodness sake, as if nobody knew I had stuck with this man for almost 50 years, and, as if I might be a sudden nobody, I drink coffee and move on. Each day brings its accompanying thoughts and fears and doubts. Overwhelmed, often, I remember the Alice on the mid-stairs and breathe. I can meet her there anytime I choose, and I do. It thinks me, about thoughts. They tend to gather as the ordinariness of a day crowd in like a noisy rabble, set to confound and dissemble. I go half way up those stairs, just below the strangled chairlift and sit. Hallo world, I say (not whisper). I am strong, wise and paying attention. I can do this. I’ve got this. It will pass. I’m not sure the world likes that much.

When I go to bed, I pass Alice mid-way and crook her in my arms. My thoughts are a circus. In my thinking I bring her, fresh young child, upstairs as a gift to my night. Even if my head is thringing with a million thoughts, she, on the stairs, half way down and half way up, is still fresh as a daisy, that beauty that rises with the sun and closes as it sets. So simple, so fresh, so free. I have dealt with lawyers, probate, funeral expenses, ID requirements and also ran. I am ancient by the time I trudge to bed. But she is not.

And she is me.

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 – Tribute

I always feel better after writing a blog. Is it, I ask myself, to offload, to teach, to preach, to, in other words, misuse my public forum? It’s a goodly question to ask myself. Once I have ferreted around in the cellars of myself, once I have come up feeling strong in my purpose, sure that it is not about me but about anyone else who may click with something I write, I write. This is one of those well-ferreted writes.

Today was troubled. The way it works for a full-time carer is this:- Day begins hopeful, trusting and light. Then one becomes two as the one in care descends the stairs, floating on metal poles and thanks to Major Tom, aka the chairlift. This is when the mode and mood of the day is proffered as IT. Now I have a choice and a decision to make. If the gloom descends with him, then I must attend to said gloom. I can resist it, but we all know resistance is futile. I can poke at it, ask questions, play bright, but I can hear my voice, in a slightly higher key, sounding sharp as badly cut tin. This won’t work. I lift my ass from my seat, round to the kitchen, make coffee, hot strong and black. Not enough. This gloom is following me, I can see it, smell it, feel its touch on my back. I swing about. Go Away! I hiss, but hissing works no better than resistance. I can feel it pulling at my skin, seeping in, changing me.

The day rolls slow. At 10 am I bake a cake, thinking, this will do it. It’s my usual flat pancake but with cherries which makes flat okay. Taste is everything, after all. We wander through the morning, him restless, moving moving moving all the time, the click and whir of the wheelchair setting my teeth on fire. Ears, I say, stop listening! I have always believed, and proved, that ears are obedient souls, if you organise them right. Pulling birdsong forward and pushing clicks whirs and other unpleasant noises back works well, for a while, but I must be vigilant. One relax and the click whirs are wild in my head whilst my teeth could burn down Rome, even from here. I read the affirmations on my kitchen wall. You can do this. I’m doing great. I believe in my dreams. This too shall pass. Those sorts of affirmations. Ya di ya I tell them today, but I don’t rip them down as I have in the past because that is resigning myself to the gloom. I cook, walk, feed birds, watch the clouds, berate Lady Moon for not showing me herself at 4 am and keep going, keep going, keep going.

It’s like holding up a bridge every single day. Just me (or just you). Mostly I can do this (so can you). Mostly. But it is exhausting, endless and with no end in sight. I have to be cheerful for two every single minute of every single day (so do you). I have to think ahead, plan, make sure the way is clear, be kind, laugh, smile, show up no matter how I feel or what I want. I could go a bit further for a walk. Easy. Not. I still could, but I don’t. On Gloom days I am fearful. What if he falls, gets more muddled about this or that, what if he just feels scared and needs me to hold that heavy bridge up?

This is caring. You who do it, already know. Outside of our lives are many who support us and show great compassion. We need it, oh boy we do, but they haven’t a scooby about what it’s like for us, minute by minute, day by endless day and I hope they never do. Holding up a bridge, alone, scared, ageing, tired, exhausted, doubting, weak and sleepless is something we have fallen in to. We won’t abandon our post but the ask is great.

I salute all of you who care enough to be caring. This is my tribute to you.

Island Blog 153 On Good Men and Unicorns

unicorn

I have heard said, that good men are like unicorns.  Everyone talks about them but nobody ever sees one.

To compare a man with a unicorn, is, indeed, a strange thing to be sure.  Unicorns may be ‘fictitious’ creatures, but they are very real in fairy stories, folklore and even in Harry Potter’s world, which is one I almost believe in.  Many times I have faced down a pillar on some bleak and windy station, thinking positively about rushing towards it in search of Platform Nine and Three Quarters.  I don’t, of course, being ever so slightly aware that I may, indeed, be a Muggle after all, and, thus both bitterly disappointed, and in need of cosmetic surgery.

The other thing that stranges me about a comparison between unicorns and good men, is that men, in my experience, couldn’t be more earthed.  I may attempt, for example, to unfold my feelings about some aspect of my life only to be asked scientific questions. What shape, when, why and how.  I may float (just a bit) around concepts of life, love and marmelade and be yanked back down to earth with a sensible ‘fix’ to the situation, one that completely misses my point, not that I have had one of those in a long time.  In fact, my being afflated about some other-worldly issue very possibly negates the need for a point, as there are many and none in the mackle mind of a woman at such times.

Now, I know, like you do, that unicorns have hooves and must, therefore, do things like walk, trot, canter and gallop, and for all of these activities, they require some sort of stable terrain, one with depth and structure, one they can see and expect to see whilst they do all of these things.  In this, they are very like men, I agree.  But, and this ‘but’ divides and separates, they can fly, of float, or elevate and there are few, if any, good men who can do that.

But is there a difference between Men and Good Men?  I wonder if this is simply an act of perception.  I say ‘act’ because it is a doing word and not a being word and there’s my point.  And I have another.  Does the perception of a man make him good?  If I imagine him to be like a unicorn, powerful, there when you need a lift out of danger, able to move fast over ground or through the air, beautiful, intelligent, magical and interesting, might he not become so? Whereas, if I imagine him stupid and blunt, strong-like-bull but dimwitted and messy and thoughtless, might I not be fashioning him that way?

I know this is a chicken and egg question, but it has thinked me for a while and made me watch folk and consider.  We can divide our lives into little controllable units, and, in many ways, this is a good thing.  I want my day planned, to a degree, to the degree that is important to me, that is.  I want to know when this or that is needed by my family, and what my role is in making it right for them.  But, if I have forgotten what it was like when first we met, then, chances are, so has he.  Life and the gravity of it has pulled us all down.  It happens, but the clever ones among us notice this.  If I stopped the car suddenly and said to you, Look There Goes a Unicorn, even if you were the biggest domesticated woman cynic ever, you would look, you would ask Where?  But if I said There Goes Your Husband, you might look, you might, but, if it was somewhere you didn’t expect him to be you might say…..well you might say all sorts of things but you would not have the same look on your face as you did when I called him a Unicorn.

Island Blog 34 – To Rise and Fall and Rise again.

Today I spent a happy time with 3 other women over lunch.  We talked of many things, and sometimes all at the same time, but the theme that wound its way through all our conversations, was the ‘how’ of living.  How we each manage it.

Some of us walk a steady, even path, although it wasn’t always so steady.  Another is young, and she will take many paths, mainly out of youthful curiosity.

Do we lose that curiosity I wonder?  Or have we found that it doesn’t only kill cats?

The way we germinate the seeds of our own personal existence, it seems to me, is decided by the choices we make as we live out our life.  But if we felt we had no choice, or if choice was made on our behalf, does that mean that those seeds never grow and bloom?

There is a theory that we make our own choices, whether it looks like it or not.  Actually, I do agree with that theory, but I also hate it at times.  It is so much more pleasant to present myself as a victim of circumstances, or of some overbearing ‘other’ in my life.  After all, I could have been this or that, had I been allowed to make my own choices.

Couldn’t I?

When you live like I do, on a daily roller coaster, you are allowed to cast envious glances to those marching steadily along their level path of choice.  It’s fine when I am riding on point break, towering over the world and shouting ‘Woohoo, Look at Me!’  but quite another as I sink into the troughs and nearly drown.  And I do it every single day.  It is, in a word, exhausting to be me, but I am me and that’s that.

So, Me, how are we to accept that we made this choice very early on in life?  Our sisters seem very sorted, our brother too, and we all came from the same nest.  What, or who decided that we would think too much about every flaming thing, lifting up the carpet of life over and over again until the tacks give up and ping off into the unknown, leaving a permanent curl for everyone else to trip over?

Enough questions.

I have found that my first important decision each day lies not in what I do, or where I go, but in how I see what I see.  This doesn’t mean I should spend all my time looking inward but quite the opposite. When I have heard that someone is off to find themselves, in India or some such place, I have to conceal an inner snigger. In order, it seems, to feel ok, no, better, good about being a volatile lunatic, like I am, is to look at the world of which I am an essential part.  I know that sounds a bit cocky, but to be honest, it works for me.  If I can tell myself that I am here for a specific purpose, just as I am, with my own seeds to nurture and grow, then my roller coaster begins to make some sense.  After all, I can see higher and lower than the ones on the steady path.  I can spin among the clouds and swim in the deeps and I can use those powers of observation to help another.  I can take what looks like a heavy load and call it a gift. And I need to do this exactly where I am, because to flip off to India would be fine, but only if I could leave me behind.

Which I cannot.

If I am the one who has to surf the biggest waves, then let me learn how to surf.  If it is I who must sink into those troughs, then I must learn to be a cork.

And then, let me have the presence, the absolute engagement with where and who I am, to find one who fears their own sinking, and to show them that they can do it too.

Island Blog 21 – To Travel Hopefully

Island Blog 21

As the outside shoots past my grubby window, I take in my fellow travellers.  I know where I’m going, of course, and they are going somewhere too, somewhere that requires them to pack a sandwich and a bottle of mineral water, pick up their book or kindle, their music machine and their mobile phone, just as I did first thing this morning.

I unpack my picnic and sigh quietly (I am in the quiet coach) at the squash of bread and lettuce and crumbly cheese, all gloopy now with the mayonnaise smearing up the window of my cleverly designed sandwich bag with a seal-again top, which I can never seal again, by the way.  You have to match the tram lines or it just won’t seal and it always ‘just won’t seal’ under my fingers.  I could put my specs on, but decide, instead, as I am too hungry, that I won’t bother.  I’ll just post it into my mouth in fingerfuls and chew it…..quietly.

The woman across the way from me is texting.  She has been texting for 40 minutes now and her buttons must be quite worn out.  Her keypad pings with each letter and she obviously can’t spell because, every so often, I hear her puffs of exasperation escape into the warm air of Coach B.  The man behind me has a dry cough, and I feel the punch of each one hit my shoulder as if he is firing peppercorns between the seats.  I shift a little, although I don’t want him to think me rude.

And then there are the whispering people, who hardly move for fear of breaking the rule of silence.

Where are they going? I begin to wonder.  Are they going to or from?  Is one of them running away, or running towards something or someone, and is there hope in their hearts or the foetid drudge puddle of exhausted defeat?

Do they love and are they loved?  Do they sing or write or make the best parsnip soup in the village?  Do they have regrets?

I like to answer some of my questions myself, for I could never speak them out into the polite air of the quiet coach.  I pretend the man with the cough has finally walked out on his over-bearing wife, having told her the thing or two he’s been wanting to tell her for years.  That’s why he has a cough now.  His vocal chords are astonished.

I continue this reverie, developing it to such a degree of joy and happiness on his behalf, that it’s all I can do not to swing round and congratulate him.  Instead, when its my turn to leave, I flash him my widest smile and alight, minding the gap.