Island Blog – The Dive Board, the Door and the Girl

As the days roll on my thinks shift and settle in new shapes. Although it is written that grief has seven stages and are sequential, it is a lie, unless I am the weirdo I always believed myself to be. Please note the past tense. Initially, in other words just a year ago, I spent some weeks feeling I was in control. I could do this. It wasn’t so hard after all and ‘after all’ is relevant here because I had been watching him die slowly for years and that is all consuming, all demanding, all scary, infuriating, debilitating and many other ‘ings’ beside. Then came the crash, the inner questioning, the confusion and self-doubt as the past, our shared past threatened like a courtroom with me in the dock. Now, a year later, a year when without has taken me within and within is somewhere I had avoided for about 60 of them, years I mean I am opening like Strelitzia. It is a mess in there, I told Myself, a mire, a slough, a war, a holocaust. Don’t go there. So we didn’t, she and I. Sometimes within would scratch at the door, mewl and scream out, but we ignored it. The very thought of opening that door to be floored by a boiling wave of recriminations, of bloody fury, of lost times, of regret, shame and self-loathing was enough to keep us hunkered down, backed against a wall, listening with our hands over our ears. How is it, I asked her, that some people can ignore within for a whole lifetime and die with a smile on their faces? Myself takes my hand. I don’t know, she says, but we are not ‘some people’ now, are we? We are curious and we long to heal. I nod, but my jitters are jittery and I feel nausea rise.

At first, the first time I considered opening the door to within, I had support from a counsellor. I trust him completely and have known him some years. His wisdom and experience in the ghastly arenas of caring and grief are not in clever words but in his gentle eyes, and his empathy. He responds to something I throw-away say with a hand to his heart. Ouch, he says, and his eyes tell me the rest. He gets it, he hears me. I have a voice. I am important. I am all that I longed to be and was sure I was not. I feel like I did back in school on the high dive board, the pool about 3 miles below me and a load of anticipates watching, watching just me, the skinny kid in a sleek black costume and on a strong, safe and flexible dive board. Climbing those steps was just climbing those steps. Once aloft and singular, shivering and terrified and alone, I saw the turquoise water like a puddle under my gaze. I had done this many times before, of course I had, but that was in the noisy swell of other girls, of friends, of a be-skirted swim teacher with a whistle between her lips. It was almost fun, but not this time. This time the team depended on my timing, my poise, my perfect arrow dive, my perfect arcuation and subsequent rise to the surface, sans snot and apoplectic coughing.

This state of being heard and valued is a like the foundation stone for a new build. At first I didn’t trust it. Soon, I told myself, it will be snatched away as it always has been, had been. Myself says nothing and keeps me walking. I am in the mood to keep on keeping on, so I concur and comply. I am tired of ignoring the wails and whines and fingernail scratchings of within anyway. As we walk through the days, I stumble often on the rocks of regret, am straked by the barbed wire of self-loathing, burned by the fire of fury and iced to freezing on the snows of regret and shame. Hmmm, I snort, this sequential thingy is a load of tiddley pom (I didn’t put it that way, to be honest). I have gone from roundabouts to swings, from trust to abandonment, from warm safety to cold ire and all inside one hour. But, very gradually, the wasteland is showing me a tree or two, the song of a bird, the comehither tinkle of fresh running water. I am seeing new, I am seeing hope, I am also able to look back without reaching for my sword, my armour. I don’t need protection because with help I have opened that door and let the within out. When I finally did open it, instead of a wave of furious rapacious fire, brimstone and demons, there was silence. You coming out? I said, once I had recovered from the surprise. Was my imaginary enemy not as I thought he was? My looking in rounded the open door. A girl, just a girl. Me, I recognised her at once. For all that wailing and whining and the fear, she was just a girl.

Come with me, I said, holding out my hand. Tell me all about you.

I have a writing on my wall. It reads thus :- ‘I love who I have become because I fought to become her.’ Although, at this time, the ‘love’ bit seems a bit strong, I am watching it each day and it is beginning to gravitate within. My sister asked me today ‘what defines a victim?’ A very good question. I considered, taking it immediately to myself. I was one, I answered, but not now. I allowed myself to be one, whined and wailed and railed against my victim state when, in truth, all I had to do was to open the door that was never locked, to climb those steps and then to dive, like an arrow, into who I always really was and can be again.

Island Blog – The Right Feet

Well, we all got through it, did we not! Christmas Day, done, for another year. I suspect we all felt a bit weird about this one, this strange creature in control of all of us, to some degree or another, faltering our forward motion as if we had our shoes on the wrong feet. Some of us could still meet with loved ones, some of us could not, thus facing a very deep sense of loneliness at a time when family becomes so very precious. Sharing laughter and games, songs, dancing, and the brightly lit faces of children takes on a new air of importance. And it was denied us. We don’t like being denied big things, if we are honest. As teenagers we would have found any such denial of liberty an anathema and, if you were like me, would have felt outraged, defiant and rebellious. But this time we were/are not in any position to stick our heads over the parapet. The bullets are too multiple, too accurately delivered by an enemy far more powerful than we mere mortals, and invisible. All we can do, regardless of boiling blood, resentment, isolation and with no sign of an end to this war, is to hunker down and support each other through the shivers and wails of despair. A bit like life in the trenches. There will be those whose natural humour will lift us with the most awful jokes, at which we laugh anyway, because we long to laugh and pretty much any humour will do, for now. We have been whittled down to a new shape and this has gifted us a new noticing. We see any light brighter; any voice more welcome to our ears; any gift greater than ever before. We can see, now, the loving care that went into that gift, the effort it took to make, or discover online, or purchase from a non-essential shop, all masked up and queueing for 3 weeks in the rain.

In short, we are becoming more human, not less so. In times like these, the ones to ask are the ancients. They have been through war, rationing, queuing for 3 weeks in the rain for a single loaf of stale bread. Most of us haven’t a scooby about such times, but now we do, to a degree, for we are living it and learning it, learning how to be the best humans we can be, despite the fear and ditherment, the lack of any light ahead, the lack of an end. We like an end. In business plans, dream plans, goal plans, the end comes first. What do I want to achieve? Well, that’s simple. I want ‘this’. Okay that good. Now, how do I get there? And so we break it down, and down and down again until we arrive at the first baby step. Getting out of bed is a good start.

But this situation is all about baby steps because not one single one of us can see the end. We can talk about it (endlessly), can raise a guesstimate or two, can prophesy and preach but it is all surmise. However, if you are like me, you like order. I want to know where I am going and why and how I will get there, even if ‘there’ is invisible and likely to remain thus for some time to come. If I cannot see the end, then what shall I do about the baby steps, and, what am I walking towards anyway with my shoes on the wrong feet? Answer comes there none. So, in this state of wrong-footing, and because I like order, I must decide what to do and how to do it. Then repeat it daily until the end reveals itself. The little things (which are actually very big things) I can do for myself, for my family and friends, can grow into a very long list. I consider this list and notice that, although I am writing these steps down for me to walk out, each one is not for my own gain. But, as I tick them off, completed, I feel a great warmth in my heart and I know why. It’s because I am thinking outside of my own insecurities and needs and giving a little (huge) something to someone else; friendship; recognition; kindness; acknowledging they exist at all and that they really matter. I think this is what we are learning. The basic principles of life on earth, a life shared by millions of other humans, all of whom know what it is to feel lost, scared, hopeless and stuck, are the fundamental rules of living. We forget them when we live as islands, which is exactly what we were doing pre covid, caught up in what we want for our selfish selves.

This time is a reminder. This time is our leveller. Let us hold out our hand to lift someone who stumbles and let us make sure our shoes are on the right feet so that we can all walk on through this courageously, together as a great big human team.