Island Blog – A Letter

Ten days since you died my husband. One week till your hillside funeral. All of your family think of you every minute, probably more often than even that. Memories come back, moments resurrect and stand tall, blocking our path. And yet we move on, doing normal things with an abnormal head on and a heart all flapdoodle but still beating. Mine feels like wings, as if there’s a bird trapped behind my ribcage unable to escape.

This morning I cleaned your room, now that all the hospital kit has gone. I took my palette knife and some white filler for all the many holes left in the walls, holes that remind me of hand rails and other attractive supports, no longer needed. Neither are the holes. There is a big enough one in me and in our little island home, even if I can move about more freely. The furniture is not pinned to the edges any more for easier wheelchair access. Actually, I did think you were a bit over the top in that particular demand. A wheelchair isn’t that wide, after all. Then I realised you had lost your innate spacial awareness and the evidence of that loss is scraped along doors and lintels and walls. You were pretty nippy in that chair, nonetheless, turning on a sixpence, making U turns and scoots forward when space allowed, and even lurching at great speed down the ghastly yellow ramp which is now looking for a new home.

The leaves are beginning to turn now. Conkers (we always looked for them didn’t we?) are landing on the track but I haven’t found a big one yet. You told me you always won conker battles and you also told me that you soaked them in vinegar overnight, making them like concrete. Scabious peppers the grassy banks finding the best sunshine spots. I saw 6 kittiwakes the other day, your favourite bird, flying seaward up the loch. I don’t think I have ever seen them here before. They came just for you.

The garden is looking a tad tatterlicious and the sweet peas gave up fighting the last big wind, but even broke-backed they bloom and their scent keeps wafting indoors, reminding me how much you loved them. I pick them for the house but soon they will be over for the year. Season rolls into season. You knew the sound of each one, its taste, its demands and its gifts. As one thing dies, another begins to live and that is how you saw life and death – the same circle, a never-ending story.

I am so happy that your dying was peaceful. No fight at all, no panic, no fear, just a soft leaving. And you wanted to go, you said so, to anybody who was listening. And so it is and was and ever will be when someone who cherished every second of a long adventurous life finds the living just too much. We didn’t want you to go but knew you did. We also knew that your living state was very compromised. But even at the last, your humour shone through those cloudy old eyes. Even knowing that the Great Beyond was calling you, hands held out in welcome, you whispered to me ‘ I don’t want to leave you.’

And then, you did.

Island Blog – Tuning, Turning and Today

I awake this morning knowing that I have been out of tune with life for a bit. I know it because, on awakening, I feel in tune once more. Instead of a night of mares and violent interlopers and slugging through the days quite certain that my internal cheerleaders have downed their pompoms and left for Ibiza, I floated inside the arms of sleep all the way up to 3.30 am. Going quietly downstairs to make a cup of tea, I noticed how dark it now is. Only last week, it seems, it was light enough to show me the way. Perhaps, I say to myself, it is the turning of the seasons that has set me at a discord; perhaps it is the unwinding of lockdown and the threat of incoming, be it friendly or hostile. This bubble has lived us pleasantly since March 16th, weeks passing like minutes, moons waxing, waning and all days are Today. We needed nothing more.

Of course, the current subject matter of care home, separation, guilt, grief, loss and fear may also have colluded in my needing a re-tune. Time is the best one for that, but we are impatient; I am impatient. When I might expect to back on my feet instantly, life is telling me Stay Down Awhile, you ridiculous woman, but I don’t take kindly to being told. I battle on, expecting my mood to lift with my feet as I troughle round the daily do’s and grow furious when it stays limp as old lettuce.

Trusting, however, as I do, in the spirit world, the one I cannot see, touch or control, softens my wires and loosens keys that have gone rigid of late. The tunes I played sounded like a mess of angry cats; hurtful even to my own ears, going nowhere, no cadence, no major lift or minor bend, just a racket. From this morning, I can hear the lilt once more of harmony, melody, flow and the relief runs through me like warm honey. Nothing has changed. All will go ahead, in its own time, at its own speed and all will be well. I know this now, even as I know that discordant days will come again as we make the journey to a new place and time. However, knowing this doesn’t disturb the melody for I have learned that life is not a set piece of music, but, instead, one that changes over and over again. All I need to do is allow it all to happen, to accept the sad times, to sit with them, say Hallo, and wait for them to move away.

Times like these we learn from, if we notice, stop, say Hallo and wait in trust. I wish I had understood this as a young woman instead of turning from the darkness, fighting the demons with sickeningly inadequate weapons, thinking that if I sang loud enough the melody would find me once again. So much time wasted in ignorance. But I am thankful to understand it now because I do not believe in the bad press; I know the nightmares are just unpleasant dreams and that all days are, simply, today.

Which, I am reminded, is Winnie the Pooh’s favourite day of all.

Island Blog – Garlic, Gratefulness and Fairies

In the afternoon sunshine of yesterday we set off to the Fairy Woods to gather wild garlic. I had a recipe for pesto and was keen to make it. Popz on his quad, me on my feet, Poppy trotting alongside, we wound our way through the violets, primroses, wood anemones and sorrel, between the mish-mash of ancient trees, all pushing out green. Turning down towards the shore we couldn’t avoid squashing a carpet of Celandine, faces pointed towards the sun, yellow as new butter, petal perfect. The ground was crunchy, old leaves drying, finally, and as far as we could see, a wide stretch of emerald green wild garlic leaves fluttered in the breeze. I knew I had to find 150 grams and made, as it turned out, a good guess. As we wandered back home, seeing absolutely nobody, we reflected on how this lockdown is a blessing for us. And how it must be a prison sentence for so many others. It’s good to be grateful, good for the health of the person with a thank you in her mouth.

In South Africa, nobody is allowed to go beyond the perimeter fence of their own garden, reserve, township or flat. Anybody found on the streets is at the mercy of the police. One person from each household is allowed to shop alone and once a week. All sales of alcohol and cigarettes are banned. I don’t think that sort of lockdown would make me all that grateful, although gratitude is not something we feel because we have everything. Sometimes our everything is someone else’s nothing much, but we can still find a thank you, if we trouble ourselves to think and reflect and, to a degree, compare our situation with another’s.

This slowdown lockdown time is giving us opportunities to check ourselves from the inside out; to question why we feel this flash of discontent or loneliness or self-criticism. What is it that brings these feelings? Have I felt this before, even when lockdown was not in place? Chances are, I have. So let me poke around through my memories, remembering how good they are at lying. Let me stop when the feeling comes and turn to say ‘hallo’. Let me look this feeling smack in the eyeballs and ask it what it wants from me now, now that I don’t need it at all. There is time for such work these days and, if we are canny, and if we have remembered our dreams and hopes for our own future, we have the chance to find an answer. Ah, so this thing that you do that annoys the bejabers out of me and always has……yes, that thing, the one you have no intention of stopping, even supposing you consciously know you do it in the first place, which you probably don’t.

So, instead of allowing that irritation to rise in me, I will consider a different way to live with this thing in you. How about I am so busy doing my own thing that yours is just a whisper in the winds of change? Or perhaps I will notice and reflect on my own habits that I know irritate you; if I have the humility to go there, of course. It takes courage to go there. Many of us don’t bother. We want everything, not just something and there’s not a lot of gratitude in that. In fact we prefer, if you don’t mind, to grumble about ‘your’ irritating thing, to growl at it, to let it control us, for that is exactly what we are doing.

Well, poo to that. I know that I do spend much time poking about inside myself, and that for some I am a bit of a laughing matter, but it is my thing. If I want to rise from this slowdown lockdown not only intact, but elevated and forever changed, which I do, then I must adopt an attitude of non-judgemental humility and that non-judgement must apply to me too. This way gratitude lies, even for those who cannot walk as we do every day into the Fairy Woods, even them. A time of reflection is laid out before us now, like the Celandine and, if we turn our perfect petals to the light of the sun, we can all come out on the other side of this as better humans.

We never did see a fairy.