Island Blog – Ups and Downs

Changing the furniture. That’s what I am doing. I am free now to make this little house more homely. For years it has looked like a nursing home with most of the tables and chairs stacked in what used to be the office, out of the way of your wheelchair manoeuvres. The carpet cleaners came to lift the tracks across the sitting room with a big noisy machine. The painter came to re-decorate your room and it smells quite different now. Your hand prints are painted over, so only I will remember all those times you held on to the wall for support. Your favourite mug is at the back of the cupboard and our little dog no longer sleeps in what was your room. She doesn’t sleep in mine, either, choosing instead to curl up on a chair downstairs. When you were dying, she wanted to be close and spent many nights tip-tapping between us, bothered, pacing, if a border terrier could ever manage anything as big as a ‘pace’.

Music plays all day now, all sorts, classical, country, ballads, blue grass and as loud as I want for there is no-one here to yell at me to pipe down. I even play women singers, screechers to you, even repeating a song three or four times. That would have driven you to eruption, as you did erupt, Vesuvius, suddenly, and at full volume, causing Poppy to bark and me to drop something that probably broke.

I light the fire, no longer concerned that you will be too hot within minutes, demanding open windows and water to put it out again. There are no wires across the cleaned carpet, no phone chargers, of which, by the way, you seem to have been the proud owner of about ten, all plugged into an plug bank, all ready for active duty. You had one phone. No, that’s not true. You had 6 phones but 5 of them lie, rejected, in the cupboard under the stairs, along with enough wiring and enough headphones for a large choir in an even larger recording studio. What will I do with all this stuff? Nothing, for now.

The washing machine is bored. She has enjoyed a lot of spinning and sloshing for months and she stares at me, open mouthed each time I pass her by. It takes a few days for me to fill her maw, but when I do, when I pour in the wash liquid, add the conditioner, select the cycle and press Go, I swear she squeaks with delight. The fridge is almost empty, the draining board very quiet and I only have to sweep the floors every four days instead of four times a day. It all feels both great and sad, for who am I now? What do I do with my lack of purpose, the one that has driven me (to distraction at times) for years? I suspect it will come to me, over time.

The children are beginning to gather, the first arriving later today and the others tomorrow, for your laying to ground on Friday. The weather forecast promises rain and wind so we are searching for wellies and umbrellas. You always loved the wild weather, we all remember that, especially at sea when the waves rose to the clouds and the clouds answered back, soaking everything including everyone’s sandwiches. You just laughed. In your element, you were. The wilder the better. However, it might have been kinder on us to have organised something sunny and soft for Friday, for we will all be on that hill for as long as it takes to lower your body back down into the arms of Mother Earth. We are even discussing how to waterproof our readings because, as you know, rain on the island never falls straight. It curves and whips and flips and shoots up noses and skirts and kilts. I can hear you say ‘So?’. And it makes me smile.

When the children leave, I will stay. The Autumn will come, and then the Winter bringing darkness and cold and long spaces in between everything. And I will miss your wisdom. ‘We must close the garage door tonight. The wind is in this direction.’ Or ‘That drain needs scraping out’. Or ‘The gutters will need a clean now.’ Even when you couldn’t do these tasks yourself, you knew when they needed doing. Now I will have to work them out for myself and that feels scary. I tell myself I am no fool, that I will learn new ropes, that I am strong and independent and practical. And it’s true, I am, but there is always that little voice of doubt in my head.

So, my old gone husband, I will keep missing you, even though I know life will be easier from now, even though I can do what I want to do whenever I want to do it. After we lay you down whilst we stay up, keep an eye on us from your new home in Neverland. I’ll wave at you on a starry night. We all will.

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 – A Crescendo of Growth

I can see it coming. The new shoots pushing through cold ground, like babies being born. One minute, safe, warm and dark, and suddenly thrust into the light, sharp, blinding. Flipped by the wind (or the midwife), smacked by the rain (ditto) and cold, so cold. It is understandable, the heartfelt desire to return to B4, but that option has been taken away for ever. Moving onto A1 is what Mother Nature insists we do, all growing things. If she is always moving on, then so must we. Instinct drives, timing is life or death. We must comply.

This, sadly, also goes for bodily hair. I think we women will all look like scarecrows with moustaches and caterpillar eyebrows by the end of this enforced lockdown. Unless we have a family member who can offer us smooth passage and who happens to own salon scissors. Ah…….there may not be many of those who inhabit such fortunacity. My word. But sticking to the subject, I wonder how we will grow through this time. The people I have talked to on Skype, messenger, WhatsApp and the Alexander Bell are all thinking we will grow better. I am with them on that. I know folk who have faced down death and returned to live a stronger, more focussed, more sensitive life, letting more unimportant stuff go and ferreting around for the things that really matter, but felt like ordinary and uninteresting. Before this. In a way we are all facing down death right now and it will teach us many things.

As I come down the stairs to see the moon face to face instead of letting her think that her sneak through the cracks in my curtains will ever be enough, I am thankful for the stairs holding up. There was a time when holding up caught a fever and wobbled a lot, requiring skilled assistance to de-wobble. I am thankful for my washing machine, car, ability to scrub the inside of those flaming mugs that will not let go of tea tannin, go for walks with my frocks always at odds with the capricious snatches of the west coast wind. I watch primroses push out more colour, a siskin or a goldfinch on the nicer seed feeder, the way my dwarf willow dances flamenco on the hilly back garden. I am thankful for the postmistress #suchacrazytitle delivering mail in her disposable gloves, smiling and joking with me through the window as I stand on the laundry basket from Nincompoo Laundry, Calcutta. I’m thankful for that too.

My finger nails have never been this clean. Neither has my husband. What I am learning in this time is what really matters, such as looking after him myself. I am cooking good food once more having absented myself from any meaningful connection with pots, pans, process and palavers. For what seems a long time I have served him one of his ready meals (good quality) from the microwave and then boiled myself pasta, added pesto and salad. One of my granddaughters was horrified, not about her grandfather’s ready meal thingy, but my pasta on repeat thingy. Granny… she admonished. This is not like you! But it was like me, back then. Now I am purposed up, my extra busy imagination coming up with all sorts of marvellousness just as I did when cooking for five hungry kids plus hangers on. There were always plenty of those, and nobody on this island ever sends anyone home without something in their bellies. It just isn’t done.

Now I am about to start finding out how to make face masks. This should be interesting. I wonder if I will be able to stick with the J Cloth plus ribbons rule? What…..no macrame flowers or beads and bobbles? Abso- flipping-lutely NOT. Rats. I am also knitting dog blankets for our dog. She is currently the lucky owner of 3 colourful/wool and easy wash blended reaches of bonkers colour. The easy wash part washes, well, easy. The wool part is obviously sulking and retreating into itself, so that a part of the blanket looks more like a ploughed field, but Poppy doesn’t seem bothered all that much. She just turns a few circles and flops down on the easy wash, resting her delightful black nose on the ploughed field, so she can see out all the better.

I am daily delighted by all the entrepreneurial posts on social media. People are doing things they probably always wanted to do, but didn’t consider their work to be of notable value. Now it definitely is and this is what the human race is all about. I remember, as you will, the oldies saying that what the world needs is a jolly good war. Although there is nothing jolly about any sort of war, they had a point, one that now makes sense to me. What they meant is that, during wartime, a family, a community, a village, a city, a country, the world has to pull together, as we are all now doing. How does it feel to you? I think it is marvellous partisan excellent quiddity. In fact, I am quite astir just thinking about how wonderful folk are. We are learning to care outside of our boxes and demonstrating that care in ways that fulfil and nourish the givers as much as it does the receivers. In short, we are finding a new currency.

Hats off to all of you doing whatever you are doing for others. I am just waiting for that balmy summer evening inside a city when all those musicians, isolated in their own homes, communicate with each other, fix on a song or a piece of music and open their windows to delight a whole street, to lift, just for a short while, the anxiety and the fear, turning them into birds and butterflies and telling us all that together, we will grow through this.