Island Blog – Slow Day in a Big Life

Sometimes a day begins as if someone has a finger on the pendulum, slowing it down. I know about pendulums. I have been working with an old stable clock, a beauty, for the past ten days tweaking said pendulum up a bit, down a bit as the minutes either raced away, leaving the morning behind like it never happened or slowed down so that the morning was still the morning at 3pm. I think this day me and the pendulum might just be in sync. It is extremely exciticating, as if I have found a new friend and wonderful synergy. I swear that clock is grinning with an all-the-credit smile from high up on the kitchen wall. I remember the stories about it, the way it told accurate (hmm) time in my father-in-law’s stud in Yorkshire so that the time for exercising the horses worked with the grooms, the stable hands and the master. Quite a feat. In my shared life with this lovely clock, its tick and its tock kept the beat in our farmhouse kitchen and its old yellowed face with Roman numerals was my go-to when children needed to get to school or it was time to scoot out and open the veg shop. This clock was our time keeper. This clock has hung in complete silence for 2 years, since I could not be bothered negotiating with truculence, too busy with the demands of caring. Nowadays it is a rare thing to encounter a pendulum clock because, perhaps, it is just too much trouble to work with pendulum time. And I get that. People want instant and digital which, in my view, takes a lot away from the understanding of time and says a great deal about how impatient we have all become, even though I was there myself not so long ago.

So, back to this morning. Yawn, wake sharp. Tell you why. Right in front of my face was a woodpecker intent on wood pecking. It scared me. I could see in its eyes that it was certain I was a dead tree and was preparing to hammer a hole. I am most thankful I woke up. Lord nose what state my face might have been in had I not. It was 4 am and light and the garden birds were dinging about in a singalong sort of way which definitely helped the getting out of bed process. On mornings when most other folk are sleeping deeply and I am fighting off woodpeckers, it is a given that the day will be a slow one. Anyone who breakfasts at 05.30 will know what I mean. I will be ready for lunch by 10.30 and so on. But this morning was not just about waking t’wirly. I sometimes find the business of widowness a tricky one. It isn’t that I miss the man overly, even as I do, and it isn’t that I am depressed or miserable or any of that stuff that doesn’t come into my mind. Actually, I don’t know what it is. There is, quite simply, a sense of whatwhat?. What shall I do. What shall I think. What matters now and what doesn’t. What should I cook for dinner. What is the point of all of the aforesaid whats. Answer comes there none. So, Hallo Slow Day.

I read a bit, wandered a bit, swept a bit, chopped wood a bit, walked a bit, watched a bit of tv. A bit day and a slow one but there is, from my experience, only one way to tick and tock my way through the hours and that is to keep moving. I am sure there are many who know such days. I watch walkers, drivers, birds go by, all purposeful and planned up and I feel a twinge of envy. They know where they are going and what they doing and when dinner will be and what time it is and I do not. However, I am no fool. That thinking is delusive. So I auto correct many times in a slow day. It is just a day. Be open, be curious, be mindful, just be. So I just be for many hours, longing for the slow change from day to evening whence I can finally decide that it is now acceptable not to invite Henry out for an excursion around the downstairs carpets. Such a relief. I have heard him knocking all the day long. Tomorrow I tell him, and I just know he is rolling his eyes in the dark because I told him tomorrow, yesterday. Tomorrow never comes I say and the poor chap is confounded. I can tell from the ensuing silence. I feel a bit bad. Hoovers are not really intelligent enough to understand such a concept. They are more play school intelligence.

As the evening sun shines, warm against the sharp cold of this morning, an elevation of attitude, I feel a softening, an acceptance. It was always there, the sun, but not prepared to shine. I was this jumper, no, the warmer one, no, a cardy too and a fire and now I am stripped of all of the above and ready to remember something I think I might have forgot. This slow day was just a slow day. I look back over the months, over the past year, and I remind myself of how far I have come. Try it. I see the way I have come through woodpeckers, pendulums, time constraints, self doubts, slow days and loads of time and times and I smile. Well done warrior. Well flipping done. In a Big Life, there will be slow days. Accept that and keep on keeping on.

Island Blog – The Widow’s Might

Having admitted to the existence of this ghost, named it to you all, I now need to reel it in. Not literally, of course, for who can say he or she has ever reeled in something so insubstantial and yet so powerful? Grief can bring it in, guilt too, fear, of course, and with regret not far behind. But acknowledgement of such an invisible source of anxiety must surely be the springboard from which I may dive into the water. I hated high diving as a girl, all that empty space between me and my arrival into elemental change. But this is the only way. I know it. So many of us wander into the evening of our lives carrying the weight of ghost denial. I want clarity of vision. I want to know where my feet are taking me. I want a clear mind and as healthy a body as possible. But the deconstruction of this anxious state must begin with the admission that it is there in the first place. I may look like I am always cheerful, impish, strong and in control but that is my walking lie. And it isn’t just me who lies. We all do.

Facing down my innermost fears is not to deny they exist and nor is it to spew them out to anyone who would stand long enough to listen. It is an intensely private palaver, one that requires consistent and focussed attention, practice and the daily revival of faith in what can be, what will be as the work progresses. Pretending is out the window, as is denial and hoodwink.

I am alone now. A deal of that is very good. I have freedom to do what I please. I have only myself to think about on a moment by moment basis. I have time to think things through without being on constant duty. There is no more caring to be done. My children are grown. They live their own lives their own way. We are all still grieving, although for different men. Some have lost a father; some a grandfather; me a husband. All the same man and yet not the same at all even if we did share a big chunk of history. Our responses to this loss manifest in a million ways and the time it takes for healing will be different for each one of us. Nonetheless we are joined on this path and thus able to support each other even if we don’t necessarily relate to each other’s process. What we do share in common is the legacy the ‘lost’ man has bequeathed us. There is genuine sadness that he is here no more; there is anger at unfinished business; there is frustration at the imperfections of our relationship with him whilst he lived; there is confusion at the void into which we all now walk, and there is fear as we stare into the open maw of it.

So, what’s to do? Well, we can do nowt about the way ahead, for it is simply that and there is no other choice. There is no map for this journey, no chance to stop and recalibrate the satnav. We are less one in our family, one who controlled us, decided for us, and who genuinely believed his way was the right way. This could have been a conversation but it never was. A man of his time indeed. In his certainty he knew a woman’s place was inferior to that of a man. He knew that children needed strong discipline. He knew that he was the man of the house and that his word was IT, and that strength of mind kept us safely contained for all of his life and a deal of our own.

The ghost flits through me. Being free is both exhilarating and scary. The well-built structure of life is crumbling. It needs to come down now for it is compromised and the rain is getting in, the render cracking and the beams rotting. All of this is just as it should be for there is a new structure to be designed and built for each one of us. What we all need is the courage to move towards it, to step into the maw, to dive off the high board; to keep faith close by and to work with the ghost on our lacks and fears. And this widow is stronger than she thinks. She will relocate herself, the one she left behind 49 years ago, and she will look back on this time with pride and a smile, the widow’s might in her hands.

Island Blog – The Missing

I’ve been thinking about the Missing. A lot. Like all day long and deep into the nights, nights that no longer call me from my bed about 4 times to give assistance to a dying man. In conversations with my kids and through old and resurrected conversations with my late mum (she was never late btw) I can see how the rose-tinted specs get pushed on to a widowed face.

Who would want to remember the bad times? That’s where I got to. There were plenty. Aren’t there always, in a long marriage, or even a short one, come to think of it? During the years of demise, 10 in my case, when dementia (no capital D for it) slam dunks a wild and living soul, I remembered the bad times too often. I was never sure if the behaviour was what it had always been, or was, now, compromised into something I was required to allow. I still don’t know. What we are as young, we become more so, as old. I have heard that, read it and believed it as I watched my dad demise, my mum and my granny who smiled her lovely smile as her last breath left her body.

However, notwithstanding and by the way, my husband who had been a grumpy so-and-so, at times, over the years, mellowed into the man I first met. Now, I know, perfectly well, that once the prize melts into strong arms, she is both cherished and compromised. Her own identity struggles to breathe at times and I was no different. However, at first I was IT, the Golden Girl, the Answer to All Problems, the Filler of the Black Hole in him and, latterly, I walked with that crown upon my white head. Oh, there you are, I told him, and he smiled like he knew what I was talking about. And, maybe he did.

Over time, life trashes us, or does her best to do so. The world and all her demands, chips away at our ideals and our dreams. We are lost, confused and angry and the one person who gets the gut punch is the one closest. I was always the closest. It is, was, puzzling. In a perfect scenario, that person would be unpunched for decades, but this is not how it works.

Notice that I give both Life and the World the ‘she’. I don’t do that by mistake. She’s can be manipulators, dividers, hoodwinkers. I know I was and it was survival, although I am not overly proud of such a tactic. Women come from a place of caring, of protecting, of surviving in a world that is still (for goodness sake) a man’s world. Men forage, hunt, grunt and fight for their space, oft clumsily, oft without the depth of human understanding that their women have. I have no idea who thought this was a good plan. If you believe that God made Eve from Adam’s rib, then she is already sunk, like for over 2000 years for she can never really be herself, joined as she is by history and an idealistic plan.

So, the remembering and the missing. I choose to focus on all the wonderfulness of my life with this exhausting pioneer, as did my mum. I know who he was. I have the scars. But without him, I would have been a nothing in particular and thus I am proud and glad to have known him. In the last days, when he came down for breakfast, me having washed and dressed him and scooted down ahead of his extremely slow chair lift, my arms full of bed sheets and so on, he would always coracle through in his wheelchair, all rosy-cheeked and looking like a little boy, and say Good Morning, with all the enthusiasm of one who loved every single day of his long life.

And that is the Missing.