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Saturday, 19 September 2020

Heaven is laughing

Fred has done a bunk.

Sometimes, life is so blinking difficult.  We feel so alone, and God, the Divine, Spirit or whoever you pray to (the late and much loved Rabbi Lionel Blue named his God "Fred") is nowhere in sight.  God has done a bunk, has better things to do, doesn't like you anyway, and you have ended up alone and lost.  What did you expect?  You are you, and as such, you are rubbish.

When we are down, it is hard to ask for help.  The further we slide into sadness, difficulty, or madness (perhaps), the harder it is to connect with other people.  Especially other people who seem to be doing just fine.  Everything we do not like about ourselves gets magnified until we think that is all other people can see.  In all our encounters we look for confirmation of our worthlessness, and we find it.  We find that confirmation, and because we are sliding downwards and feel this low, we absolutely believe that the confirmation is right.  

It is said that love is the answer, that we must all love each other.  They say that the real test is to love the unloveable, but when we are really down, we feel we are the unloveable.  What they don't say is that the unloveable find it almost impossible to accept love anyway.  When life is so blinking hard and everything is so dreadful, accepting love makes us feel deeply vulnerable and we reject it, sometimes with knobs on.  It makes us angry.  It makes us worse because, I suppose, it highlights the feelings of loss and lack we have.  And, often, we don't trust it.  "What are you up to?" We think.  "What's in it for you?"  and I suppose, we act from a place that says, "I am so bad that it's only a matter of time before you see that.  I had better reject you now so that I do not have to face even more pain of rejection later."

What is love anyway?  Is it the romantic thing that is sold to us as the answer and the goal of our lives?  Is it the perfect bonding of parents for their children?  Is it loyal and undying acts of selflessness for a friend?  Is self love about having more chocolate and having more bubble baths? In times of distress the very idea of love takes on a two dimensional aspect, as if it is at least a fraud, and at most, completely out of our league.  So it can get lost.  These notions of romantic love, family love, friendship love seem oversimplified and impossible, nothing we can count on and who would love us anyway?  Whatever that means.  Love of course is a more beautiful thing than that.  It is both more magnificent and more subtle than we can imagine, it is also more simple and much more accepting.  But when we are feeling this bad, we absolutely do not love ourselves and from our feelings of worthlessness and isolation comes a rejection of love from others.  

So God, the Divine, Spirit, Fred does not listen to us nor answer our prayers.  We may keep praying, but we expect nothing.  So we see nothing.  We may turn our back on all that stuff, we may simply stop trying.  We may have thought it all guff to begin with and are perversely satisfied that we were right - there was no magic god-thing anyway.  It is down to us.  And look where we are - we could do with a bit of a divine hand to help us - but there isn't one, never was one, and it is time to accept we are on our own.  Just us.  Just you.  Get used to it. 

I was in a frighteningly dark place many years ago.  I was a single mother of three young children, vastly overweight and without work, anxious and full of self disgust.  I had dismissed the god-idea because there was no evidence it existed in my life.  If there was one, a god thing, I would not be feeling this lonely and hopeless. The god thing would have looked after me and stopped all this awfulness.  It was hard to get through each day, to keep my children going, to cope.  I felt as if I were wading through thick darkness and that the darkness was closing over my head.  And then, one afternoon I picked up a book and noticed a small piece of paper drop to the floor.  Picking up the paper, I read the following 

Let nothing disturb thee, 
nothing affright thee
All things are passing;
God never changeth;
Patient endurance
Attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth
In nothing is wanting;
God alone sufficeth.

I read "Let nothing disturb thee", and "nothing affright thee" and felt a deep moment of recognition.  Something happened in my chest.  I was afraid and disturbed.  I felt an opening in the darkness and I thought - perhaps, just perhaps, this was written just for me.  I couldn't believe these words, they shouted themselves into my mind, and made me stop.  I understood the rest of the prayer, but kept locking onto the not letting myself be disturbed or affrighted.  It was a moment of absolute revelation, but, only a teeny tiny one.  I did not have choirs of angels and beams of light. I had the touch of a loving divine finger on my forehead which enabled me to let those words in.  Over the next few days I read, "All things are passing", and felt the same deep recognition.  All things are passing, and this pain will pass.  It will pass!  Then, I read and understood, "Patient endurance attaineth to all things", and thought, Oh! If all things are passing, and I do not need to be so frightened and disturbed, I can patiently endure this and it will pass.  For some reason, I understood that I could endure this, and I could do something about it.  I was not alone and I did not have to stay still in this darkness.  I could move.  

"God never changeth" spoke to me next.  I didn't analyse it, nor have any deep thoughts about it, but I know I was comforted by the not changing.  Over the next few years, I kept this prayer with me, reading it when I was more than usually troubled, to see what line would speak to me.  I began to have faith that I would read whatever I needed to know for that moment from the prayer on this scrap of paper. It took a long while too, to find out that the prayer was from Teresa of Avila, a Spanish nun and mystic in the mid fifteen hundreds. It took a long while because I wasn't very interested in who wrote it or where it came from, I just wanted to read the words. 

Though I would say that finding this prayer changed my life, it was not a change that anyone else could see.  It didn't change my life so that suddenly I had answers and was happy.  It was simply one of the moments in which my life moved and shifted, and I had a small personal miracle shown to me.  I had, I still have, many moments like this and I would suggest that you do too.  The thing is, we often do not see them and if we do see them, we tend to dismiss them.  This moment of grace when I found the prayer gave me insight that I was not alone, that things could be different, and that I would have to make this change happen. How I made changes was up to me but at least now, I understood that I could at least try. 

Heaven is laughing.


There is an image that comes to me sometimes when I feel either that prayer does not work, or that I am cross because all I want (to love and be loved) is not blinking working.  I hate everyone and no one likes me.  It's all a mess.  Then, I get an image of what it is like in the place I will call heaven, somewhere in another spiritual dimension probably way up in the sky, high above the clouds.  That is where I was told heaven was when I was a child, and I still find myself going to that image.  So up in  this heaven I see a host of figures, all made of light and all in human form, moving together in a constant flow laughing out loud.  The sound of their laughter is glorious and fills the whole of heaven, joyful and spontaneous as if they had all just heard the best joke ever.  The figures in heaven have faces with deep laughter lines as I watch them laugh with joyful abandon.  Why are you all laughing?  I ask.  (Sometimes petulantly). The answer I get is that they are laughing with pure love and delight for me. I delight them and whatever is happening down here in my life, it does not change their laughter one bit.  What if I am deeply sad and everything is collapsing around me?  I ask. They answer - we laugh because we know you will be OK.  There is more to your life than your sorrow and hardship.  We see this and though we know you do not see it at the moment, it does not matter to us because we cannot get over how precious you are to us.  We are laughing more than ever when you are down, because of our absolute love for you, for all of you, and joy in all your existence, and maybe, one day, the sound of our laughter will reach you in some way, and you will know we are filled with this unending joy in your - and you reading this - your existence.  Oh, they say as the light shifts and changes around them, we love you so much.  You make us laugh with joy!

And then I think, maybe Fred, or God, or whoever or whatever we call it, did not do a bunk.  Life down here can be hard, is hard, but it is not that our god-idea or god figure scarpered when the going got tough for us, it's just that we needed to experience this darkness in our lives - but this darkness is not all.  When we do feel the finger of god on our forehead, and hear the faint sound of heaven laughing just for us because we are so uniquely and gloriously precious, the power of this experience will mean more to us than anything we can imagine.  It will give us courage to go on because, if the whole of heaven is laughing with utter delight in us, why not? 

 

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Sunday, 6 September 2020

All I wanted was to be fabulous. That's all.

Me aged three

It is all I ever wanted from life.  From the earliest days, I understood that I was a fairy.  Being a fairy was not something I aspired to.  I was one.  I, Antonia Rolls, aged about three, was just like Tinkerbell. You could not tell us apart.  There was something so right about being a fairy, with a fairy's right to wear anything that glittered and do whatever she wanted.  My aunt had some spare material from a dress she had made for herself, a deep turquoise nylon with silver glitter threaded through it.  I wrapped myself in this and at five years old, I knew I was magnificent.   I drew pictures of fairies with wings and tutus on all my books, on the walls of my bedroom and wherever I could get away with it.  It was my world.  I believed in the magic, the beauty, and the wonder of fairies; no wonder I decided to be one.  If, of course, I did decide.  At the time, I had no doubt that I had been born one. 

The real thing
At my primary school, I discovered rival fairies.  A gang of girls decided that only those born in 1959 or 1961 were fairies.  When I said, "But I was born in 1960 and I am the real actual thing," they laughed and told me that the fairy queen, who they all knew very well and was a friend of theirs, said otherwise.  And she should know, they added spitefully. If I wanted to, I could ask her to agree that I was a real fairy.  She lived, the rival fairy gang said, in a tree outside the sports hut.  Go and ask her, they said.

All my lunch breaks for many weeks were spent standing under the sparse little tree outside the games hut waiting for Esmerelda to show herself to prove that I was a fairy.  My rival fairies checked in on me often, laughing unkindly, and I was too small to understand what they were doing.  Eventually, my mother asked me what was happening. I had become more and more withdrawn and unhappy and although the rival fairies had made me take this thing called a vow, which meant I could never, ever tell anyone, I did eventually tell my mother.  She was so lovely to me as I cried, and went to the school with me the next morning.  At lunch time, the rival gang came to find me, to tell me that Esmeralda had got it all wrong, and that I was a fairy after all.  They were very nice to me and I thought it was because my superior fairy-ness had won out.  Of course, now I know my mother had gone to the school to see all the gang, in the presence of the head teacher, a very fierce little nun called Sister Zita, and read them the riot act. 

All my life I have wanted to be fabulous.  This fabulousness was never a sassy, practical, hard nosed
The Cyrenians on a very good day
thing, it did not include money, power and fame.  It was, when I look back on it, about expression.  It was about the wonderful internal world that had made me believe that I was a fairy, about the belief that there was always more to life than meets the eye.  There was something else, beyond all the conventional stuff, and I thought other people knew it too.  I was always surprised when no one else could see it.  I had friends throughout my school years, lovely friends, but I had a reputation of being very arty and very odd.  I wasn't odd, I was just different.  And it amazed me that other people did not see things in the way that I did.  I was arty though.  I discovered second hand shops while in sixth form, when I was fifteen and sixteen which opened up a whole new way of dressing in odd old cast offs and hand me downs, for next to nothing.  I thought I looked wonderful but, of course, wearing a man's old torn silk dressing gown as a dress with feathers in my hair at a respectable convent boarding school did not go down well.  At university later, in the wilds of Aberdeen in Scotland, I no longer thought I was a fairy but my need to express myself through clothes went into extravagant overdrive.  My friends and I discovered the old Cyrenians thrift shops.   The Cyrenians are a charity in Aberdeen helping homelessness, but back in the late nineteen seventies and early eighties, when charity shops were less fashionable and much more like a jumble sale, we would buy all our clothes and shoes from there, whatever we bought smelling old and bedraggled, and proudly wear them.  Our lodgings did not have bathrooms, and only outside loos, so we were not terribly clean to begin with.  These dreadful old clothes we loved so much looked as if they had been removed from down and outs on the streets, and sold on for a bit of cash. I, personally, thought I looked absolutely wonderful.  Not many others agreed.  I had bright pink beehive hair too, just the thing for Aberdeen in the early nineteen eighties.  Word went round the university that I was a witch, and I lived in a bicycle shed. Whatever I was, I was smelly, oddly dressed and totally oblivious.
 
Not a fairy so much as a 
witch living in a bicycle
shed
But!  I still saw life as magical.  I did not drink, smoke or take drugs.  I drank tea, ate cakes, and discovered whole foods.  I became a vegetarian.  And I painted, drew and created - I even covered the walls in my lodgings with drawings and paintings.  I think I had trouble with boundaries.  

Being married, being divorced, raising children on my own, trying to work out this world in which I did not feel I belonged, followed.  Always, I painted.  Throughout all of the difficult middle years, whatever clothes I wore, however I did my hair, I painted pictures.  It was what grounded me.  For a long time, in my middle years, the struggle to keep going clouded the magic in the world, and kept me under a dark spell. It is enough to say that we all got through, and that the world does not stop just because we struggle.  There were many bright moments, but those difficult years taught me my most valuable lessons.  I did not feel fabulous at all then, I lost my way and lost my heart. But some of my best art work was created in those years.  Somehow, the fabulousness was still there, but hiding in a different form for when I was ready to see it.  Perhaps it needed to step aside while I learned hard lessons about life, and myself, and who I thought I was.

So where is all this fabulousness now?  How have I come to terms with it, and has my wish, so far, come true?  

All I wanted, was to be was fabulous.  I did not want to do fabulous, though of course that would be very nice.  I am fabulous.  So are you, if you believe it.  This kind of fabulous is about us, what we think of ourselves and what we allow ourselves to believe.  There has been a long middle section of my life between being born a fairy and now, when I am telling you I am fabulous, and in that middle section, I learned that the world can be a harsh critic, a hard task master and an unforgiving teacher.  I learned that I cannot wait for affirmation from anyone else to give me the right and the courage to go on.  Time and time again, the little light that I lit in my heart in order to be fabulous would be snuffed out by events, other people, and most importantly, my failure to protect it.  I ended up feeling very invisible and sad indeed.  I longed for other people to define me as wonderful, and to see that the magic was still there.  I did not understand that other people have very little interest in my magic, in my little light.  They are all learning how to deal with their own magic and little lights.  

Probably all of you reading this blog
And so now, when more than two thirds of my life is over, I can have a proper look at this question of being fabulous.  It is not dependant on my looks, which is a relief.  That is good, I don't have to be young and slim with a winning flirty smile.  It is not about my fame, because I haven't got any.  My fabulousness does not go up and down on a sliding scale depending on how many people tell me they love me, either in person or in social media likes, or I would be permanently trying to buy my followers on Instagram or Facebook, and forcing everyone else in real life to tell me they love me, so I can sleep at nights.  All of that is fickle, unreliable and at the mercy of whim.  No.  When I think of being fabulous now, I think of how I have come through, come up trumps, am still alive, and am surrounded by friends I admire and family I treasure.  I feel free.  I feel the magic is here, all around me and that I am a part of it.  So much has happened, I do not have to go through those lessons any more, I am older, wiser and still here.  And there is so much more life to come.  I am fabulous.  I do care, but not very much.  Not like I used to.  I care about kindness, love, friendship, quality of time spent with people, truth and focus.   At last, I like myself and I like who I am.   

If I say I am fabulous, I jolly well am.  And so, I think, are you. 

Fabulous. 


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Saturday, 22 August 2020

Today is my wedding anniversary

Mr and Mrs Bedford

Today is my wedding anniversary.  Four years ago today, I married Mr Bedford in a hospital side room, and became Mrs Bedford.  It was a hot, sunny day, all our families crowded into the hospital room in their best clothes and though there was much light and joy, it was also the saddest day.  The groom, Mr Bedford, had six weeks and one day left to live.  We knew he did not have long, but none of us really thought it would be so soon; we must have guessed deep inside though, because of the haste in which we arranged the wedding.  The side room in the hospital was transformed with balloons, an afternoon tea with bone china and dainty cakes, and bunting.  The tiny room had to double up as a registry office and party venue and so I made my vows to dear Mr Bedford with my eye on a lavish cream tea just feet away. It is common knowledge that I love cream teas.  That is why his family, my new in laws, provided it.  

Mr Bedford and I had been together for over eight years.  We thought often about getting married, but never quite got round to it, we somehow managed to evade the seriousness of it.  Of course, we knew we would end up married but every time we tried to think about it, one or other of us decided we needed more time.  Life was full enough as it was, without weddings to think of.  I would have been his third wife, and he would have been my second husband.  We had done it all before, it did not seem terribly urgent.  And, of course, we used to argue like mad.  Are we right for each other? we would think after we had disagreed about the millionth thing that day.  Is this the right person for me?  But there was a bond of deep friendship that could not be overlooked.  Our arguments were always resolved, mostly because Mr Bedford had the courage to address difficulties and insist we talk them over.  I liked to flounce and sulk, which was water off a duck's back to Mr B.  Tell me how you are feeling, he would say, and I learned that it was safe to do so.  Tell me the truth, said Mr Bedford, and I found that he respected my opinion, and took me seriously if I told him whatever truth I had, even if it was hard to hear.  Mr B was a proper grown up.  No amount of pretending I was fine when I was not would fool him.  I learned that it was safe to speak my truth, and that of all people in the world, Mr B would respect it. Even if he did not like it, he would respect it, as long as it was the truth. 

 We were exact opposites to each other, we were so very different that when we could not agree on something, it was like talking to someone from another planet.  But when we were in harmony, due to our deep underlying friendship, we were unstoppable.  He was a detail man.  He liked to read the small print, and he was forensic in his thinking and analysis. He needed to be, he wrote serious case reviews on some dreadful child abuse cases, and his detective skills, his interview techniques, and his ability to research, remember and apply the law was astonishing.  I on the other hand, am a fairy.  I live in a world of imagination, creativity and instinct. I made plans as I went along, I took risks and did not care about rules.  I was extroverted, he was introverted. I looked up at the sky, marvelling at the clouds and space, and he looked down, fascinated by the detail of the stones and pebbles on the path ahead.  We would take each other by the hand and show each other our worlds.  Look!  he would say, at this fascinating detail here on this path, look at all the millions of things to study.  I would point up to the sky.  Look! I would say, at all the space up here, the stars and the clouds, look at all the magic.  

When Mr Bedford became ill, he was stoic.  He had been an NHS man for most of his career, he managed hospitals, he was a trouble shooter when things went wrong, he became a specialist in managing super bugs in hospitals, and spent time trying to improve waiting times in A and E departments all over the country.  But when his health began to deteriorate, no one picked up the symptoms.  It's your heart!  They said, and in fact, it was stage four cancer.  It was picked up in hospital almost by accident.  Mr Bedford, the NHS man, did not fight.  He took his diagnosis on the chin, so to speak, and began to put his affairs in order.  Part of this was to propose to me.  

The tennis champ, refusing to give in.

We went on a tennis holiday just after he knew he had cancer, or rather, I joined him on his tennis holiday because he was beginning to struggle with his energy.  As a dedicated tennis player, he needed to be on the court, as one of the team, and to not give in.  His colleagues cheered him on every time he got up to play, and he displayed his iron will in not letting the exhaustion stop him.  He was a star, they all loved him.  But back in the hotel room, his face grey with the effort, his legs giving way, he lay down and slept where no one could see the toll it was taking.  But he would not give up.  I loved him very much on that holiday.  He was so brave.  He did not complain once.

Alan had cancer.  By the time it was discovered, it was too late.  He tried chemo but it made him so ill that they would not continue.  His decline was very fast. Then, on the 18th of August 2016, from his hospital bed on the ward attached to drips and lines and tubes, after a gruelling operation that did not entirely work, he proposed.  Marry me, he said.  Of course!  I said, and we burst out laughing together, all our differences forgotten and the giddy joy of having finally agreed to get married making us giggle and hold hands.  It is the only time I saw Mr B looking bashful.  

The bashful Mr B.  Engaged at last. 

Alan's delightful family took over from here. Somehow, they made a side room in the hospital into a paradise of colours and festivities.  They organised the whole thing, while I rushed off to arrange the fastest appointment I could with the registry office.  We arranged to be married in three days time.  August the 22, at the hospital.  Yes, the registrar said, we have done urgent weddings at the bedside before, we will be there and all will be well.  I found wedding rings, but had to buy a chain for Alan's ring as his hands and fingers were so large, nothing would fit and we could not wait to order a special wedding ring.  So, he wore his wedding ring on a chain around his neck.  On the day he died, I took it from his neck and wore it myself for months.  We both knew I would do that.

The wedding tea

Oh, on the day, on our wedding day, Alan's brother David got him dressed in the ward with the curtains around the bed.  Everyone on this and the surrounding wards knew he was getting married, it was almost heartbreaking.  They were so happy for him.  Alan wanted to wear a smart shirt and trousers.  Control and dignity were important to him. He wanted to walk into the room, but could barely stand, and so had to accept a wheelchair.  His iron will could no longer keep his body in check.  I tried to wheel him into the wedding room, thinking it would make a brilliant entrance, but I couldn't control the chair.  I kept wheeling him off at right angles into the wall. This annoyed him and we nearly had one of our arguments, but I could not deny that it wasn't very dignified to have him wheeled in backwards with plaster all over his smart clothes.  He asked for me to get a nurse, he didn't want us lurching into the room like drunks, and so a nurse wheeled him in gracefully and everyone cheered.  After we said our vows, he could not keep himself upright in the chair, and was wheeled back to his bed, a married man, while we all stayed and had the cream tea. Mr Bedford found it hard to keep his head raised and his eyes open when we said our vows.  "Look at me!" I said to him, "I will not marry a man who cannot look at me!" and so he did.  He gave one of his little private smiles, and I knew he loved it. 

Later, when everyone had gone home, and I had dropped guests off at the station to get their trains, I went back to his bedside, where I spent the rest of the afternoon in my best dress sitting beside my new husband as he lay motionless and exhausted, holding his hand.  The sun was shining, the balloons and bunting were removed and my new wonderful in laws quietly took everything away so that I did not have to.  I was deeply happy that day, I had married my Mr B, I was Mrs B, and I had gained his family, his most excellent family, as mine too.  I had in laws to boast about, I had a husband to love and to be proud of, and I had a job to do.  The job, we both knew, was to see him out of this life, and to go with him as far as I could, with his brother David and his son Chris.  But that was not today, that was not on the agenda on the 22 August 2016.  That day was my wedding day.  

Six weeks and one day later, on the 23 October 2016, his brother, his son and I held him as he died.  Mr Alan Bedford and I, Mrs Antonia Bedford, had had six weeks and one day of a perfect marriage.

Happy Anniversary Mr B.  Love from Mrs B. 


The wedding afternoon, holding my new husband's hand.


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Monday, 10 August 2020

You're going to die.

Some older zombies 

I know this.  You know this.  We all suspect it, but we don't let it in if we can help it, and quite right.  Once we experience a death we see that life is finite.  How can we stop living, we ask? How on earth can we accept such a thing?  And yet, no matter what we think, say or do, at some point, we will, as my mother used to say, push off.  

Life takes on more meaning once we accept it will end.  It is a strange old journey, life.  Every time we think we have it sussed, something happens and we realise there is more to learn, more to experience, more to do.  Life keeps throwing us curved balls, but we have to keep going.  In amongst the curved balls are times of real happiness too, like when we love someone who loves us back, or when our children are born, or when things go well for us and we can pay our bills or perhaps when our achievements are all that we hoped for.  We plod on, but whatever life we have, and choose, death is the final state.  Death puts life into perspective.  Once we get over the shock that it is real, we can get a grip on our lives and make those decisions, do those things, be that person that we have been putting off.  Our lives are in our hands.  How will we live?  Who will we be?  

No one ever said life was easy. But it is amazing.  It is up to us to make it work, and take risks.  We may not end up with the thing we wished for, but the journey we took to get there will have been a whole lesson in itself.  Realising that we have only so much time can focus us brilliantly on how we are actually living.  It has a way of forcing the issue. I argued with and had a huge dislike of my husband Alan's political views.  It seems that I was locked into being right at all costs and unable to concede an inch.  I understood, after he died and it was too late to tell him, that I did not have to agree with him.  It was not so much that I disliked his politics, it was that I could not be wrong.  As part of my missing him after his death I made myself look at his views, remember what he said, and recall how he behaved in his life.  I also remember his saying that he was once as rigid and uncompromising as me, and that he understood what I felt.  I hated that at the time, but it makes sense now.  He was a lot older than me, and had the gift of being able to change his mind if the arguments were good enough.  The risk for me here was humility.  My husband would never have laughed at me if I had listened to him and changed my mind a bit.  He would have admired me.

Risks.

Probably don't take this risk

We can't avoid risk, things could always go pear shaped, that nice safe job that we took because it didn't ask much of us and stretched out over the years in secure and peaceful anonymity may suddenly tell us we need training in bomb disposal and single armed combat.  That wasn't what we signed up for!  We all know about the risks of being rejected, disliked, got rid of, abandoned, shown up, humiliated, shamed and so on. To some degree, these are present both in the tiniest of things, like making a phone call, to large things, like being shown up in public.  But there is also the risk of things going well.  We may take a risk and succeed with happiness, success, belonging, achievement.  We may fear going to the doctor when we know something is wrong.  When we do take the risk of being told we are in a bad way and we have only months left to live, quite the opposite happens and we not only have a clean bill of health but we marry the doctor.  

I think, as with all things, it all comes back to how well we know ourselves, how much we like ourselves, and how much of our power we have given away.  If I am afraid, my fear is likely to dictate how I act and react.  That may feel like survival.  Everything feels risky and a challenge.  If I decide to take a risk first, and then I feel fear, like working for an exam, an audition, an interview, my fear is part of the process but not the instigator of it.  If I know myself well, if I am self aware, I may make informed choices and understand risks to myself, my work, my surroundings a bit more - I may be able to pick myself up if it does not work out, and not give up completely.  At the moment, I am seeing such huge aversion to risk, real or perceived, that I wonder if we have all lost the plot. 

What are you afraid of?

My friend is a long term cancer survivor, a palliative care nurse, and over sixty.  Over the past few months she has faced hostility for going to work, and returning home.  She is
  •  vulnerable because of her cancer long ago, and the complications that are part of her life now    
  • working with people who are going to die in the hospice, some of whom are old 
  • old herself.
The hostility she has been dealing with is so strangely illogical and so unreasonable that it has left her sad.  The main concern is that by going to work she meets people who are not only elderly, but moribund.  By being outside in the air too, which is so buzzing with a single virus, she is perceived to be carrying with her this single virus that will kill not only her (which she asked for, she shouldn't have gone out), but all the neighbours and those in her village.  She should know better than to put them all at risk by leaving her house to carry on supporting the dying, and herself an elderly cancer survivor too.  The people who are angry with her are safe, well, solvent, and locked into a paranoid self concern.  My friend knows herself well, is unlikely to put herself or anyone else in danger, and does not make unwise decisions where health is concerned.  Over forty years a nurse, she has worked out what is practical and what is not.  She has carried on working and has probably helped some of their relatives and friends die with a friendly hand holding theirs, because not only are they not allowed in to visit, but they darn well wouldn't have gone anyway.  Too dangerous.  Every person for themselves. 

She had dealt with this with grace and courage.  She has begun to ask people what they are afraid of.  It is her belief that they are all afraid of death.

At the moment, I wonder if death is our number one fear.  Our fear of being ill right now is not just about having to rest for a day or two, it is about death.  It is the certainty of death.  We have linked the virus to our own death, and it is coming to get us.  We do not know much about it but we know an awful lot about the risk it poses to us, to our families, and to the whole world.  We know that the risk is too big to manage, and that we are encouraged to be terrified of each other, ourselves, and all known surfaces. 

Our deepest fears of survival are triggered.  I wonder if we are acting from our lizard brain, the oldest part of our brains that governs such things as survival, being territorial, hunger, thirst and habits.  I think our need to survive this one virus has frightened us into a complicit isolation where our safety is so threatened, we have forgotten who we are. I do not blame anyone, the narrative we have is very frightening, and would challenge the most easy going person.  But somehow, underneath it all, is, I think, a fear of death.  As someone I know says, we have lost perspective, we are all OK and we will survive.  And as someone else I know noticed, most people are more afraid of what others think of them if they do not join in the public dance around not getting the virus, than actually getting ill.  I met with a friend a while ago who was delighted to meet me but not where anyone else could see.  No, she said, she wasn't in the least concerned about getting ill, she just did not want anyone to see her and judge her.  So perhaps it is not all about the fear of death, it is about the fear of social disapproval too.  Heavy stuff. 

We are all going to die.
That was quick

When my friend has enough answers to her question, "What are you so afraid of, " I will publish them.  It will be good to see what people say, it will help me understand why we are so lost in our fear. 

Until we do die, we are very much alive.  I looked online to find an alternative view to the narrative on the pandemic, and could not find anything beyond the fact that all those who question it are Brexiteers and climate change deniers.  That made me feel a bit misunderstood.  And so I am back to my main thought.  We are all going to die.  If that is so, and I believe that it is, I am going to take a risk and get on with my life.   I do not see you as a threat.  I do not believe that if you pass me by on the street, in a shop, on a bus, that either of us will fall to our knees and pass away (unless we get shot, or have a heart attack). I am not going to wash my shopping bag if it touches yours, or put my shopping on a sterile mat for a few days before unpacking it.  I will shake your hand if you offer it.  I will hug you if you want it.  When you are fearful and alone, I will come and visit if you ask me.  What are we afraid of?  I am certainly not afraid of you unless you want to hit me over the head.  In our day to day lives, I am not afraid of you, and I am not afraid of this virus.  I am taking the risk and celebrating life. 

I am celebrating my birthday this year with a reggae disco in my garden. I will be dancing to 
the Jolly Boys here, the oldest reggae band in the world. 


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Tuesday, 28 July 2020

On not conforming, being creative and needing a platform.

Being creative and needing a platform. And not conforming because I booked this theatre slot before I had written the show.  Doing it all backwards.  

A few years ago I narrowed down my whole personality to three points.  They are

  • I do not conform
  • I am creative
  • I need a platform.
Everything about myself is covered by these three explanations.  I was delighted at the time to have discovered my own formula.  What is more, I liked the formula.  I still do like it, and am going to add another that has come to my attention in the last year or so.  A number four.  Here is it is -
  • I am a teeny bit rebellious.

I do not conform.

From an early age, having been born a fairy, I was at loggerheads with convention.  It was as if I had an inbuilt alternative agenda which made me look at the world with surprise.  There were rules, and there was a right way of doing things but, they were so obviously not applicable to me that I was
Me as a fairy.  
constantly astonished when I was told off.  Growing up, I was attracted only to the wild, naughty children.  I myself wasn't really one of them, I just thought they had a better way of looking at things and so I tagged along.  I liked how they challenged the rules and seemed to do what they wanted.  Many of them had very difficult home lives, and I did not. I had a lovely family in a nice big house where our dad used to read Dickens to us and Mum made lamb stew with pearl barley from scratch, and we had it in special blue plates inherited from lovely Irish aunts.  I knew many of the naughty children were responding to family difficulties, and sometimes I wished I had a nice alcoholic mum, or a dad in prison or something that would give me a reason to be naughty.  As it was, I simply drifted to the bad kids like a puppy, and thought they were all wonderful.  They all thought I was a hippy.

I always knew I was an artist.  In order to live as an artist, I had to stick to my guns and simply ignore the opposition.  There was plenty of opposition.  Getting a proper job and earning a living was the goal and I was encouraged to think of ways my art could be channelled into something practical and conventional.  I had a go at that from time to time, but it took the light out of me and never worked.  I am an artist and I have to follow a different path, one that allows me to step off it and experience life from outside.  Of course this freedom also enabled me to make appalling decisions and make a complete pig's ear of my life but, I survived.  And now, it is all worth while.  I am an artist, I am an artist extraordinaire, and I still have no intention of conforming.  (But I am very nice and well behaved, you don't always know I am not conforming until later when you think about it.)

I am creative

Being creative is not enough.  We need to express it.  People who either say they are not creative or who are ignoring their creativity fear that it is a messy business.  They fear it means getting covered in mess, in paints, in feathers, staying up all night chasing the muse, and dressing badly.  It is a challenge, a problem, and causes upheaval. It is about going outside our comfort zone. Once we understand that creativity is just about expressing ourselves, the pressure is off.  It does not have to be anything we don't want it to be, but it does need us to stop judging it, and just play.  And actually, it is quite safe to play and get a bit messy.

I am creative.  It isn't just about painting, or writing, though those are excellent ways of expressing myself.  It is about enjoying colour, putting lights and little statues in my garden, it is about wearing pink and matching it with pink earrings and lipstick.  It is about sitting and making sure everything in my line of sight is beautiful, it is about cooking all the things left over in the fridge, and tying my recently late father's shoe to his grandfather clock in my house, as a memorial to him.   

My creativity does not always wait for inspiration.  Sometimes, I let ideas work themselves out for a while but as it is me who will use them, I am proactive and at some point start work and enter into the unknown, the creative process, whether ready or not.  My creativity does not sit outside me, and I wait for it to show up so I can try and use it.  It lives inside me, it is me, and so I have access to it day and night.  It does not have to be perfect, it rarely is anything like perfect, but it will do.  I know I can use it and it's very nice to be such friends with it.  I will just add here that it gets better with practice.  I have to work for the finished product, it doesn't just happen as if I have no part in it.  I work very hard for my results, and that is part of the process.  If it goes well, then creativity and I have done well.  If it doesn't go well, it does not matter.  I will try something else, and have a cup of tea.

I need a platform

I do need a platform.  Oh I absolutely do.  What is the point, I say, of me painting and writing and thinking the way I do without you all knowing about it.  I am not a shy and retiring artist, I like to launch my stuff into the world and wait for you all to tell me how wonderful it all is.  Of course, that is not a given, you may hate what I do and wish me to get a proper job and a sense of propriety.  It does not stop me writing, painting and making videos though.  Here I go, lobbing You Tube videos at you, inviting you to exhibitions, writing books and blogs and, of course, creating daily Instagram and Facebook stories of my life.  

Speaking at an end of life conference.
Sounds like none of us left the
building after the conference, doesn't it?  
The platform I seek though is not simply about my work being seen and read.  That would be nice but, I am motivated by a great deal more than that.  How do we look at, articulate and explore difficult things?  There are times when we need to be challenged, inspired, comforted, entertained, reminded, or encouraged. I use my creativity to explore how we deal with death and dying and recently, how we cope with addiction; those are my difficult things.  I explore and share my experiences and I need, use and have platforms to reach as many people as I can.  I am compelled to do this, and to keep the things I talk about and paint authentic and truthful.  Using platforms to put my work out into the world is a good way of keeping myself in check.  There is nothing more sobering than the opinions of all the people out there who have access to what I do.  The platform I seek is a relationship with everyone who comes across my work and who may resonate with the experiences and stories I use.  It is not a "me and you" thing, it is a "we and us" thing.

A teeny bit of rebellion

This has evolved as I get older.  I have noticed other older people simply not doing things they don't believe in.  My Irish grandmother, a small lady, would wear my very tall grandfather's huge overcoat when coming back from a visit from Ireland to the UK.  She would stuff the pockets with ham, whiskey, sausages and beer and clink her way through customs with some of her seven children.  Just before customs she would clip one of the children around the ear and the resulting chaos would mean she would get past customs without being checked.  Another time, when my boys were about six and nine, my mother smuggled them into France on a pilgrimage bus bound for Lourdes.  She hadn't time to get them passports.  Leave it to me, she said.  The arch bishop was on that bus, and mother shoved my boys behind him as he walked past customs, saying that they were with the bishop.  They got in.  The bishop had no idea he led two little boys into France illegally on his way to a holy pilgrimage to Lourdes, where Saint Bernadette saw and spoke to the Virgin Mary.  

And now I am on my way to the same kind of behaviour.  I can't give you examples because I will possibly get into trouble, but in each case I believe common sense and humanity has triumphed over silly rules and face saving protocol.  There.  That's a bit of rebellion for the common good, but I have yet to smuggle legs of lamb and children across borders.  


Not my actual grandmother but same approach to life.


My website is here - www.antoniarolls.co.uk


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Monday, 20 July 2020

As Mother Lay Dying, the book.

My book will be available on YouTube chapter by chapter.  More below.

RIP Vanessa's Dad.

Vanessa, my PA who helps me with my newsletter and so much more besides, lost her father two
Vanessa's mum and dad on
their wedding day in 1967
days ago.  For this reason, there is no newsletter on Tuesday.  

Vanessa moved into her parents' house at the beginning of lock down to work, help look after her father and to support her mother.  I do not know the family, but I do know that her parents were married for a very long time and that the whole family is close and loving.  Vanessa's father died peacefully the day before yesterday as I write this, and, I think, quite quickly, with Vanessa and her mother, and maybe other family members present.  It was good, she said, it was even wonderful.  And so, the blog this week begins with a small memorial to him, in solidarity with Vanessa over a father's death.  My own father died, as many of you know, five weeks ago.  We both had wonderful fathers and my heart goes out to her, she really loved him and, I believe, he really loved her.   

RIP Errol John Stagg.  My you rest truly, and joyfully, in peace.


As Mother Lay Dying.

In 2015, my mother was given six weeks to live, with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.  I shut down my life in an afternoon and moved in to be with her, to walk as far as we could together for this final journey, both knowing she would have to do the last bit on her own.  Time changed for all of us then.  The family and friends coming in to say goodbye to her, the days and nights of her gentle breathing declining and the memories of all those gone before her, all this kept us in a space where there was no future, just the past and the present.  

I had been helping to support people facing the end of life for a good few years then, but now with this sudden realisation that my mother was dying, I did not know what to do.  My mother knew me better than anyone else in the world.  I could not sit beside her, listen to her speak, and then go home.  I could not hold her hand for a while, and then hand over to her family, I was her family.  We lived in the same house now, for the duration.  And I looked like her.  I sounded like her.  Our relationship had never been easy and now, watching her die, I imagined that we would talk about our painful differences and resolve them through words.  Instead, nothing was said.  The peace that had eluded her all of her life settled on us both, and in the end, love was all there was.  Just love.  

The book of this time, of waiting of watching and of witnessing, is now finished.  I have called it "As Mother Lay Dying".

Part one “The Dying”, accompanies my mother as she faces, day by day, the end of her life.  The house is full of people and flowers, and at night, when everyone has gone home, the silences seem too long and too dark.  Part two, “The Bereavement”, talks of the strange emptiness after the wake and the funeral are done, and my mother's house is silent.  I do not know what I feel, and I can’t find her anywhere. I go back to my world and find that I miss her.  In part three, “The Recovery”, I talk about grief, and the many ways it manifests.  For this part I draw on my own observations, stories and experiences of working with people at the end of life. It is hard to articulate grief and our actions can speak for us.  This section explores some of the different, and surprising, ways I have seen grief manifest while working in the community with end of life.

Below is the first page.  There is a reason for sharing this, and I hope the extract touches you. I aim to read the whole book on my YouTube channel, one chapter at a time, and upload it over a week or so.  It will then be available for anyone, at any time, to hear it read and to listen to as much or as little as they want. 

As Mother Lay Dying
CHAPTER ONE

Last week there was no diagnosis. This week there is terminal pancreatic cancer, and I have been uncharacteristically swift and efficient.  I have sorted out my own house and moved into my mother’s house with just a small suitcase, until I am no longer needed here.

I am waiting in a chair at the end of my mother’s bed, so that we can see each other when she wakes. The big comfortable chair that I put next to her bed can’t be seen if she is sitting up.  She would be looking ahead in that case, and talking to a disembodied voice behind her.  I will leave that first chair, the big comfortable one, till later, when she is near to death, and won’t know where I am sitting, only that I am somewhere near her.  At least, that is what I intend.

There were times when her face fell into itself today.  Her mouth drooped and her chin dropped.  When she is feeling able, she is in control and very present.  When she drifts off to sleep, which she does all the time, her energy is gone and the power is diminished.  Her small frame is vacated.  Her face is pale, her mouth is dry and uncomfortable, and her stomach hurts.   Mum’s face is soft to kiss, and hot and smooth.  I smell bad, she says, but I tell her she doesn’t smell bad.  Not at all.  It is just that she needs to use the loo so much and can’t keep any food down.  I think she feels smelly, but she really isn’t.  Mother is fragrant.  Since word of her illness has spread, she has been inundated with beautiful scented soaps and creams; she washes in the most wonderful rose scented, honey extract, vanilla infused bath oils, and she is truly fragrant.

I am sitting in one of her lovely little Regency chairs, at the end of her bed, downstairs in her dining room. Mother’s home sits high up above the Sussex Downs with a conservatory overlooking the Shimmings below, the green and gentle countryside of the Shimmings stretching out for miles just beyond her front door.  Mum likes to sit at her breakfast table in the conservatory watching the tiny horses in the fields and copses miles away, and the clouds and sky moving and changing over the landscape.  She likes to spend time at her little table by the window there, looking out over it all and feeling peaceful.  I am here in her house to look after her while she dies, I have moved in for as long as it takes.  I am learning how this experience of dying is different from others I have witnessed.  I am still not the one doing the dying, I'm not medically trained and I don’t know about the drugs that can help her symptoms, I am not a stranger coming in to offer my little piece of time and love.  I am my mother’s daughter; I am my brothers’ sister and my children’s mother.   I belong to the people directly concerned with this dying person, I am in the middle of it and even if I walked away wanting to have nothing more to do with it, all this dying that Mum is doing is known and felt throughout my entire extended family.  The whisper of it is in everyone’s bones.  She is the next one, it is her turn now.  Each of the old aunts and uncles, each of the grandparents, each of my mother’s siblings that has died, have managed it.  They faced it and got on with it. We all watched and visited those we could visit, and regretted and wondered about those we didn’t visit because they died quietly without anyone there, and we cried when they had gone.  We wondered how they were doing it, those that we did see, and we all hoped that we didn’t have to do it ourselves for a long, long time.  If ever.  We loved the aunts and uncles that have gone now, remembering how they had made our childhood magical.  They were young and strong then, when we were children, my brothers and my cousins and me. 

 Please have a listen.  It may be something you are going through right now, it may be something for the future.  It may be something you are very interested in, and want to know more about. You can hear the first chapter here, chapter one As Mother Lay Dying


Another Addiction painting finished

I haven't been painting much recently.  There is much still to do, but I have not felt very focused.  Last
Marie as the crazy party lady
week, I decided that if I made a YouTube video about finishing the current picture, that had been patiently sitting in the studio for the past month or so twiddling its fingers and not complaining, then I would have no excuses.  It was a grand way of actually doing some work, in that it was much more complicated having it be the subject of a video, but it worked.  The painting is done, and I have a video about it too.  You can see the video here .

These paintings of Marie show her as she was, when she was taking drugs, and now, when she is not.  She has come a long way, and I wanted to show the difference between then and now.  The crazy party lady, with wild jaundiced eyes looks amazing, but a bit mad.  The painting of her now is filled with dignity, peace and calm. I know Marie as she is now, and understand how much she has achieved.  She is, it is worth saying, a magnificent artist herself.

Calm and serene Marie now
I will begin the next painting for the Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition this coming week.  It is of my friend Michael, and his once long suffering partner Martin.  For many many years, Michael was an alcoholic, completely out of control, and without boundaries.  Martin stayed with him, somehow, throughout, and now with Michael clean and well, they are inseparable. This painting will be joyful.  It will be the two of them together in each others arms, it will make us all smile.  

And one day, perhaps, when the madness ends, we can have this exhibition, and show all the paintings, all the words and all the stories together on one place.  Hang in in there, friends.  Even if I have to show it all in my house, we will have this exhibition. 

And so 

Keep an eye open for the next chapters of the book As Mother Lay Dying.  I will try and upload a chapter a day for the next couple of weeks.  There are twenty chapters.  I am so enjoying doing this, and I hope you will enjoy and be moved by the book.  Please let me know what you think, and either leave comments here on this blog or directly on the YouTube comments section below the videos. 

As My Most Beautiful Mother Lay Dying.




Sunday, 5 July 2020

Death. There's a lot of it about.

A lot of it about
There's a lot of it about.

Deaths

A young plumber came to mend a leak in the kitchen after my husband Alan died in 2016.  "Death," he said with a shake of his head, as if this was unreasonable, "there's a lot of it about."

I don't think he had experienced many losses, I don't think that dying had happened in his world, and so when he heard of other peoples' experiences, it seemed that death was just getting a bit above itself.  Slow down, he seemed to imply, just one at a time and in an orderly fashion. 

We all know that death is a part of life, that death doesn't follow a protocol, that death will do what it wants when it wants.  We all know that it happens, and though we know theoretically we will have to die one day too, we don't really believe it.  Not really. And yet, people we know die. Even people we love go, and sometimes, family members pass on and so, yes, there is a lot of it about.  I remember when my partner Steve was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, saying we will beat this, and somehow, because I loved him I thought we would.  It was inconceivable that such a thing as love could be bested by such a thing as death.  Light and dark, I thought then.  Light always wins.  But Steve did die, and watching him fade away despite my love and despite it being unfair, changed my world for ever.  In a way, I had to grow up.  I had to experience something beyond my comprehension in order to show me a deeper more profound version of this life.  Steve's death was the single most traumatic event of my life, and probably still is.  I was thrown into a grief and confusion that marked the beginning of the rest of my life, and my decision to work with endings and dyings in the way that I do.  That grief was so mind altering, so hard to bear, that all my understandings of this world had to change.  But it also unlocked my gift, and though I did not want that gift and would have thrown it back if I could have in the beginning, I am grateful for it now.  I often say that Steve came, gave my my job to do, and left.  

So now, deaths.  What good are they?  I absolutely do not know, but the thing is, they happen twenty four hours a day seven days a week.  Making or finding meaning in them, is an ongoing process for most of us.  I have seen many deaths through illness, I have experience of suicide deaths, and I have personally experienced miscarriage.  However, there are many, many ways for us to die. Here is a list to be going on with. 

Illness, suicide, murder, accident, miscarriage, abortion, war, execution, euthanasia, act of God                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
Most of these I have no experience of, and though I accept that death is a given, such things as
Help. Don't make me do it.
execution, war and murder really scare me.  Perhaps it isn't the fact of death so much as the manner of dying.  Murder, war and execution seem to involve cruelty and suffering from the hands of other people that is entirely avoidable, man made and inhumane.  And yet, what I have been trying to do is, where I come across it, to make the manner of dying more calm, more loving and more acceptable.  I have a terrible fear of visiting a death row, an execution, and hope to goodness I never have to do that - it is indescribably unlikely in my little life here in Bognor Regis, but I have learned that the world is utterly unpredictable and just because you fear something does not mean you are safe from it.  Though I imagine I am safe from this.  But you never know. Help. 



Dyings

Over the years, I have learned to occupy very little space in the room of a dying person.  I remember when I began learning about how people go and what they do, and what I should do, feeling that I should be doing something, I should somehow be indispensable.  It was up to me whether they died well or not. I worried that I could fail at this, and that everyone would see that I was a fraud and did not know what I was doing.  (I did not know what I was doing in those days, absolute fact.) I knew there was a place for people like me, who were drawn to make a small difference to the dying process, but I had no idea how.  For some reason, I felt I ought to know instinctively and that it was all about me making them feel better.  It was about me doing a good job.  It was about me.

Fast forward and this is how I see it now.  Unlearning the above was a valuable part of the process.  It is not about me, and I do not have to get anything right.  I just have to do my best and if it is not what is needed, I can leave.  Mainly, the dying are doing their own thing.  Our job, if we can, is to create a harmonious and loving place for them to do that.  And often we don't have a choice about where that is.  It could be anywhere.  (When I am asked where I would like to die, which I sometimes am, I say I have no intention of dying at all.  But if I have to do it, and as a well person I chose a nice meadow in the sunshine, I may at the time prefer a hospital with all the right equipment.  I may not want to die in a tea shop having afternoon tea because it will be messy, though right now I think it would be a lovely way to go.  My point is we don't know, we can only guess.  And fate may mean we have little choice anyway).  If it isn't about me at all, then I am relieved of the burden of success and failure, and I am relieved of my ego.  It is not all about the dying person either.  It is about all of the people in the room.  If others are there, they bring their energies and beliefs into the mix.  If someone is struggling, they need support.  If the dying person is struggling, they need support. If no one is struggling, then the family or friends there will manage.  They dying person will manage.  Where someone like me comes in, is to support whoever needs it.  When someone is dying whether over a long time or a short, difficult questions will come up.  Unwelcome emotions will arise.  We may have profound conversations and we may have some wonderful, enlightening moments.  We may be unable to resolve old hurts, and we may argue and fight.  We may do a mixture and all other things in between.  And if for example, the illness changes the dying person's personality, then the whole dying process may be unpredictable and difficult.  A man I knew of with a brain tumour became very aggressive and took over the ward.  The police had to be called.  I don't recognise this person, his wife said, this is not him.  A few days later, he died.  And the moment of death, that moment many of us feel we have to witness for our loved ones, may just happen when we are not looking.  The moment of death, that last breath, may well be so silent that no one notices it.  

I held my mother, and my father, and my husband as they died. Steve died just before I got there, and my brother Dominic died when I left the room.  It was really lovely to be there for Mum, Dad and Alan's last breath and a bit sad I wasn't there to witness Steve and Dominic, but because it is not, actually, about me, I can let that go.  People die when they die.  I thought Dominic was actually dying a few days before he did, and I told him to let go and go when he was ready.  I was convinced he was on his way, and after a while, when he didn't go, I felt a bit foolish and went and had a cup of tea.  Sorry, Dom, I said.  When he did go, a few days later, it was on his own terms and in his own time, and it was when he was alone.  

Here is an account of how dying involves loved ones too.  

As a volunteer on the local hospice wards, one of my roles was as a patient companion when there were no family or friends for a dying person.  One afternoon I overheard an exasperated lady talking about how her neighbour's husband was deeply reluctant to come and see his wife, ever, and now she was actually dying.  I jolly well made him get into the car, she said, and forced him.  He's outside her room now, she said angrily, not going in.  I give up. 

 I remember thinking that he must be very frightened and being angry with him won't help.  I was worried and went looking for him.  I found him sitting on his own looking terrified, lost and small on a chair near his wife's room.  I began talking with him, and he talked about everything and anything that he could, but not ever about his wife, dying in the room next to him.  After a while, I said to him that I knew his wife, and that I had had many good conversations with her.  Would you mind, I asked him, if I went and said goodbye to her?  After a pause, he said that he would take me to her.  And he got up and  walked into her room.  Surprised but delighted, I followed. "Hello dear," he said and bent over her. "It's your favourite husband.  I have Antonia here who wants to say goodbye to you."  With that, he walked around her to the chair beside her bed on the other side, and sat down.  I said goodbye to her gently and thanked her, noticing that the husband who had been so afraid, was now sitting and holding his wife's hand.  I left the room, and she died a little while later, her husband with her.  All he had needed was someone to be kind to him. 

Was the angry neighbour right to force the husband into the hospice?  Was the ending a good one?  In the end, she was instrumental in helping the husband to overcome some very deep fears, but what if he had remained panicking, alone, outside her room and missed her death?  We just cannot know.  What I understood from this experience is that the dying wife was fine, all that could be done for her was being done.  It was the husband that needed the helping hand.  It was, for a while, only about him.  It was a happy ending in that all things came together, the wife died with the husband holding her hand, and he no longer isolated and afraid.  

Dad.

Dad died three weeks ago today.  It feels as if eighty eight years have gone in the blink of an eye, and here we are already three weeks into his eternity.  Every time someone I love dies, I get lost in the not knowing.  Same now with Dad.  Where did he go?  I don't know.  Why didn't he wait to die here like I had planned?  I don't know.  Why did he have to suffer cruel and avoidable isolation and loss from us, and then die on a stretcher?  I don't know.  What does it all mean?  I don't know.

It is up to me to make my own sense of this.  I am not grief stricken.  Dad was dying for a long time with Alzheimer's and Dementia.  I had years to say goodbye, and now that I have said it, I feel alongside the sadness of losing him, a feeling of freedom and expansion.  I miss him, but I feel lighter.  He has done it.  He has gone, shooting off on the tails of a radiant, blazing star, up to Heaven where everyone is cracking open the red wine, waiting for him to join the party.  There is nothing more for him to do here, no dying no death no waiting.  No living.  He has gone to join his friends and family and I have waved him goodbye.   I will plod on down here, living and doing my best but I still have it all to come.  I have no idea when it will be, how it will be or where it will be.   One thing I do know, other people have not paused in their dying because Dad has gone.  Hey ho.  There's a lot of it about.


Still happening. 


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