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Sunday, 17 March 2019

Seeking our father inside his Alzheimer's, part two





It is very hard to watch our father shouting, though he is comforted and cared for constantly.  He is struggling with progressive Alzheimer's disease, his once fine mind is shutting down and he knows there is a great darkness where once there was poetry, music and conversation.  Where once he was reserved, private and amusing, there is now an unstoppable outpouring of confusion and distress.  Help me, he calls, and my brothers and I hold his hands and watch. 

It sounds as if he is in great pain, but we are assured that he is not.  I took him in his wheelchair out into the bright February sunshine, his knees and shoulders covered in blankets.  He will like the feel of the cool air, and the brightness of the sun, I thought.  He will know he is outside and he will like it.  But he did not like it.  The bleakness in his brain came with him, and he was unsettled by the change in temperature and surroundings.  I took him back inside, trying to wheel him carefully over the grass, hoping the tiny bumps in the ground that I would have given no thought to, would not jolt him and cause him to call out in fear.  Once inside, I took him to a large sitting room, and sat him by the window to feel the sun on his knees.  We sat together and I tried to distract him from his shouting, but he couldn't understand my questions, and didn't remember what I was describing when I spoke of our childhood with him as a wonderful father, and he shouted his responses in between calling for help. In desperation I sang him a song he loves from his own childhood, though I couldn't remember the words, and muddled my way through it.  It did calm him, and so we sang it over and over until it was time for me to go.  And now I have gone, I thought, he will shout again, and what on earth was the point of my visit?  I left feeling tearful that this most gentle and educated of men, this kind and independent father of ours, would have already forgotten how I had sat with him and found a way to calm him just for a moment.  For me, it was a big thing.  For him, it seems, it never happened.

And yet he is in there.  I keep asking him to look at me.  He always does, and I know he can see me for that moment.  He knows who I am.  Tone!  he says when I say hello Dad, it's me. Tone!  Where have you been?  His delight is real, and if I say I have been here all along Dad, I just popped out to the loo, he will believe me.  I don't say that, but it doesn't matter anyway, because I will be forgotten and so will my visit, as soon as I leave his side. 
Today when I went to see him, he was not shouting.  He seems to have stopped.  He is peaceful and calm and sleepy.  My brother John said, his face has sunk into itself.  It's true, his face has lost its old definition, and yet he is still handsome.  His face does not care about how it looks anymore, it is only responding to the shutting down of his mind.  He cannot control it, he has no awareness of it, and it shows how weak and tired and old he is.  In a strange way he is like a baby that has no idea of who it is; a very old, white haired, gentle sleeping baby.

I want to ask him something about what is happening to him.  I want to ask what it is like to be so old and with Alzheimer's.  I want to get through to the eccentric, clever, witty and philosophical man that still lives inside his brain somewhere.  What are you thinking, Dad?  I ask him, and he seems to pause, as if he knows I am asking him an important question.  His mouth moves and I can see he could once have said something profound in response, but his brain has shut down a way of making any sense of the question.  But he knows, he knows we once would have talked like this.  Instead now, he closes his eyes and his head droops onto his chest, and he disappears back to that place that I cannot understand and in which I cannot find him.

There is not much time left to make him understand we love him.  He may go on physically for ages, but the sparks of light in his mind will soon remove him from us completely.  I love you, Dad, I say, and he smiles.  I hope that lodges in all his brain cells, and cannot be dislodged.






I asked my brother Ralph to write something of his feelings for this journey of Alzheimer's and endings and our father.  Here is what he wrote -


My father has Alzheimer’s.  Apparently there are seven stages. He’s had it for quite a few years now and for so long there was no impairment whatsoever. It was a phoney war.  There were minor memory problems that I put down to old age and the result of TIAs some thirteen years ago.  The decline was gradual and punctuated by odd periods of trauma resulting from the loss of loved ones. Three years ago I got married and my father sat at the top table resplendent in his morning coat and making mildly caustic remarks about the speeches. In those days he looked after himself in his smart riverside flat. Each day he did the Times crossword and assiduously read the TV schedule marking off programmes he might like to watch that day. He was part of the pre surfing generation who sat down to watch specific programmes and turned the TV off when they were over. His life was ordered: he shaved every day; he ate all his meals at the dining table at the same time each day; he went to church on Sundays etc. he drank too much but never got drunk. He justified it by saying he was healthy- “I walk to the shops every day.”  Alcohol was ubiquitous. A glass of beer with his lunch; a couple!!! of gins and tonic at 6pm; a bottle of good wine with his evening meal.  “Once a bottle is opened it will become oxidised and so MUST be consumed that evening.”  Cumulatively it had an effect.  His blood pressure grew and in the autumn of 2006 he crashed his car whilst having a series of  TIAs.

Even then the justification for drinking continued. He would argue that experts believed that light-to-moderate consumption of any form of alcohol — not just red wine — could reduce risk for stroke. One to two alcoholic drinks per day may increase the amount of HDL, or good cholesterol, in the bloodstream. Alcohol also may serve as a blood thinner, helping break up blood clots. And then the memory started to go: the repetition of questions; the misplacement of keys and money; the disorientation and the getting lost in public. I began to notice that in family or social activities he would sit quietly and speak only when he was spoken to. This was a man who before would charmingly interview people when he spoke to them. He was a consummate conversationalist. Now he was withdrawing from social activities. However he was still jolly and gentlemanly. I once remember him reading the epistle at church. God only knows what he read; it was certainly not the reading on the lectern. 

And now when I go to the care home and walk down the corridor to the day lounge where so many sit, I dread it. Only a year ago he mischievously called it the ‘dribble lounge’ and asked to be spared sitting in it. And now there he is, inert, head lolling indolently; dribbling.  He is permanently confused; he is seemingly lost; he has all but left his body.  All conversation has gone. Recognition is sometimes by sight but more often by hearing my voice. I hold his hand and either read him poetry of play tunes on my mobile phone, from his childhood. He will nod; sometimes beat in time to the music; occasionally smile. He relaxes and for a while we connect silently. I miss him dreadfully.


Ralph – 11 March 2019

Friday, 8 March 2019

Looking for our father's soul not lost to Alzheimer's



Dad has Alzheimer's and progressive dementia.  At the moment, I don't want to go into his history, nor give you his background.  I want to look at his eyes and find the man inside.  Since the beginning of this year he has become more and more agitated, and less and less able to move.  Now, he can't walk, feed himself, understand where he is, speak much sense, he can't move himself, he can't work out what he is or is not doing.  Today, I uncrossed his legs at the ankles for him, because he could no longer do it himself, his thin hot legs felt heavy and fragile, his delicate papery skin vulnerable to bruising and breaking.  He is eighty seven years old.

My brothers and I go and see him when we can.  We are busy and Dad lives in a care home about a three hour round trip away from us all.  We have to make a plan to go there, stay a while, and go home again back to our lives, and I think all of us feel we should be doing more - but what more can we do?  It is hard to see him shouting and in distress, it is hard to see him unable to talk, and we think that this must be put right.  Somebody needs to do something, but the staff explain all that can be done is constantly being done.  They explain the way the diseases progress, and they show us a list of his medications.  We all know, my brothers and I, that the carers and nurses and the Augustinian Sisters that look after Dad and all the other residents, many much worse than Dad, are angels and bring so much love to what they do.  But Dad is so distressed, I say to them, and they say - and this is true - that they all sit with him and hold his hands, and different medications are being sought to help with the shouting.  Your Daddy is a gentleman, they say.  I want to say to them that he was so tall and dark and handsome once.  I want to tell them that he made me laugh when I was little, we wrote poetry together and his was always a pastiche of mine.  I want to tell them that he could sing beautifully and that it was he who took me to London and let me wear blue eye shadow when I was thirteen.

I look at him now, lying helpless on his recliner chair in his room so that his shouting does not disturb the others, washed and brushed and clean with soft blankets on his legs, and I think You are still here, Dad.  You are still in there.  When I say hello and kiss him, he smiles and says hello.  Then he asks me if we should go now.  Where to? I ask him.  But he can't tell me where, he just waves one hand gently back and forth and forgets to speak.

I am looking for my father inside the Alzheimer's.  His eyes are  deep set beneath bushy grey eyebrows, and his glasses reflect the light.  It's hard to find him in there, and the disease has taken away the window to his soul.  But if I say, Dad!  Look at me!  he does, and he smiles, and I can see him again for a second.

Today he was calm and peaceful.  Last time, he was shouting goodbye to me, and telling me he had to let go, it was all over.  A wise person once said that while someone is making a noise, they are still finding a way to get their needs met.  I didn't feel that Dad was slipping away and I wonder if he was articulating his awareness of where he is going.  It's not time Dad, I said to him while stroking his forehead, this isn't your time.  You will do what you have to do when the time is right, and you will know what to do.  But that time is not now, not today.

Come with me, he said.  We will go together.

I will be there, Dad, I said, and I will come as far as I can. 

Today he was calm. There was a silence around him that is new.  Maybe there has been more medication and the shouting has finally stopped.  He seemed soft and wise and old and wonderful.  His hair had been cut, and the carer told me she was going to give him a manicure later.  I have left some magical hand cream with marigold and lavender essential oils for him, and she will rub that into his skin.  Dad took great care to keep his nails smart and clean, I told her.  A manicure is just right for him. 

I had to leave early today, after only an hour with our father lying peacefully on his recliner chair.  I will be back, I said, and he smiled.  We have had a lovely day, he said.  I thought, we have had a lovely hour, and if he thinks it has been a whole day, then I am relieved.  My brothers will be with him over the weekend.  I must not feel guilty about leaving him after just one hour.

Today I visit a client with cancer.  I had to leave Dad and drive an hour and a half back to Bognor for our weekly session.  He is older than Dad and says that he has had a blameless life in the church, so why does he have to suffer with this cancer?  His wife is ill too, with dementia.  Why did God give us these illnesses?  He asks.  I don't know, I say.  And I think, isn't life so strange.  Why is our father suffering like this, when he loves poetry so much?  When he was the only one who agreed that I was a fairy when I was a child? (You always said I was a fairy Dad, I said today.  I wore some net curtains as a fairy costume, do you remember?  Ah yes! he replied, you should still wear them.)

I am painting portraits of Dad, looking for him in his eyes.  I am recording him too so that I can understand.  He never complains, he is gracious and lost and sweet.  I will go back in a few days time, and we will see how things are.


Looking for our father in his eyes.  His Alzheimer's is taking him further and further away from us. Oils on wood.



Look at me Dad!  I say, and the Alzheimer's clears for a second and he smiles,  Oils on wood.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

It's You, Antonia, You Weirdo. A Healer's Tale


From a painting of Adam and Eve I did at this time.  Here Eve has a moment of realisation. 
This is how I felt about healing.
Many years ago, in a moment of quiet insight, I became aware that even more than being an artist, I am a healer.  You are here, a little voice said, to heal.  My mind went on to tell me that I am up my own bum.  Better come back out of there, said my mind, and get a grip.  So I said nothing about it, did even less, and continued with my life even though, underneath it all, the seed was planted.  Healing was in the air around me, and as long as I didn't look directly at it, I was OK.  If I looked at it, addressed it directly, I was overwhelmed with shame for thinking such a thing about myself. And yet, and yet ... I knew I could do something.  It bothered me, it felt wrong, and yet, it felt as if deep inside me, in the middle of me, it was true.  I couldn't reconcile it with who I was at the time, and tried to shut it out of my mind.  I remember thinking that if I only listened, really hearing people, focusing on what they are saying, that is enough, like healing without actually healing. I won't be obvious and no one has to know.  So I became a very good listener, and no one gave it a second thought.

A painting form this time, showing me, much heavier then, up in the sky throwing my troubles out of a bag to the earth below.  In order that no one is hit by my packages of troubles, everyone carries an umbrella.  Above me my three closest friends rid themselves of their troubles too.

If I met people interested in or practised healing, I was scathing.  Who do they think they are, I would think and at the same time, I longed for them to say Ah!  Antonia, I see through all these smoke screens. You are one of us.  While rejecting them, I longed for their attention and reassurance. I felt like a fraud, I felt conflicted and I felt as if it and I were fundamentally unacceptable.

During those years, I met an ex-civil servant who gave it all up to teach yoga, practice spiritual healing and teach meditation.  She was in her sixties, and wore sensible shoes.  How can she do this, I thought, isn't she embarrassed?  And I couldn't reconcile the fact that she looked like Des O'Connor.  No floaty dresses, no jewellery, no living in a yurt.  She lived in a big family house with a husband and four grown children.  And, she became my friend, and she was completely normal.  But she admitted, in fact advertised, that she did spiritual healing.  It was hard to make sense of.  I remember longing to do what she did and to be like her.

Oh poor Antonia!

What was happening, in retrospect, was that I was being made aware of an inner life.  At that time I was trying to be both a mother and an artist, and not very successful at either.  I didn't feel that I did anything very well.  It had been a struggle to admit publicly that I was an artist, even that felt presumptuous. My life was chaotic.  I had little confidence, I had married someone who was plagued by terrible demons and who disappeared with them in tow, back to his own country, leaving me alone with three small children.  One of them inherited his father's demons and was later diagnosed with autism, a new concept then and not something I had even heard of.  And there was never any money.  If I was interested in healing, I thought, how come I had surrounded myself with such chaos, how come I could not even begin to help my husband, and how was it that I could not help my child?  The person who really needed the help, was me.  Life was happening to me, I had no control over it, I shut myself down deep down inside, and continued to crazy-make day after day, trying to keep up with events in a world I could not understand.

A painting of me with my first husband, having tea and chats in space, before the demons really took hold

Thank goodness for friends, family and neighbours.  I always meant well, and was given a community of wonderful people to help me deal with my rag tag life and to help me with my beautiful children.  I observed them, this community around me, and how they had married good people, made correct decisions, had proper jobs and money to buy things, like food and council tax without scrabbling around and raiding their children's piggy banks. I wondered what was their secret.  What is it that I simply did not get about life. 

I continued to paint throughout these years but nothing I wrote was right.  There was so much to say, there was so much inside, but try as I might, no words came near to expressing what I felt.  Everything I wrote was trite, miserable and superficial.  But I can write, I thought in frustration, I can do it.  How come it is not happening?  Everything sounded like a long, self pitying ramble. 

Then, completely out of the blue, I moved myself and the children far away from London, and fell totally in love with a man who loved me in return.  All that I had ever dreamt of in a partner, came true.  Within eighteen months, he had died.  It was his dying that unlocked the next part of the healing journey. The world around me had been spinning faster and faster over the years, and I was finding it harder and harder to catch my breath.  For a brief moment, I had found someone who knew who I was without my having to speak, and then he was gone.  His dying and death changed my life completely and opened up the next most powerful part of my life.  On the day that he died, I sat down to write, and found that suddenly, the gates were open and all the words that had evaded me before, were now flowing.  The writing was released.  At last I could speak from the heart.  And from that moment on, I chose to work with dying and death.  It was only many years later, after more deaths, that I realised that I could add life to the list.  Dying, death, life and living.

Later, I met another man, the opposite to Steve in all ways, but perhaps the greatest teacher I will ever know. Life and lessons with Alan were hard.  One of the first things he taught me, and I resisted it dreadfully, was that unless I told the truth about how I was feeling, no one could ever know.  No one would guess, it was up to me to tell people the truth about what was in my heart.  I had shut myself down over the years and had believed that it was not safe to say how I felt.  I felt ashamed, I felt vulnerable and I did not believe anyone would listen.  When I look back, I remember his patience and wisdom.  It must have been very hard for someone as truthful as him to cope with me, who would not, could not, let anyone know what I really thought and felt. 

When Alan too died, ten years after Steve had gone, like the release of the words for writing, the understanding of what it meant to be a healer became clear.

Steve. Opened up my life for me, and left
to go home.
Alan.  The greatest teacher I have ever known.
Also left to return home.
In the two years after his death, in the silences and emptiness of the days that followed, I began to understand a bigger picture, of not only my place here in the world, but of the world itself.  Alan's legacy, the gift of his time in this world with me was in the example of how he lived his life.  His honesty, his perceptiveness, his kindness, his toughness. I saw the way Steve had opened up my life with his gentle soul and courage.  I saw how my life up until now, far from being difficult and beyond my understanding, had been just what I needed.  I saw how each experience of loss, of love, of crisis, of loneliness, of connection and then of the ending of lives on this earth, had given me a treasure box of things that I would understand in other people.  All the vulnerability, all the self judgements, all the painful feelings of not belonging and not being good enough, all the awkwardness and the hiding from life were part of learning about life, so that I can feel how it is for someone else.  All those people I sat with at the ends of their lives in the ten years of training myself to become a soul midwife - the courage they gave me to see what is real, the insights they gave me to look carefully at what is true, the power they showed in surrendering with grace to what is inevitable, is all part of the most intricate training I can have into merely glimpsing the mystery of being alive and being here at all.

We are all, all of us, a chest of jewels.  Sometimes the lid is wide open and the light from the diamonds and rubies and gem stones inside is bright enough to light up the space around it.  Sometimes the lid is almost closed, with only a small gleam of light from inside. Even if the lid is closed, even if it is locked, the jewels and light is still there.  However open or closed the lid of the jewel chest is, the contents are not changed or affected.  We are all still filled with precious stones, we decide how open or closed the lid is.

With this in mind, perhaps all of us are capable of making a difference.  We have more healing in us than we imagine.  A most simple act of healing is to be conscious of our own energy so that it is uplifted and mindful of love.  If being conscious of energy feels too wacky, paying attention to how we respond to events and people is the same thing.  In order to practice the simplest of healing, go about your day aware of your energy, mindful of your responses to all those you come across.  Practice all this with love, and take care of how you are thinking. 

Years ago, with the first insight that I was a healer, my great fear was that I was called to be different, like the hand that points from the sky to a little figure in the old national lottery ads.  The business of healing felt like a secret curse, as if I would have to develop into an eccentric pseudo magician.  I think I muddled it up with being a fortune teller with a crystal ball, or a mediocre medium who couldn't get anything right during a seance.   I thought I would have to become a nutcase.  All my friends would be nutcases.  I had no idea how anyone normal could practice healing with confidence and success, and still have fun.  And, how does one do healing anyway? 


It's you, Antonia, you weirdo

These days, I am no longer afraid of it.  Healing includes everyone and requires no special gifts.  I don't have to dress up to be a healer, nor do I have to tell the future.  I don't even have to be right, or know what is wrong with anyone.  It seems to me that healing is a state of mind.  It's an awareness of who you are and what you are doing, for the best outcome for everyone, yourself included.  Kindness is a healing art.  Focus and paying attention are healing arts; I learned something of that watching a very busy vicar in London who, despite rushing everywhere at speed, always stopped when addressed by anyone, and gave them his full attention for the couple of minutes he could spare. Healing is not necessarily a separate act.  It is part of every day life, and costs nothing and does not need feedback.  Smiling at people we meet is healing.  Generosity is healing. Self knowledge and self love are healing.  Prayer is healing, and faith is healing.  The healing journey is never ended, it is ongoing and forever changing, rewarding, challenging, dispiriting and uplifting.  It is, actually, just like life itself.

I am sixty years old next year, and I have found great peace and calm in my life.  I understand so much more and know myself so much better.  I am a fully fledged artist, Reiki master and soul midwife.  The healing that so alarmed me all those years ago is nothing to be afraid of.  It doesn't make me different and it isn't something for weird people with no friends. The idea of it then was far too big and alien, I had no idea in those early days of who I was or that it was even possible (or allowed)  to love myself.  I practice healing in many different ways now in my every day life and when I am too tired or fed up, I don't do it.  I practice healing during Reiki sessions.  I practice it as a soul midwife, and I practice it when in a shop, or at a train station, or in the street, whenever someone talks to me and makes it known they need it.  I do it for money for clients, I do it for free when out and about.  It is a part of life, it is not a secret, and it is often beyond difficult to articulate how it is done.  And it doesn't interfere with eating cake with my friends, dancing to reggae with my grandchildren, and having pizza in a bubble bath in the afternoon.  I am so normal, and I am just fine.  And my three year old grandson says I am a very good boy. 

 
In case you want to book a session. 


Saturday, 25 August 2018

On picking up other people's beer cans

Part one

new old garden chair in the early morning 
I had my tea in the garden recently next to a sunbathing blackbird.  I had intended to write some notes about the day ahead, but couldn't find any pens or paper and so had to sit with nothing to do but drink my tea.  The sun had come only half way across the garden, the air was clear and the seagulls making a great deal of noise from the rooftops.  At first, I thought the blackbird was in trouble.  It sat, fat and black, with its little yellow beak open, on the flower bed in between the lavender and the peonies.  With the lack of rain, the soil was dry and dusty, and it seemed to have found a little dip in which to settle itself, wriggling its bottom in the dust to get comfortable.  And there it sat.  After about ten minutes, I wondered if it was ill, and possibly dying, and as a soul midwife, I briefly thought about the right protocol for a blackbird.  Its beady little eye didn't look dull though, it had a self possessed air about it, and I thought - that bird is sunbathing.  There is a robin that lives nearby too, hopping about madly to show the blackbird up for being ridiculous, as if sunbathing on a dusty flower bed was simply attention seeking.  At some point, the blackbird must have flown away, when I looked a good half hour later, it had gone. 

Later, in the afternoon, I returned to the garden for more tea.  I sat on one of three old wooden garden chairs that my lodger had found in a skip and brought back for me to sort out.  This, I thought, is the life.  Here I am, relaxing under a tree, my feet up on another garden chair, with a tray of tea, some chocolate and a little pot of crunchy peanut butter to be eaten with a spoon.  And yes, it is true, it is the life, and also, it is like this often, but not all the time.

Part two

The good thing about getting older is that time becomes less of a surprise and more of an old friend.  I am aware of it now, in a way that I wouldn't have been when I was younger.  It sometimes alarms me, the way that it just disappears.  I am not surprised any more though by its passing, despite sometimes not feeling ready for it to move quite so relentlessly. I know it is doing its own thing and whatever I am waiting for, anticipating, looking forward to or dreading, the moment will come when it simply happens, and then I will look back on something that I was waiting for, that is now like all the other things in my life, in the past.  I have more time to spend on time now, and more curiosity about the relationship I am having with it.  It no longer needs to be juggled, it no longer needs to be caught and held on to, it no longer dominates my day by not being enough.  The busyness that filled my days not so long ago when I had children at home, lodgers to deal with and work to do - that busyness has gone and now with the children grown and moved away (except for Giant Boy who will only move out one day when his new wife drags him out by his earlobes).  The lodgers have all gone, and the house is mine again, and if I want to, I can spend the day deciding where to sit and drink tea next.  I can even sunbathe in the dust in the flower bed if I like.

Time, my new friend, has introduced me to another friend that has been waiting to be seen for a long time now, silence.  Time has suggested that if I am changing my experience of itself, that I might want to meet silence, which like time, has been here all along.  And so, I have been introduced to silence, and we are getting along very well, neither of us so afraid of the other as we have been in the past.


A divine you unbothered by the whirling in your head

Something that silence has shown me is that there is no need to distract myself, that sitting with it and hearing the noise in my head, the noise around me, feeling the moments pass by like the smallest of breezes, as they do, will not harm me.  It is possible that all the noises, all the thoughts, all the fears, are not my enemies and when I step out of the way, off they go into the ether without the need for me to follow them.  Inside us all is a strong and timeless soul.  It is this that we catch a glimpse of when we work with silence and lose our fear of it.  All the chatter, all the nonsense that crowds in on us, is not part of our gentle, powerful inner light despite us believing that it is.  We might think that the madness in our minds is all we are, but behind it, much deeper and more wonderful, is a you that is divine and powerful and utterly unbothered by all the whirling around in your head.





Part three

I say these things as if I have a charmed life sunbathing in the garden with the wildlife, drinking tea all day and getting to know the cosmos.  Without any judgement and without any regret, my life has been very hard.  It has also been filled with grace and wonder.  These things are still with me, the difficulties and the grace and the wonder, I am not drifting into old age with my hands folded gently in my lap, a saintly smile on my lips and angels dancing on my head.  I am drifting into older age, inexorably, things are changing, but I am the same person I have always been.  It is as this person, this same person I have always been, that I am finding that time is an old friend and that silence is not my enemy.  It is as this same person that I am catching a glimpse, every now and then, of the power inside, somewhere beyond my physical body yet part of my physical body, this spark of the divine, this strong and timeless soul that is part of us all and that is wonderful beyond imagining.

My grand dumplings and me, full of grace
and wonder 
Memory of my late husband - all the last texts he sent,
 the hardness of life
























Part four

Some mornings ago I fell into a waking sleep and had a dream.  I was walking in a park when I saw an empty beer can on the ground.  I must pick that up and throw it away, I thought.  As I picked it up, from nowhere, hundreds of empty beer cans came flooding around me and I realised that I must not pick up other people's empty beer cans.  In feeling the need to pick up one empty beer can, I am vulnerable to everyone else's empty beer cans, and I will be swamped. I have taken the message of this very seriously.

So now, I can sit in the garden and have tea with the blackbirds and robins, and I can watch time go by with my new friend silence.  I can deepen my curious and challenging and comforting relationship with this thing called time, and I can give myself permission to do all this with the full knowledge that what is hard in my life has not changed, and what is wonderful has not changed either.  This is made much more possible because I have more time for time, more space for silence because I see that do not need to pick up anyone else's beer cans any more. 


Time is passing, feeling the moments one by one pass me by like so many small breezes, and feeling no fear

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Wounded Healers


Background

Let's start by acknowledging just how human we all are.  Generally, we do the best we can.  Even if I don't like or agree with what you do, I imagine you are doing it in a way that suits you.  Whatever happens, we do what we do because 1.  We choose to and 2.  We think it's right to do it.

All of us make choices and all of us live as a consequence of what we choose to do or think or be.  Yes - and some are more aware than others.  Awareness aside, we still make our choices according to what is best for us, even if that is to collude with difficult situations so that we don't suffer.  We do dreadful things because at that moment it seems the right thing to do. 

Culture, tradition, experience, society all form us.  There are so many factors that influence our choices and who we are.  I could get away with showing my face in some places, and not in others.  I could make the decision not to have that thirteenth packet of crisps because my experience has shown me it doesn't work for me, and finally I am acting on it.  I may defer unquestionably to authority in some places, in others I may decide to be a rebel.  We are all different, we are all unique and we respond to the events in our lives in our own unique way.


And Yet ....

We are the same.  In so many ways, we are the same.  We want to be happy, loved, safe, satisfied.  We like to be in families, in communities, to be seen, listened to, supported and to belong.  We like, in so many words, to find our tribe and belong to it.  Most of us love our children, most of us love our parents, all of us bleed when cut and all of us experience loss, sadness, rejection and distress.  And illness.  And not many of us like to be threatened, attacked or ignored.

In all societies there are healers, doctors, helpers, care givers.  I mean the professionals who have made a decision to be of service, who feel they have a gift, a qualification, experiences, offering support, insight and kindness to their communities.  These people all want to make us feel better.  That is their choice.  And when it works, it is magnificent.  A relief.  When it doesn't work, it can be a worry but we keep going till we find someone who can help.  It isn't fun to experience a healer who makes us feel worse, though a good healer should be aware of their boundaries and the limits of their capabilities.  But of course, being human, it's really trial and error in finding a good healer, and a good healer is someone we are comfortable with, believe in and are happy with.  We understand we may have to try a few before coming to one we like.


The Nub of the Matter

Here's the thing.  If we are practising healing, how do we stop our own stuff from getting in the way?  Generally we won't notice if our healer's unresolved thing is uppermost in our session.  As long as we feel better and enjoy the session, we won't notice. Healers are also only human, and I think it is impossible to be utterly and totally objective (our humanness means we are not robots, what with our free will and feelings and getting things wrong as well as right and so on).  The healer's issues are bound to influence them to some degree, poor loves, but only a tiny bit and the idea is that it does not get in the way of our stuff. 

But, what if we feel our healer gets it wrong?  What do we do then, and what are we to think?  What if the healer's Stuff really is in the way and we notice it and they don't? It's tough one.  We get off the treatment table, pay them and think, I feel worse.  And the healer probably thinks, Whoa! Magic!  I feel better!

It isn't easy for us to pay the healer and then say, that was a load of old cobblers.

Magic?  Where?  Cobblers more like

Experiences of the Nub.

Here are two experiences of Healer's Stuff that I recently experienced.  The first I will call misguided, the second I will call careless.

Misguided.  Healer One.  This healer was a chance meeting.  We met socially at a function, with other healers and interested parties. I asked the usual questions (how are you, what do you do) and listened as Healer One told me at length what they did, and though it was interesting, I did not completely follow it.  At some point, I realised Healer One was actually doing some healing.  For some reason, I didn't feel quite in control, and allowed Healer One to continue, though I was less comfortable as the experience unfolded.  It seemed to get stranger and stranger, much of what Healer One said was insightful and possibly very helpful, but it didn't feel right.  This session went on for a long time, I did not feel good, and by the end I had lost the will to live.  Healer One was totally in control and convinced that I was receiving a much needed gift.  I noticed too that most people had respectfully left us alone, possibly delighted to see that so much goodness was being delivered.  Healer One left me with some notes on the session to help me, and moved on to chat to others.  I was left clutching the notes, wanting to die, and possibly take Healer One with me.

Healer One made some fundamental mistakes.  First, I was not consulted.  I did not give my permission.  Second, when I did comment I was not listened to and made to feel disrespectful.  Third, Healer One paid no attention to me or my body language (which was probably classic WTF).

Healer One left me far from healed. I was angry, violated, bored (I think it may have been interesting in parts but it was so not about me in any way) and sapped.  I was also confused. How on earth could this have happened and how, if I am so clever, did I let it continue?  What was all that about?

I think Healer One, who makes a living as a healer, had an ego problem.  I do healing, and soul midwifery, and art and writing and workshops and I suspect they knew a little bit about that.  It felt like Healer One went on a bit of an ego competition rampage.  On the surface, Healer One probably thought I was lucky to have received such intense and personal attention, what a gift.  Subconsciously Healer One probably thrust a fist in the air and exclaimed Gotcha!  I won!  Eat dirt, looser!

Yes, I burned all the notes when I got home.  It was a properly angry reaction and made me feel as if I had had a little ego moment too.


I did NOT give my permission, goddamit


Careless.  Healer Two.  This was a session I booked, having heard of a very nice healer in my area.  I was going to love her, I was told.  I looked forward to it, ready to adore her if necessary.

Healer Two was good at her job.  The room was lovely with scented candles and lots of reassuring artwork on the walls.  From the moment I arrived, Healer Two told me about herself.  I learned a lot about what she thought, a lot about what she did, and a lot about who said nice things about her.  The work she did on me was not what I asked for, but I didn't mind.  Healer Two said she was drawn to do this, and that, and whatever, before doing a bit of what I had actually booked her for.  It was very nice though, she was good at her work.  As the session went on, she gave me feedback, and told me what she was picking up about me.  It was twaddle.  I thought, you have not yet asked me a single question about myself, you have no idea what I am feeling, thinking or even what I do, you have no idea why I am here or what for.  What are you talking about?

I need to be kind to myself, I am suffering grief, I need to do what my heart wants. Most of us are in this position, the man at the petrol station could have told me that.  What I think happened with Healer Two is that she had become complacent, self satisfied and made assumptions. It was the assumptions that made me cross.  She know a bit about me before I arrived, and the assumptions were based on what she had picked up from my friend.  The assumptions were wrong, and though the massage was good, I lost interest in her very quickly.  It felt she had no interest in me, so I just lay back and felt aggrieved. 


I'm going to lie back and feel agrieved


Wounded Healers

We are all wounded.  If we train as healers, these wounds and experiences can give us insight, compassion, wisdom.  We will meet other wounded people who come to us to find some relief, some quiet, some help.  It is part of our role to get a grip on ourselves.  We can only heal if we have permission.  We must be careful of making assumptions.  In our healing sessions, it is not about us, it is about our client.  We must be respectful, we mustn't strive for brownie points and we must notice if our client looks annoyed or has lost the will to live.  I don't think we must be too detached either, that is just as bad as being too familiar.  There is a loving respectful balance - giving a little of ourselves in order to benefit our client is good.

A big part of healing is the ability to listen.  Listen well, with your whole attention, and let the client be heard.  Perhaps all of us who do healing do it in character.  We heal as ourselves, in character as ourselves which makes me think that work on ourselves must be ongoing.  To know ourselves, warts and all, to know our foibles, failings, as well as being aware of our good points (kindness, empathy, compassion, honesty, interest in the client etc) is a the only way we can be effective. 

Healers who work on their own wounds, who look to their own healing so that they can offer whatever it is they offer well, have my admiration and respect.  They are healers that are working on their wounds.  Better than being the wounded working on their healing. Grrrr.


Grrrrrr

Friday, 18 May 2018

Antonia Rolls is at home.

The background

Antonia Rolls is at home.

In fact, she's in bed.

I had a lovely bath at about eleven this morning, painted my toenails pink, got dressed and got back into bed.  I am in bed now, writing this; beside me is my lunch and outside my window is the neighbour's garden looking splendid in the sunshine.  I have an appointment at four today and can't go in my pyjamas, so getting dressed and back into bed seemed a good plan, I am in bed working like a good person, but I am dressed ready to go when I need to and I have lunch on a tray to sustain me. 



Working from home today

The idea of home, home coming, home sickness and being home is something I am working on at the moment.  It has taken a long time to understand how lost I have felt and to articulate it.  I had spent eight years spending time alongside people at the end of life as a soul midwife, but nothing prepared me for the losses, one after the other, of my mother, brother and husband in 2015 and 2016.  I took a year off in 2017 to hide, rest and recover.  That time off was as hard as any other time - we do not simply sit down and become rested and recovered within half an hour.  Sitting down, taking time off and away, knowing that we are struggling with life is a courageous move as we know that once we stop moving and being distracted, all those little demons in our heads come out to play.  It takes focus to recover.  We come to terms with such feelings as loss, regret, guilt, anger, resentment.  There is love and light and laughter too, but when we are struggling and when we are suffering, love light and laughter belong in another universe.  Taking time off to recover takes a long, long time.  We face a lot of things, we understand a lot of things and when we feel stronger, we are glad that we did it.  But we don't want to do it again if we can help it, not for a while at least.


Work progresses.  

I felt that during my year off that I was struggling to come home.  To come back to myself, to find myself again in all this disruption.  I imagined myself wandering off on my own, into some kind of shadow lands, and losing myself.  The first thing to do was to recognise that I had left.  I had left myself.  I had left home. It was lonely out there, and I didn't belong.

Having recognised that I had left home, left myself, I made a decision to return.  In effect, I stopped walking, turned round and saw that not only had I come a long way off track, but that there was a way back and that I could take it.  I made a decision to come home, back to myself.

And now, coming back to myself, coming home, I needed to know who I was coming home to.  Who was I?  The business of finding myself again, coming back to myself and being grounded in myself felt like being home.  I was understanding what it was to be home, in myself. This was a place from where I could stand in my own space, be grounded, feel strong.

Life does not stand still.  In my work as a soul midwife over the last ten years, I know that we have to make some adjustments at some point to accept that our lives will end.  It is hard to do, but it is better to accept it than to live in fear and hope death goes away.  It is a preparation to go home, to face our dying, to accept the final journey.


The workshops


Everything that I have been thinking and experiencing while hiding away to recover, has come together to form the Coming Home workshops.  The points I made above are the basis of the workshops.


  • Recognising you have left home, left yourself.  Loss of faith.
  • Deciding to come home, back to yourself.  Seeking faith.
  • Understanding being home, being centred in yourself.  Finding faith
  • Preparation to go home, preparing for the final journey at the end of life.  Using faith.

For the purpose of this workshop, faith is faith in yourself.  

The subject of who we are and how we live our lives is constantly changing, constantly in motion.  My life is endlessly moving back and forth, to and fro, and since I have begun holding these Coming Home workshops, I have learned how many ways there are to leave home, leave yourself and to come home, come back to yourself.

I have a limit of eight people per workshop.  The energy of a smaller group is supportive and kind, and there is much sharing as we spend the morning going through the four points above.  Sometimes there are tears, sometimes laughter and always there is respect and support.  We are all homesick for ourselves in different ways.  The afternoons are spent creatively making Life Boards, which reflect back to you with uncanny accuracy, how you are feeling and who you say you are right now.  By the end of the day long Coming Home workshop, some alchemy has changed many of our hearts and minds, and we know that we are going to be fine.  


One of the workshops in afternoon sunshine

The next workshops are -

Saturday 26 May at the Cornerstone Community Centre, Church Road HOVE.  Starts at 10.15am and finishes at 4pm  

Sunday 3 June at the New Park Community Centre, New Park Road, CHICHESTER.  Starts at 9.30am and finishes at 4pm

Workshops are £50 per person.  A £25 deposit will secure your place.  Only eight places available per workshop. 

There is more information on my website at www.antoniarolls.co.uk/events.  There will be more workshops coming up and I will post them on the website.

Would you like to come?  To book your place email antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com or you can call me on 07787754123.


Coming Home, join us and gently take back your power.

And finally, a bit of feedback 

"Having been to one of Antonia's Coming Home workshops, I can sincerely recommend it. Antonia has such a caring, gentle way about her and offers some very insightful ways of looking at things that really make you think. I had a really lovely and helpful day. Thank you Antonia."

Anabel




"Antonia has a knack of making you feel special. The room we met in was draped (some literally) in her personal touches which transform a space. I personally enjoyed the day and it gave me room to think about where perhaps I want to move towards and what's important to me. I particularly liked a visualisation & getting sticky with collage and colour - the result sits next to my bed as a reminder of the Essence of Me (Don't stray too far from it Deb!). This time for me was a prodding, but, it was also a chance to see some other participants have a 'Life Change' moment, which was quite special. Thanks for the chance to have some gentle reflection & guidance, in a busy world."

Deb



Tuesday, 17 April 2018

I haven't finished dancing with you yet


There comes a time when we slightly older folk question the point of things.  What, we say, is it all for?  We have come this far, and however we got here, we notice that we are exactly that, here.  Once we saw life as a long, long road, winding away in front of us.  Now, we take a look at this road and see that it stretches a long, long way behind us.  The path is finite.  We knew that of course, everyone does, but we didn't feel it.

Here in Bognor Regis, I think I am still at the beginning of things.  I think, Oh - some day I will do this thing, or that thing, there is plenty of time, but first I need to work out who I am.  And before I do that, I must have a peanut butter sandwich, clean the kitchen, read a book or write some very important lists.  I have plans, I have ambitions, and I think that if only Woman's Hour knew I was here, they'd love me. But I am not going to do anything about it, because that is something for later.  Right now, I need to work out who I am and what I want, and before I do that, I must make another sandwich and have a long sit down on a comfy sofa. 


My home is lovely.  For a long time it held my children, then it held lodgers, and now, it holds me, my youngest son and a lodger in the annex.  I can go days without meeting anyone in the house.  There is space and there is silence.  I have it decorated and sorted to suit myself, I have arranged it so that everywhere I look there is something to delight me.  The garden is slightly mad but full of green and colour, it feels like it's mine.  The studio is full of paints, full of bits and pieces and has the A Graceful Death exhibition stacked against one of the walls.  I hoovered it so it is clean too.  Here I am then, if I chose it, I can lie around all day peeling grapes and shopping online.  I can, at this later stage of my life, do anything I want.  I can opt in, or I can opt out.

 But that is when I take a look, and see that I have paused on the long winding road that was once stretching into the distance.  I put down my bags and notice that it is longer behind me than ahead.  I think, But I am still at the beginning of things!  What, then, is it all for?


What is it all for?

There may be a different answer each time I ask this of myself.  Mostly, it is all about me - how do I feel better, how do I know what I want to do, how do I do it, and do I have to do it now?  Or can I have a long hot bubble bath and paint my toenails red first. 

And then, I am quite capable of saying Yes!  I know what to do, I'll do it now, it is all clear to me and off I go, helter skelter, into a project and into life, doing great stuff and getting things done.  But that always comes to a natural end.  Recently, in the quiet times after a busy period, I am taking a look at this road I am on, that is not as long before me as behind me now, and I ask, What is it all for?  What has it all been for?  I begin to question the effectiveness of things, and I wonder, has it really been any good?


The gift

I dreamt that I was sitting next to someone in a hallway.  I know who you are, I said, and I touched his sleeve.  Ten years ago, my partner Steve died and for a while, until I met Alan who I married after eight years of thinking about it, just before he too died in 2016, the light went out of my life.  In my dream, I was sitting next to Steve, he looked different but I knew it was him.  I am going to a dance on Friday, he said.  I wanted to go with him, and asked if I could come. Someone was standing behind me in this hallway as I spoke to Steve, the presence was strong and comforting, and without looking around I knew it was Alan.  Oh I wanted so much to go to this dance with them both - Let me come with you! I said, to Steve and Alan, I haven't finished dancing with you yet. 

The gift on my waking, is that life goes on.  If I could for a moment go to that dance with Alan and Steve, and dance with them both one more time, I would have been so happy.  But it is life I have not finished dancing with yet.  Alan and Steve are dancing somewhere else to a different tune, and I have the gift of this life here. Whatever I think it is or is not for, it is up to me to keep on dancing.  It is up to me, with my peanut butter sandwiches, my red toenails, my long hot bubble baths and my surprise that Woman's Hour haven't asked to broadcast from my studio yet, up to me to just keep on dancing.  Down that road, with the past behind me and the future ahead, whatever dance comes to mind, just keep on going, tapping with my toes and clapping with my hands, jumping to the rhythm in my heart.


What it is all for

What is it all for?  It is for life! For living!  Even the dark moments are life!  Life goes up and down, in waves of happy and sad, in waves of being busy and not being busy, in rushing and being still, it doesn't matter, it is all life.  So when we put our bags down on our path through this world, and gaze behind ourselves with alarm, and look nervously ahead - kick up your heels - pick up those heavy bags, feel the beat and boogie on. There is a dance going down on Friday!