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Sunday, 7 December 2014

A Jolly, Weary and Magic Winding Down of the Year. And Me.

Christmas thoughts

Giant Boy is in the kitchen with his girlfriend Lucy Love Hearts, and I am convinced that he is just a giant labrador puppy in the wrong body.  If Lucy Love Hearts suddenly threw him a ball I wouldn't be surprised if he dropped what he was doing and caught it in his mouth.  To show LLH how much he cares, he lets her do boxing with him, and she, bless her, refuses.  Somehow the relationship works, and both are happy enough.  They are eating bananas and custard in the kitchen right now, and the subject of boxing has been overtaken by pudding.  A lovely simple life.

And I, I am happy too.  I am sitting on my sofa, wrapped in a fleecy jacket, with a pot of tea beside me, and darkness outside.  It truly is winter and if I wasn't so busy, going to bed now for a few months would be a good idea.  This is the time of year we are all very tired, the year is ending and we feel as if we were ending too.  If only we could all stop, we say to ourselves, if only we could just sit down quietly and let the rest of the year finish itself without us.  We'd like to take part, we would say, but if it is all the same to you, we are going to sit down and wait till April.  This is precisely how I feel, and because I am generally full of empathy, I think you feel the same way too.  There is, however, Christmas to deal with.  Jolly good, I say, jolly good.  But oh, can someone else do it for me?  Well this year, someone is doing it for me, and I look forward to it hugely. My oldest brother and his girlfriend have taken a cottage near here and we are all staggering there to join forces and feed each other and make sure no one stands for more than ten minutes unaided.

When my children were younger, Christmas was hysterically exciting.  It was about glitter, tinsel, trees and shopping trips. There was huge competition as to who would lay out the presents under the tree, who would decorate the tree (my children were not team players, each was a leader in a despotic sort of way) and who would dish out the presents on the actual day.  Usually all three tasks went to one incredibly powerful child who had eliminated all competition on day one, and because I was bringing up the children on my own, trying to work and stay sane, I let them be as long as they could still speak to me in sentences and seemed to have had enough to eat.  We didn't put stockings at the end of the bed, or socks, because no one had big enough feet to satisfy my babies that enough presents would fit in to a single sock.  So we had empty pillow cases.  Dutifully, both brow beaten by my alarmingly power mad kids and half delirious with the Christmas magic myself, I managed to fill up these pillow cases with all sorts of small items in large boxes and so preserve the Christmas spirit.  

I always had a very large tree, which when I came to Bognor, I bought from a family of red haired gypsies in a lay-by each year.  The kid who sold me the first tree, a sturdy fiery haired lad with a fantastic business sense and aged only about ten, told me he was a boxer.  His mother backed this up from a van nearby and called out that he was a local champion.  Well done, I said, and he flexed his muscles and fixed me with a beady eye. I paid up and he smiled and looked pleased.  His mum looked like a boxer herself, so I assumed that when they weren't selling Christmas trees in a country lay-by every cold December, they had a nice little line in boxing as a mother son duo, fighting side by side against opponents terrified by the flaming red hair and the unlikely smell of pine needles.  This year, I got a smaller fake tree.  But the last time I saw him, my red headed boxer lad was a lot bigger with the scars of battle on his face.  I bought my tree and asked how the boxing was going.  Yeah, he said with a smile, I'm still the champion.  I wondered what his Christmases are like, and as his mum wasn't in the van I wonder what had happened to her. Gone to the great lay-by in the sky, I thought, buried beneath a pine tree somewhere with a pair of flaming red boxing gloves hanging reverently in the tree above.

So this year, I have a five foot fake tree that arrived flat packed ready for self assembly.  I self assembled it in about ten minutes.  A tasteful few baubles, some lights, and that was that.  I have only Giant Boy left at home, and he has other things to do than help his mummy put up a fake Christmas tree on a Sunday morning.  In the past, the tree looked like it had been paint bombed with baubles and glitter by drunken aliens, tinsel and lights decorating the walls, the staircase, the floors, and the bath.  Once or twice when Giant Boy was a baby he was decorated too.  We used to sit him in the laundry basket and give him saucepans and wooden spoons to play with which meant he didn't notice being wrapped in tinsel and hung with baubles.   Christmas decorations were not a well thought out design feature in our house, it was a full on creative explosion from some seriously determined kids.  This year, my tree is subtle, and precise.  It went up in the hallway quickly, and it will go down as soon as possible after Christmas, and all will be well.  My daughter, Fancy Girl has her own Christmas tree and has all that she ever wanted in her own place.  There is no one to fight for total control, she is happy and fulfilled.  I will never know if she decorates her fiancĂ© with tinsel and fake snow, or not.  That will remain their business.  My other son who has chosen a difficult and different path, will have his Christmas somewhere and I send him all my love.  Giant Boy is too busy to get involved, training our deeply giving and anxious Polish lodger to box, and lolloping around Lucy Love Hearts waiting for her to throw a stick for him to fetch.

Studio Thoughts

The studio is looking wonderful.  It is the place to be.  I have outdoor fairy lights hung around the door, and if I put on the heating a good while before I go in there, with the fairy lights, it makes crossing the garden in the wind and rain a much more manageable affair.  I have even been wearing my old painting dungarees and a hat so that I am both warm and prepared to get dirty. That, in painting terms, means business.



I hold the teapot and wear the hot tea cosy on my head.  Thinking outside the box.  Clever Artist Extraordinaire.

 I have cut down on all my activities outside in order to spend more time in the studio painting.  There are a lot of paintings to complete by mid January, including five portraits and a new painting in the God's Life series, this time it is God's School Day.  As with God's Kitchen and God's Study, this will be a snap shot of God's day at school just as God leaves the desk and goes to get changed for games.  We sneak a look at the desk and the work on God's desk, before God comes back and we have to go.

I have Fr Dominic to complete for A Graceful Death.  Dominic's portrait has begun, and I am doing him a bit at a time.  It needs to be done for next year, as AGD will go to the Dying to Know event in Bournemouth in March, to Shrewsbury in May and I hope, oh I hope, to Worthing for the Dying Matters Awareness Week in late May.  I am waiting to discuss the venue in January, and will enjoy bringing AGD nearer to home.

The next "Conversations about the end of life, finding time to think in our busy world" is coming up at St Paul's Arts Centre in Worthing.  Hooray.  December 17, Gill Lake and I will be hosting a Conversations and we will be taking three hours instead of the normal two.  We feel that there might be more to talk about as Christmas is coming up and everything closes down.  People may feel isolated and afraid around this time, and so Gill and I want to spend more time chatting with you all.


The latest Conversations just needs you to come along and join us.
And Magic

This past year I have worked hard.  I have painted paintings, written things, organised talks and exhibitions, talked to people about stuff I can do, had meetings with interested parties, and sat with dying people.  But what is uppermost in my mind right now, is magic.  As the year drifts to an end, all that happens in my life still happens, but I am aware of something else, something invisible, lovely, uplifting and precious.  It may be just the energy between people, it may be the kindness of those around me, it may be that I am being given insights into things that I need to see more clearly.  Big things matter.  They matter a lot, and they are big enough to be seen.  Everyone notices a big thing.  I put A Graceful Death on somewhere, and it is big enough to be well and truly noticed.  Gill and I host a Conversations, people come, it's all go and everyone knows it is happening.  But there are moments of such small loveliness that my heart expands, and my mind is grateful.  These moments are tiny fragments in time, over before you can grasp them, deeply meaningful and very private.

I sat with an agitated person recently, an elderly, large and strong person in the last stages of illness.  When someone is agitated, and disconnected, and dying, who knows what they are really thinking and feeling?  I want to go home, said my friend, trying to get up and leave.  I said, you can't, you have to lie down, you are too poorly to get up.  And then I held their arms and said, very gently, Lie down my darling, lie down and find your safe space.  You are doing so well, so well, and it is not easy, but you are doing so well.  I stoked my friend's forehead and eyebrows, and held their hand.  At that moment, my friend turned and looked at me with such warmth, such connection, such intensity that I felt the gift of grace pass from my elderly, struggling friend, to me.  A gift of grace, a moment of truth, a soul to soul communication and I, in my life, can only benefit from that blessing.  My friend died a few days later, and I carry that moment as a gift.  That is what I mean by magic.

Perhaps that is how I will end December's blog. With a gift of grace, magic and connection for you.  Over this Christmas, I wish you love and kindness.  I wish, because it takes no time to do, for this moment, a blessing just for you.  And if you want to decorate any of your family in tinsel and glitter, do it now, while the power of the blessing I have sent you has rendered them incapable and you superhuman.    See  you in January.


Exhausted Angel, even Angels want to go to bed till April.


Sunday, 9 November 2014

Update from Bognor, home of the A Graceful Death exhibition, the closing in of the year, and rain.

Chapter one.


Rain today is my friend.  When I am in control of it, I love it.  When I am not stuck in it and cold and wet, I love it.  The sound of rain falling outside gives me a sense of peaceful melancholia, and because I am not actually miserable, I can indulge in a little nostalgic remembering. I have the sounds of rain playing on my laptop too, ten hours of it on Youtube, to help me to focus. It is white noise, and though I know ten hours of listening to a dishwasher would be the same thing, I can't bring myself to look for that on Youtube.  There is romance in rain falling and none in dishes being washed. 





November has brought with it darkness, shorter days and a feeling of things ending.  I am ready for this year to be closing, and feel comforted that though this is the last part of the year, a new one will follow and the cycle of ending and beginning will run as it always does.  (Like a dishwasher programme).  There is something peaceful about the expansiveness of Summer drawing to a close, and the prospect of closing in and folding up over the darker and quieter months of Winter.  In the Summer, I wear colourful cotton dresses, flip flops and bright earrings; I hold my arms wide open to catch the sun and the light.  I like to breathe deeply, smile into the sunshine, and feel the warmth and heat on my skin. There is so much daylight, there is always so much to do.  I eat fruit, and scones, and think of the bigger picture in life. I imagine huge projects and plan extravaganzas with people who think like I do.  Time is slower, and space larger, everything is possible.

Today, November, it has all come to an end.  It is dark at teatime, it is dark in the morning, and the rain is falling outside buffeted by the wind.  I have to cover up to go out, and today I have chosen to wear black because it feels good and comforting.  Now, I don't consider the bigger picture.  I want details, to think things through and to make plans.  I eat hot food and wrap myself in warm soft blankets when I sit down on the sofa in my sitting room.  I wear a blanket in the studio while the heater makes my hands less cold.  I put on my fairy lights in the hallway, in my sitting room and outside the studio because in so much darkness, the lights look like magic, like stars.  Now I am curling up in my home, and feeling the need to sleep and to hide away.  As I write this, over the sea in Bognor lightening is flashing, and over my house there is thunder.  Banging in the Sky the children used to call it.  I remember once being stuck in my car outside our old house in London with one of the children aged about four, in November, with the rain falling loudly on the car around us.  In the darkness the thunder crashed and we had to wait for the deluge to stop just a little, so that we could run out of the car, up the street and into the house.  That was where the phrase banging in the sky came from.  It was magical being cocooned in the dark in a safe but tiny space in a violent thunder storm with a little child.  The rain was so loud it was hypnotic.  We held onto each other and imagined we knew who was doing the banging up there in the sky.  We went through all our neighbours, friends and family, and by the time we had finished the whole lot of them, the little one was asleep in my arms.

Chapter two

November and December will be less busy, as I have studio work to do and I am planning to get in there and paint.  This means less hoovering, less food shopping, a lot less longing to see people who live half a day's journey away, and less thinking about my next mealtime.

It is best if I give you bite sized accounts of October, which was a very good but exhausting month.

  •  A Graceful Death went to Ascot at the end of September, to a weekend festival run by an environment awareness movement called Ascent.  My dear old friend Sharon Galliford and I did an adapted AGD for two hours, and very successful it was too.  In every exhibition, there is at least one person who comes away feeling awakened and lightened.  AGD has succeeded only when that person, or people, have come.  At the Ascot exhibition, a man who had to leave the next day to see his dying mother for the last time, was able to come to terms with what was happening, and to understand something of what he was going to see and experience.  My heart goes out to this lovely man, and wherever he is, I wish him peace and his mother a safe journey home.

  • The Conversations Project is fully up and running. My new colleague and friend, palliative care nurse Gill Lake, and I held our fourth "Conversations about the End of Life, Finding Time to Think in Our Busy World" at the New Park Community Centre in Chichester.  As with AGD, the one person who comes without knowing anything, and leaves with a way to start thinking about what dying is about, means the session has worked.  For our last session, not many people came, but those that did come, really needed to.  Here is more about what we are doing in an article I wrote for Dying Matters - http://dyingmatters.org/blog/starting-death-conversation

  • Swansea!  AGD went up to Swansea to the Elephant in the Room event run by husband and wife team Kiera Jones and Jim Fox.  Oh that was such fun.  Utterly exhausting but so worth it.  A huge event to inspire, challenge and reassure, with a new venture for an event like this, a play directed by Jim called Colder than Here by Laura Wade.  Terribly funny and terribly sad, but oh so wonderful.  Here is another article from Dying Matters about the Elephant in the Room Event  http://dyingmatters.org/blog/elephant-room .  I love Dying Matters because they always let me write about what I am doing, and anyone who keeps saying Yes to me is a life long friend.  The event was full to bursting with tea and cake, and I saw what I always knew, that Kiera Jones, alongside my dear friend and colleague Mandy Preeece, both are absolutely fabulous Soul Midwives.  Both ladies really do the job.  And Jim Fox is up there with Sarah Weller as a Sound Bath Maestro. I also met and talked with Dr Penny Sartori, who researches Near Death Experiences, Out of Body Experiences and all such astonishing and fascinating phenomena at the end of life.  Penny struck me as a deeply intelligent, experienced and dedicated researcher.  Her PhD is on these subjects and her latest book,  "The Wisdom of Near Death Experiences:  How Understanding NDE's Can Help Us to Live More Fully" is out now.  I bought a copy and made her sign it. Actually we got on really well and I didn't make her do anything.  


Kiera and I hugging after her moving and powerful talk on Soul Midwifery.  Kiera is a palliative care nurse and in her spare time, runs The Centre with Jim, offering free support and complimentary therapies to those suffering from life limiting conditions and their carers.  Me, I'm holding a hot kettle because I was so cold and wouldn't wear anything to cover up my pretty jumper and so not look nice. 

  •  Reiki.  I have begun to practice Reiki from home.  I love healing, and have always done it.  Now I have a name for it, and a wonderful teacher in Mandy Preece.  I have a healing room and have begun to do an hour long session for anyone that wants to come.  I charge £30 for the hour, and am thinking of extending it to cover conversation afterwards, as it seems some clear and profound thinking comes to my clients as they sit quietly afterwards.  Here is the best picture yet of my darling friend Claire after her latest session.  Claire and I fell about laughing at this and don't be put off, if you do look like this after, it will feel lovely. 

Claire does not suffer fools gladly and would not allow Reiki if she didn't feel safe.  So when I took this of Claire and we saw it, we nearly fell off the sofa laughing.  I promise I won't laugh at you though if you come for some healing.   Unless you are very funny and then I will tell you it is part of the healing.

  • Qi Gong.  I have started Qi Gong and the first time I did it I felt so sick I had to sit down.  You have a good mind, and good energy, the teacher said, but no essence.  So in the hope of finding some essence I have been practising it every morning.  I am no longer sick, and am going back tomorrow hoping he will feel sorry he ever said I lack essence.  It will be shooting out of the top of my head and that will be that.

  • Paintings - I am doing another of the God's Life series.  I have done God's Study, God's Kitchen and now I am commissioned to do a third.  God's School Day.  Here is the original God's Study, I have done a good few of them now.  So far, only one God's Kitchen and God's School Day though.

The original God's Study. The God's Life series are a snapshot of the room God has just popped out of, and we get to glimpse into what is happening for the few moments God is absent, answering the door, or putting the cat out.  The ones I do now are customised to include references to the person who is commissioning it.  
  • And finally.  Father Dominic.  I am painting my youngest brother as the final painting for AGD.  After this last painting, I will do no more paintings for A Graceful Death.  It will be big enough, and Dominic is a most wonderful subject for the final painting and interview in this most extraordinary of exhibitions.  Dominic is living with stage four bowel cancer, and is doing well after much surgery and chemo.  But his life and expectations are different, turned upside down, and he has shown enormous wisdom and humanity in his acceptance - and fighting the fear of -  his cancer.  I have been raising money to pay for the painting, and all the work that goes into creating the interviews and writing to accompany the portrait.  I have raised £600 so far, and am so grateful for the love and kindness shown to Dom.  Here is the Go Fund Me page.  Have a look, read what I have said, and if you wish to, make a donation.  http://www.gofundme.com/es6suc I cannot pretend I don't need the money, so please do what you can. And a million thanks to all those who have already donated.  Thank you.

Chapter 3

If this blog was a play, you would need an interval now.  So off you go, have some tea, and have a lovely quiet thoughtful November. Wrap yourself up warm, spend time listening to the dishwasher if it isn't raining, and we will meet again in December.  I look forward to it.  


I would love to say this is me doing Reiki and laughing, but it isn't.  It is taken by my son, Giant Boy after he has been telling me jokes.  See you all in December.


Thursday, 9 October 2014

Mother's Final Visit to Ireland, And Me

I am sitting in a bed and breakfast in Carrick on Shannon, County Galway, in the late afternoon, while mother rests in her room next door.  I am sitting in my room on a chair with cushions watching the rain fall outside.  I got the nice room with pink pillows and space for two chairs.  Poor mother got the room with just enough space for a huge double bed with a black cover, black lampshades and no chairs.  Her room smells overpoweringly of bleach; we think either someone dropped a bottle of bleach, or it's a quick clean up after a murder before we arrived.

I am spending this week with Mother visiting her cousins in Ireland.  Like Mother, the cousins are old now, eleven of them between the ages of fifty seven and eighty, though she is the oldest at eighty four. I have been meeting people for the first time that I have heard about since I was a little girl.  I have visited the old farm where the cousins were born and grew up, where my mother stayed as a child, and it feels ridiculously familiar, as I have lived there too.  I  recognise the faces of these cousins of Mum's as if I had always known them, and they have absorbed me into their conversations with her as if I have always been sitting with them, watching them from a distance. 

Here in Galway, my mother spent her childhood visiting from England with her mother, my Irish Grandmother, in the 1930s and 1940s.  When war broke out, Mother was sent to live with her Aunt Nina in Portarlington, County Offlay, while her youngest brother and sister went to their Aunt May nearby.  Mother's time in Galway with Nina were among the happiest of her childhood.  When I was little, I loved to hear stories of her days in Ireland, the way she was met from the train in a pony and trap;  the way her Aunt Nina thought she was too pale and thin, and fed her on beef tea and made up her bed in pretty linen sheets.  The way Nina taught her how to clean silver, to feel the quality of good material and to wash and keep lace.  Probably the most important thing was that childless Aunt Nina saw in my mother a shy, sickly, skinny, nervous little child and looked after her so that she blossomed, and grew stronger with Nina's undivided attention.   

My Grandmother Louisa Fitzgerald, her two sisters and brother were born in a tiny farmhouse in Castlegar, County Galway.  When Louisa's father died suddenly, her brother Paddy took over the farm as a very young fellow indeed, giving up his education.  The farm, mother told us as children, and according to all her cousins who were born and grew up there, Paddy's children, was basic.  There were two rooms downstairs, and four upstairs and no lavatory.  No electricity or water, and no road or path leading into the house.  We came over the fields, they said.  The pony and trap would take you so far, and then you would branch off walking across the fields.  There was a well a mile or so away for the drinking water, and rain butts caught water for washing.  

Paddy later married Nell, fourteen years younger than him, and had eleven children in that little house.  My mother said Nell would cook on the hearth, with big iron pots on trivet stands, and a system set up to hang kettles and cauldrons up over the fire.  It is these eleven children that we have come over to see this week.  These are Mother's cousins, with whom she played while she grew up here in Ireland.  Not all of them are alive, some we can't see this trip, but those we have met up with again, have greeted Mother as if it were only last week she was here, talking and laughing about all the things they remember.  The oldest of the cousins is eighty and the youngest is in her mid fifties.  Mother has been back here to visit all her life, has been a part of this family for ever, but I have not met them and I have not seen the farm house, and I have only imagined how it was for them all.  And now that mother is eighty four, she is the oldest surviving member of her generation, and it is becoming more and more difficult for her to do this trip.  My grandmother had seven surviving children.  Paddy, her brother and Nell, his wife, had eleven.  May and Nina, though married, didn't have any children.  There was much coming and going between the eleven in Castlegar, and the seven in Bourneville, Birmingham.  All their faces look familiar to me, and I want to sit forever and hear them talk.

Kitty, my mother Maureen, and Teresa at Teresa's farm in Ahascragh, Gallway a few days ago.  The three oldest of the surviving cousins. Kitty has 9 children, Mother has 4 and Teresa has 6.

I see my mother's delight at being with her cousins.  A moving moment was seeing her pleasure on the drive up the road, built in the 1950s, to the old farm in Castlegar.  Her cousin Padraig came out to see her, now an old man, walking with difficulty, dressed in his fresh pressed shirt, his black shoes polished and his hair smart and brushed. The strength of his handshake was a wonderful experience.  Padraig took over the farm, and has never left it.  This is where my Grandmother was born.  I adored my Grandmother.  She died when I was twelve, in our sitting room after a long illness, and the person I loved most in the world went for ever, she would never come back.  I loved my mother of course, but grandparents can be magical in the way that parents with all the hard work of day to day living with raising children, simply have not the time for. I had always wanted to come and see where she was born, and perhaps feel that I could find a bit of her again.  Well, the shock of it all was that when we arrived at mother's cousin Kitty's house on our first day here, the lady that I met was the image of my Grandma.  It took my breath away.  I have spent this visit gazing at Kitty, watching my Grandma in her face and expressions, feeling that after all, she is still here.  It was good that Kitty was the one who took us to see Padraig at the farm, where they, all eleven cousins, and my Grandmother and her brother and sisters a generation before them, had been born.  

Mother and Padraig.  This house is like my own Grandmother's house, and I want to stay here for ever.  This is mother's visit, but I am in a whirlwind of memories and associations, and I have found the connection to my Grandma that I have missed for so long.  This was her world, and I believed as a little girl that I belonged with her in her world. It has taken me until the age of 54 to come and see it.
And so.  I am sitting in my bed and breakfast room, gazing out at the rain, feeling as if I was always here, and feeling too as if I know nothing at all. 

Mother is asleep next door, on her black bed, gaining strength for tonight, we will be visiting more cousins.  She is very old, and feels her age, but she is utterly sound of mind, and remembers everything.  We visited the house belonging to her Aunt May, her cousin Fr Joe Fitzgerald took us.  The lady living there welcomed Mother warmly.  Mother was able to show her where the chickens used to lay their eggs in the guttering high above the barn, and where she and the Fitzgerald cousins would find them.  

Mum doesn't think she will come to Ireland again, this is her final trip.  I understand, possibly she is right.  The cousins here tell us that we should visit again soon, they say I will be welcome back to see them too, and I want to take them up on it.  But without Mother, I will have to forge my own history,  have my own experiences, and be myself.  The link to these cousins of hers, their families, and the farm they grew up in, and life here, this link is my mother. I have no real way back to the past and into this life, except in her company here. This week, I have watched and listened as she met again and introduced me to these amazing people that I had been aware of for ever.  I have been welcomed, absorbed and accepted into Mother's past, into their company, and I have fallen in love again with the characters and the people I loved to hear about as a child, this time falling in love with them in real life not just in the stories. It is so good to see my mother completely at home, a part of this world, and it is so good that I have at last seen it for myself.  I will leave you with a silent snippet of Padraig leading Mum to the field where they used to cross to arrive at the farm.  The sun shone then as it does here.  Once these two would have run over this land.  I wish I had been there too.

                       
Mother and Padraig, revisiting the field they used to come over to get to the farm.  Padraig was born here, as was his 10 brothers and sisters.  He ran the farm after his father's death, and is still there now.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Sparkly Send Offs. A Best Seller.

It is very late, and getting later.  Sounds like the title of a book I may write or a film I may make, considering what I do.  End of life and stuff.  What I mean is that it is already late on Sunday night, and I have not written to you all for two weeks.  You may be sitting in the dark somewhere, crying, wondering what did you do to make me stop writing.  You may not.  You may have forgotten you ever read a blog by me, and be planning a wonderful day out with really interesting people.  It is very late tonight, nearly 10pm, and I am only just beginning to write.

I have been thinking.  This Summer has changed things in my little world.  I finally faced up to the difficulties with my son, and saw how long things have been very, very bad.  I saw wilful avoidance on my part.  I hope there is a good ending to this story, but at the moment, I have no part in it, and do not, cannot, make things better.  I am, I accept, powerless.

My brother Dominic agreed to be the last person to be painted and interviewed for the A Graceful Death exhibition, and with very mixed feelings, I have tried to start that painting.  We have had one interview, and will have another soon, and I have been avoiding having to paint him.  When I look at Dominic, I see myself.  And, funnily enough, I see our other two brothers too, and Dom's face becomes a mixture of all of us, Ralph, John, Dominic and me.  We are all there, when I look at Dom, and I am struck by my own mortality.  Dominic is living with advanced cancer, and working hard to defeat it.  He may well do so, we don't know.  But as you all know, who have had any dealings with life limiting illness, everything changes forever.  And of course, paradoxically,the same life goes on regardless, without a backward look.

It has been very difficult to know what to do recently.  My head has been both full of worry and empty of solutions.  I almost shut up the studio, put on a false moustache, changed my name to Miguel, and pretended to be someone else.  That would have been easier than being here I thought, in Bognor, with a Studio I wasn't using, a mind that was full of sawdust and nonsense, with difficulties at home, and a growing sense of sadness with the world.

What this all boils down to, my dear friends, is that one part of my work is coming to an end, and another is beginning.  I say this now, though even a week ago, it was not so clear.  This kind of thing is seldom linear, logical and efficient and so I met first with a brick wall.  In dealing with this brick wall, I found eventually, that there were ways round it, and that it wasn't as tough and final as it seemed at first.  I spent much time sitting down and gazing stupidly at it, believing that it was as big and alarming as it looked, until ways to get up and tackle it began to present themselves.  Things are much better now, and I believe I have made my decisions.  Here they are.

  • I will write the blog once a month, not once a week.   This will keep you on a knife edge.  What is happening in Bognor?  you will say, and no one will know.  You will have to wait for the beginning of every month to find out.  This will be good for you.  You will learn patience.  And I will practice perseverance.  That will be good for me.  Win win.

  • I will start my book.  We all have a book in us, I have one that has struggled to find form for years, and with the working title "Sparkly Send Offs" I think I am onto a winner.  It combines the end of life with being a fairy and this working title gives me immense joy.  It is completely ridiculous, and we can thank my dear friend Sarah Weller, Sound Therapist extraordinaire, for coming up with it.   Complete nonsense.  Wonderful.

  • The Conversations project is the way forward.  I have been holding two hourly sessions in the community for anyone to come and talk about any part of the end of life that is on their mind.  There is, as always, tea and cake, and a gentle and open forum for discussions on end of life matters.  The last one held at the Salvation Army Community Hub this week, covered atheism, suffering, laughter, and euthanasia.  The idea is so simple.  "Finding time to think in our busy worlds" is the strap line on the posters.

  • The A Graceful Death exhibition needs a permanent home.  It is now time to set it up properly and permanently somewhere where it can be accessed by those that want to come and see it, respond to it, and meet the people who have left us their images and their words about how they are doing their dying.  Or living.  Some are still with us, some are not.  The one thing they all have in common is that while we are painting and interviewing them, they are living and living with full intent.  It's time that it was set up, all 52 paintings, the films, videos, the music, poetry and essays, all of it ready made so that it could be used to help us start to think of and believe, our own mortality.  There will be no more paintings after Dom. If AGD now has a place to stay, for however long, it would work very well.  I am open to ideas.  Probably somewhere near me now, in Bognor, so that I can maintain it.  It can still travel. I love the idea of having a van with the A Graceful Death logo on it, as it travels the length and breadth of the country, full of paintings of dead and dying people, being avoided on the motorways as people would do anything rather than follow behind, overtake or have anything to do with a van full of things about dying.

  • Dominic's portrait is the last painting that I will do for A Graceful Death.  I will be finishing this part of the project with a beautiful painting of my youngest brother.  There is talk of making a small film of Dom as a finale to the creative and expressive work that has been the A Graceful Death exhibition and project.  I hope that we do this, Dominic's experience and his ways of keeping himself going, are very valuable for when we may need such advice.  We all will need some preparation.  We are all one day, going to be finding ways to try to die well.

There is something else I have been made aware of.  I, we, all of us, need to express.  Creativity is a most glorious tool for us to use when we are feeling low.  It is counter intuitive, the last thing you feel like doing when you are moping into your twenty ninth pot noodle in your smelly old pyjamas and not answering your phone to anyone, under the sofa in the sitting room for the fourth day in a row, the last thing you feel like doing is to doodle.  Write.  Play the piano.  Make something.  Paint something.  Arrange some flowers.  Cook something.  The very last thing you think of, would be to express what is in you now.  But, it does something to the grip your sour, insular mood has on you.  Not expressing yourself is a sure way to remain under the sofa.  


A Graceful Death Dates

Having said I'm looking for a permanent home for the exhibition, I'm now going to tell you how it won't be around in it's new permanent home on these dates.  It will be temporarily impermanent.


Sunday 28 September AGD will be at the following from 3pm to 5pm.  Come and see me there, I'll be with a section of the exhibition in the actual Church.  

All Saints Hall, Ascot SL5 8DQ
Saturday September 27th (10 to 5) £10 I'll be doing a pop up talk at about midday here
 & Sunday September 28th (3 to 5) £5  I'll be in the church with AGD here.
RESILIENCE & SELF-EMPOWERMENT
in a time of TRANSITION
BOOKING & details   01344 621167 yarwodav@gmail.com
EVENTBRITE via    www.ascentascot.org


Thursday 30 October to Sunday 2 November 2014

 AGD will be a the Elephant in the Room event at the Swansea YMCA. 


The Elephant In The Room is a four-day event to be held in Swansea from 30th October through to the 2nd November. The centre-piece of which will be the hugely successful, and much talked about, art exhibition “A Graceful Death” by Antonia Rolls. 

Alongside the exhibition we will also be presenting a programme of talks and workshops, together with evening performances of the funny and moving play, “Colder Than Here”, written by award winning playwright, Laura Wade, as well as an opening musical concert on the Thursday evening.
There will also be a number of exhibition stands relating to the theme of the event.

It is our intention, through The Elephant In The Room, to bring, what is often a taboo subject, out into the open, stimulating awareness and encouraging discussion around the subject of death and dying. Through the talks and workshops we plan to cover a range of areas, including end of life care and support, funeral planning, the approach to death in different cultures and faiths, planning and writing of Advance Decisions and Wills, being prepared, the options available at the end of life and awareness of choice, and much more. We will also have question and answer sessions with a panel of experts in their own related fields.

Apart from the theatre and musical performances, entrance to the exhibition and all talks and workshops will be free. Refreshments will be available throughout the days in exchange for donations.

The programme of talks will run from 12 noon until 4.30 pm on Friday 31st October and from 11.00 am until 4.30 pm on Saturday and Sunday November 1st & 2nd. 

All the proceeds from the event are going to fund the work of The Centre in Swansea, in providing free complementary therapy treatments and support to those living with cancer and other life-limiting conditions, and also to support Antonia Rolls and her “Graceful Death” work.
We hope you are able to join us for what promises to be a wonderful event.

Saturday 28 March 2015

AGD will be at the Dying to Know event in Bournemouth



It is nearly midnight now.  Time to go to bed.  Life goes on, and tomorrow is another day.  The next blog will be in October and in the meantime, I will start Dominic's portrait, and find an opening sentence for Sparkly Send Offs. I do remember a few years ago, come to think of it, a lady in her seventies watching over her daughter in her forties who was dying of breast cancer.  As the daughter entered her final few days, the old mother hung fairy lights all around her room and turned off the lights, it was magical and wonderful.  Perhaps that is the true Sparkly Send Off.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Conversations on the End of Life, Father Dominic and a Marmite Sandwich.

I will not keep you long this week.  You will only have time to sit down and eat half a marmite sandwich, before you have read it all, so be prepared.

This week's tragedies


  • I broke my best little teapot in the sink.  I have another, but the tea cannot taste the same.  It is hard to believe my little teatime friend is no longer with me.  I have lurched to the other small teapot in a state of heartbroken resignation, but we are not used to each other and this relationship will take time.  It is good to know that if this teapot too is taken away from me, I have a third and final small teapot and take comfort from knowing that even if I do suffer another loss, it is only a traumatic emotional loss.  On a practical level, I will still actually have my tea.

This week's triumphs

  • I began my role at the Hospice as a Companion, sitting with people who need someone with them.  I am grateful to the people I sit with.  Thank you.

This week's surprises

  • Giant Boy is jolly.  He has everything to live for, he has a new girlfriend who doesn't seem fazed by his eccentricities. It seems, and it is early days, that she has not noticed them.  It seems, and I am impressed if this is true, that she simply accepts them all.  Giant boy is chirpy and has played her some Debussy (loudly) on the piano, and has not taught her much MMA.  I think he would rather gaze into her eyes and he can't do that if he has her in a headlock.   

This week's plans

  • Organising the next Conversations (Conversations on the End of Life, Finding Time to Think in our Busy Worlds). These Conversations are simple and effective.  I am very happy to see where they go, and how they pan out, the joy of them is that they can go anywhere that is necessary.  Here is the poster for my next one, come along and see us




Other plans for this week are to finish God's Kitchen, a painting of God's Kitchen as God has just popped out to answer the phone.  This is what I think we would see if we passed by and glanced in;  and I aim to start the last painting for the A Graceful Death exhibition, of my brother Dominic.  Dominic is living with serious cancer and is enduring the treatment  that goes along with it.  Dominic is a Catholic Priest, and has a wonderful, simple and articulate way of talking about this disease that has struck him seemingly out of nowhere, at the age of 51.  I have been avoiding having to deal with this painting, but now I feel I am able to do it.  When I see Dominic, I see myself.  I will see what happens when I do it, I will see where it takes me.


Things I did not think I would say

  • I might go for a run.  I might.  Ten years ago this year, in 2004, I completed the London Marathon running for the Samaritans.  Good Lord, I am still recovering.  I did enjoy most of the day.  It is true, the atmosphere really does carry you through.  People lined the route and if you wrote your name on your hat as I did, they all call your name.  Everyone loves me!  You think, They know me! until they start calling your name wrong and you realise the rain is making the tippex name on your hat melt.  One of my memories is the kindness of people trying to feed you as you went round, handing chocolate bars, sweets, biscuits to the runners as they passed.  I passed one lady in the Isle of Dogs who had set up a trestle table with bread and margarine and marmite, and was trying to help the runners with chunky sandwiches.  You would have to stop, eat the sandwiches and then lie down to digest them, so no one was stopping.  Lovely idea though.  Back to this week;  if I do go on a run, I will take my own marmite sandwiches just for old time's sake. 

Things I did think I would say 

  • It is time to bring the A Graceful Death exhibition to Bognor or Chichester.  And it is time to find a place to show it permanently, time to bring it home. I am looking for a place to set it up so that it is ready for viewing for the general public permanently.  It has a serious place in the awareness raising of end of life matters, with 52 paintings, poetry, videos, interviews, essays, memories and books in which to write.  It helps people talk about what has happened in their lives, what is happening in their lives, and what is to come.  It has inspired people to find out more about what they can do for themselves, and for others, around dying in their families and communities.  

And so, to end, a photo of Father Dominic, my youngest brother.  I will be working on Dominic from a selection of images, so if I don't get it right, you can tell me so.



Dom has a pic line attached to a kind of plastic ball filled with chemotherapy medicines, the ball is kept in his pocket.  I will paint him with the ball visible.






Sunday, 31 August 2014

Return of the Mojo

The return of the Mojo

Summer is over and suddenly, it's show time.  I may be on my sofa, yes, and I may be basking in the gentle sunbeams slanting through my windows, and I may be keeping an anxious eye on my guard hollyhocks as they strain to break from their restraints by the front door and smack anyone within eight feet in the face, but this is a different kind of sitting on the sofa.  This time, I am only here for as long as it takes to write the blog because people, I have things to do.  I have found my mojo.  I am on the case.  The whole of August was a month of feeling droopy and unloved.  It was a reaction to a very busy period, both professionally and domestically, I needed to stop and get off the merry go round.  But having stepped off, it took a long time to stop spinning, and when I did, I saw how very tired and sad I had become.  Time taken to rest and contemplate life, to bore my friends silly with the story of my life and what I am really really feeling now, and then, and all the time, paid off and today, I bounced out of bed with a squeak of triumph, knowing that in the night, my mojo had crept back and laid down beside me as if it was never away.  

Isi's Magic




This lovely little children's book is out on 15 September, and I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to illustrate. About 18 months ago, my great pal and colleague Mandy Preece, who runs Fern Publishing, introduced me to her friend Dreena Marten when they were looking for someone to illustrate a book Dreena had written.  Oh and what a joy it was to be asked to do these paintings.  The whole of the book is about sweetness, magic and beauty and the love of nature.  It is about a little witch girl called Isi, her puppy, a curly haired poodle, and explains how Isi is a pretty, kind, bright little girl witch, not a long nosed old lady with a pointy hat and nasty spells.


Isi, the pretty little girl witch, wears red Doc Marten type boots.  Buy the book and see the rest of Isi, meet her little poodle and see where she lives and what she does.

  Dreena Marten is a witch herself, she loves and protects the planet and nature, and lives by a code of seeking the best in and for everyone she meets.  I found Dreena an inspiring lady, full of wisdom and knowledge, and I have to say, with a wonderful sense of humour.  Here is what Dreena says of the book and why she wrote it 

"My reason for publishing Isi was because I wanted to create a book I could read to my young son which showed witches as cute, kind and magical rather than ugly and wicked! As I say on the Fern Books website www.fernbooks.co.uk :

I can see a new future – one where people of all faiths (including mine) are accepted and honoured. A future where we can talk openly about our faith without the stereotypes cropping up – very few of us actually have black pointed hats and the warts on our noses! So here is my offering to help change views and perspectives. Isi’s Magic is a small children’s’ book with a big job – to break down the preconceptions about a faith. My hope is that if we start with the children, then we can change the understandings of a whole generation.

The book is aimed at pre-schoolers and is designed so they have to turn the page to get the answer to the questions. I wanted to break down existing preconceptions (i.e. that we wear black all the time or have pointy hats etc.). I also hope that this would be a book pagans could buy as a gift for non-pagans – to help start a little revolution in changing views and negative depictions about my faith

The book retails at £4.99 and will be out on 15th September. It can be pre-ordered at 




and will be available on Amazon from the publication date."

For this little book, I have painted 13 pictures and enjoyed it so much.  I had a gorgeous little character to create, alongside creating her home, what she wears, and where she sits and loves the woodland around her.  I remembered being six years old and falling in love with an illustrated fairy story book my aunt had given me; the pictures in this old book were full of colour, and light, and magic, they made me feel I was part of a wonderful world that I always knew was there, I just had not accessed it yet.

And so my dear friends, please buy Isi's Magic, and see how much fun this simple, happy, powerful little book is.  Fab illustrations too.  

God's Kitchen

I am in the process of painting a companion painting to "God's Study" from a few months ago. This is God's Study

God's Study, a moment in time as God popped out to put out the washing, and I snapped this image.  In paint.  

 In God's Kitchen (the sequel), God has just left the kitchen for a few minutes, and I am painting a snap shot of what it looks like.  So far, God has an old gas cooker and lots of teapots.  Do I base God on myself I think you are asking.  Perish the thought, I say, I can't help it if God has a shed load of teapots too.  Once God's Kitchen is painted, I will show you all.  The God's Study paintings can be commissioned.  I add details from your life into the Study - it is very personal and special.  I remember doing one for a newly ordained Vicar once, which I thought was a wonderful gift.  God's Kitchens can be commissioned too, except we don't all know what the Divine Kitchen looks like yet.  Contact me if you want to talk about your own God's Study or Kitchen.  antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com


Conversations about the End of Life, finding time to think in our busy worlds


The next Conversations is set for 17 September here in Bognor at the Salvation Army social centre. I am delighted to host this gentle, open and forthright afternoon, with my dear friend Gail Willington.  Gail has got married since the last poster, and so has another name below.  The session is free, and we have space for up to 8 people.  Tea and cake is of course, part of all of the stuff I do on end of life, and will be freely available.  But don't stop eating the week beforehand, aiming to come and have an almighty binge, I will be watching and I will see.  I know a binger when I see one.


I'm watching the cake stand.
These Conversations are so important.  It is the simplest thing to talk, one would think, but in reality, it is not so simple if you do not know how to start.  Talking about the end of life, of dying, is part of living.  It does not have to be fraught with tension, it does not have to be heavy.  It does not have to be full of pain.  It may be all those things, but it does not have to be difficult.  These sessions are to start the conversation going.  Gail and I are open for all possibilities, we have much experience of talking to people about death, and we will take it as it comes.  We want to open the simplest of opportunities for people to gather and ask questions of each other, and see what it feels like to address this immensely important subject.  You are so welcome, come and see us and join in.

Conclusion

Life is good.  On the whole, it is good.  One of the things I did during August was to sell things on Ebay.  Good Lord it's addictive.  I began to think we don't need that table.  See what I can get for it.  And that bed.  There's a lodger, see if I can get a few quid for a lodger.  I began to creep around at night and hide things, perfectly good things that I like and want, in a pile in the corner of my studio ready to pop onto Ebay and see if I can sell them.  The bubble burst when I had sold 20 items and made about 45p.  Life is, then, good.  I am no longer temporarily gambling my household on Ebay, I am no longer without my mojo, and it is time for tea.   


Sunday, 24 August 2014

How do you Move On, and Let Go the Old Cheese?

From upstairs, I hear sounds of grim and desperate gasping.  Giant Boy is training the Anxious Pole.  They have spilt out from the room where the weights and training stuff is kept and onto the landing;  I can hear sounds that make me want to explain to the rest of the household that it is not a blue movie being made up there.  Giant Boy's weight machines can be dismantled, the dumb bells moved and weights added or taken away from it.  He is a very hard task master, and does not believe in second chances or lilly livered pleading for mercy during training.  The Anxious Pole knows that if he lies down and cannot lift the mega ton weights from off of his chest, he will get no help from Giant Boy, who will fix him with his dangerous eyes and tell him to push through the pain.  I tell myself that the Anxious Pole is an adult and I do not need to go and save him from a painful death.  As yet, he is not dead, and is looking very well so I tell myself he knows what he is doing.  And he is, I think, looking a bit beefier.  I do not want to tell his adoring mother in Poland that her son has been flattened by a dumbbell, and I also do not want to tell he that her son now weighs two tons and eats cannon balls for lunch.

Against this backdrop of grunting, sweating and the clanging of metal from the landing, the household continues it's gentle way through a Sunday afternoon.  The lodger in the Annex has put on her best dress, put in her false teeth, and gone on a date.  If he tells me he loves me, she said as she left, I'm coming home.  See you in ten minutes then! I quipped.  More like twenty, she said, and left.  An hour later she is still not back so the signs are good.  I am sitting on my sofa, happy in the afternoon sun as it shines through the hollyhocks and into my sitting room. Perhaps September will be an easier month than August, perhaps I will find my energy and will be able to concentrate on the right cheese. 

The wrong cheese
I will explain.

On the radio recently, I listened to a very good programme on self help books, one of which was about moving cheese. Who Moved my Cheese it was called.  The message was that if your cheese disappears, don't spend all your time longing for the cheese that is gone.  Don't pine for that cheddar no longer there, make plans to find some new cheese.  If cheese is what you want, and it disappears, pining for it will not bring it back.  Wake up and smell the cheese. Get your act together and find new cheese and when you are successful, be aware that someone can move that cheese too.  So don't take it all for granted, if your instincts tell you your cheese is not as plentiful as it was, go off on a brie hunt and find some more.  Accept change, check your cheeses, have a teeshirt printed with the words Cheese is Change and go with the flow.

I saw how I was holding on old cheese.  What is this?  I asked myself, why am I sitting and moping about cheese that is no longer here?  Why am I trying to visualise cheese that is too vague to see when there are many cheeses in front of me already?  It is one thing though to understand that you are spending your time missing cheeses that are gone, and quite another to put into place plans to find some more.  And so, I have told myself that I must take it easy for the rest of August.  I must be gentle with the knowledge that much of my time has been spend recently in moping over things that are gone, finished, over, and out of sight.  While I am being nice and understanding to myself over this, I must make plans for future, tiny, Babybel sized projects.  I must open my eyes and see the shimmering vision of Wensleydale, of Stilton, Red Leicester of Camambert before me and go with the flow.  Cheese is Change!  Go for it.

The right cheese
Back to the present, and the grunting from the landing has stopped.  The Anxious Pole is silent in his room dreaming of being a chunky cheese.  Giant Boy has been in here playing Debussy very sweetly making me wonder if he has any conscience at all, after training his fellow house mate to an inch of his life (sort of) and then playing gentle sweet piano music as if nothing had happened.  The lodger on the date has not come back, which means the date is surviving the experience. She is not happy with her teeth in, and may have already taken them out so that she can settle down to a comfortable afternoon out.  No cheese worries for her, she sees it like it is, and acts accordingly. 

I will end this week with a painting finished yesterday that makes me happy. It is strange that I have had very complicated feelings of whatever recently, and painting them out results in a very uncomplicated, straightforward image.  See what you think.  Do you agree?  











Sunday, 17 August 2014

Rembrandt Pizza and Pyjamas



While you are reading this, listen to Giant Boy's latest favourite piece by Debussy.  He is having a go at learning it and had got to the middle of page one.  Recently at a party Giant Boy disconnected the music and reconnected it to his iPhone and made them listen to Rachmaninov for six minutes before reconnecting the sound system.  They did listen (Giant Boy can be disconcerting if the mood takes him) but I am not sure anyone rushed out to buy the latest DVD.  I don't think he has been to any parties recently either.

Some nice things to start the day
  • My nails are a bright pillar box red.  This is good because when you get bored talking to me you can follow the swish and flash of my nails as my hands emphasise my words.  
  • There was evidence in the kitchen this morning of the lodgers cooking.  This is good because I worry that they are not eating properly, and may die of eating junk food and sweets in my house.  
  • I have tied up my hollyhocks in the front garden so that you won't be brained by them as you pass in a slight breeze.  They are very aggressive.
  • I have started a savings account to go and visit Eileen in Tanzania, and I have over £5 in there now.
  • Someone wrote that that the state of limbo that they struggled with, was really a state of grace.  That is a lovely thing to write.
  • I have been painting three figures on three very small canvases and they are still barely more than outlines, which is good, because that is how they feel.  This is quite liberating.
  • I have tried other teas, but Tetley is still my favourite.  I have done my homework, and now I can relax.  I have a pot beside me now, it's good to have played the field but even better to come back to the one I started with.

It has been two weeks since I left you with the account of my troubled, treasured son and his journey with drugs.  Nothing has changed, there can be no change yet, but my house is clean and I have had time to come to terms with what has happened.  Life, as they say, moves on.  It does, it does, and it takes us with it whether we like it or not.  A lady recently asked if she would survive after the husband she was sitting with as he was dying, did die.  Will I survive?  She asked.  When he has died and all of the world carries on regardless, will I be able to carry on too?  We agreed that whatever we thought about it, life goes on.  In it's own way, that was a blessing, and when we are ready, we will join life and continue to live beyond the thing that has made us think we cannot.  As my mother has said, there is still a place at the table for my son, we are keeping it ready for when he comes back to take it.  The lady sitting with her husband as he was dying took comfort from the normality of everyone else's life as it continued regardless around hers.

And so we move onwards.  Fancy Girl and I took my father to see his sister and her husband last week.  My father has lost his short term memory after a couple of strokes, is nearly blind, can't use public transport on his own and has the same conversation again and again and again. His sister, my Aunt, has dodgy hips, a walking stick, a very sound mind and is in her mid eighties.  Her husband, also of deeply sound mind, is in his nineties, and also uses a walking stick.  Dad is the youngest of his siblings at 82.  My aunt greeted Dad with her usual gentle greeting of Hello Boy, to which he replied Hullo old thing, and we all trooped out to Pizza Express.  By the time you get to proper old age, it seems, you care less for convention and more for whatever works for you within the bounds of good manners and courtesy.  My old uncle, with his life as a District Officer in Africa behind him, his days as a solicitor over and having raised his family diligently, wore his pyjamas to lunch because they were more comfortable.  He put on a tie, and a hat, and a coat, and took his wife on his arm, leading us to lunch with never a word said about his pyjamas.  It made sense to him, and to his wife, and if my father had noticed, it would have made sense to him too.

My uncle speaks softly, not always very clearly, and has survived enormous crises with his health.  I do not know him well, though I have always liked him.  We sat opposite each other over our pizzas and talked of Rembrandt. Perhaps I imagined it, but when he described Rembrandt and the effect the old Dutch masters had on him, for a moment, two or three times, he seemed overwhelmed by emotion and on the verge of tears.  It was fleeting and powerful;  I was incredibly moved by the effect that this Dutch Old Master had on a private and undemonstrative old man, my uncle, who I knew but did not really know despite a lifetime of connection through family.  I am not, he said, ambitious, nor have I ever been.  I regret that, he said.  But I disagreed, and told him so.  You are, I said, ambitious for the things of the soul.  I learned during lunch at Pizza Express, with my uncle by marriage, in his pyjamas and in his nineties, about the power of art and the joy of response to beauty.  I saw how painting can move the viewer, and that viewer can be anyone; how that viewer holds the experience deep inside for years, and how the pleasure can remain and grow over time to a point where it moves you greatly to think of it, perhaps even to tears.  I cannot remember what my uncle said about Rembrandt, that is not important.  I remember wanting to go home and look at all the Rembrandt paintings I could find, to capture their power and beauty, to find for myself a little of the magic. I know my uncle will be going to the National Gallery Rembrandt: the Late Works exhibition in October.  Perhaps I will see him there.



I painted John Horne here for A Graceful Death, using the browns and warm tones of Rembrandt.   Were he alive, Rembrandt may have disputed this and told me to get a life.

I note, with tears in my own eyes, that it is nearly 4pm and time for some more tea.  This moves me, as Rembrandt did my uncle, to extraordinary heights of happiness.  Giant Boy is practising his piano and talking at me with no need of a response, none of the lodgers are dying of hunger, and all is well.  The sun is shining through the rain clouds, and the hollyhocks are bobbing in their restraints without leaving any marks on anyone, all is as it should be.  I have not written of any work I am doing, that will come in time.  I have taken time off and away from work, and quite beyond my expectations, I am still alive and the world has not ended. In fact, no one at all has noticed.  Just because, said my friend kindly a day or so ago, you are not painting, it does not mean you are not an artist.  Yes it does, said Giant Boy.


My aunt, my father and my uncle. If Rembrandt could have taken a photo of a domestic scene instead of painting it, this may be it.


Saturday, 2 August 2014

Praying into the pie and letting it pass.

In order to start today, I thought about my colours carefully.  I chose a red shirt, jeans and a big, soft, fuchsia  blanket in which to wrap myself before sitting on the sofa to write.  My toenails are pink, my earrings are red and my flip flops have red and white spots.  I am ready to begin.  Breakfast was a pot of tea and scrambled eggs on toast, all the preparations are in place, the day is now mine.

You will just have to imagine the scrambled eggs.
Dominic, my youngest brother and a Catholic priest (undergoing tough treatment for advanced cancer at the moment) told me that to love yourself enough is a struggle, and you are going to fail.  It is hard, we recognise it is hard, but the struggle to love oneself daily is a way of loving God.  Dominic is full of kindness and compassion.  It is right to accept we are going to fail, because it takes the pressure off us when even liking ourselves is hard, and gives us the space and courage to try again.  For Dominic, it comes down to doing his best, recognising the daily struggle to love himself for the greater glory of God, recognising that he sometimes - often - fails, and trying again.

I have been dealing with a son who does not love himself in any shape or form.  The struggle for him is that he has turned to drugs to find relief.  He has always looked for a way to belong, and has found life very difficult.  The nightmare in which he lives now is of his creation, for him it reflects his view of life and his place within it.  He cannot be touched, he cannot be reached, not yet, not now, and in his mind, he is not wrong.  The chaos a drug user inflicts on the people around them can be truly terrible.  It is an illness, yes, but it is destructive and cruel to all who come in contact with it, not just for the user.

For the last couple of months this treasured child has been  here after he moved out of his flat in London.  On Thursday, I told him that if he did not leave I would call the police.  He left, of course he did, he took a few things and disappeared on the Thursday morning.  He had been given a few weeks notice, but my fear at his behaviour made me call the police for advice and help.  On Thursday, they were ready to come, but my son slipped away and I didn't have to face them escorting him away from my house.  The silly, stupid thing is, he didn't say goodbye.  Considering his behaviour with his drugs, considering his paranoia, and considering his own mother had threatened the police to remove him, it is most unlikely that he would give me a cheery wave and say, "I'm off now, bye, sorry about the police thing, give them my best and tell them they won't be needed".  To be clear with you all, I have told him that when he decides to seek help, I will support him totally.  I understand that there is nothing more that I can do.  

So wrapping myself in reds and pinks today, is about loving myself.  The house has been cleaned, all of the debris, chaos, disorder and mayhem  has been dealt with, and balance, order and harmony has been restored.  We can breathe again, it feels as if there is silence everywhere.  What I have now, is a normal house, it just feels extraordinary compared to the difficulties over the last few months.  Sitting on my sofa now, feeling protected by these lovely colours, I am trying not to feel guilty that I have so much, and my son feels as if he does not.  My answer to myself here is to recognise the daily struggle to love oneself enough, and to say that my son needs time.  His struggle to love himself enough is his struggle, not mine. But I feel dreadful today.  I am fearful, tired and very sad.  I am a mum who cannot make anything right, and I am also an individual who makes choices to do the best she can for herself in order that she can be of use in the world.  Tough love, they call it.  It is tough for both of us.  

Here is my plan.  Today, I will bake the biggest pie I can.  I shall eat it all as part of the therapy. Giant Boy can have some only if he mows the lawn (the Anxious Pole is on holiday in Poland thank goodness and cannot be forced to do Giant Boy's jobs).  Tomorrow I will do a car boot sale (unless I decide not to).  Monday is a whole new world.  On Monday I will sit in the studio and think and at all times, today until the near future, I shall consider bubble baths.  My mother said of this angry confused son of mine, that he has left the table but there is still a place laid for him, and we are keeping it ready for when, if, he comes back.

So here are a few of the things that I still am doing. It is true that life goes on.  It would have suited me if the whole of  Bognor had ground to a halt recently, and had phoned for hourly updates on my situation.  I would have thought nothing of the whole world being consumed with my household - but life goes on, as it always does, without reference to us, and all the things I have to do still have to be done.
  • The "Conversations on the End of Life, finding time to think in our busy worlds" are continuing.  17 September is the next one here in Bognor, at the Salvation Army community centre.  Gail Willington, my old pal from Lancashire will be there as we are doing it together.  She runs Elizabeth Way Family Funeral Service ( www.elizabeth-way.co.uk ) and everything depends on whether she can get away or not.  I will be there though.
  • Dying Matters want me to write another guest blog.   
  • AGD is going to Ascot in September, Swansea in late October/early November and to Bournemouth in March 2015
  • I am doing one more painting for AGD.  I am painting and interviewing my brother Dominic.  This is about me too, when I look at Dominic, I see myself.  We have had the first interview, and we have decided how I will paint him.  This collaboration is unashamedly about me too.   
  • I have a new commission following on from the idea of God's Study, a painting of a snapshot of God's study as he pops out, and all of the books, memos, photographs and personal effects that God has on his desk and laptop.  The new commission is God's Kitchen, which will be as the study, God has popped out for a moment, and this is a snap shot of his kitchen.  That will be ready for the end of August.

God's Study, with references to the person who commissioned it. I have done a few of these, they are great fun.  God's probably amazed at how accurate I am, and is tidying his kitchen now in a hurry in case I guess correctly at that as well as his study.
I asked Dom what he did when the thoughts of dying overtook him.  He said that his fear manifests as self hate, and anger at the world and those around him.  He tries to love himself, he says, and allow himself to be depressed.  He accepts himself in the process, rests and lets it pass.  He prays into it as a form of acceptance because it always passes.  And so, with Dom's advice, I will accept myself in the process of dealing with my son, rest, eat pie, and let it pass.  


Part of the process.  Pray into the pie and let it pass.