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Saturday, 21 November 2015

Hiding in the Hiding Chair


Angels gather here.  From Mum's grave.


I am hiding, as you all know.

My mother died on the 4 September, and I decided to halt everything, postpone everything, cancel everything, and hide. Here is an update from under the duvet.

I am trying to hide.  Life does not come to a halt just because I want to stop taking part, and I have found that the decision to go to ground is more complex than simply not getting out of bed.  What is it that I am wanting to stop doing, then, that I was doing before Mum died?  That, oh that, is the question. Within the decision to hide are the questions - what am I hiding from?  And why?  We shall think about this below.

Describe what you mean by hiding

I am not really under the duvet.  In my new bedroom in the front sitting room of my house, next to the piano and the grandfather clock, there is an old white chair that rocks when you sit on it.  It isn't a conventional rocking chair, though it acts as one.  Covering the chair is a pink and white polka dot blanket, and over the blanket is a teacloth on which are printed spotty and stripy teacups.  Just where it most comfortable and effective when one sits down, is a purple cushion with extraordinarily large purple ruffles sewn onto the fabric.  On the floor to the left of the chair is a giant strawberry coloured blanket from the Avoca woollen mills in Dublin, and on the floor to the right is a big, dark pink, soft and fragrant shawl.  This is my hiding place.  I sit in this chair and decide which of my blankets I wish to wrap up in, and as the chair is in the corner of the room, I feel I am truly tucked away.  I have some pixie type slippers in green felt, with pom poms on them, from my son in law, and with these slippers on my feet, either or both of my blankets wrapped around me, I feel suitably invisible to the outside world on my chair that may or may not be a rocking chair.

Next to the Hiding Chair is a small table.  That is where I put my tray of tea.  On the other side of the Hiding Chair is the piano.  That is where I line up my pens, paper, books and I balance my laptop.  The door handle on the outside of the door has fallen off, and so I can get out if the door is closed, but no one can get in.  I am delighted with this and think I have discovered the key to the secret of my own survival.

And do you hide?

Not really.  I aim to, but life will not stop.

Life will not stop?

I am looking for space to process my mother's death.  I cannot do it while talking, or listening, or being with other people.  The idea of being utterly still and silent feels like the only way to achieve this, but I am not able to do stillness nor silence for long because it is not in my nature to be so. My two sons have been very ill recently, I cannot ignore that.  My daughter and her husband have their first child in a few weeks time, I cannot ignore that.  My father has dementia, my brothers and I cannot ignore that.  In fact, I have become my father's carer part time.  I can't do that from my pretend rocking chair behind the piano.  I have to get in the car and drive to London and back, which is a good long way away from Bognor Regis.

Every room in my house is rented out.  I have four image conscious, body building, pizza eating young men with fabulous hair styles in their late teens and early twenties living here, plus two exotic, well made up and ambitious young women also in their early twenties. The young fellows have uncomplicated ambitions.  To have six packs, to meet girls, and to have jobs that pay them lots and lots per hour. One of the gorgeously made up young women of the household is the girlfriend of one of the young men here, the one whose hair is more black, more sculpted and more unyielding than any of the others.  They both rent my annex, and live a sort of semi domestic life, except that neither of them like cleaning, or cooking, or tidying, or laundry. They like each other though, and pizza, and so far, that is enough for them.

The house is always full.  The lodgers that live here are glorious, uncomplicated, messy and full of life.  They make me smile, I try and keep order (they are very well meaning) and we all rub along very nicely indeed.  They cannot be ignored. Even if I wanted to, I could not pretend they are not here and hide away to think my thoughts for very long.  None of my household can see beer bottles when they are empty (not because they are drunk, but because the beer bottles are no longer interesting without beer in them and so become invisible).  They can't see pizza boxes either when they are empty, and the putting on of laundry in the washing machine is more than enough housework for the time being.  It can, and does, stay in there after the cycle has finished, until it dries in a muddle and smells awful.  Washing up means putting some things in the dishwasher, and the rest in the sink in old water, because they lose interest and feel that if half of their stuff is in the dishwasher, then that is as good as all of it.  The spoons and cups and plates in the sink become, like the beer bottles and pizza boxes, invisible, and off they go to have another cigarette in the garden and to plan the next bout of training with weights and dramatic haircuts.

My lodgers are full of goodness.  They help me in with heavy shopping.  They ask how I am, they tell me their plans.  They mow the grass and they try very hard to not have parties when I am not here.  They are funny, kind, young and all of them work hard.  They pay all their bills on time, they never complain and I love having them around.  Hiding from them is necessary, even without Mum dying, but it's good to know that when I get off my pseudo rocking chair, and leave my room and encounter them in the house, that all the important things in their lives are still as gripping as ever.  (Girls, six packs, pizza and money).

Work that went on hold when I moved in to look after Mum is now due for completion.  I am doing that, and it gets me into the studio.  The studio worried me.  I thought, because I need to stop everything, that I don't know what to paint or create any more, and perhaps all of that has gone.  It hasn't gone, it is on hold, and when I get perspective, which I do more often than I don't, perhaps something will come out in a painting.  I am content with that for now.

What has been postponed is seeing my friends.  Talking on the phone.  Going out and doing things.  I have put all work on hold that takes me out from the house or studio.  I don't have very much to say, and I am not able to articulate what is in my mind and heart, because I don't really know.

I am not grieving.  I am bereaved, but not grieving in the same way as for Steve.  I am sad, I am quiet, I miss my mother but I am also feeling released and relieved.  I loved my mother, but she was difficult and I spent most of my life trying to get away from her.  My mother was powerful, clever, loving and kind.  She also suffered from terrible depression, and was manipulative, judgemental, cruel and angry.  Much of her anger was directed at me.  It was difficult to find a way to be with her, and difficult for her to find a way to be with me, but we did find a way, and I loved her, and I know that she suffered terribly.  But she could be toxic.  Our last six weeks together healed us both.  There was no need to fight any more, no reason to hold back, and what was left after the struggle was no longer a struggle was a depth of wisdom, love, kindness and strength.  The last six weeks of Mum's life saw what was true about her, what was always present at her core; her extraordinary wisdom and insight. Her power and her ability to love without boundaries stopped fighting with her demons, her darkness and her need to destroy.  Her remarkable intelligence was no longer masked by her denial of it, and everything that was good about her shone in her final weeks.  She could love me and accept me for who I was, and I could love her and accept her for who she was.  She gave me the chance to really see her, and she showed me healing and went out of this life as the best and truest version of herself that she could be.

So I am hiding, and asking myself who I am now.  I will be a grandmother next month.  My difficult and beautiful mother allowed me to help her die.  I am no longer judged, and I was truly loved at the end.  So what and who am I now.  What has my mother taught me?  What do I want to do?  Who am I now?

And?

I have no idea.

When my first child was born, my mother bought me a red arm chair in which to sit and feed the baby.  I remember deciding to sit in that armchair for six weeks because I didn't know what to do, and I needed to be alone with the baby.  Six weeks passed, and I decided that it wasn't enough, and that what I needed to do was to stay in the chair in my pyjamas with the baby, indefinitely.  I stayed there for three months.

This is what I am doing now.  I am in another chair, and I am often in my pyjamas, and at the moment, I feel this is where I will be for at least three months.  I am holding my mother's memory, and thinking about what her life was like.  It is making me think that my own life needs to be much more simple.  Sitting in my Hiding Chair I am letting myself stop being busy all the time, I am letting myself day dream, I am asking myself do I really want to do all the things that I was doing before?  Do I really want to do all those things?

Conclusion

There isn't really a conclusion today.  Just an ongoing process.  I will be sitting here for some time, letting it all hang out, so to speak.  Mother, like Elvis, has left the building and I am coming to terms with what that means.






Planting to mark the spot where Mum secretly buried her sister Kit's ashes, to make sure they went into consecrated ground.  Mum is buried just over the car park on the other side, amongst the new plots.  She and Kit are together again but one is legit, and the other is not.


Friday, 9 October 2015

On sitting in my new bedroom after my mother's death

I am sleeping in my sitting room, under the piano.

That is not quite true, I am not under the piano, and I do have a bed.  I am sleeping in a bed in the room that used to be my sitting room, and is now a bedroom.  The piano is opposite the bed.

My mother died a few weeks ago.  In order to be with her to nurse her, I packed a single suitcase and moved out of my own bedroom in my big Bognor house, and moved in with my mother.  Within days, I had rented out my now empty bedroom to a nice fellow, the sixth lodger in the house, and sealed my future for after Mum died.  I have returned, Mother is buried, and I now live in what was my sitting room, transformed into a very large and wonderful bedroom, with a piano, and I am delighted with it.

The disadvantages are
  • There are no curtains. I have sewn pink ribbon tabs on some gauzy wafty white curtain material which has been tied it onto the curtain rail, but they only cover the corners of the window.  The middle is as see through as a big glass window can be.  For bored neighbours I am a reality TV show, if they stand on the pavement just yards from my new bedroom, they can amuse themselves by watching my every move.  
  • The curtain rail is really only for show.  It was put up many years ago with light exotic Indian curtains with tiny mirrors sewn into the fabric, attached to it already, so that the curtains had to be cut off when they disintegrated last month.  The curtain pole was fixed to the wall with brackets that not only have half the required screws in them (making the pole very fragile and meaning that any curtains hanging from it need to be extremely light) but the brackets prevent any curtains being drawn and covering the window.  So I have had to replace my old Indian type curtains with the lightest of curtains that have been tied on to the curtain rail and neither close nor protect my privacy.  
  • Being supremely visible, I have to undress by lying on the floor at the foot of my bed and wriggling about.  To do this needs planning; there is no use in being able to get out of my clothes only to find I have left my pyjamas on top of the bed, by my pillows, directly underneath the large, clear, uncurtained and see through window.  Hooray, say my neighbours, that's a show and a half, well worth the wait.  What now?
  • I cannot scratch my bottom, clean my ears with a pencil, or look unappealing in any way because all of my neighbours and any passer by that looks to their right, or to their left, while passing the house, can see in and become very involved with what I am doing at that moment.
  • Giant Boy still needs to practice his piano.    
The advantages are
  • The room is twice the size of my old bedroom.
  • Giant Boy still needs to practice his piano
  • I can hear who is coming and going at all hours, the room is next to the front door and I can in theory, burst out of my room with my dressing gown and curlers, in the early hours of the morning and catch my lodgers out with whatever it is that they should not be doing.  They are great fellows, my lodgers, I won't be catching them out, but it is the fact that I have the opportunity, and the power, and the means, should I decide to use them, to assert myself and be despotic and unreasonable. 
  • I feel like I am a student again, delighted to be living in a sitting room, and hanging my clothes on hangers all around the room on the picture rail.

The mattress was on the floor here before we made up the slat-less frame.  It is now as delightful with the frame made up and the mattress forming a gentle V, but looks like a piece of modern art.  A bed installation, which is given more meaning as it is actually used as a bed.
I borrowed the bed from one of my brothers, left for many years in Mum's garage. (The bed, not my brother, was left many years in Mother's garage).  It is a lovely bed, but has been made and dismantled from a flat pack state of affairs many times already, and the slats holding the mattress up have buckled.  This means there is a big dip in the middle of the mattress where the slats holding it up underneath, have popped out. Not only does it mean that when the bed is made in the morning it forms a gentle V shape, it also means that if I get into bed at the side, I will roll into the middle a little like how we all used to roll down a small grassy hill as children, and I stay there in the middle of the mattress till I wake enough to climb back out again.

My vision for this room is to have soft chairs in here so that I can use it still as a sitting room for my friends and me to sit and chat and have tea.  So far, I have one comfy chair and a little table, and strangely enough, I am content with just the one chair.  I sit in my chair and read, and write, and think.  In time, I will bring the little sofa from outside the kitchen into this room, but not just yet. I have to find a wardrobe and a chest of drawers so that all my things can be put away, and space created, but just now, I like the feeling that I have just arrived, and that all my things are placed around the room in boxes and baskets, and clothes hung from hangers from the picture rail.  I feel as if I were a character in a late nineteenth century Parisian or Russian novel, newly arrived with lovely things and no furniture into a large room with big windows, my boxes filled with clues from my past, and a single comfortable chair in which to sit and have tea and consider my future.

My mother has died.  Everything has changed, and nothing has changed.  Life goes on, it tends to do that, and that's fine.  Time can be a very kind thing, it carries us forward whether we like it or not, and every space that is created after such a thing as a death, has the possibility of being filled with other things.  My mother has died and I held her as she breathed her last breath in, and let it go with a sigh.  My hand was on her chest over her heart so that she would know I knew what she was doing. When her heart stopped, we would both, Mum and I, know. It was our final connection in this world.  My daughter was holding her grandmother's hands, and in the early hours one morning, Mother ceased to be alive.

I am not filled with grief.  I do not cry and I do not feel as if my world has ended.  Quite the opposite, I feel as if my world is beginning again.  My mother's gift to me was, and is, the gift of life.  I miss her terribly, my heart is heavy.  I love her, and I want to be alone and silent.  But that is not a bad thing.  Her dying was her final lesson to me, and when my time comes, I will remember it.  The value of my own life is highlighted by the end of hers.  And so, in my new room, here in my sitting room that is now my bedroom, I am sitting alone on my single soft chair and letting time settle my mind, and wondering what it is that I want to do, and be, now.  Her death has freed us both, she would like that.  My daughter will have a baby in December, I am the new Grandma.  When I was a new mother, my mother was there to show me what to do.  I am to be a grandmother now, and my mother has left the scene, giving the role over entirely to me, to make of it what I can.

So today, here in my Parisian or Russian novel, I sit in my blue and white spotty dressing gown from Primark, in my single soft chair wrapped in a raspberry pink woollen blanket from Ireland, thinking of my day ahead.  There is much that I have to do, but what is coming through from being with Mum as she died, is that I don't want to do any of those things.  I want to be free to think, and to take time to paint in my studio, for fun. I want to have time to read, and to stay still, and to have no plans.  There is a great deal of assessing going on in my mind, and body, it needs space to form and become words and images, it needs silence and freedom from commitments to become something I can express in the best way I can, which is creatively.

There is no hurry.  My unformed bedroom and my unformed thoughts are part of the process of making sense of what my life is going to be without my mother.  She has entered eternity, and I am taking something of that time and space here, to recover and think things through.

Perhaps I will get up now and go and find a wardrobe.  That is enough for now.  At some point, I will cover the window and prop up the bed, but it doesn't bother me in the way that it would have before Mum's illness.  You never do know what is around the corner, now could be the only time you have to sit and think.  Not being busy is a whole new experience, a new mindset to get used to.  Letting in the long moments, the stillness, the freedom, is both hard work, and easy, all at the same time.

Time to get the show on the road.  Time to entertain the neighbours with getting dressed and making the bed.  Time to walk slowly into the day, and to consider each moment enough in itself.  And, perhaps, today, to buy a wardrobe.  Perhaps.


Mum came home in her coffin for all her friends and neighbours to say goodbye.  I polished this table like a mad thing, if she came back and couldn't smell the polish, I'd be in trouble.  Except of course she can't smell anything, and nor would she want to, being on a cloud with a harp and some wings, along with most of her friends and her mum, dad and siblings.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Self Worth, Self Value, and Turning Up

Self worth and self value.

I am due at the hospice this afternoon. I'm there to spend time with anyone who needs or wants some company, and I have been doing this for a good while now.  I still get nervous before I go in, I think can I do this?  What if no one wants me there?  What if I say the wrong thing and I upset someone?

Sometimes, with all the things that I'm involved with, I think - I have no idea what I am doing, perhaps I should call the whole thing off.

What I am really questioning, is my value.  What if I have no value when I turn up to do something, when I put myself out there, when I am being me?  What if I am wrong, and no one has told me? What if I am simply not good enough.


Sometimes we feel very alone

If I were to act on the fears that I am not good enough, I would stay safe and silent and take no risks.  I would feel the world out there was an unpredictable, unsafe place that had the potential to undermine me and make me feel unworthy.  By not doing anything that made me feel unsafe, that challenged my sense of self worth, I would create for myself a glass bubble in which I could protect myself from as much pain as possible out there.  The down side for me, if that were the case, is that I would become angry and resentful, and I would blame other people for the restrictions I felt I had in my life.  My self value would be based only on reactions to outside influence and my interpretation of what other people thought of me.  If my self worth in this case was measured in terms of water, it would be a tiny pool in a dried up lake, liable to evaporate further in the sun if I did not protect it.  Hence the glass bubble, and the fear of anything that may challenge my fragile feelings of value.

Here is what I think about valuing ourselves. 
  • We are all human.  We are all just people.  Even people you don't like and people you admire, are just people.  
  • Nothing comes of nothing. Doing nothing will bring nothing.
  • We are often wrong about how we think others see us
  • Our fear of getting it wrong blinds us to seeing what we get right
  • Being vulnerable, feeling unsure, is normal. If we feel this way, so does everyone else
  • Often we can't hear praise and we can't see success, we are fixated on looking for proof that we are not good enough.
  • It is often the little things that make a difference.  You cannot know how much a welcoming smile might give someone a lift of spirits, the tiniest most give away thing that you were not even aware of doing.  Or, for example, this makes a difference to me, when I am talking to a group and one person looks at me as if they understand. I feel affirmed by that one person. 
  • We have much to give.  Comparing ourselves to others who seem to have it all, is fine as long as it isn't a way to make us crumple into a ball of doubt and inactivity.  Comparing ourselves to other people as a punishment, is a way to continue to do nothing. We still have much to offer.
  • Keeping busy to drown out the silence, and to prevent feelings of self doubt, are as bad as creating a glass bubble in which to live and try to avoid pain.
Uncovering, maintaining and allowing a sense of self value is an ongoing project.  It takes a lifetime, and what we know of ourselves now may change entirely over time. The tiny puddle in the dried up lake may well need protecting, but the potential to increase the puddle in size to fill the lake, and make it less vulnerable to evaporation, is entirely possible and within our scope.  If we allow it.  This means taking risks.  Taking risks such as, among other things, knowing what we want, asking for what we want, saying no, saying yes, turning up when it is difficult to do so (the hospice this afternoon), and the big one - knowing ourselves.

Knowing ourselves is fundamental.  If sounds indulgent, it sounds impossible, it sounds complicated.  It is all those things and it is also enlightening, fascinating and rewarding.  Knowing ourselves gives us insight into other people.  Knowing ourselves is our duty - we are given our bodies, minds and souls with such things as consciousness, free will and choice - why would we not explore who we are and what works best for us? When we die it will all be gone, there won't be another chance, why waste this opportunity to know who we are?  We may be fabulous! We probably are. Knowing ourselves includes that old chestnut, being kind to ourselves.  Someone said that we should treat ourselves as we would a child.  Feeding ourselves well, making sure we sleep properly, listening to ourselves and giving ourselves time and attention; keeping ourselves safe and looking for ways for us to thrive and reach our potential.  Sounds great, doesn't it?  

This afternoon I will go to the hospice, and I will do that difficult thing, turning up.  I will turn up.  And here is the reality of it - it doesn't matter if I sit with anyone or not.  It matters that I go there with the intention to be available, and to do my best.  If, and this does happen, someone says go away, that doesn't matter.  I am not being rejected, that person has their own journey and saying go away to me isn't about me, it is about them.  They need to be alone, and they are letting me know.  If I go and sit with someone and make a difference, then thank goodness I turned up because if I hadn't turned up, that connection may have been missing with them forever.  And in the hospice, there isn't much time.  I may feel unsure about the afternoon ahead, but I know that it will be OK whatever transpires.  Sometimes, it isn't the patient who I sit with, sometimes it is a family member.  And sometimes, I learn from the other volunteers and staff there instead of sitting with anyone at all, which if I was basing my sense of worth and success on only sitting with patients and making a difference, I may consider a failure. It is not in any way a failure - and I must add that the business of sitting with a patient and making a difference is never guaranteed.  I may sit with someone, but I cannot do more than just be there and see what happens.  That is the risk about turning up.  I love what I do, despite it being an unknown quantity each time, so I expect nothing and anticipate everything - and none of it is about me being either good enough or not good enough.  I guess it is about taking a risk and having faith.  This business about going this afternoon to the hospice is the same for all the work that I do.  At the risk of sounding rather vague, it comes down to saying yes, turning up, and having faith that I will do my best and, big one here, that I will survive.  Every time I leave the safety of my home, anything could happen.  I have to have faith that it will be OK and I will be the best that I can be.  And if it doesn't go well, I will still survive and there will still be tea and cake.

 Events coming up

Gill Lake and I are presenting our next Spirit of Living and Dying workshop on Wednesday 10 June at St Paul's Art Centre in Worthing.  From 10am to 1pm, price £20 per person. An interactive, creative and gently challenging session, and all are most heartily welcome.  There will be Gill's cake, one of our USPs.  


A gentle and challenging look at how we live because we will die

And on the 15 of July, Gill and I will be at the Hamblin Trust, Bosham House, Main Road, Bosham near Chichester, PO18 8JP, with our Conversations about the End of Life, Finding Time to Think in our Busy World from 2pm to 3.30pm.  It is free, with suggested donations of £3.50 which all go to the Hamblin Trust. 


The A Graceful Death exhibition is possibly going to Dorset at the end of October, as part of the Elephant in the Room festival, hosted by soul midwife and nurse Keira Jones and her musician husband Jim Fox.  Fingers crossed, as I love working with Kiera and Jim.  They both run The Centre in Swansea, a wonderful place where anyone with a life limiting or threatening illness can go for free holistic treatment and advice.  They run the Centre with donations from the public, and do absolutely groundbreaking work there.  A link - http://www.thecentre-swansea.co.uk/  


And Finally

I notice that we are terribly serious with this blog.  There aren't many jokes. That doesn't mean I have been gloomy during May, there has been much fun and hard work, and there have been wonderful highlights.  One was AGD in Maidstone as part of Dying Matters Awareness Week, to an event run by Volunteer Action Maidstone on behalf of Macmillan cancer care.  Oh boy, it was wonderful.  You can see how wonderful when you see Team AGD Maidstone below

Melissa who runs Cake and Death workshops, me in the middle and cousin Maddy who is a pain specialist physio.  This was taken just as we had finished setting up before dashing to the loo to change into our ball gowns and tiaras for the opening event.  Missing from the photo is the ever wonderful and super efficient Jane Pantony who is the brains behind this event.
A very good thing is that this month I fly out to Tanzania to stay with photographer extraordinaire and dear old friend Eileen Rafferty.  You may remember that Eileen moved there a year ago, selfishly accepting a huge promotion and diplomatic status to work for DIFD in Tanzania and leaving me in Bognor to fend for myself.  It is all about me, I said when she was offered the job but still she went.  I am going to stay with Eileen for ten days, and I am so excited.  We are going to Zanzibar too, and Eileen, who did not drive in the UK till a year ago, will be driving me in her 4x4 car in Africa.  Eileen, who thought she knew herself pretty well, has found reserves and strengths she didn't dream of.  No glass bubbles for Eileen, her lake is well and truly brimming.

Have a lovely June all of you.  I will see you in July, and hope that you all find the space to treat yourselves like a child. By that I mean don't put yourselves on the naughty step, but treat yourselves to ice creams and kind words.  

 I will leave you with a photo from the Maidstone AGD exhibition, of the lovely Anne Snell, beside her portrait of when her husband Peter was dying.  Peter died before the painting was finished, and we remember him in the exhibition.  Anne lives near to Maidstone, and it was lovely to see her again.

It is sheer coincidence that Anne is wearing the same cardigan that she wore in for the painting.  Note too the fancy cake that was provided for the Tea and Cake afternoon discussion session run by Melissa earlier.


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Goodbye Mike with all your Outrageous Lies, with huge Respect




Mike Hardy.  Thank you Mike.
A few weeks ago, on the 29 April Mike, pictured above, died.  His family and his wife Michele were with him and I think it was the end of a long, long journey for all of them. His death was not a surprise as Mike had suffered from Motor Neurone Disease for many years, but it is very very sad,  and I cannot imagine how much his family must be missing him.  At Mike's funeral, there was standing room only, he was such a memorable man and so many people cared for and about him.  Mike's portrait above was painted for the A Graceful Death exhibition a couple of years ago, when Mike could still speak a little and could type on his computer keyboard.  He was articulate and clever, speaking of his illness and how his life had changed without a shred of self pity.  As an assistant head teacher it seemed his gift was to educate, and I have been taught much about life with MND by Mike and his wife Michele.

Michele was his main carer.  They were supported greatly by specialist nurses, carers and the MND society, but even so I only glimpsed the amount she did for him, and I was, and am, filled with deep admiration for her practical, articulate, consistent and loving approach to the life they both were faced with after the diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease.  Michele made no secret of how hard it was to look after Mike, and how frustrating the illness was for them all - an illness which must have take about thirteen years from the diagnosis to his death on Wednesday 29 April last month.


I was first introduced to Mike through soul midwife and dear friend Mandy Preece, a volunteer on the Macmillan Unit in Christchurch, where for many years Mike attended the day centre.   For his final few days, Mike was admitted into the ward at the unit, and was cared for by the staff who had been with him since the beginning, where Mandy too was able to say goodbye to him.


A few years ago, Mandy had arranged for me to meet Mike in the day centre, to talk about him being painted and interviewed as part of the A Graceful Death exhibition. She had spoken to him about it, and he seemed keen to be involved, and so Mandy called me and made a date for us to meet.  I went along with no idea of what to expect - I knew Mike communicated through a computer keyboard, and could speak with difficulty, that he was wheelchair bound and that I had never met anyone with MND before.  I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to communicate with him, and I was nervous.  As I approached to say hello, Mike giggled and started to tap out a greeting.  Instead of saying, "Hello Antonia, I'm Mike and nice to meet you, don't be nervous" he tapped out the text that I have painted onto his portrait - "I had a dry sense of humour and told outrageous lies but now I am a gibbering wreck."  Everyone started to laugh, I was instantly at ease, and I was aware that no matter what I thought, Mike was in control, and was fully, totally, all there.  One of the first things he taught me was that MND takes away your physical abilities, but doesn't take away your mind.  He couldn't take part in conversations by speaking, but in his head he was replying, giving his opinions and being just the same as he always was, only no one could hear him.  He also showed me that if you are going to speak with someone who uses a keyboard, and cannot speak, you need to take your time.  We are so used to communicating quickly and moving on, we never think about long silences and how it must feel to take five minutes to say one thing.  Mike showed me that I needed patience if he was saying something, to wait and to let him say it or write it, and not to interrupt needlessly.  I really enjoyed meeting with and working with Mike and Michele, and I am grateful to them both for their wonderful contribution to the exhibition.



A few weeks before he died, Michele brought Mike to see A Graceful Death at Mandy Preece's event Dying to Know in Bounemouth.  He took a long, long time to  tap out on his keyboard "I've gone downhill a lot since I saw you".  Michele is standing behind his portrait holding it up.  
I have been thinking recently, about what I do.  There is something about working with the end of life that means that I work with life itself.  When I am asked to talk on A Graceful Death and soul midwifery, I am clear that I don't work with the dead and I don't work with after death.  That is not my gift, I have friends who are fantastic in the work they do after death, my thing is working with the living.  Until the moment of death, if required, but always with life.  Because of this working with life, I have begun to listen and be aware that many of us who are not actively dying need soul midwifery just as much as those who are known to be palliatively ill.

Let me think about what I mean by soul midwifery.  My friend and colleague Mandy Preece defined it for me thus


 "A soul midwife is a holistic therapeutic companion to the dying offering sound, colour therapies etc. to ease the dying journey. What we do is provide emotional support by sitting alongside and being with someone without agenda and being willing to listen to their fears"


I am some of that, but I don't offer sound, colour or therapy of any sort.  I do the sitting alongside without agenda listening, and I do the being present and holding the space.  Listening to what is not being said as much as what is being said, and giving all my attention and love to the moment, for however long that moment lasts.  It used to confuse me that the most profound and best moments were just those, moments.  I had imagined that to make any difference, I had to be with someone for hours.  It didn't feel right otherwise, as if in order to be real, any breakthrough had to take ages and to be really difficult, or it didn't count.  Sometimes that is the case, but mostly, the most enlightening moments are random, fleeting, and if you blink, you may miss them.  They are moments of grace, and are sometimes deeply moving, sometimes painful, sometimes blissful.  Sometimes they are all of those things.  


Yesterday, I accompanied a lady to visit her friend in hospital, who was slipping very gently away.  The friend, according to his family, was not talking about what was happening, was not saying what he wanted, was not addressing this terrible situation.  The person who I was to accompany, felt unable to help, and wanted support.  But what I found when I entered the hospital room, was that this man did know what was happening, he was telling us in his own way, it was just that it was not in the way his distraught family could hear.  He was speaking, but quietly, with half finished sentences, with insights and gentle regrets, about getting ready to go, about acceptance and about the sadness of not seeing his grandchildren grow up.  What he was not doing was answering questions, or discussing his funeral, or helping his family feel better.  We sat down with her friend, and once we had provided the space and the silence to hear him, and to give him the attention he needed, and to acknowledge what he was saying, he began to tell us about how he was coming to terms with his dying.  Between us, we held his hands and listened to all that he was saying, and all that he was not saying and between us, we let him know we understood.  


This being understood, being given the space and the attention, is what we need in life, not just at the end of it.  I have been considering, that being a soul midwife is a necessary thing for everyone, not just the dying.  Being aware of our own mortality, really accepting that time will pass whatever we do, and this one life we have is ours to use and create and live, is so simple.  It interests me that if someone focuses on us when we are talking, gives us the respectful attention we need when we are communicating, we feel valued, heard, supported and affirmed.  Don't wait until someone is dying to offer this, do it now to whoever is with you.  I think I will be a soul midwife to the well and living too.  


What's On


Conversations about the End of Life, Finding Time to Think in our Busy World is coming back to St Paul's Art Centre in Worthing next month, June.  Free, and very interesting to see who comes along, and what we all talk about.






Spirit of Living and Dying Workshop also at St Pauls Art Centre in Worthing - an interactive, creative loving and challenging workshop where Gill Lake and I suggest that we recognise that facing the fact that we will all die gives us the impetus to live, really live. The date on this poster is wrong - it is now Wednesday 10 June so please do come, but on Wednesday 10 June.  




Wednesday 10 June.  Not Tuesday 2 June. Still a very good workshop despite messing the dates up.

A Graceful Death exhibition


Next showing in Maidstone in Kent for Macmillan Voluntary Services, as part of Dying Matters Awareness Week.  I am really proud to be associated with such a wonderful organisation, and have deep admiration for the work they do.  Jane Pantony from Voluntary Action Maidstone for Macmillan, is hosting this exhibition, and is also a trained soul midwife.  







Soul midwife and friend Melissa Grassel White will be there for the exhibition to help, and is hosting a Cake and Death event, similar to a Death Cafe on the Friday afternoon. And my dear cousin Maddy is not only letting us stay with her (she lives nearby), but is coming to help too.  Maddy is an experienced AGD helper, and is a very dedicated pain relief specialist and physiotherapist.  The exhibition is free, and runs from Thursday 10 am to 10 pm, and Friday 10am to 6pm.  As you can see there are workshops and talks, please come along and take part.



And In Between


My work as a commission artist has been ongoing, and when I am not doing other things, I still paint pictures that are not to do with end of life.  I have painted a whole series of God's Life pictures which show rooms in God's house, just as God has left them for a moment.  We get a glimpse into the room, and the clues around the room tell us what God has just been doing, and what surrounds God at leisure.  Here are two latest paintings.  Acrylic on canvas, and about 10" x 10".  It may be difficult to see all the detail, as I still need to get a professional photograph taken of them.  See what you make of God's Garden (note the dove cote and the lamb and the tree of knowledge) and God's Bathroom (note the bath towel, the laundry baskets and the mirror).  The paintings carry on around the edges of the canvas, which is not visible here.  I have added little quips and images around the sides which are only visible when you stand in front of it.


God's Garden



God's Garden, with an apple from the tree of knowledge half eaten on the deck chair.

God's Bathroom



Note the crown on the loo paper.

And finally in honour of Mike and Michele



This was filmed in September 2013, for the A Graceful Death exhibition, and is a witty, insightful and truthful account of life with Motor Neurone Disease, for both the carer and the patient. 


                 




RIP Mike and thank you.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Who are you, and what do you want to say?


Julia Wilson, mother, MND sufferer, says that all she has left is time.

When I work on a portrait and interview for the A Graceful Death exhibition I ask two questions of my sitters.
  • Who are you, and 
  • What do you want to say.  
It is important to know who we are, and it is difficult to know what we want to say.  It is difficult to know who we are too, come to think of it.  When we are facing the end of life, when time is limited, when all the plans for a future stretching out before you are not going to happen, knowing who we are and what we want to say must be very hard.  Working with someone in this way we are very much in the present.  Who someone has been, what they did and how they lived their life has brought them to this moment, and to who they are right now.  The person in front of me is the person I paint, the person in this moment at this time, however they look, however their illness is making them different to when they were well.  It is important to know that now is all that matters.

But what about you?  It is likely that you are not facing the end of your life, and the question is just as important for you.  Who are you, and what do you want to say?  If I was to sit with you and ask you, what would you say?  Who would I see when I start to paint? Who would you want me to see?

I asked myself these questions.  Who am I and what do I want to say?  I have no idea, was the answer.  I ask the questions of other people, I don't answer them for myself.  But I have been feeling a little at sea over the last week and a little uncertain about what I doing, and so it was a light bulb moment on waking one morning that I need to ask myself the very questions I ask of my sitters.  Who are you, and what do you want to say?

I began the year by saying yes to everything.  Oh what fun that was, the most surprising things came my way, and I rushed hither and thither doing all the things I had agreed to do.   For a while that is a good idea, until the time comes to focus.  If I say yes to everything, I can do lots of things quite well, but nothing very well.  There isn't time, I have to skim the surface.  After a while, that becomes a challenge, I don't want to skim the surface.  I want to concentrate on what I am doing, linger longer over it, and go much deeper.  So the question of who I am and what I want to say becomes exactly the right thing to ask.  It requires focus and it requires some thought.

We don't know who we are until we experience who we are not.  I am not good away from my painting.  My painting is where I focus, become quiet, experience myself with no distractions, get real.   I am not good as a teacher, I need to do, not teach. I need teachers for myself, and I don't have the patience or application to be the teacher.  I am not good with restrictions unless they are sensible and enhance the quality of what I am doing.  And most of all, I am not someone else.  It is no good feeling I can't do things as well as someone else, whoever they may be, because I am not required to do their thing, they are doing that and I need to do my thing. Simple.  So what is my thing?  And who am I and what do I want to say?

It strikes me that we are all changing and adapting throughout our lives.  Who I am and what I want to say today may be different to another time in my life.  I have noticed that as soon as I think I know what I am doing, everything changes, and I am back in the place where I don't know any more.  Perhaps this is a good thing.  We are all so complex, and at the same time so simple.  The meaning of life could be any number of things, at any time, to any one.  When I was a young mother, the meaning of my life was my children.  Who am I?  A mother.  What do I want to say?  My children are amazing and all absorbing.  Now I am older and my children are all adult.  I am still a mother, but there have been many different identities between the young mother that I was, and now.  Ask me today and I am not the same - who am I?  An artist, an individual, a soul midwife, a vulnerable adult, a nut case - and what do I want to say?  Oh - I want to say be kind.  Practice loving yourself.  Listen to each other.  Give me lots of free holidays.  Do my housework for me.  I can say so much but it doesn't yet feel as if I know what I really mean.  A few months ago I had my identity sorted.  I was a soul midwife artist and I wanted to say that this is fun.  Life has moved me on from that description, and now, it does not answer for me.  It is still much of who I am and what I want to say, but I have shifted and I need a new description.

Sometimes I fear that if I don't have a name for who I am and what I want to say, I will have no identity.  That is rubbish of course.  But I have to remember it is rubbish.  I am still all the things that I do not name that make me who I am, I am still the sum total of all my experiences so far, and I do not disappear into nothingness simply because I do not name what I am.  But not naming who and what I am is uncomfortable, and confusing, and I am not wise and strong enough to simply exist without needing to describe myself.  I thought of the word identity when I sat with a lady who had nothing much to say with her dementia and her illness, and no photos or reminders of who she had been in her room.  I had no clues at all as to who she was, I had to sit with who she is. As it happens, she was beautiful inside and out, and I would not dare ask her who she was and what she wanted to say.  Her identity seemed to have been safely locked away inside her, and she did not give the impression that she needed to question it and probably, would not have been able to.  But who she was when I sat with her, was simply herself.  It was lovely, and simple, and good.

Father Dominic Rolls.  The finished article.

Dominic, for those who may not know, is my youngest brother.  He is living with stage four bowel cancer that has spread to his liver.  Dominic, a Catholic priest, is doing very well with his treatment, and is now choosing to live a healthier, more self aware life than he has been able to do while running his huge parish in Dorking.  While he is coping with the treatments, Dominic has the help of another priest who has taken on the parish, and Dominic does what he can.

The portrait of Father Dominic for the A Graceful Death exhibition is finished, and has had its first showing at the Dying to Know event last month in Bournemouth.  The painting and the interview - which I hope you will read, because it is a wonderful insight into the hard work a religious man has to put in to maintain and keep his faith when something so terrifying as a terminal illness affects the man - is on the A Graceful Death blog here  http://agracefuldeath.blogspot.co.uk/.  I will show the painting here too, the full interview is on the A Graceful Death link above.

Fr Dom.  Holding his intravenous chemotherapy bag attached to a pic line directly into his body.  After the chemo at the hospital, he had a slow release extra dose he carried around with him, day and night in his pocket.  He is pointing to it with characteristic good humour and  a sense of fun.

While we are working out who we are and what we want to say ...

Both my sons are staying here at the moment.  Giant Boy is discovering that although he loves his mum, he loves the high life and the low life even more.  I can generally count on him to appear normal if I need him to be so, but it is often a very close shave.  I believe his brain is still plastic at 18 and it hasn't got much of an off button, so I have to work out which dreadful thing has been moulding it at any given time before I address him with things I want done in the house.  My other son has an alternative take on life, is clever, funny, and living way off the radar. Time and space for him exist in a whole different universe, and life for him should one day be made into a film.  He will, however, do anything for chocolate.  This is good over Easter.  And so,  Easter Sunday lunch with my boys and Alan and me went very well.  We discussed the tax implications of prostitution and whether it was an option in a general kind of way, if your benefits didn't cover your living costs.  Because we all smiled and ate and were very nice to each other, I consider my Easter Sunday lunch a rip roaring success.

Today, another lunch.  My mother joined us, and the potential for unusualness was once again there.  The food was excellent, Mother was appreciative, Alan carved and one son joined us with a black eye, and the other could not be roused from a mattress in the sitting room.  Everything OK?  I asked a very polite, nice but rather tired young man who seemed to have stayed over on the sofa.  Yeah, you know...he said, and shrugged, before gathering his coat and disappearing off home.

Still, we all had fun and later on when the son who could not be roused did appear, he seemed surprised that we had had our lunch and that much of the day had disappeared.  Never mind.  Mother, Alan and I left for a walk by the sea, through a garden full of the celebrating family of my Anxious Pole having a barbecue, and the day continues.

And so.

What I have come up with, having written this blog and thought about it, is that who I am is Antonia, and what I want to say, is that it is all fine.  It is going to have to cover all the sub identities, and sub what I want to say stuff.

All the talk about how one can be anything at all, anything that one wishes, is of no help right now because what the question asks is who are you now and what do you want to say now?

So now - who are you, and what do you want to say?

Dancing with my daughter at her wedding.   I am here artist, soul midwife, mother, nut case, floozy, all things making up Antonia.

This is who I am at the moment, and what I want to say is, for the moment, it is, absolutely, all taken care of.  It is all, fine.

See you, whoever you are, next month.  With love.


Sunday, 8 March 2015

Do not be Lovelorn when there are Hob Nobs, and Cyclamen in your Garden

The Lows

My house has been lovelorn this February.  Two of my lodgers plus Giant Boy, despite filling up on protein shakes with names like Napalm and BlokeStuff and working out with dumbbells, have had their marching orders from their girlfriends.  It is not enough to be hench it seems, it is not enough to be mean and moody and aiming for fabulous abs.  Something for their girlfriends was missing, and the boys were dismissed one after the other.  Being tough and able to lift heavy weights didn't work when it came to emotions.  My heart went out to these youngsters, as first one got his marching orders from the girlfriend's new boyfriend (drama), then another got a goodbye text (painful) and the third was summonsed to hear the goodbyes personally (traumatic).  There were sad, unhappy tears and I sat on my hands so as not to do any creepy stuff like hugging.  Everyone cries, I said, it's what we humans do when we are sad. They tried to say that no, it was fine and they weren't crying, but they were. It was quite a month, for breakups.  By the third breakup, the other two lads were able to help and within a few days, all three were out on the town.  It is a measure of youth, that they were able to delete their girlfriends from Facebook, pat each other on the back, buy a bottle of Vodka and move swiftly on.  And so, tonight, Giant Boy is out with friends, and the other two lodgers are wearing new hair mousse and are deciding that being footloose and fancy free is not so very bad.  However, I know that in the more sober and still moments, all those girlfriends are missed terribly.

The Highs

And in a wonderfully ironic contrast, March began with Fancy Girl getting married.

Fancy Girl and her new husband Tiny Mike (who is very very tall and big) just married.  Fancy Girl is about 6'1" here and Tiny Mike is about 6'4".  
On the 1 March, the very first day of the month, my darling daughter married the man of her dreams. Tiny Mike is a gentle, kind, sweet, funny and strong minded fellow. Yes, it was the most perfect wedding, and oh the dress was beautiful.  Oh the bride was - is - beautiful!  My part in the wedding was to say Yes all the time to everything.  It was a good thing to do, and it enabled things to get done and it stopped any difficulties (my end) from developing.  Can I collect Eileen Rafferty, photographer extraordinaire and Fancy Girl's Godmother from Heathrow at 5.45am on Friday?  Yes!  Can all the bridesmaids come and stay forever and can we make all the bunting, road signs, plans, bits, pieces and will you do the order of service? Yes!  And can we eat a lot?  Yes!  Can you go back and forth collecting and delivering over long distances?  Yes!  After the wedding on Sunday can lots of people come and stay here?  Yes!  And will you feed them?  Yes!

The morning after and Giant Boy cuddling up to Cousin Will who is by far the more seasoned party goer. Will here put himself in the recovery position under the piano for the rest of the day.  The man is an artist.

I put all things on hold for the last week of February, and had the pleasure of Fancy Girl coming to stay here with me on her own to get the final things done.  A special time with my most beautiful and amazing daughter, who had worked so hard to get the wedding as she wanted it.  Tiny Mike, clever fellow, was very unconcerned, all he wanted was to get married and have no fuss.  Up to you, my dear, he said.  It was a lovely time, having her to stay; the end of an era.  I remember Fancy Girl being a tiny wee thing, in love with all the Disney Princesses.  From an early age she wanted to wear marry dresses, and thanks to her doting father, while he was around, she had them.  She liked to sleep with me at nights too, and so from the word go, for a treat, she would get into mummy's bed and sleep next to me, with her chubby little arms flung across my face.  She loved tea in pretty cups, and jam sandwiches cut up into tiny squares on a pretty plate, and at all times she knew exactly what she wanted.  For this final week before the wedding, she slept next to me again, and we had breakfasts together in bed on pretty trays in the morning.  We spent time in the studio making lists of things, and creating, making and organising.  My little girl would be changing her name on Sunday, and in the best possible way, leaving me behind.  So our week together has been what memories are made of.  I will have that week for ever in my mind, before she changed into the most beautiful of all the Disney Princesses, and married a good and honest Prince.  Now, as Mrs Fancy Girl, she has taken on a new life, and is where she always wanted to be.

And so.  Eileen is back from Tanzania and staying with me for a couple of weeks.  She has come home to be the wedding photographer, and it is just lovely to have her here.  Slowly, this week, I have been tidying and cleaning my house and studio.  With two weeks off, one week before the wedding and one week after to recover and reclaim my house, I have forgotten what it is to work.  Part of this week's tidying and repossessing my house was to enable me to list again all the projects and painting work that I have to do. By Thursday I had remembered what I was doing and by Friday I had earned the right to buy a packet of chocolate hob nobs and eat the lot in one sitting.  That was my reward.  Eileen made me buy two packets so I could share one with visiting friends and have the second all for myself without complications.  Eileen thinks ahead, she knows her stuff.

The plan for this month's work is as follows

You are all welcome to come along.  It helps to bring hob nobs.  It will make me love you even more.

  • Saturday 28 March the Dying to Know event in Bournemouth.  A Graceful Death will be there and Fr Dominic's portrait will be shown publicly for the first time.  Dying to Know is organised by my dear soul midwife friend and colleague Mandy Preece and her team.


  • Friday 20 March the Conversations at the End of Life, Finding Time to Think in our Busy World will be held in St Paul's Arts Centre from 2pm to 4pm. Gill and I will host this with our usual tea and cake and gentle guided conversation about ANY aspect of death and dying that you want to address.



  • Saturday 14 March "Spirit of Living and Dying" workshop at the Hamblin Trust in Bosham, Chichester - this workshop will also be held at Angelica's Health and Wellbeing, at the Windmill in Barnham on 12 April.



  • Life Board workshops at the Bognor Business Hub every Monday in association with Create Bognor CiC - all are welcome.  Much chatting, expressing and creating.  See what it tells you about yourself.  This workshop is a gentle and insightful way of seeing how you are feeling.  Good too for the sheer fun of creating and expressing, and there is, as ever, cake.  Hob nobs.  



And finally

The sun has been shining these last few days, and everyone in Bognor put on teeshirts and shorts.  It is as if sunlight equals temperature raise, and despite the cold, there were happy faces in the town.  I was one of the happy faces, with my hat and coat still on.  Spring is coming, and the days are getting longer.  Giant Boy and I have decided to cycle to the swimming pool on our bikes, swim, and cycle home again, but we can't quite find corresponding times in our schedules to do it, and so it remains a jolly good idea that we will do at some point, almost certainly perhaps.  The light is brighter, and I can see in the studio much better.  I have talks and workshops and presentations to prepare over the next few months, and because the days are longer, and there are daffodils and cyclamen in my garden, I think it will all be fine, all be perfectly alright, and even if I speak rubbish, everyone will be nice about it.  I spoke at International Womens' Day yesterday in Bognor.  I spoke about soul midwifery to end the day long event, and had the pleasure of addressing some very interesting ladies.  The talk is not always easy to listen to if you are nervous about the end of life, or you are bereaved.  But the subject of end of life is so important to address - and the point of telling you this is that the talk that I had prepared was not the one I actually did, I found myself doing something completely different and surprising myself considerably.  I don't think I said anything controversial, I don't think I said anything that wasn't accurate, but I did surprise myself and probably everyone else there too.  But the point is, everyone was very nice!  Was that because the sun is shining and there are daffodils and cyclamen in my garden? 

The soul midwife talk for International Womens' Day yesterday. Do you think anyone looks surprised?  Do you think I look surprised?  
Enjoy the brightness of the light this March, and have a lovely month.  I hope my household is full of love again by April and that Giant Boy and I do manage to do some cycling and swimming.  Maybe definitely.  Perhaps.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Busy as Heck and doing The Work

Introduction. The Busy Life.

Recently I have, with great seriousness, said Yes to absolutely everything that has come my way.  I have found to my delight that I am nicely full to bursting with things to do, places to go, and people to meet.  There are four main categories of things that I am saying a resounding Yes to.  They are
  1. Paintings, private commissions
  2. A Graceful Death Exhibitions
  3. Conversations about the End of Life, Finding Time to Think in our Busy World
  4. Workshops and Talks
That's five really.

Add to that 
  1. Soul Midwife outreach work
  2. Housework
  3. Feeding Giant Boy
  4. Feeding Giant Boy's friends who have romantic bust ups
  5. Hospice
  6. Tidying up Giant Boy's weights
  7. Tidying up the lodgers after Giant Boy's weight training sessions
  8. Saying Yes to everything Fancy Girl asks for her wedding next month. I can't remember half of what I have agreed to but am sure she will remind me.  It's better this way.
  9. Painting my toenails
  10. Failing, spectacularly and continuously, to have an early night. 
Before Christmas I drew a huge diagram on a whiteboard with many different coloured pens to try and see where I am now, and where I want to be.  It was good to see how what was in my head looked when it was out on a whiteboard.  Much of it was ideas, hopes and plans. There were arrows linking the ideas to each other.  It was filled with possibility.  I was impressed with what I wanted to do, and what I was already doing and felt that with some help, I could rule the world.

Maybe it was the act of externalising these plans and thoughts that created a magical pathway to all manner of people who woke up after Christmas with an inexplicable passion to find amongst other things, an artist, somewhere, somehow, that has painted dying people and interviewed them. Or to find someone who could talk about this Soul Midwifery lark.  Someone else woke up longing to go to an interactive workshop that looked at facing one's mortality in order to understand the need to really live, and a whole host of other people began to long to sit down somewhere with some fabulous cake and chat amongst themselves about the end of life.  But none of them knew how!  Or where!  Or who!  All those little arrows and diagrams on my white board must have emitted a magical allure to these people who woke with mysterious and barely articulated desires for all the things I wanted to offer, and one thing led to another, and lo.  I am busy as heck doing it all.

Fabulous.  And so I have re-jigged my whiteboard and have rubbed out the question marks beside the projects that had not, at that time, materialised.  Now, there are bookings, and events, and confirmations, all underlined and with hefty full stops after them, signifying definiteness.  I have had to buckle down and write some plans.  And get my easels out and line up the paintings.  And think about deadlines and what to do first.

First.  In the Studio.

Father Dom is first.  Father Dominic is my youngest brother, and a Catholic priest.  His world was turned upside down by his stage four bowel cancer over a year ago, though he is now living with the treatment and the cancer and doing very well.  I have started and abandoned his portrait three times now.  The first time, he looked like a small Spaniard.  Nothing wrong with small Spaniards, but Dom is a tall Brit.  Second time, he looked like Dobbie from Harry Potter.  I stopped painting him then and began to think I was not going to be able to do it.  But this weekend, I decided it was time to just do it.  Yesterday, Sunday, I spent a day in the studio enjoying the painting, and it has begun to form just as it should.  Dominic, my youngest brother, is taking form and looking back at me.  Tomorrow I am having lunch with him in his home in Dorking, and we will go over the interview I have done with him.  One of the things I admire about Fr Dominic is his honesty to face his fears and the darkness when it comes.  He is articulate and open, which is one of the things I want to capture for his part in the A Graceful Death exhibition.

Second, the A Graceful Death Exhibition

will be taking part in the Dying To Know event below.

We will have the Meridian TV team with us filming Fred and the event which is a real bonus. Must remember to wear my twinkly nail varnish.
This event is organised and put together by my dear friend and colleague Mandy Preece, Soul Midwife Extraordinaire, and her team.  You are right in thinking there will be a good many Soul Midwives there.  There will. There will be a million of us. Do come, take part - meet us all, talk to us, discover new things from the many exhibitors, learn about what is available for funeral planning, end of life services, meet representatives from local hospices, and see the A Graceful Death exhibition.  I will be chairing a panel of experts in the afternoon, talking and answering questions from their professional and personal points of view.  And I believe Mandy has a band organised for the finale of the day.  I believe too that Canon John Hyde from this church, and his team, will be providing bacon sandwiches in the morning.  Why stay away?

The portrait of Father Dominic Rolls will be showing for the first time at this event.  Come and see him, and meet all the other sitters who have shared with us their image and story, in order that we may know what dying means to them.

A Graceful Death will also be showing in Maidstone during Dying Matters Awareness week this May, with the Macmillan Cancer Support West Kent.  This will be confirmed and I will let you know when the details have been agreed.  (AGD will you come?  Yes!  Agreed.)

I am also planning a big AGD in Chichester in November.  I am waiting to see if the venue I want is free.  Fingers crossed.

Third.  Painting Commissions.  Back to the Studio

And here, I have three things to complete,

  • The Daisy books.  I am producing illustrations for this series of books for children, and have nine paintings for the first book to do in the next few weeks.  Bring it on. 
  • Jesus on the Tube.  For a very nice couple who live abroad.  I can do it.
  • A painting with the twelve months painted and decorated appropriately in twelve little sections.  Yes, let's do it.
Fourth.  Talks, Workshops and Conversations.

  • Talks.  At the Sussex Dowsing Society on 10 May, I will be talking about Soul Midwifery and A Graceful Death.  This is confirmed but the publicity has yet to be done for it.  Secretly, I know how to dowse.  My dear old mother taught me, and she still uses it for such things from telling her if food is off in the fridge, to telling her I need an early night.  When we were children Mother used to dowse everything, including us.  She taught us how to do it and for a while I thought it was magic, and even used it to see which television programmes I should watch.  I may get mother to dowse the venue in Chichester where I want to hold the AGD exhibition in November.  Yes! she will say, and they will have to listen, or she will dowse all their secrets out of them. 
  • Workshops. My colleague Gill Lake and I are holding workshops called the Spirit of Living and Dying.  These are interactive workshops from 10am to 4pm where we look at how facing our mortality can give us the key to living with passion and joy.  The first one is at the Hamblin Trust in Bosham on March 14 (keep an eye out for that, they will advertise it nearer the time), and the second is at Angelica Alternative and Holistic Health in Barnham on 12 April.  Here is a link to the Angelica workshop to see a bit more, and to book tickets if you would like to come. Tickets are £40 per person.
  • Conversations.  Oh these are going so well.  The next one is in Bognor and is combined with a Life Board Workshop.  I am so grateful for the help and support of my dear friend Vicky Hulatt and her Create Bognor CiC as it is her workspace that Gill and I are using to hold this day.  The poster below says it all -

After chatting about end of life matters, it will be great to spend time expressing how you feel with a Life Board workshop.  Much chatting and cutting and sticking.  And Gill's cakes, worth coming to eat Gill's cakes.  
And the next "Conversations about the End of Life, Finding Time to Think in Our Busy World" solo session is on the 20 March at St Paul's Art Centre in Worthing from 1.30 to 4.30.  Gill's bringing her cakes.  You know what to do.


Finale.  The Work.

The work that I do is all about people.  It is called, in my mind, The Work.  People are my work.  I raise awareness about end of life and I sit with the dying, and I talk to families who are in the midst of losing someone.  But it doesn't stop there.  I meet people all the time, all manner of people, all of the time and with each person comes the possibility of an awareness of the finite time we have in which to live.  And there is the key.  In which to live.  The Work is not just about talking about dying, about death, it is about choosing to live because you understand that you can.  You can live, you can see your days as yours, and precious, because they are finite and your responsibility, and the fact that you will die gives you the impetus to see this life of yours as the most important and honourable gift in the entire universe.  It is yours!  So find your joy, and live. 

There are many times when I don't do what I have planned on my precious white boards, because people come my way and The Work must be done.  It is so simple. Each time a small light is lit in someone's heart, that they have faced the idea of mortality and can see how their life is their job, their responsibility, something to be taken seriously and noticed, an angel smiles in Heaven, and death is not in vain.

Nail Varnish

This is very important.  I have just painted my toe and fingernails with twinkly nail varnish.  I have had two things to do for a while and have not done them.  One is the ironing, and the other is to paint my nails with glitter.  I will do the ironing tomorrow.

I couldn't resist the picture below.  Soul Midwives arriving to the Dying to Know event in Bournemouth.  Good night all, till March.

These are school girls from the 1920s who are probably smiling in Heaven and approve of this application of their innocent photo from so many years ago.