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Monday, 14 October 2019

Whirligig mind and Buddhist mind

I pretend I have a Buddhist type mind.  I think it is evident if I present as calm and unruffled by life.  All that I have read about Buddhism makes perfect sense, and I tend to agree with it by feeling satisfied that actually, I already do that.  Whatever deep and meaningful books I read, I find myself thinking, well, lucky for me that I don't have to do any of that. I do it already.  I am actually, I think, a bit fab.  I like how advanced I am, I am lucky to be so wise and calm and perceptive.  I am lucky to be able to understand the energy follows thought kind of thing.  It is a very nice place to be.

What is more accurate is that I have a whirligig mind, wrapped up in some comforting distractions that I have lifted from very worthy and good books, and used to prevent myself from noticing I am not really that advanced nor Buddhist.  It takes a while to create the belief that one is safe in one's mind, and that it is comfortable in there.  It is comfortable thinking the things we think, and knowing the things we know, and having our views sorted enough for us to not be too challenged.  It is entirely understandable, it is inevitable, that we should create our safe space in our minds, because we have to live with ourselves, and make sense of the world.  At the same time, we are called upon to cope with things that we can't quite understand like love, and violence, and news stories, and other people, and why if we know it isn't good for us, do we still bulk buy ice cream and pot noodles?

So I have created an illusion of a Buddhist mind.  For myself.  I can do my projects, write my articles, rush about like a whirligig, all the while believing I am not rushing about.  I have it sussed, I say.

The whirligig mind does the following. It is unable to say no to ideas, it is as excited about the idea it has just had as about the project already in hand, and going well.  It doesn't give one idea time to sink in and start to work before the next four pop up and are given exactly the same amount of attention, even if they are (possibly) really silly.  It thinks it can start things off, and watch them hurtle about like spinning tops, and that somehow it will all be fine.  A whirligig mind agrees to do things despite already doing things, as if time will somehow become elastic and stretch to accommodate the new plans, and nothing will suffer.  When eventually, a whirligig feels they are run ragged, they get despondent and a bit sad, and feel a failure.  All the spinning tops are off out there careering about, some doing well perhaps, but most losing speed and crashing into each other.  "Oh dear", says the whirligig mind, " I tried so hard, nothing is working, I am so useless", and their friends give them hugs and say, that, perhaps they are doing too much.

"Too much!" says the whirligig, "Nonsense! This is just the beginning!" Whirligigs do not listen.

But in their quiet moments, they think that perhaps they are doing too much, and because they lack discernment and boundaries, they have no idea what to stop and what to continue.  So they may get back out there and carry on with all their ideas despite feeling dispirited, or they may disown the lot of them.  That is when they really do bulk buy ice cream and pot noodles.  They need a treat.

What is to be done. A personal take.

It is unlikely that we whirligigs will slow down and take stock unless life gives us a shove.  I was given a knockout in late summer this year, after which I was required to look around me at my choices, and to unravel them.  The ambition I had for a particular project had blinkered me to the consequences, I was on a roll, it was all going to be fine.  I was in control! And I so wanted to do this project.  It was personal. 

Of course I went ahead with the project.  Things were not going well, but the show must go on.  There was too much invested in it to stop and besides - what would people think? So we did it.  And far from being delighted with it, I was ashamed of the difficulties I had stirred up.  I don't think anyone knew, but I was shaken and challenged and found no peace.  When it was over, and everyone had gone home, I was left to think about what I had decided to do, and what I had allowed to happen. I was now required to look at what was real. 

It was very hard.  My whirligig mind had nothing to distract it.  I was involved with so many different things, I had given my time and focus to whatever came my way and now I had no desire to do any of it.  I needed to think.  This Buddhist mind business was a bit of a sham, I began to see.  I was no calm, detached, wise and illusion free person, I was an over busy, over committed, superficial jack of all trades.  "Time to stop", said my friends, and for once, I listened.  Things had become so difficult, I was really out of my depth, and I wanted to think and be alone.  I cancelled everything and went to bed.

In my dressing gown, from the sofa, in the middle of the day a long while later, I began a time of reflection and understanding.  Over the weeks, this is what I came up with and bear in mind, this is just a few  -

  1. I do not disappear into a puff of smoke because I stop.  I am still here.  A whirligig tends to think that the only thing that makes them real is doing things.  Hundreds of things.
  2. Be truthful. "At the end of the day," a dear friend said,"people decide how they behave".  And that includes me.
  3. I am not indispensable.  No one needs me.  Things happen without me.
  4. This project cannot continue.  I can start again with the same subject in a different way.  I must let this one go.  I must accept this did not work. And I got it wrong.
  5. In order to really take notice of my own mind, and what it is creating, I must close down the things that are really not working.  There are a good few.  It is dawning on me that I am very very tired. Emotionally, physically and spiritually.
  6. I don't want to be a whirligig any more.  
So I have taken my metaphorical phone off the hook, and am having what I call a sabbatical until 2020.  I am seeing what plans I have that are authentic, and well thought through, and sticking with only one or two.  Maybe three.  Or four.  I could do ten ..... (and breathe).  And I am not doing anything now.  I am thinking about them and planning them only.

However.  I am still busy.  But not that busy.  Remember, I say to myself as I start to fill in my diary - plan times to just do nothing.  It is so hard to just do nothing.  But persevering with it is a lesson in time, the passing of time.  It is a lesson in the decluttering of one's thoughts.  It is a lesson in realising you exist.  Simply, and wonderfully, just as you and you exist.  I had forgotten how to have fun.  I had forgotten how to daydream.  I had forgotten how to read all afternoon, how to watch the light change as the day ends or begins and I had totally forgotten how time will never come back, and to experience it passing is sometimes a luxury we don't allow ourselves.  To a whirligig, time is terrifying.  It is evidence that you haven't done enough, become enough, achieved enough.  A whirligig forgets that we have to be as well as do.

So.  How are you now?

Getting good at sitting down.  I have little insights into what I want to do, and I have long ponderings about what I don't want to do.  I get excited about new plans now that I am a recovering whirligig and then I remember, plan only one (or two) things at a time and do them well.  Yesterday I had a brain wave.  I will do a new one woman show.  It will be easy.  Now that I have stopped all my previous projects I have more time.  I know, I thought, I will call my friend Deb and she will help and we can get this sorted by May and she can put it on in Southampton.  Then I remembered.  I already have a project to plan and think about (just the one) and I am not doing this kind of whirligig thing any more.  It was really hard to let it go but I managed with a packet of biscuits.  I was on my super comfy sofa, the fairy lights were lit and it was raining outside.  I began to think, do I really want to fuss about again, and chase spinning tops?  Mostly, no.  But a bit yes. 

In conclusion 

After Gertrude Stein's A rose is a rose is a rose.
The two plans that I am allowed to have are -

  • The Addicts and Those That Love Them project 

  • My book I am finishing by Christmas

  • Loss Conversations I hold with my dear friend Gill - every second Wednesday in Bognor.

Damn.  That's three.  Damn.

To subscribe to my newsletter, with news of projects I am THINKING about go to my website and subscribe in the pop up box.  You will be glad you did.  So will I.  Thank you.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Addicts and Those Who Love Them. Part 2 - Love.

The Love Bit.

Love is what we aim for, but loving the lovable is easy.  The test is, how can you love the unlovable?

Words from the Brighter the Light
exhibition, partying drugs
and addiction
How can we unpack this business of love.  In this context, loving someone who is monstrous with addiction, is an idea too far.  It depends too on who you are, who your addict is, and what your relationship is.  For example, a thin, ragged, pale and dirty young man asked an underground train carriage that I was in, in Central London, for some change so he could go to a hostel for the night.  I beckoned him over to me, asked for his name - Steven - and I gave him money.  Bless you, I said.  We all knew in the carriage that it was going straight to a dealer.  I got some pretty annoyed looks from the other passengers, but I do not believe any of us can even begin to understand how bad Steven's life is.  The act of giving him some money is all I can do.  What he does with it is none of my business, that is judgement, and no addict has a better life than any of us in that underground train.  The Bless you came without thinking; this young man could have been my own son.  Could have been any of our sons. I would want someone to ask my son his name, bless him and give him the money he asked for.

I loved that young man despite never having seen him before, and still find myself sending him love from time to time.  Here is the rub.  I can love that young Steven all I want, because I have nothing to do with him, I do not ever have to deal with him, and I can project any manner of blessings onto him, because my love for him is easy.  There are no consequences for me whatsoever.  In fact, if I am not careful, I can love myself a little too much for doing that, so I have to be careful.

From the Brighter the Light exhibition
Here is another example.  A mother I met, in her fifties, spoke of  her addicted son and herself as if they were all that were left, holding up against the blank indifference of the world outside.  "He's all I've got", she says.  "Everyone has given up on him, and everyone has given up on me."   But she hadn't given up on either of them.  Her son had been in prison many times, had a crazy addiction and deep underlying mental health issues, and when she could, she gave him space in her house.  Each time he trashed her house and was removed by the police, she knew it was the drugs and despite her despair and her fury, she continued to look out for him and argued with everyone who stood in her way.  She was angry, lost in a hopeless battle, alone, determined and not very lovable herself - but here is love in action. Classic co-dependency, you may say.  Yes, and I was impressed by the sheer power of this mother's love for her only son.  She was loving the unlovable.  She was wonderful.

Here are just some things we believe about love.

  1. We all need it.
  2. It's good for us.
  3. You have to be careful, it can hurt.
  4. You either do, or you don't, feel love.
  5. We can withdraw it if the going gets tough.
  6. It's conditional.  You show me first that you mean it, and I will show you I mean it.  
  7. It's conditional.  You behave badly, don't treat me well, I will stop loving you.
  8. If you don't deserve it, you won't get it.
  9. Unconditional love is for idiots.
  10. It's rare, and not for me.
Many of us base our idea of love on fear.  That there is not enough, that we can't have any, that it will be taken away.  The ten points above are from a place of fear, from a feeling that we are not enough.  We have to negotiate with the outside world, because we fear we lack the right, lack the equipment, to deserve love.  It is conditional, and if we do find it - love amongst friends, or lovers, or family, we can be so afraid of being unworthy that we sabotage it.  And then we are sad, and proven right.  Love is too hard, and hurts too much.  It can become all about power and control.

Here are some more things about love that we believe and hope are true.

  1. It feels wonderful!
  2. Someone, somewhere, will/does/can love us.
  3. It conquers all.
  4. It makes us look and feel gorgeous.
  5. It can take us by surprise.
  6. Sometimes we have no control over it.
  7. It is worth it!
  8. Love brings out the best in us, we learn forgiveness and kindness etc.
  9. It opens us up, we learn about ourselves.
  10. It is difficult to describe - it can make us weepy with happiness.  
It is said that love is not a noun, it is a verb.  One has to do it.  And one step further than that, one has to be it.  But what holds us back, trips us up time and time again, is ourselves.  We choose our love from the first ten points, from a place of fear and lack.  We long to believe that the second ten points are true, which sometimes - to our great surprise - they are.  Practising love, looking at love, living love, comes after we have taken time to work on loving ourselves - and it is work, because our social narrative tells us that self love is selfish and toxic.  Wrong.  We are confusing self love with narcissism and self absorption. Taking time to work on ourselves, to understand ourselves and get to know who we are, what we like and dislike, and really listen to ourselves may well make people challenge you, but maybe you are not willing to be so indispensable any more.  Maybe you, taking time to learn to love yourself, is offensive to some because you are stepping into your own power.  Well, go ahead.  Love is a paradox, both simple and complex, and well worth working on.  Imagine you really liked yourself, imagine you loved yourself - well!  Imagine being open to love in your life because you were strong in the love for yourself!  Not self absorption, not narcissism, not those things that isolate you and centre around power and control - but actually listening to your own needs, and giving yourself a bit of loving attention.  Wow.

Back to addicts and those that love them.  

From the Brighter the Light exhibition
Loving our addicts brings pain.  We are often lost in a nightmare world of collusion, fear, reaction and cover up.  We do not know how lost we are in an addiction world until, perhaps, we find help.  For ourselves.  And this is the hardest thing of all.  Our whole focus is centred on the fact that our addict needs help, and we who love them have tried so hard, only to have it trashed and used against us.  When we do, eventually, ask for help we are distressed to hear that we cannot help our addict unless they want to help themselves.  Oh but!  we say, my addict does want to stop!  They do want help!  But because we are there in the relationship to take the edge off things for them, the addict has no intention of getting help.  Saying these things keeps us in the loop where we are useful.  

Our notion of love has become twisted, toxic and harmful - mostly to ourselves.  Our addict has checked out long ago, their fix is their love.  The drink is their love.  Whatever.  We are lost, our addict is lost, and love does not work.  It does not even touch them.  What are we to do.  And now, we do not trust, care for, or understand love.  We certainly have none left to give, and even if we did, we would be so far down the list as to be no longer visible. 

Love does work.  But we need to reclaim it.  We need to reclaim it for ourselves. If, as they say in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous - but it works for all addictions) we are powerless over our addictions, then we are powerless over our addicts too.  We need to let them go.  We must learn to detach, and to detach with love.  How so, we say, if we do that, they will die.  We think, if we let go, we are the only thing between them and a bad death.  We learn, sometimes with relief, that we not only that we must let them go, but we can let them go.  And then we start to work on ourselves.  Our addicts will do what our addicts will do, drink, take drugs, and nothing will get in the way of that.

I learned, when I let my addict go, that I was not responsible for them.  I learned that their first love was their fix, not me or any other person.  I learned that my addict would need to reach their lowest point - rock bottom they call it - before anything could be done.  And I learned that by covering up for them, getting involved in their life, trying to rescue them all the time, I was delaying their ability to get so low that they could make a choice.  I was colluding, I was lost in a co dependent relationship, and I was not helping anyone.  Detach, I was told, but do it with love.  Always with love.  A wise lady said of her journey, that when her drunken husband fell out of bed yet again onto the hard floor, she understood that she does not have to break her own back trying to get him back into bed.  She was letting him begin to experience consequence.  She was detaching, but the love part, she said, was that she found a blanket to cover him on the floor.  

Loving ourselves when we love an addict, is the only way.  We need to be strong and we need to re-understand boundaries.  Our addict is destructive and it is reasonable to let them go, really go, off somewhere to continue to use or drink, without us.  It is both the hardest and saddest thing for us, but the relief that we don't have to live in that madness any more, is astonishing.  Because we love our addict, we need to be strong, wholesome, supported and boundaried.  They may never come back, but that is their choice.  And if they do, we have something to help us with their recovery - self love, self respect, boundaries, love and wisdom. 

A meeting had been arranged through a friend, I was going to see my addict.  My addict had reached their bottom, had managed to come off the drugs, and had asked for me.  For a while, I had refused.  I have been here before, I said to my friend.  I will not do it again.

No, said my friend.  I have spoken to them, this time it is different.  Please go.  In the end, I had reluctantly agreed. 

I had walked away, detached with love a year previously, and sought help to cope with what felt like the worst kind of betrayal.  The withdrawal of my love and support.  I learned about addiction and mental health, and I learned that I was not to blame.  I had understood finally that only my addict could decide what they were going to do, and that I needed to do the same for myself.  Love, or the lack of it, had nothing to do with what had happened.  My love was unconditional, but I needed to wise up, be strong, recover, get educated and let go in order to be of any service.  And I also had to prepare myself to receive that call, if it ever came and that it could come, that my addict was dead.  

I was very scared as I arrived at my addict's door. It was scruffy, as I remembered it, with damage from a forced entry some time ago on the wood, when the emergency services suspected an overdose. 

I knocked on the door.  I heard  shuffling inside and it opened slowly.  My addict stood, the gloom behind them filled old rubbish bags, flies swarming and dirt on every surface. The smell was awful.  My addict stood, thin, grey, unwashed, derelict and filthy.  Hello, I said, and my addict looked at me.  Despite the dirt, squalor and smell, their eyes were present.  You are back, I said quietly.  We can do this.  You are back.  Welcome. 

From the Brighter the Light exhibition

Monday, 16 September 2019

Addicts and Those Who Love Them. A new project.

The helplessness of a hand after passing out.  Charcoal and pastel on paper.
 I took a risk.  I created an exhibition of paintings and words about my experience of addiction and showed it in August.  I am not an addict, but someone close to me is, and I used their story to describe how it looked and felt to witness a downhill journey, to be helpless and hopeless and unable to intervene.  The exhibition looked excellent when hung, the paintings told the story of this one person's journey and though I say so myself, the artwork was very good.  Two friends, Marie and Michael, both of whom had experienced their own addictions, added their own artwork to mine, and I was grateful to have something from the horse's mouth, so to speak. 

Creating the artwork, writing the words, was hard to do.  It felt as if nothing could ever describe the bleakness of the world of addiction that I had seen.  I began to feel the same hopelessness in my studio while painting these images, as I had felt when actually there and watching the madness happen.  But my friends and I went ahead and showed our exhibition.  People were very interested and came along with their own stories, experiences and opinions.  There were many discussions and sometimes, I felt as if I were justifying myself for opening this subject up to scrutiny.  Of course it is unpleasant, and of course it is shocking, and I have no answers.  During the exhibition, I just wanted to say - Look!  This is what I saw, this is how it is, it is really like this.  The words I used to describe how I felt, they are real. 

And now, the exhibition is over and packed away and I am left wondering what to do next.  I have barely scratched the surface, there is so much to say and do.  As an artist, what is my response now? 

What I have not found a way to describe is the bleakness of an addict's life.  I am talking of the addict who has stopped being able to get by and fool people.  The addict who has lost family, friends, help, a place to live and all sense of perspective outside their drug use.  I saw how the addict has no reason to exist except to find the next hit to feel normal and if they don't get the hit, the suffering is indescribable.  In between the hits, the need to eat, sleep, wash, communicate is almost lost.  I watched the crazy mood swings from the agitated sometimes hysterical lows before the hit, to the stumbling semi conscious disconnection as the highs hit home.  I saw a brief stabilisation of the mood swings before the drug wore off and the agitation began again. 

Words from the first exhibition
Mostly, I had to accept that the person I knew had checked out a long time ago.  What had taken their place was a monster who would do anything, say anything, to get what they needed.  Sometimes the person I knew would be there underneath it all, and sometimes that person would ask for help.  It soon became clear that the monster was in control though, and any help offered would only be accepted if it could be used to get the drugs. 

The loneliness of this life, the degradation of this life, the squalor and dirt and crazy lack of self care, of hygiene, of self respect, the catastrophic lack of connection to reality and isolation from any love, kindness or consequence is difficult to describe.  Sometimes I visited this addict in their flat.  If they were able to answer the door, I'd go in.  If not, I'd go away.  Inside, every window was covered with filthy material, the darkness and gloom lit only by the television constantly on in the corner.  Underfoot, old food, cigarette buts, broken crockery, rubbish, detritus and medicine packets scrunched as we walked over them.  The grime and mould growing on the old food and washing up in the kitchen smelt almost as bad as the powerfully reeking rubbish bins overflowing onto the floor and walked around the room.  In the darkness, in the corner, sitting on a sofa covered by a blanket with dirt and burn holes from forgotten cigarettes, this addict would go over and over how bad their life was, and how no one would help and how they could not get their drug, how they needed it, how badly they were being treated, how it wasn't their fault and how everyone was conspiring to close off all avenues to get this drug.  Listening to this addict become more and more angry and agitated I knew from bitter experience that if I stayed too long, it would become my fault and I would become the focus of ways to accompany my addict and make people give them the drugs they needed to stay alive.  Once, though, before the agitation became manic and confrontational, I had to go and the addict started to cry quietly saying, don't go.  I'm so lonely.  It was heartbreaking to leave this traumatised and possessed person in such a state but I went, I knew how it would end, and the monster that lived in this addict would crash back into their brain, and I would be a target again.  The ranting about the unfairness of everything would lead into a wild and demented search for someone to give them the stuff they needed.

Detail from first exhibition. 
From a painting of  an overdose
Here is what else I need to find a way to describe in paint for the exhibition.  All the ranting, the unfairness, the paranoia, all the madness was true.  It was unfair, all avenues to help were being shut, it wasn't their fault, and there was a conspiracy to prevent them finding their fix. 

This was an addiction to prescription drugs, prescribed for years without anyone checking, the dosage increased when this addict said the current dose was no longer working.  When finally the addiction was noticed, the shutters came down, the dose was lowered and the medical profession withdrew support and eventually, withdrew the drug entirely.  Here is another thing I have learned.  You cannot reason with an addict, and you cannot punish an addict.  This is the point at which this addicts behaviour became extreme, out of control and distressing.  It was now total survival.  Whatever worked to get the drugs, worked.  There were no consequences, there was only what got the drugs.  The addict was barred from surgery after surgery.  Hospital after hospital refused to help, and written on this addicts records were notes not to believe them, not to help, not to get involved. 

I saw something of how we treat addiction.  I saw that there is nothing much in place for them, there is almost nowhere for them to go, there is not much understanding not much care and very little interest.  Addicts are today's equivalents of lepers of  times past. Monstrous, insane lepers that we cannot have in our midst.  And watching this catastrophic journey into a crazed, nightmarish stalemate, I am left with the question - what are we to do?  What on earth are we to do?  If an addict is on the streets, living a nightmare until they die and perhaps they want help but have no money to pay for anything, what do they do?  What is there then and there to help at that moment, what is in place?  I saw nothing at all to help the addict I knew.  This addict could not attend a meeting.  This addict could not think beyond the paranoid panic that his next fix could not be found.  This addict could not agree to anything, this addict would sell their mother's kidneys to get a fix.  This addict could not make a phone call to a helpline and wait for their call to be answered, if this addict had a phone it would be sold to get drugs.  If, however, you can pay for it, there is help.  There is rehab.  If you cannot pay for help, like so many who have no one and who hustle for money to keep their habit going, there seems to be a large black hole of nothing.  There seemed to be a complete societal and political lack of will to deal with the dirt and mental illness of out of control addiction.

Words from the August exhibition
It is all of the above that I want to describe in my next exhibition.  You see how hard it will be, but I am sure that I will do it.  One thing that I have decided, is to call the exhibition Addicts And Those Who Love Them.  I am taking time out now to work on this new exhibition.  The old one, that I showed in August this year, is too personal to the person whose story it tells. I don't think I want to do that now.  I want to open it up to other addicts and those that love them, and tell their stories.  But before that, before I start to paint, I want to understand more about addiction and what help is available.  I know nothing except what I observed during the journey of the addict that is close to me.  I want to know because another thing about addiction is, that it can happen to anyone.  You and me included.  Anyone.

Love is important, it is true.  Loving the lovable is easy.  Loving the unlovable is a nightmare.  What little experience I have of addiction tests this loving business to the limit.   

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Guilt about Doing Nothing.

Why do we feel guilt about doing nothing?  About sitting for a whole afternoon and having nothing to show for it?  Even potting plants in the garden is better than sitting on the sofa.  Even washing up, or making soda bread, or writing lists has something to show for the time spent on it.  But sitting on cushions, drinking tea and drifting online, or on my phone, or listening to my talking books, or all of them at once, has no results.  I can't tick them off a list.  I can't say to my friends, well - at least today I worked on a painting/made a big decision/spoke to someone important/cleaned behind the piano.  I have only the passing of time and the setting of the sun to tell me that the day is nearly over and I am still oblivious to the world outside.

Perhaps that is the point of the doing absolutely nothing.  Being oblivious of the world outside.  These days I need to disengage, and to find a nice place to go to inside my head.  I can be lost in someone else's world on YouTube, I can live vicariously through my talking books, I can skim along the surface of life by asking questions online like, why is Bognor called Bognor?   It is a relief to think - Oh now it is time to stop all this thinking and doing and organising and planning and so on, now is the time to sit down and opt out.

I do a great deal of opting out.  Now that I am a grandma, now that my role has moved on from mother, young person, artist on the move, I haven't the same calls on my time.  There isn't that frantic hustle and especially, there is less worry and more sleep.  This morning I realise that I spend a lot of time sleeping, or at least lying down, and that it is rare that anything disturbs me enough to stop it.  Our human nature gives us a wonderful and complex brain, and a mind that not only thinks of good things, but thinks of bad things too.  So sometimes I am disturbed by worries and feelings of unease, and that is all part of being alive. It doesn't make me get out of bed at night or feel I need to do anything till the morning.  My bed is very comfortable, my bedroom is beautiful, filled with lovely things and colours so that it is a pleasure to be in there.  I couldn't do that when I had young children.  They were all in my bed anyway, it was the only way we got any sleep.

So what about the guilt.  Oh that happens if I am drifting when I plan a day in the studio painting and I don't quite get there.  It happens when I sit down to be productive and all I can think of is baked potatoes with butter.  The awkward feeling of time running out and the hopelessness of ever achieving anything hits me when I put on my overalls, walk into the studio, and get caught up in my Instagram stories.  And then, before I know it, I have drifted off into that lovely state of mind where time passes, I am very content, and then aware that there is less time to work on my painting and it is all my fault.  Then, I remember how well everyone else seems to be doing, and I feel sad that I am now not one of them.  This morning, I could have been.  This afternoon, I am not.

I have been thinking about this difficulty of making time work for us, of our judgements about it, and how it is a mark of honour to have too little of it and a problem to have too much.  And when various spiritual teachers tell us that we are human beings, not a human doings, we get what they mean but we think - Oh but they don't understand. It's different for us, we say, things are different for us.  Perhaps, though, we have made time into a dreadful friend, a friend who bullies us and cannot be satisfied, and yet we love it.  And hate it.  And love to hate it.  Our difficulties with lack of time have, after all, helped us feel important and given us a currency by which we can judge our feelings of worth and belonging.  I accept that busyness is not going to stop, and busyness in itself is not a problem.  The problem is when it becomes a way to avoid facing ourselves and becomes an end in itself, like an addiction. I accept that it is great fun to be caught up in a whirligig of things to do, places to go, people to meet, deadlines to beat.  I know how wonderful it is when so much is happening and somehow nothing can succeed without us and there is that feeling of being indispensable.  It is intoxicating to not have time even to eat, to find the only way you can fit in your next client is the two minutes you set aside to get a sandwich for lunch.  It is a powerful pull to answer that call late at night, to check your emails in the early hours, to rush about and to be seen to rush about.  I have done it, it made me feel important and one of the gang.  I felt that if there was a film crew following me they would say Yes!  She's one of the players!  See, she is so busy and she is doing so much!  We can't keep up!

It's great fun. Until it is not.  Until it is not fun any more, and then, we do not know how to slow down, how to stop, and we do not know how the world will turn if we cannot go on.  It is personal.  We have failed.  We can't maintain this way of being, everyone else can (it seems) and we are on the road to oblivion and failure. There are many times we enter the dark night of the soul, and this may be one of them.  What, in my case, I did not do, was know who I was in the quiet moments.  I avoided the quiet moments because I felt I did not exist if I was not moving.

Too little time means we cannot stop to take stock and also gains us a perverse respect.  (Who is this successful indispensable person that other people need so much?  Who must have powers and talents that I, who have more time, must be lacking?)  Too little time is impossible to maintain. If there are free moments, they are filled at once, because that is all we know.  And then, there is that old guilt again, about doing nothing.  About having time to fill.  What does it mean?  What does it say about us?  What if, in the little bit of time that is sagging around us, someone else gets the prize and we were not quick enough?

Too much time is as bad as too little.  Too much of anything is unbalanced.  Perhaps, with too much time, we sink into what we fear and feel there is no point in doing anything anyway.  We fear we have no worth, we fear we are not enough when there are no distractions and no props. Too much or too little of anything is not good.

Up till only a few years ago, I was conflicted about who I was and what I wanted to be, rushing about trying to do and be it all.  Then, one after another, three of my closest people died and I was forced sit with myself in what felt like total emptiness for a long, long time.  I felt as if I had fallen off the edge of the known world, and had to begin again.  I sat still for days at a time watching the play of light on the wall opposite me as the day passed, doing nothing at all but looking at the changing light as it moved.  Somehow I survived, and life went on.  I had to look at who I thought I was, and who I thought I was not, and to begin the long slow process of getting to know myself as I really am.  There was no choice. I had abandoned the outside world and had shut myself off from everything.  What was left was, simply, me.  Sink or swim.  I understood that even the choice to sink could only take me so far down and until I was dead myself, there was still life.  And so, I began to choose life.

My focus is also on more tea.
My focus now is in creativity and healing work, and though that still feels like a lot, the relief is enormous.  I don't need to do all the other stuff any more (I can't remember what it was that I was so busy doing now.  I used to have ten ideas an hour, tried to implement all of them, and tumble into confusion and exhaustion all the time).  Healing and soul midwife work take a huge amount of energy and I accept that I need a lot of time to recover and recharge.  Painting time needs managing too, but the joy of being creative means we express it all the time anyway, in how we live - what we wear, how we cook, what we do with our surroundings. I build time for absolute nothing into my diary and sometimes, it works, sometimes it doesn't.  Of course, I still get caught up in the whirligigs, but I am aware that there must be recovery time or I will become loopy and my children will put me in the same care home as my father.

All this is a bit different to feeling guilty when I cannot prevent myself from spending a whole day gazing into the garden and thinking about doughnuts.  My guilt comes from having made a plan to do something, something work related, and yet having no power to make myself do it.  But writing this blog, and thinking about it all, I am struck by how therapeutic these drifty days are.  And even if I have four of them back to back, I am beginning to think that four drifty days are exactly what I need to be my most calm, grounded, prepared and focused for my end of life clients as a soul midwife, and an artist extraordinaire for my painting clients.  I like my own company now, after spending time with myself after my falling off the edge of the world; a very different set up to before, when nothing could convince me that I was not a total nut nut and no one could ever like me.

So back now to coping with guilt when time passes and nothing seems to be achieved. Well, I think I have to change my mind about it and enjoy it.  Life goes on whether I while away the days or not.  Somehow, things still get done.  And the joy of watching the grass grow, the light change on the wall, letting myself drift as the hours go by, is good for me.  Like now, it is nearly 11 am and I am in my pyjamas, I have a painting to finish and a soul midwife visit to do.  I can do that, all in good time, but right now, I want to watch the peonies bloom until it is time to get dressed and go.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Into the vacuum, comes fear.

For a while, I have been under a cloud.  The cloud was not black, it was dark grey, and it moved like mist so that I could never really see it.  I have resources, I am strong, I know how to look after myself but this cloud was clever,  It sidled up to me and wound itself around me with such subtlety that I can't remember when the light around me changed.  There was a heaviness now, and a quiet sense of doom.  There was a worry in my stomach that should not have been there.  I couldn't name the worry and the sense of things being badly wrong would not lift.

I knew the source of this cloud.  This dark grey mist.  I have met it before and I suspect I will meet it many times in the future.  But the sense of powerlessness this time seemed different.  I struggled to make sense of what this all meant, and in the middle of it, I could not articulate to myself what I was so afraid of, and how there seemed to be no way through this mist.

I formed a plan.  I told a friend, and she was supportive and understanding.  This plan felt impossible to do, and yet it had to be done.  I could see difficulties before it, during it and after it.  I could see that I may be unable to carry it out.  It worried me.  It had to be done, it had to be done this way.  If it was done this way, I would feel better.  I may be released from the cloud.

And then, last night, longing for some relief, I sat in a quiet chair, and asked someone, something, out there, for guidance.  I will meditate on this, I thought.  I meditated into blackness.  I meditated into nothing, and nothing happened.  It was as if the power of the dark grey mist had shut out the light and nothing I could do would find a way through it.  There is no hope, I said.

But when I woke this morning, something had shifted.  There was a decision to be made.  Perhaps I could make a choice.  What do I choose?  Do I choose the plan I felt could not be done, or do I choose something else?  If I choose something else, will it matter?  What would happen if I changed my mind?  And what if, instead of the consequences being dire, they were kinder, and less stressful?

I realised then that fear that was keeping the light away.  My plan, the mist, the cloud, the sense of doom, was a reaction to fear, the whole situation was the result of fear.  So if I changed my plan, changed my mind, what then?  Well - it didn't matter.  The plan would never have worked, it was fiercely dependent on me getting my own way despite everyone else.  I was afraid and it clouded my judgement.  

There is no judgement though, if I change my mind, make a different choice, see the way the fear was blocking my compassion.  When I saw that my fear was keeping me away from people, was causing me to forget their needs, was allowing me to create a story about them that was distorted - I chose to let go, to say to myself, it really doesn't matter - it really doesn't, this plan is causing distress and a better plan is to ask what would really work, and see the stress and the imagined consequences evaporate.  What can I do, I asked the people concerned, to help you?  I have changed my mind, I said, and we no longer have to follow this path.  The simplicity of the way forward was always there.  There is a new plan, and it is flexible, and I have survived.  Nothing happened.  Except peace and kindness have returned.

The cloud had gone tonight.  I am released and there is no problem.  There are difficulties, yes, but they are not a problem.  When I asked what I could do to help, the light came back, and the answer was simple.  I had forgotten to love.  I had forgotten to love them, and then myself.  Into that vacuum came fear.  From fear came wrong decisions, loneliness, disconnection and the forgetting that when love is the basis of all our choices, somehow, there is strength and there is connection. 

But I acknowledge that in order to remember this, I had to forget it.  It is the experience of forgetting and all that goes with it, that makes the remembering all the more profound.  The thing is, I may not have remembered and come to this understanding.  The miracle here is that I did remember, and I am very mindful of power and simplicity of this lesson.  

And so, this evening, I am sitting on my bed, with a supper I really wanted to eat, and the sun shining through my window.  I have a scented candle that makes me smile with pleasure, and a new talking book to listen to when I have finished this blog.  I am happy, and I am free.  The sun shone through my window on other evenings, I lit this scented candle yesterday, and I had another talking book before this one.  The difference tonight is that love has come back.  I have made a kind decision.  It is making the sun more lovely, the candle more scented, and my talking book more exciting.

I have a passion for steamed veg, butter and garlic.  Yum.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Which way to go?

Sitting on the Sofa

I look a bit dead myself here.  

The Soul Midwife Sofa opens on Monday the 6 May, at Waltham House Studios, Town Cross Avenue in Bognor Regis.  I will be at Waltham House every Monday for the Sofa.  In the meantime, I am leafleting and telling people all about it. There has been a lovely response with most people, but some have been suspicious and defensive.  One funeral parlour told me they were running their own business, and didn't see why they should support someone else's.  "We get bothered by all sorts of charities," they said.  I longed to creep back after dark to add in purple glitter Free Funerals for All.  Especially Charities.  to their shop sign.  Most people I speak to think it a really good idea.

It is a good idea. The simplicity will speak to anyone who is struggling in silence with a dying that makes no sense to them.  It will speak to people who have conflicting feelings, who are angry, who are confused, who just don't want to do this any more.  The Sofa will be there for those who have strange experiences accompanying someone in their dying - many of us have had these experiences.  Things that we can't explain and find difficult to articulate, and we really want to talk about them, to make sense of them.  The Soul Midwife Sofa will be there for those who have lost someone and need to find some gentle listening support - whether the loss is recent, or not recent.  Sometimes we are only aware of our bereavement long after it has happened, as if the time in between was protecting us until we are ready to feel it.  The Soul Midwife Sofa will be there for those who have to think about their own dying, death and endings.  It will be there to listen to and support all who come and sit on the sofa, to help work things out.  All of these things may take one session, they make take a hundred.  It is all up to you, whatever works for you is right.

Soul Midwifery and Healing

For me, Soul Midwifery is a state of mind.  It is an awareness of the ending of life and a willingness to journey with someone if they want it, and request it, as they do their dying.  It is a willingness to support families and friends with their own journeys with a dying loved one.  And here it begins to overlap with healing as I practice it.

A soul midwife and a healer cannot ever stop learning.  At some point, we made a decision to follow a certain path and put into practice what is in our hearts.  There follows a lifetime of learning, experiencing, questioning and deepening our understanding.  But before all else, we deepen our understanding of ourselves.  In this journey, we come first.  In all of our lives, we must put ourselves first.  I am no good to you if I have given away all my power, strength and patience.  If I believe that I am of no consequence and my life and experience has not only taught me that but confirmed it again and again, I cannot support you if you are frightened of dying alone in the night. I will not be strong enough.  If however, I get to know myself and take care to help myself survive the bad times as well as understanding the things that bring me joy and peace - if I give myself time and really listen to myself, I am more able to be there for you in the dark night of your fear of your dying.  I will call on my resources and I will know my limits and I will know how to recover my strength after the crisis has passed. Healing sessions hold space in this way too.  Giving Reiki, I listen to what your body and energy is telling me.  To do this effectively, I have to know my limits, to know where my energy ends and your energy begins and I must certainly be clear in my mind, body and emotions before I begin to work with you. I do this by practising self care as a constant in my life to the best of my ability at the time.  I say this because practising loving self care is absolutely fabulous in theory and both a mystery and a conundrum in practice   Before a Reiki session I prepare my own energy, and the energy of the room, the aim is to be calm, grounded and loving.  As with all of us, life sometimes throws up great mounds of nonsense for me to deal with.  I intend the work I do to be the best it possibly can be, even while having off days, getting things wrong and eating too much fried food.

My healing and soul midwife work is based on experience, energy work and a deepening love of
spiritual matters. The dying process is profound, and paradoxically, mundane.  We are all here for this one life.  We live, time passes equally for all of us.  It is the same for all of us.  But each of us has a will and capacity for decisions.  Our decisions, our choices, reflect back to us what we think of ourselves in the way we live and the people we live with.  Some of us are afraid, and we chose safety at all costs.  Some of us are anxious, and we seek protection at all costs.  Some of us are angry and we seek conflict, some of us are lazy and we look for ways to stay still, some of us are ignorant and some of us wear our ignorance as a badge of honour.

Some of us are curious and look for more.  Some of us want to grow, and look for answers, be magnificent and some of us are knocked about by life and make decisions to make something of ourselves - that can either be enlightening, or it can be at the expense of other people.

But we all die.  And during this lifetime, we live.

This business of dying and what to do about it

This business of dying brings us a great deal of fear.  We spend much of our lives keeping the thoughts of death at bay.  When we are young there is so much time.  The older we get the faster the years and weeks go by, and we are made painfully aware that at some point this will all end.  It will stop, we will stop, and that can give us such distress that we shoot off at a tangent to find distractions to stop this fear.  But time still passes.  Others die, even those we thought of as invincible come to the end, and we find it harder and harder to ignore that at some point, it will be our turn.  Oh but the fear of endings is profound.  Whatever we think we know about it, whatever beliefs and things we have worked out to explain death, none of us actually know.  Our greatest fear, those of us who fear this, is of extinction.  Nothingness, blackness and oblivion.  Before that, we fear pain - physical, mental, emotional, spiritual - and the slow realisation that we are losing our grip on what we hold most dear. which is our life, those we love, unfinished business, lack and loss.

This is what fear holds for us.  But many of us have seen death and dying in a different way.  We have also seen gentle deaths, courageous deaths, magical deaths and deaths that have been a release.  We have seen how those doing the dying may not be afraid, but are curious, accepting, welcoming.  We may have had our lives changed by witnessing a dying that was full of resolution and peace.  When we experience someone dying in this way it shows us how it can be done.  It removes a great deal of the fear.  It may be miraculous. Many of us have seen this happen.

My point is that we are mortal, and whatever we tell ourselves about this, whatever our beliefs and experiences, we will die and we will not know how, or when, and we do not know what will happen after we die.  It is healthy to contemplate our ending but not to the exclusion of our living.  Until we die, we are very much alive.  We live.  We live this one life, and so what are we going to do with this one life?  What we fear in dying is what we fear in life too.  Disconnection, loss, abandonment, pain, oblivion. And so, what do we do about it?

"Winnie".  A painting showing how one carer is training
 the other in the art of sitting in vigil with the dying.  Though the
title is of the lady in the bed, the focus is really between the two carers
as they sit with her.  I painted this for the A Graceful Death exhibition. 
We look inside and agree to enter into an honest relationship with ourselves.  We begin to ask ourselves Who am I?  What do I want? We decide to take stock, and we realise we must approach ourselves with gentle, cautious kindness because the chances are that we have been fairly horrid to ourselves up until now.  This time, when we ask ourselves who we really are, we take the time to listen to the reply.  If we have spent our lives blocking what we want and dismissing who we are, then we may not have anything to say in answer to these questions.  We are lost and can't answer them.  We have forgotten, if we had ever known at all.  This is where the decision to approach ourselves with gentle kindness and patience is essential - we will need time to feel safe even attempting to answer.  We will also need to listen without judgement to what hesitant answers we eventually whisper back to ourselves.  And then a journey of discovery begins.  We begin to remember what gives us meaning.  What we do not want.  Who we do not want.  We begin to question the stories that surround our lives - did we create them?  Or did someone else?  Do we agree with them?  Possibly we do not!  And what does that mean?  Courage to begin the move away from what is not for us, towards what is for us.  And here, despite feeling the release from old thinking patterns, beliefs and burdens, we will need real strength because moving away from one way of being towards another, brings with it its own, sometimes huge, battles.  But if we are digging deep, and connecting with what is real for us, then somehow we find a way.  We still encounter the disconnections, losses, abandonments, pains and, possibly, but we hope not too much, oblivions, but these are part of our journey now and we have taken back our power and we understand that they will pass, as all things pass.  As we build this relationship with ourselves we see that we can manage it somehow, and there is space for joy, love, fulfilment, laughter and pleasure too in our lives.  There is also a sense of purpose and meaning. Question your thinking.  It feels real, but is it true?

If we can accept our eventual death as a reality, we can then put it somewhere respectfully out of sight, so that we can live and live as well as we can, now. What matters is that we live and live with awareness, self knowledge and authenticity.  We can access this death thing when we need to, when it crosses our paths, and then respectfully put it away again.  When it is our time, well, we hope that by then we will have a better idea of who we are, and will be able to navigate our final journey with some peace and truly in our own way.

The way to go

I visited a client yesterday who had been given very little time to live quite suddenly, much less that he had expected.  He had to make decisions about where he was to die.  As I was leaving, he walked me along the hall to the door and said,

Which way is the best way to go?

Oh, I said, it's such a question for you to answer.  Here, or in the hospice, it seems you have had no time to think.

No, he replied, which door do you want to leave by.  The front door or the kitchen door.

Here is someone who is navigating his journey well.  We both fell about laughing and the visit, which had been very hard and emotional up till then, ended on a high.  I drove off with him laughing in his (front) doorway.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Soul Midwife Sofa. Not a Diva, or Mary Poppins, or Jesus.

The Soul Midwife Sofa

On  Monday 6 May I open a new service.  Based at Waltham House Studios, the new and emerging Arts and Wellbeing Centre here in Bognor Regis, I am starting the Soul Midwife Sofa.

This is what it is -

The Soul Midwife Sofa

A confidential holistic support and listening service for anyone facing the end of life, either their own or someone else’s.  

The dying process can be full of emotion, fear and sadness.  It can also include deep moments of healing and reconciliation.  Talking over our feelings, fears and asking questions can help us to face our journey, whatever it may be.

Antonia Rolls is a trained and experienced Soul Midwife with over ten years of experience.  Non-denominational and without judgement, she offers a safe and loving space for feelings, thoughts, questions and fears for all who are experiencing a death or a dying.

Call Antonia on 07787754123 to make an appointment.  £20 is required on booking to reserve your space.

Over the years, I have called myself a soul midwife, and at the same time I have wondered what on earth is a soul midwife.  It has taken a long time to work something out, it is a long and personal journey.  No two soul midwives are the same.  Here is what I think it is not -

  • A super hero.  A soul midwife cannot fly in through the open window and shoot rays of power from her fingers.  She can't zap baddies, whatever and whoever they may be, across the room and pin them against a wall 
  • An oracle.  A soul midwife can't tell the future though she may have an opinion based on observation and experience.  She has no mystical powers to foresee things, nor can she predict the date and time of a death. 
  • A Diva.  She won't want to make a grand entrance with her hand on her heart and an expression of pain and grief on her face.  She will not identify so deeply with her clients' pain that she needs to sit down and fan herself with a copy of this month's Saints Weekly.
  • Mary Poppins.  A soul midwife cannot come into a situation and magic it all better.  She cannot make the room tidy itself, pull medical equipment out of her bag, and sort everyone out
  • A push over.  She isn't able to take on everyone's negative emotions and make herself responsible.  She isn't there to take whatever is happening personally, and make herself ill.
  • Jesus.  A soul midwife can't make anyone better, can't heal anyone so that they get out of their beds and go for a run.  She also doesn't have a hot line to any deity, and can't work miracles.

I have been a bit of all of the above at some point or other over the last ten years, that is why I know it doesn't work.  That leaves what a soul midwife is.  She is, I am, aspiring to the following -

  • A listener.  A soul midwife listens deeply, carefully and attentively.  She listens with her ears and her heart.  Often what is being said is being conveyed without words.  A soul midwife learns to listen and keep herself out of the way, and really hear what is being said at as many levels as she can.
  • Boundaried.  Having porous boundaries creates confusion and resentment. A soul midwife will not want to become involved in another's pain if she can help it.  Her wise detachment will mean she is stronger in her support, and she will know it is not her story.  She knows her limits.
  • Compassionate.  A soul midwife is compassionate and practices empathy and patience.  She knows that the people she is working with will take this journey that they are on in their own way, and sometimes, they may be in great pain. She does not tell them to snap out of it, she engages her compassion and works from the heart.  Sometimes fear and distress make a client angry and confrontational.  She will work out how to deal with this with compassion and boundaries.
  • Healthy.  It takes energy to sit with clients, and a soul midwife will be aware of her own health and need to rest and live in her own world too.  She will try never to become a wet dish rag.
  • Honest.  Soul midwives can say that they don't know when they don't know the answers to questions.  She may be asked about how an illness is progressing, she may be asked about powers of attorney, she may be asked what happens after death.  She can say she doesn't know, and if it is appropriate to find out, she may help with that. A soul midwife is tactful, and if asked the question Am I going to die? by someone who is on their way out, she finds a way of answering truthfully and taking into account the client's ability to hear the truth.

A Thought on Energy and Light

Energy is all around us.  We feel the vibe when we walk in on someone's argument.  We know when we feel bad about someone we have just met, we know when we meet someone we connect with at once.  We both emit and receive energy, we bring with us our own energy and this affects all those we encounter in our day.  We are responsible for our own energy and if we are aware of this, and understand it, then we are aware of how we are affecting others around us.  In order to do this, we become more aware of ourselves.  Becoming aware of ourselves is, to me, the most important thing we can do.  Insights into ourselves lead to awarenesses of others.  How can I become truly aware of you if I have no insight into myself?  How can I maintain understandings of others if I do not understand myself?  It is like the instructions in the aeroplane about the oxygen masks.  Put your own on before you help your child. Look to yourself first before you can understand others.

If I meet a new client as a soul midwife, I must be very aware of my energy.  It must not get in the way, I must be calm and aware and kind.  In this way, my client is able to express themselves without hindrance. 

Light is beautiful.  I believe we all carry light, but it gets switched to low and sometimes switched to off.  Our light shines when we are happy, in love, excited, inspired, laughing with joy (as opposed to laughing at someone's mishap), kind, peaceful - and so on.  We are often so mean to ourselves, so critical and unkind, that our lights get very low.  And if I am good to you, the light inside us both flickers up a notch, and when we practice self awareness, we begin to understand how simple this business of looking for the light in ourselves and others is.

There is great healing in the light.  Sometimes, it is possible to simply be the light.  If I am meeting a new client who is very ill, who may be uncomfortable, and I am nervous of what I will find (and nervous that I will mess it all up and get it all wrong), the simplest way to find the light is to embody it.  So I become the light.  I don't shine like a sixty watt bulb, I don't walk a few inches off the ground, I don't short circuit the kettle and the television, all I do is let the light come in, take it into my body, and let it work through my energy.  It is so simple and so powerful, and like all these wonderful things, very much an ongoing process.


I am taking bookings now for the Soul Midwife Sofa, the holistic listening and support service for anyone experiencing their own or another's death, dying and grief journey.  I will be there on Mondays from the 6 May and if you think I may be of service, please get in touch.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Seeking our father inside his Alzheimer's, part two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ralph – 11 March 2019