Saturday, 11 September 2021

The healing room. Making earrings in the sunshine.


Claire working on a piece of complicated jewellery loveliness

Ups and downs

I witness many stories.  It is what I do, whether through art, words, image or presence, I witness lives, livings and sometimes, dyings. Though I have experienced my own fair share of stuff I do not know half of what other people have to deal with.  It is always surprising to see how other people deal with the lot that is dealt to them and how, when I think I would not manage to cope, they do.  And also sometimes, when I think I would cope, they do not.  There is so much tied up with living.  It is never a simple straight line, peacefully stretching without interruption from morning till night for ever and ever. Oh no, it is a bumpy, complex affair that can hold both peace and conflict at the same time if it wants, can defy our logic and reason. It shows us that we are also full of paradoxes, we are both simple and sophisticated, we are both full of wisdom and full of ignorance, we are up and we are down - and no matter how we try and control events, or go with the flow, life simply happens to us often and we struggle to explain how and why.

When things are going well, we think we have the answers.  This is how the world works, we say, this is the truth of things.  But when things go what we would call badly we are shaken, our certainties are challenged and we try and find answers to make sense of it.  We want reasons for why things happen, and often because we no longer feel in control we look outwards for where to put the blame. 


Mustn't grumble.
I live in a lovely home, with a garden that I call my favourite room in the house.  Now that my children are grown and live away from here, I wander with joy and surprise (at the silence and order, mainly) through the empty rooms and feel both utterly delighted to be able to do what I want, and a little guilty at the lack of sentimentality I have about being alone at last.  To put that into context, I raised my three children alone and without a leader (as Horace Rumpole says, the wonderful grumpy old barrister from John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey books. His first triumphant win as a young barrister defending the undefended was despite the lead barrister in court not being there.  Rumple won it alone and without a leader).  I had very little money, space, time or peace in those early days.  Now that I am older, and time has moved on, I can live in glorious solitude (mostly) in this lovely house in a way I could only have dreamt of at one time.  I love my life here.

My friends

My three close friends here live with cancer, the results of cancer surgery, and the uncertainty of living itself.  I have seen the effects of illness on their bodies and have watched the struggle to keep their minds from giving up. I have also seen their determination to live and live well, to find ways to get through, to laugh and look for the silver lining, while telling it like it is.  

The healing room

Before she began her chemo, my  friend Marie was visiting.  The sitting room here has doors that open onto the garden with its flowers and colours, and a big oak table covered in beads, threads, earring making wire and old necklaces to be dismantled and re used.  The sun pours through the garden doors in the afternoons, the big old bright pink sofa is covered in African print cushions, and the sound of the seagulls calling outside reminds us that the sea is just at the end of the road. It was Marie's idea to come and sit at the table when her chemo started, when the treatment for her cancer became difficult, and to make beautiful things with colourful beads in the sunshine.  We asked our friend Claire to join us.  Claire is finding her way back to strength and a place in the world after life changing surgery.  Her cancer treatment from ten years ago has left her vulnerable and physically changed, leading to her recent operation to have half her jaw removed.  So she joined us, and the healing room began. Though she is well now and working again, our friend Gill drops by, just for the love of it, bringing her warmth and wisdom and laughter.  Gill's cancer has also left her physically changed with disabilities for the last twenty years that may floor most of us, but that Gill works with, understands, and will not allow to define her.  

Marie and the box of hair

The healing room is not really called the healing room, but that is what it has become.  Once a week Marie, Claire and sometimes Gill, come to sit and eat, drink tea, play with beads, and create in the late summer sunshine.  It is a space to laugh, forget the difficulties of getting by, and also to talk of things both good and bad.  Each week, something is different.  Last week, Claire arrived with her hair dyed blue.  This week, Marie arrived in a turban with her hair in a wooden box.  She and her boyfriend had shaved it off now that the chemo was kicking in, and it was falling out by the handful.  Instead of making jewellery this week, Marie is going to make something with her hair.  What she ended up making was a false beard and eyebrows and made us all laugh.  But she is serious, and is aiming to make little figures with it.  Marie is a very extraordinary artist.  She will do it. And Gill?  Gill brings flowers, and cakes that she makes, and sits with us understanding all that Claire and Marie are saying.  It has been her story too. 


While Gill helps polish the silver (I know) Marie tries out her new hair-beard.

Later, when they have left, I think of their courage.  I think, how would I feel if I were dealing with a possibly life limiting illness?  Marie is beginning her treatment, and has a long path ahead.  She has only just recovered from heart surgery too.  How would I cope if my hair fell out? How would I cope with open heart surgery followed by chemo followed by another operation?  I am not sure.  I hope I do not have to.  Marie's energy is inspiring, and her beauty is wonderful.

I think of Claire who has more will to live, and to live well, than most people I know.  A tiny person, who has a feeding tube into her stomach, half her jaw missing, and a need to eat enough calories not go under seven stone and yet is as elegant, creative and beautiful as a model. Claire has sass.  There have been many tough days for her but she will not give in.  So it is no surprise that she turned up last week with blue hair.  Claire uses real silver for her earrings, and brings her own.  She can swallow but not well.  We give her tea in a teeny cup made for one of my grandchildren.  She manages half of it.

Gill loves the sea, the sky, the wind, the rain and the breeze in the air. She belongs in nature and swims in the sea all year round.  She is tall, slim, brown and free.  Life has been challenging for Gill and I know that she has made the choice to be better than much of what life has thrown at her.  Gill can't eat much either, she has no lower bowel after her cancer and an operation that left her in difficulties, but she does all that she can to live well and that living well includes loving all of us, and supporting us when we need it.  She dropped by the other day to have tea with Marie, Claire and me, before going off to swim in the sea again, and because she is Gill, she brought us home made cakes and flowers from her garden.

And so -

This is how our healing room looks then at the moment. It seems to have created itself, and we are all a part of it.  What seems to work for all of us is the fun, the creativity, and the forgetting of the world out there, unless we want to remember it, in which case we do.  

There's a big world out there.  It is full of people who find pockets of light in difficult times.  For as long as it lasts - our healing room seems to have created itself when the need was there - there is a pocket of light for my friends and me, here with the beads, the garden, the light and the cups of tea and Gill's cake, with the unspoken gathering of people who do not give up and do not give in, and who want to let go for a while in good company together.


Claire me and Marie.

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