Sunday 18 December 2016

On falling in love

Chapter One

I have decided to be in love.  There is someone I know well, but am not always very nice to, who could do with some attention.  To mark this rather revolutionary thought, I decided to cook a wonderful meal.

When our lives become difficult, when we face losses, setbacks, upheavals and sadnesses, there is one person to whom we tend to be unkind.  There is one person to whom we speak roughly, and for whom forgiveness and tolerance is slow in forming.  This person suffers terribly from not only the situation in which they find themselves, but from dismissal and lack of kindness from ourselves.  We judge them faulty and we refuse to give in.  This is the person I have asked to my dinner.

Antonia, meet Antonia.  She's an old friend, and someone you could really love.  In fact, falling in love with her is probably the best thing you could both do.

The person who could most do with our kindness, tolerance and forgiveness, is ourselves.

Sitting on my sofa, sitting on Alan's sofa, I decided to fall in love with myself.

The place where the love affair started

Chapter Two

Alan died eight weeks ago today.  We, his family and I, have had eight weeks without him and we are doing well.  I am doing well, I have given myself time off to rest and recover in Alan's house, and that is what I am doing.  I have a list of things to do, all of which are about not doing.  I'm not going out.  I'm not doing anything I don't want to do, I am not answering the phone and I am not ready to be involved in the world outside.  Most definitely I am not stinting on butter and cheese.

But living here, inside, time moves slowly.  I can do things like watching television, like making tea, like having a bath, these are good things and they are about recovery.  There are many excellent things I can do to make myself feel pampered and I can give in to all the things I want, so that I can please myself and take some of the hardness out of the fact that I am a widow.  So.  Mince pies are the answer.  I eat six and that was very nice and after they are finished, nothing much has changed.  Alan isn't coming home. Another six and I begin to doubt mince pies are the answer.  I don't look forward to them much now so perhaps they were only temporary.  The same with television, despite being able to watch back to back police car chase documentaries which I love.  After many days of this, hour after hour, my back hurts and I know how to be a cop, and still I have to turn off the television.  I still have to experience the silence after the show, I still have to walk from the sitting room to another room, and in that action, step back into the fact that I am here, on my own, and somehow this rest and recovery that I have wisely decided to do, is in fact nothing but long periods of nothingness.  I don't know what I should be doing, not really, except that I can do anything that I want.  What do I want?  Well, I want to feel less awful.

I can do my crying and I can feel huge gatherings of grief in my stomach.  I can speak to my family and friends and they are good and kind.  Sometimes I am so blinking angry with Alan for being such a difficult person when he was alive because now I can't do anything about it.  I can't go back and give him fantastic one line answers to make him gasp in admiration.  I can't go back and win, which would have made me feel much better at the time.  This makes me point my finger at his photo on the wall and tell him off.  He just smiles back at me, and so I stop and think, as usual, that didn't work.

Sometimes I remember just how kind he was and I am horrified at how I took it all for granted.  Sitting in his house with all his things, without him, I begin to understand how much he loved the view from the sitting room over the Sussex Downs.  I begin to understand how brilliant it is to spend a whole evening watching telly, which is what he loved to do and I hated.  I don't watch television and thought (until now) it wastes time, and so I huffed and puffed and did other more worthwhile things but he wasn't bothered.  I'm fine, he would say, and when you're ready come and watch this amazing programme with me.  Huff, I would say, I'm busy being productive,  I will give it some thought after this virtuous thing I am doing is done.  And now, I am doing the same thing as Alan did, on his very sofa, and loving it.  Damn, I say to myself with shame, I wish I had watched more tense TV dramas with him.  I understand it now.

Time passes whatever we do or don't do.  And I try to fill this time with healthy healing in an ordered and upbeat way, so that when this period of mourning is over, I get back into my former life to carry on older and wiser.  This is not how it happens though.  This time, this long slow time creeps into my days and nights and says to me, I am still here.  I am sitting with you always, and when you cannot fill me up, it all comes back to us, to you and me and silence.  Time is ticking away from the moment of Alan's death, time is what I have given myself to recover, and time is the thing I am trying to fill.

Little memory spot going upstairs.  Alan loved flowers.

Sitting in silence here, sitting in the time I can't fill, I think about all the things that Alan and I did, and didn't do.  I think about who I was when we met, and who I became.  I think about him, and how much I still don't know about him, I remember how marvelous he was. How much he taught me, how patient he was, how wise and insightful he could be.  I think about the unkind things he did too, and how I was so naive, about how I had to grow up and find inner strength.

Sitting in this silence when the police documentaries, the border control documentaries and the mince pies all have faded away, I think, there is someone I am avoiding.  To stop doing all this thinking, time filling, waiting and remembering means I come back to myself.  I am at the centre of all this and I am hoping not to get myself too involved.  And so, if I were to suddenly meet myself now, in this room on this sofa, what would I do?  I tried to imagined how I would feel if someone like me walked into the room and sat down next to me.  I was filled with sadness and compassion with this thought.  I was moved by how quiet and alone the figure that I had imagined looked.  In my mind, I thought, this is serious, and this person needs my attention.  In my mind, I thought, if this is me, I know what to do.

Taking imaginary Antonia's hands in mine, I say,

"I love you.  You poor thing, this is hard for you, sit down and tell me about yourself."

"At last, you really understand.  My chest is hurting, my eyes are sore and I cannot work this thing out. "

"Antonia, " I say, still holding my own hands, "let's spent time together.  We will consult ourselves and understand ourselves, after all, this whole time right now is about us.  Let us talk now, and after, I will cook us dinner.  Whatever we eat, it will involve butter and cheese."

Later, as I was preparing a candle lit meal for one, I decided that I was going to fall in love with myself.  I had invited myself to dinner, and this was a celebration of my love.

I am of course, one person.  To love myself is always the answer.  But I don't really know how.  Falling in love with myself seems a beautiful way to proceed.  It involves being aware of myself, listening to myself, taking care of myself as if I were precious and seeing myself as truly worthy.  It involves sitting in the silences and letting time just pass.  It involves taking time to know what is happening when all the distractions are done, and accepting it.

Watching the sun rise of a morning with candles and pot of tea.  

Of course, falling in love is the first stage.  When I am more used to myself and can see more of my flaws, when I annoy myself by forgetting to put the rubbish out, I will be in a more permanent relationship with myself.  I will have put in place the foundations, I hope, of a lasting effort to love and take care of myself.  But right now, taking myself in hand, asking myself if I am managing, is wonderful.  Here is a list of the things I have done with and for myself

  1. We have early nights.  I read a book on sleep recommended by Alan's son, and now I understand all about sleep.
  2. We have lovely evening meals.  We eat them in front of the telly which we turn off at the right time because now we have strict bedtimes.
  3. We bought ourselves the most expensive candle in the world from Neals Yard shops, and laughed in the face of caution.
  4. We get up early every morning and watch the dawn rise with candles. We wrap up on the sofa with a pot of tea, and think in the silence and feel calm.  We also light the most expensive candle from Neals Yard and tell ourselves that when it runs out, we will simply buy another.  That feels like freedom.
  5. We have discovered, thanks to my daughter and son in law, walking on the Sussex Downs.  We go there and laugh in the wind, and avoid the cows.   

On the Downs, cows probably avoiding me

   Chapter Three

Mum and me 
Over the last year and a half I have loved and lost my mother, my youngest brother and my husband. Each death leaves us changed and each dying leaves a legacy.  My mother's death left a legacy of love, my brother's death left a legacy of wisdom, and my husband's death left a legacy of magnificence.  I am in a place of recovery now, to think on the love, wisdom and magnificence of these three people.  They have not left me, and I understand that now.  Nine years ago, when my then partner Steve was dying, he used to say that he would never leave me.  This changed as his health deteriorated, to always being with me.  I was infuriated by this, what kind of talk was that?  I didn't want some airy fairy presence with me, I wanted a strong solid alive  person with arms and legs.  I couldn't bear that always be with me stuff. But I understand it now.  They are always with me, and it is comforting.
Dom and me

Now that they are all dead, and physically disappeared, it is a comfort to feel that somewhere in the back of my mind, somewhere in the silences, somewhere in the middle of a day or night, I get a feeling that they are in the room with me.  But here in this world, where I am still living, it seems it is not just a question of being quiet and taking time out.  Life does not stop because I have hidden from it.  The time that passes through this little place in which I hide, the silences settling here as I take time out, are powerful and revealing if I take myself by the hand, state my intention to learn to love myself better, and let time take over.  There is, in the end, after all, only love.
Alan and me