Islandmomma

Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


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A Philosophical Journey and a Mission Statement

When I was very young, we lived with my grandparents, in an old farmhouse. Time and neglect had criss-crossed my bedroom ceiling with chips and cracks, and lumps where repairs had been attempted. Lying in bed, I pretended these imperfections were rivers, roads and mountains. My wanderlust was born tracing those imaginary highways.

Life’s a journey, and by the time, like me, you reach 70, its map probably resembles that bedroom ceiling. It’s a mess of meanderings, dead ends, summits achieved and strategic retreats. My 10-year-old self never imagined, nor wanted, a perfectly boring, straight road; but in my head my future was a highway with crossroads, which took me in a new direction from time to time. Nevertheless, I always moved forward, and seldom was lost. I also never arrived at my final destination.

On Third Age Attitudes

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A while back, I changed the subtitle of this blog from “Life on a Small Island & Beyond” to “Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age.” Third Age is the phrase used in Spain to describe those of us who have left the rat race because of age. (I thought very careful about how to phrase that.) It sounds a whole lot better than “seniors/senior citizens,” “retirees/pensioners,” and especially better than saying “folk of an advanced age,” or even “elderly,” doesn’t it? The Oxford Dictionary describes it thus: “The period in life of ACTIVE retirement, following middle age.” The emphasis is mine.

See, I have met far too many people for whom retirement has meant giving up on real life, and becoming an observer, and, especially, a critic, of what is going on in the world, without any longer participating. It might be enjoyable, but, honestly, all of these folk were …. boring. They had no first-hand tales to tell, their stories were of queues at the bank, gossip about neighbors, or that ever-popular topic, the weather. Some of these folk still inhabited the world of their past glories, stuck in a time warp of big hair, prawn cocktails, and Tom Collinses.

Many of my friends are of this age demographic, but they spend their time in finding new challenges and adventures. They write books, travel the world (and I don’t mean from the comfort of a cruise ship); they paint and draw, run successful blogs (as opposed to this one which is not), do volunteer work. They walk, climb, dance, cycle, study, windsurf, take yoga and Pilates and tai chi classes, and learn new skills. Some continue their work, because they are passionate about what they do. Most of us weren’t that lucky, or were too foolish to have found passion in our work, of course. Some of them make decent money from their Third Age ventures, others find the rare satisfaction of accomplishing something they have dreamed of for decades.

What my friends have in common is that they have never lost their curiosity. They ask themselves, “How will that next wave feel?” or “I wonder what’s over the next hill?” “How can I share this wonderful experience I just had?” or “How do people from this or that country view the world?” They want to know how to make their own bread, hats, furniture or pottery. They grow their own food or flowers, or simply ask themselves “What if…” Many folk find joy in helping raise their grandchildren, having the time for them they never had for their own children, when putting bread on the table was the main goal in life. It’s a different journey for each of us. What they do not do is park themselves up in the sidings, waiting for the train that carries the Grim Reaper to hurtle into theirs.

All of which is a long way round of saying that I am going to be focusing more on that aspect in this blog in future. It doesn’t come all at once, this discovery of Third Age freedom, like most things worth doing, it’s a learning curve, and bound by the same peaks and troughs as earlier stages of life. The trouble may be that it’s easier to give up, to sink back into the relative certainty of the lifestyle a pension affords most of us. It also takes more effort. It’s so much easier to snooze the alarm rather than get out for an early walk; down one more beer, intending to eat healthy from tomorrow on; or give up on that book and flick on the TV instead. I know because this is what I sometimes do. Not always, often these days I rise to the challenge, sometimes I don’t, but one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me …… there is less and less time to do the stuff I want to do!

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Of course, Western society and attitudes encourage us to vegetate as the clock ticks. We may be exhausted from a lifetime of making ends meet, cowed by new technology, or coaxed into spending our pensions on new anti-wrinkles creams, exercise machines which don’t require us to move from our chairs (and that is no reflection on those who really cannot move from their chairs), or a new car, which remains, a status symbol, rarely used, sitting in our driveway.

Then, of course, there is the attitude of others, family, friends, the press, who subscribe to the conventional view of age. Family worry for us. Friends are afraid of being jealous if we do something which breaks the mold. I am indebted to a former friend, who, when I idly expressed a desire to get a tattoo when I was in my late 50s, said, “OMG but what will people think?” You miss the point, m’dear! Attaining age is attaining the freedom to “Not give a damn.”

The press view of anyone over 60 is that they are about to die. Even now, when the phrase Baby Boomer appears in the media daily, manufacturers and advertisers haven’t woken up to the fact that this segment of the population has spending power beyond false teeth adhesive and joint pain pacifiers, not that either of those things are unnecessary.

I am beyond lucky in the support I get from my sons, who encourage me to hike, write, travel, and keep fit in mind and body. I owe them a huge debt. I’m not there yet, but I am definitely on my way! You see ….. you never should stop travelling!

One of my heroes is Katherine Switzer, who broke the gender bias of the Boston Marathon back in 1967, when women were forbidden to participate. Just last week, at 70, she ran and finished the New York Marathon, now she’s breaking the taboos of age as well as gender! The oldest woman to place, by-the-way, was 84 years old, and the oldest man, 80. Switzer placed third in her age group. Although she won the New York Marathon in 1974, she doesn’t always win, but what she has done, since 1967 is inspire women, and now Third Agers. It ain’t, of course, the winning, but the taking part, and most of us are too afraid of failure, of being laughed at, or just too lazy to even try, or perhaps simply lack the confidence.  Check this if you think that finishing last is for fools.

I use marathon running as a metaphor, achieving something amazing can be anything you want to do, because you think you’re too old…..ask my friends how they felt when they saw their book cover, stood on the Great Wall of China, sold a painting or a photograph, got positive feedback  on their blog, or rode a wave.

On Being Fit for the Challenge

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Part of facing up to a challenge is being fit enough to do it, even if the fancy that haunts you isn’t a physical one, you do need to be fit to keep your grey matter healthy too; not to mention that life is simply easier if you keep those aches and pains at bay, and exercise and diet help that.

I had thought of starting a brand new blog on this subject, but since I am, and always will be, a student of this stuff and not a master, then it would be wrong to preach or try to teach about it. That said, over my last, two, non-blogging years I’ve learned and read much more about nutrition and keeping fit than at any time in my life. Honestly? I’ve always been kind of “fit enough.” I always had just enough willpower to reign in my eating when I began to bulge, and to exercise when I really needed to. Actually, I always enjoyed exercise, but what I didn’t do was to prioritize it enough. Now, as I said before, there is a gnawing awareness of time running out.

I definitely do not subscribe to the theory that one should eat the cake and drink the wine ad infinitum, because tomorrow we die. Sure I will eat cake and definitely will drink wine, and I will enjoy every crumb and sip, but not so much that it means that I will die tomorrow, as the day after tomorrow, or the day after that, because, heck, who knows what delights tomorrow holds? Seeing the aurora borealis or Victoria Falls, being out on the ocean at night where there is no light pollution to see the millions of stars and planets, are worth far more than that extra slice of pie, or the third bottle of beer.

So I might just be rambling on about food and drink, and exercise now, because I am sooooo fed up of people saying “can’t” or “shouldn’t” or even “why.” In that period I covered in recent blog posts, I twice stuck to a pretty rigid diet, and faithfully followed an exercise regime, because it was obvious that if I wanted to enjoy life, I needed to do so. And, yes, twice I have gradually given up on both. (Neither of those a first over a lifetime btw) Both times I have retained some of the information, gone overboard on Instagram with “healthy food” photos, or probably been so overenthusiastic that it couldn’t last. Rallying cry of we, Third Agers, might be “It’s never too late!”

The challenges we face are really no different than those we have always faced, it just seems, from my personal observation, that the older people get, the more inclined they are to not take on the challenge, because in their arsenal of excuses they now have “I’m too old for this.” The impetus we have, which we lacked when young, is that  …. to be brutally frank ….. we may not be able to start tomorrow. We have to start today. Right here, and right now!

 

 

 

 

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Brexit, My Blog and Me: A New Journey Awaits

Me: The Sad Stuff

Almost a year after my father’s death,  I stand on a grassy knoll, to witness his ashes slide slowly into the ground, into the same spot where my mom’s remains were placed over 40 years ago. A fine mist of ash rises, and gently blends into the hazy daylight. The sod is returned. I lay a small posy of freesia on the spot, my mother’s favorite flower, the same flowers I’d left there a year ago.

In all these years I’d been unaware that there was a special place which marked where my mom’s final resting place. It was only my dad’s death which had brought it to light. At last, they are together again – not that I doubted that they had not been for the last year; not that I doubted that my mother had really ever left us, come to that.

A few months back, I’d had a clear picture in my head: the two of them standing somewhere in a garden or a wood, Trixy was bounding up to them. My dad is saying to my mom:

“And this is Trixy. I told you so much about her,” as Trix jumps up to greet him.

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Trixy enjoying the sun at the last stop of our round-the-islands journey in La Palma. People ask me if I will finish off the trip, but I doubt it, without Trix it just wouldn’t be the same.

I’d lost her in May, oddly, on the anniversary of my mom’s death. It completed a trilogy I’d knew had begun when my aunt died. Dot, my dad, Trixy, at the ages they were, their deaths were inevitably going to come close together. That Fate threw in the knee problem, Trixy’s tumors, the septicemia, the cancer, a month of radiotherapy, and a frustrating battle with the inefficiency of hospital administration was, well, one of those things …… I don’t know about you, but it’s not the first time in my life I’ve wondered if the  Universe was testing me, seeing just how much I could take. Trixy’s death opened the flood gates, and allowed me to mourn it all. I felt as if the tears might never stop.

I wasn’t emotionally recovered by June 23rd.

Brexit

I’ve wondered over these last months what my dad would have made of Brexit, As a WW2 RAF officer he had worked and fought alongside people from all parts of the then Commonwealth, and he abhorred racism. He went out of his way to buy a copy of “The Big Issue” from a lady of Indian heritage, because he felt that others ignored her because of her appearance. His generation, more than any, had a right to talk about “the good old days,” not because of the war, but because integrity, tolerance and honesty were prized. I am gobsmacked that my own generation seems to have rejected all of that.

Brexit for me was the latest in a list of painful events. I took it personally, still do. It threw my world into further chaos. Uncertainty I do fine, so long as I have options. I haven’t known what my options are for over a year now, and I am very angry, still, at the ignorance and racism which brought this about. I am as European as I am English, and I am angry that I don’t have the control I had, or should have, and that’s just my selfish perspective. I think it is a huge tragedy for the UK.

Me: The Happy Stuff

Before Brexit, before Trixy died, things had been on the up. There is an end to a period like this, no matter how long it seems to drag on, but perhaps there is no clear moment when Fate swings in the other direction. I’ve long known that acceptance is key to surviving. Angsting and wailing are no use for anything. You need to go with the flow until it slows down a bit.

And so, in the weeks between the bad stuff, there had been gloriously happy times too. In Spring Guy and Rachael had become engaged, their happiness was infectious, and the negative energy began, perceptively, to shift.

Shortly after we returned from Florida the previous year, Rachael had lost her dad, another sadness on what had seemed like the downward spiral in which we were trapped. The upswing was intentional. It was Guy and Rachael telling Fate to “bring it on, we won’t give in to negativity.” The wedding, intended for this year, was brought forward by 12 months. It left me with very little time to concentrate on anything else, because they decided to celebrate their wedding in Tenerife.

My life became a round of florists and hairdressers, cake tasting and balloons, hurricane lamps and ribbons, and, of course, possible venues.

It all culminated on a perfectly balmy evening overlooking one of the prettiest beaches on the island, and one of the happiest, most emotional days of my life. I am acutely aware not only of Guy’s good fortune in meeting Rachael, but of my own. I have a dream of a daughter-in-law. My happiness level was at maximum.

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Just a few months before, as I drove, mechanically, to the hospital each day, I’d concentrated on the positive. In December I was due to turn 70, and it was looking very much as if 2017 was going to be “my” year. As it turned out, everything turned up roses in 2016.

During the months Austin had spent with me when the cancer was diagnosed, he’d promised me a very special 70th birthday present – a trekking holiday to Nepal in 2017. So you can guess how much I was looking forward to the new year!

As it turned out, that was also brought forward … to November of 2016 ……. so even before the wedding, I began another “get fit” plan. Once the wedding party left, it was time to get serious. I returned to the same regime I’d followed when I had septicemia, plus, I walked until I dropped at every single opportunity, whether it was along the coast, or up in the mountains. The latter was favorite to accustomise to the altitude.

Hiking releases endorphins for me like nothing else. I’d never hiked alone before, but now hadn’t much choice if I wanted to do as much as I should, and I found out that I relish it. Of course, I enjoy the company of friends, and sometimes organized walking, but there is something about being alone in the mountains which strikes a very fundamental chord, a closeness with Nature that’s rare when you’re with others. That said, I was lucky in my friendship with Pilar who did her very best to encourage and motivate me too!

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Still on a high from the wedding, I was happily munching my salads, when the universe lobbed another obstacle at me. With around six weeks to go before leaving for Nepal I woke one morning to see that the itching which had irritated me all night was due to a nasty rash forming around my waist. I knew what it was, and my doctor confirmed it – shingles. From friends who had suffered, I had gathered that the itching was unbearable. What I hadn’t realized was the sciatica which it provoked too. There was nothing more I could do, except take the antibiotics and continue the healthy eating. I certainly wasn’t up for walking much! In retrospect, I must have boosted my immune system pretty well, because I am told that my recovery was a quick one.

But that too passed. I upped the walking again as soon as I could, and stayed positive. I’m lucky that I was born this way. When something bad or dramatic is happening something inside my head kicks in and keeps me calm and positive, even when I’ve missed a lot of sleep.

And so my trip takes me first to Lancaster, and this grassy knoll. We’d hoped, the three of us, to be here together, but for many reasons that wasn’t going to happen soon, and I need some closure.

I turn to walk away, and head for London and then to Nepal.

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My Blog

These last, few posts have been difficult to write. I am a fairly private person. But there has been a mental block which needed to be cleared, and perhaps this is the only way I could do that. As you can imagine, there were a lot more tears, gnashing of teeth, and cursing than I’ve admitted to here. This particular part of “my story” has already been weeks waiting for me to click “publish,” because once I’ve cleared that blockage I am committed to writing regularly again.

I stopped blogging, with a few impulsive exceptions, because I wanted to concentrate on family, getting well, and getting the most out of those good times. I’m ready to hit the keys again, but it will be slightly different, and I will update my “About” page to explain that.

I am pretty much saying “To heck” with social media. Of course, the world is in a sorrier state than it was when I was last blogging frequently, and it impacts all of us in some way or other. Social media can now be a pretty depressing place. I used to be able to ignore the racism and the hate, but now it seems to invade all our lives. We can ignore it, but it seems disloyal to those who can’t, especially those who can’t speak for themselves. Today I saw a post about the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean on Instagram. My son, Austin, has been volunteering with them over the summer, so I perhaps know a little more about the heartbreak behind those photos than most people. I found myself finding the next post in my feed, from a blogger whom I like, to be trite in comparison, but it wasn’t. This is all a part of the world we inhabit, we should try to help those who cannot help themselves, who are victims of war, or racism, or sexism, or whatever else shallow people use to try to boost their own feeble egos. But we need to allow ourselves to enjoy and appreciate the overwhelming beauty of this planet and its people too.

That said, there is a lot of the trite and a lot of vanity on social media. I’m checking on my personal guidelines for both what I post and what I follow. I know that I am neither Paul Theroux or Steve McCurry, but I can strive to follow their example of excellence in writing and in photography. I can attempt to avoid the corny and the self promotion. That last is not easy, because we write and we take photographs for them to be seen. Balance in this, as in life in general, is a hard road to tread, but I can try.

To be the best we can be has always been a noble goal, but it’s more important now than ever in this age of stupidity and mediocrity. I know I’m leaving myself wide open in saying that. Hopefully, I can laugh at myself too. In my new-found enthusiasm for all things healthy I know that I’ve fallen well short of those standards on Instagram in recent weeks! I shudder when I think back to old posts on this blog, too. I have considered beginning anew, yet, aren’t we all the sum parts of what has brought us to this point in our journey? Maybe some of those posts are what I was, but am not any longer. In any event, expect more about food and health on here. Did I ever mention either in respect of my own life before, actually?

In the midst of the hiatus, I turned 70, but at times over the last couple of years I have felt healthier than I ever did. Sure I am not as agile or quick as I once was, but I see no reason to become a couch potato, sipping my gin ‘n’ tonic every night as I watch the sun go down on a world in which I am simply now an observer.

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When That Other Shoe Drops: My Personal Journey Volume 3

I rarely panic, well, not when I’m on dry land anyway. I have been known to flail about a bit in the ocean.

“Don’t forget to take your phone, Daddy,” I blurt out, as he informs me that the ambulance is outside. (See previous 2 posts to see what brought us to this point)

My default reaction is exactly the same as it was when I received the phone call from the hospital in August. Sit down and figure out what to do. My sons to inform, flights to book. Be grateful that the radiotherapy hasn’t begun. Trixy to kennels. It’s weekend and low season so getting a flight won’t be a problem, but I need to book return, because there is a hospital appointment Wednesday to get the results of that test. I am grateful there is enough in my account to pay for this, there are times when there isn’t.

What if ?……. Don’t go there. Deal with that if it happens.

It’s appropriately wet and grey when we touch down in Manchester.

Guy has come up from London, and meets me at the station in Lancaster. It’s a long weekend. Beyond his age, there is a mystery as to what exactly ails my dad. We wait all weekend, hoping for a diagnosis. Rachael comes up from London. She’s the one who makes my dad smile. The 3 of us get soaked to the skin, walking to the nearest pub for food and a break from the sterility of the hospital. I explain to the nurse in charge that I have to get back to the Canary Islands on Tuesday, and why, and that my dad doesn’t know about my cancer. I hate that they might think I am leaving him when he is so ill and so old.

When I leave on Tuesday there is still no diagnosis. Austin is on his way. My return trip turns out to be a waste of money because the test results are delayed. On my way back from the hospital, I do something I haven’t done for years. I call into a church and light a candle.  I don’t practice any religion, but I do believe in prayer.

I am researching flights when Austin calls. His granddad is weakening, and I should get back asap. Frustrated with internet searches I go to the airport to ask. It’s the middle of the night, but they confirm there are no direct flights to Manchester for a couple of days. I book to London and a train to get me back to Lancaster.

An hour out of London, I get a message from Austin to say he will meet me in Preston, where I should be changing trains. This doesn’t make sense.

Here he is on the platform. He carries my bag to the car, slams the boot, and turns to tell me what I already know. There is no way that he would have left his granddad in the circumstances. In the rain, in the car park we hold each other. I don’t know who is comforting who.

Emigration comes at a price, and that is the guilt you feel for those you leave behind.

daddyThese were the last two photos I took of my dad. I was on my way back from Florida in May of 2015 and we went out for lunch in Kendal. My dad was slow to smile, but he actually looks very happy here.

 


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My Personal Journey: Part Deux

 

me sanibel

2015 began well, with frosty English mornings, and segued into a warm welcome home from Trixy, and those marvelous crystal clear days of a Canarian winter.

For a time, problems were forgotten, but little did I know that more were waiting in the wings, as I concentrated on finding what I had decided was to be a reasonably long term rental. My knee was mended, but Trixy’s traveling days were clearly over.

As I packed to leave the temporary apartment, I was also packing my bags for a new journey. I only had time to dump boxes in the new one before it was time to set off for a Florida road trip. Because of what happened next, I only ever managed to publish one post about that, but for me it was a huge one. Crossing something off your bucket list is a big thing, and there was lots of beach time too, as you can see above.

Life assumed a very pleasant pattern, wanderlust quenched for a while, some very happy memories of Florida, Trixy stabilized, happily pottering around the new apartment unpacking the stuff I hadn’t unpacked in the temporary one (reuniting with my books – yay!), some gentle walking to make sure the knee was up for more. Yes, life, I could say, was good, until the phone rang one day in early August.

“Linda, this is the hospital. We noticed something on the mammogram we did a couple of weeks ago, and we’d like you to come back for more tests.”

You could say it was the call I’d been dreading since my mom died from breast cancer 40 years before. Maybe that’s why I felt no panic, or maybe, you know, that’s just the way I am. I did sit for about an hour or so and decide what to do. This call was by no means conclusive, but chances were that what they had spotted was cancer. I decided that it was best to tell no-one until it was confirmed. What on earth was the point in worrying family and friends without cause? I went into my default mode when faced with a problem. This is a problem, so what am I going to do about it?

Logic said if it was cancer it was early stage, because I’d never missed a mammogram. Ironically, the previous year, I had stepped off the ferry from La Palma and gone straight to my mail box, where I’d found notification of my annual appointment that very day. I’d gone straight to the hospital from the post office. I cannot help but wonder at the mysterious intuition I had felt that had brought me back to Tenerife on that particular date…..

That summer was marked by hospital visits, pokings, a biopsy and finally confirmation that it was a small, cancerous tumor. This was the point at which I had to tell my sons of course, but there was no question that I was going to burden my 93 year old father with this information, since I’d seen him in May en route home from Florida, that didn’t seem like an enormous problem. My greatest fear was that he might become ill during my treatment……

Remember what I said in my last post? I hate fuss. I hate being ill. I hate to appear to solicit sympathy. Besides, there were folk far, far worse off than I. I followed a fellow travel blogger who had been diagnosed just weeks earlier, and her cancer was much more advanced than mine, yet she wrote about it with humour and style, making my story far less important. I was offered a one-off copy-writing job, something I hadn’t really done before. There was a lot to learn. It stretched my mind, and left me little time for angsting.

My sons were amazing in their support. Flowers and regular encouraging calls and messages came from Guy and Rachael, and Austin took compassionate leave from his job at sea. Thus he was able to be with me when I woke from the operation to remove the tumour in early September. This was all I needed. Within 48 hours I was stopping on my way home to shop in Decathalon for new bras….something I hadn’t given thought to! My boob was still there, but a tad on the sore side.

I was one of the lucky ones. It was confirmed to be early stage, and no chemo was necessary. Here is where I cannot stress enough, girls …..GET REGULAR CHECK UPS! DO THE SELF EXAMINATIONS! and, guys, that goes for you vis a vis prostate cancer!! If you are not persuaded by the horrible stories of people who haven’t, then be persuaded by how easy my op was, honestly, I’ve had dental work which was more painful.

Like ripples in a pond, I widened the circle of people I told, save my father. I’d even spoken to him from my hospital bed without giving him a clue …. thank the lord for mobile phones! I was still concerned, because although chemotherapy had been ruled out, radiotherapy was on the cards, and once started that had to be continuous for four or five weeks.

What happened next was another of those “someone is watching over me” events. A visit to the oncologist, and she mentions that there is a new test available to determine how aggressive the cancer was.

Would I like to have it done?

Of course I would, why would I not?

The test meant sending the tumour off abroad somewheres for testing, as it isn’t done on the island, but I still had a big enough window to do the radiotherapy. So off went my cancer on its travels.

I think I hate telephones, well, phone calls at least. What with all our electronic communication these days, it means that phone calls are reserved for the serious stuff.

So I jumped when my phone rang one morning in mid-November. When I recognised the voice, even before he said much, my heart sank. It was my father. We spoke every other day, and always in the evening. My father was a man of habit.

Calmly he explained that he wasn’t feeling “too well,” and he’d called an ambulance.

 

 


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A Personal Journey and The Lessons Learned: 2014

home at last

The longer you dawdle over something, the harder it is to pick up the pieces again, and that’s the way it has gone with this blog post. I began to write it soon after the last one, which is now all of 9 months ago …… and counting. One day, I will write about procrastination……..

Procrastination is one excuse. Another is that much of what I feel the need to say goes against the way I am. I hate fuss. I am independent. I hate being ill. I hate to appear to be looking for sympathy, approval or compliments. So I deleted it for being too maudlin; another time I savaged it for sounding as if I made mountains out of mole hills; and another because it seemed to disrespect the way others feel about a similar experience…..yet, I feel that I have something to say, and what I want to say comes from life lessons learned over the last two or three years.

In addition, I am rarely happy with what I write, and yet it’s an addiction, with all that implies. During a difficult period in my life, some years ago I came across Martha Beck’s “Finding Your Own North Star.”  Beck was a high achieving academic with a busy life when she gave birth to her son, who had Down’s Syndrome. Struggling to make a deadline, as she coped with the demands of an already full life and the new challenges. She decided to take just 15 minutes a day to write, which was all she could spare at first. Needless to say, it was written. That lesson struck a deep chord with me. Paso a paso, as the Spanish say. Just put one foot in front of the other.

I haven’t explored the world as much as I would have liked over the past 3 years, but I have been on a profound personal journey. I learned a lot from it, and that’s what I think is worth sharing. Maybe it’s been a struggle because I was trying to spew it all out at once, so I am going to break it down. So here’s chunk one:

2014 was dominated by three events, but I didn’t realize that they were stages on a journey which was to last longer. I touched on them in a previous post, but they took on more significance as time passed.

The First Event

In May of 2014 my Aunty Dot died, peacefully, at 92 years. For some reason I still don’t understand, I heard myself offering to give the eulogy; me, who never raised my hand in class, who dried up doing a couple of tv interviews a while back, and who once refused to go to receive an award in case I had to say something . As we followed the coffin into the tiny chapel, the lump in my throat tightened, and tears I couldn’t shed scalded my eyes, but here was the minister saying that, “Now Dot’s niece would like to say a few words.” I wobbled to the front of the chapel, pushed my broken reading glasses into place, and launched.

Emigration comes at a price, and that is the guilt you feel for those you leave behind. I poured all of that into the words I mumbled. Glancing round as I walked back to my seat, I realized that I was the only person there who remembered a younger Dot, the young mother, the dreamer, the one who jollied everyone at time of family crisis, the encourager of dreams and my personal cheerleader. That was the portrait I had tried to paint, and it was bitter sweet to be told I succeeded. Apparently my struggle with the broken specs caused suppressed smiles too – I told them they should have laughed – she would have loved that.

Dot had always encouraged my imaginings and understood my need to write, and here I had instant feedback that what I had written had done the job I hoped it would. Despite the sad occasion, that day I found whatever it is inside of me that I needed to stand up and speak in public. It gave me a type of confidence I’d never had before. That might have been Aunty Dot’s parting gift to me, and some months later it was to stand me in good stead.

The Second Event

Sometimes we have instinctive feelings, that embarrass us, and we make up logical reasons to defend our resulting actions. We shouldn’t, we should trust our gut, and that is what I now take away from the decision to return to Tenerife.

Coming back to El Médano in July of 2014 was like that. I couldn’t settle on the island of La Palma, and my decision was guided purely by instinct. Instincts which were so spot on I shiver trying to understand. Some would not be obvious for some months.

trix la palma

The Third Event

After the stress of Aunty Dot’s death, returning to Tenerife at the most stupid time of year, getting my stuff out of storage, Trixy having five tumors removed from various parts of her body, and the struggle to sort out my knee problem, I was looking forward to Christmas in England with my sons and my father, the first time the four of us had spent Christmas together in quite a while. But 2014 had a final punch in store. A silly slip in a bathroom, and a burst cyst, lead to septicemia, and a trip to the ER, followed by a warning that I might not make it to UK for those Christmas festivities, in fact, I should just be thankful that I made it.

That news became a turning point. I determined to do everything I could to make sure that I could go. I began to eat as ridiculously healthily as I knew how, and to exercise more to boost my recovery. By the time I stepped onto the plane 3 weeks later, I was maybe as fit as I had ever been, and I felt it. Christmas was memorable and full of love, and within months I was going to be incredibly grateful for those warm memories.

I can’t say that I stayed 100% that healthy, but I learned a lot about health. I’ve been a yo-yo dieter kind of person all my life, but this was not about losing weight, but about being fit to be able to do what I wanted to do……have a family Christmas. Focusing on that made it easy. Focusing is not easy in these modern times. We have a trillion distractions every day, but with focus, mindfulness if you like, we can move mountains. I will leave you with a quotation from Pearl S Buck, which has long been a favourite of mine, and I find to be invariably true:

“Once the what is decided, the how always follows. We must not make the how an excuse for not facing and accepting the what.”