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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.