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Enforced clarity

8 Apr

Even amongst all the shit it’s possible to have good days.  In fact, shit like Cancer focuses the mind. Never have I seen so much, and done so little (remember my post where I flirted briefly with beginner Buddhism?). Well now I’m living it.

My mother has always been a busy person. A talented and able person.  People would marvel at just what she could do, how much she could take on, and how well she would do it. To them she was a creative powerhouse. Of course to herself she’d never quite done enough. Sound familiar? Well my life was pretty much spent the same way. Running around in the pursuit of something, forever chasing my tail, with each obstacle taking on a seemingly insurmountable form.

Now of course my mum is still all of the things she was, but her illness has forced her to to slow down and take notice.  (Years of telling her it was her time, to sit back and be selfish, and it’ taken a terminal bloody illnesss to make her do it.) Cancer has stopped her in her tracks, and as shit as that is, as devastating and heart breaking, there is also something rather sweet. For the first time (ever?) she is taking a good look around her, drinking it all in, and what she is savouring is frequently surprising, and at times delicious.

Normal life has a habit of taking over, the meaningless usurping the meaningful in a cloud of impenetrable smog.  Perhaps it’s not so much that rays of light can still exist in an otherwise stormy sky, so much as it is the rain itself that makes the luminescent rainbow a possibility.

It really is a shame that it takes something so shit to enforce that kind of clarity. But rather that, than never to feel it at all.

Keep stepping

23 Feb

I’ve talked before about how amazed I’ve been at the strength and courage I’ve seen in the people around me recently. Their ability to stare fear, trauma, horror in the face, turn away and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep stepping forward.

Well fear has turned to face me, and I’m staring him down. Maybe it’s all false bravado. Perhaps I’m protected by a wall made of egg shells. Weak, soon to shatter. But at the moment I’m sucking it up.

You know, if you’d asked me a few months ago I would have laughed at you and told you that this would have been too much. One of the people I love most in this world taken away from me? Pah – it would be the end for me. But I’m still standing, and do you know why? Because the one I love so dearly, the one who has brought me up, nurtured me, taught me everything I know, prepared me for this life, that person has made me strong. Just like her.

So I have found myself surrounded by truly amazing women defiantly facing fear, loss, pain and standing their ground. Screaming, swearing, faltering – but standing nonetheless. Lori, Kristin, Roz, @Cheepcheepcheep, Jen, Stephy, Penny, Sarah (there are more). And do you know what? I think I might just be like you.

This post is for my mother – the one I look up to, the one who amazes me the most, the one who has shown me by example how to just keep stepping. The one who has made me, and will make me, STRONG.


That moment : Part two

17 Jan

This post is a “kind of” answer to That moment.

If we don’t know what might happen to us, if we are frightened by the “what ifs”, if we are constantly looking over our shoulder for that speeding car, what then? It’s pretty bleak isn’t it?   There will be those of us that think about these things, and those of us that will run a hundred miles an hour to get away from it. I’m pretty sure the latter will have groaned, clicked close and returned to the singing puppy by now.

“If you spend your whole life waiting for the storm, you’ll never enjoy the sunshine. – Morris West”.

For me, this is the only real answer. I’ve spoken before about being rather than doing, or being rather than thinking in this instance. The age-old anecdote “Why worry about it, it may never happen” but put in a rather less irritating way, and not by a smart-arse builder. I remember taking out a book from the library once on “Finding happiness” by the Dalai Lama (yes I probably had too much time on my hands, new mother and all that) and naiively expecting some kind of 5-step guide to eternal optimism. At the time I was pretty disappointed that all he seemed to have up his sleeve was an appreciation for pretty flowers.

However, in hindsight Mr Lama was quite right of course. If we allow our imaginations to run wild, to consider all the things that might happen to us, to twist and turn around a maze that has no middle, what is the point in that? Where would all that energy get us in the end?  All we can do is enjoy the here and now, for soon the now becomes the then and the here becomes the over there, and the soon becomes the….hmmm, well you get what I mean anyway.

And if it does happen, if the worst thing you could possibly think of comes along and sits on your lap, will you fall apart? Choke? Vomit?  Someone once said to me after I’d been depressing them to death about my fear of my own mortality  “So what if you die, what would be so bad about that?” It was a very strange kind of question – and surprisingly difficult to answer. I stuttered about trying to formulate a response “Umm, well it’s the unknown, the not knowing where I’d be”. “But you’re dead”. “Ummm, it’s the thought of not being here anymore, and I can’t get my head around that”. But you wouldn’t have to get your head around it, you’d be dead”.  And so on.

“It all happens for a reason. If it’s been put on you, then that means you can carry it” (Tony Gaskins)

I love this idea, I find it really reassuring. It re-establishes some kind of order, gives me back some control. There is a purpose behind events, you are “chosen” because that is your journey. Nothing is random, unpredictable, devastating like the speeding car. Your challenge is taking you by the hand and asking you to lead it, because you are the one with all the answers.  Somewhere within you you have all the power, the resilence, the foresight.

I suppose that’s a pretty humungous dose of spirituality right there, in fact I’m starting to sound a bit like sodding Billy Graham, really scary for an atheist who usually prejudices against religious types (my friend Simone will have a field day).  But you see, the thing is I’ve seen first hand the strength of the human soul. There is something there so great, so wonderful, so determined – that “that moment” could never ultimately have the upper hand. We will always survive, always win, always learn, always pick ourselves up and move on.

That is not the same as forgetting. It is not the same as no longer feeling the pain. But it is living, moving on, and I’ve seen enough of it in the past few weeks to know that in my heart, if the speeding car comes, I will be ready.

That moment

13 Jan

I wait for that moment, the moment that changes everything. The thing that defines a before and an after.

I wondered for a long time where it came from, this paranoia and gloomy expectation. Then I recalled a sunny day on Wimbledon Common. A time when someone I loved collapsed, out of the blue, and was rushed to hospital. So started 24 hours of wondering, was this how it was going to end, how the sum of my life with this person would be written? In this hospital, under these bright lights?

Thankfully it was a blip. My loved one recovered and life went on.

But ever since then I expect the speeding car to come screaming round the corner. A moment of irreversible and sudden change. A loss of innocence, being thrust from a safe world, a cocoon, into a place with no walls, ceiling or doors. Nothing looking quite the same again.

Will it come for me, that speeding car? Or will I be one of the lucky ones?

It came for someone I know just recently, and I can’t help but wonder what that moment was like. That moment when it all changed forever.

For Lori

10 Jan

For Lori, who lost her husband tonight.

“The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief –

But the pain of grief

Is only a shadow

When compared with the pain

Of never risking love”.

(Hilary Stanton Zunin)

So sorry,


bleeding words

4 Jan

Someone I knew over 15 years ago from school contacted me today out of the blue. She wanted to share with me a blog she had been writing about her husband’s battle with cancer. Sadly she had lost him in November, and felt instinctively that I would understand “what goes into a blog”.  I immediately read a few of her posts, and in truth was absolutely floored by the dignity, affection and pride that oozes from her writing. A rare moment when your heart begins to canter and  emotion rises in torrents from your stomach. You feel utterly compelled to do something, to mark that moment, to reach out.

I’ve talked before about writing,  how emotional and personal the process is. Somehow people get that visual art, or poetry comes from the soul, but when it comes to a blog – well surely that’s just something you write in your spare time to catalogue your days with the children? It frustrates me.  Through our writing we open ourselves up to judgement, criticism, derision in the hope that someone else will “get” what we are talking about.

I can only start to realise what significance words come to have when you are using them to chart something as important, life-altering, profound as the journey of a loved one through illness.

I came across the following quotation recently which said in a few words what I had been trying to say for a while.

“There’s nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”  (Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith)

To my friend, I aim to start at the beginning of your story and read until I’m up to date. I’m sure I will laugh and cry with you along the way.

And yes, I understand.

Addendum: My friend has come back to me to say she is happy for me to carry her blog here.
The Wrighty Way
Please lend her some support. She is hoping to raise awareness of kidney cancer.

Remembering my dad

17 Sep

You never stop missing someone. You just learn to live without them. Grief isn’t a journey from A to B. It isn’t linear. It is much more complex, repetitive, surprising.

Today marks the 3rd anniversary of my father’s death. These are a few things i am remembering about him today.

My father spent an awful lot of his time sitting down. Lazy? Yes, even he’d have to agree with that one, but he’d also have argued convincingly for social anthropology. Observing, mentally jotting down all the nuances of human behaviour as it played out before him. The absurdity of it all frequently amused him. After his funeral his 5 children trundled down to the Marina in Brighton to scatter his ashes. We didn’t really have a plan so we wandered about aimlessly for a bit before deciding to scatter them into the sea off the end of a concrete groyne. As we skidded and slid our way barefoot and dangerously down the groyne (wet, covered in moss, warning signs everywhere) i could see my dad standing at a safe distance, observing, and smirking at us saying “What ARE you doing, you sentimental bunch of fools!”

When he did get up from his chair he would jump up as if stung by a bee. He’d obviously been thinking about the act of getting up for quite some time, psyching himself up, waiting for a build up of energy sufficient to launch him from his observation tower. The fact that it was Gin and Tonic o’clock usually did the trick.

Gordon’s Gin and slimline tonic. Even now the smell of it, the chink of crystal glasses, the plop of ice and the gentle fizz of liquids mixing is enough to send me off on a daydream. “Just a few” he would say as he reached for the dry roasted nuts or cheese and onion crisps that would always be the accompaniment. He’d recount the exact calorific content of each mouthful, slapping your hand away if you so much as dared to reach for seconds, before moments later reaching his soft, chubby little hand out himself. “Pernicious” he would say, winking as he greedily took another handful, shook them around in his palm a few times before throwing them up and into his mouth.

A snapshot. No doubt tomorrow a whole different bunch of memories will play out unexpectedly as i go about my day.

Irreplaceable. A word that only really starts to make sense when you lose someone. I miss you daddy. So much.


Can you choose to believe in something you don’t, erm, believe in?

1 Aug

Right, are you sitting down? Well-rested? You’re not hung-over are you? Good, because i’m gonna get all existentialist on you again, so it could get a bit rough. So if you can’t face it today, move on.

I always believed that people held their personal religious or spiritual beliefs either because they just instinctively believed them to be true, or they had come to their conclusions by weighing up all the alternatives, rationalising and negotiating. Either way, their faith was unwavering, unquestioned. It was just what they believed. End of.

But recently I have heard some spiritual ideas that i thought sounded really neat. That i would like to be true if i could choose my spiritual path on desire alone. Not because i believe in them one bit, but because i like the idea of them.

“You get the babies (male/female) that fit you and your family”.

“You are presented with your specific trials in life because you are are able to cope with them”.

“When we die our soul inhabits a new life that will need to learn from our knowledge to survive its own path”

In a world where nothing is known for certain, the sense that there is some kind of order really appeals to me. That things happen for a reason, have a natural resolution. I find that a very peaceful thing to contemplate.

So the question is, can you force yourself to believe in something just because it appeals to you. Things you would rather like to be true, but struggle to justify intellectually?

Wow, are you still with me? Crikey – that takes some doing on a Sunday teatime.

I’m over-elaborating a very subtle point i know.

You see I’m getting older. I have children. So i’m naturally starting to question more and more what life is about. And so part of me feels it would be quite nice to believe in something. After all, I’ve got to tell my children something when they ask, haven’t i?

Ok, i’m starting to bore myself now.

The day i started believing again (just a bit)

8 Jun


A few weeks later i had a dream.

I’d never had a dream like it.

So vivid.

I was in my dad’s flat in Brighton. And he was there. Happy. Smiling.  He told me everything was okay.

He could see and hear again.

I remember feeling relief, gratitude.  Like an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I had missed him.

And the emotions were so powerful.  So unusual for a dream. Extra-ordinary.

When i woke up i felt so strongly that i HAD seen him. Felt him. Heard him.

That he had come to say goodbye.

Truth in cliche?  Or desparately imagined?

Do i believe my heart when it tells me this dream was different?

I’m no longer certain i’ve stopped believing entirely.

This post is a follow up to The day i stoppped believing.

the day i stopped believing

7 Jun

I’ve never believed in *god* as dictated by any of the organised religions i’ve read about. But i’ve always believed in something. A higher power. Something greater than us.

To believe that we are at the top of the evolutionary hierarchy seems, well, arrogant.

How can we possibly know, for definite, that nothing else exists? That we are the ultimate. The end of the journey.

Though we can never *prove* that there is something more powerful than us, we can never be certain that there isn’t.

Well, that’s what i used to think. Until my dad died.

When i saw my dad’s body what i used to think all changed.

Why? Because i felt nothing.

I expected to feel something. Sense him. Hear his voice whispering in my ear.

And i didn’t.

I felt / sensed / heard nothing.

And so i had to change my mind.