on living memories

yesterday was the day of my Dad’s birthday.  Ninety four years ago, he was born, the first son and second child to a family who had very little of anything.  We have been without him for thirty three years, and he is missed every single day.

Talking with my cousin last night she told a story from our childhood.  Our Dad’s had taken us out to fly our kites. I remember the day well, it wasn’t often my Uncle and Dad were in charge of us girls.  We went to a park with hills, in sight of the sea, it was sunny and windy, perfect kite flying weather.  We ran up and down completely failing to get our kites into the air, we didn’t care it was fun.  Later a ball was found and our Dad’s began kicking it about with us.  I have no memory of this bit, but my cousin has never forgotten it.  The ball was decorated with stars and my Dad told us he would kick it high into the sky where it would catch more stars. My cousin totally believed that her Uncle, my Dad, was magical.  She remained in awe of his ability to collect stars for many, many years.

This story reminded me of how no one can ever be truly gone while people still talk of them and remember them.  It also made me think of how we are all connected and how our lives impact on others all the time, whether we know it or not, we are making a difference.

I think I believe that we are the sum of the memories we leave behind.  I am not only talking about once we are no longer alive, I mean all the time.  People will remember things we do, things we say and how we behave, and those memories will be different for everyone.  We are actually the sum of our behaviour and our actions.

Maybe my Dad wasn’t really magical, perhaps he didn’t collect stars, but he had the ability to give my cousin a memory she has never forgotten.

So, from now on I shall be a careful about how I behave.  I will try to keep in mind that this footprint of my life will leave it’s mark on those I interact with.  I am not going to overthink it, but instead take comfort in our collective memories of simply being alive.  We are indeed the fortunate ones.

on life and death

yesterday I was at a funeral.  My lovely Uncle, my last living Uncle, had passed away, suddenly and swiftly, his life was over.  Ninety something years of living, of laughing and loving, all done.  Except it isn’t done at all.  Each one of us in the chapel has memories of him, of times gone by and of shared moments.  It is these memories that keep us alive in the thoughts of others, long after our bodies have given up.

As he arrived to this resting place, he was carried by those who had loved him.  His son, son in law, granddaughter and grandsons, tenderly taking him on his last journey, carrying him safely and with love, just as he had carried each and everyone of them throughout their lives.

I remember the times when there was only two of us, my big cousin and me.  Our annoying little sisters were yet to be born, and the families attentions were all ours.  Our Dads, both now gone, were buddies.  They would come back from working away from home with tales of hilarity and fun.  They never spoke about working in tough conditions or how they lived in boarding houses, while earning money for us at home.  We laughed so much in those days, it all seemed really simple.  There would be family parties, during which our Dads would fool around and sing along to the crooners of the day.  Happy, happy times.

As quickly as we could blink, it seems we are now the grown ups.  Our children have children of their own, and we have become the last generation, for all those before us are now gone.  It made me think about mortality and about making sure we make the most of this life, right now, today.

The opening words in the chapel yesterday talked of judging the success of a life by looking at how it was lived.  I think this is really important.  You see it is easy to judge success by wealth or by worth, by a career or a bank balance, but actually in the end the only thing is this.  Did you leave the world a better place, for you being in it?  Did you step up and offer a helping hand?  Did you listen endlessly to childish tales, each one heard before, and still smile and encourage?  All the truly important stuff is actually really simple.

I know, because I have been there too often, the pain my cousins are feeling today, I also know that with time they will remember and smile.  There will come a day when it isn’t the first thing they think of, and another when they realise that they have been so busy living they have not thought of loss.  They may then feel a little guilty, but they should not.  It is in those days, the busy, happy days, that those we have lost are closest to us.

So, we have said goodbye to our last Uncle, and this morning we greet another day.  A day to get things right, to make the most of life and to hold each other a little closer.  You see there is never a good time to say goodbye, the best remembrance of all is to live a life well enough and to make most of it, now, while we can.

on when it’s not your turn

yesterday was a good day.  Lovely son has come to visit, first time we have seen him this year, and it was great to take him out to the beach, we ate fish and chips on the sand and paddled in the sea.  Ordinary things, part of an ordinary life, all the more precious given the ups and downs of our lives so far this year.

Also yesterday hubby went to have a medical, it is part of his requirements for his job.  It was just such a medical, a little over a year ago that began the whole process of a broken heart being eventually fixed.  There is little doubt that medical saved his life.  This year, this time it is different, all is well, the heart is mended, the doctor is happy to sign his form.

So we head home, feeling blessed and positive, we are beginning to believe that this all may soon be over, that normal, real life is around the corner waiting for us.  We can almost touch it.

Reflecting on all that happened, on the weeks and weeks he spent in hospital, how the whole team worked hard to fix him I often think of the others that shared that ward, that slept in beds next to and opposite hubby and whose wives and mothers became part of my team, a club we didn’t want to be in, we reached out to help each other get through those tricky times.

It is with great sadness that on the very day hubby passes his medical, we learn of one man who was not so fortunate.  He had also had a broken heart, but sadly for him there was no fix, and now some five months on we learned that he lost his fight for life.  This news pulled us up shortly.  A stark reminder of what happens, of what could have happened to us.  My heart is sorry for his wife, I remember well how she would sit reading to her hubby, long hours at his bedside, it was tough, tough on all of us, but for me, I have my hubby back, and a chance of a new life.  I am thinking of his son, and all the grandchildren who clustered around his bed, and sorry that they have lost their Granddad.

So, all we can do is send love to the family and to count our blessings that this time it was not our turn.  In doing so, we will also promise to make the most of the life we have, to live it well and to grab every single opportunity that comes our way.  To never waste time worrying what might happen, that is something none of us know.  Instead we shall celebrate life, going quietly about this world, trying to help and remembering to choose happy every single time.


on navigating through the rocks

last week I spent time on an island in the sunshine with my gorgeous girl.  A brief holiday for us both allowing us time to chat, to talk about the past, the present and the future.  To make new memories and to recharge our batteries. It was magnificent.

I nearly didn’t go at all.  Once booked things changed, as they always seem to do, and it felt foolish to spend money on leisure that was needed for necessities.  My hubby and daughter felt differently.  I was instructed to embrace this chance of sunshine and sea, to give myself a break.  To be honest it was only once I was there that I understood just how much I needed this.

The sunshine is different to home.  It wraps you in a blanket of heat that is all embracing, the air you breathe is warm and the sea you swim feels like a warm bath at the end of a long day.  Indeed it has been a long day, one that has lasted a year.  A whole three hundred and sixty five days in which nothing was usual.  A roller coaster of confusion, fear, sadness and underneath it all I found some strength to keep on keeping on.  This is a strength I doubted I had the energy to find.  Yet somewhere, somehow, we got through this.

On the beach, we sat under an umbrella and watched the waves lap the shore.  In the distance was an entirely different country, the shape of it’s mountains forming the backdrop to this view.  Over there, people were also living lives we would never know about.  In a place I will probably never visit there are women like me, dealing with life in the best way that they can.  It made me smile to think that there maybe a woman on the beach looking over at our island and thinking about who we might be.

We love the sea, my girl and I.  Neither of us would ever choose a pool over real water, we spent many hours floating and swimming, laughing and splashing, and remembering other seas, other holidays when things were very different.   Times when my girl was little, when I was the only grown up.  This time we are equal partners, and at times she is my support.

This is fitting as throughout our tricky year she has often been my support.  At times I would not have got through without her.  This funny, friendly girl who attracts friends wherever she goes.  Her generosity of spirit and her sense of adventure make me ridiculously proud that she is mine.  Here on the beach she is once again holding my hand, this time literally as we head for our first dip in the warm waters of the Ionian Sea.

The journey from sunbed to the water is less than six steps on sun warmed sand, our feet feel hot, we rush to the sea.  As the waves tickle our toes for the first time we can see through the clear water to the ground beneath, and we can feel with our bare feet the shingles and rock we need to navigate.  It is not easy.  The broken shells and tiny pebbles are almost glass like, They prick and poke our bare soles, it is not comfortable.  I am holding onto my girl, she is steady, as the sands beneath our feet begin to sink, and we try to hurry on.  Next there is a line of rock, real hard stones, all different shapes and sizes and all to be crossed. It is hard to keep my balance, and yet with a hand to hold I managed it and within ten paces we arrive at the sandy bed of the sea, it’s smooth surface and the warm waves worth every tricky step we have taken to cross the shingle and the rocks.  It is perfect.

It seems to me that this beach, this sea, well it is just like life has been for the past year.  We have crossed sharp stones, dealt with being off balance and found our way through some very large rocks. The warm waters of life are getting closer by the day, things are looking up, and in a funny way, without the really, really tough times, I doubt I would understand just how good the warm waters of life actually are.  Never again will I assume that all is well, but also never again will I underestimate my strength, my bravery and my ability to cross the difficult bits, and to reach for those who will steady me.

I am back from the island now and ready for the next chapter of this thing called life. Thankful for those who have stayed with us and for the new friends we have found.  None of us know what is coming towards us, but at least now I know I can get through the pain, I can climb over the obstacles and I can make a tomorrow that is different from yesterday.

To steal a line from the play, Shirley Valentine, I really do believe that ‘this woman is alright’.  It has been a long time coming.

on stepping back and taking a breath

this week has been a whirl of thinking, planning, looking at properties, wondering about future plans, it has been a bit full on.  Now hubby is on the mend, it seemed a good time to think about our future, to begin to take control of a world that so far has been happening to us, rather than us driving anything.

Turns out this is not an easy thing to do.  It is fair to say both of our heads are a bit scrambled with choices and there is simply no way to make a decision.  Do we want a house?  A flat?  Where shall we live, do we buy or rent?  Too, too many things to think about.  So we have decided, to stop.

This is the summer break, a time when in previous years we have spent holidays in the sun, eaten meals outside, walked in the countryside with rest and relaxation on the agenda.  We need to make this happen now.

I have been reminded today of a time when I was young and carefree, when I spent a summer camping on a beach, drunk on life and sunshine, and it has to be said, cheap wine and beer.  That young woman, who loved that summer is still here.  She has somehow hidden herself under responsibilities, dealing with grown up life, she may have also actually forgotten how being free really feels.  In the mirror a different face looks back, but inside she is still here.

Today, she, I, have decided to remember, to go out and find the joy in simply being.  Living in the moment, not thinking about tomorrow.  That is my new plan for this summer.  Yes, we have big stuff going on, hospital appointments where we will learn just how unbroken hubby’s heart now is, and eventually decisions on where we shall live will need our attention.  But mostly the next five weeks are about being free, about living and loving life and celebrating the sunshine, that just a few months ago, I thought hubby may never see.

So, time with friends is planned.  An escape to an island in the sunshine with my gorgeous girl, will give me a taste of her life, we will swim in the sea and each cheese and drink wine.  We will laugh and I will remember the joy of simply living.  Something it is so easy to forget.  Hubby and I will spend time doing things we love with people who love us, what better plan in the world is there than that?

Autumn will arrive, as it does, bringing the promise of cosy nights and glorious colour, Winter will follow, and somewhere along the way the decisions will be made, changes will happen.  Until then I will be found sitting in the sunshine, letting life happen. Making the most of every moment.

new beginnings?

it has been quite a year. I never for a moment thought this would be a permanent thing. A year ago we were going to have summer by the sea while looking for a new home in the hills.  So much has changed.

When you get to my sort of age, you think you have it all sorted.  Children, born, raised and off into the world, living lives you may have only dreamt about.  Belongings, gathered over decades form a home.  Bills are paid and there is space and time to enjoy this thing called life.

We were luckier than most, we also had a holiday home, somewhere to escape to, close to the coast with a garden to make beautiful.  How lucky were we?  Never, in a thousand thoughts would I have believed that this tin box would be where would we live.  Where we would cram the most precious belongings in, keeping them safe with us, while the rest of our possessions stay waiting for us in a storage unit.

So many things have happened.  We have learned so much. It has been the hardest year of my life.  Harder than nursing poorly parents at the same time I was having babies.  Harder than baby years, no sleep and exhaustion. Harder than single Mum life, days when the responsibility for four small people was all mine.  Harder than all of that put together.  It is no wonder I am feeling tired.

My Mum had a saying, one of those old messages so common in my childhood.  She would say ‘You never know what is in the pot boiling for you’.  A year on, I am thinking it is a good thing I had no clue what was about to happen. I doubt I would have had the strength to face it.

All my life I have considered myself a bit of a rolling stone.  Never quite settling for anything.  Change was always my friend.  New starts, I was good at them.  New houses, new places, it was what I enjoyed.  Twenty years in the hills and I finally felt at home.  I knew that place, I felt I fitted in the town, with grown up children close by and our darling granddaughter popping in daily, I felt at last I had found my forever home.

As I am typing this, unexpected tears are falling, the pain of distance still simmers under the surface of emotions, not yet completely accepting of our new life. Yet a new life is what we are going to have.

There have been times this last year when I feared I would be facing the future on my own.  That my tall, strong husband would not be by my side.  When I think of this, well, everything else is of little significance.  He is recovering and slowly but surely I am seeing him returning to some sort of normal.  It is time gently begin to think about the future, time to consider big decisions.

Putting aside the pain and worry of the past twelve months, we now need a plan.  It feels good to be driving this process for once, we are being proactive and not simply responding to what is coming our way.  We are starting to understand that it is up to us to make choices, about not only where we will live, but how we shall live.

So, a house, maybe a flat, within walking distance of the sand and sea, that is what we want.  To enjoy summer, and as it ends to return to a job I am beginning to love, with a plan for our new forever home.

The day our possessions are delivered from the storage unit, that will be the day.  We shall sit once again on our lovely sofas, and look around us.  We will know that everything can and will change, without notice, but we will know, beyond all doubt that we can cope with this.  That together we can and will face whatever this universe throws our way.

We remain hopeful that the pot has peace and stability boiling for us this time.

on fundraising, buffets, and booking adventures, it’s the start of summer

so, finally I have finished my first term working in my new job.  Seven weeks of learning new systems, making new friends, getting to know a team and meeting some amazing young people.  Just seven Monday mornings, seven Friday afternoons and we are done for the summer break.  Six long weeks ahead to spend as I wish.  We are going to look for a new home, somewhere near the coast with the mountains behind us, it is really exciting.  We also have hospital appointments, and hopefully hubby’s journey towards full health is coming to it’s end.  From wheelchair and weak, he is walking tall, and looking stronger everyday.  We have much to celebrate.

I am however, exhausted.  The strains of the past twelve months, the anxiety of the last few months and a new job have all taken their toll.  I need a holiday.  Hubby is not yet wanting to travel far from home, but is totally in favour of me going off on an adventure.  I think he is secretly relieved that I won’t be organising his life for the whole six weeks.  I want to have fun and to challenge myself to do something a little different, so taking my lead from my gorgeous girl, I have booked us both tickets to an island in the sun, and beds in a shared dorm, a hostel near the beach, where for very little money I shall see the world through her eyes.  What is not to like?  Lots of new people to meet, blue seas to swim in and fresh fish to eat.  It will be amazing, at least I hope it will be.

Meanwhile I have been busy helping a friend fund raise for a cause dear to his heart, and arguing with those supposed to help him, they are not helping, so we will.  It is going well and I think he will get the job done.  Once again the power of ordinary people coming together to make things better cheers me.

So, how do you begin to end your first term and celebrate the start of summer?  Well this team do it with a buffet, I do love a buffet.  We all gather together sharing food, laughing and enjoying the company.  It made me happy to be working alongside people who are open and friendly and do a great job.  So happy I didn’t even care that as I left for the summer break, the first rain in six weeks was falling fast.

It really feels like today may well be the first day of the rest of my life.

it’s coming home

I have never been a football fan, yes, I like it when Liverpool win, and shamefully rejoice when Manchester United lose, but really, I am not a fan.  However this year it is different.  For a start the World Cup has been on constantly in our house.  Hubby is thankfully recovering well from his surgery and enjoying convalescing in the Summer sun with footie as the soundtrack to his return to wellness.

This actually was quite annoying at first, until I noticed what was happening all around me.  Social media posts showing friends and their children watching the beautiful game and for once it seems England is winning. The smiles and laughter of the children, all of whom believe that their team can win, well it is quite magical. Then I watch the after match interviews, so much less stressful than actually watching a match and I notice that not only are they winning, they are doing it with good grace and humility, not to mention smart waistcoats.  Gone, it seems, are the egos, the big men who have always put me off the sport.  Those days it seems are done.  Now we have a team, no one more is important than another, and for that I thank them all.  Win or lose to showcase kindness,  team spirit and friendship on the world stage is impressive.  These guys are role models, and for once our children, girls and boys alike have people who are decent and honest to look up to.  No matter what happens next it has been worth it.

As the excitement of today’s match dwindles, and talk turns to the next one, this time a real chance to do something wonderful, I am thinking of another football team.  Young men and boys, passionate for their sport, together as a team on a day out.  A young manager, keen to give them fun experiences led them into a cave, two weeks ago, and they are still there today.  Thankfully brave rescuers have found them and are working hard to bring them home.  It is a tricky task, deep under ground with waters rising, this team literally are in peril.

So, as we hear our countrymen and women singing the Three Lions song, I will be hoping that another team on the other side of the world will soon be coming home, that parents and loved ones will be able to hug them and scold them and then, quietly get on with the rest of their lives.

Let’s all hope that Football really is coming home soon.


Day 48 – a week at home

it is true to say the being at home is much easier than driving the many miles into Manchester, and being together all the time rather than at specific visiting times, it is equally true to say that being in charge of post op care is quite terrifying.

We arrived back just over a week ago.  The long anticipated return, when it came, happened really quickly.  A phone call in the morning and by supper time we were back on the hill.  Two enormous bags of possessions collected over the seven week long stay, and another large bag of tablets, each one necessary to aid recovery.

Hubby seemed ok, the journey back was tricky, for some reason we were both emotional and this was not helped by the tunes played on the radio, still it felt good to be heading West.  Once home it became obvious he was overwhelmed and exhausted. He was also hungry.  He is still hungry a week later. I suppose not eating for almost ten weeks leaves a lot of making up to do.  If health is measured in appetite then I am happy to say hubby is extremely healthy.

This past week has been at times a joy and others a worry.  Post anaesthetic confusion mixed with feeling vulnerable made both of us uneasy, but we have worked it out.  Lots of rest, for both of us, I am actually sleeping again, good food and the company of friends and family in the unseasonally warm sunshine is doing the trick.  Things are getting better.

I am sure we have both learned things from this dreadful time, and we continue to do so daily.  The initial fear of organising so many different pills has passed.  I now have a chart and feel confident we are on top of this.  We have learned that we were both fearful of the confusion, thinking maybe something had gone wrong, neither telling the other until, as suddenly as if arrived, it was gone. I have no doubt we have other hurdles to cross and lessons to learn but today, for the first time in months I am daring to hope we have got this.  That another healthier life awaits us.

In another week I will be staring a new job, something I am excited by and hope that it will work well.  Hubby is in training for days alone, and is actually doing great.  He is even embracing the hated breathing and physical exercises which will restore his lungs and his muscles.  We have walked briefly on the beach and looked out to sea, and we have sat in our garden counting every one of our blessings.

For now as we continue this recovery, hubby is keeping the balls in the air and I am cheering him on, every step of the way.  The next step on our adventure awaits, just around the corner.

Day 27 – a gathering of strangers

today we have a taste of the Summer to come in the city.  A blue sky, dotted with white clouds covering a warm yellow sunshine, it felt good to have warmth on my back and everyone, everywhere seems happier.

I decided to explore the city close to my hotel before visiting time came around.  Across the busy road from the hospital is an art gallery, somewhere I last visited some ten years ago.  Meandering through the exhibitions, each showing something different, I was taken back to a time when this was normal life.  I used to love checking out art, and spent a lot of time in places like this. Within minutes I was appraising and rethinking about what I really like to see, memories of a younger self, I had so many opinions about what is art.

I moved along the corridors and came across the new extension to this public place.  Built recently the old and the new sit more than comfortably side by side.  At the rear a huge window gave the view of a garden, it was full of Spring flowers and sculpture.  I couldn’t wait to get outside.

Once there I was struck by how the architecture blended with the foliage all around.  Reflections bounced images of multiple trees and leaves, the sky lending a shadow and a glow, it was almost magical.  Camera in hand I started recording what I was seeing, it was extraordinary.

Later, when I had photographed everything, I sat and looked around.  I was thinking about how important it is to take time to simply enjoy, something that has not been easy of late.  Quietly, I gave myself to the garden, taking in details of each tulip, standing tall and proud.  I noticed the tiny butterfly working it’s way along the blooms and the bird song became almost deafening.  All these things I had not noticed from my camera.  another reminder that I needed to be still, to immerse myself in the nature around and just be.

I became aware of other people arriving in the garden, three women passed me by, talking in a language I do not understand.  They too seemed in awe of the beauty of the surroundings, and as they looked back at the building they were obviously taken with the large letters illuminated at the top of the roof.  A GATHERING OF STRANGERS it proclaims.  One of the three came to me and asked in broken English, what is the meaning of gathering, I explained it was a coming together, a bringing along and she was happy as it was as she thought.  It struck me then that this was actually what is and has been happening to us for the past month.

So many strangers have gathered around us, from medical staff to fellow patients and their friends and family, all of us gathered together with one thing in common.  And from this gathering come friendships, albeit fleeting and also the people we learn to trust literally with life itself.  Again today in a garden, more strangers stopping to talk, the world is full of friends we don’t yet know.

The hotel I have stayed in at times during these weeks is also a place full of strangers, and yet, the staff here now know me well enough to chat.  No longer strangers,  I know about family, about grandchildren, about how working long shifts wears them out and I know how their smiles and enquiries about hubby and his health, and about me, well these things make life nicer all around.

So many lessons are being learned during this time, having to let go of plans, of literally living in the moment and handing control to others better able to fix things.  Self reliance for me, after ten years of doing most things as a pair, I have learned again to trust myself.  Driving across a strange city, it now feels very familiar.  Being apart from home, from friends and from family, dealing with stress and worry, and yet I seem to be coping ok.  Who knew I could do this?  Certainly not me.

We are hopeful that things will be resolved soon, that the medics will decide that the time is right to fix a broken heart, and then one day in the future we shall drive away from this city of strangers, knowing that we have left behind an army of friends.  Lucky are we.