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Wednesday, 14 June 2017

A ball of light in my room. Feeling the grief.

Recently, I dreamt of Alan, my husband.  He was standing a little way back from us, on a path, concentrating on his phone.  Don't disturb him, I said in my dream to my companions on this path, he will come when he is ready.  I knew in life how he could be overtaken with his phone and I knew that we should not go near him in the dream, that he would come to us when he was ready.   The dream ended then, leaving him forever on his phone, and we forever waiting.

And then, another night, I dreamt I was part of a studio audience at the filming of a television show.  My part of the audience was to ask questions.  Next to us was another group of more important people to ask questions and in that group I knew was Alan.  I was not allowed to see him, he was hidden from me amongst his group.  I tried to see him, but I couldn't. I knew he was there.

I feel as if I am in water.  I am very deeply under the water sometimes, but I can breathe, so that's good, but the light is very far above me.  It is silent and slow down there and I can be bumped and jolted on the stones, caught in the rushes, tumbled about in the flow, or I can just lie still.  Sending little bubbles to the surface, not caring how I got there, not wanting to move.   When not far down under the water, I can break the surface and look around me.  Goodness, I say, look at all those people on the land.  I may swim and splash around, but I don't think of leaving the water, I am comfortable here.  I don't choose where I am.  I wake up in different parts of this stream, river, sea, ocean and take note that right now, I am here.  I am here.  It feels strong, it feels slow, it feels deep, it feels shallow.  It feels terrible, it feels calm.  It moves me against my will, I move freely of my own will.  It is warm, it is cold.  It is where I am for now, for however long it takes.  Perhaps for ever.

I am half way through my year off.  I have taken a year away from everything so that I can remember, think about and mourn my mother, my brother Dominic and my husband Alan.  Three losses, three deaths, I can't work out which one to focus on.  It is hard.  All three are a jumble of images, memories, regrets, I talk to all three and feel that sometimes they are there, but most often that they are not.  I think of Mum, and Dominic floats by.  I think of Dominic and Alan appears.  I think of Alan and Mum walks past.  This time is full of confusions and I am powerless to change it. 

I knew that I would have to face these losses.  I knew that it would be hard, and I would rather not have to deal with it. In the past, I would move on, get busy, have a time limit, and hurtle through grieving, through difficulties, to the time limit and beyond, wiping my hands on a cloth and telling myself that I have done a good job and now, thank heavens, it's time to move on.  I don't like depression, misery, sadness and tears.  Looking back, this avoidance has done me no good at all.  Sadness, experiences, losses, all the things that mark our passage through this life we live, need to be acknowledged, need to be noticed, need to be addressed.  If we don't, they come back to bite us.  We can't avoid pain.  Theoretically, I know this.  Now, I am feeling it.  I would be mad not to, I was part of the dying as a soul midwife, a daughter, sister and wife. My daughter and I held my mother as she died,  and Alan's brother and son and I held him as he died.  Dominic died when we had left the room so briefly, and there was only him and his beloved God.

I am letting it all happen for the first time, I am allowing myself to sink with this grief, and I welcome it.  It says to me that I have loved.  These people I have lost are worth this sorrow, and this is my offering to them.  To feel the depth of their absence, to come to understand who they truly were, and to remember, remember, remember. I have let go of my work, my timetables, my plans.  I can't keep an online story going on social media, I no longer read anything to do with soul midwifery, end of life, grief or art.  Floating under water like this, I cannot easily think of many things to say, and so I don't make much effort to speak to new people.  Or old ones. 

In this way, I am obliged to spend time alone with myself.  I am obliged to hear the things running through my mind, to notice how my body is feeling, and to take my inner life seriously.  Silence is a great teacher.  How can I know how to do this grieving, I tell myself.  How can I know.  There are times though, when I understand something, I understand suddenly why this is all fine and I am fine within it.  Then there are times when I doubt myself so deeply that I feel my own life is coming to an end.  When I am peaceful, these things make a gentle sense, when I am confused, I do not know where to find relief.  But all things are passing, and these things flow away from me and I am ready to find a place to rest and to breathe again. Physically,  I have developed pains in my arms and legs that sometimes make walking difficult.  My body does not work as it used to, and this is exactly how Alan used to be before he became ill.  He would complain of the same things as I have now, though his was because of his passion for sports and for pushing himself far too hard.  I feel I am imitating his body. I know this is a grief reaction, it feels very strange, and there are times when I don't feel any pain at all.  But because Mum, Dominic and Alan were such good people, I am safe in this whirlpool, in this unfamiliar place of pain inside and out.  I will not come to any harm.  I will come through.  I hope.

I want to spend time with Mum, Dom and Alan.  I want to meditate so that I can hear them, I want to fall asleep so that they will come in dreams, I want to ask them questions, and have them find a way to answer.  They are not here.  They are not here.  But sometimes, I think they are here.  I woke in the night recently and looked up to the corner of the room.  I knew something was there, and was not surprised to see a gentle glowing ball of light. Oh! I thought, that is there to comfort me.  It's Mum, I thought smiling, as I turned to sleep again.

There is great comfort in my world too.  My friends are so kind, and my family and Alan's family are feeling exactly the same loss as me.  We support each other.  We are not alone, I am not alone.  I am surrounded by kindness and understanding, surrounded by sensitivity and acts of generous compassion.  This helps so very much.  But no one can walk another's path for them and having taken this first year off to let the sadness happen, I must then let it happen.

I dozed off a few days ago and in my semi dreams I saw Alan sitting in my new room at home on my new bed, laughing, laughing with sheer joy.  I came to, smiling, and will keep that image of him forever now, as how he is to remain in my memory.  And I have taken possession of Dominic's old bed, in which he slept for twenty years.  It was made for my Grandfather about ninety years ago.  It is a large, dark wood, very high off the ground single very old fashioned bed. 

The night after Dominic died, I left the hospice and went back to stay overnight in his rooms at the Cathedral in Edinburgh.  Dominic was a Catholic priest.  Oh do not make me stay in his bed, I thought, do not make me do that.  But there was no other bed for me to sleep in, and so I climbed into the sheets that Dom had left a week ago, and lay in the shape he had left and thought that I may never survive this.  But I slept instantly with a peace and depth that left me in no doubt that this experience was not one of tragedy, in his bed, but one of joy, a gift and of love.  And so, now I have Dom's bed in my house, delivered from Edinburgh.  I sleep in it and I sleep very well.  Soon, when my new bedroom is decorated, I will leave Dom's bed and join Alan as he sits on my new bed, laughing with his head thrown back with sheer joy. 

And in the corner of my new bedroom, my mother will comfort me during the night with a gentle golden ball of light.

My Alan and me xx

My beautiful Mother x

Dom! xx

     Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee
All things are passing;
God never changeth;
Patient endurance
Attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth
In nothing is wanting;
Alone God sufficeth.

Saint Teresa

Monday, 20 February 2017

Love is all there is


Recently my body and soul had a chat.  My mind was present but not listening.  My body had stern words for my mind.  You are not listening, said my body, and so I am going to break my foot.  And if that doesn't work, I'm afraid I will have to have flu.

So be it, said my soul, love is all there is.

La la la said my mind with its fingers in its ears.

The love affair continues

It is three months since my husband Alan died.  It is nine months since my brother Dominic died, and sixteen months since my mother died.  It was my gift to soul midwife each of them, and their unutterably precious gift to me to allow it.  To give as much as we each gave to each other as the dying happened has wiped me out to the extent that I have offered myself a year off to make sense of what it all means, and to understand who I am in the process.  I am, in other words, pooped.  Mentally, physically and emotionally.  Spiritually, I am being asked to stand back, consider, and remember that love is all.

Love that goes out to others needs to come back to me too.  The greatest lesson now is to acknowledge this, to make a decision to love myself, and to take all the time that is needed to understand what this means.

Love is good.  Of its nature it is only good.  To love yourself sounds enlightened, but actually doing it feels awkward.  It feels self indulgent.  To love oneself means doing in a little light narcissism.  Loving oneself and not becoming too antisocial looks a bit like this.  I will love myself more, I won't let other people get to me.  I will accept myself as I am and be kind to myself.  Early nights, no more puff pastry, and seeing the good in everyone. And that is it.  Having said that, it is enough.  We carry on as before.  We still don't know who we are, we still don't listen to ourselves and we certainly don't think of giving ourselves time.  If I was to say these words to someone else, I would follow through with time, action and intent.  If I say them to myself, I simply cannot.  Or so I think.

If I am to truly love myself, I need to know who it is that I am loving.  I know who I appear to be, I know who I want you all to think I am, but in my quiet moments, who really is Antonia? Have I asked her what she needs?  If I say I sit in silence with her, can I hear her if she speaks?  Do I listen?  Do I care?  Who is that person I have made a commitment to love.  I am so curious, I think despite all I have been taught to believe, that she may be really something.

If I am to practice love for myself, I must take the time to find what works.  I must focus my attention on myself.  If I am surprised that instead of being happiest as the centre of a large crowd, I am lost and lonely, then I was wrong about what I thought I liked.  Perhaps I feel safer on my own.  I didn't know that.  Well, I do now, and I am amazed.  What else do I not know? 

Time and space

My year off is in its fourth month. This is about recovery, finding the way back to myself, understanding where I am in all that has happened.  It's very hard to know exactly what it is that I am not doing in order to have time off.  There is always so much to do.  Nature abhors a vacuum, and so not going into the studio, not painting, not soul midwifing, not writing, not doing AGD or one woman shows creates a space which I willingly, enthusiastically, fill with something else.  Bring it on! My mind says, let's keep busy! So time off becomes simply not doing one set of things, and doubling up on all the other things.  This is when my body stepped in and threw me down the stairs. 

I fell down the stairs early one morning.  I knew I had broken something because of the pain.  If I lie down for a minute, I thought, and take two paracetamol, I'll be fine.  I was taking my grandson to his playgroup that morning, and I couldn't under any circumstances, not do that.  So I thought, if I put my boots on, it will contain my badly swollen foot.  Excellent.  I managed to do that, and spent a difficult day hobbling about.  I think I have broken my foot! I said to everyone, Ha ha ha!  No one else thought it was funny.  I must have looked pitiful as I tried to carry a large one year old around as if I could walk properly.  I'm glad she's not my child's Grandma, the other mums must have thought, she's potty.

A week later I went for an X Ray.  Of course it was broken.  I had spent a week pretending it wasn't and suffering for some obscure reason that I cannot fathom.  It was the day that I got the special broken foot boot that my body said, in exasperation, and now it's time for flu. 

Still life with broken foot.

I thought I was dying.  I don't remember having flu before, ever, and so didn't know what it was.  I dragged myself to the doctor expecting him to diagnose Ebola, but he simply told me it was flu, to go to bed and stay there for a week.

In bed, in my lovely clean, soft, crisp white bed, I gave in.  I sank into the comfort and surrendered.  I cannot move, I thought, I cannot think and was aware that this is what I wanted all along.  To do nothing, to be still, to be incapacitated.  And then I heard my body's message.  I have done this for you, it said.  Your mind has been in denial, you have been in denial, and now you must stop.  And so I did.  I let go.  I lay there for a week, my foot on a cushion, and slept.

The sick bed, with treats provided by lovely friends.  Managed these biscuits bravely.

Now, the spaces left by stopping work are still empty.  I am looking at time differently.  The morning will come, the afternoon will come, and night will fall.  If I do nothing, and time goes by, and I watch it go by, it doesn't matter.  I sit in my chair at home and think of the things I would like to do in the home.  The day will come when they will be done, the day that they are done is just a day, and when the things in the house are completed, there will be another day.  Everything that happens is just a moment in time, is over, and time continues.  I like sitting with myself, I like seeing how I feel about things.  I like the freedom to watch the minutes, the hours, the days go by.  My mind can hear my body and vice versa.  They like the harmony when they work together, which takes patience, attention and perseverance because my mind loves to go mental so to speak, and create disasters and misconceptions and judgements.  And my body likes fried foods and cakes and if it could, it would fry cheese and eat it all day.  If allowed to go off on their own, both body and mind will make a nonsense of the other, it takes conscious effort to keep an eye on them both.

A space to watch the time go by and keep an eye on the mental cheese frying

What my soul says

Watching all these goings on, my soul makes itself a cup of tea and smiles.  All this, it says, is already known.  You are learning nothing new, you are simply remembering.  Oh you are so good at obscuring things, at complicating things.  I am often speaking to you, and because you doubt my simplicity, and because you think that complicated things are more profound and better, you don't listen.

Love is all there is.  If you send it out, you must allow it back.  Love does not have favourites, it does not judge, and it has no needs.  Love simply is, and I am filled with it, for you, and for everyone around you. 

My soul stirs its tea and pauses.  We are one, you and I, with your body and your mind.  I am always here, always watching and always in love with you.

What I say


Happy she's not my child's Grandma.  George and I are very happy with our FaceTime chats.
(Thanks to George's Mama Lexi for taking this)