family

“We are here to live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”

“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
Lemony Snicket

It happened slowly. That’s the worst kind. When my time on this Earth is up, I want it to be over and done with. I don’t want to have my life warp into one I no longer have control over. One where my control and senses are stolen from me, where I can no longer function independently. One spent in a hospital bed. When I go, I want it to be quick. Being eaten by a tiger would be pretty terrifying, but it would make for a fantastic story. My future imaginary grandchildren would be the coolest kids in the playground. I’d take saving a cat from a burning building, too, or maybe having some kind of spaceship malfunction and getting sucked out into the lethal atmosphere of some planet far away. Once my time here is up, I don’t want to stay any longer than I have to. Not because losing control of your life sucks in itself, but because of how hard it is for others to watch, and not be able to do a thing about it.

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My nan passed away last week. It’s taken me a few days to find the words to put to paper, and I’m still not sure I have them, but after life in every sense of the word stopped on Tuesday night (and a couple of days becoming a bit of a solitary wanderer), I’m finally able to get something down. I’m thirty next year, and I guess in a sense I’ve been extremely fortunate that by this age, I’ve only ever lost one person—my grandad; “Guggs,” as I’d called him, and I was too young to really feel the magnitude of what it meant. I remember it happened around the same time as my first cat died, and I remember with great clarity how much that affected me. With my grandad, I remember him going into hospital, and making him a card with the silhouette of a cat on it. He never got it. He never came out. I vaguely remember deciding at eleven years old that even then, I knew if I went to the funeral, never having been to one, that I’d fall into a pit of despair and tears from which I feared I’d never escape. My parents had decided my brother was too young to even ask, and I don’t remember what we did or who we stayed with during it, and I don’t remember much after that.

No, losing someone as an adult is a first for me. Although my reaction was to fall into just as big a pit of despair as I would have twenty years ago. My nan was a huge part of my life. When I was young, I spent most of my time with her. We lived in a cul-de-sac, houses surrounding “the green”; my parents’ house was on one side, my nan’s on another, and my other grandparents’ on the other. We were all thirty seconds away from each other at any given time. I have so many memories of time spent at her house. I remember when she build the aviary and started raising quails and budgies in the back garden. Choosing a budgie, a bright yellow one, whom she named Sparky and taught to say things like “who’s a good boy,” “Where’s Emily?” and “cuppa tea, Charlie darling?” The bird sounded exactly like her.

I remember her teaching me to iron with tea towels and socks, and that a good cook never left any batter in the bowl when cooking. I remember her Welsh cakes, and making figurines and fridge magnets out of plaster of Paris and painting them with her. I remember her bedrooms; each with a terrible carpet and curtains that didn’t match and dressing stands with her gold chains on them and mirrors I used to sometimes be a little scared of at night. She kept two money boxes for my brother and me; one in the shape of a globe; that was mine; the other, a wooden church for my brother. She’d put a pound coin into each every week, and despite us moving halfway around the world, whenever I’d go back to visit, I’d find she’d been putting the pound coins in every week anyway. Her Sunday dinners were to die for. She’d boil every bit of nutrient out of the vegetables, but she’d cook lamb and introduced me to mint sauce and apple sauce with meat and potatoes. I was always in charge of the potatoes, putting in a bit of milk and more than a bit of butter, and then margarine on top of that once they were on the plate. And there was always a pudding. Rice pudding and jam, or custard if it was a particularly good day.

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She hated The Simpsons. “Them yellow people,” she called them, but she watched it with me anyway. I’m certain it was a pretend hate. I remember after school watching Trap Door and SuperTed and Neighbours with her every day while we had tea. She taught me that if you stirred milk and sugar into your tea and you had bubbles on the top, it meant you were going to be lucky and get some money. I used to drink them all up from a teaspoon. I remember her first e-mails, and being so incredibly proud of her, having gone for computer lessons on her own at the library after we’d moved. They were all one big sentence with no punctuation but were always full of so much love. I remember how excited she’d get, throughout my whole life, whenever I visited. It was all the time, but I adored her and I was infinitely as excited as she was. I remember finding a card I’d made as a child on a visit maybe four years ago now, in one of the spare bedrooms, apologising for not being allowed to visit every day any more but saying how much I loved her anyway. It had an outline of my hand on the front I’d drawn and coloured in.

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The decline happened slowly, over years and years, but her spirit was the strongest I’ve ever known. It was horribly unfair. She broke one shoulder, had surgery that went wrong and that meant she couldn’t use that arm any more. She started falling; in the street or in her house, and hitting her head. I remember coming home and finding her at the bottom of the stairs in her nightgown one night after a day in London and being so, so scared. Despite it all, she still cooked, came out to the seaside and down to the shops with us, out for a curry or fish and chips, with a smile on her face.

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She was in hospital a few years ago for an extended period, and went through a really worrying few months, but she emerged, resilient as ever. This time, she fell again, and the damage to her other shoulder meant she couldn’t use either arm. Couldn’t use a walker. Surgery. Surgery during which she had a heart attack. Again, she woke okay… but then the infection started. The skin began necrotizing, and antibiotics weren’t working. She was too fragile to operate on again, and we found ourselves terrified that either the infection or being put under again would kill her. Eventually she became strong enough to have surgery attempted again… and it was successful. My dad visited, and gave her a burst of hope and love after months of being stuck on a hospital ward with no wireless phone… but then her blood pressure started to drop. It kept dropping and wouldn’t stabilize.

This time last week, we got the news that she probably only had a matter of days. I couldn’t sleep. I lay there that night, my heart and mind racing, worrying that somewhere almost 4,000 miles away, my dear nan was laying there alone, her consciousness on the verge of disappearing into oblivion. I got maybe two hours and dragged myself up in the morning, but I felt like I was going to throw up at any moment. I was wide awake and exhausted and nauseous and anxious, so I called in and said I’d work from home. I’d been working that weekend, and I had a pile of things to catch up on, so I dove into it from morning ’til night to try to catch up and distract myself. The next day was spent at the office, waiting for any news. Again, I ploughed through; couldn’t eat for nausea and still had an enormous amount to do, and did as much as I possibly could. That evening I had to work an event too, and in the middle of it, I got a phone call from my dad I couldn’t pick up. I knew then that that was the call.

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He messaged me asking when I’d be home, and I said it would probably be over by nine-ish, so probably 9:30. I called as soon as I was able before even getting in the car, and got no answer. My mind started to panic, so I drove home, and found my dad outside my apartment building. It was a bizarre moment—I knew why he was there, but he didn’t seem upset. I said I’d tried calling him, and he said “let’s go inside.” I knew why, but my brain was working on two different levels and I blurted out something stupid about it being messy. At that point, he looked at me, his eyes welling up, and he choked out, “it doesn’t matter,” and put his arms around me. I cried, and I shook, and he cried with me. He’d only found out a couple of hours prior, and I’d been stuck on a tour bus taking photos of “ghosts” and “spirits” unable to be there for him when he did. We talked. We hugged. The grief came in waves. It was something we knew had been coming for a long time, but my nan had always been such a fighter. She’d always pulled through.

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We talked about how the most important thing was that she was no longer suffering. She’d suffered for so very long, and her quality of life was just gone. We cried as my dad said she’d never have to be in pain again, as we both thought inside we’d never see her again. The part that pierced my heart was when he had a moment after which he said quietly, “I’m an orphan now.” I couldn’t bear it. After a little while and many tears, I knew I had to call work to tell them. I spoke with the CEO who was incredibly kind, compassionate and comforting. I’d had no idea she was travelling, but she talked to me for a while and showed a kindness I’ll be eternally grateful for. The next night, my beautiful sweet friend came over to keep me company. She brought food and drinks and we told stories to each other and shared several heart to hearts. She held me as I cried and I felt such incredible gratitude. The next few days I found myself embracing the I in INFJ (uncharacteristic for me), on day one just driving with no particular destination in mind, looking for somewhere completely isolated from other people. I went south, and eventually an abandoned old barn popped up. I had no makeup on and a dress I’d worn the day before and looked as rough as it did, so I ventured through the long grass and sat inside. There were holes in the roof, which was collapsing; doors had fallen down, and it was a graveyard of its former glory. It was perfect. I sat there in the silence for a while, took some pictures, and tried writing. I just wanted my mind to stop racing for once, and for a moment, it did. The next day I spent alone in a bookstore cafe type place I’d never been to. I wrote for hours, and I found it therapeutic. My soul felt a tiny, tiny bit better after those two days.

As much as I’ve written here, it could never be enough. There could never be enough words in this language of ours to do justice to just how much she meant, and how cherished she was to the very end. I hope with all my heart she knew. And cherished she always will be. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be a) here today and b) who I am today. Her gift of love was one I’m beyond lucky to have been given, and I’ll keep it safe in my heart forever.

My Nan, Guggs, and my Dad as a little boy. One of my favourite pictures ever.

My Nan, Guggs, and my Dad as a little boy. One of my favourite pictures ever.

I love you, nan. 

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New Marketing Strategy: Telling Your Customers to F*** Off

Firstly, I should start this story with a little background information. Some of you may remember a post from around Christmastime a couple of years ago (e-mail me for the password) regarding my family situation – my parents had separated a few years prior, and sadly, my relationship with my mother had subsequently dissolved. A few things happened throughout the years between us; things were said and tears were shed, and I spent a long time trying to maintain the relationship before finally, following lots of kind words and advice from the blogosphere, deciding to temporarily opt out – with the hopes that one day, we’d both be on the same page again. Going through Christmases, and especially wedding planning without my mum was hard – but something I’ve learned in recent years is that you can keep holding the door open, but one must make the choice intrinsically to walk through it. And now, I’m thrilled to tell you that since a few days before the wedding, she’s back in my life. In the grand scheme of things, holding onto past hurts isn’t going to pave the way for a positive future, and after receiving a lengthy letter composed of the words I’d always hoped to hear, I decided to let go, run back to that door, and welcome her in with open arms. The feeling was finally mutual, and we’ve been getting together every week or two for the last few months, talking for hours, sharing coffee, music, going shopping, and doing all the mother-daughter things I’ve been wishing for for such a long time. 🙂

So last week, I met her at Starbucks, and about two minutes into the conversation her eyes widened, and she excitedly exclaimed “I know what I was going to tell you!!” She proceeded to tell me how she’d just come from causing “a rumpus” in the local chemist’s. Oh dear, I thought, quietly counting my blessings I hadn’t been there. She’d been in a queue at the postal counter, when she noticed a big display over in the makeup aisle – a giant advertisement for a new mascara from L’Oréal Paris, displaying an attractive lady looking awfully happy about the fact that she was flipping her photographer off. My mum pulled out her phone, eager to show me the evidence she’d snapped, and my jaw hit the floor. There it was, in all its glory: The V-sign. And worse, the brand is holding a vlogging contest – entitled “Show Us Your V-Moment!”

Now, some of you may be wondering what the kerfuffle is all about. In England, flipping the V (with palm facing inward) is equivalent of giving someone the middle finger. The origin is said to have come from the gestures of longbowmen fighting in the English army at the Battle of Agincourt (1415), during the Hundred Years’ War. According to the story, the French claimed they would cut off the arrow-shooting fingers of all the English longbowmen after they’d won the battle, however, (naturally) the English came out victorious, and displayed the sign showing their two fingers intact as an insult to the French. Several headlines involving the Vs include a front-page tabloid proclaiming “Up Yours, Delors” with a large hand, flipping the Vs, superimposed over a Union Jack; a show-jumper being disqualified from competition over a televised V-sign at the judges; Liam Gallagher famously giving the Vs regularly to paparazzi; the opening credits of Buffy showing a British character insulting another character with the Vs; footballers being permanently banned from the national team, and comically, George Bush attempting to give the peace sign to a group of Australian farmers (where the sign means much the same as in the UK) – and instead telling them to f*** off.  Check out The Mirror‘s top ten celebrity V-flickers here.

My mother explained the significance to the lady at the postal counter, who immediately got on the phone to her manager, saying things like “customer complaining about a display with a profanity on it” and “yes, I think we should too…” before informing my mum they’d be pulling it from the shop floor. “It’s funny,” the clerk said, “L’Oréal’s a French company. Do you think they’re subtly sticking it to the Brits?”  My jaw, once again, came within grazing distance of the floor, and I quickly pulled out my phone to see if there was a European version of the ad. Sure enough, there was – with the palm facing the other way, displaying an innocent V for Victory. I couldn’t help but laugh, and we both decided that now we have different surnames, we could get away with writing in and complaining, and hoping for some free schwag!

What do you reckon? Are L’Oréal deliberately taking part in a less-than-subliminal advertising message – or is this a hilarious, innocent mistake? I feel bad for all the girls entering the contest – you might “become a YouTube star” for “showing your V”, but perhaps not quite for the reasons you were hoping.

Oh England, my Lionheart (Part One of Two)

Oh England, my Lionheart,
I’m in your garden, fading fast in your arms
Flapping umbrellas fill the lanes
My London Bridge in rain again
Oh England, my Lionheart
Peter Pan steals the kids in Kensington Park
You read me Shakespeare on the rolling Thames
That old river poet that never, ever ends
Our thumping hearts hold the ravens in,
And keep the tower from tumbling
Oh England, my Lionheart,
I don’t want to go

– Kate Bush

WARNING: This WAS going to be my longest post ever, and there was going to be a serious high five waiting for you if you made it all the way through – I did SO MUCH on this trip, I couldn’t leave anything out! However I think breaking it into more manageable pieces is probably for the best, so this is just part one. 🙂

It seems I’ve arrived back in one piece, and I cannot begin to describe how quickly the last two weeks seemed to pass. Or how mortified I was to have had to go back to work on extreme jet lag and a throat which may as well have been full of razorblades the morning after landing!  The trip was nothing short of breathtaking – visits with friends I’ve known over half my life; the feeling of pure belonging while roaming the streets of London by night, high on post-West End Musical awe and excitement while simultaneously thrilled at the feeling of sharing the grandeur of thousand year old monuments. Getting lost in a country not speaking the language and exploring another culture; seeing family and loved ones and moving on again in a whirlwind journey to the country’s most haunted city, full of gothic architecture, cobblestones, and ghosts. It was perfect, though all over far, far too fast.

The trip started in one of my favourite places in the world: London. I don’t know if you’ve ever been away from home before (though I suppose London is a train ride away from the place I should truly call home), but every time I see a reference to the city on Doctor Who, have BBC radio playing on a Friday morning at work, or hear another English accent, my ears perk up along with my heartbeat and I feel an enormous sense of longing to be back there again. Sweet and I arrived at our hotel, which was a stone’s throw from Big Ben, the London Eye, and all things iconic and dreadfully, wonderfully touristy. Which, after a brief nap, I threw myself into headfirst.

Initially, I went on my first international blogger meetup with the lovely Stephen Ko, where I overindulged in proper sausages, mash, and copious amounts of gravy. We then headed off to explore the city’s museums, which Stephen was kind enough to lead us to, though I must admit an hour’s sleep in over 24 hours didn’t make me the most brilliant of company! That night though, I must have got a second wind, and set off for what was certain to be a highlight: Wicked! I’d seen the show once a few years ago, and it was the best thing I’d ever seen, and once again, it was nothing short of gobsmacking. Dazzling costumes and special effects combined with incredible songwriting and world-class singers, and by the end of it, I was so thrilled with the evening ($12 for a drink aside – forgivable, since it was Pimm’s!) I decided to walk back through the streets of London by night. Illuminated monuments and landmarks were at every turn, and I arrived back, perhaps a hundred photographs later, and collapsed in a happy heap. Roaming London after dark should very well have been dangerous, so I hear, but I felt no sense of fear, only an incredible feeling of belonging. I must say a good part of my heart will forever lie in that city.

With the next day came my NEXT blogger meetup – brunch with Aly, who was absolutely lovely (she even left me with a little koala bear!). She took me to a favourite place of hers, where we talked for hours, feasted on pancakes, fruit and clotted cream, and discovered an amazing secret: our little table was in fact an old desk, and was the only one, it appeared, with a drawer. Aly opened it and found a secret stash of notes – on receipts, napkins, notepaper – little notes of love, hopes, appreciation and dreams, to which we of course added our own. It was quite remarkable, and made for quite the magical morning.

After moving on to Stevenage, my home town (as well as teen pregnancy and chav capital of England), I was shocked at its deterioration. The walk from the train station to my Nan’s should have been filled with little shops, friendly faces, a picturesque duck pond and flower gardens at every step. I’m not sure if it was a trick of the memory of youth, severe degradation, or a combination of both, but the streets I grew up on were no longer as I remembered. The pond was caged off; a rank quagmire of mud, shopping trolleys, and birds no longer able to swim. The shops had all closed down, and the streets were covered in rubbish and trodden-in gum. But I was going to see Nan. The last time I’d visited was two years ago, when she was still very much herself; in a sling, yes, but in good spirits and perfectly able to come out with us, to cook, and to hug. When I walked into her living room, I almost didn’t recognise her. She’d lost a lot of weight, as well as her glasses, and her hair had grown out, shining and white, making her look small, frail. She’d broken both shoulders, and was unable to extend her arms, and seemed consumed by the armchair which I’m certain hadn’t moved in years. But then she opened her mouth to speak, and then she was Nan again. Fiesty and opinionated as ever, and beyond thrilled to see me. Everything was okay once she spoke, and the next day we went out with her wheelchair, her first exposure to the outside world in two months. It meant so much to be able to do something for her.

That night we met up with Kier, one of my oldest friends in the world, for some drinks, pub food, and hours of talking and reminiscing. It felt wonderful to be able to share in his company again and I only wish the time didn’t have to be so fleeting, or the distance quite so far. We met again for a brief brunch later on in the trip, where he surprised me with a gift – a Star Trek bottle opener and a star ready for naming up there in the beautiful night sky. The thoughtfulness was incredible, and I must admit I shed a few tears on the way home that such good friends must be so far away.

I didn’t spend much time in one place – I only had nine days left of holiday time from work, and two of them were spent on the journey there and back, so I REALLY crammed everything in. Next day I headed off to Madrid, Spain – a city I’ve never seen. After a plane ride where I was sat in front of two of my least favourite things in the world (a seat-kicking, screaming baby), I arrived in the middle of siesta time, when everything shuts down for a few hours and people retire for a brief nap to energise for the night ahead. I hadn’t realised my hotel was in The Dodgy End, either, so the initial impression of deserted, streets covered in graffiti was slightly disappointing – until I asked reception what there was for evening entertainment, and was pointed to the Metro station, similar to London’s Underground, which took me to the heart of the nation’s capital.

Elegant, ornate building fronts combined with enormous billboards to envelop us in a city of culture. Nobody seemed to speak a word of English, but I’d been told of a hidden little Michelin Star restaurant, considered one of the “top 1,000 things to do before you die”, where I’d find fantastic food and see some of the world’s best flamenco dancers, which was supposedly a 10 minute walk from the train station. 10 minutes ended up being well over an hour, which had been filled with getting lost and exploring streets full of cathedrals, cityscapes and architecture (not to mention rather sore feet), but eventually, we found the Corral de la Morería, found my seat, and experienced a night of breathtaking entertainment. The next morning, I got up bright and early to visit the grand cathedral and the Palacio Real, where I was heartbroken to find I wasn’t allowed to take photos. A REAL PALACE, from the outside in, where I saw such elaborate decor – gold embellished walls, ceiling frescos, a dining hall which very well could’ve been a mile long, and the thrones upon which King and Queen sat only a few hundred years ago. It was remarkable, and I left thoroughly satiated in beauty, history and culture, before arriving back to a shocking and distressing surprise…

Going to stop here, as this marks about halfway – the rest to come on Thursday, along with stories of the most incredible, most haunted, most beautiful and one of the oldest cities in the world. Thanks for your patience 🙂

Dad

Today is my Dad’s birthday.  He sent me an email the day yesterday, with the subject line saying “Last Day Blues” which went on to talk about how “old” 48 was.  I love my dad dearly and he is many things, but old he is not. I hope he’s reading this, where at the end of the day there might copious amounts of comments telling him how NOT old 48 is.

My dad has always been number one in my life.  I remember growing up laughing out loud at all the things he’d say, proud to have such clever and witty genes, hoping that one day, I’d be as well-spoken, fun and entertaining as he was.  We’d go on trips around Europe, he and I basking in the sun by a cool swimming pool, each eating Calippos and drinking Fanta.  One of my more vivid memories is of him sellotaped to a lilo (I don’t know what you call them in north America!) and being thrown in at the deep end, laughing so hard I cried.

I remember my first “work experience” at school – I must’ve been about eleven, and I went with him to British Aerospace.  I learned about planes and missiles and all sorts of things eleven year old girls don’t understand at all, but felt incredibly grown up following him around, proud to be introduced as his daughter as everyone greeted us with an enormous smile. There was always a feeling of respect and appreciation from people around my dad. You could tell they admired him, and that he made working there fun.

I remember Christmases with my dad, helping him cook in the kitchen as he taught me what a sweetcorn fritter was and how they were a staple of holiday dinners.  I remember his patience as well as his jokes as he tried to help a hopeless girl understand the concept of trigonometry. I remember his words of advice and encouragement when I decided to move out for the first time, and his support every time I’ve ever moved. Which, in the last five or six years, has been more than a fair bit.

I remember when my parents separated, that instead of driving us apart, it brought us closer. I broke up with a long-term boyfriend that same November, and I remember sitting on my makeshift couch in a half-empty apartment on Christmas Day with my Dad, eating packet mashed potatoes and microwave turkey, there for each other in our hours of need. He came with me to see the “most unfestive movie we could think of” afterward, too.

We’ve shared everything over the years, the most recent of which have brought us closer than ever. He was there through my breakup from hell, standing up for me to some absolutely awful people, and avenging my ex in a rather… unbloggable, but downright hilarious way! He visited my nan (his mum) in her hour of need this year, bringing together a family that hadn’t spoken in years, which was nothing short of miraculous.  He came back with all sorts of old photographs and stories, nic nacs from aeons ago, reminding me always that what’s happened in the past doesn’t necessarily have to dictate the future. That sometimes, there are more important things in life.  He continues to inspire me to this day.

Happy birthday to my wonderful Dad, my best friend in the whole world. Someone who unconditionally sees the best in people, in situations, and in other people’s intentions. Someone who planted the seeds for a lifelong love of music, who still makes mix CDs for me and cranks up the ones I make for him. Someone who shed a tear when I got my Gaelic tattoo translating to “my father’s daughter”.  Someone who got me up at the crack of dawn on my birthday two years ago and took me on a surprise trip around Paris.  Who put me on a surprise jet plane for my birthday last year. Someone who’s always encouraged me to follow my dreams and to do the right thing, even if sometimes those things are the most difficult.  Happy birthday to the man I couldn’t be prouder to call Dad.  I love you.

Pieces of the Past

When my dad returned home last week from England, he brought with him a slew of boxes and envelopes, which accompanied him to my doorstep this past Saturday.  Inside ranged everything from childhood photographs of me to my grandad’s pocket watch, complete with a receipt from fifty years ago, to my nan’s prayer book from when she was a girl, accompanied by a miniature gold St. Christopher necklace.  We reminisced for hours about times gone by, and explored the history vaults to learn incredible things about our family’s past.

While he’d been out there, his main goal was to get the family together to show my nan, still in hospital, that there are people that care for her immensely.  Some of these people hadn’t seen her (or each other) in twenty years. Four fifths of my lifetime.  Things which can drive people apart for years can seem so insignificant at times like these, and naturally, the reunion was emotional.  But what made me happiest wasn’t just the news of a reunion, but the report back from my dad.  When he’d first arrived, he said, my nan had looked like she’d “given up.”  Frail, weak, alone – given  up on the world.  By the end of the week she’d been reunited with her own sister, her sons, daughter and grandchildren, and was a “different woman”.  Colour in her cheeks and a smile on her face, and to hear those words warmed my heart.

He’d also met some other relatives while out there, one of which had been researching the family’s genealogy, and sent me some very interesting information along with the box of treasures my dad carried home.  I saw original birth certificates dating back to the 1800s, newspaper articles and letters from the 1940s, old birthday cards from my dad, as a boy, to his mum, and stories and secrets wilder than I could’ve imagined.  His dad’s wallet, home to several old photographs of his children, his wife, and letters we daren’t open, I imagine etched with words from the heart – words which may have been lost over time, but remained immortalised on a piece of paper he carried with him always.  My dad also gave me a small cap – as seen in this photograph of him as a boy with his mum and dad, loved, gleeful and surrounded by pigeons! I’ve always adored this photo, and have it framed on my desk here as I write this, and now I, too, have a little piece of our history.

The last few months, as you know, have been hard for me, being so far from my nan, and the family really coming together again after all this time really made me think.  How easy it is to allow the little disagreements with loved ones blow completely out of proportion, and before too long, days, months, years go by. We can be so quick to allow a disagreement manifest into a full on grudge, which, like a thief in the night, before too long has stolen away a chunk of your life – a piece of time that can never be taken back.  It usually takes something big to make us realise that the power given to a grudge will only repay us with a harsh regret; a sharp awakening to the reality of  time lost.  There too often is never a second chance to be had to go back, to try again, to instead be filled with swift apologies, good memories, assurances of love.  I’m so thankful my nan was able to be reunited with her family, and so very proud of my dad for lifting the veil of bitterness to reveal what’s really more important.

It’s given me food for thought.  Life is flying by ever more quickly with every day that fleets across my path, and though so often in times of disagreement, I’m quick to want to move forward – I know I’m guilty of allowing things to affect me for far too long afterward.  I allow my heart to wallow if wounded, to perpetuate despondency instead of more quickly realising that life really is too short, and we should do all we can to spend as much of it as possible making the most of the time (and the people) we’re given.  It’s something I think we can all work on.

I don’t want to give any more time than necessary to conflict or sadness. I want to fill my days with laughter and love, and look back at a shoebox in fifty years full of a new generation of letters, memories and happiness.  Let’s make the most of the days we’ve been given, yes? And next time we’re faced with post-argument remorse, let’s try to remember, in the subsequent moments, that we really do have a choice.  We can choose to swallow our pride, and get on with making the best of life.

So Far Away

Back in December, I wrote a little about the situation with my Nan being in hospital back in England.  The situation was that she’d dislocated her shoulder a number of years ago, and the hospital cocked up the surgery, rendering her arm unusable forever.  She spent years trying to get by with the use of only one arm, and as she got older, started having these falls.  She lives by herself in a 2-storey house halfway across the planet, and my dad and I feel so useless.  Every day holds constant worry about her safety, and prayer for her protection. What would happen if she fell, and couldn’t get up to call anyone?  Well, in December, that happened.  She fell, injuring her other shoulder, and ended up in hospital right before Christmas.  My aunts and uncles weren’t in touch with her, my dad and I didn’t have their numbers, and she was alone, no visitors, until Christmas, when a good friend of mine went up on Christmas Day and absolutely made her day.

But the situation worsened.  Her blood pressure and potassium levels dropped drastically, so she was moved from the rehabilitation hospital into the general hospital – the one that had caused her disability in the first place.  They scheduled surgery on her other, functional (but injured) shoulder, for this past Monday, the day Sweet and I were away.  I worried the whole day, and returned to a phone call from my dad, saying over the weekend he’d heard from his stepsister that Nan had been pretty scared all weekend.  She was worried they were going to screw up her other shoulder – and if that happened, she’d never be able to look after herself again.  She was scared too because 13 years ago her husband had gone into hospital for surgery – and never came out.  And she was alone.

As my dad told me they’d postponed the surgery (her blood pressure was too low), I held my breath in a desperate effort to hold back the tears.  My Nan had basically raised me – as a child, my dad was working while my mum was in school, and I spent every day at her house, learning to bake, watching TV, making tea and crafts, and helping with her aviary full of budgies and quails.  I adored the little budgie we brought inside to keep, and Sparky lasted a good 8 years, every day calling out in Nan’s voice “cuppa tea, darling”, “where’s Emily”, and “who’s a good boy, boy, boy”.  So many years of joy were spent with my Nan, and it breaks my heart to think of her now, scared and alone in the world.

My dad decided to fly over to England.  He left yesterday, and I had an email this morning saying he’d arrived, and been to visit:

I have just come back from seeing Nan and, as you can imagine, she was overwhelmed.
She is not looking good and her memory is worse than last year but she is much the same as she was. She had some tears about dying and I had a very compassionate and serious conversation with her about coming out and maybe not being in the house. All very tearful but it ended very well.  More updates tomorrow.

Dad

My heart breaks at being stuck over there, completely useless to the woman who practically raised me and I love so dearly, in her time of need.  I’m glad my dad can be with her right now, and all I can do is pray for her.  That the surgery goes well and she comes out healed – but even if this is the case, she may still have falls, and the “talk” was one referring to the possibility of going into a care home.  If the surgery goes wrong like it did before, it would be the end of her ability to look after herself or do any of the things she takes joy in.  And the worst-case scenario – well, I can’t even bear to think about it.

If you could spare a moment today, for a thought or a prayer sent my Nan’s way, it would mean the world.  There’s only so much I can do from so far away, and right now I’m finding the situation pretty tough on top of my potential layoff in a few weeks.  I’m sorry to bring such a downer to your eyes this morning.  But you guys have always been here for me, and I thank you as ever for listening, and for your compassion.

Needles, hammers, and a pretty big countdown…

After the whirlwind of the holidays, the new year, and struggling to drag myself back into a normal routine of early mornings and pressed trousers, this weekend was relatively low-key.  Friday night brought yummy dinners, drinks and home-karaoke with our recent Rock Band 2 score (which is such fun, it’s surprisingly alleviating any nervousness about singing!) but not before visiting the clinic to get our shots – because in ten days, Sweet and I will be jet-setting off on our first trip alone together, for a WEEK IN THE CARIBBEAN.  We booked this trip back in July, and it’s always felt so far away we hadn’t really thought about it, and what with Christmas we just sort of forgot about it until this week, when it hit us that it was less than a fortnight away.  Clinic Lady tried to sell us all sorts of add-ons – tetanus, measles (in case it didn’t work right the first time round), and special triple-the-price insect repellent, but we settled for our Hep. As and went on our merry way, with sore arms (and sore wallets) for the rest of the weekend.

Saturday was my nan’s 81st birthday, and she is still in hospital after being there just about a month – we’d spoken to her over Christmas, and my dad had managed since to get in touch with a family member she (or I) hadn’t seen in about twenty years.  It turns out she’d had no idea nan was in hospital, and when we rang on Saturday to wish her happy birthday, it turned out she’d gone up for the day to visit, armed with flowers, new clothes, slippers and well-wishes.  You could just hear delight in her voice, and especially once she talked to Sweet, too – she sounded happier than I’d heard her in a long time, and it made me feel so incredibly comforted and reassured that she was in fact doing okay.  Her assessments are this week, so we’ll find out whether she’ll be able to go home or not, and if she’ll be able to get a home care worker to help out – so fingers crossed very tightly indeed.

Sunday was all errands and chores, but fun ones – I decided I resented the fact that I had too many clothes and too little storage space, and the same for books – my current bookcase (which I’ve had for close to ten years, now!) has started buckling at the shelves with all the books squeezed in to every available space, and little piles have started forming elsewhere in the house.  So we went out and bought solutions to both problems, and the evening was spent full of carpentry endeavours.  Exhausting, but entirely rewarding!

And so the week begins – a week full of catching up with loved ones, my first wedding dress fitting (am I allowed to squee yet?), movies (we still haven’t seen Avatar!) and lots of running around at the city’s annual big wedding explosion at the Convention Centre next weekend. I’m sure it’ll all be over before I know it!   Happy Monday, everybody – how was your weekend?