We had some of the best weather for our long weekend that we’ve had all summer, and it was lovely to have time with Mum and Moll – 3 girls together. I also had time to see a few friends without having to worry about Himself, who was on his Boat Hunt.
But in amongst all this crept my old fear about losing those I am closest to. My mother is incredibly fit and sprightly (mentally and physically) and doesn’t even wear glasses (groan from her daughter who has been myopic since the age of 13). She is always interested in everything and everyone and has a huge army of friends – understandably. At 79, she is also still extremely attractive.
Himself is doing well, his cancer is under control and despite having days when the medication makes him feel exhausted, as well as general ageing, he is feeling well. He plays the cornet still, has resumed his love affair with boats and still thinks about his wife and dog now and then. (A bit more than that to be honest.)
That I should chose a long weekend to delve into mortality is unfortunate but probably because I wasn’t working so had more time to think about it. Anyway, it kept me awake in the small hours, terrified of this huge void called death.
Ageing is no bundle of laughs. And being married to someone 18 years older, I am more aware than some of the frustrations that this can bring. The body’s gradual refusal to do things we could once do easily. But there’s nothing we can do about it, and it is completely natural. It's part of the ongoing process of life. Look at nature - the tumbling, flame coloured leaves of autumn. Crackly winter frosts. The emerald vibrancy of spring. Life goes on.
Luckily I saw a wise friend who knows me very well. When I was a child, she said, I thought that when you died you lay down in a lovely wood on a blanket of leaves and went to sleep. Death is not a void – it’s something peaceful and part of nature. Part of life.
Seeing my worries, she said you must face your fears, not hide from them. You should have a plan, she said. Write it down, then put it to one side - don't dwell on it, but make the most of the time you have. Enjoy your time with your nearest and dearests. Enjoy life but be prepared.
One of the worst things about losing those we love is being left behind. And yet, as my friend said, we only lose their physical presence. We have albums in our heads full of memories, and it is these that we can remember and play over and over again. And we are not alone. Most of us are fortunate enough to have friends and/or family. We have animals and other responsibilities. We have work. We have hobbies that soothe or distract or invigorate us. We meet new friends, lovers, animals, and these don’t replace the old ones but add to our army of supporters. We can learn new things and this adds to our wisdom and enjoyment of life.
I talked to Himself and he said that we need stamina and courage to face our difficulties. I also think we need to know that we are stronger than we might believe. Particularly if you are in the midst of a menopausal wobble, as I was. As Julie Andrews sang: “All I trust I lead my heart to, All I trust becomes my own. I have confidence in confidence alone. Besides which you see I have confidence in me!”
After that musical outburst, the other thing my friend said was, “You’re not alone. But you must believe in something.”
What, I thought? I was brought up C of E but lost faith in God, or perhaps I never quite had it. As a teenager I was unhappy and developed anorexia, then lost several people who meant a lot to me, then my dad died. Perhaps He was looking after me anyway, but I was angry and turned away, felt bitterly let down. Now a part of me would like to believe but doesn’t quite know how. Or what.
But thinking about what my friend said, I wondered - what do I believe in? Friends. Love. Determination. Perseverance. Caring. Justice – but I don’t mean the legal system. I mean a sense of fairness in life that might not be obvious but usually works out in some odd way. Lots of other things, too. Laughter, fun, enjoyment. Helping others, and being helped in return. A good cry with friends. Cuddles. Sunny walks with Moll. The lovely stretched way I feel after yoga. The sense of peace following meditation. The joy of having a good sing.
As a writer I have to be sensitive enough to write about emotions so that others can understand and empathise with them. But I must be tough enough to deal with the multitude of rejections and disappointments that come across a writer’s path. So this made me realise that I believe very strongly in the subconscious.
Not that I really know what that entails, but I do know that while it might contain memories of old fears and worries, it also stores up joys and treasures. Furthermore, it enables me to write. It spurs me to write. Sometimes phrases tap out of my keyboard and I wonder where they came from. I read them and cry, or laugh, and think, did I write that? Perhaps God is in my keyboard, or my subconscious?
This reminds me of the lovely fellow I met when out walking with Moll. Gabriel Fry he was called. A solid fellow with a wonderfully broad smile, intelligent eyes that missed nothing. If my subconscious could be a person it would be him. Full of rich secrets, fun and laughter. An instant supporter who trusted me, laughed with me as if we'd known each other all our lives. Perhaps we had.
Who do you believe in?