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‘It would be an exotic moment without rush, without engines;

we would all be together in a sudden strangeness.’

Keeping Quiet – Pablo Neruda[i]

I know you, Pandemic, I see what you’re doing out there. I know your ways, I think.

And I wonder if I stare it down, if I look it straight in the face, it will feel easier? I’ve personified the chaos, in a feeble attempt at agency and my thoughts remind me of dealing with the Grief Monster in sudden widowhood, how the creation of a creature seemed to give us some sense of control.

I have been quiet for a few weeks now, while this new monster rages. I’ve been biding my time, allowing my thoughts to simmer. I worried, (I’m good at that,) that maybe I had nothing to say, no way to express my thoughts of the unfolding trauma. But it seems I was wrong; I was just dazed into numbness by the events. Of course, I’m used to being dazed, I’m used to the lockdown in my head when critical mass is reached and I switch off.

And that’s the thing, it’s all so familiar, this devastation, this savagery and fear. I know this. Sudden loss, a widow and a single parent overnight, I’ve got form. I know isolation.

Yet maybe my mental meandering is just another tool in my kit of coping, it’s a big kit now, heavy, but it serves me well. So, I bring it back down to the personal, to the individual, to the story I know inside out. I look from my window to the quiet streets and feel the ripples of people disorientated, lost, grappling for something to rely on. But where does it leave me? My tiny world, the universe inside me, my loss and fears like the fronds of a fern, are mirrored now, mapped out and scaled up to the global suffering, like the stardust arms of our Milky Way, holding us tight as we cry. Swirls within swirls, tears merging, the individual and the whole, our private pains all part of each other’s. In our anguish and separation, we are never more together.

As I look out of my window, the birdsong seems louder against the quiet streets, the planet readjusting and my letterbox clatters, an unseen hand has touched my post, a stranger in shorts with his bag strapped around him, doing essential work, keeping things ticking. In the almost silence I feel the planet buzzing, the nurses, doctors, trained and strained, working to exhaustion, flooded with compassion but unprepared for this, the community carers, sustaining the elderly, my elderly, my parents supported by others. And the grieving, the unseen, rocking in pain and each digit in the daily statistics is someone’s universe imploding.

And when my newsfeed became too much, I found myself curling inwards, down and out.  My window of tolerance had been reached so I went far away. I took myself off and hid out in Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen. I learned knife skills and in my slicing of scallions and on the perfect plates of his pomme purée, I calmed down. It was a safe place, away from the media and their terror machine, away from the soaring death count. And I rested for a while but then returned.

It’s true to say that ‘critical thinking without hope is cynicism and hope without critical thinking is naïveté.[ii] so I raised my head above the parapet and peered back out in search of balance. I’d realised my quixotic railing at the Government’s windmills wouldn’t help me, neither would wishing for utopian ideals when we come out on the other side.

So then came the search to normalise, now as back then, I scour and plunder, I seek out information on how we might get through this. In widowhood, my coffee table became piled high with teetering tomes of those who’d broken before me, self-care and guidance, spiritual comfort, woo-woo weirdness and scientific rigour of the facts. I’d consume and devour anything that gave me a grip or a foothold in my perilous new world. And now I feel a similar pattern. I’m gathering pandemics on my pc’s open tabs; I’m leaning into the past to see what lies ahead.  The trouble is, it’s just a guide, it’s a consideration of what went before. Like my stack of grief books, they could only hint, they didn’t map my journey, it was mine alone. They might have signposted features of the landscape but my terrain, like everyone’s, is unique, and this pandemic, while resembling the maths and graphs of those before, is still unknown. No amount of planning can prepare you for the event when it finally hits. Like pre-grieving ahead of the inevitable, it’s pragmatic, a dry run in its own way but when it’s real, then all bets are off. I see it now in the Government’s scurrying, scrabbling for resources not purchased in time, in how we turn to think-tanks for the answers, and though they might have prepped and planned, they’re still fallible. They fail.  So, flexibility from the model is essential, hindsight, as everyone accepts, is a glorious thing. But if all these decisions were mine, what would I have done?

So, I travel back to the plague, in the middle ages where quarantines began, where ships were anchored outside the coastal cities, waiting forty days before the sailors could set foot on land. In the 14th century trade and colonization already linked countries, passing wares and sickness around the globe.

And onward to 1918 where the Spanish flu found troops cramped and cooped, dreaming of home, the waves slopping and slapping up the sides, no chance for social distancing as they lay close, and the virus travelled around the globe in months but now with our much smaller world we can share our germs in hours.

But good must come from these dark days now, it will find a way, like the beautiful boulevards, designed and built after cholera, after the open sewers of Paris were purged and swept away.

Still, I have to rail in my Pollyanna[iii] tendency, but it’s as rife as Covid19 itself. It’s our expertise we need to pass around now with the R&D teams across the continents working on a vaccine to protect us all. It’s a chance to share our goals, an opportunity to act for the common good.

I look from my window and watch as the most beautiful of days begins, as a springtime  sun shines down on us, on those waking up crippled by grief under its rays, staff crushed by the sights in the hospitals, the tipping point of people doing their best against nature at its worst. But as the day promises to heat up, the sky turns to a mothering blue, a swaddling in gentle heat, as if to soothe, as if to hush us in our trembling.

Sometimes I think of springtime in Belsen, of blossom falling outside the camps, coating the ground like soft fallen kisses and, whether for a second, for a heartbeat or two, the sun would lift their eyes to the skies, would lift their spirits for a moment.

And we are linked, inextricably, we are one person, suffering, then as now, their pain, is our pain and through this ravaging, hope remains as prevalent as the virus, but its curve will never flatten out.  Awareness of our fragility is laced with resilience and a need to find meaning in our vulnerable lives. In ‘The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology’ Erich Fromm reminds us to ‘find a frame of reference…to escape the experience of utter helplessness, disorientation and up-rootedness.’ but that ‘only through full awareness of the danger to life can our potential be mobilized for action, capable of bringing about drastic changes in our way of organizing our society.’[iv]

And so, the day heats up and we remember when we were free to run, splashing into the surf, giggling in the arms of others, chattering in cafes, pub gardens filled with noise and clatter. And under this savagery, in this necessary pausing we see the minutia of our lives, the reality that we had everything all along. On our shuddering planet, through this global bereavement, it feels as though we took our previous world for-granted, not because it didn’t matter but because we never could conceive of it being torn away.

As people plan to pop out in the sun, to experience its rays in their gardens, in a small way, without a boot full of beach balls and towels, as our appreciation and gratitude for the tiny things grows alongside the death toll, I find it so familiar.

I know this place, this smallness, revelling in the human moments, recalling the heartfelt hug of a friend, the sun stroking the side of your face, a shared joke or being held as the pain raged up through you. It was always about the individual acts of connection, the unseen intricate web of us all. I feel it as I stand by my front door in the cool of Thursday evenings, as I clap and tears roll in the comfort of strangers, in the solidarity, on our socially distanced doorsteps of home.

Human spirit, above all other considerations is the way, to lift up, despite Covid19, and because of it. It’s that bond between the individual and the universal, the threads that bind us tight through the centuries. As humans we have immense capacity for lifting each other up, while we hide away, ‘self-islanding.’[v]

The dissonance between the joy of springtime sun and the realities of the bleakness in the wards seems to underline our fragility, our fleeting space against the force of nature. I remember walking home in sunshine in the first spring since my loss, and how I objected to its glare and the chiffon people all around me while I tried to drag my granite form back home. It seemed improbable that the sun could shine and now, on these blossoms filled days it seems to tease, to remind us of when we lived without the fear of now. But outside my window trees are turning sap green in hope, and every bud is a reminder that this will pass, and something else will come. Leaves will stretch out and each one seems to wave to me while I sit inside, saying wait a while, just stop, hold tight and hold on.

I remember speaking with my counsellor, in the early months, in the dense fog of sudden bereavement. I told her that that I could not move, I had ceased to have any forward motion and from the point of view of the outside world, I was stationary. I told her of the Taoist principle of Wu Wei,[vi] creating action through in-action and of the uncarved block, of something left to its natural state. She didn’t seem to comprehend my stillness and why I felt comfort in the stopping. She referred to herself as a Bereavement Visitor, and she perched on the edge of my silent sofa, in her coordinated colours and oversized wooden beads, peering into her small diary at the end of every session. When she asked ‘would you like to see me again?’ I always answered ‘yes,’ despite our occasional breaches and misses, where our world view had collided. But she insisted that I had been active and so I let it ride, I let it go. One of those moments, so frequent, when someone said or did something that jarred, words that screwed me up on the inside, but I learned to let them pass. I knew in my stillness, in my isolation from the churning world outside, that in my pausing I would regain, I would catch my breath against the tumult of emotions.

And I am reminded of Wu Wei now in our global stillness, while the virus rips though towns. This pausing, like trees in dormant winter, appearing to be static, waiting, biding their time until it’s safe to reveal themselves again. Like the split second of stillness between an in and an out breath, and the fact that silence ‘remains, inescapably, a form of speech and an element of dialogue.’[vii] This enforced opportunity for hush is dialectic, relational to our culture of incessant noise.

But we’re not too good at waiting right now, yet ‘waiting isn’t an in-between time’[viii] although it feels like it, in these instant-add to basket-on demand days. We like prompt resolution, immediate answers, on double speed YouTube vids because we don’t have time. But now time is all we do have, waiting for a vaccine, waiting for isolation to end, for permission to run free again but as Wordsworth states, sometimes solitude can be gracious.

‘When from our better selves we have too long been parted by the hurrying world.’[ix] Like the structure of Hindu temples a progression of rooms reducing in size until the smallest with the statue, a communion, an essential stripping away of all distraction. And so, we come face to face with ourselves, highlighting our work-in -progress from which we try to hide. It is with hope like a glisk[x] that ‘we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth into the enchanted place.’[xi]

But it’s that sense of impotence against it all, now as then. So, it’s back to baby steps, the phrase used liberally by the widowed community, a mantra which we pass around between ourselves when reality becomes too much. That’s all we can do. So, we’re indoors and we have food and Wi-Fi and that’s enough. I’m powerless against the chaos and carnage in the hospitals, I can clap but I can’t fund the shattered staff.

There’s a sense of being at war with this microscopic enemy, unseen but ever-present behind our daily life. I think about my parents, children in WW2, air raid shelters in the back yard, sitting out with flash lights waiting for the all clear from the bombs. I imagine they must have grown accustomed to that on-amber feeling, as I have done. My familiar foes of hyper vigilance and anxiety are often lying in wait for me, skilled assailants in the art of ambush.

 And I think of my grandfather and the assailants in his world. He was a caster, a miner, in the unrelenting harshness of his days. As a young man in his teens he fought in WW1, but he never spoke about his time as a prisoner, the images from the Japanese camps were locked away inside him, while he raised a family, toiled the allotments, providing daily veg for his three girls. And I think of my grandfather with his voiceless memories, his calloused hands planting sweet-pea seeds, bringing beautiful blooms back to their two-up two-down terraced house. It’s these moments of value, of joy amongst the suffering that resonate and call out now.

Before the pandemic separated us all, a good friend gave me sweet-pea seeds. I was never much of a gardener but I will plant these out soon like my grandfather did, and remember the resilience in my genes, our careful contouring[xii] and our inherent pull to hope.  I will feel gratitude for these moments of stillness, this enforced retreat from the speed of our world, a chance to reconsider how I live.

But I can consider this from my sofa, and we have Netflix, we have food in our first world cell. And I think of others in Brazilian slums, huddled under cardboard and tin, families living on top of each other, with no gardens to watch the birds, no space, no sanitation, no antibacterial wash to clean their hands. Yet I’m reminded of our alikeness, that they’re just different versions of me and our son, people like us but clutching cups of water instead of scrolling on iPhones.

As Marcus Aurelius points out, ‘it has long been shown that we are born for community’[xiii] so evident now in the swathes of people signing up to be volunteers, reaching out to strangers, groups of helpers springing up like the trees coming into bud.

And there’s something calming in the understanding that we’re all the same. In this illusion of separateness, from slums to sidewalks, refugee camps to condos, my grandfather’s tiny terrace to our home, we are all linked.

I know this place, this waiting, this sense of homesickness while still at home. That familiar searching for a feeling of safety that you get when you close the front door. But you close the front door and the feelings are still there, that marrow deep yearning for it to be a different world. And as we creep into another week by ourselves I remember counting back then, in bereavement’s bleak beginning. I used to note the tiles in the splash back behind my oven. There are twelve of them. I used to count the days, then tiles turned to weeks and months, stood stirring something, noting how my metric had changed and the tiles which represented so many hours, then marked out many weeks. Now I’m still marking time, a prisoner in my mind, ticking up not down.

I hope we’re not still here in many weeks, I hope enough has changed but now, as then, a new normal will emerge. I’m so used to waiting, to just being, and the solidarity with the unseen, the philoxenia,[xiv]a balm to our wounds in the kindness of strangers. Hour at a time, minute by minute, stepping with care into our changed reality and whatever lies beyond.

The blossom waves to me from outside my window, so joyous, ‘all froth and flutter, like swathes of taffeta’[xv]around a bride. The birdsong bookends our days and they sing out, emphatic. I wonder what they’re saying? They’ve seen it all before, maybe they’re trying to tell us that we’ll be ok?

Despite our hiraeth[xvi]we gather strength, we come up with a new plan. We have hope. Always. And we thole on.[xvii]


[i] https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/05/28/keeping-quiet-sylvia-boorstein-reads-pablo-neruda/

Accessed 17/04/2020

[ii] https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/02/09/hope-cynicism/

Accessed 17/04/20

[iii] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/pollyanna

A person who believes that good things are more likely to happen than bad things, even when this is very unlikely.

Accessed 19/04/2020

[iv] https://www.brainpickings.org/2020/03/22/erich-fromm-revolution-of-hope/

Accessed 17/04/20

[v] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “isolate” – to place apart, to stand detached from one’s surroundings.

From the Italian “isolare”, “to reduce to an island”; itself from Latin “insula”, “island”.

In Welsh, “self-isolation” is “hunan ynysu”, literally “self-islanding”.

04/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[vi] Hoff, B. The Tao of Pooh, 1989, (Mandarin Paperbacks, London, UK), p68

[vii] https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/06/the-aesthetic-of-silence-susan-sontag/

Accessed 17/04/20

[viii] https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/12/17/jason-farman-delayed-response/Accessed 17/04/20

‘Waiting isn’t a hurdle keeping us from intimacy and from living our lives to the fullest. Instead, waiting is essential to how we connect as humans in the messages we send. Waiting shapes our social lives in many ways, and waiting is something that can benefit us. Waiting can be fruitful.’

[ix] Storr, A. Solitude 1997 (Harper Collins, London) p202

[x] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “glisk” -sunlight glimpsed through a break in the clouds, a fleeting glance at a glittering sight, a brief glow of warmth from fire that’s burned low, a sudden flash of hope in the heart.  (Scots) 06/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[xi]   https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/05/28/keeping-quiet-sylvia-boorstein-reads-pablo-neruda/

Accessed 17/04/2020

[xii] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “contouring” – when traversing steep or unsure ground, picking a path that holds its height.

On the hill, as in life, a means of staying steady, of keeping level even when the going is rough, the world falling away to one side or the other. 05/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[xiii] Aurelius, M. Meditations 2006, (Penguin Random House, London, UK) p41

[xiv] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) Word of the Day: “philoxenia” – lit. ‘friendship to/love of strangers’ (Greek Φίλοξενϊά). Kindness shown to people unknown; hands opened in care to those in need; tenderness offered across time & space. An ancient virtue for modern times. 08/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

[xv] https://www.janeylfoster.com/2020/04/17/white-cloud/

Accessed 17.4.2020

[xvi] https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2012/09/18/dreaming-in-welsh/

‘To feel hiraeth is to feel a deep incompleteness and to recognise it as familiar. Mae hiraeth arna amdanot ti. There’s a homesickness on me for you.’

Accessed 19/04/2020

[xvii] Macfarlane, Robert (RobGMacfarlane) ‘Word of the Day: “thole”- as a noun, the ability to bear hardship. As a verb, to endure patiently, to slog through tough times; “to thole on” (Scots). 16/04/2020 07:00. Tweet

Early December 2019 – Hard Frost.

It’s very endings out there, very closings and while I’m tucked up warm inside I can feel the weight of people rushing and stressing but it’s not for me.
I am a winter baby and how many times in this work will I have mentioned this and how many times do I stop and feel thankful for this fact?

There is a resonance with my cycles and with the seasons and now, pivoting at the end of a decade, I feel full. I’m ready to wear monochrome clothes, to mirror the weathering and huddle down to wait for spring. But spring is a distant concept as we shuffle forwards towards Christmas. 

I’m so lost in number right now, so imbued 
with the elegance of maths and it comes from our boy. Our boy, the man on the train in this winter’s morning, heading out to where derivatives lie and he takes the integral between zero and infinity because he can, as it flows out from him like a song, like a melody that he has written in his sleep. But I can’t sing. I clunk and chug with number but I am drawn into it like a child, nose squashed up against the toy shop window, hot cheeks against the ice and deep inside, the toy maker carves his wonders. And I want to hold them, I want to be allowed inside to rummage and explore. I want to build and construct, to play with the forms in front of me but I can’t, not yet. I am outside the Toy Shop of Number but the door is open and a rounded man in red invites me in. 

I can do fractions now, I am learning and it’s very Me, very let’s take on something I don’t understand, like grief. Of course after a decade, well almost, of learning to breathe as a widow, my knowledge is deep, my enforced wisdom cocoons me and I know enough. 

But I’m a little too full to be honest as I try to tease out the threads of this work, as I stumble around my mixed metaphors but it’s alright, it’s now and I send an out breath into my quiet kitchen and up and out with the steam in the frost. I feel myself tiptoe to the summit of some vast mountain and I want to peer over the edge, I want to look behind me and see the footsteps we took to get here, crevices hacked into the snow, and how my hands ache from the cold, how they bleed into the ground, forming pink rivulets of ribbons marking out my path and here we are. 

At the edge, on the top, with the decade behind us, teetering with just mist and unknown lands beyond our sight. 

I sit down on the mountain and let the iced air trace its way down through my throat, my windpipe, to my lungs and feel its chill. Out in the mist, our boy melts the snow beneath him, uses equipment I don’t understand, to heave, then stride along and I can breathe. My breath dances out before me, rippled and white like a veil of grief that leads the way, that spirals up and out, dissolving in the chaos of sunlight as I sit here. And then the next breath and the veil rises and floats, expands and disperses and I’m so used to this. 

I imagine my struggle is between the rigour and logic of number, of its construct that underpins our world and the magic of its revealed beauty. And we count down, sleeps to Christmas, then days to the End of the Year and the media throbs with the lists and reviews, scooping itself up in a riot of memory, highlighting how we’ve aged and how we’ve changed. 

As we opened ourselves up to the new decade back then, we were safer, more certain of our worlds or were we just too immersed in our smallness to see the unfolding news? I suppose that’s my learning, and how linear everything was back then, how holidays were planned ahead and there was expectation and prediction but we didn’t predict widowhood – well you wouldn’t. And then thirteen months into the decade, linear graphing ceased. 

There were no formulas to map the areas under the waves which my life created, no way to simplify the expressions, to substitute out the difficult parts and craft a solution to its integral. There was nothing to be manipulated or calculated, there was just the number 2. Me and our boy.

And then time happened and then clocks just did their thing and that’s the problem. It’s all number-ticking-number, hours and months and years. I acknowledge it, I roll into it but sit outside and watch. Watch the chaos in the country, the Westminster circus, the pantomime in Europe, the unfolding uncertainty swaddling an aging planet, a turning solar system and then there’s us.

Me and our boy on a mountain top in the snow, in the coldest of days looking out. 
He carves calculus into the white with a big stick that he’s found while I photograph the icicles in a world tuned upside. 
And this is our mountain and we have climbed it.

And here in my one hundredth post I count in moments, in the abyss, in the joy.
One hundred times I’ve sat and tapped and poured my mind out, and ten years we have travelled. And 9 of them we have survived and inched in grief. 

It’s only number, it’s only time.

I need to stand up again and brush the snow from my cold legs. The sun warms us, melts the impacted white as we trudge on. 
Fur tickles my face, photons glint on our cheeks. 
The mother, the writer, the boy, the mathematician. 
Birds circle, sing above us.
Numbers change and we go on.

PS

December 31st 2019

This time last year we were in Hamburg, a re-imagined city, a Phoenix like ourselves, built on the remnants of how it used to be and we had sailed.
We’d sailed out on the same ship that held us close on our first journey, in the fractured chaos chronicled by my first post. And last year I took a book with me, Mary Wollstonecraft’s – Letters Written in Denmark, Norway and Sweden and she travelled with her baby as I travel with our son.
And now one year later as our boy welcomes in a new decade with his mates, I write through the silence, miles from our fireworks over Hamburg and I look back.
December 31st 2018
‘But eleven days of weariness on board … have so exhausted my spirits to say nothing of other causes’ she begins and dear Mary tells me she ‘adheres to determination to give observations, as I travel through new scenes,warmed with the impressions they have made on me’ and I breathe. I am in good company. 
Her words take me back to the start of my writing and in my first post, in fog I wrote. ‘Eleven years ago I could not walk, an unstable pelvis hampered my plans for a natural birth’ and there I sat and wrote on this ship, on THIS SHIP, in my younger pain -worn body and I was there in my unstable world of widowhood with our ten year old boy at my side. 
And you see why I am full. Seven years and three months have past in this unpredictable land and we are here again. Noting the structure, the shape of the rooms and whilst Mary has her baby with her, I have my baby, grown. Our tiny boy with the luggage he’s learned to carry is now 18, a young man by my side, with his father’s eyes and we weave down long corridors, we sway but hold onto the sides. 
How can this be? These cabins are the same, refurbished decor but the mirror surrounds reflect a solid me, a stoical me, a me that has soldiered on, like I always did, like I do and just beneath the reflection I remember her face, hair thicker and longer than now, features on the edge of what he knew. She ripples past me like the lyrics of a favourite song, like a passing wave and then gone. Here – gone. There – gone, bobbing, remaining, twirling around me and she calls out to me, pleads to me with her eyes, with her out stretched hands. 
‘But how do I live? How do I do this?’
And I say ‘hush, hush now and just breathe. Hold tight and hold on.’
xxx

April 16th

It was bitter in Paris, the wind sliced across our faces like a knife but it was Easter, an adventure, of sorts and everything was giddy, new.  

I’d stared through the window watching the propeller on my first ever flight, as though I alone kept the plane in the air, as though sitting by my fiancé and opposite the air hostess, my only job was to control the wings. 

It was twenty-one years ago, our second holiday and it sparkled and danced like the lights across the Seine. 

Despite trawling around Tourist Information Centres on a heaving Easter weekend, we were ok. Despite our desperation for an upgrade from the dilapidated B&B and the hauling of our luggage down the rues and boulevards to the new one that we found, we were still fine. And ushered to a cramped room by a spherical hotelier who beamed and pointed to the spiral stairs to breakfast, we settled in. Carefree with croissants and we unpacked.

We ticked off attractions like you do when you’re invincible and the icy wind didn’t bother us. It took pieces out of us thoughas we crossed the square to Notre Dame and battered us as we stood with everyone else, waiting for the warmth of her arms.

And we shuffled and we inched. In the darkness and smell of ancient wood I lost myself. I remembered the floor in that sacred silence, the air that hummed and buzzed with rustling tourists, I remembered the thick smell of dust and sweat and little more. Wrapped up in Our Lady I was taken ill, I was helped to sit down somewhere away from the crowds and I saw feet, lots of them, the shoes of my fiancé and those of a strange woman whose name we never knew. 

And this morning while ash settles in the streets there, while people lift up their eyes to view the savage route of flames, I think of the lady who came to help usAnd she’s a memory of a warm patterned skirt, oranges, yellows and browns, swirls and circles like flames around her feet. She sat while I regained myself, called us a taxi and stayed with us until it came. I never saw her face but had a sense of her on my left, she wished us well for our marriage, blessed us with healthy children and was gone. 

And I think of our lady today, I wonder where she is in this moment, if she thinks of Notre Dame and the couple who she helped years ago. Does she remember the young women, who only saw the stone floor of the Cathedral but who is tied to it now, somehow. There in Paris, in the coldest of Easters, the ancient monument became a gatekeeper to their life.

The light falls over the place where the Spire had been, and deep inside there is the echo of a woman sitting. And she will be rebuilt and carry on. 

Post Script

April 17th

We married one year later and as I wake to thick fog, it engulfs my town, my road, my mind, like the smoke engulfed the Spire and I am tumbling down into the structure, cascading in the edifice, sparks and flames mix with blossom, with confetti. They float around me, glorious, transient, burning up in the atmosphere of the day, in the flickerings, the fleeting gasps of time.

Twenty springs have passed, twenty bursts of blossom and it is full now, resplendent, magnificent. It swishes around in my peripheral vision like swathes of ivory taffeta, like a girl. And it will age, fall and flutter to the ground, to become part of the soil that feeds the tree. Until next year and she will be back to bloom again.

Time itself, our companion on the journey, folded into Parisian rubble and the strength to rebuild, striving, resilient, fragrant with hope.

Always – in the memory of blossom. 

xxx

 

 

 

I watch a bird move and its serendipity, of sorts. I watch it fly through the trees I can’t reach and clouds I’d rather clamber on, but I cannot. I am still again.

And when I got up in the night, in the thick blackness of four o’clock, I heard a bird. In the night that almost dreamt of morning, I heard a bird. It chirruped through my open bathroom window in the black. I couldn’t listen. How removed it seemed from any sensibilities, how it almost ridiculed me, to be singing in the night. To find joy without the dawn but still it sang.

It sang from instinct, I imagine, from an inbuilt urge to fly. And wings that beat need food and food comes with the dawn. Daylight will come soon. It had certainty, it knew and I know too, although I couldn’t sing then. I had no wings at four in the morning, no sense of movement and little now.

Still the night has shifted since, gone elsewhere and here after the suns heat has bled fierce into the clouds, the day has settled. Soft grey bandages and streaks of silver sit in silent observation. A bird cuts through, driven, focussed and I go around again. Round and around and around again. Still and movement, still and movement, like the wheels pushed by pedals that pass my window now, like the heartbeat of the bird who craves the food. Relentless on, on, on then stopping, resting like the plants that sleep outside.

My garden is quiet, like me, tattered by winter and time. Leaves rest late in their stumbled piles where I had brushed them. They mulch down to such a haven, a treasure to rustle and poke about with eager beaks and I will watch.

Still garden. Silent tired and waiting. Some things pop up, new shoots, pale green with its energy dormant like mine and I can see them. Amongst the weeds and things push up, there are moments, flashes of the garden I used to know. Branches clamber round me, hold me steady as I sway and thorns pierce deep, bloodletting in winter, onto my soil, into my earth, like it has always been. I watch the cuts, they scratch across my arms, white in the cold, thin in the winds and lines draw red. And here’s my garden, concrete waiting, collecting moss and here’s my pond that will burble and thrive. 

But not now. Now it is February, now it holds me as I wait, tiptoeing through weeds and old growth, roots that twist back up through earth. This is my land now. I tend the old plants, prune them, hold and study them in my hand. How familiar they are, yet how startling. So brittle, yet strong in my gaze.

And my hands will feed them, tend to their growth spurts when they come and they will, and they do. Tangled weavings all around me, bracken and thickets of spikes, tendrils that pull onto my legs and I flump down. I find more thorns, they cut into me and I watch in the cold as bright blood forms small spheres on white skin. I pat the wound and smear out red, then clean it well. The air stings across the open flesh but I’m used to tending to the pain. I dab it dry, look after it and bandage it safe till next time.   

I sit in my garden now, cold stillness of winter, bulbs nestling in the darkness, full of verveI water the old things  I serve them well. Shoots bob up, green spears through the black hume, it won’t be long. And it is February, I’m still, I’m winter but spring will come again and I will grow. For others it’s only February but for me, I turn to stone.

xxx

 

A removal van has just driven away from next door. I watched it move out of sight, around the corner as the post man walked up my drive. New letters to open, bills to pay, worlds to live in. I watched the son-in-law drive away from my neighbour’s house, after he’d let in the house clearance people, then drove off ahead of the van, as his late father-in-law’s furniture was carried away.

I used to know my neighbour’s daughter, way back in the old world, I used to sit around committee tables with her and in the early months, when I couldn’t leave the house, she popped by with bread and milk and calpol and we hugged. We’ve lost touch over the yesrs, I folded into my new world and she became someone I’d occasionally nod to as she visited her father next door.

I used to see him, tall and bent, like an old willow tree, sturdy, despite his age and he would drive slow with care, potter about and do his lawn. He started to build a greenhouse years ago when he first moved here. He was widowed, moved down from Scotland to be nearer his girls. He had a lilting gentle accent and I always thought he could have been an old film star. He had the look of Peter Cushing and eyes that must have sparkled long ago. His greenhouse project came undone with the Parish Council’s restrictions – no permitted development allowed here, so he never finished the job and it remained a carcass in aluminium, un-glazed, silver struts frozen in time.

In the summer, around the time our son prepared for his Prom, some relatives came and took the greenhouse down and while our boy swaggered in his evening suit, amongst his mates and bare shouldered girls with twirled up hair – some family came and painted his fence, painted over the pale blues and greens from old tins that he’d used up. I liked his patch-worked fence, his rainbow of creosote by the hand of a practical man. It’s just uniform brown now, waiting for the new owners to put their stamp on the land.

When I look out of my kitchen window I imagine I still see him, slower in frailty, heading out in his car, repeatedly heading out in a loop in my mind. In the summer, around the time our boy had left school and was holed up on the PC, laughing with his mates on theirs, I noticed his neat grass had become long, left to grow and before I could offer to have it cut for him, his family came to help out. And then more people in cars and his daughters tidied the patio out the back.

Around the time our son got his exam results, a skip turned up next door. As his face filled with pride and relief, when he compared notes with his mates as the summer crept along, my neighbour’s garage was cleared and I dropped a card in through their door.

Our old neighbour bridged the gap between our worlds, he moved in a couple of years after us and I went to see him as he chipped the snow from off his car. I asked him if he needed anything, could we help him out at all?

But he was fine.

‘No thank you, Lassie, I’m just going up to help my girls.’

I told my husband.

‘Oh he’s so grateful for the offer of help!’

He said, ‘is he?’ and I laughed.

‘No! He’s doing much better than we are,’ and he was. He dug himself out of the snow, he helped his daughters, despite his age and was active right up till the end.

I didn’t speak to him much in the new world, I used to imagine he’d see me from his kitchen window as I trudged home, and in his widowed world he’d have a sense of what I was dealing with in mine – but we never spoke about it. I could see it in his eyes though and he could see it in mine.

It’s been that kind of year somehow, so many changes and transitions. And as my neighbour’s family prepare to make the best of Christmas somewhere, when they go through the motions for their kids, I continue with our new traditions here.

I see our boy at the edge of a man, sturdy and strong, growing long college hair because he can. I see him stretching up and out. I am swamped by the Christmases we had, the best ones by the sea, all together with Thomas and masses of track on the floor, the military operation of the dinner and never enough roast potatoes for us all.

I see myself as a teenager unhindered by loss, spending half a day to create the perfect tree and how stressful it was, how the symmetry had to be spot on, how the baubles alternated in colour and size. It was a spectacle. And more than that it was something to control, something to bring order to, a sense of certainty in the world.

I noted myself as a girl, the structure of Christmas, the need to get everything right and I thought of her last weekend when a friend visited us. When we were running late and the tree and decorations were still barricaded in a cupboard, behind a chair and our boy did the heavy work while I checked on the food as he wrestled the tree to the floor. And there in our lounge with twenty minutes to go, he threw the tree into action. It’s our new tradition now and he dresses the tree like a true teenage boy. I stand and laugh and place a few things as he throws baubles at the green plastic hulk in the corner. If the baubles drop down and through, so be it, it doesn’t really matter at all. It’s just a game. Our friend turned up just as the tree settled into the corner. It has a designated ‘front’ sign where all the activity takes place and round the back, well it’s round the back so it’s not important after all. And this year we have a kamikaze polar bear who wasn’t placed but hurled and he lies where he landed, a symbol of a different Christmas now.

I’m less concerned with control now. There’s little I can do and I’m more accepting of that these days. I have control over how I respond to situations and how I spend my time but other than that, the world will do its thing.

We have climbed mountains this year, my boy and I, not literally, but mountains none the less. We are climb weary at year end but respectful of the need to rest and catch our breath.

It’s almost Christmas as I type this, eighteen years from the best Christmas I ever had. And now a different Christmas presents itself again, with my mother just out of hospital, after three months of illness and care, with my father marching on, despite the weariness of weeks by an empty chair. My mother came home last week and as they adjust to their own transitions we’ll take a small Christmas over to them this year.

It’s nearly lunchtime now, the blackbirds are still at the berries on my tree. I do enjoy the bareness of winter, the stripping back to bleakness and despite the thunderous charge of stressed people in shops, the clamouring, the need to consume, there is stillness. It is a time to stop and show gratitude, a time to take stock and breathe out.

And there is much to be grateful for. I breathe in deep as my neighbour’s house sits quiet and empty, waiting for someone else’s story. I focus on gratitude for my mother’s resilience, despite the treatments she has endured, and my father’s determination, despite his tiredness and his frosted window on my world.

And our friends, how grateful I am for the ones who are near, who support and encourage, despite their own trials – and our son. What can I say that I haven’t said before? How he shines out like a Christmas lantern, bright like the fairy glow, casting lightness all around me when it’s dark.

It’s winter, I am a winter baby and I resonate with this season. Time has had its way with me this year and so I am resting before the next phase. It’s almost Christmas as I tap away, the tree is up and I have many presents to wrap.

I’m focussing on now. In gratitude for the things that have past, the things that remain and the unknown adventures ahead.

In many ways – we are thriving.

***

And right now, editing with fifteen minutes to the New Year, we continue, we turn pages and we persevere with joy.

xxx

October 19th 2017 

And as our son’s train leaves the platform and he heads off with his mates, I find myself.

I find my mind has drifted to this city and the first time I came down. I remember your tall friend who criticised the way you ate asparagus and we wandered down through West Gate and out towards the Cathedral. It was June or July, the afternoon was warm and the streets were full of entertainers, crowds shoving to get a better view. We must have stayed a while, chatting but your friend has blurred into a mist of that weekend and her flat at the top of town and her party games when we were brand new. 

Our son’s train has arrived now, I checked his progress on my phone and as he wanders off with his new friends, I see the light lift here and I go back. 

I bought you a book years ago ‘How to Read a Church,’ though you didn’t use it at the Cathedral. It’ll be on its side in the bookshelves somewhere, stuffed in amongst all the others. I keep thinking about the Cathedral, how its silent shape has been a backdrop in my life and tomorrow I’ll be sitting there, waiting my turn to go up but my mind falters. It bounces back to Millenium Eve, and how my feet ached from the walk down from the top of town. My New Year’s Eve shoes, shoved into my bag, my flat pumps easing out my soles and we stood. We’d sat inside with the hundreds of others, on the left at front, in the cold. And under the silence of stone, in the wisdoms of those who’d sat there before us, we wrote notes. The huge tree with open arms flooded the space with pine scent and ushers collected up our words with all the others and then hung them on the tree. We sat watching the century end, linked with the warmth of strangers wishes and sent love and health to our unborn son.

Afterwards, outside there was a quieting, a murmuring hush of the crowd waiting for something to happen. And in the dark we hung around in the mizzle with our umbrellas and our smiles. The century slipped out, gentle, graceful and as the Millennium sauntered in with little fanfare, with a distant fizzle and sparkle of lights, the crowd laughed. We were there, before the big doors, heavy coats and deep pockets in the first seconds of the new year. There was no sense of anything having changed, just continuation and my tummy, swaddled inside my clothes, with a heartbeat we’d yet to hear.

And then I flip further back to the day before our wedding and your Mum, whisked away by my parents to wander around the Cathedral, to give me some time to prepare. And while I glued the last of the silk roses onto the name-cards, they walked over the slabs my feet will cross tomorrow. 

And now a text from our son, busy in town, having lunch and while they laugh and test out their wings, I see us at Christmas, at markets and our friend who will join me tomorrow, is there. She holds up our boy on the ice rink, it’s packed, it’s hot and cold at the same time and everyone smiles even the people who bruise your leg with their skates.

Inside the changing area we struggle to free him from the metal clasps, but our friend is an expert and she helps amongst the rucksacks and snow heavy socks and with damp ankles and wet trouser legs, we make our way to a cafe in town, under the twinkling and huddling, in the soothe of hot chocolate we sit around. And as I see our boy bookended by her sons, he wears a red and white top that wouldn’t fit him now – he texts me from the train, he’s heading home.

And home is where we’ll leave from tomorrow, like we did years ago. When I took our son’s hand and we marched down the high street, a few weeks before Christmas with the lanterns that we’d made. The delicate tissue paper tributes to a world, to a vivid place we couldn’t hold. And as the Cathedral loomed up nearer, I stood for the first time by the same railings, feeling the pull and tear of a parallel world. Someone took a photo of us for a tourism website, I can see it, me looking side on, almost a smile as some distant children’s creation bought a joyful moment in the pain. But I looked so drawn, so small and smaller than me then was our son, stood to my left, wearing a deep green wooly hat and a fluorescent snap circle around his neck. He’s almost hidden in the dark but I can see him, illuminated by the band of light around him. 

And tomorrow I have to go back there, I need to go back and I want to. But I’m so sodden like our snow caked socks, so heavy like the lantern pole to light our way, so full with the hidden times inside me. 

These moments that are lining up now, like I’ll line up tomorrow, each of them a story of how I came to be and as I sit in the silence of stone, as I wait my turn, I’ll feel the Cathedral fill up with us all – my children, my girls and the women they became. I have such a sense of being followed, of swathes of females on my path, tomorrow they will spread out, they will chatter, they will dance and there at the front of the Cathedral they will join me, invisible but vital, as I stand to shake a hand. 

Our son is on a detour now, sidetracked by other friends, off for a moment at his old school, to take time, see old teachers and look back as he looks ahead.
And I wonder about all the people who’ve ever sat in the Cathedral and their stories and tomorrow, amongst the narratives there is such joy. A sense of creating, of neurones firing and of an irresistible surge to force up, through the stone slabs – up, despite the granite all around.

I must go now, I need to try on my dress and stop and think of tea. Tomorrow will come and I’ll be there, flickering full of emotions like the candles we held at the beginning, when our baby was centimetres long. And we’ll all walk up together, all the moments playing out, dancing and darting behind the pillars, in between the guests they’ll shimmer unheard, unseen but present, all my women who belong.  

In our Cathedral with our son, with friends  and gratitude for the woman I’ve become.
October 20th 2017

It’s Friday morning, the sun is lost behind the clouds but the bluster seems to carry all the seconds of my life with me and in the fracturing light on the windscreen, in the dappling spots of bright, I’m on my way. 

Children walk to school, heads down, wet dogs on leads with mud caked paws and the chatter of girls as we wait in traffic. It’s the morning of October 20th – I feel like I’m coming home. 

Later

And I sat, I studied the ceiling, the intricacies of the build, the strength of the pillars and as I walked back from the stage with a quickened pulse, with a tremble as though I were made of miniature fireworks sparkling, the sunlight pooled in above us, casting diamonds up the wall. 

xxx

I graduated today – for my husband, in absentia, with love.

 

 

June 18th 2017

I prepared his lunchbox for the last of the school days, the penultimate exam, the final full day and I secured the sandwich in the tired out plastic box. And as I did, I recounted the changing faces of the vessels over the years. The turquoise Thomas box bought at a day out with a friend when the steam made our eyes run and we chuffed down the rails and after the Reception class came Spider-Man in primary coloured nylon as he learned how to write. Year 2 was Lazy Town, a soft cover which caught the crumbs before a Year 3 army camo box with a matching water bottle. Year 4 saw us chugging up the hill with Toy Story, with Buzz at his side, falling with style and it was this lunch bag which I stuffed with cold fish fingers when we rushed back to the relatives room, to sit and wait, to watch the walls close in around us in Year 5. And afterwards his Sponge-Bob garish lemon shape turned up, it grinned at us for the rest of the year when our muscles forgot how to smile and into the final Primary walks with a tin box ordered from Amazon, flown over from the USA with Star Trek on its side.

Then Secondary came without the merchandised logos, without the beaming smiles and we settled on the lime green nylon that supported him through the days, right up until this final year when the blue-black lunch bag was the way. I’ve just turned it inside out now, given it a symbolic good clean, old crumbs and straws tumble into our sink, the residue of things past and as it dries out I make one last sandwich and recall.

I remember dropping him in the Reception class and leaving him kneeling on the floor with things to piece together, a new track, a new map to construct and I walked away. I looked back, his hair was lighter then, his head bent down busy, engrossed as I left and I walked as the trees blurred in my path.
And now I iron the penultimate shirt, aware of the years and minutes. Feeling the hours that bought us to here.

June 19th 2017

Next door’s scaffolding should come down soon. It watches over me, grey struts at odds with the soft spikes of my bamboo, with spears that have grown over time. A bluebottle dithers, disoriented but stays outside and the garden is poised in the sunlight. It will be warm today, the soil where the roots and weeds used to be, heats up, beaks poke, legs crawl and I can see my garden to come, when the work has been finished. How like a meadow it will look with lupins with salvia and an area to walk, with places to sit and watch but for now it is waiting. We are in the lull. The old has been ripped away, bagged up and hauled onto their van but when they return, when the fence becomes solid, when the trellising goes up, then the grass seed will come, then the mulch and flower food. How dark the compost will be, rich with nutrients, particles to bind to roots, to wrap around them and hold as they grow.
And the shoots will come, sap bright, saturated with a need to pull to the sun and they will flower. There in our garden when the pond is complete, when the water flows without restriction and the stones bring balance, bring clarity.There in our garden colours will grow, earth will sustain and rain drench us all.

A magpie clattered down the roof of the summerhouse and perched on the edge. How strong the contrast in his feathers, how they pushed out, bold in black, in white, through my green and away. He paused before flight regaining himself, judging his next move. Like the old man I see on our lanes most days, with his cap and zimmer frame, out every day despite the weather, to make his journey to the shops and back again and he keeps going, keeps pulsing despite his obstacles.
And the old man on my summerhouse surveyed his land then flew, beat wings into the day with grace and power.

And I am waiting, it’s not long now. Our son head down again today.

June 21st 2017

The shadows stroke the trees, like a hand across a head, like a soothing touch against the day and pupils wander through the gates – the young ones with rucksacks almost too big for their small shoulders, the older ones, term weary weighted down by tests and work and then our son’s year – the veterans with end of school hair in their eyes, with rag-taggled uniforms  hanging on to the last. And they have the air of resignation after the build up, after the heft of expectation, they are almost there, almost done and now it’s a process to complete, a final hoop to jump through. And there goes our boy through the gates we used to know, for one more time, one last moment to follow their rules, in their system before the giddiness of the open door.

And as he sits at the desk, pen poised, waiting for the words ‘it’s 9:09, you may begin,’ I sit at my pc and pause. Outside in the park behind our house I hear the workmen’s radio and the distant throb of machines. The play-ground is being renovated and as the cement whirrs in the growing heat, they dig and prepare. There used to be bouncy tarmac out there, to soften the fall and in the places where I brushed stones from his knee, where I kissed hot skin better when I could, is a pile of silt now and the space where the climbing frame stood.

And in our home and garden as the curtain billows at the open door, I see flickers of our boy, of his countless faces, turning and changing, of his voice peeling out, giggling higher than it is now and he fills the space around me, he saturates our garden with all the children he used to be. There, as the light moves across my new bird feeder I see him running towards us shouting ‘charge!’ I see his pristine primary sweatshirt and, right now I see his broader shoulders as he marches off with all his mates.

its quiet, apart from the tweep of fledglings, apart from the flutter of wings and under the hum of machinery, I anticipate his end of school face at the door.

For our son – beyond proud.

xxx

 

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February 27th

It feels like November today, any sniff of spring has been blown off course by these squally showers and as I watch the fields through the raindrops on these windows, I think of back then.

My boots still smell of the farm, the hay sodden around my low heels and I trudged. The grain made my eyes water as I followed through the mud to find the sheep. And here and there low murmurings, deep bleating and they huddled and bundled themselves up. The new lambs are still unsteady and they trample around their mother’s teats. Some shy away but most are interested in the presence of the strangers.

And I am such a stranger, I tiptoe through the sopping mud, it laps my boots, it cries out for wellies as I watch. The farmer says they’ve bought the sheep into the barn because the weather had turned bad. He apologised – as though he should have controlled the sun, as though lambs should only come out to the smell of fresh grass with the rays warming up their plastered down fur. They nuzzle, he points out the next one ready for labour and she stretches her neck out, she paces and pads the earth.

She has found her spot. Once they’ve chosen their place they will not move from it, he says and they nestle down. She sniffs at the new borns in the next pen, keen for her own and I watch.

The herd wander around with little plan, like my thoughts, like the mess of images in my head. They jostle for attention, compete for food as I think of my friend on her beach at the start of her journey and me and our son stepping out then, on ours. I remember writing words for the service while she spun in chaos far from home. And there we were, unknown to each other, on that day being birthed  from the safety of our respective worlds into a land we didn’t recognise, blinking on new straw.

There was something so brutal about the farmland today, so essential, the irresistible force to push on and out and I felt it in the bristle of the mother’s tongue, in the grasp of the farmer’s hand as he eased out more new life. There in front of me dazed and bewildered, finding its feet in this pulse of nature, as I think of my friend, as I think of my preparations back then.

Nature charging on regardless, relentless and driven.

 

February 28th

I’ve been watching the clouds again, how they’re pulled into a vortex to my right, the shadow trees were waving at me this morning as I passed by and now the rain is back. It’s dripping cold onto the farm pastures, the animals are inside and I arrange flowers back at home.

I bought alstroemerias, they look like tiny lilies and as I shuffle and tweak them in the vase, the rooks and the crows take flight, they cut up the air in such haphazard patterns. They look like they don’t know what they’re doing, absent minded winging on the winds but they’re guided by instinct, by nature and far away from them, in the warm, in our home  – so am I.

 

March 1st

There was a stillness down on the farm this morning. it wasn’t cold or warm, no biting wind or early rain, no spring sun, just a grey heavy cloud cover and a sense of the land waiting. The crows circled and landed, poked about and waddled in the mud, they’d found a puddle to drink from and gathered like old men at a wake, heads bowed, arms folded behind their backs and they nodded and paid their respects to the earth. They sipped and pecked around for food, then took off in a scattering, zig zaged black in my view and then the seagulls came in. They flew across in a broken badge, in a triangular twist with such purpose and I watched them pass by like my thoughts, like my feelings of back then.

I didn’t see the farmer today but his wife rushed out, their daughter was stuck in the mud, her truck revving up, going nowhere and she waved and laughed. I noticed her pony tail, hair scaped up for the day’s business and her practical clothes as she jumped from the cab, a round reinforced girl, fed from the land, unattached to the animals she raises and then eats. She didn’t mind being stuck, it happens and sooner or later you get out. She clambered back in the truck, plumped down on the the ripped leather seat and reversed out of the ditch.

Sometimes you have to go backwards before you can go forwards again.

xxx

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It’s just over one day to the end of this year and I can’t help wonder which other celebrities will not see in 2017.

Bowie went on my birthday and the year started as it meant to go on, they kept on coming, or should I say going, thick and fast. Reaction seems to fall into a few categories – much younger people, mainly untainted by loss, referred to it as, (in the case of my son’s friend), The Year of the Dead Celebrity, while much older people note yet another death, having a tally chart on their bed ends, having outlived many family and friends. But it feels like it’s my contemporaries, us middle-agers, who are shaking our heads the most.

Some of it is inevitable, many of those familiar faces came from the baby boom era, becoming famous around the same time and hitting late middle age or early old age en masse. For those of us, menopausal women, midlife crisis-ed men of a certain age, it seems to have kicked away a cultural crutch. These were the faces and the voices we grew up with, the musicians that were always there, who put words and sounds onto the feelings we couldn’t express, the Bowies and the Cohens, the poets for our teenage dreams. All of us with our moments and fragments of how these lives intersected with our own.

For me, school uniforms were worn to the comfortable voice of Wogan and delight when he read out my poem, Saturday evenings with sausage and mash watching The Two Ronnies and ‘four candles’ learnt off by heart. Then leaving home, dancing on a table in a Liverpool club, watching Pete Burns spin through the fug of late night neons, before the taxi to my digs back out of town. And much later, the home town chattering with a mate obsessed with Prince, how I helped her to start up her band that came to nothing and their home, which smelt of great dane and cigarettes, in the years before my husband came along. And when he did, when we danced to George at our reception, when I swished and he smiled, when we watched Carrie in the multiplex with our best man, there seemed no sense of time. No thought that all these people, exaggerated in our minds through fame and internet would be so vulnerable, could be so human, as we were.

Of course, we were younger then, not scarred by loss and change, the world was still unpredictable but felt safer somehow and now and again a celebrity died, but not like now, now when it’s a weekly occurrence. Sometimes I read posts from people distraught that their idol has gone and I can say nothing. To them, in their world that’s not mine, it is overwhelming (at least for a while). In my own early grief their reaction would have outraged me but not now. Their reaction is their business, it’s their genuine view of the world, where they walk without my shoes. How shocked they are, that he or she was only 60 and yes, it’s young but then I think, they had 12 years on my husband…and then the older ones, the ones that made it to three score and ten, how it’s alright really as their innings were so good.

When you live with loss, when it’s carved out the person you’ve become, you learn many things but one thing stands out. All loss is felt at 100% whether it’s for an ancient movie legend or a pop star taken ‘too soon.’ It’s the impact of that life, the ripple effect of their talents, their stories, the real people they were to their families. And in addition to the fan’s devotion to their work, an immeasurable fact shines out, that they lived. They achieved, they failed, they fought their demons like we all do and made connections.

Grief is as unique as the relationships that created it, whether the loss is for the first crush of your youth, the poster on your wall, or the actor who’s films you never missed, or your husband – the person you planned to spend the rest of your life with. All life is precious. There’s no half way house with grief, it’s the whole relationship to be looked at, to be mourned along with layers of secondary losses. And these frequent deaths this year throw spotlights on our own pain with a reminding terror of the raw, illuminated in a stark white light by Debbie Reynolds running to catch up with her girl.

It was this time of year, another lifetime ago, that I found out I was pregnant. The joy of knowing new life beat and pulsed inside me was a feeling like no other, bringing another soul into this world, into this time based place where everything is temporary. And now as this turbulent year closes, as more people prepare to mourn, to dress for funerals at the opposite end of life, it seems to underline one thing. Famous or not, infamous or invisible we all have an impact on each other with the skills we bring, with the talents that we share. So share them well, find your bliss and know it, make a difference while you can. We’re not all posters on someone’s wall but we all matter, we’re all fragile in the storm.

I’ve lost count of the number of deaths this year, the tweeted ones and the nameless ones but each life was a universe in itself, each an individual with such impact on others. This cultural hacking away, this chipping out of the pieces of my life reminds me of our vulnerability and our transience in this world.

Time will catch us all in the end.

Be good to each other. Be kind. We have such responsibility, such potential to enrich each other’s lives.

With love.

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I used to walk a lot in the early days, I’d drop my son at school and then head back across the field near the top of my town. I started writing there, sat on an old bench, avoiding the mashed bubble-gum and smashed late night bottles. The parish council took my bench away after a few months, replaced it with a picnic table, where I leaned and wrote and watched the pigeons on the wire.

And the tribe of dog walkers came, I didn’t know the owners but grew to know the dogs by name as they called out for them, as they ran. My favourite was called Bailey, a daft springer spaniel, who would come up to me and say hello, fuss around me with his damp fur and snuffling nose and I’d think of you. In those days your blog was still quite new, a big part of my week, like it became for so many of us and I learned whatever I was feeling, was similar to others, that we were bound by an invisible thread that your writing underlined.

And I’d sit in the cold, in the rain, in the sun, seasons moving around me as I wrote, and when the landscape had done its job, when I’d aired the feelings that were too big for the house, I’d wander home. I’d hug a warm mug while I edited, and you were there at the click of a mouse, behind the scenes in my inbox, with a solidarity that comes from pain. Your messages helped me carve out the life that I have now and I want to tell you about it. I want to tell you that I’m waiting, any day now, for the result of my degree, I want to chat with you about the new projects I’m working on, but I can’t, not in the way I used to.  I want to hear your news, open up your replies, to read your words and stories.

And today I can feel others preparing, its moving around us, the memories, the triggers from back then, timelines plaited as they travel, to be together because of you.

I think about my walks in the field while you wandered on the Heath but I never owned a dog. I’m too allergic to their fur, but I love them. I love their wild abandon, their joy and verve and loyalty. I think of Bailey back then, charging towards me, desperate for the connection, the need to nuzzle and say hello and just for that moment, I’d take his wet head in my hands and ruffle him up, then he’d spin chaotic circles around me because he knew. He knew I needed to sense his spirit, his energy urging me to live again, to run with him, to stop and sniff some detritus that’s he’d spied and to be free.

And when I sat in my field, nodding to dog walkers, I used to think of you and Boris, his russet coat shining in the rays and you striding out, churning thoughts of blog posts in your mind, and we’d inch forwards together. Stumble backwards, stand still then creep back out again, all of us, with or without a dog to guide us and now we’re here.

Here, in this morning and in the stillness of the house I think of friends, some I know well, some I’ve chatted with and some I’ll never really know and they head out, bound together in our stories and the linking up of hands.

It’s cold today, bright and clear, the tail end of autumn, calling winter. I want to be back in the field, hanging on the internet and blog posts to lead the way. But I’m inside. I’m still in my parka, hat and scarf, I lean up the radiator and imagine myself on my bench. I look out towards the Cathedral as the mist clears and you march out towards me, smiling, lead stretched out in front of you with Boris scampering, his paws kicking up the dried leaves, the sunlight caught in the flecks of dust around you as you walk.

 

With love to your tribe, travelling,

With love to you for the difference you made.

Thank you, Helen, so much.

Jxx

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