Saturday, December 26, 2009

Difficult Choices

When I returned to Christchurch after Paul’s funeral, I stayed a few days with a friend who had three younger children. But I was too exposed and vulnerable, found being in a family atmosphere intolerably painful.

Gradually, I came to recognise what was the problem and to know that I was faced with a choice. If I decided, then and there, to shut myself off from my friends’ children, and later grandchildren, I was at the same time, amputating myself. Even a temporary shut down would gather momentum and run out of control. Consequently, I needed to grit my inner teeth and endure the pain, then, and even sometimes now, so that my life wouldn’t be abridged out of all recognition. I have been glad since that I made that decision and that friends can talk freely about their children, showing me photographs and more recently, bringing babies to see me. It has been all very poignant but very enriching.

In the same way, I have had to make a decision about Christmas. The first Christmas after Paul’s death, was a nightmare. By the second one, my father had also died. At a small get-together someone brightly wished me a Merry Christmas. My response must have annihilated her: “There are too many ghosts”. Luckily, one of my friends having overheard my comment rang me a couple of days later and said very emphatically: “HAVE A HAPPY CHRISTMAS”.

This gave me food for thought. I could go on separating myself from Christmas in a self-pitying, histrionic way, or I could take part in the general stream of bonhomie and good will. Christmas is about a birth, a beginning. It is about the human need for hope. I was as much in need of hope as anyone else. I bought a crib, a few Christmas decorations (although I have never wanted a tree since Paul died) and each year have given and received presents and cards. I have not made my friends uncomfortable and I have once more been part of Christmas, although it still does hurt. Christmas day is often quite delightful, but no longer feels like Christmas.

Christmas Pastiche

A skull at the feast is all very well
but not at a Christmas barbecue.
For those of us with amputated families
Christmas is a difficult time.
Memories can console only so far.
We are forced to assume
a mask of cheerfulness
as if the black hole at the heart of us
was decorated with fairy lights,
tinsel and multi-coloured baubles.
It's altogether a game of pretend.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Prince of Peace

As a young girl, I was delighted to read that Dean Inge had declared: “Originality does not consist of thinking of something for the first time, it consists of thinking it for yourself.”

Here is my ‘original’ thought.

In the Western world, at this time of year there are numerable performances of the Messiah. I have kept hearing about it as a forthcoming event and my niece has just enjoyed singing it.

In a recent dream, I was looking at a television screen with the last section of T.S. Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi’ but there was a gap between the last two lines and the last line was incorrect. I was anxious that people would get the wrong idea and asked a carer to write in the correct line. But what I chose came from the chorus “For unto us a child is born”; the line now read “Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

What sort of world would there be which contained a Prince of Peace? Before I had even turned six, there had been Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Obviously, there has been no peace in my generation, nor in any generations that has preceded me. Peace is either arrant nonsense or needs to be considered from a different dimension. Belatedly, I remembered “The peace that passeth all understanding” which must be a similar state to the Dao, nothing to do with peace in the Middle East or Northern Ireland.


Another area of life which requires us to think in another dimension is dreams. (For me, dreams contain considerable meaning.) Some years ago, I read a book detailing the dreams of a young woman dying of cancer. Her dreams pushed her to increased self-awareness and furthered her spiritual journey but did not deal with the cancer nor her approaching death.

In the same way, my dreams ignore the multiple sclerosis. They may have me in a wheelchair, stumbling, lurching on elbow crutches, standing or even walking but the dream itself has no connection with my condition. The nearest to a connection has been a dream which pointed out that I was struggling to keep in touch with my feminine side and this flaw in my nature might well be attributed to the responsibility/will power/control required of me by the M.S.

It would appear that the unconscious has no interest in our state of physical health but instead, extends us spiritually. What use is an evolutionary process towards spiritual growth that ends at our death?

Both these instances illustrate a view of the world which is not binary, not this or that. Instead, they emphasise this as well as that. Thus, M.S. is a heinous thief but has given me the gift of time wherein I can cherish my inner life and make contact with my own creativity. Paul’s death is both an obscene fact, but eventually my being forced to acknowledge life’s fragility bought me to an appreciation of the present moment and the belief that I was required to receive the beauty of the world both for me and for Paul. I had to make up for the fact that he wasn’t there any more

Not this or that, but definitely, this and that.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Living Will

A living will is all right in theory. I don’t want you to intervene to save my life… in five years time, next year, even next month. But how about the day after tomorrow? I had always had a feeling that I would have wanted to retract, but then something happened.

A few weeks ago I had a laryngitic bug which went down into my chest. I don’t often get infections and when I do the M.S. plays up a treat. I say that it doesn’t like not taking centre stage, or to change the metaphor, I have only a limited number of troups and if I have to deploy them elsewhere that leaves my flank exposed. My flank was, metaphorically speaking, very exposed on a Saturday and Sunday when I couldn’t get the doctor. The M.S. went through the roof. Normally, I can move my right elbow up a little but then, I could not do that, I could not drive the wheelchair, I could not clean my own teeth. All that I could do, was turn my head to left or right against the headrest. I spent the evenings drifting in and out of a Brother Cadfael DVD.

The next morning, despite the fact that I had a hideous, phlegmy, chesty cough, the M.S. had returned to what it regards as normal. The doctor came in the evening, tested my lungs and found the infection had got down to my trachea but not as far as the lungs. Because of the living will, he asked me what we should do. The M.S. was picking up so I said to him that a carer from seven years back was on her way to New Zealand from England and I didn’t want to die without seeing her, that a dear friend had just had a tragic loss and I didn’t want her to have any more grief at that time, but he said I needed to consider me. But my will to live had been restored and I didn’t want not ever to see again the early evening light painting the upper branches of the walnut tree pink and gold or the white roses at evening coming towards me out of their arch as the greens of the garden merged into two dimensions; I wanted to finish my current book; I had many friends I wanted to connect with again. If he had asked me on the Sunday I would not have spared a thought for the walnut tree, roses, book, friends. Nothing mattered and I could have quite willingly slipped into death.

I find this astonishingly comforting. When I get pneumonia and I say when, not if, advisedly, given how the compression is restricting my breathing, then the M.S. will reduce me to such a state of nothingness that I will not mind the dying. I will not be dying with a great urge left towards life. I am immensely reassured.