Posts Tagged ‘family’

mum and caitlinSo after 25 wonderful years – better years than I ever thought possible, better years than I ever dreamed I would be blessed with – you’re leaving home.

Making the big jump. He’s tall and handsome (naturally) but he’s also funny, kind, intelligent and above all humane. So thank God you made a good choice. Can’t say I’m surprised. Smart kid. Always was. Bit dreamy now and then, but head firmly screwed on. Bit like your folks, really. Funny, that.

But I hate it. I hate that I won’t hear your little feet galumphing along the corridor in the mornings. Do you know you don’t look any different waking up today to the way you did when you were two? Eyes screwed up against the light. Hair mussed up. Thump, thump, thump. Yet your face invariably lights up with a welcoming grin when you spot me. You’ll never know how your fresh smile and cheerful “Morning, Dad!” has sent me off able to deal with the day a thousand times. Or more. Just like “Nite nite, God bless, I love you” has given me more gentle sleep than any amount of whisky or meditation tapes or breathing exercises.

I hate it that you won’t always be there to sing the theme songs to the TV shows any more. I can already feel that the start of Star Trek won’t ever be the same. I don’t know who to watch Game with Thrones with any more, cause Mum can’t keep it all straight in her head and she really doesn’t enjoy it, if we’re telling the truth. I hate that your room won’t be untidy any more. I hate that the laundry won’t be full of your crap. I hate that the yard isn’t going to be full of squealing girls high on life anymore.

I am thankful we had you at home as long as we did. But I am going to miss the spontaneous road trips (so often just an excuse to stop going stir crazy on a dull day) when you and Mum seemed to be able to talk non-stop hour after hour. I will miss you both dissolving into giggles. I know I’ve never been one for rabbiting on, and sometimes I’ve even found it a bit off-putting – I do a fine line in grumpy, let’s be frank – and I often missed the joke, but I will miss the togetherness. I really will. I’m sorry I wasn’t better at that bit. What can you do?

I guess part of it is that I just hate the passing of the years. I hate that it means that I have less time left than I have already had. I hate watching your graduation knowing that it’s very likely I will never see your kids graduate. I hate that you can stay out best part of all night carousing – I’ve always been a bit of a carouser on the QT, as you know – but now about ten o’clock my eyes start closing and I can’t face the next day without hitting the sheets real soon, and I don’t want to cramp your style by suggesting we head home. I’m moving into a world of sensible middle class late-middle-aged behavior, full of people who also want to go to bed at ten o’clock, and I hate it.

So last night, I tried the stuff the shrink told me years ago, about how the inner child feels hurt and lost and frightened when change occurs, and the adult tries to either placate it or tell it off, but what’s really needed is the rational advisor quietly trying to put things in perspective. And you know what? It helped. It’s not like you’re moving to the Moon, after all. And I’m sure we can still squeeze in a plan to watch GOT together and even occasionally a Star Trek. And now we have to work at it, instead of just stumbling over one another by default, we’ll probably have better quality time, and probably, in reality, as much time as we’ve had in recent years, anyway. We’ve always been a good team. You’ve always been a colleague and friend as well as our child. We’ll work it out. My trusted advisor assures me we will.

And I am not so old that I can’t remember how exciting it is to make your own way in the world. How the challenge thrills you down to the very heart of your soul, and how you can’t wait to make your own place with the guy you love: your own bits and pieces, artworks, chairs. Building a life together – unique, just for you, never before seen by the world. I want that for you, with all my heart. Be happy: you deserve it more than most people I know.

And yes, I know that sometime you’ll probably have a kid of your own, or maybe more, and then we’ll get wheeled in to babysit and help you grow him/her/them into another amazing generation, and you’ll always want our advice and help, and there are hundreds and thousands of happy moments to come. So what’s happening isn’t an ending, it’s a new beginning, and I get that. I really do.

Yolly and CaitlinYolly and CaitlinBut it’ll never be the same. And bringing you up was simply the goodest of good things I ever did with my life, and I really never knew it would be and then it happened and then it’s over almost as soon as it begins, and I hate that it’s ending. You don’t need us exactly like you did before. The world turns. Life goes on. And I’ll probably hate that it’s ended even while I love the new stuff, so you may as well get used to that, because you know I am nothing if not complicated, and this, I honestly think, is about the best I can do.

I never liked change at the best of times, and now the changes are so utter, so endless, so fundamental, so … final … that in unguarded moments I find myself shrinking inside. So just know, please, I am trying my best.

“Best kid.” Did I ever tell you that you amaze me?

Go on. You get out on that great big stage and knock ’em dead in the two and ninepennies.

We love you.

stars

 

ONE NIGHT OF MANY


I lie beside you, a long wait into tomorrow

and listen to you gently snore.

Whoever invented that phrase

~ gently snore ~

they knew. There is ungentle snoring,

when I nudge you in the back and roll you

half awake into silence

but that is not this. This is a soft rhythm

like the sea carressing white sand.

 

The rain on the new tin roof

syncopatedly changes tempo

as if to accompany you.

For a while there, it rises and falls

in time with your chest

in time with your dreams.

And the life in your breath

and the life in the rain

soothe me.

 

Without warning, I am assailed by images.

Unbidden. What would happen

if you were taken out of our lives?

A truck, a tree branch, your heart.

Police at the door, our daughter’s face.

The nights.

I could manage the days, I think.

But not the nights.

I listen for the gentle heave of air.

 

And again, and again, there it is,

that gentle heave of air, and I am stilled.

Do not distress yourself with imaginings.

Not yet. Not yet awhile, at least.

Go to sleep.

The rain falls on the world like balm.

And by the moonlight of the clock

I see your perfect calm face and think

how you would hold me, if you knew.

 

 

readMeTo buy a printed copy
of my collection of
poetry, “71 Poems and One Short Story”,
(there’s a download, too), please go to:

http://tinyurl.com/cumbx42

 

 

 

bloodymachete2

 

In another appalling crime which will shock the world, Pakistani police Wednesday were looking for four men believed to have killed a couple and four of their children as retribution for a perceived “honour crime.”

Police officer Mohammed Aslam said the killings happened Tuesday in the town of Athara Hazari in central Pakistan.

Aslam said the men are believed to have hacked the family to death with axes and knives. One daughter, identified by police as Aisha, survived and relayed what happened to authorities. She and the other bodies were found after a man delivering milk to the house noticed that no one was coming to the door, Aslam said.

Astonishingly, and completely inexplicably to Western eyes, Aisha told authorities the killings stemmed from her mother’s first marriage nearly 30 years ago to another man, Aslam said. How can such hatred last for so long? Apparently it is a common cultural feature of life in some societies.

Another police officer, Mian Mohammad, said Ghulam Fatima’s son from her first marriage visited the family a few days ago. He was joined on Tuesday by three more men, who the police say helped him with the crime.

The surviving daughter told authorities that the son said he was taking revenge on her for leaving her first husband.

“It is an incident of honour killing,” said Mohammad.

In Pakistan, leaving one’s husband or marrying against a family’s wishes is extremely rare. Such actions are often perceived as crimes against the family’s honor and the woman can be killed in order to restore the family’s reputation.

Such retribution can be carried out years, even decades later. The killings are rarely prosecuted.

Action to outlaw such murders have frequently failed in the Pakistani parliament. The incidence of honour killings is very difficult to determine and estimates vary widely. In most countries data on honour killings is not collected systematically, and many of these killings are reported by the families as suicides or accidents and registered as such.

Although honour killings are often associated with the Asian continent, especially the Middle East and South Asia, they occur all over the world.

Although men are sometimes victims, the murdered are far more like to be women. In 2000, the United Nations estimated that 5,000 women were victims of honour killings each year. According to BBC, “Women’s advocacy groups, however, suspect that more than 20,000 women are killed worldwide each year.” Murder is not the only form of honour crime, other crimes such as acid attacks, (as we have previously reported), abduction, mutilations, beatings occur; in 2010 the UK police recorded at least 2,823 such crimes.

As someone for whom the words “mid life crisis” have become a daily reality, I read this guest blog from Helen Downing nodding at the shared insights and whistling through my teeth at the apposite and blazingly honest way she encapsulates the middle years of our lives and the search for meaning, especially in the face of profound changes and grief.

I am very proud and grateful to publish her words … and I shall be buying the book! I recommend you read on.

Helen, or her protagonist, confronts a few age old issues.

Helen, or her protagonist, confronts a few age old issues.

Helen writes …

When I was very young, I remember my maternal grandmother telling me that my grandfather had such a hard time when he turned 35 that it became a bit of legend in the small town of Seaford, DE where they lived.

Everyone knew that “Pop-Pop” had just had a big birthday and his reaction to it was pretty foul. Pop-Pop was one of my most favorite people ever. I didn’t get to know him until he was much older, and to me he was bigger than life. Self-confident to the point of being a bit of a bastard, a caustic wit that some found to be borderline insulting but always had me rolling on the floor, and he was the only member of my immediate family who was a businessman instead of clergy. (My interest always lied in business. The clergy seemed entirely too full of poverty and humility for my taste.)

He was my hero, and the thought of him having a hard time turning a particular age was so foreign to me I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

Now of course, I know. Each of us have a number in our head that will make us freak out when that number becomes our age. It probably lies between 30 and 50. But regardless, it’s somewhere in the middle. Once we reach “middle-aged” by whatever standard we’ve set, the words “Happy Birthday” becomes much more ominous, at least for that one year. Middle age is not for the weak of heart. In fact, middle age sucks.

My 40th year was the worst of my life. Not turning 40, that was fine in itself. But that year I found my self-esteem and identity truly tested.

It is not that my life, as every other person’s on the planet, did not have plenty of tragedy, trial, and tribulation, previously. I had failed relationships, sickness and death around me, a few times when I was so broke I considered selling blood for cigarette money, and lots of other things that just come with being a breathing entity on the planet.

But when things happened to me or around me, I would react based on who I thought I was, which had always been a strong, independent, intelligent woman who can talk her way through a keyhole and who could fall into a pile of shit and come up with an ice cream cone. That version of me could handle anything that comes down the pike.

Until I reached what I considered “middle-age”, I was invincible. In the year that I was 40 I had a bunch of firsts.

My daughter, who was my first-born and will always be my baby was grown up and moving out to live on her own.

I was laid off from the non-profit that I worked for due to a bad economy, and my husband of 10 years left me for another woman.

I had spent my entire career being the young executive who came in and opened up new revenue streams or developed innovative ideas to save money. Now I was the 40 year old who was put out to pasture.

In my 20s I was the ingénue who made married women nervous and hold on tight to their husbands. Now I was a 40 year old with mascara tears running down my face while knocking on my best friend’s door with an overnight bag and an old, old story.

My little girl, instead of being set free to experience the excitement of being on her own, was in fact being set adrift, all alone, while the foundation that was supposed to support her and be her safety net was crumbling behind her.

I wanted to bounce back. I wanted to be strong and independent and all of that stuff. I wanted to just overcome and be victorious. But my heart was shattered and my brain could not process what was happening to me. These things just didn’t happen to the version of me that I had built in my own head. And then my demons came out to play.

They sat on my bed at night and discussed my fate while I was lying there sleepless and sobbing. “Maybe she’s done” they’d say. “Maybe this is who she’s been all along. A loser, with no job and no prospects, unloved and alone.”  On top of that, I also felt horrible guilt, as though somehow all of this was not only warranted but deserved.  Maybe I was paying back all the bad karma I had incurred back when I thought that life was not preordained, and that I could be anything? As though dreaming of a greater destiny in my youth was somehow a sin? That is, of course, ridiculous. But guilt and regret became my constant companions.

Meanwhile, my mother who has been battling cancer off and on my entire life, had a relapse.

My father and I decided that I would come home to help him take care of Mom.

Back in the cone of unconditional love that I have enjoyed by having the parents I was blessed to receive, I began to heal. However, I also now had to face aging parents, one of whom had been deemed terminally ill. Now my life was filled with things like “living wills” and “pre-arranged funerals”.

So, fast forward. Several years have gone by now. My mom is still with us and some days I believe that she will outlive me. My children are happy and settled. I have a job that I love and I have renewed dreams and inspirations. Turns out that middle-age doesn’t suck as much as I originally thought.

However, this is what I think I’ve learned through this experience.

Being in the middle of life means literally being caught in between two very powerful influences.

Many of us are dealing with aging parents or parental figures. We also have children, whether they are our own or those of someone else that we feel close to. When we see those younger than us setting out to conquer the world, and making the same stupid mistakes we made, feeling the same sense of invincibility that youthful arrogance affords them, we begin to take stock of our lives. Even those who are ushered into their late 30’s to early 50’s with much less drama than I just described still take a moment to reflect on what they  could have done better or not done at all. Each of us have burdens of regret that we are forced to carry to the top of the proverbial hill right before we establish that we are “over” it.

Being “over the hill” also means that we now go to more funerals than weddings – we have to plan to lose those people that we consider grown-ups – and we have to prepare to become matriarchs and patriarchs of our family units. When you mix regret and death, you have a cocktail for an epic identity crisis that can result in anything from clinical depression to simply having a bummer birthday.

The good news is that mid-life hands us as many fabulous lessons as puberty does.

At this time, we get to experience forgiveness on a whole new level. Especially how to forgive ourselves.

We also learn to let go, letting go of the past, letting go of old dreams to make room for new ones, or actually letting go of people. Whether that means letting go of children who are now adults and will start their own adventures or letting go of those who brought us to this point and are now transitioning themselves.

We learn to see ourselves in many different roles. Many of us don’t find our groove professionally until we get to this age, as well as becoming grandparents, or being caregivers.

We start to realize that having 40 or so years under your belt can inspire all kinds of things like creative pursuits, an entrepreneurial spirit, or a renewed relationship to a higher power.

We deal with relationships differently, from the married couple now having to deal with empty nest syndrome learning to rekindle their romance, to single folks like me figuring out how to be happy with or without someone else. This is a time to take stock of our lives, but not with regret. Instead we should honor our past with tremendous reverence and gratitude. Then quietly unpack our baggage and leave it at the top of the hill.

That way, instead of trudging down the other side weighted with heavy hearts, we can spread our arms out wide and fly, soaring into our own old age with grace and beauty.

Taking this one on my hols with me …

I wrote “Awake In Hell”, a book about a middle-aged woman who dies and finds herself damned for eternity.

It uses humor, foul language, and a unique vision of Hell to illustrate how I felt about reaching mid-life.

When my protagonist finds herself in a temp agency along with its enigmatic staff, she discovers the most amazing thing – redemption.

I hope you enjoy the second half of your life as much as I am enjoying mine.

I hope that my story gives you something to think about, or comforts you, or at least makes you think “there but for the grace of God” – and I offer it to you with a renewed heart full of conviction and thankfulness.

Helen Downing

Author, Awake In Hell

Find my book here: http://amzn.to/WYOwYv

Find my blog here: http://bit.ly/124uGCR

Like me on Facebook here: http://on.fb.me/Xuf1MO

Follow me on Twitter here: @imtellinhelen

I have been doing a lot of contemplating of life, recently. This is hardly a surprise for a creative writer and poet; it is, after all, our “stock in trade”.

But sometimes one’s life events conspire to make one even more reflective than usual, and lead to discoveries that one was not deliberately intending to try and make.

Grief, it appears to me, is one of the more unpredictable, distressing and difficult things any of us have to go through.

And like most lives, mine has had its share.

Before my life really got going at all my father died of a massive coronary when I was just two years old.

Psychological prognosticating that I have engaged in as I settle into my middle years suggests that this event may have had more impact on me than I had previously suspected.

L-R Betty Yolland, Derek Yolland, me, Stewart Yolland

L-R Betty Yolland, Derek Yolland, me at a week or so old, Stewart Yolland

Not only was I alone in the home with Dad for a couple of hours after he suddenly collapsed and died rather inelegantly on the toilet – apparently when people came home I was very distressed and kept repeating “Big man won’t get up …” until I was bundled next door, (an event which I think I recall clearly), but I now suspect the subsequent experience of grieving in the household, indeed, in many of the events surrounding my growing up – the plethora of aunts, uncles and friends conferring sadly with my mother on the memory of Dad and the unfairness of his being taken from us at just 46 – had a considerable effect on how I have subsequently processed emotional matters.

My mother, you see, was a “coper”. Indeed, like many of her generation, she “coped” heroically, and made a virtue of it. She didn’t deal easily with the sympathies of others, and habitually turned them away with a self-deprecating comment.

Of solid Lincolnshire stock, and raised in lower-middle-class respectability in Swansea in South Wales, born in the middle of the Great War and growing up with all the national angst and sadness that implied, she was famously independent, ferociously strong willed – she left school at 15 without telling her parents for six months, which says something about both her and her parents – and demonstrated a stoic acceptance of whatever life threw at her, including Dad’s unexpected demise.

She coped heroically with the Great Depression, with living with a young child, (my eldest brother, Derek, 17 years older than I), under the horrific Nazi bombing of World War II, with Dad being away on destroyers for all six years of the war, with the death of a child, (my “middle brother”, Roger), with the ups and downs of life as a small retailer, and then with the trials and tribulations of impoverished widowhood with another young child to look after.

She was from the generation for whom “stiff upper lip” was more than a badge of honour, it was the only expressive option on offer. This meant, of course, that whilst she was a kind and thoroughly hard-working mother, she wasn’t the most emotionally “giving” person. She didn’t wear her heart on her sleeve so much as tucked away in a hidden pocket inside her voluminous layers of undergarments. I am sure many British kids from the era, whatever their social class, can picture themselves in the description I have just offered.

In primary school, I very clearly remember feeling somewhat lost and other-worldly amongst my contemporaries.

Only one other boy in our coterie had lost a father, and he was so fearfully clever as to eclipse even my better-than-reasonable academic performance and I really didn’t like him much, (especially as he was always shoved in my face as a paradigm to aim for), so I felt something of an oddity, as if the other kids somehow steered a little clear of me for fear of catching the disease of dead Dadness.

All the while my mother was busily coping, and my brother had moved overseas, and I recall plainly wondering why it had fallen to my lot to be moderately poor (in a relatively well off area), without the love and guidance of a Dad who everyone assured me was a great bloke, (which just made it worse), with a charismatic and good looking elder brother who lived seven thousand miles away and who I only saw for a couple of weeks every two years or so, and to cap it all not having all that many good mates either.

(I had some, though, and they know who they were and are, and I am forever grateful.)

I was happy enough, till Dad died. That was the start of a long haul.

In retrospect, then, I had grief as an undercurrent in my life for much of my growing up. And I managed it by doing the only thing I knew how. I intellectualised it away.

I was precociously clever, imaginative to a fault, (I could play alone contentedly on my bed with toy soldiers and whatnot for hours, indeed, I remember the elaborate fantasies I constructed in my head as some of my happiest days of childhood), and so I neatly compartmentalised my brain to deal with my life.

The things I grieved over – the absence of Dad, the distance of my adored brother, the un-reachability of the extended family I enjoyed so much spending time with in Wales, even my mother’s odd remoteness – as I write these words I wince at that word, because it seems so unfair for one who attended to her responsibilities with such care, but emotionally remote she undoubtedly was – these things I plonked into cardboard boxes in my head and stuck them down with sticky tape and did my level best to develop into a “coper” myself.

I repeated this process when I was unexpectedly dispatched to an English boarding school at 11, courtesy of having waltzed my way through a scholarship examination, (without any understanding of why I was sitting it – if I had known, I would have failed deliberately), and promptly found myself ensnared in the most emotionally abusive environment yet dreamed up by social engineers to torture sensitive, intellectually-gifted children.

I was bullied. Unmercifully.

Psychologically, physically – by both teachers and students – for my plummy southern accent, for my enthusiastic willingness to answer questions in class, (usually with the right answer, naturally), for the fact that I was not the biggest kid around (I filled out later, some would say as a deliberate subconscious response to avoid getting kicked in the shins by life any longer), for … well, for whatever reason they chose to dream up on the day, really.

First XV

I am prouder of this picture than most – I finally made the First XV – but looking back, at what cost? Anyway, here’s the proof. And I had nice legs, too.

Looking back, the fact that I did not raid the Combined Cadet Force lockers for a Bren gun and take fifty or so of my torturers out is entirely to my credit and to my development as a coper.

Indeed, ask my contemporaries at that school today and they will confirm that whilst they knew I was bullied, they were also impressed by my leading performances in school plays, as a capable top tenor in the school choir, as a moderately good rugby player (I made the First XV once, and played every other game of the final season of my schooling in an “unbeaten” Second XV – I should and could have played all season in the First XV but key individuals didn’t like me) and generally that I seemed like a capable and well-balanced fellow, for the most part, despite the bullying, who was making a pretty good fist of sharing their allotted time in middle-class prison.

And they were right, in a way. I was damned if I was going to let the system beat me, and ultimately it didn’t. I ended up with a passable liberal education and left on the very first day I could, a couple of weeks before the end of the last term (on some pretext or other) and breathed a very cold “And fuck you all.” as the taxi left the school grounds to take me to the quaint nearby station and home.

The pattern was set. I duly coped when a youthful first marriage went disastrously south prematurely (prematurely, that is, in my opinion, at the time; in later years the wisdom of hindsight has convinced me it was the right decision for both of us). I poured my grief out in poem after poem many of which form the first part of my book. I thought the process was cathartic – it wasn’t. I was crafting on the page a simalcrum, a mirror, an expression of the grief I was feeling, but as if that grief was happening to a third party, not me. The poems are good, and even when edited some 20 years later for publication they stood the test of time as worthy explorations of the psyche of lost love, but as a way of genuinely dealing with my grief they were merely sophisticated boxes and tape.

In time I coped with other broken love affairs (like everyone does, to be sure).

I coped with moving to the other side of the world and feeling most insecure to have done so.

I coped with working in an abusive environment that I had to ensure I stayed in because I needed the money, I coped with … well, whatever life threw at me really.

I coped when my brother died suddenly at 52, just when I thought we might get to spend some quality time together one day soon.

I don’t claim any special credit for this coping, nor am I looking for praise; I simply didn’t have any alternative, because that was how I had been brought up, do you see, and in any event, it’s not as if coping is such a bad thing. Any grief I felt at life’s shitty little surprises I neatly packed up and put away, decided on a course of action, and followed it with determination and even occasional élan.

So this was all very well, I guess, and something and nothing and a testament to the upside of coping, except that in later years the pressure of shoving all my distress and grief away into cardboard boxes in my head became too much.

When something really unconscionably close and awful happened – our first daughter got tangled up coming out, and was taken off life support five days later – it turned out the cupboard was full, there was no more room for any more cardboard boxes of neatly disposed emotions, the grief at an event so unexpected, so cruelly unfair, so immeasurably awful and unpredictable, meant I fell entirely, massively, and utterly into a heap.

Yet even then the effect of this terrible and almost unendurable life-moment was delayed by my innate copingness.

I didn’t know how to grieve. So when Rhiannwen Cari Yolland died, my first priority was her Mum.

I knew what I had to do: cope.

And so I did, I coped for 18 months. I strove to live up to, despite the pressure I was under, my image of being a “good man”. I held down a job with some success, I tried to be supportive to my wife, I didn’t allow myself to become overwhelmed when she was, I tried instead to be cheerful, I … coped. In retrospect, with the benefit of 24 years of reflection, my flaws as a husband during this period are all too obvious and cringeworthy, but I assure you, Dear Reader, I did my best; my best as I knew how. I kept going. And even now, inside you, admit that some of you are nodding approvingly at my traditional, male-role-oriented determination to “carry on”.

Leaving the hospital with Caitlin. I was already near to a complete sanity breakdown, and indeed, my smile looks a bit wan. Nevertheless a wonderful gift: this is known, reflecting our earlier troubles, as the “You got a take home one, Daddy!” moment by my daughter.

Except that then, when our second daughter, Caitlin, was born, I promptly lost it. Altogether. The doors of the cupboard broke open, and within twenty four hours, I was pretty much a basket case.

Unable to grieve effectively, to grieve for so many reasons of which the baby’s death was just the most recent and most dreadful, and with grief accumulated inside my head for so long, I overnight developed a crippling case of Obsessional Compulsive Disorder which made life almost impossible to live, (not to mention its effect on the lives of those around me), and I struggled with it for fully ten years or more before a recovery slowly began and persisted.

My mind simply revolted from the pressures to which it had been subjected for all my life, having been refused the outlet of grieving.

OCD is the most pernicious and awful “mental” illness. It seems tailor-made to torture the “coper” with exquisitely precise horrors. Starved of the chemical transmitters that one needs to function rationally (which are “used up” prematurely by years of unresolved tensions and continual low level stress, and, ironically, used up most quickly, it seems, in individuals of high intelligence) the brain instead erects “rituals” designed to put the world back into order.

If only I tap my foot a certain number of times, all will be well with my day. If I count a certain number of telegraph poles correctly while driving to work, and click my teeth between each of them, it’ll be a good day. If I wash my hands, repeatedly, slather them in disinfectant or antiseptic cream, if I avoid touching anything, then I will never become sick or die, even if my hands become red, cracked, suppurating mockeries of hands. If I never say a word beginning with B, if I never use the number 6, if I always count to fourteen before speaking, if I don’t tread on the lines between paving stones, if I turn to the left and never to the right … the rituals and “rules” are as many and as bizarre as the endlessly creative human mind can construct. And all the while, with all the effort involved, they are completely, utterly, ironically incapable of controlling the world around you, of deflecting the real and natural experience of grief, or of protecting you from the future randomness of life.

That’s why OCD holds a special place in the list of “things not to get”. Not only does it turn you into a non-functioning recluse (at best), but it doesn’t even work. It doesn’t help you cope. The rituals solve nothing. Bastard. Bastard bastard bastard fucking illness. I hate it. Indeed, my hatred of OCD is so intense, it prevents it recurring in my life. My emotions over OCD are untrammeled, un-contained, unreduced. It is a bastard trick our own brains play on us, and my hatred of it is healthy and realistic.

You don’t “cope” with OCD – you can’t. You beat it, or it beats you. You smash it into little pieces, no matter how wild or scared or angry you have to become to do so. And every day, thereafter, for the rest of your life, you allow your mind to revel in its disgust at this vile illness, as you encourage everyone around you to fight it too (it affects about 4% of people and is no respecter of sex, age, social station, or any other divider) by facing up to whatever it is that triggered the brain’s response in the first place.

And that’s why, on this pleasantly warm summer’s day in my comfortably mostly-paid for home in the world’s most liveable city, looking forward to enjoying a meal this evening with my endlessly patient and loving wife and talented and adorable daughter, I am allowing myself to grieve.

Indeed, more than that, I am co-opting you to share the experience, I am reaching out to you to share it, because it is painful, and it hurts, and I don’t want to go through it alone and silent.

As regular readers will know, my dog was put to sleep eleven days ago, and I am not over it. And my rational mind is telling me that it’s silly to grieve over a dog all that much, let alone for nearly two weeks, you imbecile, and my new, pristine, “don’t always try and cope” mind is telling my rational mind to go boil its head.

I work at home. If I didn’t have meetings out, Zach was frequently the only living creature I would talk to in the day.

He would invariably come and lie at my feet, and usually on my feet, or he would lie as close to my office chair as he could, behind it, which meant I would often absent-mindedly “run over him” when pushing the chair back or stretching. This would invariably result in a plaintive yelp but no lasting damage, and an affectionate admonition from me along the lines of “Well, then don’t lie there, then, you stupid animal” as I massaged his toe, tail, or whatever. He never paid any attention to my warnings.

This morning, as I rolled the chair back, he wasn’t there. It hurt. I got hurt. And there’s no one here but you, Dear Reader, to rub my heart and make it better, so instead of rushing on and ignoring my hurt and putting it in whatever battered old cardboard box I have left up there, I am writing to you instead.

See: a little while ago, just before starting to write this article, I did the dishes.

By which I mean, specifically, I walked to the dining room a few times, rescued the dendritus from last night’s meal, and brought it back to the kitchen and stacked the dishwasher. Except today the dog didn’t ploddingly follow me from kitchen, to dining room, to kitchen, to dining room, to kitchen, waiting for scraps to fall off the plates and dishes, whether deliberately or accidentally, as his expected supplement to his daily diet. And I didn’t have to mutter “for fuck’s sake, dog, get out of the way before I break my neck” as he wandered purposefully towards me, looking up with mournful but expectant brown eyes. And he didn’t sit by the kitchen fireplace, rigidly sat to attention, following me with those huge brown pools of light grown cloudy in old age, just in case a crust, a bit of bacon rind, or a handful of left over rice was about to get lobbed in his general direction as the dishes went into the dishwasher.

And because I have vacuumed, again, there are ever fewer of his silken, golden-white hairs inhabiting the nooks and crannies of our home, needing me to pull them off the furry head of the vacuum cleaner and feed them up its capacious mouth by hand, because we’re gradually getting them all up. And one day, there won’t be a single dog hair anywhere in the house, none stuck to any of my socks, none hiding under chairs or behind tables, none floating past the window on a gentle zephyr, and then he will be totally, erasedly gone. Forever.

And it hurts. It hurts like hell.

Please understand, I don’t want you to do anything with my grief. Except listen to it.

Zach
This photograph was taken a few minutes before he died. Our local vets were magnificent, as they had been since the first day we had taken him there for puppy training, a lifetime ago. (If any of you need a caring vet, and you live near us, I’ll gladly give you their number.) They gently confirmed that his lungs and spleen were riddled with cancer, and even if we got rid of the tumour on his skin then the ones inside him were killing him with inexorable certainty, and that he was almost certainly – uncomplainingly – in considerable pain and discomfort. That was why he was coughing. That was why his back legs had gone wonky. It was time to say goodbye.

To their eternal credit, they arranged for us to gather round him as he lay on a comfortable pair of towels, in soft sunshine under a lovely tree. The vet patiently explained what would happen as he died, that it would be very fast and painless, and that animals don’t fear death as we do, and we should know that he was really quite happy, and happy to be with us.

I took him to a nearby water bowl, and let him have a drink, which he did, gently, and it seemed to me, thankfully. I don’t know why, I just think I thought being thirsty was an unnecessary indignity. I knew he was going to be dead in two minutes, but “there’s no reason for him to die with a dry mouth, is there?” I reasoned to myself.

My wife placed her hand reverently on his panting chest as he lay there, and my daughter massaged his velvet ears, as she had done ten thousand times before, and murmured to him quietly how much she loved him. We all said a small prayer, unsure of whether God has a place for dogs, but hoping against hope he does. And then the green liquid flowed into the catheter in his leg, and his eyes closed, and my wife said “There.” Because his chest was suddenly still.

And it was very sad, but it was OK. They let us leave by a side gate so we didn’t have to run the gauntlet of the people in the waiting room with our tears flowing. I took one look back. His giant body lay so still in the dappled light, and he looked simply and contentedly asleep in the garden, as I had seen him so many times over thirteen and a half years, and more than that, he looked at peace. As if the burden of plodding from place to place with the pain inside him and keeping the love in his eyes constantly there despite his trials had been lifted from him, and now he could really, genuinely, finally rest. And it was very sad, but it was OK.

And eleven days later, I miss him every time he doesn’t stick his great, silly, donkey-like head enquiringly round a corner. And right now, my days seem longer and emptier and lonelier. And you know what? It’s OK to feel that, and it’s OK, even, to say it.

That’s my discovery. It only took 53 years, since the day the big man wouldn’t get up.

Thank you for listening.

iris

I’m looking at you, Dear Reader. What do you make of this story?

So, it has recently been an interesting period, health-wise, for the Family Wellthisiswhatithink.

Fruit of One’s Loins and She Who Must Be Obeyed have been visiting a naturopath. A form of medical practitioner usually dismissed in my world as a “quack”. To say that I was skeptical would be like saying the Tea Party is mildly opposed to Obama’s economic spending. I was utterly cynical, warned them to watch for evidence of suggestions being implanted in their subconscious mind, to puncture open ended questioning and cold reading style enquiries, and above all not to deliver too much hard information in advance.

The process began with an Iridology session where the alternative health practitioner examined the eyes of the girls, and analysed them for various bodily flaws. I repeat, she was given virtually no prior medical information. Basically she takes a close up photo of the eye and looks at it.

Iridologists belive the eye reflects changes in the performance of the body over time, and that each place in the eye connotes a particular part of the body. They have a chart which lays out which bit of the eye relates to which part of the body.

Iridology chart

The Iridology chart – is it anything more than pretty colours?

Scientists, and the orthodox medical fraternity, call this nonsense. (Indeed, they claim the look of the eye is laid down at birth and never changes. In fact, that’s how eye recognition software can work.)

Anyhow, having examined their eyes she then took them through a re-setting of their chi, or electrical impulses, or whatever else one wants to call it, to address deficiencies or inflammations she had “spotted”.

This process involved holding in one hand a small impermeable glass vial with certain products inside it – grass seed, egg – and attempting to use the other arm to provide mild resistance to a pushing down motion from the practitioner. So the patient holds her arm out straight in front of them – the other one from the hand holding the vial – and tries to resist the naturopath pushing down on it.

Normally, the patient has no difficulty doing this. If the patient is sensitive to an item, for whatever reason, they find their arm weakened by the holding of the vial in the other hand, and the naturopath is able to push their arm down with little effort.

So far, so much utter nonsense, right? Well, yes. Except …

My wife is plagued by hay fever and this year is the second highest pollen count for the last 20 years. Usually she is a mess of running nose, itchy throat, weeping eyes and sneezing. Misery.

So far this year, she has had no hay fever. Not one sniffle. We await with interest the ever onward march of Spring which I have also been commenting on this week.

Not only that but also …

My daughter is anaphylactic to egg. That’s like the worst allergy you could possibly imagine. One allergist told us she was one thousand times more allergic to egg than the ordinary person.

cracked egg

Good morning. Fried, boiled, scrambled, or cooked with, I will kill you. Have a nice day.

As a result, she has carried an adrenalin-injecting pen with her since she was about 4.

Ingesting egg in any way produces a violent over-reaction from her body, including her breathing tube closing. In short, without prompt medical attention, and perhaps even then, egg is fatal for her.

Now, after a few treatments from the practitioner who we came to affectionately call “The Witch”, (which is a bit unfair, as she seems entirely sane and un-witch-like) she is virtually cured of her egg allergy. Certainly no longer in danger, it appears.

This diagnosis has been confirmed by a professional medical-doctor allergist. He simply cannot explain it, and nor can our GP.

She has been given egg under controlled conditions in hospital. Lots of it. She was fine apart from a mild remaining sensitivity to uncooked egg white.

(The naturopath believes she can fix that too.)

She has eaten, for the first time in her life, cakes, biscuits, pasta, pastries and other items all including egg or brushed with it. Her life is changed out of all recognition, and for the better.

I promised my family, if there was a good outcome, that I would investigate further. So, Dear Reader, I did.

Yesterday I went to said naturopath myself, dragging She Who Must Be Obeyed along with me for moral support. I gave her some basic medical information about me as I have one or two medical challenges currently which need fixing, and I didn’t want her operating in a vacuum. But I by no means told her my whole medical history.

She photographed my eyes.

She looked at my eyes.

And then she blew me out of the water.

“Have you ever experienced such and such?” she asked, pointing at what she called a lesion on the picture of my eye on-screen. It was her first question. Her first question.

Now without revealing the precise nature of what she spotted, let me just explain that Mr Wellthisiswhatithink endured, as a child, an extremely rare medical condition – less than 2% of children have it. And I repeat, this was the first thing she investigated. She didn’t start gently with “have you ever had bronchitis or shortness of breath?” or “do you get back pain?” (both of which, for a gentleman of some corpulent excess such as me would have been stone bonking certainties at some point).

No, she said “Have you ever experienced such and such?”

She had 98 chances to be wrong, and on top of that the question would also appear so bizarre as to create doubt and confusion in the mind of any patient. But she nailed it. And there was no way she could have known – none.

To my mind, the only possible conclusion is that there was something in my eye that indicated it to her.

Now if you go to Wikipedia or elsewhere and investigate iridology, you will find countless warnings, and many comments that no scientifically-valid trials ever prove it to be valid, and so on. I do not for one moment doubt the genuine-ness of those objections.

I do also know, however, that there is more to know about the human body that we know. And whether or not the reason that the process that this person goes works is what she thinks it is, nevertheless she is currently 3 for 3.

She then looked around my body – via the photographs of my eyes – and cheerfully reeled off a whole series of comments that made perfect sense given my recent medical history, and confidently predicted that doing this or that would help. At no stage did she argue I should reject or discontinue conventional medical treatment: in fact, very much the opposite, she offered to co-operate with my GP and insisted I carry on doing what he wants, too, although she did think that in due course some alternative therapies might make conventional ones less necessary.

So am I converted?

Well, I am certainly confounded. Astonished. Fascinated. Intrigued, and hopeful of good outcomes.

I will report back on my progress. Meanwhile, I’d love to know if you have experienced anything similar, or, indeed, the opposite.

Be assured: even as I write these words, I am shaking my head in bemusement that I would ever suggest that such “quackery” was seriously worth investigating. Perhaps some of you are too.

I can only confirm, everything you read above is true. I have no reason to exaggerate, or lie.

HORATIO
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

HAMLET
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.