Posts Tagged 'death'

It doesn’t have to be this way…

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In my little world right now I have people close to me who are suffering the unimaginable – stuff we can’t even dream up.  Worlds being turned so upside down that the simple act of breathing becomes impossible.  Heartbreaking, excruciating stuff.  The life is not fair kind of stuff.  The cry for three days and still not catch your breath kind of stuff.

They are not doing this to themselves.  It is forced upon them by the universe for whatever lesson it is they have come to learn in this lifetime.  It is out of their control but it is also out of everyone’s control.  It is just the way it is.  The universe’s plan.  It’s unbearable, but it is the universe’s plan so we catch our breath and move forward as best we can.  It is not in anyones’ control so we breathe and move.  Step by step. Day by day.  Knowing we are doing our best.  All of us doing our best in every moment.

Also in my little world I have other people close to me who are suffering due to the choices of those around them. I have been in that place.  I know how it feels.  I know every single desperate inch of how it feels.  It’s equally heartbreaking….but it’s different.  It’s different because it doesn’t have to be.  It’s the ‘choice’ of the other person.  It can be fixed.  It may take courage but it can be fixed.

Do something once and it is an accident.  Do it again and it’s a choice.  Didn’t have to happen.  Didn’t have to go down that road.  Didn’t have to hurt the people around you.  Didn’t have to do that.

Do it again and it becomes selfish.  It becomes weak.  It lacks integrity and soul.  It becomes pathetic. It becomes deliberate.  The deliberate cause of suffering to others.

Addictions are a disease they say.  Perhaps.

Choice is not a disease.

Addictions are selfish and destructive.  They are harmful and hurtful.  They cause pain wherever they go….and they go everywhere.  They are everywhere.  They are all around me causing immense suffering to people that I love dearly and so many people I don’t even know.  People I have yet to meet.  Addictions are selfish and they are a choice!  I am astonished at the prevalence of them.  I am astonished at the quiet whispering voices as they tell me their stories.  Their stories of breaking hearts and loss of hope.  Stories of broken families and suffering children.  Stories.  So many stories.  I am over whelmed by them.

I do not understand despite a lifetime of being in this place.  I do not understand someone making that choice.  I do not understand the destructive selfishness of it all.

I watched my father destroy his family unit. Destroy his job, his friendships and eventually destroy himself.  Done and dusted and pushing up the daisies by the time he was my age.  He knew what he was doing.  As a child I knew he had chosen his addiction over me.  His selfish destruction of everything around him was more important than I was.

And then I watched it again….

It was a choice.  It was not a disease it was a choice.

It simply didn’t have to be that way.

It never does.

 

 

I’m so out of my comfort zone I can’t breath.

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That quote, you know the one that goes like this…..  ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’.  Well does it? Does the magic really happen when you are pushed to your edge? Does life really begin when the proverbial rug is pulled out from beneath you?  Does it really begin when you have to start again.  When you have to do it all over but you are tired and afraid.

I’m waiting life.  I am waiting for you to show me.

It seems I have spent the last two years being terrified.  Two years of grappling to find comfort in the unfamiliar. Searching for the path back to comfort.  Back to that comfort zone where life felt safe and I had a plan.

I continue to have my daily conversations with my mother, as I have done for the last fifty one years.  She no longer answers.  There is no comforting reply.  No sound advice from the email address that was once hers.  No Sunday Skype and reassuring smile.  No ‘I can come if you need me’.  I need you.

I tell her that nothing is the same.  I tell her that I wander around this ‘edge’ in search of home but I have yet to find it.  I tell her that a blind man does not use his cane to see where he can go but rather where he can’t.  I tell her that I have lost my cane.  That I don’t know where it’s safe to tread and I have no one to tell me.  I tell her that I can’t see the road ahead.  That it is all blurry and misty where I am.  That there are no white lines or cats eyes showing me where to go.   I tell her of opportunities that come my way but that I don’t know if I should.  That I need her  to tell me that I should.   I tell her that I have no place to call home anymore.  Either here or there.  That I have lost my secret place where I could hide from my fears and from the world when it all got too much.  I tell her I do not know how I will survive this.

I tell her that I am having to do things differently and I’m not sure that I am doing it right.  That there were people I believed in, totally believed in that let me down.  That there were new people I thought were honest and kind but they were not.  That I told them my stories and now I realised I should not have.

I tell her too of all the beautiful friends I do have that listen endlessly to my why’s, what if’s and how’s.  I tell her that all the little gifts she gave me over the years are my new familiar.  That I can see her everywhere because of those things.  I tell her that it is from her that I learnt the real meaning of unconditional love.  That her exceptional friendship is what I hope to emulate with my own girls.  I tell her I’m trying.

I tell her of the days that are magical and happy and of the dark days when I can’t even remember how to breathe.

I tell her that it is all down to me now.

I tell her I am scared that I am doing it all wrong.

I tell her I am alone but never lonely.  That she taught me that art of being alone.  I am eternally grateful for that.

I tell her I am so out of my comfort zone I can’t breathe.

Does life really begin in the unfamiliar?  Does it begin with a new front door of a home that is not mine? Does it begin with the loss of friends there were supposed to be there for a lifetime ? Does it begin in the space of starting again.  Does it begin in the not knowing of how this is supposed to work?

I do not know. I think by now I am supposed to know but I do not.

Grief does not know of time.

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Grief is an disobedient entity.  It does not know of boundaries or timelines.  It does not care for working days or weekends.  It does not arrive at the prescribed time, waiting its few mandatory days after shock and despair to enter stealthily through the door.  It does not wrap you in its dark cape for the allotted or subscribed time you might have read about and so think ‘oh yes so now you are here and in x number of days you will be gone and I can move on’.  It does not come when you are expecting it.  It does not always come with death. We have many reasons to grieve and most of them we ignore.

Grief.  It comes in the middle of the most perfect day.  You have just taken a deep breath of pleasure, the sun is out and you can hear the delightful laughter of small children.  What ever it was that was the cause of your grief was months, even years ago.  Long forgotten.  Dealt with, you thought, in the most efficient of ways.  Packed down tightly, taped up and placed in a long forgotten corner of a cupboard never opened.  Then there you are standing in line at the grocery store perched somewhere between the pretty little packets of nuts and the magazines depicting perfect homes and deliciously robust bodies and suddenly you hear a voice, or smell a scent and it hits you like a freight train.  Right there, out of the blue it hits you.  It was there all along.  A tiny ember barely alight somewhere deep within you glowing so quietly you could not even hear it’s whisper.  Then a memory, a sight or sound opens the door just enough to provide oxygen to that tiny cinder.  You feel the heat rise up within you.  Rushing and enveloping you.  Overwhelming you. You are in the middle of the line at the supermarket and all of a sudden you feel your world fall apart.

It comes in a dream and when you wake the day does not caress you with it’s normal sweet and charming hello.  You open your eyes to crashing waves of every unwanted and unwelcome emotion.  Immediate thoughts of ‘I cannot do this day’ engulf your both your mind and every pore from the tips of your toes to the top of your head.  We are who we are though and we get up and tape down that box and carry on.  We shut the door and hope the cinder dies down.  No oxygen, no fire.

Then there you are in line at the supermarket and the heat rises and your eyes fill with tears.   You cry at the checkout and you wipe your eyes at the parking exit.  You stop your car in a random spot in some side street and are engulfed in great heaving sobs that tear you apart.  Once it comes its unstoppable and the pain it seems is unbearable.  That fire will burn and the only thing to eventually put it out will be your own tears.  You can’t can keep closing that door and trying to put out the flames, it will never work.  It will come again and again at all those unexpected times until you finally deal with it.

Thats grief.  It’s unexplainable and although it is not always related to the death of a person it usually involves loss of some kind.  There are many reasons to grieve.  It can be the loss of a place.  The breakdown of a friendship.  The deep hurt from betrayal.  The pain of something that never was when you so desperately wanted it to be.  The bottomless despair that comes with the realisation that things are not how you thought they would be.  The loss of a future you thought you would have.

When it comes it might be because of all these things.  There is nothing to do but go with it.  Pull over at the side of that road and cry those tears.  Stay in bed and refuse to do the day. Open the door and let out that whole lifetime of piled up emotion. Maybe, just maybe then you can start to heal.

Life will break you..but..

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In all my work I am incredibly privileged.  I get to meet and spend time with an amazing variety of people.   With my camera in hand I meet newborn babies and happy people.  I get to photograph people doing what they love with the people they love.  There is often laughter,  there is often joy and I get to capture it and give it back to them so that they can look at it forever.  Life however is not just filled with happy smiling moments.

There is laughter in my yoga classes too.  Lots of it.  There is laughter and joy but there are also tears.  There are tears and great moments of fear.  There is anxiety and anger and for some reason yoga brings it all out.  People come to class for all sorts of reasons.  The come in search of something, often not knowing what that thing is.  They come thinking they want to do a few asanas, touch their toes and sit in relaxation.  This happens, oh yes this happens, but shit happens too.  Last week a student touched her toes for the first time in her life and along with that moment came floods of tears.  Tears of joy.  Tears of release. Tears of achievement.  In that same class a student who could not find her balance instead found floods of tears in savasana (relaxation).  I held her head as her body shook with the weight of it all.  I watch as people release deep sighs in meditation.  I get to be part of their process of peeling back the layers of themselves.  I get to witness their ahh-aha moments.  I get to be part of their journey and it’s beautiful.

A while back I was asked if I would spend some time doing relaxation and meditation with a lady who was terminally ill.  The sweet, kind, beautiful person was understandably very anxious about the road that lay ahead of her. Once a week I would go to her apartment and for an hour we would talk and then we would sit in quiet meditation with me guiding her to find just a few moments of complete peace.  We would talk of life and death, of fear and trying to really live in the few moments she had left.  I witnessed her sorrow and pain.  I held her hand when she cried and helped her breathe through moments of unease.  I was witness to her most intimate fears.  I heard her stories and sat with her when she needed to find space in those stories and it was a beautiful thing.

Life will break you.  We come into the world devoid of fear or judgement, but life will break you.  Along our journey we bump headfirst into heartache and pain.  We suffer intolerable sickness.  We loose people we love and are brought to our knees by uncertainty.  We fix ourselves with pretend plasters and glue.  We hold it all together with imaginary layers that we think will keep out all the pain….but it won’t.  Life will break you.

I had the incredibly privilege of getting to know a person intimately in the last months of her life.  During our hours together I got to ask about living.  I got to ask her where her breaks had been and where she had built her walls.  I got to see where she had put her plasters and glue and I got to see her layers peel away.

At the end of the day all those layers of ours will come undone.  In the last days of your life each and everyone of those plasters will come unstuck and the glue will melt.  We put them there because we don’t want anyone else to see our pain.  We don’t want to be vulnerable.  We want others to only see the happy pretty parts of ourselves.  What people don’t realise is that underneath all the pretend fixing is where all the real beauty is.

When I see the layers fall and the personal first aid fail I smile.  When I watch in class as the quiet person in the corner finally lets go, I smile.  I smile because the real beauty of a person is in their vulnerability.  The real beauty of the human race is in our connection and when we are vulnerable we connect deeply.  Our beauty is in the layers of who we are.  It’s in our stories and not just the good ones.

It’s hard though.  Taking off the plasters is hard and it hurts.  Something happens though when we do.  When we show another person our pain we free them up to do the same.  When we gut vulnerable we let them get vulnerable too.

Here is the best part of it all.  Like a baby or a person in their last hours where there is a serenity and grace that is breathtaking, a person without all their plasters and glue is the most beautiful thing.

 

 

On life and loss…..

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This year has been hard.  Unbelievably hard.  Excruciatingly hard.  I have lost so much of what I once held dear and found myself feeling more vulnerable than I ever thought possible.

My year began with divorce. Divorce from a marriage of twenty seven years.  A painful separation with all that I had known for my whole adult life. Nothing can prepare you for the loss.  With divorce there is always loss.  Huge, huge amounts of seemingly unbearable loss.  Loss of what you thought would be.  Loss of a future you once imagined.  Loss of friends and on occasion, loss of hope. For me the greatest of those losses, apart from the obvious, was my beloved ramshackle house in the bush. This was the place I called home.  Where my heart and soul felt the most peace. Where I took all my deep breaths and made all my big decisions.  The place I went when life became overwhelming.  So in the most overwhelming time in my life I could not go to that place that I knew.  I could no longer sit in that place where I normally sat.  In essence, even my decision making process had to change.

Life was, in fact, to became more overwhelming than I could possibly imagine. Nothing it seemed, bar my name, could stay the same.  I moved house, changed my car, changed my bank accounts, changed phone accounts and wifi providers, became a yoga instructor and took on photography work I had previously shied away from. It was hard. Seriously hard and I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.  I had to claw and fight my way back to creating a life that was sustainable, even if it was temporary.

Then just when I thought I could catch my breath the universe dealt another massive blow.  It took from me my mother in a bizarre set of circumstances.  Nothing could possibly prepare me for the month that was to follow.

Last week I sat in her little home in the cold autumn of England and tried once again to catch my breath.  I could not seem to find it.  It was not amongst the all letters she had saved.  Letters that I had written to her when I was still a teenager and living in America.  It was not amongst the clothes that she wore, nor was it in the cupboards of china that she loved so much.  I could not find it in the garden she had tended so carefully or in the boxes of photographs I rummaged through.  It was not in the cards that arrived nor the quiet ticking of the clock in the night hours where I lay awake in a bed that had once been hers.  Surely I would find it somewhere.

I have yet to find that breath but in amongst all this terrible loss here is what I have found.  I have found open hearts and incredible compassion.  In my vulnerable moments I have seen people step forward to comfort me.  People I did not know well. People who were merely on the fringes of my friend zone.  They have opened their hands and hearts to me.  They offered kind words that I have re-read again and again in those dark hours listening to that ticking clock. They gave me heartwarming hugs.  Hugs that gave me strength when I felt depleted.  They have taken me into their circles and protected me.  They have listened when I needed an ear.  I have made new friends.  New friends that have bought me meals and found ways to make me laugh and smile on the darkest and wettest days….you know who you all are.

I have found strength.  I have found that I am made of more than I thought.  I have found that I have strength to cope with a whole lot more than I ever imagined.

I have found calmness.  Yes, in amongst the whirlwind of trauma I have gone deep into myself to find a place of calm.  Now that I know where it is I know that I can go there whenever I need to.  Perhaps it was not there in the bush, perhaps it was just inside of me all the time.  I just didn’t know how to find it.

We are all just journeying from one end of life to the other.  Life is just about experience.  Big experiences and small.  Sometimes those big experiences are spaced out with long gaps in-between.  Sometimes they come all at once.

I have had a year of big experiences and big loss.  Big discoveries and monumental growth.  I hope the universe thinks that I have done enough growing for a while.  I hope it gives me time to catch my breath.

The space between what was and what will be

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There are those days, those weeks and moments in life when the universe comes along and lays its hand on you with such force you feel that you are shattered into a thousand pieces.  Your heart lies somewhere in you broken.  Pieces of it in your chest and others resting in the pit of your stomach.  Your head rests in your shaking hands and tears pour from your eyes relentlessly.  The words, when they spill forth from your mouth, are jumbled and tumble about in an incomprehensible dance.

There is a space on the floor between my bed and the wall where I sit when things get too bad.  From here, in this little space, where I sit all curled up, I have made  all the terrible calls I have had to make in this past week.  It is here in this little space that I have cried my biggest tears and placed my head in my hands to hold it when it all feels like it is too much.  I am not alone.  There are people all over the world dealing with unimaginable things and journeying through inconceivable grief.  There are broken hearts and tears all over this planet.  I am surely not alone.

Last Tuesday I put my mother on a plane to return home to her English autumn.  To the apples waiting on her tree and the last of the pretty flowers in her garden.  Her suitcase full of little things she had found that would remind her of me and the crisp golden leaves waiting to fall at her feet.  We were exceptionally close.  We always had been and she had been my friend for all of my fifty years.    The fact that she lived in England and I in Africa did not loosen our bond.  We Skyped and emailed and knew daily details of each others lives.  She would get on a plane and come at a moments notice whenever I needed her.  Sometimes she would just sense that I needed her and be here before I even had to ask.

While she was here we talked of her childhood in post war England and the things she still wanted to do.  Of her parents and grandparents.  Of  life with my father and life without him.  She told me of a train trip through the bluebell woods that she so loved and how she would book it when she got back.  We walked daily on the wide golden beach near my house that you see above and dipped our toes in the warm Indian Ocean.

She never got home to her beautiful garden and pretty blue house.  She never saw the flowers waiting with their bowed heads or tasted those golden apples. Somewhere, just about half way between the hot dusty air of Africa and the sweet damp air of England she had a heart attack.  A jumbo jet full of weary passengers was diverted to Abuja in Nigeria to offload my sick mother and continue its journey to where she was supposed to be.   A kind man with a foreign accent on the end of a feint line tells me things I do not want to hear.  I sit down in that space between the bed and the wall weeping huge gulping buckets of tears.

Through my constant flow of salty wet tears and breaking heart I look at how to get to this far away place in the middle of a war torn part of Africa.  I am told it is not safe to go and yet I am asked by the doctor to please rush as she is all alone there. That she has opened her eyes and held his hand for just a moment before drifting back into her unconsciousness.  Was she looking for me?  I research again how to get to this far away place but my children beg me not to go.  It’s not safe they say.  I am stuck as half way between going and not as she is between her two homes.  I sit between what was and what will be.  It’s a terrible place to be.  I wait knowing it is only a matter of time until that inevitable call to tell me that very place of waiting is no longer there.  I hide again in the space between the bed and the wall.  It feels like home now.  I think she knew.  I think she came to say goodbye.

The universe delivered me an unbelievable blow in the most absurd way possible in what has already been a exceptionally difficult year.  I envy generations past that were allowed a certain time to grieve.  They sat in their parlours and drank tea and received occasionally visitors for months on end, slowly coming to terms with the new space they found themselves in.  Life today is different.  I now face the complicated journey of getting her body out of Nigeria and home to her beloved England. I face endless red tape and a long lonely flight to meet her there where the leaves are crisp and her apples wait.

Death is the natural order of things and yet it is never welcomed by those left on earth.  My mother died in Abuja.  A city I never knew existed and yet now means so much to me.  I hope one day I can go. This is all part of my journey here on earth. These are my lessons and I must trust that the universe knows that I am not yet broken and that I have got this.



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