Well fancy seeing you here...

Hello and welcome to the rambling rollercoaster of useless ponderings, strung together in what the internet calls a "blog," and the voices call a waste of everyone elses time.

Please check your sanity at the door (along with your dignity, logic, principles, good taste and prejudices against daftness.)

"I am here to seduce you into a love of life; to help you to become a little more poetic; to help you die to the mundane and to the ordinary so that the extraordinary explodes in your life." -Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

Friday, 23 May 2014

The Ties That Bind


Sometimes perspective is subtly gained, and other times it crashes into view and simply obliterates the previous mode of thinking. The hospital which has been its stage - and my home - for the last week is a master of shifting attitudes; an arena so cacophonous with extremes of emotion that few are seldom fixed.

Being quite experienced in pain and complexity, I've struggled much less with the physical reality of this current unwellness than I have with some of the wider questions it has thrown into my path. The now-unavoidable gastric surgery carries with it substantial risks to fertility, the extent of which I am only just beginning to explore with the help of relevant specialists from the field.

Suddenly finding myself asking very big questions about my future has been made particularly jarring because I had never given much thought to it before. My mother was in her late 30s when she became a parent, and even as a child I had always presumed that the same would be true of me. As ever greater numbers of my peers have begun to have families of their own, and the quantity of nieces and nephews I've amassed threatens to overwhelm the world supply of Jelly Tots, I still felt under no pressure to consider my own reproductive responsibilities. It was a question for another time, another decade. Something that seemed so abstract and far away, and felt almost ridiculous to ruminate upon seriously when it was so far from being relevant.

It is a theme repeated, I suppose, by couples everywhere who find themselves actually having to think about fertility. It's an aspect of our health we take for granted in a more absolute, evolutionary sense than we might any other, and do not test until it fails us. I had been as naive as anyone, never questioning my ability to have a child of my own, and indeed focused more on the rights and responsibilities afforded me not to get pregnant than anything else.

Much as I adore the cheeky, sticky, noisy, lovable riot of children to whom I am Auntie, I have been perfectly content to postpone any thought of adding to that brood myself. I'm not the type who coos and clucks over other people's babies, and don't have much experience entertaining children. This awkwardness led to a general assumption that I am not a very natural mother and a much more intuitive Wicked Queen. (It may also have something to do with the tiara, but I still deny responsibility for those poisoned apples.)

Despite the teasing, I don't think I had really given the concept of motherhood much thought at all until I was twenty. When my grandfather died it was earth-shattering, but somewhere amidst the shock and the grief and the pain was a strange kinship and familiarity. That moment of devastation linked me to the past in a way nothing could have done before. The loss of that great man and all that he was to us, and the staggering realisation that from that point on he could be only a memory, was when it all fell into place. I have referred to it since as my "circle of life moment", because I knew, there and then, that our lives have power and purpose simply because we share them. As I felt both the privilege and the loss of having been loved so much by someone I so admired, I recognised my place in the order of things in a way I had not done before. I wasn't just a daughter, or a granddaughter, I was a link in a chain that stretched back generation after generation, and - most startlingly - would reach out just as far into the future too.

I've touched on the significance of that moment before, but have found myself remembering it so much more acutely in the shadow of this latest news. As I indulged the self-pity and allowed myself to sink a little deeper into what was becoming quite a comfortable sulk,  my whinge was interrupted by a whisper.

"Please let me go. Tell the children that I love them, but they must let me go."

An elderly lady in a bed across the ward is receiving only palliative care, and her lucidy drifts somwhere between remarkably keen and hopelessly lost, never certain which is cruellest. Tonight she has called alternately for her children, and her parents, earnestly seeking the comfort of those greatest loves as her life begins its end.

Her family is large and caring, guilty only in their eagerness to cherish the moments of respite from distress, despite - and because of - their rarity. It is impossible to watch life unfolding and untangling itself at such close hand without realising how small a part we each play. How insignificant the knots are in which we find ourselves tied, time and again, until there is no time. No "again". It isn't blood she calls to, or to which they cling, it's bond. A bond formed by loving as deeply, resolutely, and fearlessly as family demands, but which is not exclusive to genetics. It's the quality of the relationships that surround her which have brought the greatest joy to know, and are causing the most pain to leave, not their heritage.

As the spectre of their loss calls to the ghosts of mine, I find myself so very grateful for those in my life whom I would be most loathe to leave, family and friends, and equilibrium begins to restore. It's hard to be too dedicatedly self-pitying in the face of so much love, and life, and potential for more of the same. I may not know what shape my future will take, or how far it may deviate from the course I'd expected, but in this moment it is enough to possess the luxury of time to find out.

As the last of the ward lights are dimmed and the day's visitors reduced to a cluster of empty chairs, so she whimpers to the night and asks it to take her; eased of the pain her illness delivers but wracked with the agony she knows awaits them. She quietly asks the nurse if she can have something to cuddle, and they give her a pillow. As she falls asleep with it cradled tightly to her chest my heart breaks for far worthier tragedies than my own, but this single bed has never felt quite so vast.

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