A simple, timely reminder

A simple, timely reminder

 

Picking heavy steps

towards the gate.

A soul bereft,

eyes blinking rapidly,

dragging threadbare scraps of sorrow.

A heart ambushed

by an unbidden, unexpected memory.

 

How can life

be there

one day,

and not the next?

 

A flutter of softened taffeta

a glimpse of black and yellow

distracts,

catches

the edge of my vision.

 

Flickering,

dusky velveteen wings

tipped with sunshine yellow.

 

A gathering of butterflies

dancing

dithering

flitting leaf to leaf,

amidst rainbow crystals,

glinting droplets,

called to this

butterfly gathering hibiscus bush.

 

Brushing the layers

of crushed cotton pink petals,

their delight

penetrates the moleskin cloak,

veiled around me

designed by grief

woven by mourning.

 

A gathering of butterflies.

Capering

amidst

frayed sunshine

remnants of gladness.

 

A simple

timely

reminder

 

 

Remembering my father, who died one year ago today.

 

A gathering of butterflies

A gathering of butterflies

Waves

It’s a strange thing, grief.  We think of it as a process which moves in a linear way.  We think we are making progress forwards.  And then there is a moment, a memory, a scent, or piece of music.  Even the sight of a familiar food, and we are again ambushed by a wave of grief, washing over us.

Today, by some unseen alignment, two different posts arrived in my feed, both about grief and loss.  And at a time when there are seasonal prompts and reminders of my own grief. The birthday my father would have celebrated earlier this month.  The season reminding me that this time last year I made the sudden decision to return to Scotland to spend final days with my father.

Marie writes in her post, Still alive in a wound still fresh, about those unexpected moments when we see or read something which speaks to us with a strength which takes our breath away.  The other post I read today, beautifully titled Live forever, provides a privileged insight into the influences and memories of a mother and grandfather:

Two people who live forever in my heart had birthdays last week, my Grandfather and my Mother. Both were very dear to me during the time we shared and both continue to play a role in my life. They’re in my thoughts, my memories, my sense of who I am and how I want to lead my life

This resonates too with my own processing and coming to terms with that strangeness of grief.  I wrote last year that grief is within us, not without.  And that means that the love and memory for those we have lost lives on within us, along with the values and influences which shape and guide us.

Signs of spring - Lismore

Signs of spring – Lismore

The wound is indeed still fresh, our hearts still grieve.  Yet there is a gold nugget of life, that which lives on within us and which we must hold on to and cherish.

Skin deeper

There has been an elephant in the room, and not one which sits quietly in the corner.  It has been rampaging through the house causing destruction and damage in its wake. I wrote Skin Deep over many days and did not actually believe I would put it “out there” online but as I felt myself sinking deeper and flinching from those small incidents which are on the surface slight, with tears in my eyes I finally pressed the “bare my soul” button.

I do not really know what I expected from the post.  Being honest, I had not thought ahead.  The purpose of writing was to vent and pour out the distress in my heart.  So I was astounded by the response to Skin Deep. As well as numerous comments on the post itself, I received personal emails and Facebook messages and a number of people here reached out with love and understanding.  I had not anticipated the many thoughtful messages reassuring me that physical appearance is not the same as beauty. I have been emotionally overwhelmed and it has taken time to put my thoughts in order and prepare this reflection and learning.

As I read through and responded to the comments, replied to emails, spoke with friends who reached out and quietly reflected, the clearer a picture developed of a whole host of people struggling silently.  So many live with constant debilitating side and after effects and swallow the assumptions that everything is behind us and rosy now. Many of us are silently absorbing assumptions of our appearance, while struggling with a variety of conditions which impact on how we look, so many of which are beyond our control.  I had lifted the lid off some Pandora’s box.

I still feel fragile, emotionally and the wellbeing and appearance issues are unlikely to change.  But I learned a great deal from writing the post, reading and reflecting on the responses and bringing together these thoughts into some key messages.

I am not alone

I am incredulous at the number of people struggling with these interconnected issues, in silence and isolation.  We are dealing with a host of issues – side effects from many meds, after effects from current and previous treatments, disfiguring surgery, pain, destruction of functions including thyroid. We may look well but be living with debilitating conditions, or we may look unfit and unhealthy yet are following extremely healthy lifestyles as far as we can. In summary, as “cancer in my thirties” said in her comment

“many people fail to realize how horrible the side effects of our treatments can be — and how much they impact our lives each and every day”.

Even if I struggle with these, knowing I am not alone somehow helps emotionally and validates these feelings.  However, another side is that very few of us expect or are prepared for such debilitating side and after effects. We should be grateful that we are alive – and of course we are, but that doesn’t mean that this is something that can be wrapped up and put easily in the past when we live it every day.

Far too many are silently living with this.

Intent

I did not intend to make people feel uncomfortable.  My post did not point fingers at any individual but aimed to draw out the consistency of reaction.  I particularly want to stress that I do not for a moment believe that there is unkind intent in many of the comments and looks I experience.  My friend Becky wrote very powerfully of her experience and in particular placed it in the context here.

“Being called fat in SE Asia isn’t necessarily a negative thing. It’s quite acceptable here to talk about people’s size. ……………

In some countries, being told you’re big can be a compliment. I sense it’s not necessarily a compliment here, but rather an observation (perhaps without much judgment).“

It is so important to hold on to this, and try and remember it is more an observation.  The challenge is that of course I come from a context where it is broadly offensive to comment on a person’s weight.  And that is why it hurts.  Purely and simply, I struggle terribly to be on the receiving end without it that stab of pain and shame.

It doesn’t matter how much I rationalise and understand – it still hurts.

Reaching out

I have found that not only writing and releasing these highly personal and innermost thoughts and feelings but then listening to the responses and reactions of others is helping me to process this.  Chronic illness, mortality, cancer and the whole psychological and emotional and invisible side to diagnosis continue in my view to be underestimated even within ourselves.  We are often caught up in our own pain and unable to see how enormously difficult for those around us themselves to deal with life-threatening diagnoses in their loved ones.

Open your eyes

Indeed, I really did not have a clear purpose in my mind when I started on this journey of exposing my soul. I did not expect such a powerful reaction. I think that in the back of my mind, I was screaming silently that I wanted to be heard. To be understood. And not to be judged.

This path is and will continue to be painful.  Yet for now, I can say that I do indeed feel heard. I feel far less alone.  And I feel more understood.  I hope that applies to us all.

The elephant is still in the room.  I doubt if it will completely disappear. But it does seem to have quieted a little and become less obtrusive.

Inundated

Rainy season, rainy season  good old rainy season!  Slowly, gradually the skies clear,the mercury rises and we enjoy slivers of sunshine.  This is the time of year when we might even see rainbows.

This is also the time of year when we are more likely to be caught out by surprise rainstorms as we think the sky is clear.  Tuesday morning saw an unusually hard downpour before I was due to leave home in the morning.  I left a little early to allow extra time. As soon as I walked through the gate I was confronted with a highly confusing picture.  Right in front of me, where the road should have been, I could see children splashing as if they were in a swimming pool or river.  Where our street gently slopes downwards, our little lane had indeed become a river!  Further down I could see men waist deep in water.  Apart from an inch or two of water, I have never seen our street flood, unlike many other parts of the city. Now it was completely inundated.

Aung Min Gaung River 1Incredibly, most folks were going about their daily business and wading through the murky water. Children being carried or clinging on to the back of a bicycle as they get a lift, quite literally, to school, and the monks continuing to gather alms.  All seemingly oblivious, at the most, slightly inconvenienced.  While I stood like a complete wimp at the water’s edge phoning my office and taking photos before I returned home to wait.

Aung Min Gaung River 2

Aung Min Gaung River 3

Aung Min Gaung River 4

Aung Min Gaung River 5

Collecting alms

Collecting alms

Aung Min Gaung River 8

I was surprised that the waters receded fairly quickly, leaving major traffic jams and water-logged little cars stranded haphazardly around town. Soon there was little sign that the community had been inundated.

And amidst this, I feel emotionally inundated though perhaps it is not visible.  Work intensities take up enormous reserves of energy and time; I continue to strive to take time to smell the orchids, and have weekends and evenings filled with reading, writing and photography pursuits; working with a small group of women to organise awareness activities appropriately; swimming and cycling between downpours…….. In addition to that though, my mind is trying to assort and address some extras.  It is nearly 6 months since my father’s death and that is in my mind constantly, unexpected prompts catching me by surprise, yet feeling that it is too long ago for many to realise that the pain is so raw.  Healthwise, I am hurtling along “anniversary season”, having just marked the four year point from finding the lump, and being only 48 hours away from my four year cancerversary – the day that everything shifted and changed.  The day I heard those words “this is highly suspicious of cancer”. And just to add to the overflowing maelstrom in my head, I will travel to Bangkok for my Big Checks in just over a week.

There is not a great deal I can do, other than keep on swimming as the waters swirl around me, aware that Capt Paranoia is swimming towards me. I crave calmer waters and sunny skies.

For the moment though I must hold on to the thought that this inundation will also pass, in its own way.

The sounds of a soul, gently healing

The sounds of a soul, gently healing

Grumbles of distant rain clouds echoing from the hills

The ticky tacky steps of a spider, scurrying across the dust.

Gleeful, haunting melodies of mynahs calling across the jungle canopy

Gurgles of a chubby rain drop slithering onto a welcoming pebble

The whisper of a lazy breeze stirring shy bamboo stems

 

The barely audible gasp of a frangipani blossom as it lands on the surface of water

The sigh of a leaf riding on the breeze, pausing, twisting, as it glides to the ground, guided by invisible fingers

The catch of air in a butterflys wings, as it alights on a leaf

The almost perceptible murmur of a hibiscus flower, rearranging its petals, as it turns to reach towards the sun.

 

The scream of a single, sweet teardrop, escaping, unsolicited.

 

 

Stop.

 

Still your breath.

 

Still your very being.

 

For these are the gentle sounds,

of a soul

quietly healing.

 

Frangipani blossom, drifting, casting its shadow on the tiles of the pool.

Frangipani blossom, drifting, casting its shadow on the tiles of the pool.

Future tenses

I have arrived.  I have no idea, and no good reason for this being my very first visit to Malaysia despite living so near for over a decade.  All I do know is that I am here now, and very glad to be.

I think that the impression I have always had, particularly of Kuala Lumpur, has been that it is a highly modern, futuristic city with of course the iconic Petronas Towers.  Now I am kicking myself that I have waited so long!  It is an incredible city, with a rich mix of architecture and culture.

So what could be more fitting than a sneak preview of the many photos and tales to come, with a change of background and some funky pics of the futuristic Petronas Tower high above the skyscrapers on the skyline, such as this one reflected in the table I was sitting at the first evening I arrived in KL.

Reflection of the iconic Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur

A classic view of the Tower itself, for the current background.

petronas

And a couple of “preview” images of the diversity that is KL with a promise of much more to follow.

kl

kl2

kl3

This year has taken such a toll, and although I continue to struggle with the heavy side effects of potentially life waving meds, as well as that overbearing, ever present grief, it is good to have a diversity of surroundings such as the KL setting.

A setting to inspire and remind of the past, the present and the future.

Within. Without.

As I was walking down our lane the other evening, I spotted several fireflies darting about.  One of those little moments, when the ordinary is exquisite, I immediately stored the sight mentally, adding it to a little list I keep. This is the list of snippets and experiences I keep, to share with my father when I phone or see him. It must have been no more than a nanosecond before I of course remembered that I would no longer have the opportunity to share these little moments. I was almost physically winded by the thud of realisation.

I had thought when I returned to Yangon that perhaps grief might be a little kinder given that I am not surrounded by daily reminders of my father.  I am not living in the same physical space and  do not have those shared routines constantly prompting and reminding. Such naivety.  Of course I am surrounded by reminders.  Loss is not something external, it is within us.  Contained within our emotions and memories. Losing someone does not mean that the emotional ties are gone.  They are there forever.

Those reminders are everywhere.  Because they are within me not without.  When I received a Father’s Day marketing email from Pinterest yesterday, telling me that it is not too late and I “still have time to plan something for dad”, I found it hard to contain a mix of grief and anger.  I do not still have time.  It is too late. This is one of those gruelling hurdles, the first Father’s Day “without”.  Without my father.  I never will again have the opportunity to have that Father’s Day phone conversation, the line crackling across the distance, as I share those little snippets which I have saved up.  But I can’t fairly accuse Pinterest of being insensitive.  It is my association and emotions which prompt the reaction it does, rubbing invisible little sprinklings of salt into my too raw wounds.  It is within me, not without.

Nancy’s Point talks insightfully about loss, and shares important lessons, such as:

Grief’s intensity lessens, but the loss is for a lifetime.

Indeed.

monsoon droplets, captured like teardrops

Loss is something we experience from within.  Not without. 

Gradually adjusting to living without the person we have lost.