Wellies and wheelbarrows

In the days after Tony died, it felt like my phone continually pinged with texts, messages and emails. Thoughts, love, concern sent from all over the world. It was wonderfully comforting, if a little overwhelming, and I found a few safe sentences in reply that I tended to repeat. One of them was that we were heart-broken.

We were.

Totally.

Yesterday I listened to a song and the lyrics spoke of ‘every heart that is broken’ and I had one of those ‘grief ambush’ moments. When you’re least expecting a reminder or a memory and you are blind-sided by it.

I cried.

I have found myself crying a lot recently. Just because I am sad. Sad and heart-broken. I feel it when I wake up in the morning like a heavy blanket. And it lingers. And grows. And then spills out in tears. Am I crying for myself? Yes. My children? Yes. Am I crying for Tony? Yes. Am I crying for what was, what might have been, what may be, what won’t be? Yes. All of the above. Is there comfort in my crying? No, not really.

But I do hope. I hope that there will be mornings when I wake up and there is a blanket of joy that feels lighter. And I hope for healing.

So, what about the wellies and wheelbarrows then? There is a connection, I promise. Back in the spring as I began to get out into the garden again, I had a real sense that this was a place where healing could happen for me. BBC2 Gardeners’ World on Friday past was all about the healing potential of gardening. It’s even an NHS prescription in some parts of the UK. (I was right!!) There is a communion between our physical, emotional, spiritual selves and nature. A communion that gently soothes our inside brokenness. Where our tears and the rain or the dew on the grass, mingle. Where a weed removed, leaves a patch of soil exposed and ready for the growing of a new plant. Where the cutting away of the faded flower encourages a fresh flush of buds and the anticipation of colourful blooms.

I have worked away in the garden during this summer. Last year I didn’t and couldn’t have done. I didn’t have the physical or mental energy for anything other than getting through each day. I am very thankful that now I can. There is always something that needs to be done. And it is helping me.

My wellies are near to hand (because my garden is quite muddy) and I have prescribed myself time each day to step out and take a dose of nature’s healing goodness.

Changing landscape

A few weeks ago I was mowing the grass in the back garden and noticed that a little willow tree which was planted before we ever moved in, was trailing its branches on the ground. I was initially amazed by the growth, but then realised that it hadn’t actually grown at all. The trunk was completely broken and the whole tree was about to collapse. Once I’d removed it, of course it opened up a whole new space in the corner of the garden. In those short few weeks, new shoots have sprouted, plants have started to grow around the base of the trunk and branches from nearby trees are reaching into the new space. The landscape of the garden has changed.

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In our community recently, there have been quite a few structural changes. A couple of redundant police stations have been demolished to make way for new housing and commercial developments, vacant plots are slowly but surely growing new buildings, our neighbours are building extensions. I wonder what Tony would say about these new developments. He would be fascinated to know what was going on and who the builders were and of course he would have an expert opinion on the progress!

The physical landscape around us is always changing, sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes very obviously. And so it is with our lives. From dramatic and traumatic to the barely noticeable, life takes on a new skyline. The sunrise is framed in a new way. But the sun rises all the same. We encounter new obstacles on our path which invite decisions to be made. Climb over? Skirt around? Get help? Sit and rest awhile? Sometimes this is all just overwhelming. Sometimes it is a welcome change to the predictable. Sometimes it is our own making. Sometimes it is all beyond our control. But almost without a doubt, at some point, new shoots will sprout, branches will reach into the space and the bare ground will begin to show fresh green shades of new life. For that I am very grateful.

 

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I will never forget our little willow tree. It has stood and watched us play, swing, weed, laugh and cry over the years. I am sad that it has gone, but I watch the empty space with hopeful anticipation of new things.

 

Soaking up the empty

IMG_0454I had wondered how this season would be. And so far it’s been hard.

All the other difficult days we have faced so far, have been isolated, preceded by days of dreadful anticipation and followed by days of sad processing. But this season, this Advent season is prolonged. Part of me truly wishes to go to sleep and wake up in the middle of January. At the same time, I am struggling with leaving 2018 behind. Because Tony was here in 2018. He was a part of it. He lived in it. And I don’t want to let that go. There have been years, recently, when I have just been so glad to see the end of December. Hoped for something new and better in the next year. But now? I don’t want to turn my back on this year at all. I don’t want to lose that almost tangible connection to him being here.

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I anticipated that this lead up to Christmas would feel very empty. I had begun to feel just that, as the rest of the world around me began to collectively become excited, happier, sillier, over-the-top, loud and bright. I have felt empty.

And then, wonderfully,  something started to happen that brought us joy like shafts of light. It began on the first day of Christmas. A friend arrived with a beautiful white bauble for our Christmas tree and a written message of love and kindness which remembered Tony. The next morning another friend called at the door announcing herself as the second day of Christmas, carrying a delicate glass angel for the tree. It wasn’t until the next day though that I realised a pattern was emerging. Another friend had come to sit in with my two and she brought with her a glittering angel encased in a glass bauble. As the next days passed, the three of us began to look expectantly around IMG_0456the step of the front door and in the post box for any surprise packages. And over the days we discovered such a variety of thoughtful gifts and messages for us and our tree. The anticipation, the discovery, the delight in receiving such kindness, somehow began to soak up the emptiness. The 12th day saw the opening of a special Christmas Eve gift from the dear friend thousands of miles away who had mobilised all the other friends to this 12 days of Christmas giving! Amazingly friends who didn’t even know what was happening have gifted us with angels for the tree or our home, adding to the wonder of it all. Oh, how loved, protected and cared for we have felt as each one has poured in something of themselves to our little family. Some hope, some smiles, some joy, some kindness. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

Missing

Now that we’re snuggling into winter clothes, lighting the wood-stove and wearing socks again, the summer break seems a dim and distant memory. For us it was a mixed-up time. We did some new things and went to some new places. We also did some of our comfortable, same-old. We stayed in the same cottage in Donegal that we’ve been to for the last few years. The cottage where Tony always found something to fix. Naturally. We visited our usual haunts – the beach, Nancy’s Yard (for the best chowder in the world) and of course the Rusty Nail pub. We had fun, laughed, sang loudly in the car and played several rounds of Rummikub and Scrabble. Without him. It was Ethan’s birthday while we were away, and although I had prepared myself for the actual day, it was the night before when I wrote Ethan’s card that the unanticipated tidal wave of sadness came. His name was missing. ‘Daddy’ was not written in the card this time.

It is this ‘missing’ which overwhelms my days now. At a gathering of friends, he is not there: to tell his stories, share his wisdom and lovingly wind everyone up. He is missing when I need to seek out his eyes for reassurance and shared knowing. He is missing when I need his words of encouragement and tenderness. And I am not complete without him.

He is missing from his place at the table and we are having to learn to be a different shape. A triangle, not a square. Unspoken, we find a new position. Who will be the first to the sofa and sit in his spot? Savouring that unexplained closeness to him. A measure of JD remains in the bottle. He’s not here to take it. I can’t bring myself to drink it. There it will always stay.
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A Difficult Journey

It’s been a while. I hadn’t quite realised just how long. I am in turmoil somewhat about writing again and when would ever be the right time to do so. A lot of you will know that these past months have been a very difficult journey for us. A journey we would never have chosen, but one we walk daily with our eyes fixed on Jesus, our good shepherd, as we walk through a very dark valley. Tony passed away on March 1st after a very short spell in hospital when the doctors discovered that he had cancer. It was a great shock, a shock that still hits me with great force every day.
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I don’t feel ready at the moment to write here about a lot of things from the past six months. I’m not even sure if I ever will, or even what I feel ready to write about now. But I have to say that without faith, family and the greatest of friends, I’m not sure how we would have got to this point in this terribly difficult journey.

From closest friends and family, people I don’t even know (some who had known Tony), people near and very far away, have come the most generous expressions of kindness. Cards, emails, visits, lasagnes, dog walks and toilet rolls. Every single gift showing love to us at a time when we have felt very, very empty.

Tony was the most generous person I have known. If he could give it to you, fix it for you, or take you to it, then he would. He always, always went beyond what was asked or expected. So to receive generosity in such an outpouring has been very humbling.

This is a short post. A post to say ‘thank you’ to all those who have generously poured in to our lives over the last six months. It is all greatly treasured.

Soul Food

These last few days have been the laziest I have had since…..well, probably last Christmas. It has truly been blissful, sitting by the fire for hours on end, reading, playing games, dozing and watching movies. I have managed to win through in the ‘I should really be doing something’ argument with myself, and put my feet up. Lucky me! We have, between the two of us, drunk an awful lot of wine (well it feels like it anyway) and eaten an awful lot of chocolate (breaking my sugar free run, for a few days anyhow).

I’m not going to use this post to reflect on the past year, or make unrealistic resolutions about the new year ahead. I’m just enjoying this moment, these few days of spending time with family and friends, eating, drinking, snoozing, walking the dog and not even thinking too much about anything.

Today, I took Lacey to our local park and discovered a mountain of top soil altering the landscape. It’s probably been there for weeks, but this is the first time I’ve been here in a while. And it’s one of my favourite places too. I find it interesting that there are some things and places that I don’t particularly miss or necessarily think about until I revisit them and then realise what a special place they are for me and how good they do my soul. The same happened yesterday, visiting Seapark, Holywood for the first time in ages. The invasion on the senses that comes by the sea. We recently visited our previous church, and the same was true. It felt like ‘coming home’, to be among friends who have shared our journey. I suppose there is comfort in the familiar. The shoreline walked a hundred times before, the muddy perimeter path with the outline of a thousand pawprints, the sanctuary of hearts well-loved and well-known. If there was a promise to myself for this new year, it would be to be more determined about revisiting the familiar, known places which feed my soul – both physical and spiritual. I wonder what are your familiar places? How do they feed your thoughts and emotions?

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I hope that in 2018 we can all determine to revisit those nourishing spaces.

Happy New Year!

ABC of ADHD

On the last day of ADHD awareness month, I am just squeezing in a quick and simple post of words. Words that for me are part of living with our boy with ADHD. Hopefully you will find a mix of the positive and the challenging.

Affection

Boisterous

Challenges

Diet

Energy

Fads

Gregarious

Humbling

Immediate

Journey

Knee-jerk

Laughter

Medication

Never-ending

Obssession

Patience-testing

Quiet (rarely!)

Rollercoaster

Smiles

Tears

Volatile

Worry

eXhausting

Yesterday (when current requests have to be done by!)

Zebras (this last one represents the apparent and complete randomness of an ADHD mind – plus I was struggling to think of a word – any ideas?)

* distracted by fireworks and GBBO I missed the last day of October! Apologies!

 

 

Leaving

IMG_3368Whenever I left Brentwood to move to Belfast there was physical pain and wrenching as well as huge emotional outpouring. I drove away from my parents’ home, the home of my teenage years, in my little yellow Cinquecento (which had been my sister’s), with Holly the cat beside me and my new husband driving a truck ahead of me filled with all my belongings. The tears flowed most of the way to Liverpool and my body ached. It was grief. Grief for the loss of not being near as my niece and nephew grew up. The reality of not being a tangible part of their lives, having been so very close to them from birth (literally with one of them), hit me hard and broke me. I had never known sadness like it, saying goodbye to Mum and Dad, sister and friends. It was the hardest thing I had ever done.

Leaving the town where I’d been born, gone to school, worshipped, fallen in love (and out again a million times before I was 17), worked at my first jobs and learnt to drive, was hard too. I’d been away and come back twice. This time was different. This time was permanent.

I was leaving behind my history and my roots. I was letting go of things I had held tightly.

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The excitement and joy of being newly married, making a home and starting a family made the first few years an adventure. We were making our own history and growing our own roots in neighbourhood, church family, school life and work community.

Right now I am back in Brentwood, sitting in a park and listening to the distinctive Essex accent all around me, wondering if I’ll gain a twang before I go back. Maybe Katy’s growing Belfast accent will have an Essex edge by the time we leave?!

I have just met Kathleen (92) handing out puzzle pages and crosswords she has cut out from the paper. I heard her story of how she and her husband came to ‘accidentally’ buy the beautiful Victorian house just there over the park fence. Our histories intertwine. One of her children was born in the same maternity home as me. Her uncle owned the locally famous toy shop from my childhood and she knows the streets where I grew up. We even share a name – kind of!

This encounter stirs a warm response from me, a comfortableness of knowing and being known just because of this town and my history. I have left physically, but there will always be a part of me, in a deep place inside, that calls this place ‘home’. There will always be a part of me that meets the familiarity with welcome and memories and contentment. There will always be a part of me that wonders how it would be to go back.

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We will soon pack our bags, board our plane and head home. Home to Belfast. We will find pain in the leaving again but gratitude for these days of intertwining our lives briefly with family and friends here. We will head home to continue growing our roots and have our history shaped by the next season of life for our family, safely in God’s hands.

In leaving, there is loss, but there is also a heart full of memories, love shared, lives entwined forever and new adventures ahead for us all.

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Cyril – a chance encounter

I have seen Cyril many times over the last number of years. Driven past him, him walking purposefully to somewhere. Or pushing a bike. And always with a few plastic bags in his hands or hanging from the handlebars. The look of a homeless man. Dirty clothes, worn shoes and a big beard. But I’ve never met him. Until recently.

My Tuesday Cregagh Glen walk was much later  (because I’m trying to get this book written  – you know, the one we all have) and there were lots more people up and down the glen at 11.30am than there are at 8.30am. At the bottom, on the way down, I met Cyril. We had a conversation about how long the Glen has been ‘renovated’, the fact that I’m from Essex (and wasn’t Brentwood famous? Yes, but for all the wrong reasons!) and that I’d first met my Glenravel husband at Gatwick airport en route to Jamaica, before I went and lived there 26 years ago. And the fact that my son is on the Autism spectrum. It’s amazing how much of your life story you can share with a stranger in the space of 2 1/2 minutes.

And then, for the next 45 minutes, a patient Lacey at my feet, I listened to a man, self-diagnosed with Aspergers, retrieve from his phenomenal mind, fact upon fact, quote upon quote. He is Mr Ology. He has read it all. Quantum physics, natural healing, Northern Ireland’s heroes, scientists, authors, spirituality. As he spoke, non-stop, with brief cross-references to my Essex roots and my son with ASD, I was amazed at the holograpicuniversetalbotmemory that shone from behind his flickering eyelids as he read (I’m guessing here) from the memorized pages of books. He can quote page and line number of the information he is expounding. An amazing man, who will share his natural healing theories with you on the bench opposite the lifts at Forestside. He’ll even write down possible concoctions to heal your ailments, having himself partaken of his daily tonic before leaving his ‘home’. If you don’t catch him at Forestside, maybe your paths will cross on a walk in Botanic Park where he passes the time of day with tourists and lecturers and proudly shares the fact that his photo is all over the web.

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And sure enough, if you Google ‘Cyril of Botanic’ you will find out more from others who have met this fascinating character. My day was made undoubtedly richer by this chance encounter.

 

How odd!

 

 

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How do you feel about odd numbers? I like them! A lot! Don’t ask me why because there’s no rhyme or reason at all. I just like them. I have enjoyed all my odd number ages and strangely enough, ALL the houses I have lived in have been odd: 49, 85, 89, 39, 127b (even the ‘b’ feels like an ‘odd’ letter!) and our current home, number 1. I was born, graduated, married, moved country (twice) all in odd years. I guess it’s not that strange: I had an even chance of all those things happening in an odd year.  So, all this to say, I am enjoying the thought of this year being odd!

 

Yesterday I found some time to sit and think about my hopes and intentions for this odd 2017. I made four lists (personal, family, home and others – as in other people) and tried very hard to balance intentionality and eagerness with realism and practicality. I have planned on some things which just need to be done better and some things which need me to step up and be different. Some things which are carried over, a bit like Christmas turkey and need eaten soon, and some things which will take me out of my comfort zone. Some things which I hope will help us as a family to be together more and some things which will help us to think outside ourselves a bit more.

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It warms my heart that these ‘hopes and intentions’ are not just randomly pulled out of the air because a list is being drawn up. They grow out of the journey travelled this past year. Experiences, relationships, listening, reading, thinking, watching. Everything that I have soaked up to make me who I am at the end of 2016, spills out into the dreams and motivations for a new season. Things that have been whispering in my heart, increase volume in the expectation and energy of possibility. Things that I couldn’t have hoped for last January, come nearer and become clearer. Things that I never imagined I would be able to do, grab hold of new confidence and determination, nurtured in the old year.

 

I wonder how you see the new year. How you hope and dream. From whatever place you find your feet standing now, there IS hope. Whether the path you see ahead is straight and beautiful, rough and lonely, beside still waters or steeply uphill, there IS hope. And I pray you find it.

Have a happy and odd 2017!

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