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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Champion week

This morning began with a coffee in one hand, a pen in the other and this beautiful gerbera as my table companion. Not quite a salubrious setting (Sainsbury’s car park), but with the sunshine warming me right through to the middle, this was the best start to my day. I was definitely IN the moment.

This week off work had been eagerly anticipated (extreme understatement!) and has lived up to every expectation. I have found a place of rest, peace, achieving and sharing and I feel all the better for it. Relaxed, revitalised, re-motivated. It’s amazing what a little space in life can do – it frees you to BE and to GROW and to THINK. The rhythm of life doesn’t allow for that too often. Well, not in my experience anyway. How do YOU make space to BE and GROW and THINK? Not just the bleary-eyed, morning, quiet space, but a more prolonged time of escape (a day or two)? I’d love to hear your experiences. And try a few of them.

I think I’m marvelling a bit at this feeling because it’s happened with family in tow and particularly the last two days shared just with Ethan. A boy without medication for 5 days. Non-stop chat, non-stop movie/video dialogues, non-stop moving, spinning, jumping and climbing. Happy and FULL of fun. Without argument he’s sat and done his holiday homework with his assistant (me) by his side, redirecting his deficit attention back to the task in hand. He’s a clever boy. I wish I could work things out like he does.

His week began with a judo masterclass alongside a group of other children with similar conditions/qualities. Hooray! He didn’t feel weird, awkward or different as he does for most of the rest of his life. The adult and youth coaches at this event were amazing (big shout out to Dromore Judo Academy). Their acceptance of and encouragement to every child was a joy to watch (through the tears). Where else could a 10 year old bring down a 13st giant? (Probably even bigger than that but I’m not good at guessing weight and I don’t want to offend!).

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Headlining the event were two champions. Commonwealth, Olympic and European: Ashley McKenzie and Danny Williams. And they were much more than JUDO champions. They were ‘drawing the best out of these kids and loving them’ kind of champions. Ashley is a 25 year old with ADHD who as a boy discovered  judo as a way to channel his energy (and get his Pokemon card back!) . He has overcome his own challenges and won Commonwealth gold for team GB in 2014. He is now another of Ethan’s heroes. Move over Will.i.am. Make room on the bench!!

So it’s been a champion week in more ways than one. I am still enjoying BEING in the moment and not thinking ahead to Monday morning, relishing every moment of this ‘at home’ solace.

Shhhh! Stop moving so fast!

Ethan seems to have a very high pain and sickness threshold. Thankfully he’s not ill too often, but when he is, he really is. We had at least 6 trips to A&E before he was 9. So yesterday was one of those days when he wasn’t too well. Him and his Daddy didn’t make it to church because the battery in the van had died the day before round at a friend’s house and couldn’t be fixed once Katy and I had headed for church. When we arrived home  we discovered that he’d thrown up. We made lots of guesses about what he may have eaten, but then decided it was just a horrible bug. The throwing up carried on all afternoon, evening and into the night. Poor little guy.

He slowed right down, was lethargic, had no interest in doing anything, including screen-time (amazing), and just was ill. I found out that his brain was still buzzing though. I encouraged him out onto the bench in the sunshine and he snuggled up.

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‘When you die and go to heaven, will you remember your life on earth?’

‘Yes I’m sure you will.’

‘What age will you be in heaven?’

‘Not sure son. Maybe ageless? Your body doesn’t go, just your soul. Your personality, your thoughts and feelings.’

‘Will you know anybody else?’

‘Yes, I’m sure you’ll recognise people you know.’

‘But how will you recognise them if they don’t have bodies?’

Silence.

‘I think I need to do a bit of research!’

How can a child with no physical energy, turn his mind to such deepness? I don’t think he thought he was actually going to die, although at one point he did ask if the vomiting was ever going to stop.  He has been throwing a few other deep and meaningfuls my way recently. Keeps me on my theological toes.

His visits to A&E have been caused by things like: jumping off a wardrobe, opening (!) and drinking half a bottle of Calpol, some _itis in his stomach that begins with ‘m’ , and good old campylobacter  (food poisoning: after raiding the fridge and eating uncooked chicken goujons). It was during this last visit, which actually entailed about 3 trips, that he began to hallucinate. His clothes were walking round the room and there were people in the room that actually weren’t. It was very scary. And I got a little scared about 3 o’clock this morning when he told the silence to ‘shhhhh’ and me, lying still beside him to ‘stop moving so fast!’ I had just about planned the sequence of events to get us to the hospital when he fell asleep again and I convinced myself he was just dreaming.

He woke up this morning with rosy red cheeks and I could tell he was back to his usual self because he recited the words of an entire Minecraft parody, followed by another one, and another. But he had deduced one thing from the whole experience.

‘I think God stopped Daddy’s van from working yesterday so that I didn’t go to church and give everyone my germs!’ Faith and logic.