The Beauty of a Sunset (Five Minute Friday)

To be honest, I’m struggling with this week’s word prompt – it feels too daunting, too big. What can I say about it that’s original or new or even interesting? My usual aids of looking up definitions or quotes haven’t helped either. Maybe just writing and seeing where it takes me will.

What I’d prefer to do with this post is just make it visual: show you photos of my children, the miniature irises pushing through the hard, frosty earth in my garden, landscapes I’ve gazed at, flowers my husband has bought me, or a glorious sunset.

Actually, sunsets are what I’ve been thinking about this week. It was the anniversary of my Mum’s death so I’ve been thinking back about her life (what a truly beautiful person she was) and the last months leading up to her death. It was a stressful intense time, painful and hard, but somehow there was glory in it.

For me, that was when I properly grew up and became a real adult, when my own resources were stripped away so I had to fall completely back onto my relationship with God for answers (He didn’t give many but did listen to all my questions and turmoil).

For my mum, her deteriorating health stripped away her independence and self-reliance, her physical capability and her mental agility. To be honest, near the end it seemed to strip away much of her personality too as she withdrew further and further from us. As she gave up her mantle of motherhood, I picked it up.

The dying process was like a reversal of her earliest years. It was heart breaking but somehow balanced. Birth and death. The sunset to balance the sunrise. And aren’t those times the ones where we find the most intense beauty?

 Back aching

You lay back in bed

Your arms reaching out

To hold me

In the first few minutes of my life.

Back aching

I bent over your bed

My arms curving round

To hold you

In the last hours of yours.


WHY? (Five Minute Friday)

Here’s my response to this week’s prompt word ‘why’ from the talented Five Minute Friday community. Check out others here:

Both times I was pregnant, like the Duchess of Cambridge, I had hyperemesis. That means that I spent months of my pregnancies leaning over the toilet bowl vomiting. At my worst, I was being sick every 20 minutes. It meant I couldn’t work, my second time I couldn’t look after our little boy, and I couldn’t even get out of bed because my stomach muscles were so weakened and my blood pressure so low.

It was one of the most miserable times of my life. Nothing like the golden glow I had expected from the media and friends, just a ghastly grey pallor. I lost two and a half stone in the initial four months of my first pregnancy. Frustrated by a lack of response from my local doctor’s surgery (just another neurotic first timer they thought) and panicking at symptoms I couldn’t control, I felt a complete failure as a mother before I’d barely begun.

Lying in a hospital bed attached to a drip (thank God for my mother who took my GP in hand and got me admitted under the care of my obstetrician), with no apparent cause for my illness (except that dehydration following my doctor’s inaction had worsened it), and medication only having a minimal effect, I despaired. I wondered why this was happening to me. I railed at God: why was He letting this happen to me?

To my great frustration, He didn’t answer my questions. In the stillness of the dark, I only felt a quiet voice whisper. “I’m here. I’m with you”. It was one of the most comforting and yet irritating responses I’d heard to anything.

And yet…

And yet it was enough. It was the turning point in my pregnancy.

And by that, I don’t mean that my hyperemesis miraculously stopped. It didn’t. I was eventually discharged from hospital and the vomiting gradually decreased in frequency but continued well into my 6th and 7th months.

No, what changed was that I started to experience a small sense of peace and reassurance. And that was enough.

After the birth of my first son, my doctor told me my experience had been ‘bad luck’. After my second he told me that this was unfortunately ‘my pattern’. Later on, I found out that my aunt had been the same, so I came the conclusion that I had inherited some genetic tendency to hyperemesis.

But knowing a cause, a logical reason, for it didn’t help. I still felt (feel) some inadequacy as a mother and I mourned the lost opportunity of having more children (I couldn’t put my young family though that again). The only thing that helped was that still small voice saying, “I’m here. I’m with you”. The same words my parents used when I was ill as a child and the same I said to my own children in similar circumstances. Perhaps it’s the best and only real reassurance we can offer someone in distress.

But the knowledge that I was not alone or abandoned changed my attitude. When hyperemesis struck once more in my second pregnancy, it was still miserable but instead of asking God why, I begged Him to make sure the experience wasn’t wasted or pointless. Looking back over the years since then, I can see that He more than answered that prayer (but that’s another story or more).

The thing is, that although our natural inclination is to cry “Why?” and “Why me?” when disaster comes, I’m not sure that a reason helps. Working in palliative care, seeing that death and suffering in one form or another comes to all of us, I have more of a tendency these days to ask, “Why not?” and “Why not me?”

The thing that does help is knowing we are not alone, knowing that our God is not a distant being looking down on us like ants in only interested observation but walking through the darkness with us, up close and personal (if we will let Him), familiar with suffering Himself. He is the hand to hold on hearing bad news. He is the ear to listen to all our troubles. He is the arm around our shoulders to strengthen us. He is the gentle whisper in our ear, “I’m here. I’m with you.”

AGREE (Five Minute Friday)

“It’s really lovely,” said one of my husband’s colleagues, “after all the years you’ve been married, how you still like doing things together.”

He told me the comment last night over a restaurant dinner before going to see Suggs, the Madness lead singer, on a tour of storytelling and songs. It was my Christmas present to him. In fact, we’ve developed a habit of buying experiences rather than material gifts for each other – they’re longer lasting, living on in our memories way after the event. And we had a great time.

Part of me wants to respond to his friend’s comment with: “Of course we like doing things together!” But, when I look at the number relationships I’ve seen break up, I think that’s less a matter of automatic compatibility and more to do with making conscious choices.

It’s easy to be lazy and just do things we as individuals prefer. It takes more effort to agree to try something someone else chooses and give it a real chance to see if we enjoy it too.

I’ll admit that there are times, especially after a busy day at work, for example, when I don’t want to spend my evening watching a noisy football match. But by agreeing to join my beloved at concerts or even in front of the TV, my life has been enriched. Through him, I have discovered the comedy of Stewart Lee and the music of Eels and Nick Cave. I’ve learned how much knowledge of musical history my husband has and gained an insight into his emotions from the lyrics he treasures.

And it works both ways: he’s enjoyed classic musicals and the Hampton Court Gardening Show, which has led to more shared interest in our own garden.

The thing is, there is so much to admire in him – he is a man of considered taste – so why not trust his judgement and agree to take a risk of discovering something new to share, to build further strands of strength between us, made up of shared experience and memories?

‘Behold, how good it is when brothers (or spouses!) agree to live together in harmony.’

Find other posts prompted by the word ‘agree’ here: