ACCEPT (Five Minute Friday)

Seven weeks and three days ago my dad died.

So much of life has happened since then but I’m not sure if I’ve accepted it or not.

So I looked up what ‘accept’ actually means:

  1. To consent to receive
  2. To give an affirmative answer to
  3. To believe or come to recognise as correct
  4. To tolerate or submit to

No, I haven’t consented to, given an affirmative answer to, believed or recognised as correct, or tolerated the fact of my father’s death.

Now that doesn’t mean I’m in denial. Nor does it mean that I am in permanent distress. I am getting on with my routine, working hard, looking after my family, running Boys’ Brigade, even celebrating our Silver Wedding. I wake up ready to face the day as usual.

But then that moment of remembrance catches me – he’s gone. Or in the middle of the day, I come across someone who doesn’t know and have to explain why I’m not quite my normal self. Or I suddenly recall that I can no longer ask him any questions about our family history, or hear him tell his Air Force stories any more, or lean into his chest for another cuddle, or hear him say he loves me.

No, I haven’t accepted this new reality yet of a life without him. I don’t want to.

One day I will.

But not yet.

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Buttresses of SUPPORT (Five Minute Friday)

I’ve had a lot of support in the past month or so since my dad’s death.

Among others, our church family has certainly stepped up to that mark.

Sometimes the support has been spiritual: Without a minister in post at the time, a friend (of ours and my dad’s) who is a local preacher agreed to take the committal and thanksgiving services, putting great thoughtfulness and care into both.

Sometimes the support has been practical: We have no catering team but a group offered and took on the task of buying, serving, and clearing up the buffet lunch after the funeral. It was a great weight off my mind with so much else to arrange.

Sometimes it had been silent: the presence of people has been a great comfort. My brother’s superintendent, who had never met our dad, took the time to come to both services and stay to the meal. He didn’t need to do that but it spoke volumes to our family about how much we were loved and cared for. When I gave my tribute, I needed to have my husband stood quietly by my side, to reach out to occasionally, to just have in my eyeline, as back up to help me keep going.

Loving support can be costly though. My sons, husband, and brother carried my dad’s coffin into the crematorium chapel. One had to walk with bended knees to match his height to the others. Another has a chronic back problem, worsened by being shunted by another car the day before. The others have their own health issues to deal with. All were bearing a great burden of grief as well as the physical weight of the coffin itself. But all were determined to carry out this one last act of love for a man they adored.

I watched ‘Time Team’ yesterday, a TV programme about short archeological digs. They were at Salisbury Cathedral and explained how architecture had changed over time. They used Lego to demonstrate brilliantly the development from simple walls to the inclusion of buttresses and even flying buttresses. These gave extra strength and stability to the building to withstand stress and enabled higher and more elaborate arches or roofs to be built.

It made me think how the people who’ve supported us recently have been our buttresses. They have enabled us to take the strain of bereavement and manage all the legalities and paraphernalia that death in the western world entails. They freed us to make Dad’s funeral truly special.

And I thank God for them.

Work, Rest & Play (FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY)

I feel a bit guilty writing on this prompt, especially having seen all the Back to School photos on Facebook. My boys are too old for all that (although we may indulge in Back to University and Start of New Job posts of them in a couple of weeks) plus I am in the middle of what’s proving to be a very relaxing two week break.

We’re on holiday in Cornwall at the moment, just my Beloved and I, enjoying lazy mornings, walks on the beach, and a chance to decompress after recent events.

No conversations about our jobs and the stresses involved mean we’ve switched right off from the world of work. Our minds are fully occupied by good books and great scenery; the only decision making required is which pebbles to pick to take home and when to stop taking photos of the views.

We’re feeling incredibly tired at the end of each day but from all the walking we’re doing, much of it hilly. And we’re both sleeping so much better than usual.

The trick is how to transpose this to our day to day working lives? We’ve talked of daily, or at least weekend walks, of physically going away more regularly – booking it in advance – and certainly we want to come back here, out of the seasonal rush again and away from the tourist hotspots. I must impose on myself the long thought of discipline of restricted evening television watching for other activities like reading and knitting. I need to not be afraid of the silence (or put music or the radio on instead).

Perhaps we could reinstate our Sabbath meal and I could bake Challah again. Maybe 24 hours later than tradition when my Beloved has to work Saturdays. Prepare meals for the following day in advance. Find a better balance between work and rest, practise relaxation rather than exhaustion, build it into our routine.

Because, as Rob Parsons wrote, ‘Who ever got to the end of their life and said “I wish I’d spent more time at the office”?’

NEIGHBOUR (Five Minute Friday)

I’m still getting back into the habit of writing regularly again. So here’s a memory from my childhood prompted by the link up to the lovely Five Minute Friday community at http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/08/31/fmf-link-up-neighbor/

I remember being so excited as a child when a new family moved in next door, who had a girl only a few years younger than me.

Regularly I would place an old wooden ladder, spattered in paint, against the fence and then climb to the top in hopes of seeing Kirsty and getting an invitation to come and play. If she was there, we would chat, and occasionally we’d play together. Her mum didn’t seem to approve of my entry route over the fence.

It wasn’t the bosom friendship I’d pictured but we got on well.

I can’t say the same for our fathers.

My dad loved growing fruit and veg so couldn’t understand why Colin had patioed over their entire garden. My dad was a quiet man, getting up early to commute into central London, and his social life revolved around church. Colin was self employed, working to his own schedule, and loved to throw a party. Boy, did he love to throw a party.

He never invited us but several times a week held noisy parties long into the night. It didn’t go down well with my dad for his whole family to be disturbed so frequently. But Colin made no concessions to requests to stop or limit the parties to weekends only.

One night, Dad had enough. Another sleepless night and requests to tone things down once more ignored, he decide to take drastic action. So he turned our loudspeakers right up against the wall, put the volume to maximum, and played his favourite bagpipe music.

You’ve never seen a house clear so quickly.

Angry words were exchanged. But there were no more late night parties.

 

GUIDE ME O THOU GREAT JEHOVAH (Five Minute Friday)

I’ve taken a break from blogging for the past few weeks – from this and my last post you’ll know why words have deserted me for a while. Strange to be a writer struck dumb, stripped of the basic tools of my trade. Anyway, I’m back with a link up to the lovely Five Minute Friday community. I do recommend your checking out all the other talented and inspirational writers there: http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/08/24/fmf-linkup-guide/ 

As I walk through this land of bereavement, the path is definitely rocky and I have found myself barren of words – unable to write and unable to answer the question everyone asks: ‘How are you?’ I have battled against the desert winds, leaning into them just to keep going, to keep semi upright, through shock, officialdom, and feelings of abandonment.

But I have travelling companions and we take it in turns to lean against each other, lending and borrowing strength, urging each other on up each steep incline. Late nights listening to memories and pillowing each other’s tears. Days with reassuring words and holding hands through the legal tasks.

Tiny oases of love appear along the way: a cup of tea, a hug from a colleague, a card full of recollections, a message of support, permission to pace myself.

I am being guided ‘through this barren land’. ‘The crystal fountain’ with its ‘healing stream’ is flowing here. I am being led ‘all my journey through’ and I will (eventually) ‘land…safe on Canaan’s side’. Just like my Dad has.

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,

pilgrim through this barren land.

I am weak, but thou art mighty;

hold me with thy powerful hand.

Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,

feed me till I want no more;

feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain,

whence the healing stream doth flow;

let the fire and cloudy pillar

lead me all my journey through.

Strong deliverer, strong deliverer,

be thou still my strength and shield;

be thou still my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,

bid my anxious fears subside;

death of death and hell’s destruction, l

and me safe on Canaan’s side.

Songs of praises, songs of praises,

I will ever give to thee;

I will ever give to thee.

Text: William Williams, 1717-1791; trans. from the Welsh by Peter Williams and the author Music: John Hughes, 1873-1932 Tune: CWM RHONDDA

INSPIRE (Five Minute Friday)

I’m finding it hard to start this week’s Five Minute Friday post http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/07/27/fmf-link-up-inspire/. I know what I want to say but I can’t seem to find a good introduction, a meaningful way in, a hook. I’ve rewritten this first paragraph three times. (And yes, I know that Five Minute Friday is meant to be a fast write without editing). I need inspiration.

So I looked up the origins of the word to check if it was what I thought. And there it was, to inspire means to breathe in.

It’s used medically to mean exactly that. But it comes from the idea to breathe into:

‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.’ [Genesis 2.7]

I read that and suddenly I picture, not a gentle flow of air wafting up the nostrils, but God leaning right over a lifeless body on the ground doing mouth to mouth. God does the first ever CPR. And if you’ve ever done CPR, even just learning it for First Aid with a Resusci-Annie doll, you’ll know it’s hard work: you have to force the air into the lungs; you have to keep going before it works (if it does – it’s rarely as successful as on TV dramas).

I think it’s same with inspiration. It’s easy to think that it’s some one-off moment and then the inspired response (writing, art, a political movement, a way of life) just flows naturally from it. But actually, it takes hard work, constant hard work over a sustained period.

But God, if we let Him, will keep breathing life into our words and our lives. And He calls us to do the same.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rK6O0YtBRY

Of Food and Cricket (THE BLESSINGS JAR Week 27)

Apologies for another late posting in this series – but better late than never.

I had to feed my dad most of his meal.

It’s not the first time. And it may not be the last.

For a change, I’d arrived to visit him in his care home at Sunday lunchtime. He was happily surprised to see me, not realising that I visit every week. I was offered dinner with him but I knew I had it waiting for me at home.

First came a small glass of sherry, Croft Original, his favourite.

“What did I do to deserve this?” he exclaimed with delight.

“You fathered a thoughtful daughter,” I smiled in return.

It was gone in two mouthfuls, although several times later he picked up the glass again hopefully, only to put it down again disappointed, wondering where all the liquid had gone. It was difficult to tell if this familiar routine was a joke or not.

With prompting, he ate two pieces of roast chicken, chewing slowly and taking an age before he swallowed. Then he gave up.

That’s a part of dementia no one tells you about – the loss of appetite, the inability to recognise hunger or thirst, the lack of understanding of the need to eat and drink, the magical disappearance of a meal from the awareness as soon as it is out of vision. No wonder he had weight loss when he lived alone, along with dehydration, blood pressure problems, and eventually kidney injury. Here in the care his weight is stable, his intake and blood pressure well controlled, and his diabetic state reduced to pre-diabetic for the first time in decades.

But it is heart breaking to see him lose his enjoyment of food, this man who adored his wife’s cooking, which she adapted specially for him, for his tastes, whims, and health needs.

I toyed with the idea of just leaving him with his decision to eat no more, thinking this was the dignified adult way, but I couldn’t get rid of the thought that he didn’t have the mental capacity to make this decision so it was actually kinder to try and feed him.

He let me do it. I didn’t force food through his lips. But I did persuade him to eat more than he would have chosen left to his own devices. I spooned mouthfuls of potato puree, then Yorkshire pudding and gravy, into his mouth, helpless to escape the memories of feeding my children as babies just as he must have fed me. I left the vegetables that I knew he would have previously avoided but talked him into trying a dessert he never used to eat – profiteroles – on the basis that they had dark chocolate on them, his favourite. Sadly, although he ate them, he couldn’t taste the chocolate.

It was turning into another dispiriting visit.

Then I remembered the photos in my bag that I had brought with me. His glasses are still missing and his sight limited but some photos sparked recognition – his parents, his favourite teacher, the cricket team he played in for 25 years. And then I found an old typed sheet, the annual report from 1969 by the cricket club secretary, detailing all the bowling and batting statistics for each player.

As I read them out, I saw the spark of intelligence and understanding back in his eyes. He was able to put full names to many of the surnames, explain who they were related to, comment on how good or bad a score was. He smiled at the memories of old friends and idyllic summer weekends. He remembered the park that had been their home ground, talked of how I had never stayed to watch the game but always headed off to play in the paddling pool instead, discussed how he had passed his love of cricket on to my brother.

The last half hour of my visit sped by. It was wonderful to see him animated again.

When it was time for me to leave – Dad was tired again, wanting his afternoon nap, and I was hungry – at least my heart wasn’t as heavy. It is hard work visiting my dad, seeing him reduced from the man he used to be. I miss him. But there are these moments, minutes even, when with the right prompt, he is restored again. So I will try to hold onto them and count them as blessings

COLLECT (Five Minute Friday)

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night. (Book of Common Prayer, Evensong, Second Collect, for Aid Against Perils)

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, Collect for the 25th Sunday after Trinity/the Sunday before Advent)

Kate Moataung is very clever in her choice of prompt words for Five Minute Friday http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/07/20/fmf-link-up-collect/  (or Six Minute Saturday as it’s become for me this week). I wonder what word you heard when you read ‘collect’ this week?

I didn’t expect my thoughts to turn not to chauffeuring children or the accumulation of objects but to the Book of Common Prayer, to late evenings and the approach of Advent. But that’s where my head went.

I found myself remembering these prayers. At some point in the Anglican part of my spiritual journey, I must have learned these – perhaps at school or university, perhaps in the church we belonged to around wedding and babies.

Now I pray the first when my grown up boys go out partying or when life feels full of the darkness of stress or uncontrollable burdens. The second has become an integral part of our annual tradition of making Christmas puddings as close as possible to Stir Up Sunday (named after the Collect itself).

I used to make them every year with my mum, always more than we needed so we could give some away to extended family or to sell at the church bazaar and save one for the following Easter. Most memorable was the evening when my husband and I took all the ingredients in to make them with Mum in her nursing home for what was to be her last Christmas. Staff asked to join in and the mixture had to be taken round every resident in the lounge to join in the stirring and wishing. How many memories were stirred up too.

Now I make them with my niece and we still use my great grandmother’s recipe, which I’ve passed on to her in her first personal recipe book. But always with carols in the background and this prayer somewhere in the process.

And that familiarity is the great strength of these collects. They both automatically fit a set situation – evening or Advent – but also when we can’t find the words for a challenging or unfamiliar situation. Memorising prayers like these or Bible verses can prove to be the scaffolding that holds up our faith when its walls and foundations are shaken by trying circumstances. Repeating and chewing over the familiar words reveals further depths.

Rhythm. Poetry. Meaning. All in just one sentence.

THE BLESSING OF THE BIRDS (The Blessing Jar Week 26)

Sometimes blessings are hard to find. Not because life has been terrible but just ordinary. Routine carries on, carrying us along with it: work, driving, cooking, shopping, laundry, Boys’ Brigade. Even simple pleasures can feel routine: that first sip of real coffee in the morning, pottering about doing small jobs in the garden, baking a fruitcake successfully after adapting the recipe. Unsurprising problems add tedium to the mix: a slow to respond computer, a traffic jam, plans confounded. The intimacy of prayer fades as the rest of the day takes over.

But even in the dullness of the ordinary and routine, if we stay attentive, opportunities to ‘stop the world and get off’ even momentarily, may still come our way.

I had one of those moments on Sunday early evening. After a weekend of catching up domestic chores, indoor and out, I was finishing off lots of little tasks in the garden – tying up errant growth of roses and clematis, pulling up salad leaves gone to seed, deadheading the buddleia – and wondering when I was going to see some blooms on the flourishing leaves of the summer bulbs I’d planted or the recent geraniums I’d potted out. At a time when gardens should be bursting with colour, mine seemed frustratingly reticent, despite all my efforts.

I’d just harvested the last of the peas and some lettuce for a salad to accompany the nut roast I’d got cooking in the oven when I saw him. Well, it could have been a her actually, I couldn’t tell.

There on the upper part of our water feature, which turned on becomes a running cascade but without power forms puddles unless the sum evaporates them, stood a young thrush (I think). He jumped in the water, just the right depth for him, fluffed up his feathers, and began to wash himself, splashing droplets all around as he wriggled in his watery version of the Twist.

Suddenly he froze. Something had caught his notice and he halted, alert for danger. He looked around then, once he was reassured, started fluffing, washing, and splashing once more.

Then he stopped again, still as a tree. He’d spotted me watching him, creeping closer for a better view. I mirrored his stillness, waiting. He jumped to the edge of the rocks, ready to fly away, but changed his mind, turned around and hopped back down to his ablutions.

Within a minute or two, he was gone.

But for those few moments, I had been absorbed, taken out of my own ordinary world and into his. There was just something beautiful about this commonplace bird, cleaning and cooling off in the evening sunlight There was something joyful in his exuberance, something hopeful in the continuance of the natural world going about its daily business.

And then I remembered early in the week, holding my coffee as I gazed out the window first thing in the morning. It had been raining all night. The garden glowed with the wet. And birds were flocking to it for refreshment, more than I had seen in previous days of hot dry sun. A whole family of blackbirds, sparrows camouflaged against the ground, a young thrush not yet in distinctive adult colouring (maybe my bathing friend), a pair of magpies (there’s joy for you), and wood pigeons, their flapping wings and tree landings heard before they could be seen.

My garden might not be full of bright hues for me but it had plenty of food, water, shelter, and opportunity for these feathered beauties – none of them exotic or outstanding, just ordinary, routine visitors. But they gave me the blessing of a few minutes respite from my ordinary and routine.

‘Consider the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than them?’ (Matthew 6.26)

And it strikes me that if I can look at birds with such benevolence, can feel blessed by their presence when I have no emotional connection to them, maybe, when He watches me, God might find me a source of blessing too, because He loves me. I hope so.

COMFORT Food (Five Minute Friday)

Five Minute Friday is a community of bloggers who get together weekly to write for (literally) five minutes on  a prompt word. They’re a great source of support and encouragement and I recommend you check them out at http://fiveminutefriday.com/2017/07/13/where-do-you-find-comfort/

Why, when I saw this week’s prompt, did I immediately think of food? Perhaps it’s because I’d been listening to a radio interview this morning with a cook who has written her first book of recipes inspired by her nanna’s, simple dishes which she described as those that everyone loves and feels comforted by.

I know, rightly or wrongly, that I do turn to food for comfort in times of stress. So when I saw ‘comfort’, I thought of cheese on toast, eaten meltingly hot from the grill, dipped in cooling tangy ketchup. I thought of bittersweet chocolate biscuits – has to be dark chocolate on digestive, nothing else – served with cold refreshing milk.

Both of these were late Friday night suppers in my early teens, tucked into after nearly two hours of swimming lessons. A light tea earlier on, to make sure I had the required energy but didn’t get cramp in the water, needed supplementing by the time I came home, and I devoured these whilst the whole family crammed into every chair in our front room to watch Pot Black on the TV. No Sky or even a video recorder then so 9.00pm was the tight deadline to keep to. Even my grandmother watched, although my parents thought she didn’t understand the game, just enjoyed the colourfulness of the snooker balls.

Maybe the real comfort is in these safe, happy, familiar memories of childhood and family, that sense of sharing and being loved. Perhaps certain foods are a way to access those feelings again.

It’s easy to focus on the thing itself, the food, and assume that is the comfort I need but surely the true source of the strength I seek is the knowledge that I am held safely, that I am not alone, and that I am loved.

‘The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms’ (Deuteronomy 33.27)

(I couldn’t write a post about food and love without including a picture of some of the amazing cakes my best friend has made and comforted us with over the years. I wonder if God bakes cupcakes?)