Dying with Dignity and Grace

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It is impossible to tell how you would react to a diagnosis of a terminal illness until you actually receive one.  In the cancer care adverts people fall apart and collapse in corridors or they disappear into their own shells in misery and despair.  But, does it have to be that way?  Death is one of the absolutes of life.  It is unavoidable and happens to all of us at some time or other but modern medicine has led us to believe that whatever ails us can be cured and that all we need to do is ‘fight it’.  It is not true and in some circumstances could give false hope that might blight a life instead of saving it.

I can feel people thinking that I would only say this if I had not been in that position but I am in exactly that position.  I have an illness for which there is no treatment and no cure except for debilitating drugs that could possibly slow its progressive grip but without relieving any of its symptoms.  As I wish to live whatever time I have left to the full I decided not to take anything that might make me feel worse just for the sake of a few more weeks of suffering.  Instead I started planning.  First I made sure that there was a DNR notice on my records so that my wishes concerning my future health care were well known and then I set about arranging trips and visits that I knew would give me pleasure.

I have had a remarkable life.  It has not been an easy life but it has been blessed by whatever deity governs the ups and down that make us what we are.  However, when you are told that the life you have is coming to an end it is hard initially to come to terms with it.  I was absolutely numb.  I did not cry or wail and I was open about it as there was no point in making it a secret.  That has its consequences and some friends avoided me as they did not know what to say and there were others that I wanted to punch in the face for saying what they thought were comforting lines such as ‘fight it’ but with no acknowledgement that not everything is fightable.  Worse, were those who burst into tears when they saw me and those who said they knew a friend who was given two years to live but was still here after twenty.  For those that cried I wanted to ask exactly who they were crying for and for those who had long lived friends I wanted to ask what that had to do with me.  I was not really angry with them individually, with fate or with myself; I simply got angry with their lack of understanding.  But why would they understand?  There were no reasons why they should understand at all.  It was selfish of me to expect them to.

This messed up my mind for a while and I needed to get away from everything to try and get my thinking straight again.  I needed to lose the anger and concentrate on my remaining life to ensure that I died with dignity and grace.  To achieve this I researched various sanctuaries where I could isolate myself for a few days but none of them offered what I needed.  Many were religiously based and had prayer services each day.  Others were based on meditation and had a pre-requirement of a completed meditation course.  What I ended up with was a metaphorical life saviour.  I spent three days of self-imposed solitude at Canterbury Cathedral.  My selection of a cathedral for solace was not in character as I am not a Christian but priests made themselves available and offered advice on easing my passage out of this world without any promises of moving into another one.  What lies beyond this life is a mystery to all of us but we have differing hopes and expectations.  I was not looking for an afterlife I was simply looking for a graceful and dignified way a leaving this one.  What that required was peace of mind.  In those three days I found it.

At the present time I am not sure what form that leaving may take.  It could be at my own hand, in a foreign clinic or fate stepping in to shorten the suffering.  Only time will tell; limited though it may be.

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On writing to order

banner1Connie’s Writing Blog.

I belong to a village writing group and each month we have ‘homework’ to complete. Generally, this involves writing a 500 word piece which has to include items picked by the members. This month the items were – a decorative box, a candle, a glasses case and a telephone box. The same exercise is repeated during the meetings but with a different set of items and a time limit of twenty minutes. Trying to write micro fiction around disparate items in that short space of time is not easy but it is disciplined. Try it.

At first I was convinced that even after writing several books and a novel that I would not be able to do it. I was wrong. The brain takes over and links the items in entirely unexpected ways. This was my effort, what would yours be? What item would you focus on?

If you have thoughts about writing and there is a writing group close to you then join it. It is always interesting to discover what others make of the same information given to you and to learn what they think of your ideas and style.

The Final Power Cut

There was another power cut. The fifth of the day and no way of contacting anyone as the cottage was in a mobile blackspot. Without power she could not even get onto the Internet to ask for advice. There was no alternative, she had to get to the phone box on the village green. All the lights would be out but she would take the torch with her. The batteries were dying but it was better than nothing. Trying to conserve what little battery power was left, she had scrabbled for spare candles and not found any. The only light she had was from the scented candle that stood in the fireplace. If the worst came to the worst she could use the mobile for light for a while before that battery died to. She could wait out the storm hoping that the power would be restored but she knew from experience that it might be days before things in the village got back to normal.

Clouds completely covered the night sky so there was not even a glimmer of light from the moon despite its fullness. A lightning flash illuminated the devastation that had once been her garden. The big apple tree’s branches now reached her front door as it lay in a woeful heap with its roots sticking up in the air. Beneath it lay her prized roses, crushed beyond saving.

If she went out would she too become beyond saving and even if she got to the red box on the green and managed to reach the priest, would he come out on such a night.? She turned and peered into the darkness of the other side of the room outside of the candle’s glow. Judith’s bible was on the sideboard inside the decorative box that she so cherished. Could the bible bring solace? Without her glasses she would not be able to read it even if she could locate it. They were not in their case so they could be anywhere.

Judith was dying. Her breath was so shallow. She had taken the candle and checked on her a short time ago. She could not imagine life without Judith. Just the thought filled her with despair. Grabbing the torch and her coat, she went over to the front door and tried to open it. Fallen branches had blocked it. Was it an omen that she should stay where she was? Judith needed Last Rights. She needed her sins removed before her final breath. Was she one of those sins? Guilt racked her. What should she do?

The candle was burning down. Time was slipping away. She lifted the candle and went back into Judith’s room, checking on her one last time. She lay on the bed beside her and stroked her hair then kissed her cheek before setting fire to the bedclothes. They had been together in life and would now be together in death. The priest was not needed. Love was enough.

500 words

Garden Therapy

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Garden Therapy is being put forward as something new but all gardeners will tell you that it is one of the greatest healers of mind and spirit. How can you not be lifted when you see something that you have planted grow and thrive. People will say that everything is in the hands of God, and maybe it is, but sometimes God and nature need a helping hand.

I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than twenty years ago and as I thought I would be in a wheelchair within 5 years I set about making those five years as interesting as possible which is how I ended up spending so much time in Egypt. Initially I thought that it was the heat that made me feel better but doctors assured me that it was the bright light. That came to an abrupt end when I was barred from entering Egypt by the present regime over my support for the old regime (same old story) so I needed a new focus in life.

I immersed myself in writing books and that has been wonderful for keeping me busy and productive but at the same time I had the opportunity to buy a small waste piece of land that I had coveted for more than thirty years. It was an old road made of rubble, cobbles and bricks that had led to the stables which belonged to the big house at the back of my garden. Over the years the garden of that house had been developed and was now covered in houses leaving the strip of land isolated. The owner of the land had refused to part with it even though it was not of any use to him until I made him an offer that he found impossible to refuse.

I have very limited mobility and so cannot leap about digging and planting, everything is slow and done from a prone position as I cannot kneel and if I bend over I fall flat on my face. So, once I had the land I brought in the professionals to clear it for me and lay out the paths but the planting was then up to me. It took a long time and I almost got pneumonia from lying on the wet ground but with perseverance the plants went in.

Yesterday I went around that strip of land with a camera and have posted the results above. It is my own little Eden but without the serpents. It has kept me busy and kept me sane. If you have a plot no matter how small, plant something in it and take pleasure from something  unique as it was you that made it happen.

 

Live your Life not Die your Death

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Live your Life not Die your Death

All the pivotal points in my life are imprinted on my brain as clearly as they day they occurred. Each changed me in one way or another. As I truly believe that we are masters of our own destiny, if I am on a path that I do not like the path then I get off it. But how do you get off a path when you have no idea where it is heading? Do you leap into the bushes and hope?

Which pivot had the most devastating effect on me. Was it spending my thirtieth birthday in a potting shed in torrential rain thinking my life was sinking into the mud that was forming outside? Was it the night I stood leaning against a lamppost at 2 am making promises to myself that I was not sure I could keep? Was it the day my life started to come together as a mature student. Or, was it the day that my life fell apart again?

I sat in the waiting room as they told me to do. I was only there to collect a prescription. Silly me. Life is never than simple. They had stopped me from leaving. “Doctor wants to see you, please wait,” said the receptionist without looking at me. There was a sticker on my notes. Was it a sunny sticker of sunshine or a bilious sticker of doom. Time would tell. Or at least it would if I held myself together and did not rush outside screaming.

My name was called. I went through the door indicated and sat down again, unsure of why I was there
“You’ve had an MRI scan,” said the voice that emanated from the twelve-year-old girl behind the desk.
“Yes. They said I’ve had a stroke but I certainly can’t remember having it.”
“You’ve not had a stroke. You have multiple sclerosis”.
“Why lie?”
“Well they cannot fix it so they try not to worry you. Most people can’t stand the truth but I knew you would never forgive me if I lied to you.”
“What’s the prognosis.?”
“Good. You’ve come this far but at some time you are likely get pneumonia. If we don’t treat it then you can die peacefully.” I liked that idea. It was infinitely more comforting than the prospect of being incontinent and incapable.

Over the next six months I read everything I could about Multiple Sclerosis and osmosed every symptom into my psyche. I went downhill fast. Then I had a Eureka moment. Before I knew I was ill, I had climbed Kilimanjaro, gained a Master’s Degree and trekked through Northern India so why should knowing I was ill make any difference. My mental state had to be destroying my physical being.

The pathway to a miserable life was not the one I wanted so I set about ditching it. Instead of wailing in self-pity, I trekked through South East Asia and settled in Egypt. Much better than the alternative.

Live your life you only get one go at it.

It was a very good year

It was very good year.

I have never been a fan of Frank Sinatra but today I listened to his song ‘It was very good year’ and thought which year was my ‘very good year’.  It was probably all of them so I started to consider what I was doing at each of the ages he mentioned.

When I was 17 – it was a very good year – 1962 – I had just become engaged to an officer cadet in the RAF but was worried that World War III was about to start with the Cuban crisis.  We were all living under the threat of a 4-minute warning of a nuclear strike.  I really believed that I would be a pile of dust in an atomic winter before my wedding day came around.  While Frank Sinatra was cavorting on the Village Green I was chewing my nails.

When I was 21 – it was a very good year – 1966 – I was living on an RAF Station in Lincolnshire with the constant roar of Vulcan Bombers taking off while trying to be a good military wife, look after my daughter and not upset the Government by being CND or anti the Vietnam War. As I was very anti the war in Vietnam that was not an easy task.  While Frank Sinatra was wooing the girls upstairs with perfumed hair, I was plodding along.  I cannot profess to have been a good housewife or mother but I do think that I was an interesting companion.

Frank now skips to when he was 35 so life in between must have been boring.  Mine was too for most of those years.  But, when I was 35 it was a very good year – 1980 – I was finishing a course at College as a mature student.  In those days we had grants so it was something that you could do without incurring massive debts or wondering how you would feed your children.  I met some wonderful people who are still among my best friends so not only was it a very good year it was a vintage one.  Frank was driving around with women of independent means in their chauffeur driven cars so he had obviously become a gigolo.  Short-lived career as nobody wants a gigolo when he is past it.

That is when he more of less gives up because beyond that he talks of his twilight years but, although I did not know it, my life was just beginning not closing down, not yet Sinatra’s vintage wine..  When I was 45 – it was a very good year – 1990 – the cold war had ended, the Berlin Wall was down and Nelson Mandela had been released.  For me, I was a Senior Lecturer in Business Studies, received my MA and went off to Africa on safari with my daughter who was living in Botswana.  Life was good.

When I was 55 – it was a very good year – 2000 – I had upped sticks and taken myself off to live in Egypt for a while and I had made the physical and emotional journey to meet my father for the first time. While home in the UK for Christmas my mother died, fortunately I was with her and I held her while she left this world.  She was a spiritualist medium so knew she had somewhere else to go.  Also had my first book was published.  On the downside I had been diagnosed with MS and wondered if I had any future at all. On the upside it meant I had early retirement on health grounds. Every cloud has a silver lining.

When I was 65 – it was a very good year – 2010 – my son had given me had a grandson and a granddaughter to follow.  The charity I started in Luxor called Little Stars was doing well and I had picked up my writing career again.

By the time I reached 70 – 2015 – the Middle East was in crisis and my life in Egypt was something of the past.  I was on a blacklist for insulting the army.  Just as so many years earlier I had been unable to keep quiet about the travesty of the Vietnam War, I could not keep quiet about the slaughter of protesters in Cairo and was arrested at Cairo airport and refused entry to Egypt.  With the wisdom of hindsight it was one of the best things that could have happened to me as it gave me freedom to write, freedom to criticise and freedom to be me.

Every year was a very good year.