Taking the Long View (first bio chapter)

Considering using this as the title of my memoir. It’s a way of focussing down on all the various events in my life, why I took the decisions I did, what became of them in the end, and what events just ‘happened’, but had a major impact on my life.

I’m up in the sky, looking down at my life here on earth. A female first-born child born to an early 20th century Irish/Ulster-Scots couple whose families had both been immersed in a minority cult called ‘The Brethren’, which impacted greatly on their lives, in some ways positively, though in my opinion also negatively. I was loved, as was my brother, but little did they realise, that their views did not automatically trickle down through our genes, that we both considered the status quo, then moved away from it, though each in different ways.

70 years later and looking back, I see wonder, curiosity, disappointment, joy, and yes, worship of our creator God. And yet to my parents I had stepped out of line, not automatically following the path they had absorbed, seemingly without question, from their own parents.

Wonder: nature, ballet, foreign countries, art

Curiosity: Foreigners, sex, the human body, philosophy, books, genealogy

Disappointment: relationships, illness, death, my children

Joy: Love, sex, literature, music, my children, relationships, grandchildren

Worship: Praise through music, nature

Perhaps these could be titles for the chapters in my memoir?

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Poem for Paul

Slipping away from me, I prematurely mourn his loss

He is still there, and looking just the same.

But stubbornness and nonsense take control.

‘Lovely to see you’ losing all its meaning

As that is where it ends.

With basic self-attention, independence gone, what else is left?

The love of music drifting in and out as CD turns.

 

A nudge in church, and fingers underline some tender words.

I do respond, loving the words he briefly underlines,

Then face the journey home, resistence to comply.

A love once all-consuming, now just a memory sweet.

Our joy in music, books and travels shared in 4 short years.

 

How cruel is this human suffering,

Affecting more the loved than he who loves.

 

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God, Life and Love

After recently attending Pete Rollins’ “Positive Power of Negative Thinking”, in Belfast’s Redeemer Central seemingly abandoned church, I’m looking at my life in new and different ways. I didn’t think my thoughts were negative, in fact I thought they were positive, as I sought to ‘replace’ the husband I lost to leukaemia at the age of 36. I had always felt that love was my greatest asset, and that had been taken from me. Yes I loved my children, but that is a different sort of love. I felt that what I needed was a love that would be returned in an adult way. And yes, I found it, several times, but looking back now, there were only 3 out of the 7 relationships I had in the ensuing years that I could call loving in the truest sense. And each one of these, as well as each of the ‘less’ loving relationships, ended, three by my own wish, one by his, and the others due to death or serious illness, though another which never really got off the ground still exists in a friendship sort of way. All dissolved, leaving me still hankering after a new relationship, which was what I thought I really needed.

Listening to Pete, I began to consider whether this was indeed what I needed, for my own sanity. Pete explored how ‘the religious drive for certainty and satisfaction continues unabated in contemporary society, and how this drive is ultimately destructive, and how we might find salvation from it by cultivating a life marked by the courage to embrace death’. I felt that as each time I was disappointed, I had started again looking for that certainty and satisfaction, only to be disappointed yet again. I needed to find redemption from this drive! To embrace death and disappointment, and accept the good things I have in my life. the Good News that we can’t be satisfied, that life is difficult, and that we don’t know the secret.

*Belfast born philosopher Peter Rollins has become a controversial figure on the international stage with his development of a (pyro)theological practice that celebrates doubt, complexity and ambiguity, that resists secular and saintly promises of wholeness, that transcends the theist/atheist divide, and that preaches the Good News of a life before death. Perhaps the only thing that is stranger than his radical, religionless vision of Future Church is the fact that it’s starting to catch on: Finding Redemption from Certainty and Satisfaction. Pete is a provocative writer, philosopher, storyteller and public speaker who has gained an international reputation for overturning traditional notions of religion and forming “churches” that preach the Good News that we can’t be satisfied, that life is difficult, and that we don’t know the secret.

Peter gained his higher education from Queens University, Belfast and has earned degrees (with distinction) in Scholastic Philosophy (BA Hons), Political Theory (MA) and Post-Structural thought (PhD). He is the author of numerous books, including Insurrection, The Idolatry of God, and The Divine Magician. He was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, currently lives in Los Angeles and will die somewhere as yet unknown.*

  • quoting from his facebook page
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About who am I and why I am here…!

OK I borrowed this title, thanks, empress2inspire, hope you don’t mind!

I’m one of a family of 2, grammar school educated, registered nurse, mother of 3, widowed at 36, host of relationships to follow (more of that to come…!!), married twice, grandmother of 5, carer for 2nd husband now happily settled in a care home, so step-mum to 3 adults and a host of step-grandchildren and step great grandchildren!! Now retired and taken to writing, volunteering with Oxfam, pursuing short courses at University, U3A, cruises, church elder, hopeless housekeeper and gardener, reader, singer, philosopher and ‘bookcrosser’.

. That’s about it in brief!

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Revisiting my grief

It is almost 34 years since the night my world ended. I have wakened in the night and as I often do, I turn on the bedside radio. It is tuned in to radio 4. When I press the button twice it stays on for 90 minutes, 3 times for 60 minutes, 4 for 30, 5 for 15. This is how I deal with insomnia. My bladder says you need to get up. The programme interests me. Now I am alone again I turn up the volume to loud so I don’t miss the theme. It’s about finding an ancient hobbit type skull from … years, millenniums ago. I remember talking to Chris about the Hobbit back then before we were married. Just before that programme, it was a fast heated discussion on the Greek economy with the Greek Chancellor of the Exchequer, he maintaining he was right, the interviewer interspersing fast questions and responses. It’s what I love about Radio 4: intelligent, fast, well recorded discussion. It reminds me how Chris loved radio, his intelligence, and how I so admired him, his brain, his ability to argue logically, discuss current affairs, write excellent papers on science, economics and current affairs. It reminds me of his time at university before we met, his short time with the Health Service writing his Master’s Degree paper on public attitudes to cancer, his brief newspaper article on Ian Paisley and Northern Ireland politics,  his desire and sudden decision to start his own business: a cutting edge idea back then in 1976 to manufacture ‘Killinchy Mufflers’ – hot water cylinder insulation jackets and other insulation products: polystyrene granules for pumping into cavity walls to prevent heat escape. The Oil Crisis had just begun, and petrol and heating oil prices were rocketing. It is 3.21am. I decide to turn on my tablet and write this blog. At 4.21 there is silence. I have lost track of the Radio programme, immersed in my memories.

Meeting his family back in 1967-8, I loved the way they talked at mealtimes about politics, religion, world topics, in a way my family never did. My father was an intelligent man, but quiet and very reserved. My mother also intelligent, but held back from expressing her views by the fashion of the day, especially in church circles, considering that women had little to contribute. My own experience of wishing I had been given the chance to go to university instead of a nursing career like other women in our family, discovering later that in my parents’ mind it would have given me more opportunity to ask questions, and that was not appropriate for a girl like me! Chris’s brother Terence had studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and was deeply into philosophy, marrying an American student there the same year that we married. To me, this family opened up a whole new world, and I was very much in love with it, and with Chris.

But there was a soft gentle side to Chris as well. He was a good father, not very confident with the baby stage, but loving it once the children started talking. He apparently had not started talking until aged about 4, when he started straight into full sentences! Jenny adored him, and is the one who remembers most about him, and grieves most of the children for his loss. We were both 23 when we married, 14 years of happy marriage, and it is  now 30 years since he died. I have made the best of the life I have been left with: 3 healthy children, grown into fine intelligent adults, all like him in different ways, and missing him each in their own way, whether or not they are aware of it. Jonathan looks most like him, though never having consciously known his father, does not value the genes that are his. Niall is more like him in temperament, and being a middle child is the easiest for me to relate to. Jenny has his brain, well they all do, but she remembers him best, and though still deeply grieving for the Dad she adored, she reminds me most of his ability to explore and research new ideas.

The question, Why? Is always present. Yes, I have made the best I could of the life I was left, but how different it could have been, had he lived. I adored him for the 14 years we had together. And I miss him terribly even now. Other relationships have been interesting, but none comes close to what we had. I have theories about the Why, and how could God have allowed it. Was it the Dublin Bay prawn cocktails he loved, which might have absorbed chemicals from the plant over in Wales into his system? Was it his mother’s placental insufficiency, considering she was vastly underweight returning from China in 1945, suffering from tropical sprue and pregnant? Whatever the reason, the question Why? Is always present. My Christian faith has never left me, although I have had serious questions over the years. My church supported me greatly during my early widowhood, and I appreciated that. But for the children, it has rung hollow. None of them has continued to have a faith, and I myself have struggled. Life goes on regardless. I have always felt the need for a man in my life, and have been fortunate in the relationships I have had since Chris, but none has ever come close to what we had. Perhaps some day we will all understand.

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Going it alone again

On this day (27/12/2014) I physically gave up the battle of the last few years: the wet beds, the airport hassles, the long car journey preparations, the short car journey preparations, the loss of logical discussions; against the cuddles, the company, the compliments and the sheer presence of him in the house with me. I finished packing up his essentials , put them in the car, helped him on with his coat, and drove the 30 miles to the end of the peninsula that is called Ards, to the beautiful little town of Portaferry. From Portaferry, there is a ferry boat which crosses regularly to Strangford, the town on the other side of the narrow mouth of Strangford Lough. Writing the word ‘Strangford’, I’m wanting to put  a ‘j’ after the ‘f’, having just been to Norway back in September. ”Strang-fjord’ is nothing like the fjords of Norway, with their steep sides and wonderful waterfalls cascading down into the sea, but it must have some connections to those Norwegian examples, which I need to research…

Since his diagnosis of Alzheimers, about 3 years ago, we have been getting to know this peninsula, and Paul has come to love it. I have personally fought against making it an extension of ‘home’, as having been brought up in Belfast, and after spending most of my adult life in Holywood, my leanings have been more in that direction. Bangor, which is in the opposite direction from Holywood and about the same distance as Belfast, does nothing for me. However,  during my first marriage, to Chris, we lived for a time in Killinchy, on the other side of Strangford Lough, and he developed his business around the area of Newtownards at the head of the lough, before his sudden death from leukaemia. So I had got to know the little towns around the lough: Comber, Killinchy, Newtownards, Kircubbin and Portaferry. And just after Paul’s diagnosis, the Alzheimers Society directed us to the newly formed ‘Memory Cafe’ which met in Comber. So Wednesday mornings usually found us driving over the Holywood hills through Craigantlet, turning right at that awful staggered crossroads (near the home of my previous partner John, but more of that later!), through Dundonald (where Chris and I  had our first house!) and on down the winding country road to Comber. There we got to know other couples and singles coping with this same awful disease, and friendships were formed.

So we would have preferred a care home within 10 miles of home rather than the 30 miles to Portaferry, but either the care manager didn’t care enough to make sure we got a nearby place, or as he insisted, I ‘didn’t understand the system’, after we were offered two local places that went to someone else just before I confirmed we would like to take them!

Paul has settled in very well, unlike many residents who constantly ask to ‘go home’. he has a lovely room overlooking the sea and the Mourne Mountains in the distance.

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TOP 10 BOOKS OF 2014 (not in order of merit!)

1. The Queen of the Tambourine by Jane Gardam
2. The Mill for Grinding Old People Young by Glenn Patterson
3. My Lady of the Chimney Corner by Alexander Irvine
4. Pirate Queen – The Life of Grace O’Malley by Judith Cooke
5. Before I go to Sleep by S.J.Watson
6. The Depths of Solitude by Jo Bannister
7. How to Write by Alastair Fowler

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