Sunday, 17 August 2014

LITTLE BOXES, LITTLE BOXES....


What makes us successful in Life?  Is it the owning of a small, medium or large property, filled with one, two or ten cars?  Does size matter?  Location?  Value of said property?  Value of said assets?  Does ownership of great wealth make us better people - at least in our own minds - or does it merely offer us a sense of superiority over our less-successful counterparts?  Or does it make us feel more secure, less vulnerable, in the trials and tribulations of everyday life?

After all, we came into this world with nothing, and we most certainly will depart from it the same way.

I was pondering this as I visit with my daughter and her beau in their beautiful but bijou new home;  and it reminds me so of my first little home way back when in my twenties when I, too, was starting out.  Compact. Functional.  Pretty. In a good neighbourhood.  Surrounded by bigger and better houses just tempting enough to keep them striving onwards and upwards, like the rest of us.  Seeing "SOLD!" signs and wishing for the day when they, too, can say they have successfully climbed onto the property ladder.  Like the steps running alongside the Niesen Railway, it's a very long way to the top.  11,674 steps, to be precise.

We have all been there : starting small, but wanting more.  Needing more room, more garden, more space. Working harder, ploughing our hard-earned cash month after month into a never-depleting mortgage for the next thirty years or more.  But feeling a sense of achievement knowing that it is "ours", that no Landlord can evict us, and that, as long as we continue to pay Mr Bank, we can safely curl up inside our four walls at night and watch another repeat on TV.  

And so the routine of living in our boxes begins, for most of us.  Rising early each morning, shoving a hastily prepared breakfast down our throats only to dash out to the car to sit for an hour in traffic, to reach our destination of work so that we might earn the money we need to pay for the house we so proudly own, yet spend so little time enjoying.  We will enjoy it.  One day.  But for now, it's nose to the grindstone, budgeting, paying all the bills, cooking, washing, sleeping, and repeating this cyclic rotation of time day in and day out.

Then lo, the big day arrives, you marry, you become a two-unit family that quickly multiplies into three, four, five... and days are filled with longer working hours, more work, exhaustion, only this time intermittently dotted with sunshine days in the garden, squealing children's parties, waiting patiently for the daffodils to bloom that you planted last Spring, barbecues with friends, good times roll.  

And still, you strive for more.  A better car, a designer couch, fancy tables that you cover with cloth, or that cannot take a cup without a matching coaster, lest it be marked.  Saving like mad for one week away in Spain or Portugal because we are so exhausted and depleted that we need this, need it, to feel like all our work is paying off dividends.  Preserve, preserve, preserve.  

I know a man who has told me he is very wealthy.  He has a stable block at the back of his house converted to home, I think, about ten or eleven vintage vehicles - which he has to polish and maintain, and perhaps take out three or four times a year on a rally.  He has a plane.  He has motorcycles.  He has a watch so valuable he cannot take it out the safe for fear it will be stolen or lost.  What?  He has houses scattered all over the country.  And no time to enjoy any of them, because, by his own admittance, he is a self-professed work-a-holic.  In his own words, he told me, "If I take off half a day, I feel so guilty that I punish myself by working harder."  "But why?" I asked him.  "To make more money!" he replied.  "For what?"  I asked.  "I don't bloody know."  Ain't that the truth.

When there is family, when you are at the bottom row of Life looking forwards, it makes sense to drive yourself onwards and upwards.  We are all guilty of it.  But tonight I spent time with the other side of the spectrum, one I now find myself in, too.  A beautiful house filled with memories of the past, photographs, happy days, a stunning kitchen with every device necessary to run a small restaurant, a comfortable sitting room with a huge television, bathrooms galore, bedrooms abundant, a lovely garden that once housed laughing children which is now empty and unnecessary, other than to give the dogs somewhere to shit.  A house that had hopes and dreams and love and laughter, but which due to a cruel twist of fate, now is empty and echoes only of broken dreams and the ongoing passage of time.  

Which makes me think of my own home back in Ireland - too big for one, pointless to sell due to the pothole of a recession we find ourselves in, but too dear to run it in the comfort to which I was once accustomed, and it makes me think.  For all these young people starting out, their time, too, will come, when there are no more toys to pack away, or little children's games to play, when tiny folk have grown and flown, when you find yourself back on your own (could have made a poem there...).  So what's it all about, Alfie?  

It becomes even more apparent from the air, flying into countries and seeing the little and large boxes designed neatly in rows, or fenced plots, the only differences being in what lies within.  Are they happy? Sad? Celebrating anniversaries? Discussing divorce?  Is the pretty woman down the road hiding the bruises of a broken heart or worse still, a broken nose?  Is the old lady alongside you in pain, lonely, and sad?  Do we smile through our tears so as to protect our standing in society?  It's a survival instinct, I know - in nature, the weakest animal in a pack will very often be ostracised by the rest, or killed, for fear of holding the rest of them back.  In nature, too, baring of one's teeth denotes danger.  In our world?  We call it smiling, meaning, "Hey, all is right with my world."  When very often, it is not.

And it is unbelievably sad, this urge we have to own, to possess, killing ourselves to meet the demands that modern-day living has imposed upon us, and losing sight of what is most important along the way.  Suffering worry, depression, anxiety, fear.... of losing a job, of not being able to pay the bills, of not being able to let little Johnny go on the school trip.  

So as I lay myself down in what is soon to be the nursery for my daughter and her man's new baby girl, it makes me realise how far we all walk in our lives, from beginning to end.  But when you have raised your family, set them free, tidied the house one last time, and settled into your Autumn years, you realise it was all rather pointless worrying about the coffee stain, or complaining about the state of a bedroom, or moaning about another load of washing, or having to ask about homework, because it is these things you will miss the most when there is nothing left for you to do except find something to busy yourself with to fill another day.

The final little box we will all be investing in is one I'd rather not think about right now.  I still have Winter to get through...

Sunday, 10 August 2014

THE PERFECT MAN


Cinderella has a lot to answer for.  The perfect prince, wealthy, handsome, swooping in to rescue a poor damsel in tatty clothes, giving her the life she has always dreamed of.....  huh.

How about an update?  Cinderella got pregnant, had twins, then gained forty pounds. Charming went bald, drank a keg of beer every week and developed a huge beer gut. Cinderella divorced Charming, kept the kids, the castle and ALL of the money. The step sisters and step mother were kicked out of the house right after Cinderella and the prince were married. Step mother drank herself into an early grave at the local poor house and the step sisters became crack-whores and died of over-doses. Prince Charming was left penniless and had to move in with his parents and get a job cleaning stables. Cinderella ballooned to 360 pounds and choked to death on a turkey leg at the age of 49.
They all lived terribly ever after.
Ain't that the truth.  Aren't we all geared up from a young age to find our "perfect man" (or woman), only to discover your life careering out of control on the motorway, smashing head-first into the barriers, only to be rescued by tow trucks trying to pull you back to reality.  We KNOW this.  In particular, I am talking about the likes of me who has been around a while, and has had a few crashes in her time.  To the ones happily married still, fair play to you, well done, I am envious of you all.  But for those of us heading for second time around (or third, fourth, fifth...) the realities of modern-day dating is a mine field. 
Take baggage - no one in their forties comes clean.  And if they do, the question I would ask is what are they not telling us?  Everyone has history, and their histories affect them, change them into the people they have now become : Cautious.  Untrusting.  Wary.  Fearful of commitment.  Less caring.  Most importantly, they have forgotten how to dream.
If you could take the nice pieces of all the men you've known in your life, could you not potato-head the perfect man for yourself?  The intelligence of one, the passion of another, the loving heart, the comforting cuddles, the sky-soaring kisses, the good job, the hot body, oh, if I were able to piece together bits of everyone I surely would get it right.
But it doesn't work that way, does it?  Us women are damaged goods, too. We have been broken, and stomped on, and betrayed, and let down, and bandaged up again to go one more round. Some women have done the damaging, the hurting, the breaking of men's souls.  So are we setting our standards too high?  Would we, in our forties, be made to settle for that which is simply ok, rather than waiting for our Prince?  (Who, in reality, is probably slothing on a couch, unemployed, and waiting for his Princess to appear?)
I think the answer lies within us all.  We have to first know ourselves well, be aware of what we DON'T want rather than have a list of must-have's.  For example, I can't sleep next to a snorer.  I just can't.  It keeps me awake, makes me angry, frustrated, tired, and resentful.  So to choose someone whom you KNOW is a raucous train-wreck in the sleeping department, is surely setting yourself up for inevitable failure before you even start?  Snoring, at the base of it all, ended my marriage.  Because along with that came separate bedrooms, resentment, feeling unloved, and the inevitable "This isn't working for me anymore."  It had nothing to do with my husband, per se.  He is a good man, kind, honest, loyal, hardworking, I can find no fault with him as a person.  But as a partner, he drove me stark-raving mad.  Passing out on the couch as soon as he fell in the door from his other lover (work), and snoring his head off, disturbing television, leaving both myself and the daughter alone - it's the start of a slow slide to hell.  So a snoring man is out, before I even start.
I dated a man briefly once who had sleep apnea.  Again, a lovely man, but my God, it was like trying to sleep on a construction site.  Plus he'd stop breathing every two or three breaths, right through the night, and then give one huge HEAVE of oxygen intake.  So not only was I not sleeping, I was vigilant all night to make sure I didn't end up with a corpse in my bed.  And he was oblivious to it all.  Need I tell you that one didn't work out for me?  In the end, had I continued down this road, it would have been separate bedrooms, and the inevitable "This isn't working for me anymore."
Then I had a lovely sleeper - omg, the best sleeper in bed by far.  So peaceful, quiet, cuddly, and SILENT.  We slept together very well, and I woke up happy and refreshed.   So that box was ticked.
But then there's compromise, isn't there?  He was also cranky as hell, worse than a woman with PMS at times, and as his sister said, he'd fight with his toenails given half the chance.  And she was right.  One wrong word and he'd be off again, and that in itself is stressful; too much like hard work.  You never know where you actually stand. Is he in this for good?  Til he grows tired of you?  Til someone else tickles his ever-so-fickle fancy?

A man who can't say what he feels is a difficult one - more so if he says he doesn't know what he feels, if anything at all.  And some men really say, and believe, that they don't feel anything at all - this I can't understand.  My brain and my heart are connected;  if I don't feel, I can't do.  Simple as.  So to match myself with someone who takes pride in being able to switch off and feel absolutely nothing, is not a worthwhile investment, surely?  Like travelling down a cul-de-sac looking for Route 66.

I want my mate, not a part-time lover that leaves you wondering WTF?  So many questions.  Perhaps women should write a manual to pass on to the next woman, so that she is enlightened.  
So.  In our forties, are we looking for love in all the wrong places?  Do we judge on looks, clothing, cars, jobs, and fail to see what lies beneath?  Do we go with how they make us feel - which is a good place to start - and if we don't feel great, should we not stop denying that to ourselves in the hope that things will improve?  They won't.  What you see these days is most certainly what you're gonna get. And if it started off mediocre, it most certainly won't improve to fantastic.  Nothing is a greater turn-on than the man who makes it clear he wants the woman;  and vice versa.  Not the one who can take or leave you.
Men and women of a more mature age are well-moulded into the people they have become.  They have quirks, and fears, and reservations.  But I believe in the power of love, and I believe that if you keep your eyes peeled, know yourself well, and stop waiting for the man (or woman) to complete you, then you've a fair chance of meeting someone who fits, someone who is company, funny, loving, loyal and kind with whom to share the rest of your life with.  Just because you are separated or divorced, does not make you obsolete.  It makes you wiser, and probably more respectful and thankful than you might have been first time around, and that's no bad thing.  
The list of don't wants is very important, because it helps you filter through inevitable trouble ahead.  I don't want a drinker, a gambler, a womaniser.  I don't want to be a detective in my own life trying to find out what he's been up to.  I don't want a snorer, that's a given.  I don't want a selfish person, or a lazy one.  I don't want an obese person, sorry, no matter what lies beneath, the eyes always eat first. Gluttony is a turn-off. And I most definitely don't want a cruel person or someone without empathy for others.  And it's when I notice the absence of the above, that my interest is piqued.  
Everyone is looking for love, I don't care how much they profess not to be.  Everyone needs someone. Cinderella may have set the bar too high, and Sleeping Beauty at the end of the day had seven midgets. But the man, a simple real man, who takes the time to share himself with me, and treats me right, and makes my heart a-flutter, that's the one I'll take.
Because after all, at the end of time, it's not the face that you will remember, but the heart.  


SCENTS AND SENSIBILITIES

Isn't this a taboo subject, bad odours?

How many times have you spoken with someone only to be blasted with a waft of breath so putrid it makes your toes curl?  How does one approach that subject, especially if it's someone close to you? And what if they come in for a kiss?  Aargh

My dog has halitosis.  Seriously.  The kind that would floor an elephant.  And she pants relentlessly in my face when we're driving, God love her.  I know of another dog that suffered the same problem.  The owner bought a toothbrush, toothpaste, dog chews, and even resorted to sticking a tic tac down its throat, until finally admitting defeat and heading for the vet.  Who told her the dog had too many teeth for its mouth, and food was lodging itself and causing bacteria - and so proceeded to remove TWELVE teeth.  "How many teeth did it have to begin with?" I asked.  Forty two.  Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  So now the dog has twelve less teeth, the breath problem has cleared up, and it has trouble keeping its tongue in its mouth.  I guess my baby girl will be heading for doggy dental, too, because it's really, really bad.

But what if it's a person?  A dog you can manipulate and do what you like with.  I don't think someone would be happy if they were told they'd have to have a few teeth removed to clear the problem. Perhaps a gift for teeth cleaning might do the trick.  Or casually leave floss and mouthwash on every conceivable shelf.

Isn't it funny how smells affect us?  If you like someone, their smell is attractive, gets the ol' hormones going.  Yet you can hug someone and be repelled by their scent.  Pheromones are naturally occurring substances that the fertile body excretes externally, conveying an airborne signal that provides information to, and triggers responses from, the opposite sex.  So can we sniff out our perfect mate?  I love the smell of a man fresh out the shower, possibly enhanced by carefully manufactured body gels that waft gently from his heated body.  Hmmmm.  Then again, I wonder what I smell like?  I'm often told I smell lovely, but then again, I always use perfume.  So is it me they are attracted to, or the Dior or the Chanel?

And houses, each has its own scent, doesn't it?  I can't smell my own house, it's my smells, but I wonder what other people smell when they come in the front door?  Dog?  I hope not.  My daughter always says it smells like home, which is a lovely thing to say, and again, indicative of how scents trigger memories.  If we'd not had a happy home, I think she would not have the same reaction when coming through the front door because the scent would then trigger bad memories.

My mother is 84 now, and whenever she smells 4711 she is reminded of her mother.  When her mother was ill, and dying of cancer, she would often use 4711 on a hanky to cool her brow, and that memory is forever embedded in my mother's mind.

I think my scent will always be either Hugo Boss Woman, or Chanel Allure, both lovely fragrances and ones that my daughter now associates with me.  Best keep it stocked up lest she forgets who I am.  Or as someone once said: "Hmm, this smells nice, Hugo Boss Namow.  Never heard of it."  "Turn the bottle around, you wally," I replied - she was reading it backwards.

And what about clothing?  Washing powders are a science unto themselves, and other people's washing always seems to smell way nicer than my own, regardless of what I use.  My  man uses softeners with "essential oils of Jasmine and Lavender" or something like that, and says he's turning gay because he gets a kick out of sniffing his own washing.  Are we being duped?  Are the available scents on the market today affecting our own instinctual ability to sniff out our mates?  Are we falling in love with the washing or the man that lies beneath?

I remember my brother, God rest his soul, who, after a hard day's work, would come home and say, "I need to shower, I can smell my body!".  There's nothing better than being clean, is there?  And scents affect us all, in memories both good and bad.  It just takes a whiff of something familiar to stir up emotions long forgotten.

I like a man who smells nice.  Artificial or not.  It signifies that he gives a hoot, and wants to be attractive to you.  And takes pride in himself.  No matter the face, a lingering, appealing scent will always make me look twice.  It says a lot about a person.  It says I give a shit about myself.  And that's nice, because if he gives a shit about himself, chances are he'll have some left over to give a shit about you.

So I shall continue with my smelly candles, my incense, my shampoos, my perfumes, and my room sprays, albeit to temporarily alter the air that I breathe.  And I shall floss, and rinse, and make sure I am not offensive to anyone as far as that is possible, both in hygiene and behaviour.  It's best to be neutral, and natural, in both areas.  But a little perfume to titillate the senses goes a long way.

As I write, my dog has just yawned in my face.  Oh dear God.  Even Ghandi's flip flop would have a hard time beating that.








Tuesday, 24 June 2014

EULOGY FOR TONY

My Angels and my faith in all that is good gave me the strength, the courage and the will to read this tribute to my brother, Tony, at his funeral mass.  My strength comes from my belief in mankind, in my trust that there is kindness left in the world, and my hope that we shall all find Eternal Peace.  I thank the heavenly beings who gave to me a voice with which to speak, and a heart with which to feel.  For the unbelievers, may you find your reason, your core, your souls. 

Eternal Rest
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

SUNRISE 2/8/58 - SUNSET 17/6/14

My brother was born deaf.  Not slight of hearing, but stone deaf.  Never in his 55 years has he heard a sound, or a bird twittering, or someone singing, or even the wind in the trees on a stormy night.  To live in that kind of silence brings its own penance, for he was ostracised by a society that did not understand, or who were too afraid to try.  Communication was difficult, because he had not heard the sound of Words, and therefore his own interpretation of them needed a careful ear to listen, something not everyone was willing to give.

Before his accident, Tony was training to become a plumber – and he was always a diligent and hard worker.  When he was an apprentice and working for a large construction firm, there were those who would tie tin cans onto his overalls unbeknownst to him, and laugh as he walked around dragging them behind him.  There were those who did not tell him when the lunch siren had sounded, and so he missed meals on many occasions.  The only times Tony had so-called friends was on payday, when he was generous with his money and willing to buy a round so that he might have the company of fair-weathered fiends.

He was not lucky with the women, either.  And so Tony lived with many emotions – there was anger, hurt, and frustration.  There was a feeling of not belonging, of not being normal, of being the odd one out in a sometimes cruel and difficult world.  But he loved one thing, and that was Karate.  He adored Bruce Lee, his all-time hero, right until the very end.  And so he would practice his karate skills on anyone silly enough to stand close to him.  Sadly, I was not clever enough in those days to escape a couple of chops or kicks, but I learnt pretty quickly to be light on my feet where he was concerned.  As did we all, because all of us were used as targets from time to time.

After his tragic accident, and after being subjected to diabolical treatment in hospital, my father signed X on the card and brought his son home.  I will never forget the day my father carried my broken brother into our sitting room in South Africa.  Brain-damaged, they said.  A vegetable, they said.  No life there, they said.  Yet my brother cried when my father placed him in the sitting room, and his tears mingled with our own.  Real tears borne of a memory so damaged, but still functioning at some level – he knew enough to recognise Home.  I was thirteen years old when this happened, and from that day forth, all of our lives, every single one of us, was forever changed.

A funny thing happened, though.  My brother found peace in his tormented state.  He found God.  Each morning when we woke we would hear him shout “Good Morning, God!” in his guttural way.  With the irreversible damage to his brain, Tony could not remember yesterday let alone last week.  But there was one story he told, for 35 years, over and over again, that has never wavered, never changed.  He told of his accident, of being in the hospital, of floating outside himself and seeing people who visited him – people he had no possibility of knowing about, because not only was he deaf, but he was in a coma.  He told of a white light that pulled him, and that he was happy, ad that he saw a man in white with a long beard, and a silver thread connecting them both.  When Tony tried to reach him, this man told him “Go back, Go Back”.  And despite his best efforts, Tony could not reach the light.  This from a boy whose brain capacity was severely damaged by brain trauma.

He was sent back – that much we know.  For 35 more years.  For what?  Tony should have died in that accident, so severe was the trauma to his head and his body.  There was no reason, no purpose for him to survive.  And yet he did.  And the reason?  In my opinion, the Lord sent him back to us to teach us all lessons we had to learn.  Not one member of our family has been unaffected or unchanged by his accident.  We have each had the opportunity to reach deep inside ourselves to find compassion, kindness, empathy, love.  We have learnt that true joy lies not in material wealth, but in a smile, or a laugh, or a warm hug, or an honest kiss. 

For me personally, Tony taught me to be grateful, and humble, and above all else, he taught me to be kind.  Because he lead from the front.  Grateful for his meals, for the sun shining, for the dog coming in to see him, for the drives my father took him on, for the barbecues they had in summer.  Things most of us never stop to think about;  things we all take for granted.

And today we are returning Tony to his home, where perhaps he should have been sent 35 years ago.  But his work here is finally done.  He has brought laughter, tears, and heartache along the way, but above all else, he has found Love – in God, in his parents, in his siblings, and in himself.  May his suffering give us all a sign of what it’s truly like to be honest, pure, kind, and innocent.

May you travel safely, Tony, now that your time has come.  You are surrounded by the love you have taught all of us during your damaged life;  may you now transition home in peace, and may all the pain you have endured during your days on earth,  be worthy of the place to which we all seek to return : Home.

May you rest in peace.

A CATHOLIC GOODBYE...

There are many different religious denominations the world over, that have formed slowly over centuries for a variety of reasons.  Possibly due to historical accidents of geography, culture, and influence between different groups of individuals, people slowly begin to diverge in their views and opinions of religion.  This results in varying degrees of beliefs on theology, philosophy, religious pluralism, ethics, religious practices and rituals.  But which one of them is the right one?  Which one of them is true?


The above forms the general consensus of the formations of differing beliefs formed over centuries, but the common denominator of them all is that they are all a matter of personal perception.  And perception, of course, is influenced by personal experiences, life's challenges, and ultimately, spiritual awakening.  

Often people are confused between an Atheist and an Agnostic, and for intents and purposes of this article I would like to clarify as follows:  

Agnostics claim that it is not possible to have absolute certainty about God or gods, or - alternatively - that whilst individual certainty may be possible (perception), they personally have no knowledge to back up their claims either way.

An Atheist, however, simply believes in the absence of any God, or gods.  In other words, they believe in nothing.  

I think being an Atheist is unbelievably sad.  Even if they believed in Angels, or stars, or aliens, or were at least open-minded enough to believe that the possibility exists that there are Higher Powers out there in our Universe, is surely better than having an emptiness of nothing inside your soul?  I have met many bitter, unhappy, empty vessels in my time, and I've often wondered if they sought to find some kind of spirituality, albeit a flimsy one, is surely more fulfilling than having nothing at all?  Again, this is my perception, my opinion, and is based on nothing more than the reasoning of my own mind. 

I was born and baptised a Roman Catholic, and went through years of Catechism to prepare me for my First Holy Communion and Confirmation into the Church.  Is this a form of brainwashing?  Yes, of course it is.  Anything that is repeated often enough inevitably forms the basis of your belief system in life, like advertising. But it also gave me a grounding, a ruler against which to measure my decisions in life, a compass of right vs wrong, and it has kept me a good person all of my life.  And for that I shall always be grateful.  Granted, I have varying views on certain aspects of the Catholic Church and its stance on society, but nonetheless when the chips are down, it is the Catholic religion I am most familiar with, and therefore it is only the Catholic religion I can have a reasonably experienced opinion - or perception - of.  

It's amazing, really, that we say we are not practising Catholics, those of us who have chosen to be too lazy to rise on a Sunday to give thanks for the good things in our lives, yet when we want to get married, or have our babies baptised (for fear of future retribution), or want to bury members of our family, we become quite incensed if they dare ask us if we attend Mass regularly.  A kind of "I don't believe in the Catholic religion but please be there when I need you".  And they always are.  

For those of you who read my previous blog titled "He Ain't Heavy..." you might recall that my quadraplegic brother was very ill.  He has recently passed - last week Tuesday 17 June at 5.05pm to be exact - and I'd like to share with you the experience of a Catholic death, of what it entails, and of the purpose behind the long, drawn-out affair of the burial ritual.  In my opinion, remember.  For that's all we have, really, isn't it?

At around 4.30pm the family of my sister Bridget, my brother Bobby, my mother Margaret, my father Patsy, my daughter Christen, and myself, together with a Health Nurse, were gathered around my brother's bed, watching him grow paler, more grey, listening to his breathing become more ragged, wondering with each breath whether it would be his last.  As I held my hand to my brother's forehead, I was very conscious of the fear and hope in the room - fear that he would soon be gone, and futile hope that he might somehow, this time, pull through again.  To watch one's parents in that state of agony, of hurt, of sheer devastation is beyond what I can capture in words.  I had to be strong.  For them.  My sister and my brother were not present - in body yes, but in mind they were removed by pure and utter grief.  But it was his time, and at 5.05pm on the nose, according to the plastic wall clock in his room, my brother breathed oxygen for the last time, and passed to the world beyond.  

It is not necessary here to tell you of the emotions, the raw pain, the tears, the loss that other people in the room felt. That is private, and something that all grieving families have at one time encountered.  I can only speak for myself.  And whilst I shared the sense of loss, I was somehow in such a peaceful place in my mind that I released my brother to the arms of those that awaited him, because I knew it was time.  For him to rest.  He had suffered enough.  Death is for the living, it is not for the dead, for they have moved beyond the veil of an earthly being to the spirit world beyond.  And the living have to process that which has just occurred, and so the Catholic ritual begins.

News spreads fast, phone calls are made, people call to the house to see him one last time, to offer their condolences.  Family members walk away to grieve, to try and come to terms that we have lost our brother, and we stand lost, confused, not knowing what to do next.  Again, my sense of calm and acceptance at this time leaves me flabbergasted  I did not cry too much.  Why?  I still don't know.  I am yet to break and to grieve in my own time.  This was a time to be strong, for him, for them, for everyone, and I called upon my faithful Angels for their help during this time, and they did not fail me.

The Undertaker was called, and to say he was brilliant is leaving him short of what should be said. Compassionate, respectful, highly professional, nothing was too much to ask.  We met with him that night, and my brother was taken out on a stretcher at 10pm to be prepared for his final journey, and to be returned to his bed at our home at 11am the next morning, looking beautiful.  Yes, there is beauty in Death, too, when the suffering has left the skin smooth, the face calm.  He was a Bruce Lee fan all of his life, and so the family took a towel with Bruce Lee on it down from his cupboard door where it had hung for years, and placed it over his legs.  Bruce was going to fight his way through for Tony, come what may.

My sister, brother, daughter and I had work to do.  The coffin had to be chosen.  The flowers had to be sorted.  The Readings for the Mass had to be carefully chosen with the Priest in the sanctity of the Catholic Church.  Music had to be organised. What songs?  Not too sad, yet appropriate for his journey.  Notices had to be put into the paper, and on the radio.  A photograph that could be placed on the coffin.  And all this time, so many, many people calling to the house to pay their respects.  

Catholic burials are very fast.  Usually on the day of death, there is a Rosary said that same evening. Family members, friends, neighbours all gather at the house and together with the priest, we chant decades of the Rosary, and in its own way it is kind of cathartic, it numbs you, hearing those voices together praying for my brother's safe passing.  But we chose to have the Rosary on the Wednesday at 7pm.  I was so tired, so emotionally exhausted at this time, that I had gone home around 4pm and my daughter and I promptly fell asleep - it's what stress does to us both, it knocks us out completely.  Suffice to say I was late for the Rosary, woken only by the persistent ringing of the phone as my sister frantically tried to reach me.  They waited for us, and I am eternally grateful that I was there to hold my father's hand, whilst my sister held my mother's.  

Tony was then left to rest in his bed until 4pm on Thursday, Day Two, when the Undertakers came to remove him to the Funeral Parlour - called The Removal.  We were very conscious of our parents, and none of us wanted them to be left with the memory of Tony leaving his home in a coffin, and so we arranged that he be taken again by gurney and transferred into his final resting place without them having this picture imprinted on their minds.  The Removal was from 7pm to 8.30pm, and this is where the family sit around the coffin, open, as the town comes out to shake our hands, to say they are sorry for our loss.  At 8.30pm, the curtain was drawn around the coffin and the family, leaving us to say our private goodbyes and to see his face one last time.  

Pall-bearers were chosen, and Tony was heaved upon weary shoulders and carried out to the hearse, my mother struggling on her walker but determined to see her son home.  My father's car followed the hearse, and the rest of the mourners and family walked behind them to the Church - police stopped traffic for my brother, he would have been impressed with that.  At the Church, my sister and I had agreed we would wheel my brother to the altar ourselves.  And that was so hard I cannot begin to tell you, nor can I explain where the strength came from.  It's amazing what you find when you need it most. Prayers were said, and we departed the Church, exhausted, depleted, broken, to rest before the final day, the worst of the lot, Friday 20 June 2014.

Day Three - arriving at the Church, setting up the music, thanks to the knowledge of technology and the skill of my daughter, we set up speakers, we seated our parents, we guided cars to their places. Readings had to be shared out, who was doing what, who would take up the gifts to the altar, who was able to speak, who was not, so much to do, I had no time to grieve.  Mass commenced, with the family sitting up front in their grief, the coffin with our brother, and my parents' son, not two feet away from us.  I had written a Eulogy the night before, something I so badly wanted to do for Tony, my contribution, my words, to share with the congregation, and I called again upon my Angels for strength for one last day, just one more day.  All too soon the Mass was over, and it was time for me to do my bit.  My daughter came up with me, and said if I wasn't able to finish it, she would step in.  Just as well I was, because she was bubbling away next to me and wouldn't have been able for it.  She had been so strong, so very strong, the entire week, and she herself expectant with child.  I shall post the Eulogy as a separate blog hereafter.

The worst part for me, always, at any funeral, is the very end, when the priest anoints the coffin one last time, and waves incense over the coffin, the church bells ringing forlornly over the town.  The silence is so deafening that all you can hear are the sounds of hearts breaking.  To the final song of "May The Road Rise Up To Meet You", my sister and I again wheeled my brother from the altar to the hearse, and at this point my heart could no longer stay inside my chest, and made a run for it out my eyes.  I could not see.  But I could walk.  And so I held my head up and I walked my brother to the hearse, as did my sister, each of us on a side of the coffin, and the strength it took to do that, with people shaking our hands and patting our backs as we passed, is something again I cannot find the words to explain.  I turned once or twice to make sure we were slow enough, to wait for my parents, and to see my father, 88, and my mother, 84, behind us, broken, destroyed, I had to look forward, I could no longer look back.  

To the grave, a slow drive to his final resting place, more prayers, and then the final moment : the coffin being lowered into a hole in the ground.  Roses being thrown onto the coffin, my sister threw in a Springbok peak cap as a nod to his South African days.  More hand shaking.  My mother was so out of it she did not recognise anyone that came up to speak to her, yet her manners prevailed and she tried to be strong, and she was, under the circumstances, as was my father.  I am so proud of them both. Holding their hearts in their hands yet retaining their dignity.  Having the strength and the sense of righteousness to be there, to see it through.  

It is now Tuesday, one week to the day since my brother passed.  The house at home is emptier.  My mother keeps going into my brother's room and running her hand along his empty bed.  Reading his cards.  Touching his photographs.  My father is coping, in some strange way, but my mother, God be with her, is not.  I am trying to help her, and I'll keep trying.

"I keep thinking of when it rains," she says.  "He will be so cold, and when winter comes, with all that snow, him so cold beneath..."  

No, mam, he will not be cold.  For he is not there.  He left your home, that is where he spent his last moments, where he was loved and cherished and cared for like no one else could have done, nor should have done.  He was your son. and shall forever be thus.   She saw him, you know.  In the dining room.  And he was standing.  She did not see his face, but she saw his body, and she was afraid.  To me that is his way of showing her that he is ok, but for him to transition on, my mother must mourn and release him to the next phase of his journey.  And she will, given time.

So that is my knowledge, my experience, my understanding of a Catholic Goodbye.  Time to grieve, to mourn, to say goodbye, to process, to accept.  Three days.  Does this make it right?  I don't know. Would it have been easier to have removed him from home the day he passed, and never see him again?  I don't know.  Is an open coffin the right thing to do?  I don't know.  Is prolonging the pain the right way to process?  I don't know.  But it is all I know, and the tradition, the familiarity of the prayers, the understanding of the rituals, knowing the responses to psalms, how to say the Catholic version of Our Father, all these things serve to bring a sense of belonging, of not being a stranger, of not being alone. 

So what I do know is this :  to have nothing to believe in, to have nothing to hold onto, to have no faith, to have no sense of being part of a bigger world, is to live a bitter, empty, soul-destroying life on earth. There is no better peace than sitting in an empty church for a while.  A comfort it brings, if you allow it.  My Angels saw me through.  They gave me a strength I did not know I had.  For all of my life I have been afraid of death.  I have run from it.  My heart would beat faster as I approached an open coffin, my fears of what might lie beyond would petrify me to stone.   

But after laying my brother to rest, I discovered that if you do, in fact, ask, you shall always receive.

Be kind to everyone - and live your lives in peace and harmony, forgive those that have sinned against you, and you shall find peace within yourselves.



For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, 
the door will be opened


And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, 
encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.










Monday, 2 June 2014

CAN YOU LOVE WITHOUT RESPECT?



People are so quick to throw around those three little words : I Love You.  I wonder how many utterings are accompanied by feelings of Respect?   Can one exist without the other?  Can you love without respect?  And let's take that one a little further :  what IS respect?  How is it defined, how is it upheld, how is it proven?  Your actions prove respect;  the way you think about a person proves respect.  

But what if you meet someone who has no idea what this is?  What if this person is unable to respect his partner, despite saying that he wants to be with them?  And which party is more guilty of sin - the one who does not respect, or the one that allows it to happen?  I think both parties are guilty - and must both have very low opinions of themselves, and ergo, others, for this to be acceptable to them.

I had the most bizarre conversation with someone this evening, and it provoked enough thought to - yet again - put pen to paper.  I was having this chat with a friend, and somehow the conversation turned to gay sex.  Now this was a man I was speaking with, and he despaired at the thought of two men together. Granted, mental images of their private sex lives turns me off, too, but when I block out those images, I have no problem with two members of the same sex loving each other.  Because it is more than sex;  it is companionship, building a life together, sharing, caring, moving forwards in life and weathering the good times with the bad.  Sex is only a small part of their lives.  So I overlook that and suppress the nasty bits I don't want to think about.  The same applies to two women - I have no problem with it.  Just don't make a pass at me, I don't swing that way.  

So I probed a little deeper by asking more difficult hypothetical questions, such as:  

Would you sleep with two women, being a man?  Yes, says he, it's every man's fantasy.  

If you were in a relationship with a woman you cared about, would you have a problem with another woman in your bed?  No, says he.

If you were in a relationship with a woman you cared about, would you have a problem with another MAN in your bed?  And this was the shocker.  No, says he, we are all adults.

Now whilst I have no doubt he would stay miles away from a second man in the bed, what perturbed me was the nonchalance with which he was prepared to accept another man "giving it" to his woman. According to him, it would cause him no concern to watch another man being intimate with his woman, doing things to her that should be reserved for just them.  He is not a jealous person, he tells me. Really?  My question is then, why not?  She'd be even worse for allowing it - or wanting it - to happen.  
So in order for me to process this, I had to put myself in this situation - mentally, of course. Hypothetically, I am involved with a man.  Here goes:

The thought of someone I am involved with touching, and making love to (or just plain sex) another woman in my presence turns me cold.  It makes me feel quite ill.  In fact, even thinking about a person I have feelings for doing it to others IN HIS PAST makes me uncomfortable.  Because making love with your partner is incredibly intimate;  it is a time of bonding, a time of reaffirming to each other the feelings you share.  It is a mutual sharing of your bodies, of speaking to each other at a much deeper level, spiritual almost.  It is showing through your actions, your touch, your emotions, the way this person makes you feel.  It is, in my opinion, the epitomy of making love.

Even worse, the thought that my man would find it acceptable to allow another man inside me - in his presence - had me running for the vomit bin.  Surely the most beautiful part of a loving relationship is being secure, and trusting, in it?  How does trust come into play when you are content enough to hand your partner out like a sex toy, and say you'd have no problem with it?  There is something very unnatural about that thinking.  It is strongly indicative of someone who has no self respect.  How else could they justify it?

We are all adults?  Really.  Adults who have respect, and show it through their actions, do not say things like this.  The most basic instinct in a man - and a woman - is to protect and be possessive of his/her mate, and by extension, family.  Not in a jealous, nasty, manic way, but caring enough that you'd step in front of anyone who tried to intervene in your relationship - be it physically, mentally or emotionally.

So I have a question now to pose to this man :  How would you feel if you saw or knew that two men were entertaining your mother?  Or your sister?  One who supposedly cared for them, and one who was a relative sex toy.  Would you think the respective partner was showing love?  Respect?  Duty of care? Would you slap them on the back and say "nice one!"?  Somehow I think this particular person would beat the living daylights out of the partner who dared to subject people he cares about to this level. And yet, he says he has no problem to subject his own partner to this?  I don't understand.

Better yet - I don't believe him for one minute.  I think he would kill the bastard.  I think he would kill her, too.  He would be devastated, hurt, betrayed, broken.  How could he not be, unless he has no heart?  And he does have a heart, for I have seen it.  I see it in the way he cares for his family members, and I see it in the way he is kind to animals.  And neighbours.  And someone in need.  Someone with no heart does not have the capacity to feel empathy or show kindness to others.  

So what is the problem, then?  Again, we go back to fear and lack of trust.  Fear of rejection, fear of letting go, fear of getting hurt, so rather engage in random sexual partners without emotional attachment, than chance a ride on love.  Love hurts, right?  Yes, it can.  But it can also uplift, and take you places you never thought possible, but only if there is trust, and respect, to go with it.  

Trust is possibly the most important ingredient to bring to a relationship.  You can have great libidos, the same goals, dreams, desires, get along well, even wear matching spiderman suits during sex. However, without trust, it all means nothing.  It's empty, pointless, unfulfilling and soul destroying.

For some people, trust comes easily.  They work on the assumption that someone will be faithful until proven wrong.  If this is you, count yourself as one of the more fortunate ones.  Sure, that's not to say you won't get landed with a nasty surprise every now and again, but at least you're giving each relationship a fair chance.  Giving someone your trust means you are placing your heart in their hands for safekeeping.  It's a precious present, and it takes courage to do it.

Then there is the rest of the crowd - battle scarred, wounded, hearts sellotaped together with band-aids.  If you've been hurt before, or if you grew up with parents who cheated, trusting your partner can seem as foolish as standing in the middle of a four-lane highway and expecting not to be hit by a car.  Others again hover somewhere between the two.

Either way, if you are in a relationship, trust is the issue, and jealousy - a healthy amount of it - is natural.  Of course you should feel threatened if anyone tries to poach your partner.  Irrational, insane jealousy, however, is another issue altogether, but it is natural and in fact necessary to feel a healthy level of possessiveness around what you care about.  You wouldn't let someone steal your car without a fight - why let them steal your partner?  Of course, if you don't respect what you have, you will not care either way.  Let them steal the car.  The woman.  Sure, it's no loss, really, is it?

Thus, if someone tells me they don't care, they don't feel love, they don't get jealous, they are not bothered about their partner's shenanigans, simply reaffirms to me that they are emotionally-detached and reluctant to commit for fear of being hurt.

So if you are involved with someone like this, it is up to YOU to decide whether it is worth investing your time and commitment on someone who probably will never offer you the same in return.  You can't change someone.  You can lead by example.  Build their trust up.  But you cannot enforce change.  If they are flighty, if they move from relationship to relationship, if they are rue to own and question their own immorality, then who are you to think you can change them?  Don't be arrogant.  It has to come from them.

The good

It is a privilege to go through life with your partner.  Granted, there are more bad marriages out there than good, but there are wonderful relationships that have stood the test of time;  I saw an elderly couple in Tesco once - he had hair growing out of his large ears, no hair, stooped, crippled, and she was a doddering old woman with a trolley.  And there they were, his hand on her back, walking together, chatting away, and living their lives.  So beautiful.  

That's what I want.  To grow old with my mate, and to know the love he has is only for me.  That I have been enough for him.  That he has had no need to look around, or shop elsewhere for someone younger, better, brighter.  That his own grass is as green as he wants it to be.  That together we have survived all the threats that relationships encounter - other people;  disease;  hardships; financial pressures. Heartaches.  That we have celebrated all the highs and triumphs, the sunsets, the quiet nights in, the cosy winter days.  That when we look at each other, we just know.  And that comes from years of rubbing together, forging our paths into the rocky road of Life, so that no matter which way we turn and no matter what drives us apart for a short while, the road we are on will always lead us home. 

It may sound poetic;  something out of a Jane Austen novel.  However, throughout the ages, every writer and musician has written of this same desire.  Every song on the radio is either about finding the love of our lives, or mourning the loss of one.  We can't all be on the wrong path now, can we?

Love.  Respect.  These two go hand-in-hand but they can never be taught.  You either get it, or you don't.