Choosing to accept

Ok, so here’s the thing…..

Of course I’m grateful. Grateful for the new lease of life I’ve been given; for the amazing care at the hospital; the wonderful messages from friends; the visitors who’ve come to cheer me up; the constant, un-ending support from John.

So why am I feeling so down? What is really keeping me awake tonight, the night before I finally get to go home after 33 nights in hospital?

I looked in the full length mirror they have in the shower room here yesterday. I was horrified by what I saw. A body covered in bruises, some so big and dark that they look fake, others tiny and already going green at the edges.

My Body covered in scars, with a new one standing out in the middle of it’s chest; clean incision, well closed (glue not stitches!), neat yet long scar.

I notice the surgeon has lifted my left breast – around four inches, maybe five, as he has closed my rib cage and sealed it with his careful stitching and gluing.

I only notice because my right breast now hangs lower, the nipple pointing straight ahead while the left seems to point slightly to the right. Can you have a lazy nipple, like a lazy eye?

And then I look at my leg. My poor left leg, dominated by a bruise across the whole thigh, that wraps itself around from front to back – or perhaps back to front, I’m not sure.

And on the inside of this bruised, swollen thigh, nine small incisions. Proof that they worked hard to harvest enough veins for the by-pass surgery.

Thanks to the swelling, each incision looks angry & ready to burst open, causing the whole leg to look strangely shaped and to rub against my right leg with each step.

“The swelling will go down soon” they tell me. “Keep it elevated and walk a little each day and it will soon be back to normal” (what is normal anyway?)

So when, at 4am the nurse asks me “can’t you sleep Dinah” and I try to explain and she offers me the advice that “you need to be strong Dinah” I really do want to scream!!

I need to be strong!? Have I not been strong enough for a lifetime yet?

Perhaps what she really means is “I don’t know what to say.” Because what is there to say?

John tells me I look gorgeous; I know he means that. Love sees things differently. Love is blind. Love is amazing. I joked with him tonight “it’s a good job you love me already babe, because I wouldn’t have a hope of you taking me home otherwise”

And so, I’ve had a sleepless night, worrying about going home instead of being excited. Worrying about how I will cope with this new body; I had only learnt to love my old one in the last few years and now, well, okay so here’s the thing….

Written the night before I came home from my heart surgery in 2013. I now felt ready to share this here.

Dinah x

In that last breath

 

What if, in that last breath I do not express how I love you
How you have changed my path, become my destiny
Forged with me a new way of being, of belief that I could do anything
What if, in that last breath, you do not know.

What if, in that last breath I do not express my pride in you
How you have been brave enough to forge your own path, your own destiny
Never letting others hold you back, question your dreams, tell you you can’t
What if, in that last breath you do not hear my pride.

What if, in that last breath I fail to share my joy of life with you
How much I have loved, how many moments have been filled with delight
Determined to make the most of every precious sensation, feeling and moment
What if, in that last breath you do not hear my laughter?

What if, in that last breath you feel nothing but the wonder of our time together,
How much of it was fun, new, exciting and full of laughter and love
Always embracing the moment, enjoying each other for who we were, each day
What if, in that last breath you know, without question, i will love you always

Dinah 20 November 2015

A bad case of wind!

As I was sitting in my new office, writing blogs, I became aware that autumn had brought a bad case of wind with it!  My new office, you see, is an old caravan, parked between our garage and our woodland, so when the wind arrived, I found my writing room shaking from side to side.

Wales certainly knows how to do weather; whether it’s wind or rain you’re after, this autumn is already producing plenty and as we’ve found as we settle into our new home, every aspect of the British weather seems to be on steroids here!

We’re learning how to work, outside, in the pouring rain; apparently, complaining about soggy bottoms simply makes it more obvious we’re really ‘Townies’, so we’re learning to reply ‘Tidy’ when asked what we think of the weather, which is always greeted with a chuckle and a nod.

The main upside to all this amazing weather? Our surroundings.  We have trees showing every colour from green to gold, hedgerows filled with birds loudly complaining about the weather and celebrating moments of calm.

We’re loving the autumn here, and if a bad case of wind is a consequence, well, I can live with that!

Dinah x

Perhaps it’s my age…

perhaps it’s my age, liberating me from unhelpful embarassment and restraint; perhaps it’s my illness and the concept of living every day as if it might be my last; perhaps it’s just that it was the right time for me to free myself and express opinions without fear of offending or starting a real discussion. Whatever the trigger or catalyst, I find myself in unfamiliar, and actually rather wonderful territory. I’m expressing my opinion and enjoying it!

i’m not sure if it’s a British thing or a female thing, or perhaps it was a cultural one, but I’ve spent the majority of my life keeping my opinions largely to myself; the exceptions to this have been the times when I’ve chosen to get involved with like-minded groups where our purpose is to express these shared views.

At home, I was taught that I should stay quiet and allow adults to talk as they had more experience (read: “be quiet, you know nothing”).

At school, the message was to listen unless you had something exceptionally clever to add to the lesson (read: “you’re an average student, you have nothing to add”).

At Sunday School, I failed to pay attention as I was convinced from a very early age that there was going to be no “god” in my life, and thus was taught Only one thing, that hate travels through generations and we have to choose to be the place where that ends.

I have always hated political correctness and the idea that I’ll be offending someone no matter what my opinion, and that therefore I should say nothing. And as I have always feared, this silence is dangerous and can spread faster than any cancer. Whole States sit in silence so as not to offen the religious rights of another, and allow wars and genocides to occur whilst they sit in silence.

well, not me. Not any more. Perhaps it’s my age…..

Don’t tell me I’m a failure!

Heart Failure; the latest addition to my long and boring list of ailments. Added, in name at least, only today. My “regular” appointment with my new Cardiology Nurse turned out to be anything but and two and a half hours after she asked me if I understood why my new Cardiologist had arranged for me to see her, I was sat in the car park with a new label to contemplate; Failure. My heart was in failure; 50% failed, level three failure out of four levels.

Ten days ago, after two years and two months on a cocktail of heart meds to keep me alive started to cause depression and suicidal thoughts, I stopped taking my Beta-blocker nd within 48 hours I started to feel “me” returning. I was finally leaving behind my feelings of guilt at surviving my series of heart attacks and open heart surgery, I was beginning to experience joy at being in our new home.

it never stops amazing me how often we are preparing for something without knowing it; I know that if I had heard the news today whilst in the state of mind I had been in, just a couple of weeks before, it would have felt overwhelming, it might well have been the last straw.

Today, however, the woman who heard the news that she was going to face yet another challenge, that despite everything she’d been through, there was going to be another test, was the woman who was told she would never be a mother, never make it to thirty, never walk again after her car accident, and wouldn’t live after 19 hours and a failed quintuple heart bypass. Today, Dinah had returned and I wasn’t going to accept that my heart was a Failure.

my heart, my rather over-damaged, over-stressed and over-worked heart, is a remarkable thing; the engine that’s kept running despite being way past empty and kept running on fumes. My heart, which has beat despite every attempt to stop it. Failure? I think not!

Labels have no place in our lives, other than on beautiful gifts or drawers of boring documents. They don’t belong on people and they don’t belong on our hearts. My heart a failure? I’d love to see the successful version!

dinah

The gift to myself of a clean slate for my mum-in-law

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I’ve known my husband for 31 years this month and by association, I’ve known his mother, Elma. Over those three decades our relationship has been interesting; we are both strong-willed women and at times we’ve clashed head-on whilst in times of crisis we’ve supported each other un-conditionally.

when John and I took the decision to live in Wales, with Elma, it was a life changing decision from which we knew there would be no going back. We knew mum would feel safer and less isolated if we lived closer to her, we knew we wanted this to be our last house move and we also knew it would be a challenge to find somewhere that suited all of us, with very different lifestyles. Our greatest concern was that we’d find it a huge challenge to live too close to each other, as we all like our own space and wanted to be sure that would be respected.

within a few weeks of Elma arriving in Wales, I began to struggle with our relationship; I found I was losing my temper frequently, feeling undermined and taken for granted. When I started to resent her for having fun in her volunteering work, which she goes to every day now, I knew I had to challenge my feelings or we were doomed to failure.

“I don’t know what to do differently” I said to John, “I’m doing everything I can to make this work, but mum is just driving me mad. She’s doing nothing to contribute here, she’s out enjoying herself all day while we’re working our **** off…”

This was one of those moments where I’m reminded why I love my husband and why we’re so good together; he helps me see things so differently.

“I know mum’s upset you over the years, I know she’s said and done things that really were pretty bloody awful, that you’re still unable to think about without getting angry or tearful. So how about letting it go? How about giving yourself the gift of a clean slate?”

“A clean slate? You mean what about forgiving her?” I was getting angry, could feel myself thinking that, yet again, I was going to have to back down for the sake of peace and quiet.

“Not forgiveness, you don’t really believe in that, you hang on to feelings and then you end up going over and over what it was that upset you. No, I’m talking about totally wiping the slate clean, behaving as if our life with mum starts here and now, today. No “history” together, no details of who had done what or said what in the past and no blame. A new beginning. How would that feel?”

i had to think about this idea for two days; mulling it over in my head, looking at why this might actually be a clever idea and also looking at whether I was able to stick with it, to actually let go of these memories that served no purpose in my life other than getting me angry and feeling hard-done-by.

This was about ego, my ego! This was me choosing to stay angry with Elma for things she’d said and done already, some of them many years ago. How was this serving me? What was I getting out of staying attached to this stuff? Honest answer – nothing positive or helpful was coming from it and it was making me stressed and not that nice to be around.

The following day, I got up with a new slate, fresh and clean in my mind.  I decided to give myself that gift, to allow myself to live in the moment and enjoy it for what it is, to experience my own joy and not allow my head-talk to go back to past experience, focussing instead on the now.

Six months in to our new lives, the slate is still clean and I’m possibly the calmest and most content I’ve ever been. I’ve learned something hugely important about how I had remained stuck because I dwell on things that seem ‘unfair’ that are not resolved. I’ve also learned that somethings will never be resolved, simply stirred up and re-lived with many different versions of people’s truth.

Wiping the slate was a real gift to myself, one of the most precious ones I’ve had. It has given me a new life and a new sense of happiness I had not experienced before. Who is holding you back and keeping you in a place of anger or self-doubt? Imagine what you could achieve if you started with a clean slate in that relationship…

Giving dementia the shove with purpose

when John’s mum came to live with us last year, she was an elderly lady who was becoming frail, forgetful and lonely. She most of her day watching television alone or meeting the occasional neighbour for an organ recital (it’s what we call it when people get together and moan bout their organs and ill health) and had no sense of purpose. She felt like she’d lived the most important part of her life and was now getting ready to die.

We’ve been in Wales with her since December 2014 and from the first month here, I started to suggest ways she could get out a bit, including doing some volunteering at the local Red Cross shop in Llandovery. After a little gentle persuasion, she went to explore it in February. And we haven’t looked back.

she’s a new person. She’s gone from someone who saw the negative in everything, someone who always moaned about her day, to a woman with a smile constantly on her face and a positive story to share about the day she’s had.  She works there every day except Sunday and even went to work on the last bank holiday. And every day she comes home with a sense of achievement and purpose. People are popping in to the shop just to see her and have a chat, she’s part of a team and a community.

I’d love politicians to see the kind of impact this can have in a very short time for elderly people. Elma had worked all her life, often in multiple jobs at a time to keep their head above water and then, aged 65, she stopped; not gradually, just stopped over night. The job title that had defined her for so much of her adult life had gone. Who was she meant to be now? When she lost her husband, John’s dad Alf, this sense of total lack of importance became overwhelming.

yet now, she is making a contribution to a charity and the people of a community, she’s watching less television (positive mentally and  economically as it means heating and electricity are turned off all day) And it’s costing the Government nothing, indeed I’d suggest it’s saving them money as she’s healthier and happier and thus less likely to need assistance.

It wasn’t an easy decision to live with mum-in-law, but I’m proud of us for taking the choice and making such a difference to Elma. She’s 78 years young this month and looking younger every day!

dinah x

Lessons from Branston

lesson one: An old dog can teach his owner new tricks!

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i’ve been watching Branston’s behaviour since we arrived in Wales in December. He’s like a dog who’s arrived in doggy heaven with a free pass to access all areas. From morning until bedtime, when he goes over to Nanny’s woodland home to snuggle up for the night, he’s the happiest dog alive. And he’s taught me a wonderful lesson that’s changing my approach to every day.

each morning seems to start the same way; John collects Branston from his mum’s static caravan and hears about how good/cheeky/funny he’s been, then Branston walks carefully past the car, almost as if to say ‘please don’t notice the car or we might drive away from all this’ then bounds into our kitchen & runs around like a puppy.

Through the day he’ll run up & down our field around 40 times, do a thorough search (sniff) of ‘his’ woodland at least three times, bark at and play with at least of couple of dogs who come through to do the forest walk and eat for Wales too! He is, as you can imagine, sleeping well.

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what he’s shown me is that he treats every day as though he might wake up to orrow and have to get in the car and go back to our old home. He squeezes every experience he can into his hours and never misses the chance to try something new or meet a new friend. He’s made it clear to me that I had not been living this way.

sure, I’ve always been a “liver” not simply a survivor. I like to think I’m a risk taker and someone who feels the fear and does it anyway; what I wasn’t doing was enjoying the moment. Allowing myself to be fully present in the day and not spend my time on the ‘I should be doing…’ Moments.

So I say thank you Branston for the lesson. When did you last watch your animal’s behaviour? They’ve got some great tricks to teach us.

Croeso i Myddfai

imageimage can it really be three months since we arrived In Myddfai, in our little piece of Welsh heaven? The time here seems to work on a different schedule at a slower less stressful pace. There are days when it’s suddenly ten o’clock and all I’ve done is feed the birds. It’s wonderful.

it is also hard work; no, no, stop the derisory laughter, it really is! We’ve made the move to a ‘slower pace of life’ only to find that, in truth, it’s an attitude change and not a change of pace that we’ve chosen. Many days since we’ve been here John and I have worked harder than we have in years; I’ve certainly seen a significant improvement in my stamina.

We’re up with the birds at first light, partly because we don’t want to miss a minute and partly because the sound of birdsong makes it impossible to sleep-in. We’ve got so many birds visiting our tables that we’re producing our own, home-made ‘bird cupcakes’ made from suet, seeds and mealworms. This morning we had two woodpeckers at the same time and we think they’re looking for nesting space.

once the birds are fed and the coffee is made, it’s time to light the Rayburn, which I’m very proud to say John has restored to it’s original purpose as a wood-burning stove. I Love cooking on it and we’ve called it “Freeda” as it’s our free source of cooking, hot water and two hot radiators!

Much of John’s day is taken up with establishing our new vegetable garden, dealing with our coppice of Hazel and Birch trees, collecting and chopping wood for the fire and Rayburn and doing the 101 jobs that come with a nineteenth century Welsh longhouse that’s been somwehat unloved for the last 25 years. I should point out at this point that the vegetable plots had been turned into overgrown flowerbeds and lawns so he’s had to create them from scratch during the Welsh winter. The coppice sounds glorious, almost perfect until you see that also has been left to it’s own devices and the result is an over populated acre of scraggly trees that need plenty of tlc.

My time is being divided between my writing projects, the work I do for my daughter, Hannah’s company – AmethystPA, baking, planting seeds for all our vegetables, making things for the house which had not been decorated since the 1970s and working in our garden.  There was so much nicotine on the walls, we had to leave all the windows open for our first month due to the smell. We’ve found problems with the hearing, electrics, roof, gutters, floors and even carpet….

It’s amazing. We love it here. We haven’t been this tired and happy at the same time since becoming parents.

‘what made you pick Myddfai?’ The locals we meet usually ask us. ‘it was the Feeling of the balance of our private space within a real community, the views that took our breathe away round every corner and the people” I reply, “everyone made us feel so welcome”.

New beginnings

We did it! After many years of talking about “one day” owning a smallholding of our own, we’ve moved to our own little piece of glorious Welsh countryside and made our “one day” happen. Just over a week ago, we took the keys to our Welsh longhouse in Myddfai, a couple of miles above Llandovery in West Wales.

It’s been an uphill effort to get here and a journey that’s had its share of twists and dramas; losing a beutiful house two days before exchange of contracts finally led us to find our new home and then in six weeks, we were suddenly moving.

We fell in love with the area and the people before we found the cottage; I think we knew we’d found our new community within an hour of arriving in Llandovery. Everyone is so welcoming and really wants to hear your answer when they enquire after your health. The feeling of being part of a local, caring group of people who look out for and support each other had been missing from our lives. We’ve found it here.

today, I’ve been volunteering at the local Community Hall and shop, where local artisans sell their gorgeous creations – I’ll be penniless in no time!

i’m feeling a bit proud of us today, even a little smug as I turn to John and say “Thank you”. I’m sensing these are new beginnings and I’m as excited as a five year old at Christmas.