Finding life in facing death

It’s the time of year when plants are dying or bedding down for the winter. It’s all part of the cycle of death and life, and it touches us all. It makes me think of when I was first confronted with thinking about death.

When I was 13, Crohn’s disease, with which I had been diagnosed the previous year, returned with a vengeance and my consultant decided it was best for me to have an operation to remove part of my gut. I was terrified. I wanted to put the operation off for a few weeks, but he strongly advised scheduling it for the next week.

At 13, I was already an advanced worrier. Perhaps because my first year at senior school, which had started so well, had been blighted by frequent absences, including a five-week hospital stay, I tended to look on the bleak side of things. What if I never woke up from the operation? What about all my dreams and ambitions? I felt it was too early to leave.

What’s more, I was worried about what death would mean. While my Mum had been confirmed in the Church of England and my Dad had been brought up as a Jew in Berlin, my parents chose not to bring us up in any religion. Of course, in those days, school assemblies included talks about the Bible and singing hymns, and I was interested in Christianity and religion.

I was fortunate to be able to talk about my fears to my Mum and I told her that I was worried that I had not been Christened. My Mum said we could arrange it before the operation, if I wanted. I said that I wasn’t certain. I didn’t think it right to be Christened as an insurance policy if I didn’t fully believe. In the event, I decided not to and that I would rely on my personal faith.

The operation was successful, although excruciatingly painful and, while I didn’t realise this for years, caused me recurring depression. Thanks to my family and friends, I had wonderful support, but even they didn’t realise how much this affected me.

And so I carried on through life until I faced a similar situation at the age of 50 when one Friday morning I woke up with terrible stomach cramp. The pain increased through the day and luckily Mrs Z made me go to the doctor by driving me there and, after he referred me as an emergency case, drove me to hospital where I was admitted. The following 36 hours were a blur of pain as various tests were carried out, but on the Sunday morning I was told by a doctor they were going to operate immediately to find out what was wrong.

I felt like that 13-year-old again, but now I had no one with me. All I could do was phone Mrs Z for a brief chat, but had no chance to see her or contact any other family. I was totally unprepared and this time it really did look ominous, but still I did not feel it was time leave as I had much I needed to do. Within half an hour I was down in theatre.

Again, I came through it. Good old Crohn’s disease had played its part once more with scar tissue from that previous operation causing my gut to twist with dangerous results. As soon as I was partially conscious, I asked a nurse to phone to tell Mrs Z, who this time nursed me back to health.

And so I carry on, grateful for my life, but, as we grow older, inevitably we become acquainted with death through loss. Losing my Dad suddenly in 1995 hit me hard. In recent years, saying sudden goodbyes to our two ageing cocker spaniels – Felix after having a fit caused by a brain condition and Bosley on the operating table after the discovery of inoperable cancer – was tough.

Sitting with my Mum as she drifted away in hospital over the course of a week in early 2015 was almost surreal. We knew it would happen and I’m glad I was there with her. In fact, during her long illness, I learnt the value of simply being with someone with no external interference, distraction, noise or conversation: just sitting in silence together. I treasure those times.

These experiences and the prospect of death have taught me the value of life and how lucky I am.

I do not fear death as I did when I was 13, although I still don’t feel it is time to leave. I wonder whether I ever will.

Posted in a musing, Crohn's disease.

Theatre to make you think: Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune | the SPACE Ilfracombe
Whatever happened to serious theatre? By that I don’t mean plays without jokes, but writing with depth that leaves you thinking and searching for answers the next day.

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Terrence McNally‘s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune at the SPACE in Ilfracombe. Now here I have to confess to being a director of the venue, but apart from that I had no involvement with the production. So, as I took my seat for the performance, I knew as much or as little as any of the other 50 or so people in the room.

Over the following two hours, Debbie Hadley and Neil Rudd, who masterminded the production with assistance from Jay Moore, lured us into the lives of two lonely, middle-aged co-workers in New York in what is described as a ‘modern fairytale for midlife lovers’.

I also have to confess to not being a fan of the British attempting American accents – probably due to too many phoney drawls which fail Radio 4 dramas – but, getting over my prejudice, Debbie and Neil convinced us that we really were across the Atlantic in a lonely apartment in the middle of a big city in the early hours of the morning.

The pace of the play is unpredictable, unlike many popular pieces with an obvious start, middle and end. In some ways the writing appears flawed, because there are whole sections which appear flat before a sudden burst of frenetic dialogue, but, on the other hand, isn’t that what all-nighters are like? The excitement, joy and freedom often give way to tiredness, a withdrawal to simple comforts such as food, in Frankie’s case a sandwich, and the desire to give up and go to sleep. Perhaps the play is simply realistic.

Debbie and Neil both gave tremendous performances with no supporting cast, an impressive achievement, and created incredible intensity as they put their characters under the spotlight with literally nowhere to hide. They experience joy, anger, despair, laughter, confusion and more in a touching depiction of the difficulties of simply connecting with other people in modern urban life.

As I said, 50 or so people turned out to watch this performance, laughing and applauding, and seemingly enjoying the evening. Several years ago, when I got a phone call asking if I would join in getting the SPACE up and running, it was with the vision of providing a venue to support the widest possible range of performance.

Last night Debbie and Neil not only proved to us what is possible, but also demonstrated the value culture plays in opening our minds and stimulating thought.

We want to see more productions like this at the SPACE and if you didn’t catch this one, I recommend you book to see Debbie Hadley and Neil Rudd when once again they perform Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune next week at The Plough Arts Centre in Torrington on Wednesday 8 November.

 

Posted in Ilfracombe, performance.

Dragged down a hole in the ground into hell

My baby teeth must have been stubborn and I remember my Mum taking me to the health clinic on the Bath Road, Hounslow for one to be extracted under anaesthetic.

The strong memory of that day, some 50 years ago, is the weird dream I had after the mask was placed over my face to knock me out with gas: I was watching myself being dragged down an underground tunnel in a scene mixing our Snakes and Ladders game board with Alice in Wonderland.

This disturbing image remains with me and, over my teenage and adult years, after surfacing from anaesthetic for a number of different operations – it’s not a hobby, honestly – I have often wondered whether these were glimpses of insanity. In fact, I used to fear going mad.

I don’t fear insanity any more, not for myself.

However, I wonder whether I see insanity around me.

I see people who I thought were reasonable and well-balanced tearing themselves apart with their hatred for others, simply because other people hold a different view.

It is dangerous to assume that people with other views do not want to reach the same results that we want.

It is even more dangerous to lump together all people who have a certain belief or thought into a single evil stereotype.

Disappointment, frustration and anger are both reasonable and necessary.

Hatred is not: it is insanity.

Posted in a musing.

30th May 2017

At Junior School, I used to write the date at the top of the page in my diary before writing about what I’d done over the weekend just passed.

Being the 1960s, I liked writing 196- and was quite concerned at the end of 1969 when I realised that the 6 would change to 7, not even thinking of 8 and 9 to follow or the change from 19 to 20.

Many years, weekends and days have passed and now seem to be passing even faster.

I enjoy all times of year, but April and May do always bring special cheer to me as everything wakes up in England and the days grow longer, brighter and warmer.

This year I made a special effort to enjoy each day so that these months did not fly past without me realising.

And now we are at the 60th of the 61 days which will soon be a memory. I felt a little sad this morning before going out for the first walk of the day.

Then the sun came out and I exchanged greetings with nine people and I realised that here was another lovely day to enjoy, just like yesterday and tomorrow.

 

 

Posted in a musing.

Grateful for a holiday life

Today is the 13th anniversary of moving to Ilfracombe in North Devon.

After locking the door of our house in Windsor, we posted the keys through the letterbox and set off in our two cars, with our cocker spaniel, Felix, wondering how our adventure would unfold.

Not much went to plan, as we forgot that life throws challenges at us from all angles, but what is most important is that we would not want to live anywhere else.

I have discovered the importance of solitude, which I need to recharge my energy after dealing with people. And there’s no better place in the world for a solitary walk.

We celebrated today, as we do each year, at Maddy’s Fish and Chip Restaurant followed by a walk along the beach from Woolacombe to Putsborough and back. The beach, sea, sand, sun with a dog, fortified by a cup of tea half-way.

Heaven.

How grateful we are to be so blessed. We never take it for granted.

Posted in a musing, Ilfracombe.
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