from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

as always, right here, right now

This morning a handsome cock pheasant is highstepping cautiously through the courtyard, scavenging for grain scattered by the little birds. Every day now three nuthatches come by, each time tamer than the day before. Yesterday a treecreeper, unusually, visited the feeder, and a now-rare greenfinch; and I was amused that the robin, king of the courtyard, showed himself to be terrified of the unaggressive male sparrow.

I emerged from the house yesterday into blue; blue and yellow. Quite a shock after so long! What's more, here in the southwest it was warm enough to discard all layers bar one.

In the hedges the starry celandines are showering the world with light, and already dog violets are studding the verges. Most of the spring flowers are out now, and the daffodils at the edge of the moor, still closed at lunchtime, were open by the time I came back at dusk.

Crossing the moor always stills, calms and uplifts me. Each time there's a kind of ecstasy in having this wildish land so close by. I was crossing the moor to see my dad, though, which is always, as they say, bittersweet.

He is my dad but he is also not the man who brought me up. Of course ageing and illness brings differences, and in my dad's case some of them have been a blessing for us – he is not the volatile vigorous sometimes frighteningly intemperate man he used to be, the one who always swore he'd rather be dead than in a care home; he's much gentler and easier without his old sharp edge but it is, of course, at some price, and it is he who pays it in terms of loss of fighting spirit, energy, conceptual comprehension and cognition. And by being in a care home.

But it means a lot to him that we visit, whereas the younger father could only stand so much of family hurlyburly (five women) and would take every opportunity to escape to his little wooden cabin in the wilds of Exmoor, having blown his top dramatically first. (I grew up learning to be very alert, and frightened of anger – something I've been addressing all my adult life.)

And the challenge in all this is to remember that there's no place for regrets, for wishing it might be different, for resisting how things actually are: the time I have with my father is right here, right now, exactly as it is, and as he is; and the way I can show my love for him these days is with attention and patience, trying not to yearn for the old intuitive and caring father in his positive supportive creative aspect, full of adventure and ideas and crazy schemes and huge mindpower.

Right here is a very protracted very short stroll in the suburbs – anathema to the younger dad.

My father has just, for the first time, said something to me that makes no sense at all in the context in which he said it. I think I'm not showing it, but inside I'm deeply distressed: my mum died of Alzheimer's, and it's a horrible way to go. We know my father has stroke-induced dementia, and can only deteriorate. You lose a person in a particular, distinct and desperately sad way when they lose their minds.

Right here is remembering the power of little things: the new flowers in the care home garden; the pleasure my dad takes in the many adoring women, staff and residents, who engage with him; the interest he still takes in everything around him.

Right here is Dog straining to smell all the exciting dog scents brought by village life and forgetting all her manners, while my father pulls back the other way wanting to know (for the nth time) who lives in this bungalow, why, in my opinion, that wall is flaking, how far we are going (about 100 yards to see the alpacas, I repeat), and where my mother is.

Right here is the deep breath of remembering that it is a miracle that we are here at all, and that I can take a gentle stroll with my father in spring sun, rather than find myself in a part of the world where I don't have enough to eat, or have a child dying of a preventable disease, or fear for my life and those of others I love in, say, a bombing raid.


  1. I can't remember the last time I used the word 'poignant' because it tends to be overused - but it really applies here. This cuts to my heart - thank you so much!

  2. David, as always - you know. _/|\_, as some Buddhists show it.

  3. Oh how I identify with what you say about your dad. It is very like how it was for me and my dad at a similar stage, also determined to die rather than go into care, but having to surrender. The way you describe it so beautifully and vividly makes me feel as if I'm there with you, which sounds intrusive, but I know you'll not take it like that. So good, as always, to hear what you say and feel comforted because we're not alone in all this. Painful though it is, as you say, it's bittersweet. Writing long letters to my dad 120 miles away made up for visiting every 2-3 weeks; I miss them as much as he welcomed them. They made me even more attentive to small details that would interest him. It's true what you say about not regretting, and that too is comforting to remember. Thanks, as always, for such sensitive insights.

  4. Thank you so much, Miriam (not able to respond before as internet v dodgy - wrong kind of snow in the wires!). Yes - it helps me too to remember that others go through this. Long letters are such an important way of showing someone you care, aren't they? No wonder your dad loved them. Lucky man!

    With love


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