Tuesday, January 31, 2012

31st January

So today I had to break out and get away from the birthday blues. And as a token I decided on a minor change of image. I decided yesterday’s self-portrait reminded me a little too much of a grizzly old bear. So I trimmed the beard which was becoming far too itchy anyway, but I suspect it’s only really a single bloke that can get away with growing one of any real substance. Jane never let me anywhere near her when I grew it before! But that’s not a problem I can imagine facing for the foreseeable future, no it’s more to do with image, though I never ever considered myself as image conscious. It’s always been more to do with wearing whatever feels comfortable and is appropriate. But I did spend over thirty years in the workplace wearing a suit, or at least a jacket and tie; so it’s nice to break away from that one. So then I decided the grizzly beard promoted the somewhat grizzly behaviour, and made me feel old, which I suppose I am. Though surely 60 has to be the new 50 or even 40 doesn’t it?

But growing older is a privilege that not all enjoy. Jane didn’t. Grandkids are far more enjoyable than your own kids. Work pressure disappears. Mortgages are finished. Time to holiday, explore the world, and become generally creative, making music, exploring a new hobby… whatever. I no longer work, my income provides well enough and when the sun comes out I can feel quite lively. I have no real worries or pressures. I get on great with all my family and their lives seem to be ticking along quite nicely as they deal with their own life issues quite competently. Yes these next few years have the potential to be the best years of my life! I have to get on with it. Living that is. Ok I’m lonely and still grieving the loss of my lifetime partner, but I’m not giving up. There’s stuff to do that’s worth doing. Right now I’m either gonna have to get used to being single or ask the Lord for a new partner. That would take some time, so for starters I need to start enjoying the independence I’ve never had. Doing my own thing. Going where I want, when I want without accommodating another’s desires. Listening to my choice of music, as loud as I want… yes my new Bose headphones really are rather good! I’ll let you into a secret, a couple of nights ago I was listening to a Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton album which is basically great jazz and great fun; and so around 1am I found myself literally dancing around my bedroom I felt so immersed and actually happy. I was ready to party the night away…

Well obviously none of this stuff is what I wanted, but it is what I’ve got. So unless things change again relationally I have to get on with it. I need to turn my back upon the pain of loss and walk into the pleasure and fulfilment of the new, wherever that takes me. And the relatively few minutes of fun and lightness each day will grow more and more for sure. But there is one major ingredient in my life that has rooted itself in my heart over many years now, and that is the love of God and the desire to ‘seek first his Kingdom’. I believe that the Lord loves for us to enjoy life to the full, to have fun, to be creative and above all else to be relational. To love those around us with the exact same love that he loves each one of us with. And I know that as I honour him he will direct my paths and the greatest desire I could ever have is simply to please him, by doing the things he would have me do.

Psalm 28:7 ‘The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him’ (NIV)

Monday, January 30, 2012

30th January

Happy Birthday Dave?
Another challenging day. Yes I don’t feel very happy at all, despite all the birthday greetings from my family. And actually I’ve been fighting off tears for most of the day. I just want to be with Jane. And I can’t, probably for a very, very long time. So long that I most likely will have forgotten what it feels like to be with her. This is a rubbish way to live. Looking back, looking forward, and ignoring the value to be found in each and every day. Yearning for the impossible rather than living for the achievable. In many ways I’ve been privileged to live a blessed life and for much of it I’ve known happiness. My future destiny in heaven will also be filled with joy for sure, but I’m not there just yet. It’s just today I’m quite miserable. And I shouldn’t be. Sad yes, miserable no! But, but, but… I know there are many reasons to feel low. Yet for every single one of them there is a way to reach out to the Lord and embrace his peace, his love and his joy. I can’t live in the past and I can’t live in the future, so I have to live for today, as I walk forwards. And somehow I need today to become a little better; I need to see it differently, I need a new focus, a new way of seeing God at work in my life. I need to engage in God’s plan for my life. And surely that begins by recognising who God is, the author of life, the one who holds man’s destiny within the grasp of his hands, and the one who breathes life into the lifeless. Yes in many ways I feel as though my life has ended, and certainly, the way of life I’ve enjoyed for several decades is now changing beyond all recognition. Yet whilst I struggle to welcome the change, I have no choice. I have to embrace each new day with determination and hope. Hope that the goodness of God will prevail over the despair of this man.

And it can only be in God’s strength that I persevere. I’m finished, my strength has gone. My health is all messed up with Chronic Fatigue and pretty much every effort I make to engage in meaningful activity results in a worsening of my condition. I can’t give up though as staying as I am is just not an option. I will press into God and take hold of his goodness. And I will share his goodness with all that cross my path. But first I will taste of it afresh myself. For he is my delight, he is my treasure, he is my all sufficient one. Today I’m hurting. It’s my ‘special’ birthday, my 60th; a new decade is set before me. A decade without knowing the love of the wife of my youth. Somehow I must stir myself to reach out to the Lord for his gift of love. My heart is broken in a way that only he can mend and I have every confidence that he will, so I intend to live a long life. And that life is only worth living with love, for God is love.

1 Corinthians 13:8 ‘Love never fails.’ (NIV)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

29th January

Birthdays are supposed to be fun days. So how come so much enjoyment ends up being incredibly painful? Yes I’ve done all the right things today, though technically my birthday’s tomorrow, but everyone’s at work or school or out of town. So we celebrate at the weekend to make it easy. I had a lovely time with my wonderful family, did the pantomime thing, had our Chinese food, blew the candles out on my cake and opened some delightful presents. My kids are great. My 9 year old grand-daughter made an incredible lemon cake, as tall as it was wide. My favourite! I have aftershave, a Marsalis Clapton jazz album, intriguing packets of coffee beans and a book entitled ‘Getting the Blues’, exploring the topic ‘What blues music teaches us about suffering and salvation’. My son-in-law was quite superb playing ‘Crash Jordan’ in the panto, even though he seems to be wearing a Star Trek uniform. At least he didn’t end up as the pantomime dame. But my youngest grandkids struggled to cope with the all too realistic baddies… the space pirates were far too like Captain Jack Sparrow for comfort. Their water pistols had my youngest grand-daughter crawling into mum’s arms for cover, and she really did need to hide behind me after the show when the cast came to mingle with the crowd. She loved her uncle’s part though!

The problem came when I happened to glance at a small group of photo frames on my daughter’s wall. So, suddenly there I was standing with my lovely Jane, and my eyesight rapidly lost focus as the pain in my heart opened the floodgates in my tear ducts one more time. For sure I’m moving on, but there’s a way to go before I can cope with these special family days without getting so upset…

John 11:35 ‘Then Jesus wept.’ (NLT)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

28th January

Yes, I’m certainly on the mend. But it’s been as long week of very little productive activity. It was all triggered by Jane’s birthday, which followed the very busy week travelling to and from hospital with my mum. So now I’m just a little apprehensive about the next couple of days as it’s my birthday on Monday… I’ll be 60, which I’m really not looking forward to. Nonetheless I remain determined to posture myself as a 40 something year old forever. No-one wants to grow old. Not me anyway as I don’t feel it, despite over a decade of ill health. Of course I managed my 3 mile trek through the woods this afternoon and I feel quite sprightly, almost ready to engage with the world again. Almost, but not quite! Tomorrow’s a busy day as all my kids are meeting up to celebrate my birthday. And it’s my son-in-law’s big moment as he’s performing in amateur pantomime at a nearby village hall, so that’s where we’re all going. Last year it was great fun, extremely funny, very well written and performed. But very sad, as it was one of Jane’s last recreational excursions… we had to slowly walk her several hundred yards from the car and I really don’t know how she did it. She was determined though and thoroughly enjoyed sitting with our older grand-daughters. Their eyes nearly popped out of their heads when they saw what their dad was up to! Grandchildren were Jane’s greatest pleasure… she adored spending time with them.

I wonder how she’ll spend the day in heaven. No way would she forget about my birthday and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that we’re all partying together. She knows. Maybe not about the pantomime or the Chinese food we’re having. But yes she knows we’re all thinking of her. And the legacy she left, of special family times at every possible opportunity, will always continue. Anyway I wonder if Jane has a special prayer for me; you know, the sort that seem to be inspired from the very throne room of heaven. And they’re always answered post-haste. Over the years I’ve known countless answers to prayer, though often I fail in recognising them immediately. It’s too easy to pray from a position of perceived need rather than Godly inspiration. The Lord sees our lives from a totally different perspective. I usually see the need for an answer to be today, or maybe tomorrow at the very, very latest. But often the Lord’s timing is rather different and yet retrospectively always perfect. So for example I prayed lots of times for Jane to be healed and restored to life. I never saw that happen. But God did, as he welcomed her into heaven. And one day I’ll be a witness to that as well. Today I hurt, and struggle to understand how my life is the better for losing Jane. At the right time God will show me how and then I’ll understand. But in the mean time I just have to trust and remain thankful for the blessing that Jane was… and that I intend to be for those around me.

I’d love to think that Jane’s praying for me about this weekend. I’m sure she is. I’d like a particular birthday surprise, a special gift from the Lord. Even just a little one, just as long as it’s from the Lord. I just need to see him ‘show up’ in my life. Maybe, just maybe in response to a prayer from my heavenly prayer partner… well I don’t know how to pray anymore. The only thing I really want I can never have. It’d take a miracle to fill the void that Jane has left in my life. In the meantime all I can do is fill my heart with God-purpose and trust that he will heal and restore this broken man in a manner of his choosing.

Isaiah 65:24 ‘I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!’ (NLT)

Friday, January 27, 2012

27th January

A much better day today. And it made a change getting absolutely soaked from something other than tears. Yes I did my 3 mile trek through the woods which started off nice and sunny, and ended up turning to a reasonable rain shower and then hail. So my technical clothing had it’s first real test and I’m quite happy, basically warm and fairly dry on the inside, after the best part of an hour outdoors. And I chose to immerse myself in Clapton’s ‘From the Cradle’ album, an old favourite. At home I have a really poor quality and old VHS TV recording of the band rehearsal in the early nineties and would love to buy a digitised version but they don’t seem to exist. Anyway I always enjoy the blues as there’s something almost therapeutic about turning a negative reality into the positive of good music. So for example one track has the somewhat tragic lyrics – I'm drifting and drifting. Just like a ship out on the sea. Well I ain't got nobody in this world to care for me.’ Now whilst I certainly don’t want to claim that statement as the whole truth about my life, nonetheless there are times when there is only one person I want to care for me… and she can’t anymore. Anyway I enjoy the blues. They always make me happy.

And here’s just a part of another amazing ‘blues’ song… am I the only one who smiles when the mighty King David describes himself as a worm, not a man? Look it up yourself to read the rest! 

Psalm 22:1-10
For the choir director: A psalm of David, to be sung to the tune “Doe of the Dawn.”
  My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
     Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
  Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
     Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.
  Yet you are holy,
     enthroned on the praises of Israel.
  Our ancestors trusted in you,
     and you rescued them.
  They cried out to you and were saved.
     They trusted in you and were never disgraced.
  But I am a worm and not a man.
     I am scorned and despised by all!
  Everyone who sees me mocks me.
     They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
  “Is this the one who relies on the LORD?
     Then let the LORD save him!
  If the LORD loves him so much,
     let the LORD rescue him!”
  Yet you brought me safely from my mother’s womb
     and led me to trust you at my mother’s breast.
  I was thrust into your arms at my birth.
     You have been my God from the moment I was born’ (NLT)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

26th January

Some days the tears just have to flow. Although I still feel ill I decided to do my 3 mile walk through the woods at Kedleston today. And the walk was great, no problem whatsoever, very peaceful as I was almost completely alone, though rather muddy. But as I was listening to my music a track came on that I hadn’t noticed before and it was actually a beautiful song of love, about a father preparing to say goodbye to his daughter as she was to be married. The sentiment of the song struck a chord in my heart as I remembered my final few years with Jane and how we spent so much time together. Often it was almost literally 24/7 and whilst at work it would easily have taken a decade before we spent so many hours with each other. Although standing firmly in denial, we both knew that her time was short and every minute was so very precious. We treasured our time together and the cry of both our hearts was that we would not be separated. But the clock was ticking and no matter what we did Jane had limited time left.

So we made the most of our time together and truthfully I feel so glad that we did. I gave her my all and have no regrets. Not one. Her Prince Jesus has whisked her away from me and that makes me happy. She deserves the very best and now she truly receives her reward for the life she lived. Ok, the song that reached into my soul and plucked my heart strings is entitled Cinderella of all things. It’s performed by a guy called Stephen Curtis Chapman, and you can listen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaVtFg7ozOs

In a funny sort of way I actually feel a little better having allowed myself to grieve in this way. Remembering the treasured time we spent together in her final years. Yes the picture is of me in my short hair days having a bit of fun just 4 weeks before Jane was taken away.

Ephesians 5:15-17 ‘So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.’ (NLT)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

25th January

I feel really sad today. And I’ve been trying very hard to ignore it, though I’m not sure if that’s actually possible. Yesterday I suffered something akin to a migraine for most of the day, repeated painkillers didn’t touch it, and it was only after I finished working on my blog post, using the scripture ‘I am the LORD who heals you’, that the horrid thing lifted. Almost instantly, and that was great. Until mid-afternoon today when it started again. Ugh! Anyway, I was starting to talk about sadness, not ill health. Yes I do sense that low feelings are trying to take a hold again. Perhaps they deserve to, considering bereavement allied with long term ill health. Today I stood at my front door looking out, and the world seemed a very cold and empty place without the love of a good woman to share the journey. But I don’t want depression to have any place in my life, despite the constant reminders of the life that I’ve now lost. My house is filled with reminders of Jane as I’m still not ready to deal with her wardrobe, her study books and her unused art materials. I still harbour a vague desire to restart my own art practice and perhaps use some of her stuff but that’ll take a while yet. Most of her things are ‘hidden’ behind closed doors, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there… waiting for me to deal with. Even now a simple glance at my bookshelf highlights her small collection of books which I’ll probably never read. We worked quite hard, trawling through second hand books acquiring them for her, and now I don’t know what to do with them. She was determined to find ‘old and worn’ hardback classics to read and display. My Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy selection just doesn’t do it! So it was only a couple of years ago that she set her heart on finding a particular book, probably a Dickens, and I remember spending a long time at a National Trust house where they had a particularly large selection to look through. After a while we were about to give up when the thought came about asking for help. So the guy we approached responded by disappearing into a locked room for only a few minutes before producing said book and charging us no more than a couple of pounds for it.

So sadness. How to work through it without sinking into depression? Despite dealing with a Chronic Fatigue relapse, and the subsequent need to rest, I’m trying to keep myself gainfully occupied. So this morning I accepted an invitation for coffee at a friend’s house, where we stirred ourselves, as usual, by debating some of the often contentious issues relating to the Christian journey. And then, did Stratford William really author Shakespeare’s plays? Of course he did! I really had temptation placed in front of me in the form of an I-Pad used to access an interesting set of Ordinance Survey maps. All good fun and quite helpful in controlling the call of introspection. I have to keep busy. And at home I create a nice peaceful atmosphere with soft worship music playing most of the day and subdued lighting at night. Avoiding too much TV helps me to rest as well, but that’s never a problem as I find little to engage there. I remain determined to overcome Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, though I’ve not been this ill since just before Jane died. But generally speaking I remain encouraged, it’s just a blip.

Exodus 20:11 ‘For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy’ (NLT)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

24th January

Still waiting. Yes it’s been another relatively non-productive day, and they always feel such a waste. I did feel very slightly livelier first thing this morning, so I persevered with my normal Tuesday morning routine of transporting Jane’s mum to her meeting and then a trip to Sainsbury’s before collecting her again. She’s still seriously depressed over losing Jane and I had to spend some time talking things through with her, as she just wants to die and go to be with the Lord. Right now though I’m thinking that was all a mistake as I’ve been left with an unshakeable migraine ever since, and I’m not sure I can really help her. I know I cannot handle pressure at all. But it’s so hard just stopping everything and letting go. This afternoon I felt really poorly and decided to go for a short walk, simply to the local shops. But that was quite enjoyable and being completely without pressure it did me good. Over the years I’ve worked at all manner of treatments to try and deal with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome but all with no lasting effect. But normally I tend to make some improvement towards the end of summer and that has me thinking about vitamin D deficiency, which is very much in the news today. At different times I’ve played around with supplements and for the past 6 months or so I’ve resumed taking them as a daily routine. One of the several tablets I take is an over 50 multivitamin which already includes a high vitamin D dose. Simple research suggests it’s safe to take even higher so my shopping trip was for that and we’ll see how I get on over the next few weeks and months. I know the jury’s still out on the effectiveness of supplements, but over the past few months my son has caught a fairly severe cold on a couple of occasions. And both times it lasted for some days, whereas I ended up with the mildest of symptoms that disappeared within a few hours of starting. And I do take a very high Vitamin C tablet so who knows…

And now I’m proving I’m really good at something at last… reinforcing the gender stereotype! Yes only a man gets properly ill with the CFS equivalent of man-flu, and only a man tells the whole world how poorly he is. If only Jane were here to sort me out and stop me from complaining. Sorry.

Exodus 15:26 ‘I am the LORD who heals you.’ (NLT)

Monday, January 23, 2012

23rd January

All I can do is sit it out. Wait for strength to rise up again. Yes today was pretty much a non-event, as I battled to survive the total disablement caused by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Hope of recovery and even complete healing remains but that’s about all it is… just a hope. I need to stir faith, I need to reach out to the Lord and trust afresh in him. But today I feel terrible, weak, slightly dizzy and completely shattered. Oh yes, the aches and pains are there as well. Just like having a heavy dose of flu, except I don’t. And it’s so easy to start feeling down which is not a good plan. I cannot allow the wonderful memories I have of Jane to pull me into sadness… in 1972 we went to a friend’s birthday party held at the nearby Rowing Club, and in due course we went for a romantic moonlit stroll along the river bank… it was then that I first told Jane that I loved her. Not too many months later we were sat in my A35 van outside her parent’s house… and it was then that we first discussed marriage and I determined to go speak with her father about it. Ah, it was such a nice time of life. I’ve never been happier. But I have to believe that the Lord still has a plan for me. A new plan, filled with joy and strength and vitality and youthful vigour and basically complete fulfilment. But in the meantime I’m struggling to do anything. I woke this morning, feeling quite shattered as usual, but determination suggested that a relaxing paddle up and down a few lengths at the swimming baths would soon sort me out. I made it to the bathroom and found that simply brushing my teeth left me feeling very wobbly and needing a sit down. So no swimming. Ok, a shower then, that’ll liven me up. And to some extent it did, so off the back of that I’ve survived a completely restful though rather frustrating day. For most of it I’ve been horizontal on my settee!

Actually I’ve been engaging in the most important thing I could ever do. Meaning of life stuff… yes I’ve spent much of the day in worship. Yes I know what you’re thinking… but I kept the background music playing most of the day, even if I was reading sci-fi on my Kindle and playing Skyrim on the X-Box! Specifically I was listening to an old Michael Smith album I found on internet radio. I’m not so keen on his latest work including an orchestral album; but there’s something about very familiar old songs recorded in an atmosphere of worship that so easily opens my heart to the Lord. At times it felt like the person of God was with me in my living room, and that’s a serious privilege for sure. And when I looked a little closer I discovered the album had been recorded in Lakeland, Florida about ten years ago. So that brought back more recent memories of an adventure Jane and I went on, as we visited the Lakeland Revival in 2008. That was for sure a highly controversial event, but to be honest I had a great experience and met some of the kindest and most caring folk you could ever want to meet. The brand new hire car we chose looked great fun, though in reality the only good thing about it was the air con! Anyway, I just love the presence of the Lord and his peace is incredible. I know my life today and every day is totally secure in him… all I have to do is walk into it.

John 14:27 ‘I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.’ (NLT)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

22nd January

I’ve not felt this ill in a long time. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a horrible thing when it really takes a hold. But I’ve been ‘here’ before and have confidence that the particularly severe symptoms will pass. It just means complete rest for as long as it takes. And that’s the problem. Complete rest includes mental as well as physical, and I’m still a little too upset thinking about Jane at the moment. Or should I say thinking about me losing Jane. Truthfully, whenever I think about Jane I picture her in heaven and she’s fine, doing really well. She’s completely able to handle her change in circumstances, but then again that goes with the territory doesn’t it? Nobody gets a ticket into heaven without desiring the person of Jesus with all their heart, soul and mind; over and above the closest of other relationships.  And she loved God for sure. As I do, when you peel back the layers of grief and earthly frailty! Ok she’s doing well… but I’m not. Not this weekend anyway. I’ve reached the stage where I just need looking after. Jane could have done that. She was always encouraging, always hopeful whilst never allowing me to complain about my lot in life. And she was a worker in every sense of the word. The rare occasions when I couldn’t face making the early morning cup of tea she’d step into the gap without a murmur. But I guess that was only a handful of times in a year, so she didn’t do too badly really. And I enjoyed my favourite food cooked to perfection at every meal-time as my ‘reward’! I wonder whether she gets an early morning cuppa in heaven… does she have a house share? Apparently there’s no marriage in heaven, but I can’t imagine living far away from her when I eventually join her. And I’d willingly make her a cup of tea every day for the whole of eternity. I’ve been practising for many years already.

In reality the practicalities of heaven are way beyond my comprehension as the Bible only gives the barest glimpse of life in eternity. What I do know is that Jesus Christ lives there… and so does Jane, because she gave her life to him many years ago. He calls the place paradise, so it’s got to be good, and really, what more do we need to know?

James 1:17 ‘Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father’ (NLT)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

21st January

Sometimes we have to step aside from the ‘heat’ of the day and find shelter. So that’s my plan now for a day or two. I’ve been doing too much all week, and the pain of remembering Jane on her birthday yesterday was just impossible to bear. So it’s been a nice gentle day with a visit by my eldest and one of my grand-daughters this morning. They were quite helpful in working through the mountain of chocolate that for some reason keeps growing in my house! And I’m beginning to relax now having immersed myself in my latest sci-fi novel download for most of the afternoon. My son’s offered to cook an evening meal and maybe Lord of The Rings disc 2 will have an airing.

But the most engaging part of the day has been my early birthday present. I’ve been thinking I should upgrade my very basic MP3 player for some weeks as music is such an important part of my life. Anyway cash gifts came my way and I now own an IPod Touch which is a fascinating piece of kit. I’m amazed at the computing power and functionality of such a small device, especially when I consider the size of my aging desktop which is now relegated to simple home admin duties. But how on earth can something, not much bigger than a playing card, stream good quality live internet TV whilst storing most of my music collection and recording HD video? They claim thousands of Apps work on the thing, which is just crazy compared with the technology of just a few years ago. Now when I was a lad I remember having a marvellous valve radio in my bedroom… the size of a small suitcase! A friend actually lent me a much older and quite mysterious crystal radio which worked without any added power source whatsoever. But I never did get the aerial side of things sorted on that, though I remember once making a transistor radio from basic components soldered to a printed circuit board. On a good day the pirate station Radio Caroline could be heard fading in and out quite clearly, as could Radio Luxemburg for the few hours it broadcast each evening. Ah… the good old days? Although they soon wander off course, I’ll stick to WE7 or Spotify any day, especially played through my sound system with a good sub-woofer!

I remember a few weeks ago suggesting that I had all the technology I wanted and had no desire to buy more. I was mistaken! So my home cinema sound system works fairly well but is maybe eight years old… and now I’m thinking ok, what about a nice set of headphones, maybe Bose? Monster Beats don’t quite fit my image! Well earphones don’t work very well as I wear hearing aids to help combat tinnitus... a common problem for aging musicians apparently. And Bose do a dedicated IPod dock… that might work. So now I’m becoming all materialistic aren’t I, when all I really wanted was a better functioning MP3 player! But isn’t that what birthday gifts and a generous family is all about?

2 Corinthians 9:8 ‘And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work’ (NIV)

Friday, January 20, 2012

20th January

Well that was a mistake. I allowed myself to remember Jane by sorting through my photo collection. The plan was to put together some pics which could help me to see her as she is in the reality of heaven. That will have to wait as this is as far as I got before breaking down completely. Yes, I’m really not ready to look back without getting seriously upset. The pain is unbearable, the emptiness completely unapproachable and now I've made myself ill again with a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome relapse. Chest pains are not far away either and they are simply not allowed. I feel really grotty. And that’s not the right way to ‘celebrate’ Jane’s birthday. I have plenty of experience in dealing with my illness, so a day or two of complete rest should see me back to ‘normal’. I need to relax with some nice things in my life. I suppose the lesson is quite clear though… I have to move on, I cannot live in the past. I must take a hold of the new, whatever that is and actually almost anything has to be better than the suffering of today. I will become a different and changed man and then maybe I can look back with pleasure and not the tears which lead to illness.

Anyway just to cover the ground... my photo is of Jane looking over the White Cliffs of Dover just a couple of years ago. Right now I guess she has a far more wonderful view of the splendours of heaven. And I can no longer see her face, even though I know she’s waiting there… remembering and praying for those left behind. And now I’ve given myself a headache it’s so sad.

I’ve spent a final day back and forth from the hospital again, and that has also begun to become rather a strain. Spending such a lot of time there this week is taking it’s own toll on me; but the good news is that I made one final visit this evening simply to take my dad home. And one of my sister’s turned up shortly afterwards to keep them company, so all’s well there, hopefully for the foreseeable future. It’s sure taken it out of my mum though and at 82 I think she’s ready for a good sit down with a cup of tea. My dad was so frustrated once they got him feeling better that for the past day he’s looked almost ready to do a runner… whatever the doctor said!

Hebrews 12:12-13 ‘So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.’ (NLT)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

19th January

I feel quite exhausted. Yes I’ve been busy to and from hospital all day, ferrying my mum, which has been sort of ok but leaves me with little space to switch off. The hospital environment is quite stressful and although I don’t feel particularly upset being there, it’s still rather draining. Being the main city hospital there are always going to be some interesting if not downright difficult characters floating around. So that meant conversing with the guy, who had mental health problems, when he showed us the wounds caused by self-harm. And another who misunderstood something I said to my elderly and very frail mum, when she offered to use the stairs whilst we were waiting for the lift, and then he almost attacked us. So it’s a good job a gentle word turns away wrath! But it’s sad how some people live. I remember last year, when Jane spent time there, at one stage there was a uniformed police presence for a couple of days just along the ward. We are so privileged to have a ‘normal’ law abiding and mentally healthy family. But I did find exposure to ‘the world’ instructive, as it reminds me that I’m not really ready to face up to even the briefest of stressful situations just yet. I still need time out to heal. I’d love to start reaching out to the needy and engaging in some way to try and help them, but not just yet. I’m still a little broken and need some nice gentle things to relax with.

I’m also aware, at least in the back of my mind that tomorrow is Jane’s birthday. A day to celebrate her birth, but I’ve no idea what to do with the day. I thought of travelling but then my dad was hospitalised and it feels right to be around to offer practical support for my mum. She bought me a plant to remember Jane on the day, which was thoughtful. Anyway tomorrow will come and we’ll see how I feel then. I wonder if they celebrate birthdays in heaven, bake a cake, light some candles and all the rest of it. Probably not, as there’ll be folk there who are several thousand years old, not just 90 (Hey… it’s one of the few cake pics I have!) and that would mean quite a bonfire on top of a cake wouldn’t it? But there’ll lots of excuses for parties I’m sure. If nothing else all who enter heaven will be received with a celebratory welcome surely. And I just heard a lovely but sad story about my grandmother who passed away in the early 1960’s. I can’t really remember her to be honest. Anyway, apparently her best friend died around the same time as she did… maybe that provided particularly good company for one another in the hereafter? I’d love to be keeping Jane company right now, exploring the wonders of heaven. Problem is I’ve not finished running my own race here on earth just yet. There’s still a lot of living and a lot of loving to be done and hopefully I can introduce a few more to the only one who can unlock the entrance to heaven itself… Jesus Christ.

Probably it’s just because I’m so tired that today I’ve begun to feel just slightly tearful again. And that’s the first time in well over a week which is really encouraging. I’m moving on in my grief journey for sure. No tears for about ten days I reckon and that is absolutely amazing! I’m getting there… wherever there is.

John 14:6 ‘Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.’ (NLT)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

18th January

Well then, that felt like a busy day though I’ve not really done that much. Basically I’ve been a taxi service getting my mum to and from the two sets of hospital visiting hours, as she really wanted to be with my dad for both sessions. Quite sweet really, but then they’ve been married for 62 years and it must be strange to be separated even for a few days. I know exactly how they feel… coming home to an empty house, cooking for one, sleeping in a king-sized bed all alone. I've not felt this cold at night since I was 21… that’s partly my own doing as I like to have a window open, which is now allowed cause there’s no-one to stop me!  But it’s the loneliness that gets me more than anything. Nobody to talk to. Nobody to share dreams with. Nobody to make plans alongside. Ah well, truth be told if I didn’t actually feel relatively cheerful I’d say that’s a bout of the ‘poor old me’ coming on. I’m just having a little moan really. Anyway my dad seems to be doing alright. I quizzed one of the nurses to find out what happened with his op yesterday as my parents were a little concerned, thinking he’d need a second procedure. Apparently the surgeon couldn't find the small gallstone originally seen as the problem, but what my parents didn't know was that there and then they’d fitted a stent to widen the narrowing tube. So hopefully a scan and the sample taken for testing will confirm everything’s now sorted and he might be home for the weekend. I don’t know the details but whilst my dad was safely ensconced in a 3rd floor ward, one of my sisters was accompanying her husband for an appointment elsewhere in the hospital. They both have long term history of fighting their own cancer battles. Today it was my brother-in-law’s turn to walk into that particular fiery furnace. All I know is that he’s not been at all well for some time now and that’s not good. Cancer is evil.

It’s odd really how I can feel quite joyful despite the challenges of life. Of course I’m well used to suffering the pain of loss and really know what it feels like to get upset but despite everything there’s still something deep inside of me that remains not just at peace with life but at times just plain happy. That only makes sense knowing that I have the presence of God within me, and he is the author of peace and joy and hope and love wherever I find myself. He sets purpose before me when I feel like giving up. He grants the strength to rise up when I fall down. And he provokes change when I begin to settle. The Lord is everything to me and I would live no other way. Only in him can my life make any sense all. I have eternity set in my heart so whatever the trials of this world I know that my future destination is totally secure.

So my picture today is obviously taken from my usual walk at Kedleston and the tree looks completely barren in it’s winter dormancy of course. Yet the late afternoon sky is still a lovely clear blue, with the sun shining brightly and not a cloud in sight. My life may seem rather barren at the moment with very little sign of new growth. This is for sure a ‘winter’ season for me. And still the Lord shines as brightly for me as ever. I know that he is watching over me and his favour is towards me. So despite the unchanging nature of my everyday life I am completely confident that the Lord has plans for me, I have destiny and purpose set firmly in my heart. Sometimes it feels like it will take an eternity for the conviction in my heart to reach out and grant understanding with head knowledge. But that’s just my impatience. The Lord’s timing is not the same as mine. But the work of God is far more certain than any of my good intentions. And fulfilling that is my destiny and true purpose. Roll on spring and new growth!

Ecclesiastes 3:1 ‘For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.’ (NLT)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

17th January

Well I reckon this miniature cow is quite at ease in the grounds of my nearby stately home. I understand they were purchased in order to keep the coarser grass down that sheep tend to leave. So that means there should be no concern about becoming Sunday lunch anytime soon! But there’s no way it could understand anything of that danger anyway. And wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow switch off from all of our concerns and simply chill. Resting under a magnificent cedar, enjoying the winter sunshine without a care in the world must be quite a wonderfully peaceful life... for a couple of hours maybe, and then I’d start pining for 21st century technology. Or would I? Sometimes I think that a simpler life would be great, let’s get rid of the car, open up the garden as an allotment, install solar panels and slow right down. But then I decide that Spotify music streaming and it’s ilk are really quite attractive, and I do enjoy my Kindle book reader and, oh yes, my laptop gets some serious usage all the time. But so often technology comes with a hidden price tag. And I’m not just thinking financial. Yes this stuff is actually quite addictive and the more gadgets that come our way, the more they seem almost non optional. They seem to suck us into a very demanding world.

1997 I fired up my first dial-up internet connection and my leisure time has not been the same since. I remember when our eldest kids were very young we went 3 years with no TV. I don’t remember VHS being available then so no home movies even and basically a home without a screen of any description. My music was all on cassette tape which had rubbish quality. Radio was available but little used in my home. Mobile phones didn’t exist, except in Star Trek movies. Yet despite the complete lack of just about everything that seems so essential to life today, I think back to that time of life and remember it being so very special. We spent time as a family, doing ‘family things’. Essentially just enjoying one another’s company. Almost every activity was relational and invaluable. I really think the jury’s still out on Facebook, Twitter and all the rest of it, as to whether they are overall a force for good or damaging to close relationships. In some ways it reminds of how a keen photographer might view the world… always through the camera lens. But now far more see life primarily through the small screen of mobile devices. In many ways it feels like a very different way we live compared to even a dozen years or so ago. And the consequences of social engineering, on such a global scale, are presumed to be beneficial with little more consideration than the pursuit of profit and innovation as primary motivation. I’m not sure I really disagree with that conclusion, but it’s still a big and quite radical change we see and only time can really tell.

But my personal life has changed radically over the past few months in a totally different way. I shared every part of my life with my wife and now I share very little with anybody. And that provokes a real challenge to my faith journey. Do I really believe that God is working for good in every area of my life? That’s what the Bible says. But is it true? I have to trust that it is, of course, though how I see things always needs careful consideration. Do I see the void, which Jane filled, as permanent emptiness in my life and painful reminder of loss? Or do I see a newly opened space waiting to be filled with a brand new adventure… I’m not quite there yet but if I’m to move on I know how I have to see the future. I cannot live in the past no matter how good it was.

It’s my birthday in a couple of weeks or so and I’m thinking of buying myself a present as if from Jane. Last year she contributed towards my Sony Vaio laptop, the year before I was presented with a Nintendo DS. Both of these have found hours of use almost every single day. Is this the year that Apple gains a new customer? The jury’s still out I’m afraid!

1 John 2:15-17 ‘Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.’ (NLT)

Monday, January 16, 2012

16th January

I found this field of frozen grass at Kedleston and thought it rather weird, almost like an alien landscape. And despite the numerous occasions I’ve walked there it’s certainly never looked quite like this. Kind of reminds me of Star Trek Tribbles, so there I go showing my age and sci-fi geekiness again… I don’t care. I’ve had an alright sort of day, doing the stretching, reaching awkwardly thing whilst fitting a new bathroom blind. Funny how when you get just a little older everything starts to ache when doing something a little different. But that only prompts me to get organised enough to start swimming more regularly. I am determined to remain as fit and strong as I can for as long as I can. Neither middle age nor ill health has any claim upon my life. A friend of mine called today and we spent a happy hour or so discussing all manner of things. The point is though, that he is now aged 70 and he called around after going swimming. He managed his normal 40 lengths! I could probably just about manage that at a push, but it would be rather slow to say the least. But I am playing catch up I suppose after the immobility of the past year or two looking after Jane and living with my own ill health. In general terms I reckon I’m at least managing to stabilise my M.E. symptoms and probably gaining a slight improvement. And that’s remarkable at this time of year. So I’m encouraged, but a long way to go yet.

I feel like an alien. I really don’t have any sense of belonging any more. And that’s not good; I guess I became too dependent upon Jane and her supportive companionship in every area of my life. She sacrificed an early career in order to personally raise our young children and yet at the same time was wonderfully supportive of all my activities. Both at work and in the church. For many years I was involved with music and that was not just time consuming for me, it also left her looking after the children on her own. So while I hid behind a microphone she handled a far more complex challenge. She was ace! And now she’s gone, and the kids are all grown up, and I do very little music… and my life feels empty of purpose and devoid of creativity. Motivation to continue sometimes sinks despite stubborn determination to persevere. Somehow I have to regain vigour and refresh my day to day living. At the moment every day looks the same. Empty. I need to see things differently, and basically keep my eyes upon the work of God. That’s easier said than done, but in reality it’s all I have… and it’s all I need. I do struggle a little when looking ahead, although I live with hope and that hope is firmly based upon my faith journey. And that faith journey has proven true over several decades now. I do need fresh vision for my life despite the dreams that still stand before me. Somehow I need to start stepping into the physical reality of aspiration. At the moment though I need to focus more upon today rather than being concerned about the unfolding of tomorrow.

2 Corinthians 5:1-4 ‘For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.’ (NLT)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

15th January

Well it could be worse couldn’t it? My addiction, I mean. I could have turned to drink, or any number of hedonistic vices. But now as I journey through this most challenging season of life I realise that I’m hooked on woodland walks. And todays snapshot typifies why I love this quite innocuous pastime. Yes, I made one of the shorter walks in the grounds of Kedleston Hall again today. But it was rather cold as I went late afternoon, just as the sun was beginning to go down, and actually the frost has not lifted all day. Indeed the lake is beginning to freeze over which is a surprise as the water flows quite freely over the many weirs. Anyway I love it, it makes me happy. Even if I do return home rather muddy!

There’s something about being outdoors, enjoying the winter sunshine and communing with nature. Even in the grounds of a well-cared for stately home. It’s as though I can cast off all restraints, the cares and worries of life are somehow more remote when I’m out in the countryside. Basically I feel able to draw closer to God surrounded by the timeless surroundings of nature. Separation from 21st century suburbia seems to help me a lot, though I still take my phone and mp3’s with me! Anyway if nothing more the whole experience is definitely therapeutic. And part way through the walk I migrated my music away from Mexican folk/rock/flamenco as that album has been around and around a little too much since Christmas. I’m back with a brief excursion into the world of ZZ Tops again, though most days I listen to a lot of contemporary worship. And ZZ Tops, they’re the guys with the beards aren’t they? So having started to grow my hair I’m now wondering about a more serious beard. For too many years I’ve lived with the ‘smart’ haircut and something akin to designer stubble. I need to break free from my long term and quite established self-image; so what better way to make a start than by looking different… at least for a season. I worked for decades wearing a suit and the associated demands to be presentable in a conformist sort of way. Today I have no constraints, I have no employer to please and I have no woman to please so maybe I can explore being the ‘wild-man of the woods’, or even an ‘aging rock guitarist’ or whatever… Oh Lord have mercy upon this mixed up man. If it be your will, set me to task by restoring me to the workplace, and maybe lead me to a new relationship that I might dress to please another once again. Help me to live life ‘normally’ once again.

Today’s Sunday, and that meant church this morning. I’ve been wondering whether I could cope with going, given the ongoing emotional turmoil. I didn’t set my alarm and still woke early. My mum rang with an update on my dad – nothing changed – just before I was about to set off and that made me a little late. As did clearing ice off the windscreen, but I persevered and went anyway. And it was fine; I reckon the Lord is answering prayer today! No tears, just a comfortable meeting to enjoy, though I was a little sleepy… but that’s what late night blogging, after Thai curry and a movie, does for you.

Romans 1:20 ‘For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.’ (NLT)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

14th January

Back into the lion’s den today. Yes, I did wonder what it would feel like spending time on a hospital ward again, and actually it’s been fine. I visited my dad today and it was just a little strange, but actually that’s mainly because he was obviously in a male bay, and I’ve only ever visited female wards with Jane. Ok, there have been my kid’s maternity wards over the years as well, but for some reason they’re also female! And emotions in hospital are the same whatever the sex; grumpy or cheerful, complaining or grateful, brave and frightened. I won’t talk about my dad’s room-mates but he’s completely disorientated having little experience of this environment, and wasn’t expecting to be admitted. He even drove himself to hospital and then found his car stranded. And both my parents are finding any suggestion of a definable programme for treatment comes with a certain unsettling fluidity. That can be frustrating and even a little upsetting if you’re not used to it… which I am. With any unprogrammed admission, and even some that are, unless it’s an absolute emergency nothing works according to the original plan. But that’s all right as long as the end result is a successful return home which at the moment is suggested to be towards the end of the week. All tests suggest he’s in basically quite good health apart from the problem with a gall stone. So you have to trust that any changes are to the benefit of a more seriously ill person. Or that a different specialist has corrected the timetable for good clinical reasons. Truth be told I actually feel quite at home with the whole thing. I’ve certainly learned patience. And trying to fight the system never works, just go with the flow and let the professionals do their job. They’re good at it despite the confusing changes. He was originally told to expect his operation the day after admission, currently it’ll be on Tuesday.

We have to be really grateful for the privilege of having access to medical treatment. But one day it will no longer be needed as there’ll be no hospitals in heaven! And when you think about it all manner of activities may well be off the ‘menu’ so to speak. I had a great Thai curry made by my son this evening and we watched the first Lord of the Rings movie for the umpteenth time. Though being the Blu-ray extended edition it felt fresh and new. I can’t imagine it’ll be available in heaven, so that’s one experience Jane’s ‘missing out’ on at the moment, yes I’m quite sure she’s enjoying something much better. But I wonder what… do you think the Thai curry may sneak through the ‘perfection’ filter? The Bible actually only talks in the language of mystery about our time in paradise, but it’ll be a great place I know for sure.

Revelation 22:1-2 ‘Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the centre of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.’ (NLT)

Friday, January 13, 2012

13th January

I needed to push myself a little to get going this morning, but otherwise I’ve felt pretty good again. And I’ve managed more work on my bathroom so that’s encouraging. I can almost see the end in sight now, just a few more days and I’ll be ready for the next room. But there was a little upset this morning when my mum rang to inform me that my dad has been suddenly admitted to hospital. He needs an operation for a small gall stone apparently, though they won’t operate until Tuesday, so he’ll be sitting around for a few days waiting. He has quite number of grand-daughters working at the hospital so they’ve been bypassing visiting hours to give him attention right through the day. And having a large family he’s getting plenty of visitors so I’ll probably wait a day or two. He did initially say that I should not visit as he’s aware of the serious amount of time I’ve spent in hospitals over the years with Jane. I’ll have to bite that particular bullet sometime and I guess this will be as good a reason as any. I’ve also been stalling a check-up at the dentist for a few months and today I faced that one down and got booked in for early March. Avoiding health care environments is not a long term option.

I’ve very slightly tweaked my back fitting a new wall cupboard in my bathroom. I’ve been putting this job off for a month now as I could see it might be awkward. Indeed it was just a little too heavy and rather bulky to hold comfortably whilst I measured up the drill holes. But as usual I ignored that I’m not as strong or flexible as I was a few years ago and seeing the need I just got on with it. I did seriously damage my back twenty years ago, so I should be careful, but it’ll be all right this time I’m sure. The point is though, I ignored the instructions that came with the cupboard, as they quite clearly illustrated that it should be a two person job. I’ve always been strong and have a mountain of experience in DIY so a ‘little’ cupboard can be no problem. Macho Dave always knows better doesn’t he? He should do… but doesn’t. Sometimes I’m stubborn and do what I want rather than what I should. I should have waited until my son was around. But didn’t.

It seems to me that many if not all of life’s problems are caused by ‘doing the wrong thing’. Ok, and as often as not my problems are caused by someone else’s actions as well. Sometimes you just can’t win. And it’s not unusual to have absolutely no idea what caused a particular wrong to appear. Ill health for example… I can speculate but basically have no idea why I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Similarly with Jane, how on earth did she end up with Leiomyosarcoma? But just because we don’t know the cause doesn’t mean that there wasn’t one. Then there’s the area of broken relationships. Particularly with marriage. The divorce rate is absurdly high, so much so that many choose not to marry in the first place to avoid that particular hassle. But I can’t imagine the separation rate of cohabitees is any better. And the damage caused by separating, especially where children are involved, is going to be just as real no matter the legal basis of being together. I could talk of personal finances or how we behave in the workplace, and maybe personal integrity and honesty or greed, and caring for the needy or wasting resources…

This world is filled with so much goodness, beauty and opportunity. So why is it so often overshadowed with evil? My life with Jane was ‘heavenly’; her cancer most definitely arose from hell! Why do we so often have spoilt that which starts off so very good? Oh dear I’ve wandered way off talking about putting my back out, I’ll climb down off my soapbox in just a minute… life is disorderly and yet I cannot believe it was originally intended to be that way. The Bible says that we are all ‘made in the image of God’. And he is always good. The problem is that we are not and we often overrule with reason or even ignore the quiet voice of our conscience. That is one of the most common ways that the Lord speaks! If we cultivate our conscience, his voice becomes clearer. And using the Bible as a plumb line of right and wrong by understanding what it reveals about God is a basic necessity of life for me. So my testimony is that, for me, marriage was wonderful and the love we had for one another overcame every obstacle… and we learnt how to live and love often through prayerfully reading the Word of God. And ill health may have damaged our bodies, but it will not change who we are as people... made in the image of God.

Jane liked to personalise every Bible she had with a little art and craft. Perhaps the Lord does the same… the way he speaks as we read is quite unique to each one of us. And specifically relevant to where we’re at.  

2 Timothy 3:16 ‘All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.’ (NLT)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

12th January

Strange how it works. But welcome. Today the rollercoaster of emotion has taken me back up, and I feel quite buoyant. If only there were an analysis that could determine the ingredients of life required to maintain the ‘feel good’ factor. I felt so lively that I was able to press on and finish my wallpapering with three sessions spread through the day. Perhaps that is what made me feel better? It’s certainly satisfying to complete a challenging stage in a project but really if I were not ill it would have taken no time at all. And there are still quite a few tasks before I finish that room and move on to the next much bigger challenge… my hall, stairs and landing need some serious tlc! I refuse to give in… ill health will not stop me living.

So then the ‘feel good’ factor? Job satisfaction of course helps and for me is really important, but within a couple of days I will have forgotten all about my wallpapering exploits. Work needs to be continuous and that’s my problem. So the pleasure of completing today’s task has to be measured against the frustration of taking several months just to get to this stage. But I remain determined to beat Chronic Fatigue; it has no claim upon my life.

I’m blessed with my family relationships and never want to take them for granted. I consider all my kids and their families to be really good friends and that’s not something everyone has. We all spend time together and though I’m not sure whether it’s totally good for him, my son looks like he’ll not be leaving home anytime soon. His biggest complaint is that I put too many leeks in the curry! But again, having good relationships with family has to be tempered with the lack of a social life. Everyone I relate to in a meaningful way is married. So anything new I might choose to do I start out alone, and at best end up with a bunch of strangers, which is a bit random to say the least. I’m absolutely grateful for church and the different meetings they have available, but sometimes I feel I need something more than just a program of Spiritual meetings, good as they are. I like to relax with music and art. I enjoy history and engaging with different cultural experiences, but have yet to make a real effort to engage. I quite fancy a trip to London sometime soon; maybe one of the Tate Galleries will have an exhibition that lures me there before long. We’ll see.

My main focus, I suppose, is maintaining some sort of reasonable functionality. Trying to avoid plummeting into permanent tear filled grief, which leaves me feeling really ill. Tears are important, but not all the time. Sadness is normal; despair and depression is to be avoided. So keeping myself occupied with jobs around the home is good. It distracts, as does some time playing computer games which are less demanding physically. I still don’t do TV and rarely watch videos any more. Spending an hour or so writing this blog each evening is particularly therapeutic. Maybe there are a few readers able to engage and understand my ramblings despite the so difficult subject, but I primarily write for my own benefit. It helps me understand how I’m feeling, it sorts out the conflict that storms inside my head and leaves me a feeling little better at the end of each day. Ultimately though, it’s my faith journey that keeps me sane. Without the Lord I’d be nowhere, completely lost, without hope and sunk without trace in the deepest pit of depression imaginable!

But I do know the Lord and today I feel quite ‘skippy’ so before I forget, I can’t overlook that most addictive of pleasures… chocolate. And if that doesn’t make you feel good nothing will!

Deuteronomy 31:6 ‘the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.’ (NIV)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

11th January

I’m fed up with the emotional rollercoaster, just as I begin to feel a little stronger, down I go again. It’s the decorating thing that’s still affecting me. But if it wasn’t that it would be something else I guess. The memories go round and round, and round and round. Living in the same house for 32 years leaves too many memories to ignore. Every square inch of my home reminds me of Jane and the hopes, dreams, plans and activities we engaged in. All our kids grew up here; three of them were born whilst we lived here. Jane’s mum shared our home for fourteen years. One fiancĂ©e slept on our settee for 6 months saving a deposit for my daughter’s marital home. This home has been a wonderful place to live and in some ways it still is. Apart from the emptiness… and the decorating. I’m trying to wallpaper the bathroom at the moment, and the more I think about it the more I reckon I’ve gone and purchased the exact same paper we used several years ago. So the brand new paper ‘feels’ old and worn out before I’ve even finished putting it on the wall! Jane would know for sure and would never have allowed that to happen. It’s not just that I miss her, I actually need her help in countless ways. I never asked her to write down our favourite recipes… well no way was that ever on my mind of course. But that leaves me today with a great big hole in any future menu. There’s no chance that any Delia or Nigella recipe could ever match up to Jane’s skills in the kitchen. She’s left a few scribbled notes with her kitchen books but I’m not ready to look at her handwriting just yet. Basically, Jane’s gone and so has her food. We used to get excited by food… now I’m seriously bored with the half dozen meals I cook.

Everything’s different from now on. Apart from one special ingredient in my life. The Lord… when I’m down he picks me up; when I’m lost he shows me a way forward; when I lose hope he restores with the concrete assurance of faith; when I feel sad he shares in my sadness; when my future looks bleak he paints a beautiful picture; when I’m lonely he draws close; when I doubt he reassures; when I mess up he cleans me up; when love grows cold he warms my heart; in my weakness he is strong; whilst I forget him he always remembers me; whatever my need he provides and without him my life has no meaning whatsoever.

Time for a short Bible study… one of the names of God is El Shaddai. Many English translations render this as Almighty God reflecting an understanding that Shaddai had it’s root in the verb ‘to overpower’ or ‘destroy’. And certainly the omnipotence of God is beyond question. The title El is clearly recognised as meaning strength, might or power, and also being sovereign in nature. But often scripture has a deeper understanding to explore. So looking at Shaddai in another way suggests that Shad relates to the Hebrew for breast, indicating sufficiency or nourishment. And Dai… reinforces the suggestion of enough. Hence El Shaddai…  The All Sufficient God.

Genesis 17:1 ‘I am the Almighty God; walk and live habitually before Me and be perfect (blameless, wholehearted, complete).’ (AMP)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

10th January

Jane's mum (in purple) from here
I felt really sorry for Jane’s mum this morning. She’s 97 and struggling with losing Jane. The plan is for me to transport her, once a week, to a nearby old folks group that she’s been attending for many years. So at 9.45 I called at her flat and she was no-way ready, having not tuned in to me calling at all. She’d had no breakfast, her hair was untidy and her rooms were ready for a good sort out, though she’s easily able to push a vacuum around I know. Yes, despite her age that is just not like her. When living with us you could use her as a 7am alarm she was so regular at getting started with the day, and at least with the parts you could see, and she could reach, her room was always tidy. Today she’d just given up completely and really didn’t want to live anymore. I sympathise, as for brief moments of morbidity I’ve felt exactly the same. Not so bad maybe today, but at other times yes, I’ve felt very low. It’s not really the lack of care that’s pulled Jane’s mum down as she’s visited regularly and gets out almost every afternoon. But though she’s beginning to build a whole raft of new relationships that are all very friendly, she’s always been very dependent upon Jane for emotional support. And that’s all gone now. She’s lost. And I know exactly how she feels. Sometimes I just need a shoulder to cry on and I have no one. It doesn’t really work the same way with your kids, sensitive and caring as they are. Really what’s missing is the person who can gently tell you to pull your socks up and show you how to get on with living again… it may be the end of Jane’s world but it needn’t be the end of yours.

Building a new life, in a new home, with new people, at age 97 has to be seriously tough. But I’m not 97 and won’t be for decades yet. Yes, I really might expect as long a life ahead of me as the life I lived with Jane, and that’s time aplenty to start again. I’d love to recover health sufficient to restart work; that’d be good. Even voluntary would do as I have no particular need for an increased income at the moment. At the right time, with a stabilised improvement to Chronic Fatigue I can easily imagine doing that. Maybe drive a community bus or help out at a National Trust site; whatever is available. And there are always opportunities to serve church as well. But I’m really thinking of something more life changing and not just occupying myself usefully. Practically speaking I still have quite a few years before my official retirement age. Yuck! Who wants to grow old? Not me, I can’t stop the years ‘on the outside’ but the inner me is determined to remain in my forties. That’s a good age to live I reckon. I played a little squash and lots of badminton at that age so there’s an interesting challenge waiting ahead.

I do dream. Daydreams I mean. So what about that unfilled ambition to get a degree? I’m a grammar school lad and really should have done all that years ago, but my youth was all messed up and I dropped out of education prematurely. That was a big mistake as my ‘career’ was always dysfunctional. And I can’t forget that Jane and I began to consider relocating to the south coast. There’s little to stop me working on that one somewhere down the line, but at the moment I’m hesitant, even ignoring family ties. I’m not sure why and perhaps if I just threw myself into a new environment it would be really good for me. But the absolute biggest change has to do with my being widowed. Do I embrace remaining alone? No choice in the short term of course, but that doesn’t deal with the conflict in my heart. Nobody can replace Jane. We’re all different and if I met someone who reminded me of her I guess I ought to run a mile, as that would not work at all. At the moment the conflict fluctuates between the need for relational intimacy and the almost unwelcome attraction of total independence. Doing my own thing without accommodating anyone else. That still feels really weird and I’m not sure how much I like it. I’m learning just to please myself but I’m much better at sharing...

Proverbs 13:19 ‘It is pleasant to see dreams come true’ (NLT)

Monday, January 09, 2012

9th January

Well this time last week I was stood with the breakdown man trying to mend my broken car, and today was a very comparable experience, though this time it was not my car that suddenly stopped working. It was me… oh dear. Anyway, my story; today started off quite nicely, and as I lay in bed just beginning to wake up I felt quite good. Almost lively, ‘almost’ is still moderated with the ever present Chronic Fatigue. So I then begin to consider my plans for the day and a couple of options spring to mind, I ought to go swimming, yes, good idea. But what about doing some bathroom decorating which has been on the go for months now? Can’t decide… ok I’ll do decorating this morning and swim after lunch, that’s a plan. Breakfast first, and then a cup of coffee to wake me up. Don’t forget the cat litter, a quick vacuum and tidy up the kitchen. 5 minutes then watching News 24 and I’ll be ready to start. Oh no! I can’t move, and it’s not physical, it’s emotional. An unexpected and quite instantaneous dive into the depths of grief. I really can’t be doing with this it messes up all my nice plans for a productive day. But I’m no longer in control and just have to concentrate on sorting myself out. The battle really is in my mind and it’s in turmoil, fighting through the upset of grief and striving to avoid sinking into depression. But what can I do? I’m alone now with no Jane to ‘jolly’ me along and there’s no one else who I can turn to at times like this. I have to work it through myself.

Over the years I’ve personally spent time with the bereaved, and I’ve proof read all of Jane’s student work based in a clinical environment as an Art Therapist, which included a placement in a Hospice and elsewhere with a child facing imminent bereavement.  I’ve learnt some stuff for sure, but it’s not enough. Head knowledge gives me assurance that I’m ‘normal’, and that my difficulties can be temporary as long as I keep moving forward. It’s just that processing my thoughts without the help of my therapist wife is rather haphazard. And today was a real struggle. So what to do? I sat for a long while and then I walked. That always helps. Remaining determined not to give in to complete non-productivity, I made the ‘excuse’ of needing to buy new decorating scissors and went shopping. Returning home it was then lunchtime and that gave me another hour to sit and sort my head out. It worked, as I was able to get the paste table out and I’ve made a start with a couple of lengths of wallpaper. Perseverance paid off, though swimming was a ‘wash out’!

But then the penny dropped and I realised what my problem was. For years and years Jane and I shared absolutely everything (apart from drain rods and cooking...), specifically decorating is the issue right now. We had a system. I’d manhandle the strips of wallpaper into position after she’d pasted them. And whilst I measured the next one she’d be patting down all the bits I’d missed. When the kids were very young we’d be decorating until the early hours of the morning just enjoying one another’s company. I loved working with Jane. And now I can’t. It’s too hard to even think about the fact that I’m changing everything without her encouragement and support.

Her hanging hearts are going nowhere just yet though…

Psalm 34:18 ‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.’ (NLT)