Archive for the ‘Diary’ Category

Making a slow start to a Saturday morning, with stirrings of comforting emotions. Just listened to a tribute to the song “I will always love you” by Dolly Parton on Radio4. In the same way as millions of others, my wife Barbara and I would sing along to this, very loudly, in the car; my best memory of this is on a sunny day on the M40 on the way South to visit Beth in Brighton. I hope that this wonderful, small memory reflects, in its own small way, the truth, as I understand it, of a quotation from James Baldwin, on today’s Facebook for ‘Follies of God’, which appears on my page for some reason from time to time: “Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return.” —James Baldwin (THE FIRE NEXT TIME; Vintage Books & Anchor Books).
Inspiring indeed. Today I plan one big, extremely satisfying gardening job while the sun still shines – cutting back the rambling Montana clematis on the side of the house. That may not seem relevant to what has gone before but it is, to me. On a later blog I shall experiment with uploading a photo from somewhere – a tool that I discovered as part of WordPress just the other day, while exploring the Dashboard with my friend Barbara. Now for the old shoes, the steps, secateurs and brown bin…

I’ve read quite a few articles over the years and more recently biographical accounts of grief at the loss of a partner. One of the most outstanding will always remain in my memory – The Year of Magical Thinking by one of my all-time favourite writers, Joan Didion. It’s been almost 9 months now since my partner of 57 years – Barbara – died. She had been suffering for several years from increasing paralysis on account of pressure on her spinal cord from crumbling vertebrae caused by osteoporosis, itself in turn caused by many years on steroids, prescribed to combat the painful and damaging effects of rheumatoid arthritis. This distressing lack of control of limbs and internal organs became chronically worse in her final weeks and days so that after a short spell in Leighton Hospital her system succumbed to what was diagnosed as sepsis caused by an unidentified infection. She was comatose for 24 hours and I was with her when she took her final breath. We had been warned several years ago by a spinal surgeon of the eventual fatal outcome of pressure on her spinal chord but Barbara chose not to undergo 9 hours of high risk surgery to “fix” the vertebrae, especially after consultations with 2 anaesthetists who were unequivocally congruent in their advice to decline the offer of such an operation. Whether this was in fact the cause of death or sepsis as on the death certificate is immaterial to the experience of grief undergone by me and our son Edward and daughter Beth.
Since 15 January 2023 we have each dealt with our grief and the ensuing period of mourning in our own ways, which must be the case for everyone who experiences such a loss. I am beginning to feel now that I can embrace some new feelings of enjoyment in my own life after those recent 10 years or so of living with and caring for the woman I had loved, who so courageously bore such pain and distress. Memories covering the whole of our lives together since the Autumn of 1966 will never cease to come back daily, inevitably bringing good or upsetting feelings, at first just powerfully upsetting ones, then gradually in equal measure and very recently better ones. In this I have been helped by some old friends who knew us both. It is getting easier and more rewarding now to “keep on keeping on”, so that life doesn’t just reflect the rather negative, dull grey and unvarying tone of that expression.

Jill and Edward now have William, Léo and Toby and Beth and Jim have James Francis, born 7 July 2020. I have recently renewed my interest in an allotment in a small way, thanks to my friend Ian who invited me to share a patch on his large site.

Sadly Barbara died from sepsis on 15 January 2023 after many years of painful suffering. I had had a serious heart attack in April 2022 and seem to have recovered very well with 2 more stents, thanks to the wonderful skills of all involved, from the 999 call handler to the paramedics and Dr Karim Ratib at Royal Stoke Hospital. Thank you to the NHS too!

Three stents for me back in January 2018 and a hernia repair just this February 2020; Barbara has had a new knee in September last year and hospitalised for 8 days on 16 February this year after falling from her wheelchair down two deep steps outside a local restaurant, missing the left turn onto the ramp. She has small but extremely painful fractures to elbow and knee and worrisome pulmonary embolisms being treated now with long term anticoagulants. Virtually quadriplegic currently but standing and weight-bearing is coming on gradually.
In other news, we now have three grandsons in Stockport, being William, Leo and Tobias, via Jill and Edward; Beth and Jim are 20+ weeks pregnant with a boy after IVF at Homerton Hospital in the East End.
No allotment activity (I relinquished my quarter plot last Spring) since last Autumn where my allotment neighbour has picked out a mini plot on one of his for me to keep my hand in – how kind is that – had a few onions, courgettes and cabbages last time after enjoying the light labour involved.

Quick email I’ve just sent to a friend in Australia. Made me reflect for a moment on some of the better parts of life at the moment:

“Just receiving a few seeds and seed potatoes from the organicgardening catalogue – beetroot; cabbage x2; dwarf beans; onion sets and lettuce. 
The company are a bit ramshackle for ordering online but they get there in the end. You ring up to sort out an inaccurate e-mail  and it’s like interrupting an old dear in her potting shed with a scrap of paper and a stub of a pencil which she licks occasionally – very warm and comforting. They’ve just been taken over by a big seed company so we’ll see how that works out.
Going to a concert at the Victoria Hall tomorrow night, looks good:
Looking forward to getting through February and some warmer days; nevertheless, I got out in the garden the other sunny day and it was very pleasant to get some tidying up done, filling the “garden-waste” brown bin with leaves and dead foliage from last year’s plants. Even hung some laundry out on the line today but the wind was so strong I collected some of it later from the flower beds.
Six Nations Rugby starts this weekend.
Supper-time and bed beckons.