Archive for October, 2023


on October 14, 2023 in Garden No Comments »

Sulphur Heart Ivy aka Paddy’s Pride blossom on the laburnum

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.