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Bring me back to life – Part 1

My regular readers must be wondering why I have taken so long to write again. The answer is unbearably painful in its simplicity and permanence: I lost both my parents over four months ago. My mum died on Christmas Day and my father less than 48 hours after. My father was eighty-seven and had various illnesses but was doing OK. He deteriorated rapidly on the last two weeks before his death. I am so grateful his frailest state was short-lived and that he only had to spend one week in a nursing home. I am even more grateful that he did not endure those achingly lonely moments without my mother for very long. In the foggy midst of his Alzheimer’s, we were blessed with endearing moments of lucidity, like the time when three of my four siblings had moved him to the nursing home and the next day, looking out of the window in his forebodingly spare and lifeless room, he said to my husband and I: ‘This is not such a bad place to live, is it?’. Even in his most vulnerable moment, he was father first and foremost, ensuring our pain was lessened by his make-believe reassurance. It was a sobering and humbling moment; one I will never forget. My father led by example until his last breath. He was far from perfect, but he never demanded or expected anything from us he had not practised himself first. He has set the bar really high for us, in life and in death. His unwavering sense of duty, responsibility, and leadership to his family lives now within me and I hope I can be to my kids half the inspirational figure he has been to me.

Entrenched on my memory like a knife to the heart is also that agonising moment when my siblings took him to the nursing home whilst I remained at home with my mum in readiness for her life-threatening surgery the next day to remove a malignant tumour in her liver. My siblings were so incredibly overwhelmed by the unbearable task at hand that in their haste to make my father’s transition from his home to the nursing home, they neglected to allow my mum to say goodbye to my dad. My heart teared further apart when I looked in my mother’s eyes and saw the unforgiving sadness as she realised that she might never see her lifetime companion of over 65 years again. As it turned out, the surgery was in vain; the tumour was inoperable and two days after surgery she developed a perforated intestine which killed her. She was 80 years old. My mum was fit and healthy until three months before her death when she began experiencing excruciating pain on her right-hand side, below her rib cage. Initially, after countless tests, the doctors told her that she had an infection in her gall bladder, but it gradually emerged that that was only the beginning of the end. Three days before her death, we all had hope that she would recover, and she would live on to tell the tale. Three days before her death, her and I laughed together, joked together, hoped together.

It all happened so fast, and it did not help matters that those three of my four siblings turned against me towards the very end like hyenas hunting as a merciless pack. They deeply resented me for living abroad and in their words ‘having abandoned my family’, which was all the more devastating to hear bearing in mind my husband and I took my parents with us on holidays all over the world around 17 times, which none of those three siblings ever did, not even once. Asides that, I am aware that it is primarily during those times when my family and I visited my hometown in Spain that the whole family gathered together for lunch or an outing. As far as I am aware, my parents never got taken  out by those three siblings all that much outside of those times when we were visiting. I will never recover from witnessing and suffering first-hand the monster within that can surface in people when they are undergoing immense pressure or pain. I became the punch bag for all three, specially one of them and the verbal and written punches did not stop coming until I was breathless, almost lifeless on the floor. The pain of losing the love, trust, and belief in my integrity of my three siblings was far greater at the time than the pain of losing both my parents unexpectedly in the space of 48 hours. That gives an idea of the intensity and shock, the hatred I was exposed to by those who should have been the most supportive at such a time, in such tragic circumstances. Even today, almost five months later, I cannot comprehend how love can turn into such hate in such a short space of time. The only explanation my mind entertains is that it was never love to begin with, and that realisation pierces me all the more, even today, probably forever.

I spent 9 days with both my parents prior to my mum’s surgery. I would be with them from 8:30 am til 11:00 pm. I would then go to a nearby hotel to get some rest and fuel up the tank to be at my best for the next day. No point in staying each night with them, I figured, and be exhausted from the beginning of the day ending up having them look after me. It made absolute sense to me and yet that is one of the issues my siblings took up with me, even though every time they had stayed the night, they whined about how that position was unsustainable and how we needed to get extra paid help to look after my parents during the nights. What was not sustainable or acceptable for them to keep doing, soon became their choice of punishment for me for my intermittent absence of 32 years. They looked for any excuse to criticise me, bully me and badmouth me to my mother who was already dying. The viciousness of their insults grew all the more aggressive and unforgivable the day I finally left to go back to the UK. To this day, I am still devastated that three of my siblings with whom I have always had a great relationship; whom I loved unconditionally could throw me to the gallows at the first hurdle, no trial, no innocent til proven guilty; just pure hatred and pain projected onto me as if I was the cause of my parents’ illness and tragic end.

Living in a different country to that I grew up in til the age of twenty, has always been incredibly challenging for me, because I have no family here in the UK other than my husband and kids. I come from a large family in Spain, and so the last 33 years I have missed so many incredibly happy times back home, some sad, not many. The truth is, however, I have a full life in the UK; a life that makes me happy; I have a family, a business, a home. I know my parents wanted me to be happy, fulfilled, and at peace. I know they never resented me for not being there. If anything, I am convinced they have always been so incredibly proud that I was courageous enough to travel at a youthful age and brave enough to give up everything and everyone I knew to move to another country for love. Throughout those 33 years, I have tried to see them as much as I could; I have tried to keep the balance right between raising a family to the best of my ability thousands of miles away; nurturing a marriage which has been very challenging at times and helping make a business successful, but also keeping in touch with all my family back in Spain. It is a very delicate balance but, in my heart, I know with certainty and confidence that my parents would have wished for me to put my own family first, specially since I had four other siblings who lived so close to them. It is a much more complex issue than what I recount here but for the sake of brevity, I will leave it at that. I could write a book on this sorrow episode of my life and who knows, when the time is right, maybe I will.

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Life is a messy affair!

Photo courtesy of my son

It always throws me out of kilter how we live life with such breathless intensity, with such a sense of self-importance. We strain and strive to seek purpose and we convince ourselves that we are the movers and the shakers, that the entire world will cease to be, should we stop to actually take a deep breath and savour the act of simply being alive. And yet, at a moment’s notice all that relevance, meaning and feeling that we are right where we are meant to be, comes crumbling down, is pulverised when we learn about the passing of another or their terminally ill diagnosis.

I had such news about an old friend this morning, and quite frankly, I am shocked to the core. I mean, I am a fairly positive, driven person who is industrious and eager to make life better for those around me, those dependant on me, and at various stages of my life also for strangers in need. My life makes complete sense. I am on a journey, and I am increasingly aware that to every beginning there is an inherently tragic end, but nothing prepares you for the sense of weightlessness, irrelevance even, that the news of someone’s sudden, unexpected death inundates us with.

Humans are desperately born into an existential dilemma; and unsolvable equation: in order for our lives to be maximised, to garner the utmost sense and purpose, common sense forces us to become selfish, self-absorbed, limited in our sight. We choose a lane in our journey, and we stick with it, because we know a race is only truly won if we focus primarily on what is around us, if we persevere to the end. And yet, living that way equates to applying a tight blindfold on ourselves. We enter a period of denial about our rightful place in the universe, about our irrelevance when confronted with the bigger picture. Is it safe or even ethical to live any other way, though? Can we truly live if we are permanently aware and reminded of our own finiteness? Wouldn’t that be the same nonsensical behaviour as barricading our own exceedingly small window of opportunity to live in the moment, to savour every breath, every experience enjoyed or hoped for? When I heard the news of our friend who has had a severe brain bleed and whose prognosis, if he comes round, is to live the rest of his life in a vegetative state, my sense of self just went up in smoke. What is this absurd game called life that we put every fibre of our being into taking part in and winning, if that elusive higher power can just arbitrarily and abruptly throw us out of the game? What is the point of even playing if our odds overwhelmingly point to losing before we get to the end that we strived and hoped for? Numb in my kitchen in my family’s presence, time stopped, and I felt as if I were standing in front of a mirror, but I could see nothing. No before, no now, no tomorrow. Nothing, just a fleeting shadow embodying a gradually intangible lifetime. What is the point of it all if after all the striving, the worry, the suffering, the fear, we can just seamlessly go from being the masters of our universe to the dust in someone else’s journey?

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The Rust in ProcRASTinate

I cannot believe it has been six months since I last wrote on my blog. It is funny, a couple of weeks ago I found myself having an etymological discussion with my four siblings about the origins and meaning of the word ‘procrastinate’. If only I had explained to them my absolute inability to summon my elusive writing muses to my desk, they would have understood the procrastinate notion perfectly well. No, we are not a family of nerds who choose lexical dilemmas as our favourite ‘catch up’ subject. We simply like to keep our WhatsApp group-chat fresh, jovial, and didactic. Otherwise, we all end up yoked by the all-consuming worry of a father battling and losing to Alzheimer’s and a mother whose precious last years are being devoured by the sense of sacred loyalty vowed to a man whom she no longer recognises and inevitably resents.

I suppose writing is like running. The more you challenge yourself, the better you get at it. Ironically too, the better you get at it, the bigger the pressure you feel to regularly oil the engines so as not to lose momentum, productivity, and quality of work. Sometimes that pressure to keep up with your own self can be so asphyxiating; it can create such a sense of dread of failure, that it is easier to just stop so as to avoid any disappointment.

Who am I trying to kid, right? We all know the real reason any writer worth his/her salt puts off writing, is because we are painfully aware that with every word, every admission, every nuance, another secret door opens onto our complex and wretched soul, and who voluntarily stands naked in public up close and personal for all to stare, scrutinise, judge or worse still, be indifferent to? You would have to be mad, wouldn’t you? Specially in this day and age where humanity takes much more pleasure in destroying, savaging, and breaking apart rather than building up, encouraging, and edifying others.

Writing when done properly, authentically, unreservedly is indeed a tremendous act of courage. And who willingly chooses to tread where the brave dare not go?

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When our hearts become impenetrable

The last few weeks have been nothing short of a psychological study for me on twitter. I did not set out to do one, but psychology found me, swept me up in this whirlwind of human need, and I simply could not just watch it all happen and ignore it.

Throughout this whole process, I have screamed, I have ached and cried inconsolably. I have laughed, felt overjoyed, been loved and rejected all at once within the same day. I have despaired and felt waves of stormy anger and frustration engulf me whole. I have been reminded by well-intended friends that social media is a tricky and ferocious animal to handle; that none of it is real and nothing is what it seems, and yet, this advice came at the hands of those who breathe in social media the moment they wake up and do not stop to exhale its poisonous, dubious air until their head hits that pillow. Any advice is rendered ineffective if those giving it conduct themselves in a way that disproves their own wisdom. Of course Social Media is real; a parallel reality it may be, but a reality nevertheless. Its deceitful, pantomime-like and bordering on sinister dark corners, often remind me of a Venetian Carnival where people hide behind the most alluring and exquisite of masks to reinvent themselves and step beyond the boundaries of what they would never contemplate doing or saying in real life. The mask however does not alter the person behind it, not really. It may appear so for a while, but eventually one can truly see the gaze behind the glamour and the glitter; the cracks seeping out past traumas, deep hurts and weakening fears that though deeply hidden, betray our newly found identity & automatically exclude us from the romanticism and Utopian mirage of the Masquerade Ball.

There is much that remains a mystery to me about human behaviour, but I have been able to draw some conclusions from my interaction with a number of people on twitter. Most of all, I have been able to find truth as we often do, by simply stepping away and like a fly on a wall, watch it all unfold; letting individuals show their true character and betray their own perceived integrity when they thought no one was really paying any attention.

I have learnt that at an age when we have all the gadgets and the gizmos, when we can be on the other side of the world on the same day and social media dominates and dictates the lives of so very many, never has our need to feel included and loved been greater. There is an impossibly achy loneliness abounding in the secret chambers of the virtual world. Society, even pre-Covid, has been bleeding out and failing to live up to its definition, because the social element has been abducted from right under our feet and a poor substitute has made islands of each and everyone of us trying to find ourselves and each other. The most alarming element of this phenomenon is the fact that most of us have loving families around us and a network of friends or support of one kind or another and yet, we are the lost faces in a multitudinous crowd crying out for acknowledgement, begging to be heard and understood. There is a desperate need to matter at a time when circumstances have made us finally acknowledge that in the scale of things, between the now and the beyond, we truly matter very, very little, and so we gasp desperately trying to hold on to some sort of significance. The more we realise we are but a grain of sand on the beach, the more egotistical and self-centered we become; the more we veer towards mob mentality instead of accepting each person on their own merit and essence. And of course, the power of social media is boundless and so trends that dominate on the virtual world, irremediably feed into our daily lives, our homes, and ultimately our surroundings. Before we know it, we are turning our society into the most inhospitable place there ever was; an Eden made into a hell, and it is all of our own making.

I have also learnt that at a time when we have more resources than ever; when we are potentially more powerful than ever; we are the weakest beings we have ever been. We lack backbone and deeply rooted convictions. We would rather be a Judas than a Peter; we need to be all things to all people in order to find worth, instead of remembering that it is our uniqueness and not our tribal ancestry that defines us and sets us aside to pursue our own purpose; to make that small difference that no one else can make. We have become cowards that hide behind the group instead of standing on our own two feet when we see injustice, lies and witch-hunts. Our morality and creed blow whichever way the wind takes them. We are chameleons that change colour depending on who is watching. We take a side in an argument with our words but then our actions discredit the very point we have just made. We are in essence regressing to a herd mentality where the blind is leading the blind; where leadership stems from popularity as opposed to integrity tested in the furnace of adversity and going it alone.

I have learnt, and this is the one that has broken me the most, that there are individuals who are indeed beyond rescue. I had two uncles who committed suicide, but I have always believed that what led them to such an unthinkable tragic end was probably a lack of a supportive network or adverse circumstances. Well, I have encountered on twitter individuals who by their own admission are rotten apples, messed up and broken; they hurt others because they simply do not know how to be any other way; they carry deep scars from the past and open wounds that are beyond healing. They look up to people who are no longer around, and they live their lives through their eyes instead of their own. I have learnt that no matter how much light you see still shining within that person; no matter how clear you see the path that they need to follow, nothing will change until they make a decision themselves to break loose from their ghosts and their demons. I have learnt that being rejected by such individuals is not a reflection of my inability to be loved or accepted by them but rather their dismal failure to love, accept and forgive themselves.

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The oasis needs rain too

So tired of being the oasis to all people. They take, they take, they take, so relentlessly consumed with their own wanting.  They suck the life out of me one day at a time. Selfish and unaware that the oasis slowly fades and dies too, if the rain does not come to replenish its springs, its foliage, its magic shadows. I am the mirage in the distance that is so appealing. You quench your thirst for a time; the time when you gasped for refreshment, the time when you grieved, the time when you felt unloved and unappreciated; the time when you despised yourself and needed me to remind you of your exquisite reflection.

And yet, no one cares for the oasis, because no one can truly discern or comprehend such beauty, such miraculous splendour in the midst of a barren desert. They find such unfathomable magnetic force intimidating, imposing, sobering but impossibly attractive. They use it and abuse it, because they find its bewitching secrets laborious, and so it is just easier to only scratch its surface, drink the water and gorge over its beauty than it is to dwell deeper and question where the oasis’ radiance emanates from; to figure out what such a unique, valuable presence needs itself in order to retain the freshness and vibrancy that sustains everything within it and around it.

It is human nature to desire the most unattainable of things and yet never strive to do anything in our power to preserve such unique, splendorous life source. And yet, I am tired of justifying human nature, for I am human too but take no one for granted, no one. My calling is to lift others out of their struggle; to enthuse them with life when it is ebbing away from them. Are the givers condemned to blaze like meteors and then be buried in the depths of oblivion? What is the point of their awe-inspiring ephemeral presence if they are instantly forgotten or replaced with the next best attraction?

I am tired of being the butterfly whose dazzling colours men gasp over and wish to penetrate. Why didn’t they care to be around me whilst I was wrestling in my cocoon? Why couldn’t they come alongside me in the midst of the struggle that got me to my quivering flight today? Well, I tell you what makes this butterfly so exquisite and bewitching. Her colours, despite your self-inflicted blindness, are not vanity or the guise she chooses to allure you into admiring her. Her colours are hard won in the battle of humility and self-sacrifice. A silent battle within that only she knows about; a raging fire of unthinkable disappointment followed by self-assertion and endless self-love. The intensity, the depth of her unique colours stem from the furnace endured in her cage.

And now, she is finally free, and she shines; she glows for all to see.

The oasis needs rain too but no one cares to give it. Life is so much more effortless in the sunshine of satisfying our own needs and wants.