Buy Long-life Milk

I am in the process of packing up Anna, Ben and my home (along with Sophie, Rufus and Muffy and our latest foster, Lloyd) to move to a more manageable place that we will doubtless come to love as much as every place that we have ever lived, regardless of the circumstances that led us to move.

During the sorting and packing, I have found many things including my knitting and sewing from grade 9 (maybe my Home Economics ability was an early ‘heads up’ that wife may not be my calling); my wedding speech (I can still remember my second one, so yes, the one spoken at the marriage to the father of my children); as well as much that represented the wonders and disappointments of my marriage(s).

And as I say goodbye to the parts I have grieved and take with me the parts I have loved (as well as the Le Creuset pots), it has made me think of my friends who have begun the journey of divorce. This post is for you.

  1. Don’t for one moment think that this will be your ‘new normal’ indefinitely. Having your dreams crushed or crushing those of someone you once loved , while trying, among other things, to parent, friend and earn, while being emotionally battered as well as consonantly forgetting to buy milk for that soothing cup of tea, IS NOT NORMAL, new or not. Contentment, a strong and healthy sense of your identity as an individual, showing vulnerability and having it lovingly and graciously received and reciprocated is normal. As is buying long-life milk in bulk.
  2. Time does not heal just because time passes. If it mattered, you will need to intentionally grieve what you lost, even if it was just the dream of your marriage. Go through the stages in your own way and in your own time. In the beginning,  dating felt like cheating, as in the infidelity kind. Forever becoming never is like a time-machine gone wrong. Bad drugs couldn’t even take you on that trip
  3. When you are ready to date again (there are countless variations of ready), try and keep a few things in mind:
  4. If the answer to “How did you contribute to the breakdown of your marriage?” involves, I don’t know; my ex is…. ; I tried so hard to love him/her but….; RUN (like Usain)
  5. Being dry humped (absolutely terrible phrase, I know) while kissing him goodbye at the door is not a good sign. I have foster dogs who are also lonely and desperate. Say goodbye and come to my house where the dog will add a lick in the face too if you’re into that. And I will make soothing tea with my long-life milk.
  6. If he/she wants to marry you within six weeks because you are perfect, do not be flattered. Wait until he/she has shown he/she loves the whole you, good and bad, and that you feel the same before even considering a commitment that involves life-long promises.
  7. Don’t waste time with people who don’t think you are beautiful. Beauty is the sum of all your parts. Anyone who dates you and implies your beauty is conditional, may be considered a beast (Or a narcissist, *insert swear word here).
  8. If your ex meets another woman/man (no matter when or how or where), and he/she spends time with your children, be gracious (medication may be necessary). You may believe you have control over what goes on in his/her house, but I assure you, you do not. Being bitter, blaming, self-righteous and pretending it is ‘in the childrens’ best interests’ fools nobody, least of all your children. This is a first hand account. I am not proud of it. Neither would you be, my precious friend.
  9. There are so many good people in the world. Open your heart to them once you have experienced their goodness (not just been told) and have made sure you can love their badness too.
  10. Most importantly, always remember that you are loveable no matter what. And allow yourself to be loved by those who love well, with generosity of spirit, openly and unconditionally. You are so worth it.

And don’t forget to buy long-life milk.

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Courage

Courage: when you are willing to do something difficult or dangerous.

A year and a half after my large intestine had been removed and a pouch reconstructed from a portion of my small intestine, I was leading a full life typical of a newly- married speech therapist whose professional- cricketer husband played all over England while I mostly stayed in London with many of my close friends living no more than a tube ride away. It was exhausting and exhilarating. Exiting and disappointing. Fulfilling and painful. It was a time of feeling invincible, at the beginning of a journey that had the promise of following a more predictable course than the journey thus far.

I went to work one morning, going straight into the clinic on the Kingswood Estate, a huge council estate about an hour by bus from my base in Camberwell which was also in South East London. I was the speech and language therapist on a team of health visitors and nursery nurses who were involved in a government initiative called the Neighbourhood Renewal Project. The aim of the project was to allow vulnerable communities who did not qualify as sufficiently disadvantaged to access existing government programs, to access speech and language services that provided shorter waiting times, more therapy and better access to healthcare professionals than the standard National Health Service (NHS) provision.

I phoned a mom to confirm that I would be seeing her son later that day and then phoned my husband to tell him that I was feeling unwell. Those two conversations would later guide my colleagues in their search for me.

While taking a short-cut through a grassy quadrangle, I was overcome by such intense abdominal pain that I could not stand. I started vomiting repeatedly and, although the day was cool, perspiration ran off me.
I became so overwhelmed by the pain that I could not move,  nor draw a deep enough breath to speak, much less shout for help. Because I had taken a short-cut and was still in the quadrangle, I could not be seen from the flats or the road and was lying in a low-traffic area. I became truly afraid that I would lie alone in a deserted area of a council estate in London for hours and hours unheard, unseen and unaided. The feeling of helplessness was terrifying. I could hear my phone ringing and cars driving past, but I could not move or speak.

I have read of superhuman strength in times of crisis and I experienced it that day. I decided that I had to get up and walk to the road. I must have looked as terrible as I felt because when I made it onto the road people stared, but did not stop. I managed to cross the road and go into a pharmacy where I collapsed again, vomiting and unable to speak. By shaking and nodding my head, the pharmacist could determine that I was neither drunk not high, but very ill and he called an ambulance. For years and years after being loaded into an ambulance that day and driven to Accident and Emergency with the sirens blaring, I felt a cold, scraping fear whenever I heard a siren.

The mother of the child I was due to be visiting phoned my office to check if I was okay when I failed to arrive for the scheduled and confirmed visit. My colleagues called my husband when my cell phone rang unanswered and he could tell them that I had felt unwell when we spoke that morning. They phoned all the hospitals in the south of London and when they could not locate me, they started searching by car and on foot. By the evening, after a frantic day of searching for their missing female co-worker and friend who had disappeared alone on a council estate, they arrived at a teaching hospital close to our base. It still makes me cry twelve years later when I retell the story of how two of my friends walked in and recognised my shoes. They said that they were almost too afraid to come and look at the bed behind the curtain because they were unsure of what they would find. It is painful to imagine how they felt. I was, of course, very much alive although unwell.

Part of my small intestine had fallen into my pelvic cavity and eleven centimetres had to be removed during emergency surgery because the tissue had died. The trauma of this unexpected surgery and the horror of being in an understaffed government hospital in one of the most deprived areas in London cannot be overstated.

But the courage I saw from my colleagues that day was inspiring. My friends, my family, my patients and their families and my colleagues were, and still are, examples of bravery. Danger and difficulty did not overwhelm them. Fear did not make them give up. Hardship did not make them lose hope.

I continue to be inspired.