The last leg of our journey together…

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Sophie-cat and I are on a particular journey together at this time. She doesn’t know it, but these are her last days, possibly weeks and most definitely (unless something miraculous happens) these are her last months. We found out this Monday that Sophie has a large mass growing in her abdomen (which is probably cancerous), early onset kidney disease and hyperthyroidism. As she’s between 16 and 18 years old (and most cat lives until they are 21) we’ve decided not to go down the route of surgery and chemotherapy – as we don’t feel she should be put through this. With her Hyperthyroidism, her heart has been weakened – and even though daily medication has brought down her heart-rate, I still feel surgery with the anesthetic needed would be too risky. So, in consultation with our Vet, she is now on a course of steroid tablets to reduce the swelling, help her feel more comfortable and have a quality of life until the time when we see that she is struggling again – and then we’ll probably have to let her go.

I am frustrated by the shocking prices which have prevented me from even being able to know exactly what my precious cat is suffering from (an ultra-sound and x-rays would cost over £450!) as we cannot afford this, or follow up tests. Just blood tests, an anti-sickness jab and the consultant fee came to £158. Yet all her symptoms (vomiting food, then not eating at all, eating copious grass, the blood test results and distancing herself from us) are pointing in the direction of her being very ill.

So, now that she’s feeling a little better (it will be a temporary improvement due to the steroid tablets – which won’t improve her life expectancy, but help reduce inflammation) and the initial shock of the diagnosis (as much as they are able to tell us) I have found myself in a place of coming to terms with this short period of time being the end of my cat’s life. Every day there are new discoveries, and thoughts – so being a writer, I thought I’d blog about it. Perhaps these posts might help you or someone you know who is going through something similar? Maybe they are just a way of expressing my thoughts and feelings….

It’s coming up to three years since my Mum passed into the next world – on the 11th December. I’ve thought about death, the next world, life, grief, loss, detachment, acceptance, the interconnection between this world and the next and other related thoughts a lot since then. When Mum was growing weaker (She had breast cancer which spread into her arm, then her bones and her liver) I never once thought ‘My Mum is dying’. Even the final 10 days of her life, which were spent in her bedroom – this thought of ‘dying’ didn’t enter my mind. I was so focused on Mum’s soul moving from this world to the spiritual worlds of God, that I saw it as a birth – rather than a death.

Yes I cried a lot when I wasn’t caring for her, yes it was painful and shocking to think of her not being with us physically anymore, but my mind was living day by day. Dad and I – and near the end, Leila too – spent our time thinking of her needs hour by hour. I also felt excited for her, hopeful for a release from her ill body. I remember feeling full-up (from head to toe) with love for my Mum – almost obsessed with this love I felt. She was my entire responsibility and charge. I felt Dad and I were her spiritual mid-wives, ushering her gently into the next world. Later, I felt wave after wave of loss flow through me, something I have only recently felt has grown calmer.

Now, with my little cat, it’s a very different experience – yet the process of letting go is similar but also very different. I guess I want to figure this out through writing about it. I want to explore what it means to be faced with the death of a loved one – how people process this, accept it or deny it.Yes it’s very different to lose a human family member than a pet family member – and not everyone will understand how I could even equate one with the other. I also don’t (well try not to) anthropomorphize the actions of my cat as I know she doesn’t think, feel or have the consciousness of a human being. But she does have instinctual actions, she does have animal feelings and there are always reasons why she does things. So I’m learning how to see life from her perspective (for example living in the moment, rather than feeling sorry for what she’s experienced in the past) as well as accepting my own human feelings about my attachment to her.

So let’s see how this journey goes. I don’t know how much time we have left with her, but it’s going to be full of love and care. Writing about it will help me, so thank you for reading my scrabblings…

 

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A Child-full Couple

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Ramin and I are now categorised as ‘A childless couple’. We have tried to get pregnant naturally for many years and finally went through a gruelling round of In-vitro-fertilisation (IVF) last Autumn and yet, for reasons still largely unknown, we conceived 3 embryos, yet did not stay pregnant. One round was enough for me. I asked God the question and received my answer. Previous to trying IVF we actually went through a year long process of applying to become Adoptive parents, yet sadly this route was closed to us. We could fight it. We could try somewhere else, but at the moment – this path is exhausted (and exhausting). We’ve now accepted that – unless a miracle happens – we will not be parents, and are moving on.

It’s tough for us both.

Coming to terms with this has been a longer process for Ramin than myself. Perhaps because my IVF experience was so physical. It’s another test related to MS that we both have to cope with, and it does often feel like the hardest part. It’s all the ‘what ifs…’ which play sad tunes on our heart strings.

Yet when I coo at and hold a baby in my arms, I instantly feel happy for the parents and joyful to be in the presence of a tiny soul. I don’t feel resentful or sad at not having kids myself. Here is another little person I can love, and it’s beautiful. Its the same when a friend announces she is pregnant! Wahoo! Another one of life’s miracles!

Today, I want to challenge that phrase ‘A childless couple’ as I think it’s misleading, comes from a materialistic view of life and annoys me because it assumes Ramin and I are missing out.

We live in a time when the quest for possessions, status and fame is well and truly up there with the quest for enlightenment. This influences the way we talk about and describe life’s achievements or failures. We all know that money and objects and fame does not make anyone happy in the long-term. In this society we are insidiously groomed to spend our whole lives aiming for spiritually empty-calorie goals and think less and less about feeding our soul spiritual food that would enrich us beyond measure. So a couple who do not have children are described as ‘A Childless Couple’ in the same way that a single woman is called ‘A Spinster’. Many people have ‘successful careers’ yet cannot stay faithful to their wives or husbands. So many famous movie stars, musicians and artists have died young through alcohol abuse or drug-overdoses (Oh River Phoenix!), yet we still envy their successes and wish we were more like them. The state of our soul is not as important as the estate we leave behind and then we enter the next world in a state of complete spiritual poverty. Yeah, that’s successful.

One of my favourite quotes from the Baha’i writings is this;

The soul of man is the sun by which his body is illumined,                                                          and from which it draweth it’s sustenance. (Baha’u’lláh)

So, in the light of this teaching, I choose to re-examine our societies’ established assumptions and judgements. A change in our perspective from materialistic to spiritually focused is not just a philosophical exercise, it’s a foundation for happiness.

‘A Childless Couple’ as a phrase annoys me, because of the word ‘less’. We don’t go around saying ‘An Abuse-less Couple’ for married couples who are loving to each other or ‘A Meat-less Couple’ for a married people who are Vegetarians do we? Also the phrase is just plain wrong and misleading!

Ramin and I both have sisters who have children, 3 on one side and 4 on the other. We love these kids. We talk about them all the time. I see elements of myself in the Welsh ones and elements of Ramin in the German ones. Spending time with them is joyful, rewarding and sometimes a bit too noisy (due to our own home being quieter), but I look forward to having their company and I feel I am in exactly the right place at the right time when we are with them.

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Our dear friends Vicky and Tom have two girls, who call us Aunty Fleur and Uncle Ramin. We love them and will always be there for them. I was living with V & T just before their first daughter was born and I have many wonderful memories of carrying her, going for walks with her in a sling and playing with her as a little one. Their second daughter is a joy and together the girls are so exuberantly loving!

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I have many friends with children, some live nearby, some live an hour away, some many hours away. When I see them, I enjoy the children’s company as much as their parents – and I always wonder at the different personalities, physical attributes, enthusiasms for this and that subject in life. I work on how I can be there for them as a trustworthy, spiritually minded adult. Or sometimes I just read stories before bed or sing silly songs to make them giggle.

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I have my own Aunties and Uncles who gave me time and attention, who loved me as a child and who I feel very close to today. One couple in particular, Des and Cynthia, who currently live in China, do not have their own children  – yet this never bothered me as a child. Des is an artist and I remember him painting with me as a child, chatting about life and having long deep conversations with my parents. My impression of him is that he is a laid-back Cowboy who has hung up his boots (even though his family are Irish/English) and I always found him fascinating to be around. When Des and Cynthia come to the UK, they often stay with us for a few days and the connection is just as strong.

The African proverb,  “It takes a village to raise a child” is as relevant now as it was generations ago. In fact I would say even more so in a time when so many loud voices clamour for our attention such as the Media, the passion for Celebrity, the ever-increasing competitive nature of work, play, status and the incredible ability we have to access knowledge. Children need positive examples in their lives, people who can guide them to have spiritual values and overcome tests through inner strength. Aunts and Uncles can be of great support to parents in this capacity. So I see it, as a Aunt that its my responsibility to help every child I come into contact with to shine their light, not only for their own happiness but also for the sake of the whole world. If we don’t help fan the bright flames into life, then we are assured (and can see the evidence in the news) the same capacity for bringing light will be diverted into a capacity for reflecting the lack of light, the darkness.

“Every child is potentially the light of the world,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would argue, “and at the same time its darkness.”

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“Training in morals and good conduct is far more important than book learning,” he said. “The child who conducts himself well, even though he be ignorant, is of benefit to others, while an ill-natured, ill-behaved child is corrupted and harmful to others, even though he be learned.” Of course, he commented, instilling both moral education and book learning in children would be preferable.

“Give them the advantage of every useful kind of knowledge,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote on the subject of child rearing. “Let them share in every new and rare and wondrous craft and art.” Yet he wasn’t suggesting a life of indulgence. “Bring them up to work and strive,” he added, “accustom them to hardship. Teach them to dedicate their lives to matters of great import, and inspire them to undertake studies that will benefit mankind.”

(From 239 Days in America. Click here to read more)

Not being able to have children has perhaps given me a deeper understanding of parental love in that reaching out beyond the immediate family (of my marriage) has caused me to reflect on how every person, with children or not (married or single) has an important part to play in the health and happiness of the village – which in this time in the history of mankind is now the whole world, a global village.  When we broaden the circle of love to the children in the neighbourhood or the region, the country or the continent and finally the whole planet, there are children all around us! Its all a matter of perspective. And just imagine what would transform if we all thought globally, saw every child as our own, loved every child as a member of our family.

So yes, Ramin and I have no children, but we are not childless. It’s our choice about how much we engage with the children that determines how much love we feel and receive back. Of course friends and family who are parents have a more engaged and intimate and I am sure more rewarding as well as testing relationships with their children than we do as Aunty Fleur and Uncle Ramin. Yet our related and non-related nieces and nephews are a very precious part of our lives. And when I think back to all the children who have been part of my drama classes over the years in Scotland or in Sherman Cymru, or who sang in whole-school assemblies with me in Primary Schools in Northamptonshire, or who learned beat-boxing and step-dance with my brother and I in Mien Yang in China, or who learned to be confident and sing their hearts out at the Summer School last year in Romania, I have to ask myself, am I childless? No, I’m child-full.

We are a child-full couple.

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Oh… and we sleep really well every night 😉

Sparkles and Musical stirrings

After encouragement from my friends Vicky and Stephen, my Dad and my husband – I’m back on the ole writing horse and will be posting my thoughts, stories and ramblings here once again. I can’t believe its been an actual whole year since my last post! Time does go past waaaay too fast. Talking about ‘fast’ – it’s The Fast again, the most holy month in the Bahá’i calendar. I always see this time of year as a spiritual and physical re-boot. I find fasting tough but the dawn prayers beautiful and invigorating, I get cold and tired – but also stop and think, pondering where my life is at and what I want to change, develop, transform. I’ve been ill since Monday, so as I’m feeling more or less okay today – I am going to attempt fasting tomorrow and hopefully continue on then until the 20th. I’ll let you know how I get on. Part of me wonders why I’m sharing my thoughts about fasting yet again. Surely I should keep quiet and not tell people if I’ve fasted or not? They would then assume I am fasting rather than being fully aware of my up and down relationship with this Bahá’i law.

However, I think being real with people, especially when it comes to spiritual practices, is important and maybe my experiences will help someone connect to the Fast in a different way, or will at least show that struggling  and staying in the fight, rather than just giving up at the starting post is an important part of the journey.

So it’s now a year and nearly 3 months since my Mum passed into the next world. It’s still an incomprehensible occurrence to me. How can this vibrant, enthusiastic, ever-loving and ever-present woman be dead? Well, of course, she isn’t dead.  She hasn’t stopped, or disappeared or entered a nothingness. She’s very much alive and present, just in another form. I imagine she is like the image at the top of this post, full of vibrant energy and free to be, to go, to do, to embrace, to surround, to sparkle.

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I dream of Mum a lot; she’s always by my Dad’s side and she’s always well (no disabilities) and full of energy. It’s great! I often feel my dream world is more real to me than the conscious reality. It’s like I visit Mum (or she visits me) in my dreams, then I spend time with my Dad when I’m awake.  In fact a lot like that amazing TV programme, ‘Awake‘ with Jason Isaacs (I wish they’d make a second series!) which I found fascinating. Here’s a bit about it from Wikipedia:

“Michael (Jason Isaacs) lives in two separate realities after a car accident. In one reality (where he wears a red wristband), his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) survives the accident; in the other reality (where he wears a green wristband), his sonRex (Dylan Minnette) survives. Michael does not know which reality is “real” and uses the wristbands to differentiate the two….At work, Michael’s erratic behavior triggers clashes with his team; they do not know about Michael’s uncanny ability to solve crimes using details from both realities.”

That’s just the kind of idea I wish I had had, for my book! Such a cool idea.

Anyway… a few things happening in my life right now;

I managed to tidy my study so that it (finally!) works out as a study and a dining area. Only took, what….3 years? Both my violin and my guitar are unpacked and looking at me – hopefully they’ll inspire some music out of me.

Talking about music, I’m now part of a close-harmony singing group with my beautiful friends Kerry and Tessa – we are called ‘Songbirds’ and we’re happy with that name, thank you very much. It will make sense when you hear us. We rehearse more or less every two weeks and are practising for the Naw-Ruz party in Newport on the 22nd March.

Still talking about music, Ramin and I have joined the UK Bahá’i Choir and will take a trip up to Edinburgh, which is very exciting! We are now in the process of learning the songs, slow work for dear Ramin – but great (GREAT) brain-training for him, and excellent patience training for me. If there is anyone out there who would like to join the choir (from any or no faith) then click here and get started! They are still looking for many more members. It’s great fun and singing together is just the best feeling.

Oki-doki, more next time. Hope you are all well – and feel free to add your thoughts and responses to my ramblings. Have a lovely day!

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Being still

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So it’s a sunny day in March. It’s the time of the Baha’i Fast – which I am doing spiritually this year (beautiful dawn prayers) as I don’t feel I can cope with it, while learning to accept Mum’s passing. I see this as a time of reflection and I am hoping I can get my teeth stuck into one or more of my writing projects. But I also feel a sense of drifting as I recover from the events of the past months and re-map my life now that Mum doesn’t play a physical part in it anymore.

The hardest thing for me is not being able to sit and talk things through with her. We spoke almost every day and she helped me gather my thoughts, listened to my frustrations, goals, hope, worries and excitement and assisted me in making steps forward. I am learning to do this more with Dad now. Dad is a great listener, very kind and gentle in his steps forward, he makes me realize in his responses that I can be kind to myself – that this is ok and I need to trust my abilities and ways of understanding my life. Of course Ramin is there for me in every aspect also. His support has been like a continuous bear hug of love.

Talking with my Mum was such a fluid form of communication where I often felt she understood me better than I understood myself. She still does…she’s not connected to her body anymore, but she hasn’t gone from me, from my Dad, my sister, my brother and all the family and all her friends. She’s still with us, just in a way that is now purely spiritual.

This word ‘still’ is resonating with me at the moment. She’s still here. Her soul is with me, still, always. I sit in stillness and stare out at the trees, that are still there, that are still. So, I wrote a poem on this….

Still

So I wait for you, still

caught in a tangle at the fence

look for your face, the way you walk

your red scarf muffling your neck

blond trails dancing in the breeze.

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I wait for your bright smile

that complete sense of being seen and

loved by you

one of the select core

you always had time and attention for.

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A scrap of orange nail-varnish

still adorns the tip of my big toes

because you told me you liked it

you caught a glimpse while Dad helped you

from the bathroom to the bedroom.

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You liked my nails and my pink jumper

“I love that colour on you!’ you said,

and if I remove it, if I take the colour off

then I won’t see it anymore

I won’t have a tiny part of you

connected by a recent time and the memory

of your positive feedback on my choices

however small.

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Adrift, I’m floating aimlessly

I have to navigate using different strengths now

I do have goals and hopes, projects that interest me

But I don’t have you, in the same way

and everything has lost its edge

the meaning I could get lost in

as your encouragement was always there

and though still always here

I can’t yet see it, my map is blurry.

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So I wait for you,

sometimes blank and thoughtless

sometimes streaming tears that rise from my solar plexus

and travel through my blood through all veins and skin

often in remembrance of the daily love I always had

from before my birth to the night you died

and beyond, but in a different way

that is as yet, hidden from this waiting girl.

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Mum, Dad and Ramin in Cwmcarn Forest Drive

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Helen Keller – a strengthened soul

‘Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.’ Helen Keller

I just had to share this video with you. I’ve never seen or heard Helen Keller before and was so moved when a friend shared this short video on Facebook. ‘The Miracle Worker‘ is an incredible film that depicts Helen Keller’s struggle for existence and the emergence from darkness through the loving, determined effort of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. We watched it twice on our Spiritual Cinema programme with friends and all cried and laughed together, feeling stronger and inspired to make our contribution in the world. Here is a short clip from ‘The Miracle Worker’, the moment when Helen suddenly understands Anne is teaching her:

I thoroughly recommend watching the whole movie, acted incredibly, and so very moving.

Now to see this footage of Helen as an older lady, smiling, loving, loved and strong despite her lack of sight or hearing – can you imagine living in darkness and silence? Ramin and I feel so inspired by her example and blessed to have the abilities we have.

Helen’s sadness that she never managed to develop natural speech is understandable, yet she did so much good with her limited speech, more than most people do who can speak as clear as bells. I feel it is not what you are given in this life that really matters, it’s how you make use of your talents in this world that is the most important. I wonder how many of us have no disabilities yet see no  spiritual light or hear no uplifting music in our lives? Let’s change that for ourselves and for those around us!

To give you a brief feel of the work Helen did, here is a short excerpt from an online biography of her life:

“After college, Keller set out to learn more about the world and how she could help improve the lives of others. News of her story spread beyond Massachusetts and New England. She became a well-known celebrity and lecturer by sharing her experiences with audiences, and working on behalf of others living with disabilities. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Keller tackled social and political issues, including women’s suffrage, pacifism and birth control. She testified before Congress, strongly advocating to improve the welfare of blind people. In 1915, along with renowned city planner George Kessler, she co-founded Helen Keller International to combat the causes and consequences of blindness and malnutrition. In 1920, she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union.”

Helen once said,

“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.”

One more thing, Helen also read something about the Baha’i Faith – thought we’d share this with you too:

‘The philosophy of Bahá’u’lláh deserves the best thought we can give it. I am returning the book so that other blind people who have more leisure than myself may be “shown a ray of Divinity” and their hearts be “bathed in an inundation of eternal love.”

I take this opportunity to thank you for your kind thought of me, and for the inspiration which even the most cursory reading of Bahá’u’lláh’s life cannot fail to impart. What nobler theme than the “good of the world and the happiness of the nations” can occupy our lives? The message of universal peace will surely prevail. It is useless to combine or conspire against an idea which has in it potency to create a new earth and a new heaven and to quicken human beings with a holy passion of service. (In a personal letter written to an American Bahá’í after having read something from the Braille edition of “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era.”)’ Helen Keller (go here for the link, it’s on page 55)

 

helenkeller‘Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference
for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.’

Helen Keller 1880 – 1968