Friday, 10 December 2010

Poised between one life and the next

Here I sit, balanced between my old life and my new.  Next week sometime my beloved father in law will come to live with us.  I have spent the last few days sorting papers and cleaning in the room which was my study and which is to become his bedroom.  The room looks bare and empty now with only a bed and a chair and a bookcase in place, although it is a lovely room with a huge red rug on the quarry tiled floor and a deep windowsill. It looks out towards the bakehouse and across the valley.  In the morning the sun streams in.

I want it to look welcoming.  Ian will bring some of his many family pictures and maybe the photos of Orkney and the wallmounted map of the islands.  As a working class lad from the industrial North it must have been extraordinary for my father in law to find himself spending his war on little boats patrolling the islands.  He still has all their names on his tongue: Mainland,  North Ronaldsay, South Ronaldsay, Papa Westray, Papa Stronsay, Hoy.  He will tell you how he sent food parcels home and once went back on leave with half a lamb in his kitbag, well wrapped but still oozing slightly when he hoisted it onto his shoulder.  He must have been a rare soldier to be posting parcels of food to his family.  He will tell you how he kept trying to send home eggs, parcel after parcel arriving with the contents shattered in the tin, until he finally cracked it (or not!) with industrial quantities of sawdust.  He will tell you about a wedding between a soldier and an island girl where people wandered in and out of each other's houses and danced in the street.  I wish I could get some sort of narrative tale from him, a nice, neat, chronological story with a clear progression from arrival to departure, but that's not how it works.  The memories come vivid and disjointed, like images flashing randomly on a screen.  The stories are mostly the same so you nod and smile as the same tale comes round and then suddenly a little nugget of something new hops out to surprise you.  There is going to be a lot of wartime Orkney up here on our Welsh hill I expect.

And how do I feel about the new life just around the corner?   I feel two things at once.  I love my family more than I can say but I have as well always loved a bit of separateness, a bit of solitude.  After my first marriage ended and before I married again I often used to look at other people's marriages and feel, not envious as perhaps they might have thought I would, but faintly oppressed by their togetherness.  Not every time, obviously there were marriages which looked happy and supportive and as though they were fun to be in, but sometimes the sight of people endlessly consulting and compromising and doing things they clearly didn't want to do made me feel quite claustrophobic.  The one big advantage of being on my own was having a high degree of choice about what I did and how I did it. 

When I married again, while I loved my husband to bits (still do darling if you are reading this, or whether you are reading it or not!) I struggled with the endless need for discussion and agreement and with the bewildering finding that someone who was so clearly my life's partner thought so very differently from me about so much of the minutiae of life.  I adjusted.  We adjusted.  But my independence felt like a fundamental part of me.  I relished financial independence and for long periods of our married life I have spent time working away from home.  Sometimes that was lonely but often it was an easy way of having some time to myself, of turning off the sense of being attuned to the needs of others and simply being myself in the silence.  When I mused and mulled and stared into the darkness in the night before I decided to give up my job last year, it was losing that independence, both financial and the life which was mine and no one else's, that bothered me.  It was fine.  I am fine and happier than before.  All of the positives of time at home and time together and freedom to do what I want have so outweighed the potential losses that I fretted about that I have hardly thought of them.  But now I look at the word "freedom" in that sentence and know that the freedom of the last year is about to disappear.  How will that be?  Time will tell.

And alongside that there is the huge, much stronger sense that this is what families are for.  My father in law has spent years looking after other people in a deeply practical,reliable, unshowy way:  family, friends, looking out for neighbours.  He is a special man, generous and funny and kind to the soles of his feet.  It is his turn now to have back some of what he has given to others over more than ninety years of life.  And we can do it.  There are so many families where the demands of jobs and children would make taking on the care of someone else just not possible.  But here I am, with my fluid, flexible self employment and here is Ian with his reduced working week.  We can do it, so we will.  It will be good to share my fire with him and to make cakes for him and to know that he is safe and happy.  When spring comes it will be good to share the garden and to sit in the sun for a cup of tea and watch the hens scratch. 

Life shifts and changes but the important things remain: family, children, a glass of wine, the snowdrops showing, ham and eggs for tea, friends. 

Time for the next stage.  Hold your nose and jump in.

Wish us all good luck!

44 comments:

  1. Elizabeth - that was a lovely thoughtful post. I wish you all, all the best of everything in your new lives together. Your Father-in-law sounds a wonderful old gentleman and all his little tales, a book in the making.

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  2. You are sounding very positive. There will be times I am sure when it becomes harder than you think, but return to this post and re read the positive.
    I wish I had someone like you to look after me if I needed it!

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  3. I think your father-in-law is a very fortunate man to have such a caring family ready to welcome him to his new life. I'm sure you will have many happy times together, and wish you all every success in this new stage of your lives.

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  4. I admire you. I'm not sure how I would cope with either of my parents full time though I would likee to think I would cope but am not convinced. Your description of your life between your marriages describes my attitude spot on in fact it took me rather aback. I'm sure it will be fine and the end of the day you know you are doing the right thing, even if it is tough sometimes

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  5. You are realistic enough to understand that there will be some adjustments to be made and generous enough to proceed with a family duty that will change your life in some ways. It won't change who you are and part of that persona is the soul who will reach out to another. Damned if you do and damned if you don't. I take my hat off to you.

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  6. Elizabeth you have such a way of describing how many of us feel, thank you,it somehow helped me.I know exactly how your feeling, my new charges are four grandchildren , not a father in law.Everyday I tell myself, "I can do hard things". And I can! So, bless us both! good luck!

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  7. Elizabeth, I understand so well the tensions you have felt between family and freedom. When my husband died and I was left with two young boys to raise, I felt torn between the love I feel for them and the desperate need for a little time and space to myself. Make sure you find the balance and I hope there will be lots of good times to enjoy. Your father in law sounds a wonderful person :)

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  8. Oh, we certainly will wish you luck - but I don't think luck is needed here. With such a sensitive, thoughtful and reflective approach to this very big change, you will see how much you receive from this delightful father in law as well as give. It won't be easy all of the time, but it feels like the right thing to do, and that in itself will, I trust, bring happiness.

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  9. Yes good luck, and well done for an honest and powerful post - the two things go together I think.

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  10. What an eloquent and thoughtful post. Your musings on freedom and solitude really resonated for me. I'm moved too by your willingness to take care of another, and welcome him with open arms. So many wouldn't. Wishing you courage and strength for the journey ahead. I can't help feeling the joy will outweigh the difficult times.

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  11. What a deeply perceptive post. That tension between the joy of having people around us that we love and the joy of free time and thought. You already know how important it is to carve out a piece of each day for yourself to keep the joy of company alive. Best of luck. Sue

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  12. you have always been the most admirable of people. I'll never be tested like this (since my dear parents in law died early) but sort of sense a reluctance in losing a study - if not to study in then to be in. But sometimes people have to be more important and we can't chose when those times will come.
    If anyone were to be displaced, and ill, and tip up at your place - it could be worse.
    I hope it all, well, goes to pass. X

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  13. aargh, hit submit a little early. It looks like I'm telling you off. I'm not!! Computer screen is too small. Not resent as in, "grrr, gerrofff" but as in a loss. Oh shut up, Milla. I hope you know I mean well...

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  14. Oh, what a lovely and generous post - I love you already. And what an opportunity for both you and your father in law - I am looking forward to hearing of his wartime, Orkney exploits. There is a limited amount of time to hear them, and he is now one of the few indeed. You WILL enjoy it, I am sure. X

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  15. Elizabeth - a beautifully written heartfelt post - I love your thoughtful insights into yourself, your family life and life in the wider context.
    Thank you
    K

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  16. this will be a difficult but very rewarding journey you are undertaking. you have to make sure that you take care of "you" too. you are an important part of the triangle; you, your husband and your father in law

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  17. You are doing the right thing, and it is good that you are doing it with a good will. You will be blessed.

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  18. Maybe a writing pad and good supply of pens should be left in his new room.

    Retirement (or semi-retirement) should never equate with amputation. New windows open, new friends arrive, new ideas become important.

    I'm certain the scratching hens will keep you both amused.

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  19. What a moving post.
    Take care
    Jude

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  20. Very timely post for me, Elizabeth. I'm going to have a long, hard think about what you've written. Best wishes to you and yours.

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  21. Elizabeth, I have tremendous respect for your honesty, self-knowledge and courage in turning your lives upside down, for putting love of family ahead of love of independence. As another independent minded woman who found adjusting to life with another "interesting" - though still worthwhile and endlessly enriching - I hope you enjoy the good bits, weather the bad bits, and still find ways to nurture your need for your own space so that you can nurture others. Good luck!

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  22. A hard decision well made I think Elizabeth. Re his memories, part of my degree was Oral History, I suggest a tape recorder and possibly it might also be worth getting hold of software by Nuance called Dragontalking ( or dragon speak can't quite remember which!!)which is superb voice recognition. You can then jsut turn on the dictophone let himm talk adn afterwards it can download onto a computer and it will type it up for you. Then you are free to listen to him and his stories are preserved and you can put them in order. Memories like that are jewels in our history.

    I hope both of you, all of you, will find this new stage in life rewarding you have a chance that many others do not have by living together and I hope you will all feel the richer fot it.

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  23. I hope it goes well for you all - I'm sure it will.

    Hope you find some moments for solitude and silence too.

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  24. You are doing a tremendously good thing. I utterly sympathise with your doubts and concerns, and applaud your attitude of getting on with it.

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  25. You'll make it work, Elizabeth - I know you will. You will make it seem easy and natural and in the end everyone will be at ease. I have no doubt that it will incredibly challenging, and I hope that you will be able to get some of that precious time for yourself. It has been such a very short time since you were stuck on trains and dreaming of your time on your Welsh hillside - you've had such a short time to use time as you want.
    I'll be thinking of you.

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  26. I wish you all the best; haven't read all the the other comments as I can smell the lamb stew in the kitchen needs attention. But I believe it's all about compromise and love. Love above all else. A.

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  27. There are things we choose to do in life, because not to do them would be worse. It is so lovely to read of someone choosing in such a positive way to embrace a change and to open their home and life to another. And I always found sitting on the top of a Welsh mountain listening to the wind and sheep used to blow away my cobwebs and concerns when I needed it to. I wish you all the best.

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  28. Dear Elizabeth, This is a brave decision which you have made with your husband and, of course, time will tell how easy or difficult that choice has been. I found your posting most moving and it resonated with so many instances in my own life which, although not the same, still had a fundamental impact on how the future progressed. With the love of your family and the support of friends, I am sure that you will have the strength to make this next part of your life as full of happiness and joy as that which you [ and your father in law] bring to others. I wish you all well.

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  29. Just before I go to bed I'll add my t'penneth. I identify with you loss of freedom. It is one of the things I find so hard even ten years on but I try to remember it is a state of mind: strange but I think you taught me that!!!!Tea outside in a sunny corner wathcing the hens cackle and scrabble about next spring sounds heavenly...

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  30. A wonderful post, thank you for giving us a glimpse of the kind, caring, compassionate and lovely person you are.

    Good luck.

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  31. This post is so lovely, so loving.

    I wish you and your family all the luck possible in this transition, and in the new life that follows.

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  32. Your post is very moving...and very familiar to me. We are nearly a year on from bringing my mother home to us. To be honest, it has been the hardest year of our lives, both in the practical day-to-day sense and the loss of freedom. Added to that for us is the great sadness of my mother's dementia. I don't know if you are dealing with that, too. But like you, we were able to do it and wouldn't have chosen otherwise.

    So many things said in the comments are right on....compromise and love...that even tho' it will be hard, it is not as hard as choosing not to do it...that you must be creative in finding your beloved solitude and times of independence.

    You seem to know some of what you are facing, tho' we can never know it all until we meet it. The hens, the cosy rooms, the land and all that you are sharing with your father-in-law will help to smooth the way...for all of you. But when it does get hard, don't hesitate to reach out. It is somehow comforting and heartening to have others who understand what you are going through to talk to, or so I have found. I am an email away.

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  33. Elizabeth, I was so excited to see a new post, that even before I read it I wanted to tell you "Thank you" for writing, whatever it was you were going to say.
    This is a great thing you're doing. I'm a tad envious, because I would take my mother in in a second if I could. We even have an apartment in our basement. But she's in Australia with Alzheimer's, free health care, and six grandkids, and I'm in Seattle with the gazillion dollar premiums and no other family. It would help no-one to move her. Your FIL is getting the loving care that seems to me like the way we were intended to be shepherded through the last years of our lives. I'm sure you will discover riches in the mundane, by having him close by.

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  34. So many kind and thoughtful responses. Thank you. Counting down now!

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  35. I wish you luck. I have known what it is to live with an aged parent in law.
    But can I say how much I enjoyed these observations. There is so much in this piece about freedom and independence and adjustment that I can relate to instantly but would have struggled to write down. You are beautifully observant of life's conditions. Which is why, of course, we enjoy reading you as much as we do.
    All the best for whatever tomorrow brings. Fenniexx

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  36. And to think you once told us your blog muse had up and left! You are a braver woman than I am. FIL broke his hip, right? Not Alzheimer's or dementia which makes it one layer less hard.

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  38. Looking forward to posts unveiling your new chapter in life! Head up. Onward and forward!

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  39. Dawn/LittleGreenFingers13 December 2010 at 11:24

    A huge step. And a beautiful and generous act.

    I'm sure it won't be easy, but I can't express how wonderful I think this is.

    I would like to say "good on you' in all senses of the phrase.

    Dx

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  40. hold your nose and jump darling jump. different is just that, different, not better,not worse, just different. If you are, and you certainly sound like you are, a girl full of adventure and love and caring...this will be wonderful. I just hope you share.

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  41. I've just read two beautiful posts from you - peace and calm surround you both in your writing and in real life. It will be a big adjustment, and no doubt difficult at times, but worth it. Your father in law sounds like a lovely man. As my own parents age I am thinking about the 'what ifs' of the years to come. They looked after me for 23 years - highs and lows, tears and traumas - I am coming to think that it's the least I can do to look after them when they need me to.
    Good luck with it all. And here's to a cup of tea in the garden in the sun, watching the hens scratch. That sounds like a perfect moment of peace to me! x

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  42. Best wishes to you - I hope it all works out perfectly - you are a gem.

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  43. You are a good, loving person. I commend you for taking in your father in law. What an honorable lady you are. I hope that when I reach the point that I may need help, someone as good as you will be there for me. My God shower blessings on your home and family.

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  44. Hope that all is going well Elizabeth ~ I am sure that your new life will take some adjusting to and will involve some sacrifices on your behalf. I am sure though that there will also be unexpected joys in sharing your home with father in law.

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