‘After all…all we really have is today…’

The quote was taken from the character Jean Slater (Gillian Wright), EastEnders, who leaves a devastating message for her family about her decision against having treatment for cancer.

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Yesterday evening, my husband along with my son and daughter, were eating our meal while the soap drama, EastEnders was playing on TV in the background. As I ate and momentarily glimpsed at the program, I said how strange it was that when the first episode came out in 1985, I was intrigued by the character ‘Dirty Den’ to the point I could never miss an episode but after some months, I lost interest in the program. We went on to talk generally about the other soaps. Coronation Street was one I recalled, when we used to live in Manchester in the late 80s, seeing one of the actors enter the department store, Kendals in Deansgate.  I remembered the staff and the way they greeted the actress with excitement.

As I continued talking, I noticed the character Patrick Trueman (played by the actor Rudolph Walker) appeared in a scene where he is hospital, looking quite ill. I wondered what was going on. Then in the next scene was another character, Jean Slater, doing a video call. The volume was not too low as I was able to listen to the family and the TV.

I was very moved to the point I was no longer listening to my talkative family as Jean, in a restrained and yet powerful monologue, expressed her concerns about her cancer returning and how she could not bear to go through treatment again. But what really locked my attention was her conclusion: ‘all we really have is today.’

Last week on Disney Plus, we watched the newly released animated movie called Soul. Without spoiling for those of you who have not seen the film, I would just say it was entertaining and heartwarming but again, the take-away message which remained in my mind: that life is meant to be lived as opposed to waiting for it to begin. Again, you only have today, it seemed to be saying.

This morning, I got up late (9:30 am…late for what?). My daughter promptly came into my room and said her father was upset.

‘Upset? Why?’ I said, ‘What’s wrong?’

She took a deep breath and looked away from me as if suddenly there was something interesting happening in the garden. ‘You know Daddy’s friend….’ She mentioned his name.  ‘…he’s passed away…’

‘Noooo! That cannot be true! He spoke to him just a few days ago…. why didn’t he wake me up…?’  I was about to put on my dressing gown when my husband walked in, we stared at each other in silence.

My daughter and I sat on the bed whilst my husband sat in the chair opposite. His head was gripped by his hands. He talked and kept talking about his surprise and could not believe how Covid had ‘destroyed’ his friend. I was also speechless. I was aware that our friend was ill, but as he refused to name the illness when asked, we decided that he must have contracted the virus. The last time my husband spoke to him, two days ago, he sounded as though it was an effort for him to talk. My husband wanted to ask more questions about his illness but left it, telling himself he would call him again – which would have been today.   

As we spoke of this friend and his connection to us as a family, Jean Slater’s shattering video message in EastEnders came rushing in my mind, as did the Walt Disney movie Soul.

It is something I must be mindful for the rest of this new year: there is a difference between having a life and living your life. I am aware of having this fantastic opportunity of being alive, yet I have been living it as though I still expect it to start!! I need to really know, that all I have is today.  As my life reveals itself in the present, I must not allow it to disappear by allowing time to past right by, screwing away precious seconds of my life worrying about the future. Life must be lived, right now!

Happy 100th Nelson Mandela: What I know now.

I’ve finished watching the last of the documentaries on celebrating ‘Nelson Mandela, One Hundred‘; I thought I knew all I needed to know about the man, about the country, about Apartheid, the tortures and the atrocities, but I was wrong.

This time around I realise just how close he was to all the saints we know and that probably (although not in my life time), he’ll be made a saint. I also learnt that my other idol, Maya Angelou died not too long after Mandela. I wondered if when she wrote the poem His Day is Done that some six months later, it would also apply somewhat, to herself.

His benevolence, tolerance and altruism reminded me that I still need to be more forgiving, to be a much better listener and more importantly, that it’s ok to have high standards, just as long as I realise to temper those standards when applying to people and situations.

What Mandela’s freedom did for me could almost be equated with being cleansed by the blood of Christ. If not for Mandela’s victory election, as a black person I would not have been able to live in South Africa and had all those incredible experiences. I am so grateful Nelson. Happy 100th and you should know, that we will never forget you.

 

Can a book forecast a dream?

October 2015 was a strange month for me. The staff I had working in my house had played me up during the year but it became too much so I said they had to go! It was dramatic but my husband handled it so I was glad it was over.  But while this was going on, in the background I had thought of a title of a particular book I had read.  I couldn’t remember its name nor the author.

After quickly washing up the dishes and tidying up the living room, I went upstairs to our fully stocked library and searched. I couldn’t find it.  Was it at one of the other houses or did I take it with me to London?  No I thought, it’s definitely here…somewhere.  I searched high and low, pulled out a book thinking I had found it due to the cover design.  So what was it about this book that preoccupied my mind? It was about a young girl’s experiences of living with her mother who had dementia.  Throughout the mother’s struggles, she never forgot about her children and her responsibility towards them. Even while fighting the authorities, or being in the mental institution, she tried as hard as she could to be there for them. But for me what was striking about this book was its ending.  The young girl’s recollection of a dream she had about her mother when her mother had already passed away. The girl dreamt of her mother visiting her and how she was so prettily dressed and wearing a bright smile.  She sat with her daughter in the warmth of the sun and the two smiled constantly at each other.  They spoke of nothing in particular but the daughter felt they were the only two in world, and for the daughter, this was an everlasting feeling. Eventually, the mother told the daughter it was time for her to go, and how everything would be fine, and that there was nothing for her to worry about.  As she spoke, she was moving closer and closer to the light until she became a tiny speck in the sky.  The little girl cried.  When I had read the book for the first time some years ago, I remember then being impressed with the book’s ending.

The following day I checked my emails for the first time in the week.  There were so many things to do in the house now that the staff had gone plus, I had just began the beginner’s class in Iyengar Yoga, forcing me to completely forget my mails.  Anyway, there was an email from the residential home where my mother resided, saying that my mother had been admitted into the local hospital on Monday. (I should add at this point that I live abroad but I travel to London twice per year).  The day I checked my email was Wednesday. I was surprised and annoyed.  Why should it take them over a day to contact me? I was about to call them when I changed my mind and decided to call my brother David instead.  David, who lives in London, also said that he only just found out and was annoyed how they delayed with the information.  He said I shouldn’t worry as he would quickly go to the home. But I called the home and spoke to the sister in charge for the evening. She said my mother had not eaten or urinated in 24 hours so they sent her to the hospital.  The hospital put her on a drip but found it to be ineffective so the consultant had decided as my mother was not responding to treatment they would discharge her. The other key thing the sister told me was the reason also for my mother’s discharge was there was not anything else the hospital could do for her.

The following day I called the home to find out what ward she was in.  They did not know so I called the hospital.  It was only after the fifth attempt that I managed to find out the name of the ward and was put through.  The Ward Sister said that my mother was in a poor state and that the intravenous feeding was not having an effect.  There would be a meeting with the consultant and they would decide what to do.  I then called my brother and we talked. Later that evening my husband and I agreed that this coming Friday, I would go to London.

The following morning, it occurred to me that one of the words of the title of the book which had escaped me was ‘Pilgrim’. After an hour or so on the internet, I managed to find the title: Pilgrim State and the author was Jacqueline Walker.  And would you know when I went to the library, there it was!  I searched for the last pages and found what had been on my mind.  Now that I had read it, I was still wondering what was the big deal: why was I compelled to read this.

Friday had crept up quickly as before I knew it, I was in my seat, on a British Airways flight to London.  When I had arrived to my mother’s house in Tottenham, I rushed up to what used to be my bedroom, grabbed the car keys and went to the garage.  The weather I would say was in-between warm and cold. Lots of leaves on the ground and yet, still lots of leaves to fall from the trees.  I warmed up the car for some minutes before leaving to see my mother. When I arrived it was a relief to see her, and to see that well, she was no different from when I had left her on the same day I was leaving for Nigeria, which was exactly one month ago.  Perhaps she was a little gaunt but still had the same glazed expression and jerking to every sound she heard. When I called her name, she jumped, looked about herself but she could not see me due to glaucoma.

Every day I would go to see her and spend most of the time with her. But as the week drew to an end, her breathing had become shallow and short, her mouth was permanently open and her eyelids never seem to close. Each time she paused before taking another breath, my heart would skip a beat. There was a day I fed her some soup, and it surprised the staff as it was the first time in ages that she had taken something to eat. It uplifted me but the following morning, her beautiful unlined face was shaped into the famous visage in the painting The Scream by Edvard Munch.  Not a flattering description I know but it was the image that came to mind upon seeing her. But I was depressed as it was clear that her situation was not going to improve. I believe I spent the rest of that day waiting to exhale.

On the last day of the month my mother passed away just as I was about to leave to go home. It’s a strange experience witnessing death take over as life makes its exit. I remained with her alone in her bedroom for another five hours before the suited undertakers came and removed her body.

Weeks after the cremation, I thought about the book Pilgrim State. I now understood why I was preoccupied with locating the book; it was a sort of preparation of what was to come. Since I quickly forgot my dreams after waking, perhaps it was for me to know, through the ending of Pilgrim State, that Mummy wanted to let me know that there was no need for worry, fear or upset as everything would be alright.

I was happy that I arrived to the UK in time to spend one last week with my mother. I had time to tell her I was sorry for my misunderstanding, that I forgave her when I felt that her support was not enough, to thank her for sacrificing her time and needs, that I loved her, and to say good-bye.  May she rest in perfect peace.