Sunday broke through the curtains and the heavy tock tock seemed then louder than I’d ever heard it. All was quiet and still in the little bungalow, apart from the monotonous clock and the occasional hum of traffic on the busy road nearby.
At first, I lay there just absorbing the noise into myself, into my breathing and letting my body take it all in. I throbbed with the rhythm of the expectant ambiance, a droning, troubled calm, brooding and stultifying. I began to twitch under the heavy blankets until I felt I would explode.
I pulled myself out and stood liberated on the carpeted floor, nobody stirring other than me. Alone, I was suddenly elated. I moved and peeped around the room, between brothers and sisters strewn about on the floor. Not a sign of movement and just me there in my golden moment. I paced the space between the sofa and the door, but in no time searching for unused air in the room began to pall and I decided to open the door. It squeaked a little as I pulled it into the room. There, beyond, was the hall – a big long fresh space.
Up and down I walked on tiptoe examining the walls, the floor, the ceiling and the little table with the telephone on it. The wood underfoot reminded me of gym and my step took on a flippant bounce. Gradually faster and faster until I was skipping lightly, a few jumps and turns in between. I returned to the lounge and frolicked between the dead. Absorbed in my sport, I existed in my own world only, small step running between mounds of blankets and pillows, flirting with the edges of my solitude. I began to hum and sing. I felt happy, leaping about, up and down, unabashed and unfettered.
Just as I was running the length of my older sister, pretending to be on a horse, the door flew wide open and Granny appeared in her nightie. I was delighted and made towards her wearing a wide grin.
She caught my arm as I approached, twirled me round deftly and thwacked me soundly on the back of my leg with her free hand.
Wordlessly she disappeared. The door closed firmly behind her. I stood feeling wronged, foolish and small. Then returned to my makeshift bed where I lay down and watched the ceiling take up the light of the day.
Whenever I think of this incident it makes me laugh. It was a good lesson to learn not to disturb people sleeping in the early hours of the morning. It was a shock to be smacked, but it did the trick and it was the only time Granny hit. I guess that’s why it stands out, a bit like the little baldy patch among my newly grown hair. The rest of the hair is soft and growing happily, so that I’ll probably be able to do a wee comb-over to disguise it when it gets long enough.
The radiotherapy did it’s job, reducing the size of some the tumors and rendering some undetectable on MRI scan. The upshot is that things are quite stable for now, so I resolve to try and worry less and live more. I still have to consider the end, write my will and prepare for the inevitable. Somehow everything seems more doable and chances are I may have been bought a little more time for which I’m very thankful.
The Weight of Life
According to Dr Duncan MacDougall in 1901, it seems there’s a difference between the weight of a human being when alive as compared to when dead. It’s twenty one grams. What is it that weighs this much which leaves us when we pass on? Is it the soul as some suggest? Is it that constant working, moving, processing, transferring, making generates a weight or mass which is lost when the processes stop? If it was an object, weighing twenty one grams, what would it look like?
I like the idea of being given some lightweight, mouldable material, weighed and divided into bundles of precisely twenty one grams, and each person in a large shopping centre say, representing the missing mass in the form of sculpture. Imagine a whole shopping centre full of people’s missing mass sculptures. A sea of souls, all the same weight, but unique every last one.
Representing our essence isn’t something we do every day consciously, though I would say we carry it with us. When you see someone in the street you can guess a lot about them from their walk or how they are dressed, but of course this first impression is superficial and usually turns out to be nothing like the real person you would get to know. Imagine, if you could see the real person, the good in them, their trials and their triumphs, their dreams. How different would our society be? Would we help each other more?
When I stop to consider all the people who have helped me, I am truly humbled by the thoughtfulness and caring that goes into the simplest things. I’ve been supported in so many ways by people who have helped lighten the load for me. I wondered if this twenty one grams could represent the final load lightened, cares and woes forgotten, shedding of earthly concerns, anxieties cast asunder. How much do our worries weigh? They certainly cost.
Too much childhood anxiety and stress causes cortisol to wash round the developing brain, and can lead to a greater risk of diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer in later life. Luckily the plasticity of the brain means that given the right nurturing, children can recover from trauma and stress and can thrive. We know ourselves as adults too much stress and anxiety is not good for us, though many would say some helps them to perform better, and we are often reminded of the effects of stress on our lives, in terms of our health, but we lead such hectic lives in the modern world. How can we lighten up?
There are any number of self help books that’ll tell you how. My feeling is that we are often given to worry and stress about things that don’t really matter in any case and that realising how short life is can help you with sweating the small stuff.
A secondary cancer diagnosis will do that, though you end up with a new set of concerns. ‘Is my wig on straight?’ has been a recent one. The major worry for me, the one that is always in the background, is about hurting my loved ones (especially my wee boy) with grief. What a weight that is to give someone you love. On a very selfish note, I hope I can take these feelings of love with me, people say you do. And to pass on, to shed the twenty one grams, must be easier knowing you have loved and have been loved. As they say in the song, it’s the greatest thing you’ll ever learn.