In the aftermath

Delia Mary Islip died at 13.01 hours on Tuesday 29th November 2013. I had been by her bedside as she lay unconscious for three days and almost all of three long nights. The Rev Pam very soon arrived and was of very great comfort. She urged me to remove my wife's gold wedding ring for it would not be consigned with her to the furnace. My girl's hand was so very, very cold. This was for me probably the lowest of the low points.

Before that I had gone downstairs and asked the workmen who were busy finishing the sunhouse extension please to pack up and go home. I called George the undertaker and over the succeeding days put into action all the funeral arrangements for the church (kirk) service next door, then, ably helped by Dee's best friend  Lynne Benstead, the arrangements for the memorial gathering in the Anglesey Hotel down south in Gosport.

When my wife Joan died I had had Delia to lean on. Now I was on my own - and yet I was not on my own for the good folk of Aultbea gathered round to lend me their strength. The weather was particularly vile overnight and on December 5th, the morning of the funeral service. I would have forgiven anybody for staying at home, yet come they did, parking their cars all along the roadway and filling up the church. Dee's sons Rudi and Max had driven up, I had collected my daughter Julie from Inverness rail station the evening prior and my son Stuart had come from their home in Spain with his wife Lorraine and their daughters Jadine and Sinead. I delivered the eulogy, the music was Dee's choice and all in attendance were invited by Adrian and Katie afterwards to the wake in their Perfume Studio / Amora Cafe. Almost a thousand pounds were collected for donation to the Highland Hospice and Macmillan CancerCare that day and then another several hundreds at the Gosport gathering.




Seeing Dee

I see her still, and will
so long as I have seeing eyes alive
to the hills we walked,
with those beloved dogs.
So many, many lovely days;
so many, many trackless ways.
The hills are winter muted now,
their lovely colours sombre
as if in respect or tribute
to she who, leaving me alone,
embarked on that adventure
that all that lives well knows,
each harder, emptier year that goes.

I see her still, and will
so long as I have seeing eyes alive
to the stony, bouldery shores
or riverside woods
where we would each day
in all weathers find a seat
to eat our picnic lunch
often in silence, content
to watch the play of light,
oft-times the drift of rain or snow
on hill or moving water, smile at
the play of otters, divers, others,
listening to the crying of the gulls.

I see her still, and will
so long as I have seeing eyes alive
to the crystal seas of Wester-Ross
cold, clear, summertime blue,
‘remote’, where she would
take off her clothes and, breathless,
slip nymph-like in to swim,
framed by deep, dark-waving weeds,
laughing at me, at the cold;
or for the simple joy of it,
lithe mermaid in a perfect zone,
the zone, forever gone
that had become our own. 

December 2013 was a blur. I recall attending as many of the parties as I could, especially Ian and Jean's, trying very hard not to be the spectre at the feast. At Adrian and Katie's invitation I had my Christmas Day lunch with a group of friends at the Aultbea Hotel. Everywhere I went Delia was there also.One of the last things she said to me was; change nothing for a year after I die and then change whatever makes sense with your new life. I'll get back to that before the end of this autobio. (Next and ultimate episode). Suffice to say right now, almost two years later, that I still have no wish to change anything. 

Months before Delia died I had become aware that I too was gripped by a cancer. I had kept the knowledge to myself but in August of 2014 I finally went to see a doctor. After the usual protracted series of probes and scans back at Raigmore, yes, it was confirmed; I had a prostrate cancer which had advanced from the gland itself into some of my bones - and yes, it was terminal. However the usual hormone tablets and injections could delay the inevitable indefinitely. Pressed on the definition of 'indefinitely' the oncologist said months, years or even a normal lifespan. Not terribly helpful. He added that the treatment would deprive me of my 'libido' and cause me to experience hot flushes plus enlargement of the breasts. To the latter I responded there was always a silver lining and to the former that at least the ladies of Aultbea would hernceforth be able to sleep safely in their beds. He did mention the word 'chemotherapy' but I cut short that one in a big hurry. Death where is thy sting compared with chemo.

I said I had changed nothing since the loss of my wife but that isn't quite true, for I have not lifted a paint brush nor confronted my easel since before she went. Nevertheless I still sell the cards, prints and booklets etc that have emerged from my sixty or so Highlands and seascape paintings and I still write both prose and verse; just as I have had the urge to write since I was seventeen years old. In fact I have thought of this blog primarily as an exercise in writing since my friend Jackie West suggested it in 2008. It morphed into this autobiography since last Autumn when my son Stuart said; Dad, who don't you write about your early life. None of us know anything about it. If you're reading these episodes, Stu, and I think you are, I hope this helps. And another thing! Since coming to the Highlands I have written and published two novels, two collections of short stories and two non-fiction booklets of my paintings, poems and narratives. In 2010 I began writing a third novel and was three quarters through it when for various reasons including Delia's illness I stopped. Some months after my world collapsed I looked again at it and began a re-write. Alongside this autobio I have been working solidly on the work that had the original title 'The Book' and has since then had several differing titles until now, at some 100,000 words in length and with about another 10,0000 to go it is called 'A Kind of Harmony'. If  a writer has no excitement in his creation I would guess it is probably not worth it. I am very excited by A Kind of Harmony. It is the novel I should have written thirty years ago. 

There is another novel that I did start to write thirty years ago then abandoned for various reasons. It was / is called 'Rose Feather'. If I am, as they say, 'spared' beyond the publication of A Kind of Harmony and this bio ...back to my dear Rose and her father, star snooker player American Henry? We'll see...


1 comment:

  1. I can't believe it's almost 2 years since she died. I still have her email in my list. I've lost five other friends in the last few years. I deleted their emails, felt depressing, but not Dee's. Each time I see it... I smile.

    She was that bright a soul that even seeing her email makes me feel good. To have that much impact on someone like me (who she knew only through emails and for a few brief years at that), it quite astounding and remarkable.

    You do remember I want a copy of THE BOOK in whatever shape or form it is in. :P I have been in withdrawals on that since you stopped sending out chapters.

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