Knowing not knowing

“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

It’s been a while. Nine months actually. Since I last posted anything on this blog, we’ve moved, de-cluttered, partly decorated, loosely agreed on the planting of our first garden in over twenty years and, weather permitting, tentatively explored new surroundings. In short, we’re resettling and we’re blissfully happy.

All this activity whilst keeping a close eye on Mags’ health, which has been and is, as I type, good. The telephone consultation with her oncologist, last September, was positive. In fact he was happy to wait until June before catching up again. But in late February a ‘surveillance’ CT scan was scheduled as part of the surgical team’s post-op protocol. We would receive an update from the surgeon in early March. 

The call came and, after a considerable preamble, he said, “Unfortunately the scan shows ‘spots’ on the lungs. Pulmonary metastases. ”He concluded with, “I’m sorry it’s not better news, but it is what it is. I’ve made an urgent referral to your oncologist. Take care.”

A  video consultation with the oncologist took place four days later. He is an absolute star, and began by kindly asking us what we understood from the scan results. We responded with our own frank appraisal. 

The ‘spots’ are extremely small and they have taken the best part of two years to make themselves visible to imaging equipment. With that in mind, the oncologist recommends periodic reviews and scans. In his words, “The way forward from here is as much art as it is science.”

The next scan is scheduled for early June, and should provide a clearer picture of how this wretched disease is progressing. The aim, obviously, is to keep Mags as well as possible for as long as possible. Palliative chemo will be an option, but as far as Mags is concerned, not a certainty. We continue to process the incontrovertible facts amid relentless and unpredictable waves of doubt and dilemma just now.

As things stand, we are going about the everyday business of living but carefully avoiding the stress of making every second count. Anyone who has been at the sharp end of cancer knows that summoning the resolve to fill every moment with something meaningful and unforgettable is very much the exception, not the rule. We’re much more likely to be navigating through reduced visibility or talking ourselves in and out of the darkest corners of our shared existence. The one clear certainty is, we now know ourselves and one another far more intimately than we could ever have imagined possible. Our mantra remains unchanged. Take every day, one step at a time.

When did you last see your father?

When did I last see my father? More than half a century ago, actually, around four years after he’d walked out on us. I was almost twelve.

He turned up at my grandparents’ house, with the mail. He wasn’t their regular postman, but a stand-in for Mr Toon, the always laughing, always smoking postman who habitually displayed his gift for second sight with accurate predictions regarding the contents of envelopes and parcels. “I see Ernie’s come good again. Don’t spend it all at once. Ha! Ha! Ha!”

It’s odd to think that my recollections of Mr Toon are more colourful than those I have of my father. But on that day, in 1966, I felt a shyness, almost an embarrassment when he spoke to me. His words brought about a level of awkwardness in me that I usually only experienced when meeting complete strangers. This is, evidently, what he had become. A stranger.

After that encounter, we never met again. Any emotional bond, if it had ever been truly established, was broken by his leaving. Forgive and forget, so many people say. It’s never too late. Except in some cases it is. In order to forgive, one must be able to forget. For me, forgetting was and still is impossible.

When he fell ill with cancer, five years ago, I was sad, but in a detached way. I sympathised, as anyone might, should the illness have befallen an unfamiliar member of another household.

On Monday, he died, on the same day as Ennio Morricone who was three years his senior. My mother telephoned the news. The two of them had been reunited for a decade following the death of my stepdad, and I’m sorry for her loss. But I’m glad she found a new happiness with the man she never stopped loving. The man who was there and, after a forty five year absence, was there again.

So, this is a blogpost about a man I didn’t know. A man I couldn’t know without painfully unpicking a life I’ve stitched and woven together with varying qualities of thread and patchy dexterity. It has no easily definable shape but I’m comfortable in it.

We know that actions, particularly actions within families, have consequences. His actions were no different. But they went unchallenged and eventually collapsed into the form of a well drawn line. His death, like all deaths, leaves some questions dangling. But they are those that remain unanswerable, rather than the nagging kind that are left unanswered.


After Normal Life

We’re out walking again. A daily stroll in the early morning sunshine. The lane has become a leafy tunnel in our absence, and the birdsong echoes and reverberates along its length as we step. It reminds me of the excited, musical whooping and whistling of children, each outcrying the other. Infant’s voices in the hollow of a cavern or the parabola of a stone arch.

Sensing the breeze on my face feels new, along with all it brings. The scents and sounds of a spring day bursting to get my attention. Out of the shade I shoulder the familiarity of the sun and carry it lightly. Warmth is never a burden.

It’s just an hour a day, but it fits neatly into our new world of distractions. Close the door on confinement and catch up with all that feels lost. Then, all too soon, we are banged up again. We have become our own wardens, and will remain so until certified fit for parole.

We pass our time easily and the boredom factor doesn’t get a look in. We’re still baking despite the fact that flour and yeast would seem to have taken on roughly the street value of premium drugs. It seems entirely plausible that, soon, procurement will only be possible via dealers who have stopped peddling toilet tissue in favour of raising agents.

I’ve read ‘Normal People’, by Sally Rooney. Getting hooked on the TV adaptation was inevitable. It’s so good, it’s only possible to sip at it, one short episode at a time. Likewise, ‘After Life’. I’m not generally a fan of Ricky Gervais, but the man deserves a heap of credit for both series.

Oh, and the soundtrack to ‘Normal People’ is superb, too. Perfect music for abnormal times.