As I sit at my computer today to write this Blog two friends of mine are going through one of life’s hardest experiences. Both in their early sixties and having long looked forward to a happy retirement and more time spent with their little grandson, Bob ( I have changed their names) is currently on the operating table having a cancerous tumour removed from his oesophagus, along with healthy surrounding tissue while Sally waits anxiously, pacing corridors and drinking endless cups of cold coffee or stewed tea. Having received a diagnosis last year Bob has spent many months undergoing chemotherapy treatment to shrink the tumour before surgery and whilst the operation gives him a good chance of more years he will never again be able to eat in the normal way. I am not aware of the total picture as he goes forward but imagine he will be restricted both in amount and type of food and will most probably be facing a diet of pureed food for the remainder of his life.
Bob and Sally have been married for many years and I know that the journey has not always been an easy one but facing this major hurdle has brought them closer together again and Sally has been an absolute rock for her husband to lean on. This is one of those moments in life when we truly see the calibre of people, their responses to hard times and difficult issues tell us so much more about them than all the shared good times and fun days out. They have been showered with love and support, offers of help and kind words but ultimately this is a battle which they have to fight together and all we as friends can do is to offer both emotional and practical help. They are in our thoughts today.
The situation made me ponder this morning on marriage and those promises we make and certainly if we marry in our twenties or thirties the times of struggle and illness seem a far distant thing although disease, redundancy and even death can strike at any age. When you marry late in life as my husband and I did, you do it with eyes wide open and an implicit understanding of what may be to come. We knew that we would be extremely fortunate to sail through our older years with no ailments and already there are times when we have to accommodate each other’s weak areas: he has type 2 Diabetes and now some tinnitus in the right ear, I have bouts of sciatica and have to watch my right hip but those things apart we are still in good health, we enjoy our food and a glass of wine, we walk almost every day, often many miles with few ill effects, we enjoy travelling and visiting new places, we can still run around and play with the grandchildren. We are blessed because without good health every aspect of life becomes harder, more challenging and less fulfilling.
So whilst sending our love and support to Bob and Sally we are also taking a moment to appreciate what we have and not moan and gripe about a blister on the heel, or a grumble of indigestion. To end this entry I would like to share with you one of the readings we used at our marriage ceremony as we felt it was perfect for our situation and it stands alone as a lovely reminder of what love is truly about, especially as we grow older.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nanna came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams