A DECENT SEND OFF

I used to live in Kent and I went to university in Lincoln. Now I understand that for everyone reading, those are, in themselves, Earth shattering facts but stay with me. These two locations have something very important in common.

Airfields.

Due to their locations on the east of the UK, during the Second World War they were vital in both defence and attack. The Spitfires and their fighter brethren swarmed from airfields famously during the Battle of Britain and the mighty Lancasters and the other ‘heavies’ left on their missions to drop their bombs all over Europe.

Now I’m not going to start banging on about the war nor am I trying to make any sort of comment about any possible political view point, so again, stay with me.

I can remember air shows as a child where the planes had to travel over where we lived on their way to the airfield and it was one of these in particular that just blew my mind.

It was the early 80’s and the Falklands War was not long over so when my dad explained that, for the first time, the local air show would be welcoming a Vulcan Bomber, the carrier of the UK nuclear deterrent during the Cold War and recently retired from active service, he impressed upon me with his own excitement, that this plane was important. He knew that it was going to have to fly over our house on its way so we were all dragged into the garden, just waiting for the barest glimpse of it.

We could hear the engines approaching and my dad was buzzing around in anticipation. I stood in the middle of the garden and just looked straight up and when she passed overhead, I swear the sun went out.

That Vulcan’s gargantuan Delta-Wing just blotted out everything and in my mind, everything slowed to the point of leaving that plane suspended just above me. It was one of the most beautiful sights my young eyes had ever seen and as you can probably tell from the way I’m writing this, it still gets me.

Now the three planes that I’ve named so far, the Spitfire, the Lancaster and the Vulcan, all had a massive role to play in the national eye and each of these machines seems to have taken on a greater significance that just being aircraft.

There are 54 airworthy Spitfires left on the planet.

Only 2 airworthy Lancasters.

And most painfully for me, there are no remaining Vulcans in the sky.

And finally, we get to the point.

The send off is a vital thing for people as a part of a grieving process. The funeral of friends and family is something that we can see as a way of recognising the life of the person in question but that same need is often bestowed on ‘things’ as well.

I used the idea of an organised memorial in my first novel, The Circle of Fire, where everyone involved was able to remember those who weren’t with them anymore but we see in so much of life, that we as a race of people seem to need to recognise and celebrate a passing, be it a person or a thing.

When I traded in my last car, I couldn’t help but remember all the journeys we’d shared. When my parents moved to Wales it meant that the home I’d grown up in was leaving the family. I walked into every room and all round the garden before I drove back to Wales, just saying goodbye.

What drives us to do it? Do we regret that we never said enough to show that we saw the service that was being given for us? Do we just not like change so lament the arrival of the new? Do we just miss the good times so need to spend a last time there with the rose tinted glasses on?

A few years ago, Jo and I were visiting her mum in Lincolnshire when I heard an amazing sound. I almost fell over myself to get a good look out of the correct window but I made it in time to see a mighty Lancaster thunder overhead on her way to an air show, which was very soon followed by the last Vulcan. I was just as excited as I’d been all those years ago and just being able to catch a glimpse of those ladies as they headed off as part of their on-going send off was amazing.

I watched them come home that evening and just stood in awe, recognising that we all need a send off. I think it just boils down to appreciating what the person / object has been, has done but also the silent hope that one day, someone will look out and think of us with the same feelings.

Advertisements

NORMALITY?

With everything that’s been going on recently, it’s brought it into sharp focus for me that trying to maintain a level of normality is really tough. Trying to do all of the things you have to in life gets really challenging when something brutal lands but the turning wheel of the normal will continue to turn, regardless of anything else.

So how do you maintain the slog through all of the normality when something else is trying to rip you apart?

That’s been the state of play for me for the last weeks and today was the first day back in work since my dad left us. I’ve been looking after my wife after she had an operation as well, so I’ve been able to keep my mind active but going back to work has given me a new challenge. In work, aside from the various times where life throws the occasional curve ball, work is familiar. Work is ordered. Work can mean that you delve into swathes of normality which can leave you with no protection against the thoughts of the monster attacking you.

This can mean distractions and all of a sudden you may have mistakes. Those on the outside know what you’ve been going through but normality still needs to be maintained.

Now this has been awful for us. I’ve hated the thoughts that have gone through my head and trying to keep my focus on what has to be done in the world around me has been tough. I can imagine that my family have had the same problems but what my mum is going through must be pulverizing.

But we have to go on when we grieve. We have to make sure that the real world continues even when we feel it can’t.

I think I’ll be able to create deeper characterisations in my writing with the added experience of what I’m feeling now and being back in the ‘office’ today did feel positive for getting me moving. The normal is a vital chunk of what we see and do and it’s so easy to have that become uncomfortable when something goes wrong but I’ve found that the normal is just another colour in the palette of life, and as such shouldn’t be overlooked.

AND THAT’S OUT

Over the last weeks, I think everyone would recognise if you’ve read my stuff in the past, I’ve been more philosophical. I’m a fan of comedy and making people smile is a wonderful thing, as I love to smile too but that hasn’t been to the fore.

In 2013, my dad was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), a degenerative lung disease which has been slowly causing fibrous scarring to form throughout his lungs and has been robbing him of his ability to breathe.

It’s a topic of discussion which tends to crop up when we think about life with disease. Would you rather have ten years left but the final three be in ever growing pain or would you rather just have five good years and then pass on? It’s a question that we all have to consider for ourselves but the reality of that choice is so much worse than we tend to realise.

Could you live in crushing agony twenty four hours a day just to be alive for one more day?

IPF is a brutal disease that the British Lung Foundation is always looking for donations to help defeat. Please everyone, make the most of all the time you have with friends and family.

My dad died last week.

WP_20151004_032

LOSS

We all deal with loss in very different ways and we can regularly see loss being given centre stage when constructing a characters driving forces to get things done.

Loss is something that we all go through and have to work our way through be it the death of a family member, the loss of a job, a relationship even an object. What is a minor concern for one person could be a debilitating and crushing experience for another and this gives us a problem.

As a naturally social species, we function so much better as a part of a collective all working together so a shared empathy to pain is vital but not all pain is viewed the same.

When I was younger, I injured my ankle playing rugby and was finding it hard to put any weight on that leg because of the agony. The general consensus was that I needed to get back on the field and at least see the final few seconds of the match out. Happily the clock ran down before I could be returned to the action but for the following week, my complaints of pain were written off as being just an ache and I was told to run it off during the next match. I lasted two minutes because I couldn’t walk let alone run. I was explaining what was happening to me yet other people couldn’t recognise the pain I was in.

Imagining physical pain is one thing but trying to understand the anguish of mental illness is a step even further. There’s still enormous stigma attached to an admission of mental illness because so often, people are unable to understand what those people affected are going through. I’m sure people think that they’re trying to help but ‘just try and cheer up,’ may not be the perfect cure for depression of all flavours. Those who are giving the advice to cheer up get put out because they think the other person isn’t listening or it’s all in their head and the sufferer is made to feel that it’s them that’s at fault, “Other people have it worse than you.”

When I write characters, I enjoy adding in an element of would be negative life experience. That pain can show that these people aren’t always going to be the perfect hero and that can make them all the more relatable to the reader. The problems come from having to always try to find a loss that the readers will believe. The loss of a family member is the classic that we can all picture for ourselves. We see that sensation of hollowness that comes with someone’s death and can relate it to our own lives but other painful experiences may not have the same effect.

We all need to accept that the human race is a complicated thing and we all handle different situations differently. Public speaking can cripple some to inaction while others take to it like a duck to water. We just need to always be thoughtful when dealing with other people’s pain at any loss.

I was cut in two last week when our cat Baggins, died. We’d had him eleven years and he was a major part of our family. When I explained to people why I wasn’t my usual self at work, some were understanding but others looked at me with the classic “Is that all?” expression on their faces.

Loss affects us all at some point so we all have to look after those of us feeling it’s touch.