Lighting the fuse

0815/21st March 2023

Since the turn of the year, anxiety has begun to creep in around the edges.

Lots of little things contribute that are of no importance what so ever.

The new tax year. Big deal. That’s what I pay an accountant for.

A few friends still exchange birthday cards with me and it seems we were all born in the first three months of the year. I note them all down endeavouring to find appropriate cards.

Then worry that I won’t get the card in the mail in time, as if it could possibly make a difference. The world will hardly grind to a halt.

Around the middle of last October, the dreaded Christmas card shuffle being on approach, I hauled out the box wherein I keep such things and found a whole mess of random cards and mismatched envelopes.

The chaos must be sorted! I cannot work with chaos.

So I fetched a box out of our endless supply.

It is a common practice by charitable organizations to send out “free” note cards. They emphasize that it is a free gift, but include an envelope for the donation they believe you will feel obliged to offer.

Occasionally I use one of these cards so I decided , in those cases I would make a token donation. Asking to be removed from their lists has never succeeded and nor has totally ignoring them.

So I was not concerned that my token contribution would encourage further “free gifts”. But enough is enough. In the olden days I mailed a fair few cards and letters, but beyond the few birthday cards now, my correspondence has dried right up.

Time to get a grip. Opening the empty box, I transferred cards I might use and everything else went in the trash. This seemed a bad thing to do. I have always hated waste.

Years ago when my hands worked and before I had so many interfering felines, I used to repurpose calendars and cards. But no more.

Maybe I could give them away? No-one wants them.

Anyway, out went all the duplicates and triplicates.

Why doesn’t someone clue those people in! The printing of all these cards and the mailing…such a waste. So not earth-friendly.

Well that was that, I gathered together the few Christmas cards I needed and when it was all over, put the box back under my work table.

Pretty soon out it had to come again as I searched for birthday cards.

It was supposed to be sorted out, neat and tidy.

What was the mess I found? It got the better of me, lifting up the edges of my defense shield and sliding underneath like little bits of itching powder.

As the birthdays came and went (including my own which always makes me squirm) they were evidence of another year rushing past, another summer approaching, which as I have previously mentioned, I do not welcome.

The heat, the annoying bugs, the noise (admittedly hardly an issue here). When I think of summer I feel dread.

Good heavens, that’s harsh. And a gross exaggeration.

There is plenty to enjoy in summer and in any event, I should be more than grateful to have anything to celebrate. How many billions in this world do not?

Acknowledged. This past weekend Penny had become a worry. Usually the right antibiotic sets her straight, but her arthritic legs are progressively more rickety.

Penny is principally attached to Grant. He carries her around and does all her medications. She has special little vocalizations to request water or a lift up or down.

On Sunday she happened to be lying in the sun under my window when she got the urge to use the box again. After a couple of attempts she suddenly looked up at me as if to say “help me”.

Picking her up, I cradled her in my arms, taking care not to hurt her and carried her around. After a bit I sensed she wanted to get down and I followed her as she went to the top of the stairs.

Clearly she wanted to be near Grant so I lifted her again and took her down. As long as she is still keen to eat and appears content, she has some quality of life, but it is hard to see it ebbing away.

Toby is in a similar situation. It’s the price you pay for owning pets and I accept it totally. It’s the deciding when to help them pass that destroys me every time.

Another confession: When I’m at a low ebb, sometimes the endless cleaning up and certainly the nightly assaults on my person really wear me out. I’m only human, but I know one day I’ll hate myself for getting frustrated.

Do I ever yell? No. But I feel mean for not letting Toby pull my hair, for not allowing Patches to lick my ears. What would it matter?

Occasionally, no, often Tinkerbelle chases Sophia or Patches, the two least able to defend themselves. Then I’ll utter a loud “STOP IT!”

Grant does the same but with more volume and if I am nearby, the sound goes right through me. Raised voices really upset me.

This happened just the other day and it lit the fuse to blow up the combined little irritants I have been collecting under my defenses.

Yesterday we went to Clifton Park and for once I could barely find the interest to take photographs, telling myself that “in-between” everything is drab. And besides my focus gets worse all the time.

But I am self-aware enough to ask:

“Hey, Brain. What the Hell?”

We had a conversation as Grant drove us home:

“Good morning to you too. What do you want?”

“Why do I feel flat as a pancake?”

“What’s the date?”

“March something.”

“What happened in March and April and May?”

“Oh yes. That. Brain can you not eject it?”

“Sorry. No.”

My mother died in July, 1997. It was the loss I had always dreaded, but her quality of life had gone and really I had to be glad that she would not endure prolonged suffering.

Additionally, we had not lived together as a family since I was 14. Mum had become profoundly deaf, so I was already used to not even talking with her by telephone.

It was very sad, of course.

What I couldn’t know was that it would be the last time I saw my sister-in-law.

My mother’s younger sister Kay had been a GI bride. She lived on Long Island with her husband. When I was 16 they became my family and I lived with them until they retired and moved to Maine in 1980.

As he grew old, my uncle became increasingly difficult causing my aunt, who was diabetic, a great deal of stress and unhappiness.

In due course a heart ailment placed my uncle in a nursing home and my aunt moved to assisted living. She visited her husband every day and each time he screamed abuse at her.

Understandably, I was relieved when Ray died. But it was March and in Maine funerals had to wait till the ground thawed. So it would take place in May.

In April I received the sudden, shocking news that my 51-year old sister-in-law had died in South Africa. It was particularly heart-wrenching as she had been excitedly planning her daughter’s wedding.

The funeral was in England, so of course I went. Being so geographically distant we hardly knew each other, but my brother and his two children were devastated.

As May approached my beloved Aunty Kay became more and more anxious about the funeral, worrying about what she would wear and maybe she was afraid it would all be too much.

In the event, Kay did not have to attend the funeral because she had a stroke and was admitted to the same nursing home where he had been.

I flew immediately to be with her, finding to my own distress that she was very disabled and could not speak.

Two months almost to the day after Ray’s death, Kay died herself. She had been with him for so long, been through so much with him that when he was gone it seemed she did not know how to live.

Kay’s final years and her death were so sad and I was caught between my obligations to my parents and my love for Kay.

How often in the ensuing years have I wished that I had gone with my heart.

What is the point in dwelling on such things? Of holding on to grief?

In my experience, it’s the other way around.

Grief holds on to you and the best you can do is learn to live with it.

Honour those you have lost, even if it’s only a matter of all these belated tears.

Whatever you decide, do not try to stifle grief or it will eat you up.

Tomorrow I will try hard to think of something more cheerful.


“Be sure you do!”

10 thoughts on “Lighting the fuse

  1. Listen to your brain Carolyn. It talks a lot of sense. We’ve got to the stage of life where we must consider ourselves above all others. Yes, we have an obligation to those we love, including our animal companions, but the primary obligation is to ourselves. Love and hugs to you, and I love the aerial acrobatics you’ve captured!

  2. That is quite the saga. From charity come-ons and excess “gifts” to the trials of living with elderly cats that one loves but are a daily issue to the inevitable drama and stress that comes with “family” and the choices it sometimes makes you make..

  3. Some days are harder than others. This is one of the first things I learned on our long walks. If it was a bad day, I put it behind me and tackle the next day with renewed strength. Oh yes, and holding on to “I should have done this instead of that” is indeed not going to change anything … always try to remember that. I know, easy for me to say, right? But knowing that there will come a time when you have to say goodbye to your beloved pet – that is something that touches me deeply. Soldier on Carolyn – hugs from a sunny SA (where even the summer days are beautiful 🙂).

    1. I came to realise that it is important to deal with grief at the time of loss. Not that it will prevent it from re-occurring but maybe it takes a little of the sting away? When my aunt died I was committed to a holiday my father (who never expressed sympathy) and I never had enough time alone to process it all. I think that is why sometimes I still get so bowled over by it. But I’ll have a sad day and then move on. It’s all we can do, right.

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