Back To Normal?

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

1st September 2017
The New Normal

After swearing I never would, I'm getting married in eight days. I met him on 9.9.99, in Malaysia, on one of my adventures. We are getting married 18 years later, to the day. I'll be 45, I have two young children, have survived breast cancer and Graves disease and depression, and near-misses due to me being negligent of my life; I've lived in 18 different houses and several different countries; I've had several careers and insane chapters to my life. There has never been a normal, just several different lives which have been clear, different chapters in my life so far. And yet I find myself thinking, 'In just over eight days, life can go back to normal,' before I catch myself and try to decide exactly what I mean.

I've been thinking a lot about what 'normal' is. Before we started planning our wedding I had a rough idea what my normal was. Chaos and change, yes, but the oxymoron of roughly a smooth ride between one chapter to another. In the year or so since we first booked the huge farm shed that is going to be our venue, so many things have changed that life felt distinctly abnormal and I began to wonder why.

Life moves on, never stops flowing, things never stop changing; the only constant is change. Life in flux. Waves, currents, energy that never stops moving, life, and death. I know this; we all know this. You can't stop change, halt the progression of energy or control anything, and I've lived knowing this and accepting it for 45 years. However, since we decided to get married it's seemed more changeable than usual. It took me a while but I realised that it's because I've now got a distinct period of life with bookends either end - Before Wedding Decision and Post Wedding Decision. BWP and PWD.

In the period PWD all sorts of life has happened. There was all the breast cancer stuff ongoing which has temporarily ended (until next July) with my first mammogram one year post-op coming back clear. The day before that, I lost a new friend to cancer. I was really looking forward to telling him I'd got one up on Cancer with clear results, but he left too soon. He was called Pink George and I met him properly when he turned up at my kitchen window several years ago in a crash helmet, looking for my mother. At his funeral everyone wore pink and his body was committed to Pink Floyd's Great Gig in the Sky. He'd just turned 70 and he had no regrets; although I didn't know him especially well he'd become a friend I knew would be there for life and visits to him at the hospice were inspirational, despite the tears and fears. Turns out 'life' wasn't that long and I will miss dancing with him at my wedding.

His was the third funeral of four that I've been to this year. The other three were uncles and my future husband's granny, all different services, all huge reminders. I also lost an uncle who was a big part of my childhood who lived in Australia so I didn't get to make his funeral but I hope to be there to help scatter him to the winds in our native Yorkshire later this year.

Both Scottish uncles should have been at the wedding and one had been promising me a game of golf for the last 17.5 years.

Two of our best friends from Asia were supposed to be flying in from Australia for the wedding, but in the last week I've heard the sad news that one of their mums has been diagnosed with late stage lung cancer. It is wholly right that they stay with her. But to balance things out, we have an extra, unplanned guest in a brand new family member - a 16 year old boy who's my cousin's son, found through social media after a brief relationship 17 years ago. He is definitely one of us - big boned and reddish-haired, and I can't wait to meet him.

I've learnt how not to plan a wedding (for eg - DO NOT offer to book accommodation for people) but more than that I have learnt all over again how full of LIFE, life is. I've learnt I should have forced that uncle to play that game of golf, turned up at his house one day with golf bag over shoulder, because one day he'll be found dying of an undiagnosed stomach ulcer in his bathroom. I've learned that if you feel like visiting someone but are a bit tired/lazy/busy, go and see them anyway, because the following week they won't be there. You'll get a text message announcing an untimely death, five weeks post-diagnosis instead of the predicted three months. I have learnt again, despite not thinking I needed to - to tell people you love them, PWD.

I've learnt to accept that people will still bullshit you but you need to carry on loving them anyway because their reason for bullshit is that they're, perhaps, not as enlightened and scarily honest as you are. (Don't tell me you can't come because you're skint - you had a year to save. Tell me you don't want to be there/haven't the energy/don't like large gatherings, loud music/Scotland is just too far away/you cannot be bothered.) Give me the truth anytime, and dare to tell the truth to other people. Tell it with love, but tell it. What was it Pearl Buck once said? Tell the truth, because Truth is always exciting. Something like that.

PWD I've realised that we're all, each one of us, staring death in the face every moment of every day, that we fill our daily lives chock-full with things to avoid thinking about this. Death walks with us every hour. Death has flirted with me this past year, taken people from our lives, threatened me over and over. I used to be terrified of dying. What I learned was this, that I was terrified of living because to truly live, you've got to let death stroll along next to you, accept it's there and live all the harder for the very fact it is there.

I've learned that I love my husband to be even more than I thought I did, despite the fact that I now know for certain that he procrastinates as much as I thought he did. And I've also learned how many tables you can procure at little cost at very short notice because said husband to be didn't quite do it earlier...

BWD I was aware of all of the lessons above. But this past year has thrown everything into sharp focus. We are lucky to have lots of good friends and our wedding guest list is 194 for the day plus another 100 or so for the evening. However, this is with a 20% or so unable-to-come rate and the reasons for people being unable to come are varied. I'm now aware of every little thing that's going on in my family's / friends' lives, be they friends from primary school in Surrey, family in Yorkshire, crazy party days in Malaysia, teaching friends in various schools, writing friends, university friends from Wales, friends we met travelling on our two year motorbike journey, all of our family members, wherever they are in the world. All of the time there are Big Things going on in all of their lives, and this year I've been completely aware of them, in touch with everyone who you might not think of/write to.

There've been injuries, illnesses, accidents, promotions, babies, pregnancies, wins and losses, deaths and miscarriages, money problems and difficult people, journeys, homecomings and ongoing issues which continue to affect people I love every day, things I hardly knew of. All of this has reminded me over and over again how FULL life is in all aspects, in all areas. How testing it is on our emotional strengths. How impossible to predict. How downright bloody strange.

So my new normal, PWD, will be to love more, stay in touch more, be aware of exactly all the stuff that everyone goes through; it'll be to not put things off, it'll be to take risks, hug people, laugh a lot and keep perspective in mind at all times.

People tell me I'll feel a lull, a flop, a sense of anticlimax after I'm married. Our wedding will last three days, from live music in our local next Friday night, to the 13 hour ceremony/party on Saturday, to the hairy dog bbq the following day. I am SOOOOOOO excited. But I'm looking forward to life Post Wedding - PW. PW I've got a new normal to look forward to. One of the risks I took last year, after being told I had cancer, was to start a business. I've got that to build on, words to write and life to live. And after reconnecting with so many people and realising how lucky we are, I'll pick up the phone/send messages/write letters more often.

Back to The New Normal. Bring it on!