CHRISTMAS PAST SUMMER PRESENT
A true story. No blame - just consequences.
30 YEARS AGO - CHRISTMAS EVE 1987
It was quite literally the day before Christmas 1987 and a sombre loan figure walked in the darkness from his cold bed-sit flat along a windy cliff top until he came to a bridge across a gap leading to the beach below. It was around 9pm, pitch black and blustery but it wasn't the awful winter weather making the troubled young man leaning on the balustrade of the bridge feel cold and miserable.
All he'd felt, for eight long months, since the end of April that same year, was an ever growing and increasing anxiety. An anxiety that had become more and more intense as each day, week and month had passed. The pain was now with him 24/7 - its claws never letting go of him.
In those same days, weeks and months the young man saw his whole life fall apart. Everything he'd lived and worked for in well over a decade had been shattered and destroyed in eight bleak months. The summer had come and gone and he'd not even noticed one hour of sunshine.
Through a painful and traumatic divorce he had lost his wife and with her, the right to live in his own home, which then meant he also lost the right to live with his own children.
As if all that pain wasn't enough, he was also facing total financial ruin through the nasty legal process, where solicitors were demanding he just walk away with absolutely nothing. He was terrified at the very thought of starting over, without those he loved and yes, without any resources to help rebuild his life. But that's exactly what he faced that night on the bridge, alone in the dark.
As he stood on that cold dark bridge he thought of previous Christmas mornings with his children, opening their presents. He thought of their beautiful little smiling faces and tears streamed down his face as he realised he would never experience those magical moments ever again.
After painful discussions earlier that very day he had eventually negotiated a couple of hours mid-morning for Christmas Day with his children, but he also knew from growing experience, that such a visit would be very painful too.
He was dreading waking up Christmas morning on his own, in his bedsit. When he and the children were apart it was incredibly painful, but also, when they shared fleeting moments together, these too carried their own cruel kind of pain as every ticking minute just eat up any temporary feelings of joy.
As he looked down from the bridge he saw the concrete slipway to the beach far below. The cold grey concrete down below looked to him like the most inviting place on earth. His heart was pounding fast and he was frightened, really frightened, but he was telling himself over and over 'just one last stab of pain and I'll be free of this agony forever'. The many months of constant pain would at last come to an end.
He closed his eyes to prepare himself to jump, but all he could he see inside his head was his children's faces as they would be told on Christmas morning - the news that their Daddy was dead. In those few fleeting seconds he discovered that his torment was total and absolute and that for him, even suicide was not an available option.
After walking for another hour in the dark he returned to his bed sit, where it took many hours of anxious over-thinking before he finally fell asleep, totally exhausted.
On Christmas morning he woke alone. He dressed and made his way to his parents home. Later his children arrived for their 'morning' with him. It was incredibly painful for both the children and him, but they all hid their distress for each others sake and he only eventually broke down after the children had left, just before Christmas dinner.
Over the rest of Christmas and the New Year 'holiday' he suffered two severe panic attacks. The second left him virtually unconscious for many hours and that frightened him beyond belief. Fortunately, as his GP explained, in a way he was lucky. His body had reacted and shut down to protect him, just like a lid blows off a kettle to release pressure.
It took that young man a full decade to recover emotionally from the events of 1987 but he did somehow successfully maintain a warm, loving relationship with his son and daughter that endures to this very day.
During that same decade he met and fell in love with a beautiful woman. The two of them quite literally had absolutely nothing, but between them, through extremely challenging times, they gradually brought together a colourful, super-extended family that still enjoy time together at Christmas and on many other special occasions throughout the year and to this very day.
The beautiful woman that made all that possible is now my wife and our super-extended family star in our lives (and on our Facebook pages) each and every day.
30 YEARS LATER - 2017
It's late summer 2017 and I'm laying on a beautiful luxury cream leather sun lounger on the gorgeous Greek island of Mykonos under the deepest blue sky I've ever seen. Behind me are the gorgeous pools and beautiful little five star hotel where my wife and I were spending our 'second honeymoon' to celebrate 20 years of marriage.
It's been an incredible year that started on my 60th birthday and the actual day of our 20th wedding anniversary - May 6th - arriving by sea in Oslo from Copenhagen, laying in bed in an upgraded cabin drinking something especially sparkling.
This year of celebration has been topped by success with another twenty-year project, creating a garden that is our own tiny piece of heaven. A garden is never truly 'finished' - nor would I ever want it to be - but at long last, the marathon task of turning a heap of weeds into a safe haven to enjoy with our grandchildren is as 'complete' as is possible and consequently our whole English summer 2017 was an absolute joy.
Yet another 20 year project reached completion in 2017. Renovation of the bungalow we purchased together with a mortgage in 1997. Back then we put everything we could possibly scrape together into a deposit for our dream bungalow. That left us absolutely 'skint' again and funding the piecemeal refurbishment of a1960 building has simply taken 'forever'.
However, the real icing on the cake was the (surprisingly unexpected) arrival of a brown paper parcel from our building society this autumn containing the deeds to our home, which we now own outright. After events 30 years ago and that further decade of pure, unrelenting financial struggle, I truly never thought that would ever happen.
We're not wealthy by any measure, indeed amongst most of our friends we probably have the least income of any, but most importantly 'we have enough' and do find bargains, and having found them, we most definitely make the most of them!
Example: Back to that luxury sun lounger in Mykonos, that clear blue sky, that lovely warm sun and those stunning surroundings.
Laying and relaxing, at one point I turned my head to my right and saw that my lovely wife Sandy was laying on her back, holding her book high in the air, deeply lost in her latest novel. She looked so beautiful and I felt I truly was in absolute heaven. I lay back myself and closed my eyes, not a care in the world, so very warm, comfortable and totally content with the world.
I fell asleep, but after just a few minutes of drifting thoughts, a tear started to trickle down my cheek. A lump swelled up in my throat and my heart was pumping so much, I woke suddenly with a kind of gasp.
Sandy looked my way and was worried and confused at me being so upset 'what's the problem my love"?
I sat up, turned to her and feeling really choked and anxious, I explained "I'm so sorry. Don't know why, but I drifted back half my life just then - to myself at 30. I just so, so wanted to be able to go back in time, to put my arm around that young man and assure him, everything would work out OK in the end. He really was in so very much pain, that poor lad. It truly breaks my heart just to think of him".
Philosopher Alain De Botton says "Crisis....is an attempt to dislodge us from a toxic status quo and constitutes an instant call to rebuild our lives on a more authentic basis."
I'm not at all sure I could ever have really committed suicide, but I am absolutely certain I never, ever, want to be as near to it as I was on that bridge all those years ago.
Adversity is no doubt character forming and those extremely difficult and challenging times, half my life ago, have certainly had a 'resilience building' effect within me that has given me strength in many difficult and challenging times since.
It's almost as if nothing can phase you once you've hit rock bottom in the past and somehow survived. It most certainly puts those numerous niggling and frustrating everyday issues and problems into true and proper perspective.
'Once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive…But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm’s all about'.