I am on a train hurtling towards London. Child-free. For two blissful hours. It is the equivalent of a mini break to Ibiza.
English countryside is flying by like a familiar magic carpet – except I haven’t actually set foot on this part of my motherland. I don’t know it, but it offers the comfort of a well-worn patchwork blanket that’s been part of my life forever.
And it’s got me thinking about how you may never have been somewhere before, but you know it already. About how being a mum can give you more purpose and happiness than ever before and steal your identity at the same time. About how you can be alive but not living and dead but still here.
Life is full of these dotted lines.
And this is a good thing because I believe that having some form of boundaries is positive. They are not the sole domain of Supernanny taming small humans. Big humans need them too. We need to remember where we start and stop, we have to draw lines around the stuff that is important to us, to occasionally say no and still be able to reconcile that with being a positive, life-squeezing human being (at least I do), to attempt to have in our possession at any given time, a vague map of where we’ve been (this can be as simple as the laughter lines on your face) and where we’re headed. But, in my experience, it helps if those lines are a bit porous.
And it’s ok if they move.
Have a plan but don’t be so headstrong about following it that you miss the unexpected opportunities life throws your way, or end up feeling like you’ve failed when (not if) life doesn’t go exactly the way you imagined.
We’ve lived in Switzerland for just over a year now and excitement at the unknown is being replaced by excitement at the known as we head into another summer here with eyes a bit more open to how special and quirky this place is* (*You can’t cut your lawn or recycle your bottles on a Sunday but cow bells that you can hear a mile off are totally cool any day of the week).
And, of course, there’s still a load of uncharted territory too. We’re still learning, making mistakes, discovering new places, being total tourists in our home town.
The lines around our lives are constantly moving and relocating as a family is an exaggerated expression of this.
Life doesn’t stand still. We need to keep moving – in motherhood, parenthood, grief, happiness and countless other ways I haven’t thought of yet. Life isn’t a noun. It is a verb. And I think that survival and happiness is about embracing this, and just going with it even if you’re not entirely sure where it’s taking you next. We know life is finite but how we get to the finish line is so rarely linear or expected or fixed.
Having spoken very honestly about her granny’s death to my toddler (because bedtime is hard enough without telling a kid that granny went to sleep and never woke up again – but mostly because kids need the truth as much as they need boundaries – in fact they are the same thing), I am now bombarded with questions I can’t answer. Like:
- Why did granny die?
- Is she in space?
- But we can still see her face can’t we?
- When are you going to die mummy?
These are often swiftly followed by comments like;
- ‘Mummy you haven’t got much eyebrows’
- ‘There are black poos* in my pasta’ (*chestnut mushrooms)
- ‘Let’s take a haircut* home’ (* shortcut)
But they are still questions that I can’t brush under a magic carpet or some yukky pasta. It’s important to try and find the answers, to teach our kids and remind ourselves that our time on this planet has a finish line and no one knows where that is so we have to just live our lives as best we can, knowing it’s not in our power to dictate exactly how they’ll go, or for how long.
And there can even be a choice when it comes to how we cross that finish line at the end of life. Not always, but sometimes. Whether you have a long-term illness or an accident that leaves you incapacitated but still breathing. Hard to hear? I know. But stay with me.
It is why I now have an Advance Decision.
If you don’t know what that is (and I didn’t until it was clear my mum was dying and having one would be a good idea), it is a living will; a set of choices you make about your healthcare and commit to paper while you still have capacity in the event that you can no longer process or articulate those choices at the end of your life.
It outlines what treatments you would want to refuse under certain circumstances – from resuscitation to feeding tubes. It includes the point at which enough is enough and medical intervention should cease – if such a line exists for you.
Really importantly, I’ve also written an Advance Statement as part of this which goes beyond refusal of treatment. It covers everything from the values you live by, to your attitude towards death and dying.
It also covers your priorities at the end of life – whether it’s about remaining as lucid as possible for as long as possible or whether prolonging life at all costs isn’t a priority for you and you just want to be made as comfortable as possible.
It sounds grim but honestly, I think it’s one of the biggest acts of love you can carry out for yourself and the people you’re leaving behind one day. It takes the burden of the worst kind of decision-making away from your loved ones and it makes it easier for doctors to do the right thing by you.
It allows you the chance to die in a way that’s reflective of how you have lived.
And just like a normal will, you can change it at any time while you still have the mental capacity. It flexes with life.
So as a healthy 30-something I have written mine.
I have no reason to believe that my precious, poo-filled pasta days are numbered. But I’m old and wise enough to know that I don’t know that for certain and that one day they will be.
So I have drawn a dotted line around my life…
I’ve done that, knowing that we don’t have the right to write our own endings exactly but we do have a right to influence our life stories.
And if we’re lucky and brave and kind to ourselves and the other characters in our book, we can have some say in how the last page looks…
If you’re with me on this and want to write yours, or at least get a bit more info on how it works and how to do it, this is a good place to start: https://compassionindying.org.uk/
If you’re based in Switzerland, or you’re not but want a brilliant prompt for what to include in your Advance Statement anywhere in the world, the Swiss form is super helpful* and you can find it here: https://www.fmh.ch/files/pdf23/fmh_pv_av_2019_e-v1.pdf
*It is so good it almost made me reconsider my disdain for the mountains of Swiss admin I have had to endure since moving here. Almost.