I was speaking to my ninety-one year-old gran last night and her body is falling apart. Quite literally. She has breast cancer which came back and now her body, apart from being old and frail, is struggling with coping altogether. It was a harrowing phonecall.
It’s not that my gran is at the ICU at the moment, or in a hospital bed. She was at the ER yesterday though, because her body is filling up with fluid and she has diahorrea. It’s not pretty. In fact, it’s pretty damn horrific.
I was with my gran a year-and-a-half ago when she was first diagnosed with cancer and had surgery. I was raised partially by my grandparents and I’ve seen gran and her body in some of the most compromising positions you could imagine. I’ve also seen her struggle as she got older. Struggle to walk, struggle to get dressed, struggle to stand up… Her body is old.
My other gran, before passing away, became senile. With her I saw the struggle of remembering things, as well as fighting demons from the past. I got phonecalls about old lovers and heard of bitter regrets. I was there to help her use the bathroom. Ever since I’ve said that true love is wiping someone’s ass when they can no longer do it themselves.
My grandparents were my saving grace when I was a child. They were there through mom dying, through the bullies, through evil stepmoms, through teenage depression, they were there through it all. They were the place I ran to. They were my safe haven.
That doesn’t mean that my grandparents and I have always agreed on things, or understood one another — far from it. But I grew up with them serving me by raising me, so I always wanted to give the same back. Protection and care. And I think that’s the bottom line of any relationship. If that kind of commitment isn’t there, you have nothing.
We inherit the best and the worst from people. My grandparents brought me life, security, artistry, creativity, smarts, asthma, cold sores and vericose veins. I’ve never disliked my body, nor have I ever really understood if someone has loved me, or my body. Because, you know, I have flaws. I couldn’t breathe properly as a child, how’s that for being flawed?
My childhood had my self-confidence obliterated, save from the confidence I had in my skills. It’s taken me a long time to rebuild that other confidence; the part of me that’s OK to just be a human. It was only when I pretty much had nothing going for me in South Africa that I started to realize that I needed to learn to live anyway. You know, really live. Breathe in the moment and have fun.
In my battle for visa and adoption rights I’d pretty much lost everything I had — there was a business in limbo, no money in the bank, no social life, no career successes, no nothing. There was just me and what looked like a hopeless situation fighting for the children. And somewhere I decided to take responsibility for that situation and kick life in its balls.
It worked. Wasn’t pain free, didn’t provide immediate solutions, but it worked. I still have nightmares pretty much every night about the children, business, finances and visas, but I learnt to be happy in the face of it all. It hurts with the kids. It hurts to high heavens and back again, but I let it go and I live. I cry too, but I live. And I keep fighting. I just make sure to live too.
Feeling like you’ve fucked up your entire life can be a really good lesson in learning to live and love. Love yourself.
Now, my point with all this, is that we all have a choice to take responsibility for our lives. We also all have bodies that will one day fall apart. We face events that will, at some point, break us. We make mistakes that we regret with bitter tears. And sometimes we face pain in ways we never thought possible. Like being separated from a child, or losing a husband, or getting arrested for a crime we never committed.
But the only way to conquer that is to learn to live in the face of it. And slowly climb the mountain to overcome it. It doesn’t happen over night, but it is possible. Your wrinkles, your flaws, your current pissy situation, none of that is an excuse to hate yourself, or stop finding moments of happiness. It might feel impossible, but you can and will love yourself and your life, if you just decide to do it. Little by little. So if it’s only finding one moment of belly deep laughter.
No, you probably aren’t perfect. Nor is anyone else. And everyone will annoy the hell out of you at some point, hurt you and make you mad as they come. But if you are committed to loving them and loving yourself, I think you have a fair chance of living a happy life. Even in the midst of all the chaos, unfairness and everything else that is life.
So do it. Go have fun. Because you can. Because you’re not ninety-one years-old and falling apart. Because you haven’t yet reached a point where there is nothing you can do about your regrets and failing memory. So live. Live a little.
Gran and I.
Want to see an inspirational woman embracing her body? Watch this! http://video.allure.com/watch/dispelling-beauty-myths-disabilities (Unfortunately WordPress wants me to upgrade my account to be able to share the video with you directly — so hence the link.)