Life Out Of Balance

Towards the end of a difficult stay in the UK, I had a Koyaanisqatsi moment on the motorway. You know: that film of time-lapse photography produced by Francis Ford Coppolla, depicting a world alarmingly out of balance.![](upload://1TrjVAx59z72lx6b9M6OLqsiaVq.jpg)

Maybe it was the cumulative effect of following Jane Campion’s bleaker-than-bleak thriller, Top Of The Lake. Nothing I’ve seen before has depicted quite so relentlessly mankind’s propensity to despoil paradise.

More likely, though, it was our family ‘holiday’. A long week of day returns to Southampton General hospital, a city within a city full of sound and furious activity signifying a collective battle against insurmountable odds. For all the laudable attempts of the National Health Service to promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, the forecourt was always crowded with patients wired up to portable life-support systems, nipping outside for a crafty fag. And there’s a Burger King in the ground floor ‘shopping mall’ to cater for visitors who get peckish at the bedside of their loved ones.

My mother has been inside this centre of industry for over six weeks now. My two sisters have been taking turns to bring our father in for three-hour visiting vigils. My brother, it seems, ‘can’t cope with hospitals’. Until recently, our mam was in one of the geriatric wards, quite happy in a way, sandwiched between a woman who berates the hard-pressed catering staff for bringing her food that she denies ordering, and a woman who has been plugged into a machine since a heart attack failed to carry her off to a better place.

Every afternoon, this woman’s daughter would sit by her bedside, holding the old woman’s hand while she punctuated her big sleep with groans that suggested life (of sorts). One afternoon, my wife placed an empathetic hand on her shoulder and gave her a naturopathic look – whereupon the poor woman burst into tears. She has been coming every afternoon since the beginning of June, with no real hope, but a strong sense of love and filial duty. Three times a day, a catering assistant brings food prepared in the bowels of the building. Three times a day, the untouched food is presumably scraped into a black bin bag. I calculated that if the wasted food from every hospital in the land were collected each day, it would feed the entire population of Scunthorpe. No wonder Britain’s national debt leads the world.

Anyway, my mother was doing quite nicely thank you. Thanks to the miracles of allopathic medicine, she was prevented from slipping quietly away via the back door. They regulated her sodium level, reduced all the excess fluid that her failing heart couldn’t pump away and gave her the liquid nourishment that she was refusing to take in solid form. Visiting time was a matter of holding her hand, exchanging smiles and skirting the issue of what happens next.

But then on Sunday night it all went pear-shaped. She got out of her bed in the middle of the night – a bed which surely should have been barred like a baby’s cot – and fell in a crumpled heap. She broke her hip. Thereafter, the holiday turned into a trip to Dante’s Inferno. It was the sudden silent and agonised facial contortions reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ that were the hardest to bear. Trying to impress upon someone the need to keep still is futile in the face of short-term memory loss.

Perhaps fearful of American-style litigation, doctors and nurses clustered at her bedside. A huge bumbling surgeon called Freddy from somewhere like Slovakia, whom I had surely seen before in a Mel Brooks film, turned up to deliver a Ladybird guide to hip operations.

The next day, my father went along for the long wait while she was in surgery with MP3 player and Sunday-best clothes, as if mentally prepared to say his last goodbyes. Since my mother weighs no more than a sparrow now, they gave her an epidural rather than risk a general anaesthetic for the insertion of the metal bolt or whatever it is they use to mend bones.

Somehow, against the odds, she pulled through. The next day’s vigil, however, was like a session with the Spanish Inquisition. Whenever the medical team came round to administer painkillers or to change her position in the bed, we were ushered into the corridor from where we could still hear her cries of No! No! Oh please don’t. All I could think of while holding her hand as she writhed in her bed was Doris Lessing’s maxim – that if all the suffering in the world were to give off a toxic cloud, it would pollute the universe.

Since our escape to France, we’ve been steering The Daughter through some of the films on the comprehensive list sent by her college in preparation for Year 2. The other evening it was One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. When my namesake, Chief Will Sampson, snuffs the life out of a lobotomised Randle Patrick McMurphy, I couldn’t help but think that I should have administered the pillow to end my mother’s suffering. My sister Jo had felt the same impulse – but neither of us could face the prospect of the next ten years banged up in the high-security wing of HMP Parkhurst. Better to find some kindly doctor with a syringe full of something quiet but deadly.

It was on the M27 en route for the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry, when I had my vision. Koyaanisqatsi – if I remember correctly – is Hopi Indian for ‘life out of balance’. We were approaching the turn-off to Fareham, capital of the bleak no man’s land between Southampton and Porstmouth. Above us, a constant procession of cars, white vans and lorries crossed and double-crossed the motorway. Suddenly, briefly, it all seemed so aimless and futile. What on earth are we all doing here on this planet? Where are we going? Is it simply a matter of T.S. Eliot’s birth, copulation and death?

Back home and a thousand kilometres or more from Southampton General orthopaedic wing, I was walking our dog the other morning down the rocky track that leads to the nearby hamlet. A car came reeling towards us. It was the farmer who feeds a colony of feral cats around the back of his house. Had I seen his flock of sheep? They’d wandered off and he’d had a call to say that they’d eaten all the lettuces in someone’s kitchen garden. I hadn’t seen them, but smiled inwardly at the thought of their campaign of vegetarian terror. While the sheep will wander, the world doth turn upon its axis. At least my own life in my familiar little world was back in some kind of balance.

Hi Mark, yes it was just last thursday - I loged in to see what was happening and your post was top of the list. I seem to have missed it when you originally posted and didn't look at the date! I used to spend more time looking at the landscape when I was translating and teaching. Now it's 6.5 days a week in the shop the view isn't quite the same but from home it still is. I don't think France is necessarily cheaper either (apart from housing) but there are other advantages. Bon dimanche ;-)

Thank you, Andrew. I don't know when you added your comment, but it just came through on Thursday. You're quite right, of course: it isn't easy to break out of the rat race here in France. One still has to earn a crust and the cost of living is generally higher (I reckon), but there seems to be less pressure to consume constantly and therefore life here does seem sometimes to be more detached from the mainstream. I've said it before at the Brighton Conference, and I'll say it again, but you can look out of your window here at your little bit of paradise and imagine that all is well with the world. How lucky we are!

Excellent, Mark, I know only too well what you're saying. Unfortunately it's not always that easy to break out of the rat race even here in France :-(

Celeste, just catching up after putting thoughts inspired by Mark's outstanding piece of writing and brilliant conveyance of feelings in it and then found your post. I find what you say very moving and true too. Thank you.

Thank you Mark for another fantastic post and thank you Celeste. You described exactly how I felt when I lost my mother. x

I have been away for a while, I do hope my comments didn't upset anyone!they certainly werent intended toso if they touched a nerve here and there my apologies to one and all ;

Having lived through 15 years of this limbo,good choice of word Celeste, with my Dad and this last year a horrendous year with my sister, I have had a similar experience to Mark. I SO agree writing it all down is cathartic, walking the dogs is grounding,but accepting is so very hard. The emotional roller coaster is exhausting, and Mark examined it and expressed so beautifully, would it be cheeky to ask him to write more?

Mark, I was very moved by your story, and my thoughts are with you and your family at this difficult and disorienting time. I'm sure many of us have had or will have similar experiences with our families, and no one can truly know what you are experiencing, but we can relate. I read your words and am anticipating how I will face this when the time comes. Thanks for sharing this, it was beautifully written and has left me with much, perhaps too much, food for thought. Maybe the sheep have got it right.


One of the best-written and most moving pieces I have read on this or any site. Thank you.

My parents were both treated with neglect in the same London hospital.

My mother died because she had been seen by a junior doctor who misdiagnosed

her situation and she went home that day and died.

My father underwent surgery which caused a complication and infection.

But possibly the sadest memory of his last days in that hospital was the

knowing that he had been ill treated by a male nurse. This imformation

came from another patient who had witnessed this happening.What this nurse

did is unforgivable.My father had spent several weeks in a ward which took care

of people with assorted ailments and included a number of people who were addicted

to drugs.

I will not dwell upon the difficulties in treaty people with drug addiction but I know

as a person who employed one that they need a lot of attention and care. The nurses

in that ward were under far too much pressure and it was chaotic and not an enviroment

fit for a sick person.

What followed the death of my parents was to challenge the hospital in the hope that they

would reform. I am not sure that there is a way to challenge a hospital and win.

By win I mean reform.

It was, of course dystany that my parents would die but with dignity and knowing that they

were well treated at a hospital.

There is no antidote for the pain we endure when we loose someone we love.

But feeling love for people, careing about others and enjoying good friendships

makes your world a better place.

I was half way through adding a comment and it just disappeared into the aether. It must be symptomatic of having such a heated metaphysical debate. Thank you again, everyone. You're right by the way, Patsie. I did indeed appreciate what Celeste had to say. I think it's a form of fast-forward grief - and writing about it is probably a form of catharsis. Ho hum, though, life must go on. We're watching a Bergman film this evening, Through A Glass Darkly. There was someone who seemed to know something about the human condition.

So sad Mark, I know how you feel, this happened with my father when I was very young. My mother died very suddenly at the age of 90 a couple of months ago and was thankfully spared this, although I am still in a state of shock.

Celeste thank you for expressing so well what I have felt twice in my life with my parents and I am sure that Mark will appreciate what you have said. This is a matter which will effect all of us at some time or other and it is wonderful and almost black humour that the small things go on whilst we ponder the great question "why".

Apologies Barbara...if I you confuse my enthusiasm... for preaching. When you find something that works it's nice to share it.

Have a nice day...:-)

LADIES - you are of course, entirely free to believe whatever you like regarding the Universe, Mrs. Thatcher or PG Tips but please show a little common sense and compassion and temper your posts accordingly.

Thank you.

Now Heather you sound like you are preaching!!!!!

I do not have negative thinking and by the way that Mark wrote this morning I

can only see that he has understood the events of his life....his parents ageing and his peace"ful, simple life in France as very positive description.

And so well written.

I Will not be following Abraham Hicks.

Hi Annie...nice to see some one of the same understanding. It's not easy for people to understand the laws of the Universe...when I first started up this path thirty years ago...I couldn't accept that I was responsible for my choices...and that I couldn't blame any one else. Once you do take the information to becomes so much better. It's not about having a guilt's just accepting that...this...illness...bad day...this flat tire...came about by my negative bitter resentment...and then move on.

Abraham Hicks has loads of questions and answers on uTube...for any one interested.

May I say that I am satisfied with small mercies.

As I witness the fact that I have more than many and enough;

enough of everything to get by.

If mHore comes my way then great.

DID I say my life is limited? NO I do not think so.

How many people get to do as many exciting things as I have done?

Managed a band, helped run a London night club, own a succesful restaurant, have a lovely London home,

enjoy the company of many friends cooked for them and enjoyed their cooking.

It was not the law of attraction which took me there it was my zest for life and

an ambitious quality which I developed.

But Annie what is that you are reaching out for?

I MOVE FORWARD from each complication and accept it as a challenge of life.

I HAVE never thought that my life is limited....

but I am the only malipulator of my mind....NO ONE elese.

Ah but there you go Barbara, you believe the best you can have is, maybe, contentment (and there is lot to be said for that!) but what a limiting belief!!I am One hundred per cent with heather every choice we make in every second forms our destiny! There are certain points we must pass, live through, but how we get ther, what we learn from them and how we move on aftewards is our choice. Thinking your Life is limited immidiately limits it! But the dvd of the law of attraction, watch it in bits, it was originally a tv series in Australia, so some of it is repetetavive, try it and see!!!

(((Hugs))) Mark. Been there, done that. It's a hard road to walk but there is an end to it.