Three columns

By CJ Stone

Column for the 3rd April 2014

It’s been just over nine years since I gave up smoking. I can even give you the exact time: it was at 2.30 am on the morning of the 24th of March 2005. That’s when I smoked my last cigarette.

I know a lot of people who give up never quite get over it. They lose the physical side of their addiction, but the cravings remain.

The desire to smoke never quite leaves them. It is always there, attached to that cup of coffee or that pint, or as they sit back from their meal: an association which reminds them of the cigarette they always used to smoke at this point.

That’s what happened to my Mum. Every time she saw someone on the TV with a cigarette she would let out a little sigh and say she wished she had a cigarette too.

She stopped buying them in the last years of her life, but she never really stopped smoking. She could go months without one but whenever my sister turned up from Tenerife, Mum would greet her on the doorstep demanding a cigarette.

That’s because cigarette smoking is as much a psychological addiction as it is a physical one. It is the psychological element which is the hardest to get rid of.

In my own case it took well over a month of concentrated effort to overcome it. I used a book called the Easy Way to Stop Smoking by Allen Carr, which I recommend. I kept stopping and starting again, but the courage to keep going came from the book.

It was my last but one cigarette which revealed the truth, that even as you are smoking one cigarette, the yearning for the next one is beginning. It is a never ending cycle, each cigarette creating the need for the next one even as you are satisfying the craving created by the last one.

That was the point at which all the illusions about smoking fizzled away and I knew that giving up would be easy.

I had one more cigarette that night, said my goodbyes, and I’ve not smoked nor even wanted a cigarette since.

Column for the 17th April 2014

It’s been nearly a year since my Mum died. She passed away at 6pm on the evening of the 20th of April 2013.

I must admit I have mixed emotions. Do I still think about her? Well yes, often: probably more than once a day.

But do I miss her?

That’s not quite so clear. Yes I miss the healthy person she used to be, the shrewd, determined, alternatively clever and occasionally naïve person who used to make me wince and then laugh. But that’s not the person she was in the end.

In the end she was badly crippled, bed-bound and terminally unhappy. Do I miss that person? Not a bit of it. She made her decision and she moved on. It was a good decision. I’m glad she’s free of the pain. She left the mangled wreck of her body behind and moved on to other things.

It’s not the dead who suffer, it’s the living. My Dad still misses her, grievously. Every nice thing that happens to him makes him want to cry. He wishes that Mary was here to experience it with him.

But I take a different view. Life is for the living, I think. I picture how much she would have loved the occasion, and I imagine how she would feel if she was here. I drink it all in and say that I’m experiencing it on her behalf.

That’s why I don’t miss her. As far as I’m concerned she’ll never go away as long as I’m around to remember her.

When we mourn, we are mourning for ourselves.

Me, I think that life is a mystery and I’m impatient with people who think they have the answers: the terminally religious and the terminally materialistic alike.

Is there life after death? Yes, of course there is. Life goes on whether we’re around to witness it or not.

The birds will still sing, the trees will still blossom, the sun will still shine, the earth will still turn, and there will still be creatures around to enjoy it.

Why should we be sad?

Column for the 1st May 2014

I’m a grandad!

My first grandchild was born on the 9th of March 2014 at 9.30 pm. Even before I’d seen her I’d dreamed about her. I saw her in her Mother’s arms. She was like a little woodland creature snuffling the smells around her, passing no judgements, experiencing life as it is, in all its raw immediacy.

When I saw her she looked exactly like she had in my dream, even down to the colour of her hair. I was fascinated by her. I couldn’t stop looking at her, at her innocent perfection: at her tiny clenched hands and her pursed lips, at her soft hair and eyebrows and her luminous skin, at her sleeping eyes in their sockets, even now chasing rabbits down the rabbit hole in her dreams.

My son’s partner showed me a photo of my son holding the baby just after she was born. It was a very long labour and he’d been up for more than forty hours. He looked so fragile and at the same time so proud and protective that I burst into tears. I couldn’t help remembering the day that he was born, about all the emotions I’d felt when I’d first set eyes on him.

New life. It’s like a light has come on in the world. A newborn child is a miracle of nature. It is primordial innocence. Every birth renews the world, returning it to its state of perfection. That’s how I’d felt about my son on the day he was born.

And now here he is, half a lifetime later, the proud father, with a beautiful child of his own in his arms.

People congratulate me on being a grandad, but I have to say that I’ve done nothing. I’ve hung around long enough to be a witness, that’s all. I’m nothing but a link in the chain.

But I’m proud of my son and proud of his partner and proud of the child they have created.

And meanwhile I look forward to being the indulgent grandparent, and to being open enough to learn from my grandchild.

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