Saying “Ook?”

My younger son considered the view as I raised the scarf with which I cover the near-naked skin of my scalp. There are but a few wispy strands of fluff and the stubborn remnants of the Tintin-esque fringe with which to cover my baldness. I am not one of those fortunate females on whom it looks like a style choice. Knowing Alex fairly well after a lifetime of being ‘Mum’, I could see both the unspoken grief as he registered the lingering effects of chemotherapy and the twitch of amusement.

We went with the latter.

“You look like an orangutan…”

“Thanks.”

“I like orangutans,” he added, hopefully, as if that might appease my wounded maternal vanity.

Orangutan from public domain pictures 17907 at Pixabay (

Image: Pixabay

“He’s right,” said his older brother the following day, critically assessing the image on the screen during a video call. The son with whom I shared a love of the Discworld books said, “You should say ‘Ook’ more often.”

According to the medics, the hair loss was inevitable, the loss of my voice is probably not down to laryngitis and the excess of hot, red flesh is not to be blamed on overindulgence in festive fare. They can probably all be blamed on the main vein to the heart being compressed. I believe they call it SVCS… which I assume means something along the lines of ‘squished vein causing swelling’ but in posher, Latin terminology.

The trouble is, I cannot disagree with my sons’ assessment… the mirror tells me that it is fair and as none of my menfolk seem inclined to offer any strategically dishonest compliments, I have to accept that the days when I could look in the mirror without cringing are long since gone and an ‘ook’ may be all I can manage.

It is yet another one of those instances of ‘letting go’ that you stumble across in circumstances like these. And it is surprising how the mind wants to work to deal with the idea. My first intimation of the whole ‘letting go’ thing was realising I would have to say goodbye to all those fictional characters, both read and written, that I have kept in my heart and mind for so long.  Now, it takes very little to realise that it was not fictional people that were really bringing the tears to my eyes, but I was not ready to deal with anything more painful at that point. The brain is clever at such subterfuge.

The dog was no better… she still worries the life out of me, because how do I explain? Who will be there for her when I finally go? Knowing full well that she will be very well looked after and will understand what is going on far better than, say, my little granddaughters…

So, bit by bit, you start letting go of the illusions too. And it makes it very hard when others cling to them. I know the statistics… they are wide ranging averages and people do novel things with ‘expectations’ every day. That barely comes into the equation.

But letting go of the things and the roles by which you have defined yourself, that is an interesting and revealing process. That I may have to stop being a ‘carer’ at some point and become a ‘caree’… but that, regardless of what I am able to actually do,  I will always be a mother… it shows you what really matters, and what is just a definition, a label applied by both self and society to pin down just a small part of who you are.

My self-image is being challenged daily. I can no longer walk or bathe my dog, for example. Changing the bedding used to take minutes and now takes most of the morning… even with breaks in between. Housework is a major undertaking and I doubt if I will ever be able to mow the lawn again. Even in this tiny flat I am gasping for breath as I dust. Learning to accept help and rely on others does not come easily. Learning that maybe the housework never mattered quite so much as I thought is even harder.

Then you get to wondering about who and what you really are. The body is just a collection of organic components, put together and lent to us by Nature.  We use it for a while,  like any other vehicle, then when it has outlived its usefulness, its component parts are broken down and returned to earth.

I believe that the ‘driving force’ of that vehicle is not part of it but of another order of being altogether. Look at how we can observe ourselves, often from several ‘steps’ back from everyday consciousness, watch the layers unravel and unpeel… and while I expect most of those layers to dissolve with the body, I am convinced that something survives, especially after having watched an accident unfold as a ‘ghost of myself’ many years ago.

Life, death and the bits in between… we know very little about what any of them actually  are, except in physical terms, and yet we accept these amorphous definitions as readily as we do far more concrete concepts. But I wonder what each of us would come up with, were we to ask ourselves, in the unjudged silence of the innermost heart, “Who, or what am I really?”

Other than an orangutan, of course.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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86 Responses to Saying “Ook?”

  1. Sadje says:

    A bit of humor helps in dealing with the seriousness of the situation. Who we are is something, I think, are different persons to different people. To ourselves, we measure ourself with what was most important in our lives. I would say for myself that I was a good mom and a loving daughter.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I like orangutan 🙂 sending you my love, Sue ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  3. radiosarahc says:

    You write beautifully, sending love 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Orangutan was a wizard that had got caught in some morphic resonance which changed him into an ape, which he came to enjoy and stayed in that shape (although when he got hiccups he kept changing and at one stage was a shaggy red deckchair I think?). Sending very gentle hugs. Xxxx

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ritu says:

    Huge hugs, Sue! You are definitely more than an Orangutan! 💜💜💜

    Liked by 1 person

  6. floridaborne says:

    So much truth and beauty in this sentence, “So, bit by bit, you start letting go of the illusions too. And it makes it very hard when others cling to them.”

    All of us begin to resemble prunes at some point. At least you resemble a mammal. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I love that part where you speak of us being part of Nature’s lending scheme, Sue.
    When I get a little closer to returning to the library myself, so to speak, I know I will be returning home…

    Like

  8. Darlene says:

    Humour gets us through a lot. I want to die laughing. 🤣 Orangutans are very cute. Sending much love to you and your family. 😍

    Like

  9. V.M.Sang says:

    I love orangutans, too. Such beautiful and gentle creatures. Just like you, Sue. You will always be beautiful. It’s what’s inside that matters.

    Like

  10. Cathy Cade says:

    Quentin Crisp wrote something along the lines of ‘after the first month , the dust doesn’t get any thicker.’ It’s true – I’ve watched it (- well, not actually watched, but spotted it in passing. That’s the only time my housework gets done; when I notice the dust.)
    I’ve always wondered why – as a species – we are so concerned about the world getting hotter – or colder when the sun wears out, or running out of resouces, or imploding in a reverse big bang… if we don’t know somewhere in our subconscious that we will still be around, somehow.
    Another TP fan – one of the greats. Immortal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I was an admirer of many of Mr Crisp’s pronouncements… only I think it was a matter of years for the dust…which would mean leaving it that long in a purely experimental fashion 🙂
      For the same reason fear of death itself (not the manner of it) has always puzzled me. I will either continue… or be so perfectly erased I will know nothing of it at all. Either works for me.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. An Orangutan? Maybe. But also an extremely talented writer who has the gift of bringing people together with her writing and making them smile even during unprecedented times.
    Hugs, Sue.
    xx

    Like

  12. You make me laugh. And you make me pause. If I was to answer this question about you, I would think in addition to the Orangutan, you would be a thinker, a writer, a creator. Which, by the way, none of which require hair-but spirit. ❤️

    Like

  13. Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    Sue is learning to accept her new appearance and be philosophical about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. noelleg44 says:

    Your voice is NOT silenced, Sue, but as strong as ever. Maybe you think you look like an orangutan, but a very complex, loving and lovable one!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’ve learned to accept each new wrinkle and stiffness. You’re right. Somehow things take longer. I can no longer use the stairs as my trick knees cause a problem. I’ll accept the years I’m allowed but don’t plan for ten years from now anymore. I’ve learned to accept each day as a gift. Thank you for sharing your life with us, Sue. ❤ — Suzanne

    Like

  16. pvcann says:

    I am grateful for your transparency, it teaches me acceptance and detachment in the moment.

    Like

  17. gmvasey says:

    Hmmm. I prefer to think of you in terms that Stuart used when I was there….. a goddess for whatever you look like on the outside, I know a little of your heart and soul. And for that I am truly greatful.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. jwebster2 says:

    Remember that you will live on in the people you touched, perhaps the person who read just one blog and came away with an idea that made them think, or which helped things come more into focus.
    Remember you have friends you have never met who are grateful for the help, the ‘leg up’ you have given them.
    Remember that there are all sorts of people who have let chinks of you into their lives.

    Also remember that, like the beautiful actress in the black and white film, there is something of you that doesn’t really age, there are bits of you which are forever young and glamourous and triumphant. And thanks to the interconnected world we live in where blogs are shared and cascade far beyond our recall, there are people who will read your blog and not even realise you are not still with us, because for them you are.

    So to somebody ‘looking down on you from above’ you are the view seen through a Kaleidoscope, impossibly fragmented, no single bit making a great deal of sense, but to that one ‘somebody’ looking through the proper eyepiece, beautiful, connected, and making perfect, scintillating, sense.

    Or, to put it more succinctly, ‘ook’

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Orangutan’s have charm and character, both of which you, dear Sue, have in spades. But it is not the outside that defines us, it’s what’s inside that makes us who we are, and I for one, am so glad to know you.

    Like

  20. willowdot21 says:

    I love orangutans too, they are so happy. Life is about keeping your sense of humour 💜 and I have to accept you know what’s what and not argue the toss with you 💜💜💜💕

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Jim Borden says:

    always a mother – what a noble calling…

    Like

  22. memadtwo says:

    We all know at some level we are going to die of course, but even many people in your position refuse to accept it. I admire both your candor and your courage. You will certainly always be alive for me. I expect the Oracle will find your spirit useful as well. (K)

    Like

  23. Sue, I’m sure you’re right about our “driving force”. This is touching and insightful writing as always. Sending love. ❤

    Like

  24. Eliza Waters says:

    I love that the boys go the humor route, though I’m sure they know when to be serious as well. I just read a Vonnegut quote that I loved: “‘And how should we behave during this Apocalypse? We should be unusually kind to one another, certainly. But we should also stop being so serious. Jokes help a lot. And get a dog, if you don’t already have one.’
    Kurt Vonnegut – The Idea Killers, 1984
    I think you’ve clicked all the boxes here. ❤

    Like

  25. dgkaye says:

    Sending love Sue. You are still Sue. Don’t forget that, no matter what outward appearance you see in the mirror. ❤

    Like

  26. *hugs* and puppy kisses from Lilie and Logan.

    For the record, “The Librarian” has always been a favourite Discworld character of mine…

    Like

  27. TamrahJo says:

    ❤ – Oakley and I did a sing-along-howl of protest over poor Ani's grooming struggles. 😀 I try to imagine any orangutan who could ever dance like you, in heels and gracefully, no matter what your hair looks like or how many times you say "ook" – :D. But yes, it occurs to me that when such things strike, it's like having to grow old gracefully, but being forced to do it all in a rush. There are so many things I had to let go of during my life, due to illness or hits that well, while I am still living, still some things I just cannot physically/mentally do anymore – no mater how hard I try, etc., and well – in the end, I found, there were so many various versions of my identity I thought 'was me', when in actuality, all it was the real me, doing physical actions, in material world, in order to 'express' the me of me. And once I figured that out, well, there is always something, somewhere, to do, that works with 'who you are' physically, just now and sometimes, when you can't 'do' alot? Your job IS to BE the loving and gracious caree – so those who love you get the opportunity to express their love of ever-growing but never changing, really, You through the 'doing' ways you have done for them – :). ❤

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Yes, it does feel very much like having to grow old all in one go… and without warning. Not an easy task to accept that and all that comes with it, but is is something that needs to be accepted, as you say, with what grace we can muster. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  28. Widdershins says:

    For a moment I read the, ‘ unjudged silence’ as ‘unhinged silence’! 😀 … I like the physical body only being a loaner bit, too. 🙂

    Like

  29. Helen Jones says:

    Oh Sue. Humour and tears… xx

    Like

  30. acflory says:

    Please don’t think I’m a crank, but painting some iodine on your skin every day may boost your immune system so it works the way it’s supposed to work. Massive hugs.

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I’ll look into anything that might help 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • acflory says:

        You can get iodine in Betadine. I think you have that in the UK? Or you can buy the pure iodine online. The brand I get is Lugols because it was the ‘first’. I use a cotton bud [ear bud? stick with cotton wool at either end?] like a paintbrush. Dip it into the iodine and then paint it onto your skin but be careful as it will stain clothing while wet. If it’s absorbed into the skin within 8 hours you know your body needs it. In perfectly healthy people it takes about 24 hours.
        I was told about iodine after I had my own brush with cancer [not by a medico]. I’m now at ten years and counting. I have no proof it was the iodine, but helping the immune system keep me healthy seems like a reasonable thing to me.
        -massive hugs-

        Like

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