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Safe Passage

Anne Sherry

Dim sum: those tiny bite-sized snacks, steamed or fried, originally served as part of the Chinese tea ceremony. Literally translated dim sum means ‘touch the heart’. I hope Safe Passage will do that. A steamer basket of dim sum gives more than just a flavour of Chinese culture; in miniature, it portrays the whole. More dim sum than banquet, I believe that Safe Passage does too.

My book is a memoir, which interleaves poetry and prose, to tell the story of a marriage.

Safe Passage is a memoir, which interleaves poetry and prose, to tell the story of a marriage. It describes the pain my late husband John and I experienced as a result of dementia and the struggle I had afterwards to rebuild my life.

Profits from the book sales are being donated to Alzheimer’s Research UK.

In a way I’ve been writing this book since childhood. I’ve always been a scribbler: I produced travel journals when John and I went travelling; I’ve kept a personal journal since 1997; I am a Julia Cameron devotee (in The Artist’s Way, she advocates writing morning pages as a writerly warm-up).

I started writing seriously when I left corporate life. Working independently gave me the space to live more creatively. Initially I focussed on fiction. Later poetry found me; on a cold, gloomy New Year’s Day in the shape of a white swan arcing the length of the Basingstoke Canal.  Writing is my compulsion. I write and then I know what I think.

I write and then I amass.

At the last count over 300 poems, some published or placed in competitions. Might I have enough for a poetry pamphlet? Should I try to get a bundle accepted? Or maybe I could go it alone? I was aware that self-published poetry collections tend to be less well regarded than those chosen by an editor. But who was I writing for anyway? Primarily for myself of course, but also for others who might find value in my words, some form of solace, maybe a connection. Significantly, I didn’t believe the poems were the only pieces with merit. Knowing there was almost no market in the UK for mixed collections, I decided to self-publish.

So far so good, but how to string them together? I clearly needed a theme. Inspiration came as I was boxing books for storage. I’d sold my house and, short-term, was moving into a rental flat. I was jettisoning ballast. Everything kept would cost. What to do with thirteen plump travel journals? Not to mention two-dozen folders bulging with brochures, maps, receipts, menus, serviettes, tickets.

‘You can’t just bin them,’ exclaimed writing friend, Linda. ‘They’re part of you! At least read them first.‘

So I did. And here I found my theme: travel as journey, actual and emotional; travel, with its connotations of movement, searching and personal growth; travel, the leitmotif of my life. In going back I discovered a lost world. I not only unlocked the past, I fixed it for all time.

Writing the book, I encountered sadness and loss but I also found laughter and love.

Safe Passage encapsulates that past – a past recaptured through my memories, my perceptions, my thoughts and feelings. Of course, I encountered sadness and loss but I also found laughter and love. I discovered things I’d forgotten, events I now view with wiser eyes. And I felt, and feel, gratitude and compassion – for all that was. Here is the sum of my choices; choices, which have made me the person I am today.

Even as a child my inner voice sang more sweetly in miniature. Pared down and elliptical suits me. I’d rather pick from a smorgasbord than struggle through a sit-down dinner. Which is why I’ve crafted these bite-sized morsels into a small feast.


An extract from Safe Passage by Anne Sherry.
Swansong

John didn’t want to go out.
‘Let’s just sit here,’ he suggested.
He looked so frail, so old, his fine, thick hair now white and thinning, that increasingly familiar, slightly glazed look in his eyes. As if a light was dimming. He was fading, becoming shadow, shade. My heart clenched with fresh anxiety. John must have sensed it; he took me in his arms, held me close. I could feel the trembling that now often racked his once solid frame.
‘I love you,’ I said.
‘I know you do,’ he replied.
‘How do you know?’ I teased. ‘How do you know I don’t come to see you because I feel I ought.’ He looked at me, assessing. The button-bright Butler boy was back.
‘You wouldn’t. I know you, Annie. You don’t do things because you ought to. Not any more anyway.’
We talked about Jeanne. Then quite suddenly, out of the blue, I burst into tears. It was like projectile vomiting. Suddenly everything coalesced into a Gordian knot of pain. And how I cried. I cried like a baby, cried for our rose-coloured past, the compromised present, the awful future. I cried for John; I cried for me. I cried for everyone who suffers from, or because of, dementia.
‘Oh dear me,’ he said. ‘Come here, little one. Why are you crying? Are you crying because you’re alone?’ He took me in his arms, murmured ‘Don’t cry little one. I’ll look after you.’ Murmured with the cruelty of compassion.
Grief. Such awful grief. Physical pain, as if I were having a heart attack.
Two weeks later John died from an abdominal aortic aneurysm.


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