Living creatively in a diminishing space

Rebecca de Saintonge, 28th Jun 2016 no comments

As your partner becomes less able, their world shrinks around them, and so does your own, so how do you survive and find a way to live creatively within this diminishing space? Rebecca de Saintonge found a way.


One of my deepest concerns, as I nursed my husband, was that he should not sense the toll his illness was taking on my own life. That meant that somehow I had to find a way to live creatively in our diminishing world. Because it’s true, isn’t it, that as your partner’s world grows smaller and narrower, so does your own, and you feel that you too are shrinking, as all the things you once did together, and for yourself and others, are no longer possible. It’s easy to feel like a machine, whose sole purpose is to keep the ship afloat. But there is a way to find freedom, and even delight, despite the limitations of life, and these are the moments that give you the strength to go on giving, and to keep in touch with yourself.

My own experiences happened more than 20 years ago, long before Mindfulness was ever talked about, yet I suppose that is what I tried to practice as I found a new way to live ‘in the small’.

A little patch of wildness

A country woman at heart, what I longed for was to be outside, walking on the moors, or beside the sea, but we were now living in a town, and the days of us walking out together were long past. I had begun to feel distressingly trapped, unable to leave the house for more than an hour or two. So I decided I had to find an escape, I had to find my own little patch of wildness where I was, in my narrow suburban garden.

My aim was to find a moment each day to concentrate on the small pleasurable things around me, consciously cutting out all the negative feelings and stresses. I kept a diary at the time, and this is what I wrote:

Relishing the detail

“Today I trained our binoculars on the little viburnum tree outside our French doors. I’ve hung this tree with fat balls, niger seeds, sunflower seeds and peanuts, and slowly, over the last couple of months, an astonishing range of little birds has come to feast – birds I didn’t know were living here: bullfinch, goldfinch and chaffinch, a sweet little brownish-green job I’ve identified as a siskin. The wrens are back, though they stick to the fences, and I was thrilled to see a flock of coal tits and several blackcaps. And hopping on the ground, his breast as bold as a zebra, was a male mistlethrush.

I try to look intently, to relish each detail – the different shapes of their beaks, the intricacies of their feathers, the way they squabble and hop and lilt from branch to branch. I’d been brought up to dislike starlings – but they are beautiful, iridescent and dotted with light. They squawk a bit, that’s true, but don’t we all. I’ve counted fourteen varieties of birds so far. The blue tits are so greedy, they’re more like flying peanuts than birds. And then I watch our two black cats slowly hunching up the garden, bellies low, turning our wild flowerbeds into the Serengeti as they stalk their prey.

Relishing the moment

Sometimes I’m too tired to look so intensely, but I find that by stopping in my tracks, just now and then, and saying out loud to myself, ‘This moment is lovely, these buds are beautiful, this air feels good …’ helps me to believe that life is not passing me by, that I have what is needed to stimulate the soul here around me, if only I can learn to cut out the intrusions – the noise of neighbours and traffic, my husband’s suffering, the insistent domestic chores – and somehow hone in on the small details so that, if only for a moment, they are all that matters.”


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