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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Issues of life and death,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

? ' I really and truely need help! i really like this boy but he's a bit older then me and kind of related. i never felt this before in my life but when i saw him he just felt like the one but i also just found out his going out with a girl and if they get along they are planning to get engaged. Also im really overeweight i need to lose weight as quickly as possible so the next time i ever see him he might really like me. can u please write back as soon as possible because im in pain
(Name withheld)

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Alice Dear anon,

Question 1: are you really overweight? If so, forget guys and get yourself sorted out. Be honest with yourself and join a group of weight-watchers -- or ask for therapy. However, I suspect it's in your imagination, and you just want to be mega-thin and super cool to attract this guy -- but if you are actually overweight (your doctor will tell you) then that can lead to very serious problems in your life (heart disease, cancer, etc). You will probably not believe me at this point but -- follow me closely here -- dying young is actually much worse than not getting the guy of your dreams ...

Question 2: Assuming you're not 'really overweight' -- or even if you are -- I'm still concerned about your self-image. You need to address this too before you can have a healthy and strong relationship with anybody. You need to get help on this. Start with your doctor, but don't take do for an answer. Depression is also an illness (not only heart disease etc mentioned already!!!) Unless you know your own value, you're just asking for some guy -- almost any guy -- to walk all over your life. (Believe me: This is not a good life-plan.)

Question 3: I think you're idealizing this guy. (It is, for a start, hugely immature of him -- and/or his current girlfriend -- to imagine that 'if they get along, they plan to get engaged.' This is not the kind of life decision to be entered into so casually. They might as well put it like this: 'Thought we'd try Vodaphone for our mobile/cellphones, and, if it works, go from a pay-as-you-go to a monthly phone contract ... or marry a Vodaphone executive.')

I mean, get real!!!!!!

I guess what I'm saying is this: You have to learn to put a true value on yourself, not some (most likely unattainable other) first and foremost. You imagine that with this guy you'd be happy, but you're smart enough to know, in your real life, that nobody can make your happiness for you. Only you can do that, whoever you're with or however serious it is.

Good luck!!!!

Ask Alice

? 'Dear Alice,

So sorry about your mother-in-law, as I know your husband is an only child and that you were close. Let me know if I can do anything.

' F W,

Ask Alice

Alice Hi Frances,

Thanks for this, and yes, it was a shock, in the end, as Rita had only been admitted on the suspicion of an infection -- and had passed the ECG only hours before.

At 2.30am the phone shrilled me out of sleep. To me, 'Accident and emergency; we need to speak to Professor McVeigh', set off wild alarm bells. Simon was almost impossible to waken, but once he could grasp the phone he said, 'Yes', very drowsily and then gasped: 'Passed away!'

When we got to the ward we were met by a procession of staff, all hugely apologetic that Rita had not been in intensive care, and that she had suffered so imperious a heart attack without anyone's being aware of any definite symptoms. True: ten minutes before she died she had complained of feeling breathless to a newly-qualified nurse, who had put her back on oxygen. The nurse had then gone to fetch someone more senior. When they had returned, no more than five minutes later, Rita was already gone, and no amount of artificial resuscitation efforts from the accident and emergency team could bring her back.

At 3.30am Simon and I drove to Clairleigh nursing home, where the night nurse and Simon between them woke Frank, in case he too wanted to see the body. (He didn't.) Little rivulets of tears rolled down onto his pyjamas, but he was the only one of us truly unsurprised, as we sat there in the half-light, drinking tea and trying to take it in. ('I always knew her heart would get her in the end', he said; and more tellingly, 'She half-way wanted this, you know. She was so unhappy not being free.')

It had been bad enough incarcerated at Luton and Dunstable Hospital, but after her hip operations, increasingly, immobility was already beginning to sour her feisty temperament; Rita was no more capable of enduring dependence on others than she could fly and how she longed to fly! Only a couple of weeks ago she was complaining bitterly of being confined to one place, however stunning its garden. 'I'll escape', she told a nursing home attendant in my hearing, half-mocking, half-serious. 'You wait. One night I'll escape and none of you will be able to find me!'

Twenty years ago Rita had had a near-death experience on a holiday to New England. She described it to me in detail: the heart attack, the feeling of separateness, of looking down on her own body, the urgency of the medical staff, the sensation of being pulled towards a long tunnel of light and peacefulness, the yearning to slip away and her intense disappointment of being hauled back to earth. But when I suggested that the light might have been God, she was amused. 'Oh Alice, you have no notion how all those heart drugs can affect your brain!' she told me, because for Rita, God was just a fairytale for the credulous and fanciful.

At any rate, after leaving Frank, and completely unable to sleep, Simon and I set off around 4.30am for Harpenden in our rented van, hired weeks before in order to clear the house for its new tenants. We felt light-headed from shock, sorrow and lack of sleep, but as we drove, the sun rose over the Thames, and it was in fact an astonishing day, one of the first 'real' Spring days, and the entire world seemed washed over new. It felt hard to grieve on an empty M25, and when we arrived at the house, we found the racehorses that occasionally munched Rita's roses cantering, capering and flirting on the field adjoining the house, their delicate hooves just brushing over the soft grass.

And as I paced, and broke the news to her relatives and friends, I kept looking over the field, at the dancing thoroughbreds, the sun just liquifying the sky, and I hoped against hope that Rita's wilful spirit was truly 'resting in peace'. She was so magnificently, so wildly, so wonderfully stubborn that it doesn't seem likely but I still love to think of it, just as she held on to that dream, of escaping, of running, of flying away to where the racehorses run, just at the end of her garden, in the warm open sunlight of a brand-new Spring.

Copyright © 3 April 2009 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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