wings and things

My son, the honest actor

Earlier today I put Ming on a train to Perth because he has applied for numerous roles in various films, including a music video. It’s mostly “extra” work so not paid but I admire his tenacity in trying to get ‘out there’ as an actor. One of the roles requires him to be a scruffy guy at a strip club; another requires him to be a sophisticated guy at a strip club; and the music video requires him to be a NeoNazi in a story about how a young son murders his Nazi father.

Yes, well, mmmm. Anyway, Ming will be staying with various relatives and friends for the next four days and nights. Tonight he will be staying with my eldest niece and her husband (you know, the beautiful people).

The following night, he will be staying with one of his best friends, and for the last two nights he will be staying with relatives from Anthony’s side of the family.


Ming hasn’t gone off for many adventures like this and I just realized that I have never been alone on this farm for as long as four days (one or other of the ‘boys’ would be here), so it feels very strange.

The brat’s interests are music and drama (both of which he is good at, but, even though he has some formal qualifications, these are very difficult industries to get into).

I am hoping so much that he might simply be noticed.


Before I dropped Ming off at the train station, we went to our lawyer’s office to give him a gift of red wine and he invited us into his space to have a chat. It wasn’t like our previous chats because, now that the court case is miraculously over, we could just be ourselves without the professional distance. I wanted to hug the lawyer (as I had done just after the verdict last week), but I restrained myself.

Ming was told previously that one of the repercussions of the accident was that he might have to do community service by accompanying the police to schools in order to talk about his/our extended family’s experience. We were told last week that this was no longer a necessity but Ming still wants to do this and I support his decision.

In a way, this will be another unpaid acting role but, this time, it will be the real thing. Ming told me this afternoon that he continually replays that night in his head, with ‘what if?’ questions a never-ending dream sequence, and with the ‘why?’ question still hanging its head in shame.

The fact that all of the children who were injured are okay now, in a forever way, spurs Ming on to wanting to warn the rest of us to be more protective, corrective and vigilant – AND to dispel notions of easygoingness when it comes to children, because you just


Sweet and Sour

I don’t like sweets, desserts, chocolates, lollies, and would much rather have cheese and crackers.

This morning, Ming and I went into town to pick up Anthony for a doctor’s appointment for both of them (I am the mere chauffeur – ha!). Ants needed one of his skin cancers burned off with the liquid nitrogen spray thingy, and Ming needed a new prescription for something.

Tonight, when I rang Ants to say goodnight (this only seems to work every few days), a nurse answered and immediately handed the new telephone receiver to him.

I said I was just ringing to say goodnight and he said that this was very sweet of me and, after we hung up, I remembered how, initially (when he was 41 and I was 17), he was so horrible to me but, occasionally said things like “Jules, you are so sweet!”


Parkinson’s disease dementia and life expectancy

Okay so I googled this today with a mixture of guilt and curiosity. In watching Anthony’s physical and mental abilities diminish over the last year, I have become increasingly concerned that (a) he will become very depressed; (b) his confusion will cause him anxiety; and (c) he will suffer physical pain.

Some of these things are already happening of course but, so far, he is not in physical pain and – remarkably, in my opinion, – is not depressed in any clinical sense. He is plagued by bouts of immobility and incontinence but we have both accepted these aspects of PD. Recently, however, the confusion of dementia has caused us both anxiety. For example, if he is home for the day, he will often talk to Ming and me even when we aren’t in the room. And sometimes, in the nursing home, he will think we are all home on the farm, and can’t understand where Ming and I are going when we leave him.

It is over seven years now since Antony’s PD diagnosis, and just over two years since he has lived in the nursing home. He is sad a lot of the time, mainly because he misses me, Ming and home, but mostly he is resigned and heroic in the way he has accepted now that he is too heavy for a single person to lift (in and out of bed etc.)

As much as possible, I have tried to inject a daily dose of joy into our equation but sometimes that isn’t enough and visiting him yesterday with my youngest brother and his youngest son, although wonderful, gutted me when we had to leave him, leaning on his walker, waving goodbye, with two nurses ready to take him back to his room.

How long will this go on? I catch myself wondering if sudden death would be better than this excruciatingly slow journey into an illness that has no cure, that ends with severe dementia, and that robs us of the energy we once had to adore each other. Of course the love is still there – maybe more than ever – but it is no longer a gleeful, adventurous, exciting love; it is more like a needy, obligatory, remembered love – not quite real in the here and now.

My grief and love for Anthony are in equal proportions and every single day it’s as if they draw straws to see which one will win – usually love, but not always….


The littlest peachick

Yesterday morning, just outside the back door, you took bread from my hand for the first time,
even though you are the littlest peachick.
Surrounded by your peacock father and his brothers, surrounded by your peahen mother and her sisters,’
you raced all of them and won each piece of bread I tossed onto the ground,
even though you are the littlest peachick.

Your big sister didn’t stand a chance and you gobbled all of her bread bits until I gently brushed you aside,
littlest peachick.

This morning, just outside the back door, I saw you again, but this time you were all alone.
I thought you were a pile of leaves blown together by the wind,
until I saw your little legs pointing upwards like the bare, autumn branches of a bonsai.
I went outside and approached you cautiously, not wanting to see what I already saw, that you were very dead,
my littlest peachick.

Your mother, big sister, and all of the others, came over very quietly to look at your dead body.
Then, just as quietly, they all stepped back, turned around and went away,
my littlest peachick.


This morning, the farm is strangely silent. Your family, usually so noisy and boisterous, has withdrawn from the vicinity of your death.
Out in the paddock, they nibble halfheartedly at the grass, looking up and around frequently, as if sensing danger, bewildered, as I am,
at your mysterious death,
our littlest peachick.

I see you now, from the corner of my heart’s eye,
high up in a tree that is so beautiful that it has no name.
You are no longer little; you are huge and your rainbow wings span the sky as you fly in and through the marshmallow clouds
of where you are now.

The littlest peachick.


Anzac Day

Today is Anzac Day (fyi so I went into town this morning to join Anthony for the nursing home’s memorial ceremony. Many of his forbears fought in various wars and he has always become very emotional, as his mother used to, on this day of remembrance, so I wanted to make sure he was okay.

I was surprised to find that he wasn’t particularly interested. The ceremony was an abbreviation of those held elsewhere, probably due to having to fit it in between breakfast and lunch routines, and the usual under-staffing on a public holiday. I sat next to Ants with my hand on his arm during the service but now that he is so bowed over (partly due to Parkinson’s disease and partly due to his spinal condition) he no longer looks up so I had to kind of hold his head up when the flag was raised.

By 11am we were back in Anthony’s room and he was very wobbly (‘wobbly’ is the term we coined some years ago to describe what happens when PD is in full force; his eyes become glazed, he begins to dribble, and he can’t move, talk, focus without prompting). A nurse came in at 11.10am to give him his 11am pill but none of his meds seem to work like they used to so I had to feed him his lunch using a spoon. Like all of the residents in the high care wing of the nursing home, he has to wear a bib. We bantered a bit (well I did) about me having to feed him like a baby and that garnered a small smile from him.

By 1pm, I wanted to go home to my chores and said so. Anthony briefly rallied asking why he couldn’t come too and (for the zillionth time) I explained that, as it was already the afternoon, he would just get more wobbly and too heavy for me blah blah, and he gave me the usual stony look. I then reassured him that I would bring him home tomorrow morning because my youngest brother is visiting with his youngest son.

Tonight I rang Ants at about 6pm and he answered it (yay!) but I had to shout because he has forgotten that he has to hold the receiver to his ear, despite how many times I have showed him how. I could hear his voice saying ‘hello’ but as if from a great distance, so I yelled, “PUT THE PHONE NEXT TO YOUR EAR!” He finally did so and this was our conversation:

Me: It’s ME, Julie, your wife!
Anthony: I don’t know where Julie is.
Me: I’m Julie – it’s me, Ants!
Anthony: Oh, Jules ….
Me: I’m just ringing to say good night.
Anthony: Tonight?
Me: I’m ringing to say good night, Ants.
Anthony: Oh that’s very sweet of you.
Me: So I’ll see you tomorrow morning, okay?
Anthony: Where are you?
Me: I’m home.
Anthony: Is Mum with you? (He meant his own mother who died decades ago).
Me: No, but Ming is. So I’m saying good night and I love you.
Anthony: I … you … bye….

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of ANZAC day and I wonder if Anthony will still be here. If he is, I know for sure that he will not remember what the day commemorates because once dementia kicks in, it kicks hard and that is what is already happening.

The photo below was taken by Jane, one of Anthony’s nieces, at his 75th birthday party here, over three years ago. He doesn’t look like this anymore.

Anthony listening to speech



Macular degeneration

My mother doesn’t like to be written about because she is very private about her life, but, as I’m not so private, I would like, here, to salute her for the following:

When my mother was just in her 40s, Dad died of a heart attack. Not long after that, she developed breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy and chemotherapy. Then, about ten years ago, she began to lose her hearing. Two years ago, she fell and broke her hip and then, just as her hip had healed, she fell off her bicycle and broke her pelvis and wrist. And now she has macular degeneration and has to have six-weekly injections into her good eye to prevent it from getting worse (I took her today for one of these).

Despite all of these situations, my mother is an absolute inspiration to all of us and is as active now, at 79, as she was when Dad died and before. She will do anything for anyone and her volunteer work is beyond belief. She has more energy and compassion and generosity than I will ever have!

After the car accident, six months ago, my mother and my brothers’ families had to deal emotionally with repercussions, injuries and enormous anxiety and yet she always remained calm and in control and absolutely supportive of all of us. My own pain of regret had nowhere to go except to my mother and she helped me to figure out how to keep going. (AND she visited Anthony on all of the days I couldn’t when I had the rotten pompholyx condition).

This kind of mother is rare – the kind of mother you would dream of having – and it doesn’t seem fair that she would now be afflicted with macular degeneration, but she is. A fact. Life. Age. Hardship.

And what is Mother doing tonight? She is probably going to ignore the pain in her injected eye and work on the scrapbook she will give Ming when he turns 21 next January She has done this for each of the grandchildren preceding Ming and she has done it for my brothers and me when we each turned 50.

She is funny, clever, artistic and an absolute legend. And she is NOT old!
She is always NEW!

My/our mother xxx


Why do I need ID to get hay fever tablets?

So I go into the chemist’s with my eyes and nose running with hay fever, blinking and sneezing, and ask miserably for antihistamines, only to be told that I need ID to get those.

Oh! In my rush to take Ming to a job appointment, and pick Ants up, I had come unarmed with ID, just bringing a box of tissues with me.

The chemist, who knows me well (after a thousand years of collecting prescriptions for Anthony) offered me all sorts of hay fever remedies but I said none of them worked and I needed the heavy-duty stuff. Well, the rules must have tightened because, despite not needing a prescription for antihistamines, you need ID – argh!

It must be something to do with the drug problem I guess; there must be an evil ingredient in those antihistamines that is a druggy’s delight? I don’t know – I just want my nose to stop running! I will certainly not forget my ID tomorrow when we go into town.

On a lighter note, this morning, Ming and I rode our bikes together (not something he particularly wanted to do – ride with Mummy – but had agreed to do for my sake). Well, once we got off our road and into another, he began to falter because something kept going wrong with the gears and chain on his brand new, very expensive, birthday present road bike. I kept soaring past him on my electric bike (hahaha – evil laugh!) and coming back to see what was wrong, whilst heroically blowing my nose into my tissues). Eventually, Ming fixed the problem and we rode for an hour up a hill that didn’t look like a hill until we turned around and sped back down – exhilarating!

Once we got back home, Ming puffing and panting (his back surgery was only 5 months ago and still healing, so he is quite unfit and is supposed to be very careful until December), we both decided to do this every day from now on and I am thrilled! It won’t be embarrassing for him as we are in a quiet rural area so our road, and the road around the corner, has very little traffic.

It will be much better tomorrow, and we will probably ride further if I get the hay fever tablets.


The delicious taste of laughter

If I were at a restaurant and was offered a choice of my favourite foods – oysters, fillet steak, pizza, Caesar salad, a cheese platter, a doner kebab, or laughter – I would choose the latter.

If I were at a pub and was offered a choice of my favourite drinks – beer, shiraz, a pink gin, or laughter – I would choose the latter.

If you were to ask me what I would rather do – go for a walk, sleep in, read a book, visit a friend, do a good day’s work, or five minutes of laughter – I would choose the latter.

And, if you were to ask me if I preferred love over laughter, I would have to say no.

Today Ming and I picked Anthony up at around 10am and then proceeded to do a few errands in town before getting burgers and fries and eating them at a park overlooking the beachfront. Ants was very wobbly so we had to eat in the car. I’d given him his 11am pill a bit late so he wasn’t able to eat very well and kept mistaking his fries for strawers (you know for a drink). In the end I had to pretty much feed him half of my burger, but he had a lot of trouble biting, chewing and swallowing, and was dribbling terribly (Parkinson’s disease often affects the swallowing reflex).

On the way home to the farm, as the pill kicked its magic in, Ants began to recover but everything he said was so incoherent, quiet or nonsensical, that Ming and I had to eventually just respond with ‘yes.’ Once home, Anthony became extremely mobile and walked around the farm with and without his walker and at one stage he somehow took his shirt off to get a bit of sun, before coming inside for a cup of tea. But, just as suddenly (about 2.30pm), he became totally immobile and it took me an age to get him from house to car, by which time he was panting from exhaustion (and so was I!)

By then Ming had left us and gone to his shed to do a cleanup so I drove Ants over to say goodbye (it was now 3pm with next pill due at 4pm) and Ming was surprised.

Ming: Are you going already, Dad?”
Anthony: Yes, she just wants to get rid of me.
Me: I don’t know why I bother!

I was very hurt by Ants’ remark (especially by the fact that it was the first coherent thing he’d said all day), and I told him so on the way back to the nursing home. We put the car radio on to drown out the mutual misery until Ants actually whispered something in his new, soft voice. I turned the radio off.

Ants: I’m sorry, Jules.
Me: I can’t believe you said I wanted to get rid of you!
Ants (taking my hand and kissing it): I didn’t mean it.
Me: What do you and Ming want – my blood? I am doing my best!
Ants: I know, beautiful girl. I love you.
Me: I love you too so don’t ever think I want to get rid of you – please!
Ants: Glad I got a bit of work done today and Ming was a great help.
Me: Me too – thank you – I don’t know what I’d do without you, baby cheeks!

[He thought that he and Ming had done some jobs around the farm].

By this time we had reached the nursing home and Ants was totally incapable of walking so I raced in and grabbed a wheelchair and eventually got him into his room, then grabbed two nurses to help him into the toilet, and said a much quicker goodbye than usual.

Why didn’t I just respond to Anthony’s “she wants to get rid of me” comment with laughter? Why did I let myself be hurt? I am such an idiot! He and I have always bantered, so why didn’t I just turn his comment into an excuse for laughter? Well, I will next time, for sure, because these hurtful comments are becoming more regular, so I have to find a way of transforming these faltering conversations into some coherent laughter – yes!

Laughter is a gift that everyone is capable of doing, giving and receiving and it is my favourite thing in the world so, from now on, no matter what, laughter will be my/our medicine.



“I just don’t understand you!”

Ming and I had a couple of altercations today that were impossible to resolve. This is so frustrating and painful and yet it points to the fact that we all think and feel differently and trying to match someone else’s way of doing both is impossible.

So what on earth do you do with irreconcilable differences? How does a 20-year-old son understand a 55-year-old mother who is trying to understand a 78-year-old husband? The only way, I think, is to accept the different points of view about everything, to accept each other (despite these differences), and to develop a capacity for sympathy. Empathy would be better, of course, but if the other person just cannot fit their great big size 13 feet (Ming) into your shoes, then agreeing to disagree is your best option.

I have always loved the concept of difference but I have never had it thrust in my face as much as the last few years, with Anthony’s declining health and Ming’s growing up. Neither of them understand that, at the center of this dynamic (in terms of age alone), I struggle sometimes to give them both what they need or want. And neither of them even think, unless I remind them (rather vociferously sometimes), that I might actually want to be considered too.

Perhaps love doesn’t require understanding? I am not complaining here (well maybe a bit!), or posing a feminist argument (hell, no – most of the misunderstandings I’ve experienced have been with women); I am just observing that sometimes you just have to accept the fact that you will never agree with the other person.

But you can still hug them and keep your “you are wrong!” thoughts to yourself. Ask Godfrey the gander!


“I heard it on the news.”


I was a little taken aback today, when I went up to our little local shop to get bread, and the proprietor said how glad she was about Ming. Seeing my confusion, she said, “I heard it on the news.” I told her about the reduced charges and she said she already knew which was quite disconcerting because we didn’t hear or see anything on the news. Then she said she was annoyed that they didn’t pronounce his name correctly and I laughed because how does anyone who isn’t Scottish get ‘Ming’ out of ‘Menzies’?

Ming and I are glad we didn’t see or hear his verdict on the news although I am now wondering who did. Oh well, I’m sure small town chitchat will only give it 24 hours and will mostly be positive and there is no point wondering. I suddenly realized I have been hiding away a bit by not frequenting the local shop, butcher, post office and petrol station as much as usual. It became a little nerve-wracking after the accident because I was never sure if people would ask me questions or avoid the subject (strangely similar to how people are not sure whether or not to ask about Anthony).

Stigma, embarrassment, acceptance, humility, guilt, miscommunication, shame, empathy, bewilderment, grief and joy; all of these factors and emotions and more have bundled themselves together, over so many months now, that it is difficult to know how to untangle what has become a maze that I have found the exit to. And yet, on opening the exit door, nothing looks particularly different; the grass is still brown from a long, hot summer, the mice and rabbits continue to plague us, the car needs washing, and I am very behind with the house-hold jobs.

I never experienced any sort of anticlimax as each of the children recovered from their injuries; it was just pure joy. And yet now that the court case against Ming is over, the joy of Monday has been replaced with a sense of nothingness which is, I guess, the space of anticlimax that precedes exiting the maze.

Tomorrow, I will exit the maze, having spent one final day within its mystery. I didn’t want to stay there but I had to figure a few things out like how to cope with people’s concern or lack of, how to move on with the newfound grace, faith and compassion I am already experiencing and how to be more grateful for every single moment of every single day, and every single person – especially my brothers’ families and my mother.

Tomorrow, if someone else says, “I heard it on the news,” I will allow my soul to smile as I leave the maze.

Happy Easter.