wings and things

Anthony antics

Apart from tossing my hand aside occasionally, Anthony would often come out with the most extraordinarily apt one-liners.

I found some of my scribbled renditions of these today when Meg (my mother) helped me sort through a few boxes of mixed up paperwork – everything from tax receipts to sympathy cards to my scribbles. One of the jobs I had been avoiding was to ring the ambulance people to get a refund on the ambulance ride to the hospital from the nursing home, and the ride back. The ambulance woman on the other end of the phone promised a refund after establishing that Ants had died. Her voice softened and she offered her condolences. This made me cry, of course and, if Meg hadn’t been here, I would have given up on the rest of the paperwork.

Anyway, in amongst my scribbled notes, I found a gem:

Me: Are you okay, Ants?

Anthony: I’ve been having an argument with my ego, Jules.





An ‘aha’ moment

Since Anthony died, I have, of course, experienced all of the stuff I’ve already described – the emotions, confusion and shock. But, over the last week or so, I’ve also been bothered terribly by my struggle to figure the grief out. For example, I couldn’t understand why, when I was feeling more at peace, all of a sudden it felt horrible again, really horrible.

Why did the bouts of sad, wretched sobbing keep coming back when I had already accepted that Anthony was dead?

I suddenly remembered the 23rd Psalm and that line “even thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” got to me. To be in a valley, and also under a shadow, is like being in some sort of dark, inescapable horror movie scenario where there is no escape. But the psalm does continue to say that “I am with you” and that is comforting.

And then it hit me: I haven’t just lost my beautiful husband, I have also lost my identity as his wife, i.e. my wifedom is gone. Yes, of course I am still a mother, daughter, sister, cousin, auntie, friend, but I am no longer a wife. And, over the last several years of Anthony’s illnesses, this wifedom had become an absolute priority – a purpose even.

It has come as a bit of a relief to have figured out why the grief over the death of a loved one is so ferocious, unpredictable and relentless. Not only have you lost that loved one to death, you have also lost your identity as his/her someone. So in a way, you lose some of your own self.

A sense of identity is one of the most vital human needs so when you lose a big chunk of it (as millions of us have, of course), the job of grieving becomes terribly complicated and difficult. Recovery seems impossible at times. Outside you there is this gap that the person you loved left, and inside you there is this gap that used to be the ‘you’ who loved him/her.

Understanding this helps me to accept that this is a brand new situation, a new experience, a new way of living. I can either look at it as an adventure and become curious, or I can deliberately refuse the notion of new. I choose the former and am even getting a bit excited about it.

I think Anthony would approve.



Humour and grief

Humour and grief are an odd match but sometimes they do collide unexpectedly. For example, just moments ago, I googled “how to fast-track grief” and, after discovering that this was pretty much impossible, I belly-laughed at my idiocy. I also read a useful article:

After all of these years of Anthony being so ill, as well as the last several years of him being in a nursing home, you would think that I would have a handle on how to ‘do’ grief but I don’t have a clue! I might have a sense of peace on Monday, be in a state of sobbing despair on Tuesday, sharing funny anecdotes on Wednesday, feeling blank on Thursday, totally confused on Friday, determined to get my act together on Saturday, unable to get out of bed on Sunday and then there is the inevitable Monday again and again and again.

Well, tomorrow is another Monday, the seventh Monday since Anthony died, and the anniversary of the first night I ever stayed at the nursing home on the armchair beside his bed. It is still such a shock to me that he died so quickly because many people with aspirational pneumonia either recover, or linger on for weeks.

Over the years, there have been many times when I couldn’t rouse Anthony (TIAs or just sleepy), so I had become a bit complacent because he would always come back. On that last Monday, I even shoved him a bit and joked, “Are you dead or alive?” This was typical of our banter and of course I had no inkling that 48 hours later he would actually be dead so it’s a strange memory now. This is very sad for me because Anthony always came back so I guess I just assumed he would live for many more years and that I would write my book about him in his nursing home room.

Anthony was the funniest person I have ever met, with Ming coming a close second. The fact that Ants, Ming and I were able to share humour over the last few weeks before he died (Ants thinking Ming was the hair-dresser, and proposing to me all over again because he thought we weren’t ‘officially’ married) makes all of the moments of all of the last years worth it.

It is heartbreaking to continue to love someone as much as I love Anthony, even after he died, because that present-tense love is such a mismatch with the reality of death where everything is in the past-tense. I keep wanting to go to the nursing home to tell him about my latest philosophical findings (a habit that always caused a cynical bemusement on his part, and, usually, one of his slow smiles). But I can’t go and see him anymore because he’s not there. I keep having vivid dreams that I have somehow infiltrated the nursing home so am always in his room with the various people who will also live their last years/moments there. And, even when I am awake, all I want to do is to go back to that nursing home room; it is a dreadful longing and probably the worst part of my young grief.

The best memories are, I think, the funny ones. The sad, despairing memories are always there of course but, up until the Sunday before Anthony’s death a few days later, we were all still smiling.

How did Anthony cope with it all? How did he cope with going into a nursing home? It must have been an unbearable blow to his pride, his ego, his sense of himself as a strong man. How did he deal with the idea that he would no longer be the master of his own home, his own farm? How did he accept that he wouldn’t be living with us anymore – with Ming and me? And how the hell did I cope?

Mostly, we dealt with all of this with his/our amazing humour and an incredible ability to accept what is. Anthony knew he had prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease but he didn’t ever know he had dementia because I never told him. What would have been the point of worrying him further? The dementia aspect of his Parkinson’s disease was so gradual, and sort of sneakily incremental, that Anthony never, ever, knew he had it!

Anthony: Let’s get married, Jules!

How wonderful, strange and funny that he would have proposed to me again just weeks before he died.







A sense of peace

Today, for the first time in the six weeks since Anthony died, I experienced a sense of peace and, now that it has lasted several hours, I trust this sense.

I did a radio interview this morning with Stan Shaw

It was a bit nerve-wracking to do this interview because my grief is still so raw but I’m very glad to have spoken about Anthony’s dementia and his death. I was terrified that I might cry during the interview but I didn’t and it was a pre-recording anyway, not live. My mouth kept getting dry and water-slurping probably doesn’t sound so good on radio. Stan assured me this would be edited out, and gave me a hug as I left the studio. What a lovely man. Thanks, Stan.

I have graduated from the weird adrenaline rush of the initial grief and shock, to the dull thud of unbearable sorrow, to today’s sense of peace but I realise that these stages of grief are not linear. I might have to re-live them over and over. If only there were a fast-track to overcoming grief, but there isn’t.

For a man of 81 who survived kidney cancer, prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease dementia, for over a decade, most people would think that death would be a relief for him, for me, for Ming, for all of us. No! On the Friday before his death on the following Wednesday, he was fine. Yes, he was bedridden but he wasn’t in physical pain and he always had a fantastically intuitive grasp of his own mental health and would often say to me “I’m nearly better now, Jules.”

And I would always reply with a ‘yes’.

I want that Friday before he died back; I want to re-visit the days before I didn’t know he was going to actually die; I want his big, warm hand in mine; I want him back, just for one more moment. It is said that grief is a form of love that doesn’t know where to go and I really get that now.

It is lovely to be experiencing a new sense of peace today.