wings and things

Chapter 19: The last day of the fourth August since he died [August 31, 2021]

At the beginning of this fourth August since Anthony died, I was relieved to wake up feeling normal because the last three Augusts had been filled with such an overwhelm of sadness that I could hardly function.

People like me, who have been grief-stricken, often function very well in their day-to-day lives but can then, privately, collapse emotionally when the dreaded anniversary arrives. I was fine until just a few days ago but tonight it is almost as if I can’t bear to see the end of August and, paradoxically, I can’t wait for the few hours it will take for September to arrive – spring.

My own grief at losing an 81-year-old husband seems to me to be incredibly selfish in the context of the kind of suffering other people are experiencing world-wide, especially in war zones, and I acknowledge that. When I first met Anthony and Gar my lifelong ambition was to be a social worker overseas, an evangelist even; I wanted to save the world.

I guess I had a good imagination? I decided to put my universal ambitions aside and, instead, try to save Anthony and Gar from the eternal damnation of their not-going-to-church behavior.

I remember vividly a philosophical discussion I had with Anthony late one night in which we discussed what might happen to animals when they died. As a dairy farmer who loved his cows, he wanted to know what I thought so I just said that they would go to Heaven of course.

In just a few hours it will be the end of the fourth August since my beloved husband died and the memories flood into my mind like the sounds of an orchestra practicing a strange new tune; the music is too loud.

The conductor is absent.


Chapter 18: Anthony’s 82nd birthday [February 4, 2018]

Me: Happy birthday, Ants.

Anthony: It’s not my birthday.

Me: I knew you’d say that but I am one step ahead of you. It actually IS your birthday, because this is the date you were born; it’s just that you’re not here to celebrate it.

Anthony: I don’t think I would have been up for much of a party anyway. I looked like sh**  in that bed, and dribbling from both ends! How could you stand it?

Me: Have you stopped swearing – what’s with the sh**?

Anthony: Time and place, Jules.

Me: Anyway, I’ve been thinking about how this is but isn’t your birthday, so do you want to hear the good news or the good news?

Anthony: Don’t you mean….

Me: C’mon, left hand or right hand?

Anthony: Left – no, right.

Me [under breath]: Well you always got those wrong anyway.

Anthony: I heard that. So, hurry up with the good news. The excitement is killing me.

Me: Okay well the first bit of good news is that you will never be 82 because you haven’t lived that long. Isn’t that wonderful?

Anthony: If you say so, Jules….

Me: And the second bit of news is … oh bloody hell – heck … I know I’ve written it down somewhere.

Anthony [in deep baritone sing-song voice]: Memory begins to fade in the twilight years, awakening all our fearsome fears….

Me: Oh shut up … here it is. Okay, you listening?

Anthony: Voraciously.

Me: The second bit of good news is that – oh, actually this is a bit lame but….

Anthony: Go on.

Me: Well, it’s that I won’t have to watch you suffer and die a long, slow, cruel death.

Anthony: Good point, good point. I actually have some good news for you too, Jules.

Me: Am I going to win lotto?

Anthony: I don’t know.

Me: Well, what’s the point of being dead and omniscient?

Anthony: My good news is this countdown thing they have here. It’s a bit complicated but ….

Me: Let me guess, you go backwards in time, right?

Anthony: Sort of.

Me: What a lot of rubbish!

Anthony: Wow, you sound like me!

Me: Well, you sound like me!

Anthony: It’s probably just that you’re getting our voices mixed up with each other in your head.

Me [Sighing]: Probably. This has evolved into quite a complex creative writing exercise. I mean writing to you, talking to you, makes sense, psychologically, but re-capturing your voice is surreal because it’s as if it really is you speaking.

Anthony: Don’t overthink it Jules – just go with the flow. But I’d rather be referred to as a voice, not a bloody creative writing exercise.

Me: Aha! You swore. Well thank God for that. You sound like you again, birthday boy. I miss you.

Anthony: I know. But you are going to flourish.

Me: See this is what is so disconcerting; I have never heard you use a word like “flourish”!

Anthony: It’s mentioned in Ming’s psychology diploma manual, on page 27. Actually the term “flourish” is repeated repeatedly throughout the course….

Me: Yes, I know, and it’s not a bad concept – much better than just surviving. Oh, I love talking about this kind of stuff with you, Ants.

Anthony: You are so sweet, Jules.

Me: So do I keep on chatting with you like this until the grief subsides or what?

Anthony: Do whatever you want, Jules. Play it by ear.

Me: I am so relieved I didn’t have another meltdown today.

Anthony: Why would you have a meltdown?

Me: Because it’s your birthday, and you’re dead, and I’m grief-stricken, you beautiful idiot!

Anthony: Steady on … that’s right, but we’ve already realised that there are at least three things that are good about me not being there for the occasion. I’ll talk to the countdown people and get back to you but in the meantime you could think of this as my 82nd unbirthday ….

Me: …. for want of a better ….

Anthony: Yes, and Jules?

Me: Yes, Ants?

Anthony: You mentioned lotto earlier ….

Me [excitedly]: YES?

Anthony: Money isn’t everything.

Me: [groaning with chagrin] OMG I can’t believe I’ve ended up married to some sort of weird angel/ghost/imaginary friend hybrid!

Anthony: And one with such exquisite musculature.

[Note: Not long after Anthony died I began to write a series of imagined conversations with him on my blog and this is one of them.]


Chapter 17: Mistaken identity (2005?)

Blood-stained urine is never a good sign so when this happened to Anthony we went straight to our doctor of course who referred us to a urologist. The diagnosis wasn’t good: prostate cancer too far advanced to operate so Anthony was put on Zolodex, a regular injectable implant, to keep the cancer at bay.

During our first appointment with the urologist, Anthony and I were very frightened because we knew we were going to get his test results. We entered the office and Anthony sat down in the small waiting room as I approached the reception desk and stood there tongue-tied while the receptionist finished a phone-call. Then, abruptly, she said to me, “Usually people say their name.” Shocked at her rudeness, I said Anthony’s name then went to sit next to him and whispered to him “What a bitch!” This made him smile.

A little while later, the urologist ushered us into his office and I remember thinking he looked a bit like a giant penis with his bald head and incredibly hairy hands. Of course the image didn’t make any sense but I was very anxious and my thoughts were a bit scrambled.

Once we had sat down, the urologist’s first question was directed at me for some reason and he asked how my father generally was in terms of health. Nonplussed, I nearly said that my father was still dead with no improvement because it took me a few seconds to realize that Anthony and I had been mistaken for father and daughter. I didn’t want to embarrass the urologist by correcting him, so I just answered all of his questions as if Anthony were my father.

When the diagnosis and poor prognosis were outlined to us, I wanted to wrap my arms around Anthony, and kiss him on the lips, and proclaim my undying love for him but I couldn’t do any of that because that’s not what daughters do. So I just reached out and squeezed Anthony’s hand.

One of the most difficult things about hearing bad news in a specialist’s office is that you still have to go out to reception and pay the bill and the rude receptionist didn’t make that any easier. It was probably my imagination at the time but it seemed as if she deliberately kept us waiting long enough for Anthony to have to sit down again in the waiting room with a whole lot of equally sick-looking men.

Once, when I was a kid, I got a horrible attack of the giggles in church one Sunday morning and, unfortunately, as soon as we were out of the urologist’s office, it happened again in the hallway. I quickly suppressed this odd reaction and at the lifts we bumped into a friend and her husband; he, too, had been diagnosed with a different kind of cancer by a different specialist so my giggles didn’t come back that day. My friend’s husband was, of course, much younger than Anthony, but his prognosis was worse. I have never forgotten that chance meeting and, even though I don’t see that friend very often, my heart still aches for her loss of her husband many years before my loss of mine.

Anthony and I continued to see the urologist for nearly a year, with each appointment consolidating Anthony’s worsening condition, and my daughterhood. It became impossible for me to reveal to the urologist that I was actually Anthony’s wife. It was a dilemma that, after each appointment, put me in yet another state of uncontrollable giggles until finally I decided to tell our doctor about the mistaken identity issue. He reassured me that he would write a note to the urologist.

So, at our subsequent appointment, I thought the urologist might issue an apology but he didn’t, which is fair enough. Instead, he asked a rather confronting question:

“How is your husband’s sexual performance?”


Chapter 16: Unrequited love, phases 1 & 2 [1978-1979-]

There is something particularly agonizing about being in unrequited love with someone when you know, without a tidbit of doubt, that you haven’t made a mistake.

After I returned from Sydney, I resumed working for Anthony’s mother, filled with the certainty that the special relationship Anthony and I had formed, platonically, would soon transform to romance. I didn’t mind waiting and in the meantime I thoroughly enjoyed our deepening friendship. He was like the best big brother anyone could wish for, and while Gar handed the risky reigns of cooking to me, Anthony taught me to drive and took me to my driver’s license test, which I passed.

He also started going out at night with the local lads, most of whom adored and looked up to him as the older ‘lad’. On those evenings I would stay the night because Gar was terrified of being alone at night. After putting Gar to bed and lying down next to her on the floor until I was sure she was asleep, I would get up and go into the spare room to the single bed by the window that had become mine. There, I would read, and think, and wait for Anthony to get home.

The first time I stayed with Gar so that Anthony could go out, I was unprepared for the 1am knock on the spare room window. I raised the blinds to see a very merry-looking Anthony, who loudly whispered, “Jules, can you let me in? I forgot my keys.” Now it would be dishonest for me not to admit that a frisson of adventure raced up my spine.

I got up and hurried to the back door to let Anthony in and he laughed so loudly at my flannelette nightgown that I cringed with embarrassment until he said, “You look so sweet! Put the kettle on.”

Despite the fact that I had become accustomed to the 5pm after-milking drinks ritual before dinner, I had never seen Anthony inebriated and I didn’t quite know what to make of it. I had come to know him as a rather moody day-time person, gruff and always in a hurry, busy, often tired and quite silent.

This night-time Anthony was brand new; he was fun, mischievous, sometimes even flirtatious. These occasional nights out followed a similar pattern with a common occurrence being me trying to coax Anthony into lowering his voice in case he woke Gar. The other thing that would happen is that we would stand, shoulder to shoulder in front of the Aga, waiting for the kettle to boil. These moments were, for me, confirmation.

One evening Anthony brought the local lads back and, to my alarm, I heard multiple loud voices emanating from the back veranda. I crept into Gar’s bedroom to make sure she was asleep but she wasn’t. “Get rid of those boys,” she commanded.

So I ventured into the kitchen to peek through the window to the back veranda, wondering what I should do but Anthony spotted me. He staggered into the kitchen, grinning. “You okay, Jules? he shouted.

“Yes, but your mother told me to tell you to get rid of them and she’s really angry.

Anthony saluted me and banished the small throng. The noise of car engines, as a group of around six young men left, was a great relief, but I was worried that Anthony would be angry with either his mother or me.

He wasn’t angry, he wasn’t really expressing anything. But we were once again standing, shoulder-to-shoulder, our backs warm against the Aga.

“My sisters think I should marry you,” he said, reaching for my hand and squeezing it. “You’re too young, Jules – I respect you too much!” Yeah, I realise that sounds cliched but he really said that!

Once again, I was too shy to respond and, not long after this conversation, he met a woman more his age and that was that. It was during one of those late night parties on the back veranda that I overheard one of the local lads say something vulgar about Anthony and the woman and I knew I had lost him.

To know that my unrequited love was due to Anthony’s respect for my youth, and the age difference, was one thing, but another woman? It was too unbearable so I decided to move to Perth and study nursing.

And then Gar died.


Chapter 15: The mound [2021]

Today, when we met at Anthony’s grave, my mother reminded me that it was 16 years from the time Anthony and I first met to our wedding day. I was a bit nonplussed, and slightly embarrassed, as I didn’t think it had been that long.

I had brought a rake, several big garbage bags, and gardening gloves because I wanted to rake the woodchips off the mound of earth under which Anthony is buried, and tidy things up if need be. So, as we reminisced, my mother and I filled two garbage bags with woodchips, then sat down to contemplate the unsightly mound of earth still there.

A couple of years ago, Ming and I were away and my mother visited Anthony’s grave to find the mound of earth covered in weeds and the whole cemetery looking a bit bedraggled. She was incensed at the neglect of her only son-in-law’s grave so she went and bought several bags of woodchips, dragged them through the cemetery and, bit by bit, spread them over the mound. Then she wrote an indignantly effective letter to the local shire and, ever since then, the cemetery has been as pristine as the day of the burial.

Woodchips look amazing to begin with but, after a couple of years, they look shabby. Also, someone else has now been buried so close to end of the mound where Anthony’s feet might be, that it feels as if she is treading on his toes. I don’t like it!

Eradicating the mound of earth which was supposed to have gone down by now, will alleviate the grave-to-grave proximity problem and it will also stop my imagination from seeing Anthony’s dead body just under the surface of that mound.

I will ring the local shire on Monday to see if they can flatten the mound so that grass can grow there. If they say that this may take some time I will simply tell them that I am only willing to wait 16 years.


Chapter 14: A mother’s love [2017]

For the six years that Anthony was in the nursing home my mother was his most regular visitor (apart from Ming and me of course.) The Parkinson’s disease had taken its toll and many of our friends and family had dropped away, not gradually but almost immediately.

But not my mother. She was only a year older than Anthony but she had her health and she was as shocked as I was at his rapid decline and then his further, gradual decline in the nursing home.

Every Sunday, after church, she would visit us and she would chat to Anthony comfortably even when he couldn’t reply. My mother brightened up every Sunday for us, her conversation interesting and funny, her clever anecdotes hilarious, her presence in that small room an absolute joy.

Over the years/decades by then, my mother and Anthony had formed a strong unwritten bond of loyalty to me. They both adored me. The mathematical equation of 18 and 41 had long ceased to matter, and my husband was dying.

On the night that he died, I couldn’t get hold of my mother on the phone so she didn’t know until the next morning.

And that morning my mother’s love got me through that dreadful, aftermath day.


Note to blog friends

Thanks for supporting me in writing the draft of a book I have been wanting to write for some time. I figured that if I blogged it, it would encourage me to finally finish it and submit it for publication. I plan to copy/paste the Imagined conversations into the book but so far I am just sort of setting the scene.

I apologise for not responding to comments beyond approving and liking them and I apologise too for not reading your own blogs atm but I just want to focus on getting this book finished so I hope you understand.

Once again, it has been amazing to have that blog connection with people and I am very grateful for the support! Oh yeah, and I am not using categories and tags because I can’t be bothered haha


Chapter 13: Coming home [1978]

Coming home from Sydney to my parents’ house, with one parent gone forever, felt like falling through cracks of ice into a freezing lake; my mother and two younger brothers and I were numb. During the few days before Dad’s funeral, Anthony came over and took me for a long drive but the only thing about our conversation that I remember was that he asked me to come back and look after his mother and I said yes.

I wrote a poem for my dad through a blur of shock and the priest who conducted the funeral read it out with a strange, exaggerated inflection so much so that I didn’t even recognise my own words. I remember being amazed at how many people came; my dad was a very popular chiropractor in our small town so many of his patients attended.

Anthony and John also attended and, at the cemetery, they led the special crowd following our hearse to the grave-site. I remember noticing this and feeling something good inside my devastation. At the grave-site, with some friends crying and others silent, I tried to squeeze some tears out of my eyes and couldn’t do it so I kind of faked it because it seemed terrible not to cry.

To this day, I feel a pang of remorse that I didn’t acknowledge the shock and grief my mother and brothers would have been experiencing that day especially, but all of the before-and-after days too. I took my own rather selfish grief into a silent hole of the undiagnosed depression I already had and buried it.

And when Anthony and his brother didn’t turn up for the wake, my disappointment was acute because I had hoped so much to see Anthony. Apparently, when a person is shocked and grief-stricken, they might feel as if they are playing a role in a movie and that was me. I wanted Anthony to somehow rescue me from the winter of that day but he didn’t.

I knew I would be resuming work for Anthony and his mother the following week so, at the end of that cold day in June, I felt the crush of joy creasing into my pain.

I had lost my dad.

I had come home to the love of my life.


Chapter 12: The unanswered question [1977]

Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t answer his question but for some reason I couldn’t make the short leap from shyness to an uninhibited declaration of never-ending love at that point in time. Sometimes I wish I had.

Anthony had come to visit me at my parents’ home on the eve of my departure for Sydney and the Bible college. I have no recollection of the visit itself but I remember vividly the goodbye outside. He and I were alone in the summery dusk as my parents stayed inside to give us privacy I guess. Despite being a rather gut-spilly teenager, I hadn’t divulged the enormity of what I felt for Anthony (I don’t think I understood it myself), but of course it was probably obvious to them.

Underneath the back patio, Anthony put his hands on my shoulders, then held me in an awkward half-embrace, as he whispered into my ear, “Why do you have to go, Jules?”

With everything inside me screaming, “I don’t have to go. Please, just ask me to stay!” I remained silent in a turmoil of mixed emotions. I remember knowing that if I answered his question, I would be able to stay and to cycle to the farm every day and look after his mother and nearly faint with joy every time he came into the kitchen. And, one day, get married.

I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t say anything as Anthony stood back, turned around, and went to his car. Even as he was getting into his car, I wanted to run after him, but I just stood there frozen in the summer heat. As he drove off, I rubbed the ear into which he had whispered his question and I could still feel the heat of his breath on my left cheek as he kissed me goodbye.

There was nothing at all sexual in this encounter; it was platonic-gone-mad, yes, but it was definitely romantic love no matter how twee that sounds. Decades later, Anthony admitted that he felt the same but ….

I was 18 and he was 41. And that is probably the main reason I didn’t answer the question.


Chapter 11: Blogging [2011/2021]

In November, 2011, I began blogging and I loved it! It was/is the same blog that I am writing posts for now, but it’s different, as I have the benefit of retrospect.

When I began the blog I had no idea what I what I was doing and my title “Wings and Things” was simply a way to highlight my accumulation of chickens, geese, ducks, peafowl, turkeys, pheasants, and even emus, all of which I adored.

As Ming pointed out back then, Anthony only wanted a few guinea fowl (yes I got them too), but I got a bit carried away and the delight Anthony might have felt was soon displaced by my adoration of our birds. I became fascinated with how birds imprint so I raised Gutsy (peahen), Emery (emu), Zaruma (duckling), and multiple other chicks.

I think, but I am not entirely sure now, that it was around the time of my bird phase that Anthony went into the nursing home.

Ming will know; he loathed the duck poop everywhere! He was probably too young to know that the reason I was splashing around in his kiddy pool with a few young emus might have something to do with escapism, anxiety, anticipatory grief.

How could he know when I didn’t know?

Blogging helped me to just be.