jmgoyder

wings and things

Making friends with grief

I have learned so much about grief through my imagined conversations with “Anthony deceased” (as he is described in some legal documents I had to sign the other day) that I thought I’d share them here.

One of the things I’ve discovered is that if I wake up to what I know is going to be a day of acute grief, there is no point trying to evade it (one of the things I was trying to do). Now what I do is sort of greet it kindly, not exactly in a “Hi Grief” kind of way, more in an accepting way, almost as if it is a friend. After all, my grief about Anthony’s death, personified, has more empathy for me than anybody else possibly can.

In a way, the imagined conversations are a way of addressing Grief directly if that makes sense (if you are not sure what I mean then rest assured that I’m not really sure either!) Every time I write one of these conversations, even the ones that were a bit contrived and didn’t really flow) it helped somehow. I fought against doing it for awhile because I didn’t want people to think I was going nuts. I also didn’t want to become dependent on these conversations on a daily basis, to the preclusion of other more ‘normal’ daily activities. But I don’t care about either of those things now. Writing these conversations has often been fun and is sometimes quite enlightening.

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During a grief workshop I attended recently, Pat Kelly, a grief counsellor https://www.facebook.com/pat.kelly.18488169, pointed out that there is no one way of grieving. I found that very comforting in light of the imagined conversations I was/am writing because these have helped me more with my grief than any amount of kayaking, motor-scootering, cycling, swimming, socialising and volunteering (yes, I have been busy) have. All of these activities have helped enormously of course, but writing down conversations I imagine having with a now-well Anthony has been magical.

In re-conjuring Anthony’s voice as a younger, fitter man I have remembered all sorts of wonderful things that I’d forgotten – our holidays down south when Ming was young, our debates about whether animals went to heaven, our private jokes, our delight in the moonflowers blooming, his passion for motorbikes and classic cars, the parties, and so on. I’ve remembered poignant moments and sad times as well but mostly ‘talking’ with him has been a joy. I used to tell him everything even when he became less able to converse so, during the nursing home years, I sort of forgot about the way we used to talk and talk and talk. Remembering these conversations has been like a gift.

Making friends with Grief in this manner reminds me of how I ended up making friends with Dementia. In doing so, a lot of the associated fear diminished and a feeling of wellbeing returned.

I suppose since it’s my grief, after all, I am kind of making friends with myself again too. I’ve been working on that anyway with my wonderful psychologist, Daniella Princi https://www.facebook.com/yourintrinsiclife/ whose program has provided me with all sorts of interesting tools for living my life the way I want to live it.

One thing I know for sure is that Anthony would be proud of the way I am coping with his death and he would be chuffed to think I am pretending to converse him still. He was always very accepting of my idiosyncrasies, as I was of his.

Me: I’ve sort of made friends with the grief now, Ants.

Anthony: Good on you, Jules.

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Imagined conversation 22

These imagined conversations are my way of ploughing through the grief of losing my wonderful husband to pneumonia last year. I am not going mad and I am not delusional; I just miss talking to Anthony, so I decided to imagine the conversations we might have….

Me: It was our 25th wedding anniversary last month.

Anthony: I know, Jules, I know.

Me: I went to a grief workshop that night and told the others that it was our 25th wedding anniversary and J (remember J?) congratulated me/us.

Anthony: J? The fair-haired woman?

Me: Oh, sorry, Ants, I forgot that she only met you after you were dead. J is/was so kind and I am amazed that your funeral parlour hosts such wonderful workshops for people like me, who are struggling with their grief.

Anthony: Nothing like this was in my mind, Jules, when we got married. My only hesitation was due to the age gap; I didn’t know I was going to get sick and old at the same time.

Me: I didn’t know either, Ants. I was prepared for you getting old before me but I wasn’t prepared for all of your illnesses.

Anthony: Sorry, Jules.

Me: Not your fault, Ants. Somebody said to me the other day that it must be a relief that you died and I felt as if I had been punched. It was a well-meaning comment but it made me think about how much the fact that you had Dementia precluded people from visiting because they were scared.

Anthony: You think too much, Jules. Don’t worry about any of that because I’m fine now.

Me: I’m not.

Anthony: I miss you too, Jules.

Me: I want you back, Ants. I miss you so much that my brain is all foggy and unfocussed and I have never, ever felt so alone. I just want to talk to you!

Anthony: You are talking to me.

Me: So is that okay, if I keep talking to you?

Anthony: Of course!

Me: Yeah, but this is just me pretending to talk to you, Ants. I have to eventually get used to the reality that you are dead. I’m just as crazy about you now as I was when I was 18, but you’re gone!

Anthony: I’m not gone or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Me: So where are you?

Anthony: I don’t honestly know….

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Imagined conversation 21

Anthony: Didn’t you already write this … twice?

Me: Yeah, I know, but Ming doesn’t want to be part of these conversations, Ants, so that was a bit unwise on my part.

Anthony: Why?

Me: Well, it’s difficult enough recapturing your pre-dementia voice without also trying to invent Ming’s might-be voice when he isn’t the slightest bit interested.

Anthony: That’s my boy.

Me: Exactly. You see what I mean, then. These imagined conversations become really contrived if I include him and he….

Anthony: So, Ming has moved on?

Me: Well, I think you know the answer to that, Ants; Ming moved on a few years ago, before you even went into the nursing home. He did try.

Anthony: Why would you think that I would want my teenage son to hug me when I couldn’t hug him back?

Me: I just wanted you to know how much he loved you, Ants.

Anthony: By forcing him?

Me: Okay, I get it and I’m sorry. I get it now.

Anthony: Jules, there is absolutely nothing to worry about. Ming knows me and I know Ming.

Me: So should I just leave you guys alone? Is that what you mean?

Anthony: Just leave him alone, Jules, and let these conversations be just between you and me. It’s easier that way.

Me: I feel a bit stupid now to have contrived those last two dialogues, with a pretend-Ming. Plus he gets so angry when I try to do that.

Anthony: So why do you do it?

Me: Because I want it all back, Ants! Can’t you understand that? I want the three of us back together ten years ago before you got so bloody sick!

Anthony: Jules?

Me: What now?

Anthony: You can’t have it back – it’s gone. Ming understands this and it’s time you did too.

Me: And now you sound like all of those people I want to smash who say “isn’t it about time you moved on?”

Anthony: But isn’t it?

Me: Sometimes I really HATE you for dying. I absolutely HATE you!

Anthony: I know, but….

Me: Yes, of course you know, don’t you, you smug, supercilious, heavenly bastard – I am so angry I can hardly function, Ants; I want to kill the world.

Anthony: You don’t mean that.

Me: That has been your pat answer for anything remotely dramatic I have ever said. Stop always trying to shut me up!

Anthony: Jules?

Me: Now what?

Anthony: These conversations are coming to an end.

Me: Why? What did I say wrong? I’m so sorry, Ants – I didn’t mean any of it and of course I don’t hate you….

Anthony: Ming has already done it.

Me: Done what? What, Ants?

Anthony: Ended it.

Me: But….

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Imagined conversation 20

Anthony: Who are all of these men you keep thinking about?

Me: Will you please STOP reading my mind like that; it’s so disconcerting!

Anthony: Well, who are they?

Me: If you can read my mind, surely you know who they are.

Anthony: But I want to hear it from you, Jules.

Me: Okay, they are just a bunch of CEOs, film executives, producers and….

Anthony: I don’t like it.

Me: What? I thought you’d be proud of me!

Anthony: [potent silence]

Me: Oh. My. God. Are you actually jealous? I can’t believe it. Yes, you are jealous, aren’t you!

Anthony: Well I am a bit, actually. I don’t want you to want them to like you; it doesn’t feel right.

Me: Ants, there is absolutely nothing romantic going on, I can assure you. It’s you I want them to like, not me!

Anthony: That’s good then.

Me: So are we clear now?

Anthony: Sorry, Jules. I just don’t want to lose you.

Me: You couldn’t lose me even if you wanted to, Ants.

Anthony: So what do all of those guys think of me?

Me: They think you are wonderful, Ants – absolutely wonderful! Star material!

Anthony: You are so full of BS Jules.

Me: I’m meeting one of them tonight for cocktails because….

Anthony: For God’s sake, Jules – don’t do anything stupid.

Me: Gotcha!

 

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Imagined conversation 19

Me: Ants, you won’t believe it!

Anthony: Try me.

Me: It’s a bit of a long story and I don’t know where to start and I am so excited!

Anthony: Jules?

Me: What?

Anthony: I have all the time in the world.

Me: Well I got short-listed for a group that got to talk to film industry professionals and tomorrow I get to pitch my idea about how I coped with the dementia stuff.

Anthony: What dementia stuff?

Me: Whoops! Okay, well your dementia stuff. Okay so now that you’re in heaven or wherever the hell you are, do you remember having dementia?

Anthony: What a lot of rubbish, Jules. Of course I didn’t have dementia.

Me: Yes, you did actually.

Anthony: No, I didn’t.

Me: You just didn’t know you had it and I never told you.

Anthony: You really are a whimsical creature aren’t you, Jules.

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Imagined conversation 18

Me: Hi, Ants.

Anthony: JULES! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?

Me: Here and there – lots to tell you but I can’t be bothered.

Anthony: Why?

Me: This whole grief thing is absolutely exhausting, Ants – it just goes on and on and on and on and, as soon as I think I am over you, and able to move forward, it all begins again.

Anthony: What begins again?

Me: I just said! Oh, what’s the point?

Anthony: Sorry, Jules – you now have my undivided attention.

Me: Let me guess; you were playing poker with your mum, right? Or are you just frolicking naked in your own puffed up cloud?

Anthony: Ahh – you know me well, Jules.

Me: But do you know me, Ants? Did you ever know me? I had a horrible nightmare last night where I discovered you had been unfaithful to me multiple times with multiple previous girlfriends and you somehow did all of this from your nursing home room even though you were bedridden.

Anthony: Yes, I saw that dream too and – sorry, Jules –  but I did find it quite invigorating.

Me: So did you get to the bit in the dream where I decided to divorce you?

Anthony: No, but I did see your anxious face, Jules.

Me: I keep waking up to the question of what will happen in the end and it always takes me several seconds to realise that we are already at the end. You died.

Anthony: I didn’t intend to die, Jules.

Me: A bit of warning would have been good, Ants.

Anthony: Jules, please! I didn’t know any more than you did.

Me: Hi, Ants….

 

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Imagined conversation 15

Anthony: JULES! HI!

Me: Wow, you beat me to it – I was just figuring out how to say hi after so long.

Anthony: What kept you so long?

Me: Well, Mother and I went to Sydney for L’s wedding and on the way up to the airport my car starting playing up.

Anthony: Your car?

Me: Okay, our car. Anyway so we got to the airport to find that our midnight flight had been cancelled. Can you believe it?

Anthony: Well you do live on Earth, Jules….

Me: So I ended up queuing for over an hour to find out what was what and I left Mother on a seat with the luggage and … long story short we end up paying a fortune in a taxi ride to a motel at around 2am and then….

Anthony: I actually know all about it, Jules.

Me: What? That Mother was so sick you mean, and that she pretended not to be sick so we could still go to the wedding?

Anthony: Yep – I saw it all from on high.

Me: So you were hovering unhelpfully over Katoomba Hospital when we finally got her admitted? Thanks for the help NOT!

Anthony: You know me, I don’t like to interfere in these mother/daughter escapades.

Me: So where were you when we finally got back and she ended up in hospital again?

Anthony: Sorry, Jules, I was playing poker.

Me: Anyway she’s finally coming good and has been discharged with a pile of meds.

Anthony: I know.

Me: So if you already know all of this, what’s the point of telling you?

Anthony: I like the sound of your voice.

Me: I actually thought she might die, Ants!

Anthony: Death hasn’t done any harm to me. Tell her I’m as fit as a fiddle.

Me: I love you, Ants.

Anthony: I love you too, Jules. Keep up the good fight.

Me: What?

Anthony: It’s from a hymn I’m learning.

Me: Why are you learning a hymn?

Anthony: My deep baritone seems to have caught the attention of the choir woman. Jules?

Me: Yes, Ants.

Anthony: Tell your mother I said hello and to take it easy.

Me: Okay … thanks, Ants. Oh and about our car….

Anthony: Yes, good idea to book it in for a check-up.

Me: Are you always going to be one step ahead of me, Ants?

Anthony: ‘Fraid so, Jules.

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Imagined conversation 13

Me: I did something a bit spontaneous today, Ants.

Anthony: That’s unusual, Jules.

Me: I bought myself a silver bangle – from you to me. It’s kind of a combination of a Christmas and birthday present. It’s nothing to do with Valentine’s day, I promise.

Anthony: Thanks for letting me know.

Me: Oh thank you so, so, so, much for it, Ants. I love it!

Anthony: My pleasure, Jules, you deserve it.

Me: Well, yes, I think I do too because you know the last few years when you always asked me to go and get myself a silver bangle for my birthday….

Anthony: I’m glad I could be of service.

Me: No, you don’t get it Ants, I only pretended to buy myself those bangles because I didn’t want to spend the money.

Anthony: What a good disciple you are.

Me: Yeah, so I would wear an old bangle that you’d bought me years ago, and you bought me heaps, remember? You even chose them.

Anthony: I have impeccable taste. You tend to like chunky, showy jewellery.

Me: That’s a horrible thing to say and not true at all!

Anthony: I prefer the subtle nuances of the bracelet myself.

Me: Anyway so I was having a coffee in town at a new place (I’m trying to get out and about more because that’s what people keep telling me to do) and I just happened to look up and there was the shop – Baroque Design Jewellery Studio – and, whammo, I felt this sudden, nostalgic urge that you wanted me to go there.

Anthony: I had nothing to do with it, Jules. You have an overactive imagination.

Me: Are you sure? I mean the urge was so strong and I walked in and reminded Tim that I was the girl (yeah I know I should have said ‘woman’ not ‘girl’, how embarrassing) who used to come once a year to buy a silver bangle, or bracelet, as a gift to myself from my adoring husband who wasn’t well enough to accompany me.

Anthony: A likely story.

Me: Are you even listening to me!

Anthony: Sorry – wondering when you’re going to get to the point. Is it afternoon tea time yet? I’d love a coffee.

Me: As soon as I saw the silver cuff I knew it was the one.

Anthony: The one what?

Me: The bangle that you would have wanted to give me….

Anthony: I’m sure it was, Jules….

Me: So I explained to Tim that the reason I hadn’t been into his shop for a few years was because you weren’t well and you were in a nursing home.

Anthony: I remember him – great bloke.

Me: I didn’t tell him I’d been wearing bangles you’d bought me years ago, pretending they were brand new.

Anthony: You didn’t tell me either.

Me: Well, I’m telling you now! So that’s why I figure I am kind of owed around four years worth of bangles maybe.

Anthony: Interesting logic.

Me: And then I told Tim you’d died and could he give me a discount for being a bereaved widow. I didn’t really mean to say that, it just popped out so I explained that you’d taught me the art of bargaining, or is it bartering, and he said you’d be proud of me and he knocked off a third of the price!

Anthony: Amazing.

Me: It’s not amazing; it’s amazing! Are there any exclamation mark classes where you are because you really need to lift your game.

Anthony: Show me the bangle and I’ll give you my opinion.

Me: See? Here it is, Ants. It’s a cuff; I’ve never had one before. Thank you!

Anthony: Why are you so excited?

Me: Because you gave me a gift and it marks the first year of me surviving without you.

Anthony: I actually haven’t been dead for a year yet but, what the hell, you’re right, Jules, it’s a lovely piece of work. Get it engraved.

Me: Really? Are you sure? So, something like ‘To my darling Julie, with all my love, from her eternally-besotted husband, Anthony’?

Anthony (laughing): No.

Me (laughing): What then?

Anthony: Just our initials will do.

[Note: Tim Cunningham is the jeweller at Baroque. He was so kind to me today. Perhaps he sensed that just underneath my excitement at buying the silver cuff was the devastation of having lost the physical presence of Anthony. Anyway, I asked Tim if it would be okay to share his website here and he said yes so here it is: baroquedesign.com.au]

 

 

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Imagined conversation 10

Me: You know Saint Anthony?

Anthony: At your service.

Me: No, not you; I mean THE Saint Anthony!

Anthony: I suppose he’s a Catholic is he?

Me: Well duuuuh – yes.

Anthony: I’m not Catholic and I don’t….

Me: He’s the saint who is supposed to find lost things.

Anthony: That’s good, Jules.

Me: I can’t find your death certificate and I’ve looked everywhere.

Anthony: That’s no good, Jules.

Me: Anyway, if you happen to bump into a guy called Saint Anthony….

Anthony: At your service.

Me: Oh, forget it.

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Imagined conversation on Anthony’s 82nd birthday

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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