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 23

Me: I woke up this morning from the most terrible nightmare about you, Ants.

Anthony: Not very flattering, Jules, but good morning to you too.

Me: No, I don’t mean you were a monster or anything; on the other hand….

Anthony: Go on, I’m interested.

Me: Well, there are a few scenarios where I am asking you if you are seeing an ex-girlfriend – not a real one, that you really went out with – a new one who I’ve never heard of before. Anyway you say no the first time I ask you. Then, the second time I ask, you say yes, but just for dinner and you assure me that nothing untoward is going on. But, the third time, you admit that you’ve fallen in love with her.

Anthony: Ah the plot thickens….

Me: It’s not funny, Ants; I’m still trying to shake the nightmare off!

Anthony: Okay, sorry. So what happens next?

Me: During the rest of the nightmare, we are at a party. All of our friends and family are there and so is SHE. You are avoiding me and I’m upset but trying not to show it. I’m worried that you are overdoing it and amazed at how well you look considering how ill you are.

Anthony: So it’s another one of those dreams where I suddenly jump out of my wheelchair and start dancing?

Me: No. I like that dream; in this one there is no wheelchair in the first place. I keep wanting to ask you if the nursing home staff know you’re out and about and do you have your pills but it’s impossible to even get close to you.

Anthony: Am I the life of the party?

Me: Stop fishing! Yes.

Anthony: Good….

Me: Then a rumour starts circulating that you are going to announce your engagement to this other woman. Apart from the shock of hearing this, I am bewildered because you and I are already engaged. Anyway, as you are too gutless to tell me yourself, you send a friend over to tell me that you were never in love with me and that you are sorry.  I am devastated but try to act cool because people are starting to look at me sympathetically already.

Anthony: Well it’s not true, Jules.

Me: So I say to this friend that I’ve been with you for over twenty years but still waiting for you to choose a wedding date. Feeling desperate, I do a bit of a whispered rant to the friend about all of the years I’ve cared for you with your kidney cancer, prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease, and the friend quietly commiserates,

Anthony: Who’s the friend?

Me: B.

Anthony: Oh, B. Great bloke.

Me: So then the most horrible scenario unfolds. You and this other woman announce your engagement to a shocked but delighted crowd.

Anthony: What do you do?

Me: I leave with as much dignity as I can muster. I find my car and drive away, sobbing.

Anthony: Maybe that other woman is your alter-ego?

Me: No, she has long, thick curly hair and a horsey face, and she’s ten years older than me!

Anthony: Oh.

Me: Is that all you can say – ‘Oh’?

Anthony: I’m sorry, Jules.

Me: What for? The nightmare, or what happened in the nightmare?

Anthony: Both.

Me: Well I guess it’s no more real than these conversations.

Anthony: Ouch.

Me: I felt so absolutely abandoned and alone and angry but I didn’t want everyone at the party to know how I felt.

Anthony: Maybe that’s what the nightmare was all about.

Me: When did you get your degree in rocket science?

Anthony: Superlative sarcasm, Jules – bravo!

Me: Anyway, I just wanted to tell you about it. It’s so good talking to you.

Anthony: Remember how we used to debate the difference between loving someone and being in love with someone?

Me: And how you used to say you loved me but you weren’t in love with me? Yes, difficult to forget that.

Anthony: But remember the day it all changed?

Me: Oh yes! I’d forgotten about that!

Anthony: Let’s save that for our next conversation, Jules. I’m exhausted!

Me: But I’m the one who had the nightmare! I hope I don’t have it again. Are there any nightmare tweakers where you are?

Anthony: I’ll see what I can do. And Jules?

Me: Yes?

Anthony: I’ve only ever been in love with one person.

Me: Who?

Anthony: Now you’re fishing.

Me: Well, who?

Anthony: YOU.

 

 

 

 

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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 17

Me: I know you won’t remember this because it was so long ago but….

Anthony: Try me.

Me: Okay so I had only just met you and your mother and you had employed me to help her out in the house and it was my day off (from recollection you gave me a single day off per week).

Anthony: Go on. I’m enthralled.

Me: So I spotted you on the opposite side of the street getting out of your car and I felt that whoosh of feeling I have always had for you. But then, when you saw me and yelled out, “Jules!” I began to stumble a bit. You crossed the street to talk to me and I almost fainted from exhilaration but you just said, “Why are you limping?”

At the time I was unable to answer but the following day you asked me again in the kitchen of this home I now live in without you. “Why were you limping yesterday, Jules?” you said with a kind smile.

And, without thinking, my 18 years of non-wisdom to the fore, I just said, “Because I love you, Anthony.”

Anthony: Long, floral skirt and thongs? Pink t-shirts?

Me: Yes.

Anthony: I’d forgotten all of that, Jules.

Me: Well it wasn’t exactly memorable, Ants but, by the way, your attire wasn’t much better with your short shorts and your tight t-shirts. You were so rough- looking, I thought you were the cowhand.

Anthony: I thought you were so sweet.

Me: Yeah, you said that a few times, but it didn’t work back then – us.

Anthony: I love you, Jules.

Me: I can hardly breathe sometimes, and still do that limping thing when I am nervous. I am finding it difficult to know how to direct my love for you because I love you so much NOW.

Anthony: So what’s the problem?

Me: You aren’t here anymore.

 

 

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Imagined conversation 16

Me: I had another dream about you, Ants.

Anthony: Let me guess – I came back to life?

Me: All of your brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews surprised me by bringing you to a holiday cottage owned by my cousins.

Anthony: And…?

Me: You were sitting in a wheelchair, surrounded by your relatives, even the ones who have also died. It was a bit of a shock and I didn’t know what to do.

Anthony: It was a dream, Jules … it was just a dream.

Me: So I started trying to make coffee and tea for all of the people and I couldn’t find the sugar or milk and it was all a bit of a panic because everyone said we only had an hour before you had to be helicoptered back.

Anthony: Back to where?

Me: I don’t know! The nursing home maybe? Heaven? Anyway the dream became a nightmare because I was rushing from the kitchen to sit next to you, then back to the kitchen to check that the kettles were boiling enough to make tea, then frantically back to you to hug you and…

Anthony: Why are you crying now, Jules? I’ve been dead for nearly seven months.

Me: Because they took you away before I got a chance to say a proper goodbye to you. And they didn’t believe me when I said you didn’t need the wheelchair. Plus I was wearing some sort of Velcro that attached me to where your wheelchair was and I couldn’t free myself in time to see you off. I was so worried that you wouldn’t survive the trip home.

Anthony: Jules?

Me: What?

Anthony: It was just a dream.

Me: I need to make sense of it, Ants!

Anthony: No you don’t. Just move along the way you are.

Me: How, when I have these dreams?

Anthony: Buy the kayak.

Me: Really? It’s okay with you? Well, actually, I already did (it’s okay, it didn’t break the bank account).

Anthony: I thought it was a bit of a radical move to begin with but now I think it’s a good idea.

Me: Why?

Anthony: Because you are you.

Me: What about all of those people in the dream?

Anthony: You, Jules – just you.

Me: It’s no wonder I love you so much, Ants.

Anthony: I agree wholeheartedly.

 

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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 12

Me: Happy Valentine’s day for tomorrow, Ants.

Anthony: That’s a shock.

Me: He’s another of those saints – Saint Valentine. Apparently he was all about love and martyrdom.

Anthony: What a lot of rubbish.

Me: Well he must have done something right or we wouldn’t have Valentine’s day. Anyway, I love you, Ants.

Anthony: I love you too, Jules, just for the record.

Me: You know how when you proposed you admitted that you were in love with me from the moment you met me?

Anthony: I wouldn’t put it like that.

Me: So exactly how would you put it?

Anthony: You were so young.

Me: I always knew. As soon as I saw you, I knew.

Anthony: Knew what?

Me: Okay, it’s a bit embarrassing now but I instantly knew you were the one. You seemed like a Greek God to me. It was awful.

Anthony: As far as I know we don’t have any Grecians in the family.

Me: Yes, I know that, but you know what I mean now don’t you?

Anthony: I think I am part Scottish, Welsh and German but….

Me: No, I’m not talking about ancestry, I’m talking about love.

Anthony: You’re fishing for a compliment aren’t you, Jules.

Me: No! Well, yes, maybe. I mean I am still trying to figure out why my 18-year old self fell in love with your 41-year-old self and why did there have to be so much unrequited suffering?

Anthony: You were wearing a pink t-shirt, a long, hippy skirt, and thongs, when you knocked on the door, came into the kitchen, and met Mum.

Me: And you answered the door in your shorts and t-shirt; I thought you were the cowhand-come-butler but then you just left me with your mother and she terrified me.

Anthony: I couldn’t quite believe the sight of you.

Me: What do you mean by that?

Anthony: Your innocence.

Me: Naivety you mean?

Anthony: Mum thought you were a disaster … to begin with…

Me: I remember. I don’t know if I ever told you this when you were still alive but whenever your mum got up from her afternoon nap she would accuse me of having been canoodling with you.

Anthony: Ah, the power of suggestion.

Me: Totally unfounded back then! But I did want to after that.

Anthony: Want to what?

Me: Canoodle.

Anthony: I’m so sorry I hurt you, Jules. I was an idiot.

Me: But did you love me from the start even though I was too young? Sorry, but I have to know.

Anthony: Yes.

Me: So why….?

Anthony: Not a sensible question to ask ever, Jules. It all worked out in the end.

Me: Yeah, romantic story of the century, NOT.

Anthony: Sarcasm doesn’t suit you, Jules, even though you do it so well.

Me: Ming thinks he should model his own love stories on ours and he won’t waver from this idea.

Anthony: Impressive beard he has for his age!

Me: He shaved it off. Ants, do you believe in fate?

Anthony: I do now, obviously.

Me: I wish I could just have one more conversation with you, you know, before you died.

Anthony: This will have to do, Jules.

 

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Imagined conversation 11

Anthony: By the way, why do you need my death certificate?

Me: Actually I think it’s about time we addressed the elephant-in-the-room situation.

Anthony: You’ve always wanted to go to Africa.

Me: Anthony, you know what I’m talking about so stop kidding around!

Anthony: All right then – what’s up?

Me: I’m a tiny bit worried about these conversations. Sometimes I’m in town doing errands and I can’t wait to get home to talk to you like this; it’s ridiculous because, even though I know I am making all of this up and it’s my imagination remembering your voice, it feels so real! It’s good though because I had actually begun to forget your quippy, sarcastic, loud sense of humour and our robust conversations – even our arguments – because you got so quiet in the nursing home. Out of all of the things we lost with the Parkinson’s I think it’s your booming voice I miss the most. Sometimes I look at photos of you laughing with your face all crinkled up with mirth and it bothers me that I can’t actually remember the sound of your laugh and … well, I need your death certificate to prove to the bank that you’re dead so that I can withdraw money and ….

Anthony: (SILENT PAUSE)

Me: OMG have I upset you? Ants?

Anthony: Sorry Jules, just ducked out for a word with the new guy. You were saying?

Me: OH GOD!

Anthony: Great bloke. Do you want me to get you an appointment?

Me: Is this really happening? Argh….

Anthony: Keep writing, Jules, keep writing.

 

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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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