wings and things

Imagined conversation 50

Anthony: How’s Ming?

Me: Yes, Ming, it’s always Ming. What about me? When you were still alive the first thing you would always say to me is “How’s Ming?” instead of what you should have said….

Anthony: Hello, your royal highness; is that better?

Me: Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.

Anthony: So is repetitiveness.

Me: Ming is fine and now recovering well from a dreadful bout of lovesickness, the details of which I will not divulge here but you know anyway.

Anthony: I only ever understood that when I thought I might lose you, Jules.

Me: Understood what?

Anthony: Lovesickness.

Me: Oh yes, that phase. I remember you crying down the phone and I thought you must have been pretending because it was so unlike your usual macho-ness. And the flowers you sent! Cheap, poignant and astonishing, almost as astonishing as your utterance of the words ‘love’ and ‘marry’ and I was just about to get on a plane to the other side of Australia to see a man who adored me.

Anthony: Those flowers weren’t cheap, Jules.

Me: It was too late, Ants.

Anthony: I was going to lose you, Jules.

Me: I lied to you and said I was just visiting a friend up north.

Anthony: I suspected and rang the travel agent and he broke protocol by telling me you were going to Sydney.

Me: Yeah, to meet a man who adored me instantly. I had finally given up on you. It wasn’t a game, or a dare, or an ultimatum; I really had decided that this confirmed bachelor, best friend, workaholic dairy farmer wasn’t suitable.

Anthony: I’m so sorry, Jules.

Me: Yeah, that’s what you kept saying on the phone to me the night before my flight; you used every lovesick cliché I’d ever heard. I took notes because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and I wrote them on a big pad during my plane flight because I knew, if I didn’t write your words down, I would never believe you had said them.

Anthony: I suddenly realised I might lose you.

Me: Better late than never I suppose but you have no idea how ghastly it was to be chased around a penthouse for days on end by a man who had paid for my trip and expected some sort of recompense. Even when I read him bits from my notes of what you had said to me in that phone-call, through the locked bathroom door, he persisted.

Anthony: Why did you go?

Me: It was all booked and paid for and I felt obligated. How was I supposed to know you would have this almost-too-late epiphany about me?

Anthony: I feel like such an idiot now.

Me: Good.

Anthony: I thought forgiveness was important to you.

Me: It is, but a little bit of guilt doesn’t do anyone any harm.

Anthony: Jules?

Me: What?

Anthony: How’s Ming?

Me: Much better.

Anthony: That’s all I wanted to know.

Me: What about me?

Anthony: You are ferociously fine, Jules.

Me: And the best thing about this post?

Anthony: You are laughing?

Me: Yes!





Dementia and hallucinations

Yes, I am still working through past blog entries in order to formulate a book, but I keep getting distracted by the present.

I don’t think even the scientists know whether the hallucinations people with Dementia experience, especially those with Parkinson’s Disease Dementia, are part of the actual condition, or a side-effect of the medications.

Tractors pulling Anthony’s trees down; long-lost friends and family (some deceased) visiting; a multitude of strange children making mischief; a room full of calves and dogs; a pirate ship; the strange ‘teacher’; the terrifying kidnappers; the wondering where I am ….

….even when I am right there.

After the terrible fright of a few months ago, when I thought Anthony was going to die, he has resurrected and, in his own words, is “better now.”

This month marks five years that Anthony has been in the high care section of the nursing home. He has outlived all of his prognoses (advanced prostate cancer, advanced PD) by years; he has somehow survived liver disease and kidney cancer. The Dementia component has been there all along but has only become noticeable over the last couple of years.

Dementia is, of course, very confusing for the person who has it but it is also confusing for the person caring for the person with Dementia. Moments – even hours – of lucidity can sometimes be punctuated with such bizarre stories that the carers are at a loss as to how to respond.

Even me, who loves him so much. Even me.

Recently, I have become so tired: of pretending I have to go to work (as way of leaving); of missing him; of this never-ending grief; of wondering whether he is okay when I’m not there. I have had to let go of the latter for my own sanity but I still worry about whether he is too hot or too cold (these thermostatic problems were the bane of my life when Ants was still at home.)

And what about Ming – our now 23-year-old son? Anthony sometimes mistakes him for a nephew and doesn’t recognise him as his only child. I don’t know how this feels as Anthony always recognises me, even if he is confused.

Ming is often ‘seen’ by Anthony in the corner of his nursing home room – as a toddler – and this particular hallucination gives Anthony immense delight. So I go along with it; what else can I do?

Perhaps the trick with Dementia-induced hallucinations is to go with the flow unless the particular hallucination is troubling.

Me: Nobody is cutting your trees down, Ants!

Anthony: Yes, he is – just look!

Me: I think it might just be your imagination and the Parkinson’s Disease?

Anthony: You always say that.

Me: Do you want me to get Ming to check it out?

Anthony: He’s too little, Jules.

Me: No, he’s a man now, Ants, and he can fix everything!

It is perhaps the ongoing, repetitive loop of the same conversation that can sometimes exhaust the carer. On the other hand, it’s familiar territory and I love to insert a bit of humour into the same old conversation and can sometimes make Anthony smile by saying “Are you totally insane?”

Yeah, bleak humour can sometimes be useful when it comes to Dementia-induced hallucinations.

And I am, and will always be, grateful to Anthony for teaching me so much about this often misunderstood and complicated condition.








Dementia dialogues 0

Me: I love you so much, Ants.

Anthony: I wonder sometimes.

Me: What do you mean?

Anthony: The way you treat me.

Me: What?

Anthony: Like a bag of old rags sometimes. Look at yourself in the mirror!

Me: I don’t understand, Ants!

Anthony: It’s all right – I forgive you.

Me: Forgive me for what? I am doing my best! Why are you being so horrible to me?

Anthony: I just want to go home and see Mum!

Me: But she’s fine, Ants!

Anthony: This has been boiling up for ages.

Me: I don’t understand.

Anthony: Yes you do, and you only barely put up with me!

The above was an uncharacteristically angry and semi-lucid conversation during which I got my notebook out to record things exactly as they were said.

A marital row, I guess – no big deal. Anthony’s sudden mistrust and cynicism about me yesterday carried itself into today but was less acute. I hope this angry thing won’t last long.


Friendships forged in nursing homes

When you place someone you love into a nursing home, the beginning is a blur. You don’t notice any of the other residents or their relatives; you don’t notice the staff. You fill out the forms and you answer the questions about incontinence and constipation and immobility with a gentle smile on your faked face. You cry secretly and often but you become very good at hiding your ongoing, endless grief behind an enormous smile….

…. until you meet someone who is experiencing the same kind of thing with her wonderful, but ailing, mother. N is the most amazingly resilient woman I have ever met. She ‘lives’ two doors down from Anthony’s room and she has the most beautiful laugh and the most poignant cry.

It only seems a moment ago that we were all playing a game of ‘Memory’ in the dining room – N, her daughter, Ants and me. Sometimes we were joined by others; sometimes we were asked to move to another room because our raucous laughter was too loud; now both N and Ants are too incapacitated to partake in such games except in a pretend kind of way.

These two wonderful people, Ants and N, survive and embrace each moment of each day with a kind of stoic acceptance.  And, within the tragedy of our ongoing grief, N’s daughter and I have become friends.

This friendship means the world to me because it is forged in the steel of our shared heartbreak. Thank you, Shaz



Today I arrived at the nursing home in time to feed Ants his lunch after which he also consumed three chocolate bars – a Cherry Ripe, a Boost, and a Mars Bar (thanks, Mel!)

He chewed through all of this chocolate slowly – very slowly!

Me: Are you chewing every mouthful one hundred times?

Anthony: Yes, because I am enjoying it one hundred times.

But that’s not the point of this post. Even though Anthony’s previously loud voice has become such a whisper, this is what he said next:

Anthony: I can’t stop thinking about what X said yesterday.

Me: What? Was X here?

Anthony: Yes and he said “Where is Julie; we need Julie.”

And Ants actually repeated this a couple of times, and was adamant that X had said these positive words about me. So, whether Ants is deluded or not, I choose to believe it.




There is always a dilemma when you want to write a story that might hurt other people the way the story’s reality has hurt you.

Recently, I have wrestled with how to reconcile forgiveness with writing the truth of my decades-long relationship with Anthony, including all of the pitfalls.

The “love story” and “once upon a time” posts began to retell a story that has already happened. But, as soon as I ventured into writing the ugly bits of the story, I received some pretty nasty flak; some advice to be careful what I write;  and, paradoxically, some encouragement to keep writing the story; etc.

So, in order not to upset people, I’ve decided to continue writing this story on a different blog – an anonymous platform – from which I can divulge, in story-telling detail, the truth.

In the meantime, this blog will remain positive.





Ever since I described Anthony as being in “good physical health” on my blog, which seems an hilariously ironic way of describing someone who has just turned 80, is living in a nursing home, with more diseases than I can count on one hand, Anthony has been remarkably fit!

It has been an extraordinary few days with Anthony walking (with his walker of course, and accompanied by carers), and talking with a bit more gusto, and smiling widely with the various staff who come and go from his room.

Today, my mother visited us in his room and it was such a delightful day. Even though Ants often refers to the mostly female staff as “those guys” he still gets a real buzz from the way many of these beautiful women flirt and banter with him.

Apparently Ants has been walking better and doing physiotherapy and occupational therapy better and he even demonstrated some arm exercises with the OT today in our room. It was hilarious and I am so grateful for these people who really do care about him!

Of course, he isn’t getting better. That would be, physiologically, impossible, but his extraordinary liveliness this week has been such a buzz. I know I’ve said this before, but Anthony is the most resilient person I have ever come across; he never complains even when I say no to his requests to come back to the farm (often his childhood farm, not this one). He accepts the status quo, accepts his health problems, accepts that when I leave to go grocery shopping and he says, “don’t be long, Jules”, I am not coming back until the next day. And this almost never comes back to bite me.

This afternoon, one of the OTs said Ants was, as always, invited to “Happy Hour” (a monthly event in the common room). His response was a perfect representation of how extraordinary and funny he is:

Anthony: Is that with all the old people?

Me: Yes, but it could be fun; we’ve done it before, remember?

Anthony: Do I have to?

Me: No, of course not!

Anthony: They’re all so old so no thanks.

And I am reminded again of the best gift Anthony gives me, not every day but often enough – laughter.






Who am I?

No matter how prepared for it you are, it still comes as a shock when a person you love stops recognising you.

When Ming dropped in to see Anthony on his way home the other day (it was early evening), Ants didn’t know who he was but guessed that it might be S, his youngest nephew.

I told Ming not to take it personally and that lately Anthony sometimes disassociates me from Julie and will ask me where she is. This lack of recognition doesn’t hurt at all because I have been half expecting it anyway and it is very easy to convince Anthony that I am Julie. But of course Ming was, understandably, hurt and perturbed.

In this final phase of Parkinson’s disease dementia, Anthony is experiencing paranoia, delusions, hallucinations and extreme confusion. Now that he has so much trouble speaking (physiologically and cognitively), I am getting better at listening to his whispered fears.

Anthony: Watch out for those boys.

Me: They aren’t boys – they are the nurses looking after you, Ants!

Anthony: Are you sure?

Me: Yes!

Yesterday it was me, my mother, Ming, and multiple staff, popping in and out of his room, enabling his grin but, after individuals left, Anthony would ask, “Who was that?” – even about people he has seen daily for years.

It is quite possible that one day I will go in to see my husband and he won’t recognise me, but I have decided not to worry about that day. He is still in good physical health (well for an 80-year-old!)

And even if he doesn’t recognise us as us, he will still want Ming’s boisterous hugs, my double-handed hand holding, my mother’s silent knitting, and the banter of the staff at the nursing home.

Who am I?

I am the person who reassures Anthony that the farm is going well, that the money situation is fine, that the cows are being milked by an amazing team, that there is plenty of kerosene for the Aga, that his mother is fine, that I will buy a mango for tomorrow….






Communicating with Anthony

It is sometimes difficult for me to explain to family, friends and staff about how best to communicate with Anthony now that he has become so silent. So it was refreshing yesterday to have one of the carers tell me that she had learned how important it was to explain to Ants that they were taking him to the toilet or shower etc. and sometimes using the hoist.

“If we explain to him first, everything goes smoothly,” she said; “but if we don’t, he resists.” I told her how grateful I was for this understanding, remembering the times, a couple of years ago, when the use of the hoist terrified him – late night phone-calls from the nursing home in which I had to calm him down and reassure him that he wasn’t being captured by pirates and put into a torture chamber.

Thankfully, these kind of hallucinatory panic attacks were fairly short-lived and now that Ants is less ambulant, the hoist is used often to transfer him from one place to another. As far as I know, this no longer causes fear for him.

Verbally, Anthony is very slow to respond (both cognitively and vocally) so you need to sit close enough to touch him, or give him a ‘nosy’ (nose kiss), or yell nonsense, all of which Ming and I did this afternoon. And Anthony smiled many times, especially at Ming’s antics and asking, at one point, who the ‘bloke’ was.

Me: I am NOT  a bloke, Ants!

Anthony: Oh.

Me: It’s me – your wife!

Anthony: Yes, it is.

Okay so we are now into the fifth year of Anthony’s life in the nursing home and I am continually gobsmacked at how he continues to survive advanced prostate cancer, liver disease and PDD (Parkinson’s disease dementia). He is definitely way past his ‘used-by’ date but, as he isn’t in physical pain, I don’t worry as much; not only that – he is always positive, always accepting, always answering the ‘how-are-you?’ question with a whispered ‘fighting fit.’






The other day I felt the whiplash warning of a storm,

but it passed!

I had my armour on, I had my family protected; I was ready for the storm,

but it dissipated!

I sharpened my sentences with full-stops so that they wouldn’t ricochet back as semi-colons,

but nothing I wrote/said had the slightest effect on the storm-brewer.

I’ve become like a cartoon character of the lioness/mother bear who protects her family.

Overly sentimental posts about Anthony are simply an expression of ongoing grief, disbelief that he has lived so many years post prognoses. Ming has been absolutely amazing in every way.

Ming has a way of unravelling the bitter-and- twisted yarn into a coherent thought and, today, I thank him so much for reminding me to be gentle.