jmgoyder

wings and things

Getting back on my feet

One of the most unsettling things about Anthony’s quick death, after so many years of him outliving his various prognoses, is that I had prepared myself, psychologically and emotionally, for many more years of life. I had made lists of ‘things-to-do-in-the-nursing home’, like sorting out photos, collating everything I had already written about dementia and Anthony into book form, transcribing Ming’s dialogues with his dad, finding a new comedy series to watch, getting my mother to teach me how to make hairpin lace shawls – those sorts of ongoing things.

I had planned, in advance, all of these things … to do in the nursing home, side-by-side with Anthony, so the disorientation I have been experiencing since he died is understandable I guess. When I went to see our doctor for a bit of a debrief, he, too, was surprised at how quickly Anthony died after being given morphine (for the very first time) for his pneumonia. Then the doctor said that he had noticed a deterioration over the last several months and we laughed about how, whenever he said that to me, I would always reply, “Oh no – you just got him on a bad day – he is amazing!” Perhaps I was in denial but I don’t think so because Anthony would always, always, come back.

That night – the night Anthony died – there was a distinct feeling that he was pulling away from me. At the time, I thought I was probably holding his hand too fiercely, too tightly, so I loosened my grip and felt his hand press and release mine until I let go. It was then that I went outside with Ming and Amber to discuss whether to ring Ming if Anthony died in the night. As I’ve already said, this was a moot point because of course Ming wanted me to ring him and, anyway, I didn’t expect Anthony to die that night as I had only just gotten used to the idea that he may only have a few more days to live.

We were only out of Anthony’s room for a matter of minutes when the nurse came outside and said he was gone. The disbelief of that dreadful moment still resonates but I don’t feel guilty for not being in his room when he drew his last ragged breath, because he always knew that I would be back. It is impossible to know, of course, the philosophical wherewithal of that timing. Could Anthony only die once I was out of the room? No – well, I don’t think so.

The fact remains that he died, full stop. Anthony died and the more I remind myself of this resounding truth, the more able I am to find my feet again. During the first two days of the retreat, I kept tripping over these feet and bumping into doors, my feeling of balance askew. But gradually I regained a sense of physical balance and was able to go for walks in the surrounding bush, my legs and feet transforming from a toddler’s to an athlete’s. And my breath came back as if I had just found air after being submerged.

I didn’t want to continue to blog about grief but I can’t seem to help myself. The sharing of laughter and memories and anecdotes with friends and family have been both healing and invigorating. But, at the end of every day, here I am absolutely lost without Anthony’s aliveness.

Walking is going to be my new ‘thing’. I have already found some walking trails nearby and I am going to walk and walk and walk and walk.

 

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The retreat: 3

It was the three counselling + guided meditation sessions with Karen that most helped me to take a hesitant step forward. In the first session, I explained that I felt trapped behind the bars separating my life with Anthony from my life without Anthony; in the second session, I had become curious about the future but was also wishing that I could have had one last conversation with Anthony. Karen suggested writing him a letter in the journal I’d been given on arrival. I did this and brought the letter to my last session, read it out to Karen, and cried.

One of the things that struck me about this exercise was that it was so different from my writing to, and about, Anthony on my blog for so many years; the public speaking Ming and I had done recently; the death notice for the newspaper; and even my notes for the eulogy. This time, I was writing something intensely personal just to Anthony and it is comforting to know I can do this any time. Yes, I read it to Karen but she was like a sort of conduit between the grieving me and the curious me and, once I closed my journal, I felt safe in the knowledge that I had written something very private – just between Ants and me. I am very grateful to Karen for her compassion to me, and her wisdom, and how comfortable she made me feel during these self-revealing sessions.

So this is my last post (for the time being!) about the retreat but I have also written a  recommendation here: https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Hotel_Review-g488330-d2700910-Reviews-KalyaaNa_Spa_Wellness_Retreat-Bridgetown_Western_Australia.html

I was so incapacitated by grief when I arrived at the retreat but I came home stronger, wiser and filled with gratitude and, yes, curiosity. On my drive home I got a real sense of Anthony laughing kindly at my antics, and wanting me to be okay.

I’m okay.

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The retreat: 2

In the evenings, Karen’s husband, Vince would come home and serve us pre-dinner drinks – mineral water in beautiful wine glasses (the retreat was alcohol-free) and then seat us at the dining table. This table was in itself a visual gift – white linen table cloth, fresh flowers, scented candles. The other guest, J, and I were then served two courses of amazing food – mostly vegetarian/vegan/raw, beautifully interesting and creative. The four of us would chit-chat during the meal as Karen served and Vince washed up. There was a feeling of leisurely calm in the serving and partaking of food and Karen was very happy to share her recipe secrets.

I have never really thought about the idea of sustenance before but Karen (a qualified chef) provided us with such amazingly healthy food that we came away from that dining table sated, even comforted somehow. Having not eaten much of anything since Anthony died, it was a luxury to be fed in such a kind way. I kept wanting to hop up and help with the dishes etc. but soon learned that it gave Karen and Vince a lot of pleasure to serve us. I felt like a queen!

After dinner, I mostly retired to my suite and watched television and/or cried for Anthony. The resort had an extensive dvd and book library so, as a movie fan, I was in my element. It was absolutely wonderful to know that, once I’d retired, I would not be disturbed and that private space of grief, and movie distraction, and tears, and sleep helped me recover. Plus my bathroom had a big spa bath and I made the most of that as we only have a shower at home.

I realise that these posts are a bit disjointed but it is impossible to describe KalyaaNa – https://www.kalyaanawellnessretreat.com.au/ – in a single post. The experience was surreal and valuable at so many levels.

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Death

It’s a month now since Anthony died and I still can’t quite believe it. I know that if I go into the nursing home there will be somebody else in his room so maybe that will confirm things for me. I have such strange impulses like wanting to dig up the soil on his grave and open the coffin just to make sure he really is dead. Just before the funeral, Ming and I viewed his body, not to say goodbye, but (for me, at least) to make sure that he wasn’t just sleeping. I realise that these impulses are totally irrational but they persist nevertheless. Time will fix this eventually.
I want Anthony back so much that the feeling of longing is inside every breath I take and hold. Remembering to breathe normally is something I am now re-learning. I want him back the way he was on the Friday before he died – eating, smiling, squeezing my hand, watching television.
Anthony had been ill with Parkinson’s Disease Dementia for so long that, until now, I had forgotten his robust energy, loud laugh, barbecued steak, and the way he used to love looking at himself in the mirror. He didn’t know he had Dementia but he did know he had Parkinson’s Disease, but he would always reassure me that he was getting better. And I would always agree of course.
It was so fast – Anthony’s death. The aspirational pneumonia was loud in his gurgling breath and his forehead was so hot to touch. I vaguely remember wetting a small towel and placing it on his forehead to cool him down. His eyes were slits and I wasn’t sure if he could hear me saying how much I loved him. I hope he didn’t hear the fear in my voice….
There is no relief for me that Anthony has died because he was never a burden of responsibility for me and those last five – nearly six – years in the nursing home were filled with joy and fun. Our love for each other was so gigantic, I struggle to find words to describe it – it was like some sort of massive water slide, or maybe even a parachute jump, a leap into an unknown that I now know.
I said, in the eulogy, that nobody ever had a bad word to say against Anthony because I had forgotten how he broke my heart when I was too young to understand why. I remember calling him a ‘selfish pig’ at one point. Before we were married, he admitted that he, too, had fallen in love-at-first-sight, but he was 41 and I was 18, and he respected me.
But Anthony’s mother, Gar, knew. She would say little, suggestive things to me and hint at the promise of a relationship with her son. Her last words to me “Look after Anthony,” just before she died, had a resonance unfelt for many years.
What does a person like me do now? The absence of Anthony in the here-now is like an icy wind-tunnel and I feel fractured/split/injured. And, yes, I want him back, I want him back.
The love of my life has died and I feel so lost without you, Ants. But I can also feel the warmth of your smiling encouragement, and we have Ming – like a clone of you – the most beautiful gift we gave each other.
It’s a month now since Anthony died and I still can’t quite believe it.

 

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A Ming melody (take 2!)

Many thanks to Kaleb Treacy for helping Ming to put this music together for the funeral of his dad, Anthony.

Kaleb Treacy

Menzies Goyder

 

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I’m glad I believe in Heaven

I’m glad I believe in Heaven, Anthony, because you weren’t so sure yourself but apparently the gates were wide open anyway and there was a big crowd waiting to welcome you. As you walked towards them, your back straightened, and your grin returned, and your voice came back. When you reached for my hand, and looked for Ming, your mother explained that we weren’t there yet, your brothers and sisters embraced you, and my dad introduced you around….

In the twelve days since Anthony died, I have woken up each morning, forgetting that he is dead, and even forgetting that the funeral has happened. The empty feeling inside me is like an icy wind tunnel and I cannot seem to get warm. My mother and I went to the grave-side a couple of days ago and yesterday, Father’s Day, Ming and I thought of going but didn’t. The impulse to go and see Anthony in the nursing home comes and goes constantly as I forget, then remember again. The many, many messages of condolence have slowed to a trickle, the beautiful flowers sent to us are now wilting, and whenever Ming leaves for work I almost say, “Can you go and see Dad?” And yesterday my mother was undone when, after church, she had to head home instead of to the nursing home.

On the day of the funeral, Ming and I had arranged for a viewing – just for the two of us. My only reason for this was totally irrational; I just wanted to make sure Anthony was really dead. And even when I kissed his cold forehead and lips I kept expecting him to open his eyes. He didn’t.

Ming and I had picked wormwood from Anthony’s favourite hedge to be used instead of rosemary sprigs, and a melody Ming had composed played as people placed these on the coffin around the branches of camellia trees we’d also picked that morning.

My feet seem to have grown bigger because they fit perfectly into Anthony’s ugg boots which I am wearing now. I keep watching the funeral dvd over and over and over again. So this is the grief I have anticipated for so long, raw, relentless, like a terrible storm.

But gradually, softly – away from that person sobbing – I am picking myself up. The special camellia tree Anthony bought me began to flower the day after the funeral, the dogs are constantly by my side, and Ming is here.

I’m glad I believe in Heaven.

 

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Anthony’s funeral

To my very dear blog friends, Facebook friends, and all whose messages to Ming and me have been so comforting, many, many thanks. I haven’t been able to reply individually yet so I am expressing my gratitude here.

The funeral was yesterday: a chapel service conducted by my best friend, Tony, an Anglican priest. I had asked my mother, Meg, to do the reading and she picked the lyrics of a song made famous by Frank Sinatra and, later, Elvis Presley. I didn’t know the story behind the words then but I knew they were the right words.

Softly, I will leave you softly
For my heart would break
If you should wake and see me go
So I leave you softly, long before you miss me
Long before your arms can beg me stay
For one more hour or one more day
After all the years, I can’t bear the tears to fall
So, softly as I leave you there
(Softly, long before you kiss me)
(Long before your arms can beg me stay)
(For one more hour)
Or one more day
After all the years, I can’t bear the tears to fall
So, softly as I leave you

Then, a couple of days ago, Meg thought she would like to give the reading over to Mandy, one of Anthony’s nieces. This was an absolutely lovely exchange and Mandy looked up the history of the words and found out that Presley said the song originated when a man was dying and his wife was sitting by his bedside. As she began to doze off, he felt himself beginning to die and he wrote the words to the song on a notepad.

During the last 30 hours of Anthony’s impending death I had dozed off a couple of times, holding his hand. It was only when I woke and went outside to have a chat with Ming about the possibility that Anthony might actually die (something I couldn’t get my head around), that Ants died. Just like that. Softly, peacefully, alone but not alone because we were there.

It is impossible to describe my grief and shock at 9.40pm Wednesday 23rd, so I am not even going to try here. I can remember saying ‘no’ a few times because I couldn’t believe it. I hugged and kissed him, unable to accept that he was dead.

After the reading, Ming and I got up and did the eulogy and I was a bit shocked to see how many people were there – 150 maybe and many people had to stand as the seating was taken so fast. Old school friends of Anthony’s, nursing home staff, his entire extended family and my entire extended family, neighbours and friends and also people I’d worked with at the university, as well as a bunch of Ming’s friends. I felt so proud that I had a husband, and Ming had a father, who would draw such a crowd of people who loved and respected him so much.

https://barrettfunerals.etributes.com.au/etributes/anthony-goyder/dvd-tribute/

This man, Anthony, was my hero, my inspiration, and my definition of love.

 

 

 

 

 

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Anthony’s death

Anthony, you are still here with us – with me, and with Ming. You can be seen in all of the camellias you planted, and heard in the squawking of your guinea fowl. You are inside the taste of salmon mornay, and the aroma of the dairy cows. But you are also not here  – stained glass of my soul, the king of Paradise Road. Beautiful husband. Beautiful father. We love you, Anthony.
The above is what I wrote for the death notice in today’s newspaper. Anthony died on Wednesday night at 9.40pm after a short struggle with pneumonia. It’s Saturday today and I keep forgetting and thinking I need to get to the nursing home. Last Friday he was alert and cheerful and that was the day he said his final words to me – “You’re still beautiful, Jules.” I wrote about that in my previous post, not knowing then, as I answered “You’re the beautiful one, Ants” that this would be our last conversation.
Anthony died after his first ever dose of morphine. The doctor said this would take care of any pain he might be in and also help ease his breathing. I rang Ming and his girlfriend, Amber, and asked them to come and chat with the doctor who had told me that it was impossible to predict, but that it would not be a matter of weeks, but days. After the doctor left, the three of us went outside because, even though Anthony was barely conscious, I didn’t want him to hear my question to Ming – “Do you want me to ring you straight away if Dad dies in the night?” It was a silly question really because of course Ming said yes. I had poured myself a small whisky from the bottle in Anthony’s cupboard and was sipping it happily, relieved that would he would be comfortable for the next few days, when the nurse on duty came out and said, “He’s gone.”
I couldn’t believe it and we raced back into his room. It is difficult to describe the thunderstorm of shocked grief that washed through me so I am not even going to try to express that here. I thought it was a matter of days, not minutes.
One of the most wonderful things about Anthony’s death is that, despite the many, many years of his illnesses, he didn’t suffer until just before he died.
I looked at his tiny, diminished body, and I saw a giant of a man.
Oh how much I love you, Ants.
PS. The reference to Paradise Road was not meant to be metaphorical. We do actually live on Paradise Road.
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14. Death and dying

About a year ago, Anthony had a series of TIAs (mini-strokes) and was unconscious on and off for a few days. I panicked and began funeral arrangements but he ‘did a Lazarus’ and has been as okay as is possible since then. Recently – the last few days – I have noticed a marked deterioration and this afternoon I couldn’t wake him up and he looked deathly.

I am once again afraid even though I know that tomorrow he will probably be bright-eyed again like he was a week ago. On the other hand, I think I better go back to the funeral people and finish the arrangements just in case.

A friend of mine, whose husband has been in care for around the same time as Anthony (he had a massive stroke), has invited me to a seminar this week on death and dying so I’m going to go. I think it will help me to be more prepared mentally and emotionally. If Anthony were suffering constant pain or distress I would be wanting him to die, but he is so comfortable and uncomplaining that I can’t even imagine it.

It is so many years now that I have been trying to prepare myself for Anthony’s death – ever since the prostate cancer diagnosis when the urologist said he probably had 1-3 years to live (around eight years ago!) But then the Parkinson’s disease took precedence and has been by far the more debilitating of the two diseases.

The fact that Anthony is still such a huge part of my life on a daily basis (even when I don’t go in to the nursing home), the fact that I don’t find visiting him and being with him at all onerous, and the fact that we derive so much enjoyment from each other’s company, leaves me ill-prepared. It will not be a relief when he dies; it will be the most grief I have ever felt, and I’m not ready.

I don’t think Ming is ready either, although he just assured me that he is, well, sort of. He also assured me that he will come with me next time I make an appointment with the funeral directors. I think it’s about time we got back to the business side of Anthony’s death.

One of the things I should probably do is to figure out what to do with my ‘Anthony time’ once he is gone. Of course there is the book I’m writing and that will help, but the gap he will leave in our lives is going to be massive.

This feels like the peak of the anticipatory grief I have felt for so long that it’s like a second skin; this is the knife edge of the most terrible mixture of fear and love. But perhaps this isn’t the end after all and tomorrow Anthony will look at me, smile his slow smile and repeat what he said the other day: “You’re still beautiful, Jules.”

 

 

 

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13. Bittersweet

In recent weeks, Anthony is either in bed or in a broda-chair (armchair on wheels). It is a long time since he has been able to walk or sit in a regular wheelchair and, although he is able to weight bear to an extent sometimes, he is more or less bedridden now. I am becoming used to what is still a bit of a shock.

Yesterday, I visited in the late afternoon (something that I had intended to do more regularly – famous last words). He was in bed, looking very comfortable and content. I fed him his vitamised dinner which he gobbled, and some chocolate that I had brought with me. At one point he raised his hands underneath the blanket and they kept getting in the way of the spoon.

Me: Why are you doing that with your hands, Ants?

Anthony: Because I lost them five days ago.

Me: Oh! When did you find them again?

Anthony: Last night.

Me: Where were they?

Anthony: At the nun’s place.

Me: You mean Sister R?

Anthony: Yes.

Me: She’s amazing isn’t she.

Anthony: Wonderful.

We aren’t Catholic but we do have a very good friend who is a nun and she has blessed Anthony on several occasions over the years, so I put two and two together. The way Anthony’s memory works now fascinates me; it is fragmented and peculiar but sometimes wonderfully symbolic.

At around 6pm, he began to drift into sleep and, as I stroked his head, I felt a lurch of bittersweet emotion. I whispered goodbye and kissed him, thinking he was asleep.

Me: You are the most beautiful man in the world, Ants.

Anthony (murmuring): I know.

 

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