jmgoyder

wings and things

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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Doing it

I bumped into some relatives today at our local, rural, shop and they said they had intended to go and see Anthony today, but it was too late in the day. It was raining relentlessly so I admitted that I, too, hadn’t gone into town to see Anthony but that Ming was doing it.

Doing it?

Why did I describe my visits to Anthony as a job that needed to be done? Why didn’t I say, “Ming is visiting Ants today”? instead of “Ming is doing it today.”

I am so embarrassed that I expressed myself this way because for all of these years I have felt and believed that the romantic love I share with Anthony would somehow sustain us. In fact, as Ming often points out, Anthony is now mostly lost in his world of Parkinson’s Disease Dementia. Yesterday, for example, Anthony was mostly asleep during my 2-hour visit and this is often the case.

Perhaps love is not simply a feeling but also a decision. For me, this realisation has made all the difference recently because in deciding to love someone, that ‘do it’ decision, is an absolute in the face of multiple contingencies.

Do it.

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“A person with dementia is not a person who is dead and gone.”

This was the sentence that I began, and ended, our TEDx talk with last week. Like the other speakers, Ming and I only had 15 minutes to deliver this talk which was a challenge as I had written this massive missive of around 20 pages! Thankfully Ming convinced me to turn this into a cue card presentation and we practised it in a hallway before the event began.

It is extremely difficult to talk about Dementia because everyone has a different story of what it’s like (for both the person with the disease and the carers). Ming and I now have a disclaimer that admits our luck in that Anthony’s personality hasn’t changed and that this is one of the many reasons we still find joy in our interactions. We acknowledge that other people, coping with the multi-faceted aspects of Dementia, may be in hellish situations.

I am so glad that Ming and I had the opportunity to talk about our own situation. Anthony is immobile now, his previously loud voice a whisper, and mostly he doesn’t know who Ming is. But he is still alive, free of pain, accepting and full of love for me; it’s a beautiful thing.

If I can influence just a single person to visit their spouse, parent, friend, I will feel I’ve made a slight difference. There are so many thousands of people with Dementia in nursing homes who never have contact with loved ones; these people are, quite possibly, the loneliest people in the world.

A person with dementia is not a person who is dead. And nobody is ever, ever, gone.

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Doubts

Ming and I did our TEDx talk at the Bunbury Entertainment Centre a couple of days ago, and I think it went well. Ming and I have discovered that we can do this kind of presentation by bouncing off each other. This is our fifth joint presentation via radio or podcast; I think Anthony would be proud.

But I have so many doubts!

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8. Carrot juice

Several years ago Anthony and I embarked on a carrot juice diet and we went through two juicers (warranteed and replaced) in our quest for better health. We did this for around two months until our skin took on a rather strange, yellowish hue and Anthony developed arthritic pain. At the time, I did a bit of research and discovered that an overabundance of carrots can actually be harmful so we gladly quit the carrot juice and laughed ourselves silly about what idiots we’d been.

Looking back to that time, I now think that perhaps Anthony was showing signs of the Parkinson’s Disease Dementia that has now pretty much paralysed him, physically and cognitively. I guess I was trying desperately to find a solution?

I am a great fan of cold-pressed juice but I also know that it takes a hell of a lot of carrots to make a single glass of this elixir and nobody in their right mind would ever eat that many carrots in a single day. Nowadays I make juice with the outer lettuce leaves most people throw away, a single carrot, an apple, and orange, and a bit of ginger. This quest for health has consumed me lately due to my recent battle with mycoplasma pneumonia; I need to be well again and it has taken so long to get better. The hospital doctor did actually include (in his written report) my suggestion that my illness might have something to do with grief but, in the end, that was dismissed, the evidence of the mycoplasma bacteria was found, and I was given mycoplasma-specific antibiotics.

Anyway, back to carrot juice; once I was out of hospital I decided to go on a health kick. I’d lost five kilos so fast that my arms were (and still are) wasted and (hilariously for Ming) still stick-like. The other day, I reminded Anthony of our carrot juice adventure and he smiled. He remembered!

Anthony: But it’s good now isn’t it?

Me: Yes.

Anthony: I prefer chocolate.

 

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3. Existence

One of the most poignant conversations I’ve ever had with Anthony was a few months ago. From time to time he comes out with the most profound observations and I scribble these into my notebook because I know that later – sometimes much later – I won’t believe that he really said that.

Me: Is it okay if I write a book about you, Ants?

Anthony: No.

Me: Why?

Anthony: Because I don’t exist.

Was this dreadful statement about not existing a wisecrack, a joke, sarcasm? Anthony always had the most incredible attitude to life, and still has! He has no idea that he has Dementia and, now that he is virtually bed-ridden, I just tell him it’s the Parkinson’s Disease that makes him so tired.

Way back when we weren’t even married, there was an enormous spider in the kitchen which I rather shriekingly killed with a can of mortein. Later on, Anthony came in from milking the cows and I told him about my adventure. He looked at me, grief-stricken. “That was my pet spider, Jules!”

I was devastated! How could this man possibly ever love me when I had killed his pet spider? How could I make amends? Could I find another spider that looked like the one I’d killed? Did pet shops sell spiders?

We had a rather subdued meal until finally, unable to contain his mirth, Anthony guffawed and admitted that he was just joking. I am yet to experience a ‘phew’ quite like that!

And what is the point of this chapter? Well, maybe – just maybe, Anthony is just fooling around with us. Maybe he doesn’t have Dementia after all. Maybe these recent years have been a strange nightmare.

Me: Is it okay with you if I write a book about that spider, Ants?

Anthony: Of course.

 

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1. Sixteen Kilometres

I have been wanting to write a book about our experience of Dementia for some time so this is a chapter draft. I am numbering them so I can keep track. Any feedback appreciated.

SIXTEEN KILOMETRES

When Anthony says he has run sixteen kilometres, fixed all of the fences around the farm, and found the rogue mouse, do I correct him? Of course not!
Yes, Anthony used to love running around the paddocks (for the sheer joy of running). He also used to love the fiddly aspects of fixing fences, and I vividly remember his hilarious determination to eliminate a mouse, using a fly swat, in the hallway of our house.
So, when Anthony talks about these things as if they have just happened, I go with the flow by acknowledging these accomplishments, hallucinations and memories. I only ever contradict Anthony, if what he is seeing, or sensing, is distressing to him (more about this later).
Anthony: There he is in the corner, Jules.
Me: Who?
Anthony: The baby.
Me: You mean Ming?
Anthony: That furry one there [pointing to the corner of the room where is nothing]
Me: So is it a dog or a child?
Anthony: A bit of both.
Anthony sometimes forgets that Ming (our 23-year-old son) is all grown up, so he often ‘sees’ Ming as a baby or toddler. This hallucinatory thing mostly happens when I am visiting by myself. When Ming visits by himself, Anthony often misrecognises Ming as a cousin, uncle, even a deceased relative. I had already prepared Ming for the inevitability of Anthony not recognising us so, when it happens to Ming, it’s okay.
To some people, the idea of not being recognised by a spouse or parent or friend is the last straw. It’s quite common for relatives and friends to stop visiting a loved one, because they aren’t recognised. So what! As long as you recognise him or her, then surely that’s what counts. People with Dementia don’t intentionally hurt the people they used to know so well; they don’t intentionally misrecognise.
Anthony: Where’s Julie?
Me: I am Julie.
Anthony: Oh, that’s right.
Maybe it’s the constancy of my visits, maybe it’s because, despite Anthony’s Dementia, he and I still adore each other, maybe it’s just luck, but Anthony almost always knows who I am. I am so glad that I’ve been transcribing our dialogues for so long because, even though these conversations are mostly short and sweet, they are like gold to me.
Not long ago, I entered his nursing home room after days of not being able to visit because I was sick. It was the best welcome I have ever received (from anyone):
Anthony: Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I was just trying to conjure you.
Me: Oh, Ants – I’ve been so sick!
Anthony: Yes, I know. The kids told me.
Me: Are you okay?
Anthony: I’ve been running.
Me: Again? No wonder you look so tired! How far did you run this time?
Anthony: Sixteen kilometres.

 

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Lonely

I used to brag to people that I wasn’t lonely, that I was comfortable with being alone, and comfortable with my own company. But, since Anthony has been in the nursing home – nearly six years now – I have experienced such a piercing loneliness, and a longing for him to be home again (impossible) that sometimes I want to howl like an abandoned, injured animal. We are on 100 acres of farmland so, with no close neighbours, sometimes I do howl. I try very hard not to do this in front of Ming but sometimes it just happens – the uninhibited grief, the howl of longing for the impossibility of Anthony coming back home, the absolute misery of our situation.

On the other hand, I am not willing to give in to this kind of despair and I am determined to continue to make myself at home in Anthony’s nursing home room.

I would never want him to be as lonely as I am.

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Purpose

I have a new sense of purpose, having returned from the Happiness and its Causes conference in Sydney. Ming and I delivered a talk entitled “Dementia Dialogues” in which we described our experience of Anthony’s Dementia. I have already written about this on Facebook so will not repeat myself here.

The conference experience was both fascinating and enriching with an eclectic mix of scientific and experiential approaches to happiness. Kindness (both to others and ourselves), generosity and gratitude were recurring themes and Ming and I learned so much.

One of the best outcomes for me was the sense of purpose I now have in terms of writing the book I have been trying to write for so long, but didn’t know where to start. In preparing notes for our talk, I had unwittingly created a loose framework for this book and, since I only had time to convey some of the points Ming and I wanted to make, those notes are a great incentive.

My plan is to write a short-ish book, with very short, easily digestible chapters, about the strange and wonderful conversations I share with Anthony, Ming, carers, relatives and friends. In this sense I think that the title “Dementia Dialogues” will work and I plan to pitch it to Penguin publishers.

Instead of a rather vague sense of purpose, I now think I have something more concrete and this blog is a great platform from which to test my ideas. I’ll try to limit chapter drafts to 500 words and post on the blog from July 1st – hopefully two per week.

Several weeks ago, I told Anthony I wanted to write a book about him and he said “No”. When I asked why, he said something so interesting, but so poignant, that I was taken aback.

“Because I don’t exist,” he answered, cryptically.

At the time, I reassured him, of course, but I didn’t have that sense of purpose I have now; I didn’t have the right words, even for myself.

You do exist, Ants, and our ongoing story is my purpose.

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