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 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 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 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 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 14

Me: You won’t believe it, Ants!

Anthony: Try me.

Me: I went kayaking today!

Anthony: You what?

Me: I went kayaking! I had a lesson with this lovely guy and I only fell out once, when I was first getting into the thing.

Anthony: What lovely guy?

Me: The kayaking instructor.

Anthony [pause]: Okay….

Me: I think I might even buy a kayak, Ants! What do you think?

Anthony: You’re a bit impulsive, Jules.

Me: No, I’m not, Ants. I kayaked for three hours and I loved it!

Anthony: You’re a burster, Jules.

Me: Well, that’s a good thing isn’t it?

Anthony: Be careful.

Me: Why? I’m not scared of anything anymore. You’ve already died.

[Note to readers: It is now over six months since my husband, Anthony, died from pneumonia, after years of being in a nursing home with advanced Parkinson’s disease dementia. Since then, I have battled a couple of severe bouts of major depression (a condition I already had), with the addition of grief rendering me almost as bedridden as Anthony was in the end. But, with the help of my psychologist, and my own determination, I’ve begun to embrace new adventures, and kayaking is one of these. The imagined conversations are just that – imagined. I miss talking to Ants, so I do it here.]

 

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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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