jmgoyder

wings and things

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 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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Imagined conversation 7

Me: It’s 2am and I can’t sleep.

Anthony: 2.09am to be precise.

Me: You’re quick!

Anthony: Don’t eat too many of those cherries or you’ll get the runs.

Me: I see my psychologist later on this morning.

Anthony: Why the hell do you think you need to see a psychologist?

Me: I think that’s pretty obvious, don’t you?

Anthony: What a lot of rubbish. It can’t be that bad, Jules.

Me: It isn’t as bad as it was but, oh, you wouldn’t understand. You’re lucky you’re the resilent type. Anyway, I’m going to try to go back to sleep. You would love these cherries!

Anthony: What are they a kilo now?

Me: A small fortune!

Anthony: Hmm, they’re free here. Actually everything’s free.

Me: Ha – I bet you like that!

Anthony: Too right.

 

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Imagined conversation 6

Me: Why did you un-grip my hand from yours just before you died?

Anthony: You were hurting my hand.

Me: I was worried!

Anthony: I know.

Me: Actually I was terrified.

Anthony: Well I wasn’t, so don’t worry about that.

Me: That’s when I left your room to talk to Ming about what to do if you died in the night. Like, whether to ring him straight away, or what.

Anthony: Oh I didn’t know that.

Me: The doctor said it could be hours or days – did you know that?

Anthony: No, because you were all whispering, whispering, whispering….

Me: Oh, sorry, Ants. I just didn’t want you to hear that you might be dying and get scared.

Anthony: I wasn’t scared, just bloody uncomfortable. And Jules?

Me: What?

Anthony: It was easier to die with you out of the room.

Me: I thought that was one of those myths.

Anthony: I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.

Me: No, it wasn’t that – it was just the shock. I was all ready to spend another night in the nursing home with you so I could get my head around you dying. I even had a DVD to watch. I felt – feel – so cheated somehow.

Anthony: Aha – gotcha!

Me: So you tricked me?

Anthony: Yep.

Me: But why?

Anthony: I didn’t want you to see me take my last gurgling breath; it was a bit embarrassing. And I didn’t want you crying all over me.

Me: But I did cry all over you!

Anthony: Oh. Sorry. I was long gone by then.

Me: What do you mean ‘long gone’? We were only out of your room for a few minutes!

Anthony: Time just seems different now.

Me: I just want my hand back in yours.

Anthony: Well you could have arranged to have it cut off and mummified, I suppose.

Me: Argh!

Anthony: You worry too much, Jules.

Me: I’m so tired from grieving.

Anthony: Well, I was a magnificent specimen of a man so it’s no wonder.

Me: Thanks for the laugh, Ants.

Anthony: You gotta laugh, Jules. Anyway, how’s your mother? Is she still making those blanketty things?

Me: Yes, but probably not as enthusiastically as she was when she was sitting with you.

Anthony: Good on her. She’s a good soul.

Me: ‘Soul’? Since when do you use words like ‘soul’?

Anthony: Since I died.

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Getting wise to grief

I know that this is going to sound weird but grief is actually quite interesting.

I have been trying so hard to outwise/ outwit? the effect that this terrible grief is having on me. Okay, so the grief itself is a given and it’s understandable that I would be grieving for Anthony; that’s not pleasant, but it’s okay.

It’s how this grief translates into everyday life that is the real challenge. For example it is so tiring to be so tired of grieving, to be so tired of my own tiredness, tired of myself, tired of crying, tired of not being able to cry, tired of trying so hard not to be tired.

Grief is exhausting! I can just imagine telling Anthony about this and it makes me laugh because he would have rolled his eyes and sighed at my ridiculousness in trying to figure grief out. He wouldn’t have offered clichés like ‘move on’ or ‘you need to get out and about more’ and I don’t even think he would have said, ‘I wouldn’t want you to be so sad, Jules’. Instead, he would have said ‘do what you want, Jules’ and I know for sure that he would be secretly chuffed that I miss him so much. His heavenly ego will be getting a rush.

Anthony adored me. Even though it took him over a decade to realise it, he made up for lost time very quickly and I think I am one of the luckiest people in the world to have had such a fantastic marriage. I wasn’t this long-suffering carer of a sick husband (which is probably the perception – you know, the dutiful wife); I was cared for by him. Every time I saw him in the nursing home, the joy in his face was the joy I took home with me, no matter how poignant.

Grief is often seen as the loss of someone you love and of course this is true but isn’t it also true that you miss being loved? I do. It’s not that I want to be adored per se (despite being a blogger – paradox alert); I just want Anthony’s adoration.

And, like a kid outside a closed candy shop, that’s my face pressed against the reflection of the impossible.

Grief is interesting. And so is getting wise to it.

 

 

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Facing forever

In amongst what I thought was old paperwork, I found a recently purchased ‘Reflections Journal’ in which I had written the following:

Monday 21st August, 2017: The gift of breath is a beautiful thing.

I don’t know why I wrote that now. I was probably deciding to go on a new diet, planning an exercise program for myself, or else thinking about thinking about the benefits of meditation.

People like me (with elderly loved ones in nursing homes with diseases like Parkinson’s and Dementia) should be more prepared for Death.

I wasn’t.

Wednesday, 23rd August, 2017: Anthony died. I didn’t write this in the Reflections Journal; I just wrote it in my day-to-day diary because I couldn’t find anywhere else to write/think/say it. I listed ‘Anthony died’ with a shopping list of milk, bread, apples and bananas.

After so many years of nearly dying, my beautiful husband did actually die and, even after nearly six months, I can’t quite fathom this.

I am not in denial and I know Anthony is dead. I miss him to the point of debilitating depression but, at the same time, I can feel some sort of weird, encouraging, wave; he was so resilient, and lackadaisical, and a master of calmness, easy-goingness, acceptance. Ming and I are so lucky to have this legendary husband and father to teach us about fortitude.

Ming and I have this new tradition of having breakfast together and, this morning, we talked about Anthony. It’s my birthday and for years Ants bought me a silver bangle (which I would choose!) It didn’t seem necessary this year; there didn’t seem any point.

So I didn’t buy myself a pretend gift from Anthony; it just didn’t sit well with me because he was so ill for so many years (even before the many years in the nursing home) that I just thought enough was enough. I did, however, buy myself an on-sale Oroton handbag that Anthony would have approved of.

The idea of forever (without Ants) is bleak, yes, but it is also an inevitable challenge that I am willing to meet. As a small child, I wanted wisdom so I guess this is it!

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Terribly happy

About a week ago, I suddenly experienced an oxymoronic sensation of intense happiness and intense sadness in the same exact moment. At the time, I thought it was a fleeting thing but I was wrong; it has continued to be a constant sensation, ebbing and flowing in its intensity somewhat, but always there, here (in my throat, in my chest, or in my stomach).

This terrible happiness is mostly a kind of flutter – a mixture of dread and excitement that pushes, from inside, against my ribcage, like a moth caught in the dark light, wanting, but not wanting, to fly free.

At first, I thought this sensation was impossible, so I googled the question “is it possible to feel happy and sad at the same time?” I was surprised to find that many others had also wondered about this paradoxical sensation. Most people, however, expressed the opinion that it was impossible.

I felt smug, knowing by then that it was absolutely possible because I had it – this terrible happiness – and I had had it for several days. It’s there, quietly, underneath my day-to-day doings, but I can also conjure it into a louder refrain and every time I do this, Anthony appears in the rear vision mirror of my heart and he is young and vibrant and laughing his approval.

The grief component of this terrible happiness is tear-drenched, but the happy component of this terrible happiness is buoyant, curious, unafraid and very, very surprised!

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Wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas and new year, especially those who are going through difficult times. I hope to get back to reading others’ blog posts soon, and I am very grateful for all of the support Ming and I have received since Anthony died. Thank you.

 

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Ming’s honesty

One of Ming’s friends asked him the other day if he were relieved that Anthony had died. Ming was taken aback and slightly affronted at the question, but eventually said yes.

After admitting this relief, he went on to say to his friend that it was as if a black cloud had lifted.

When Ming told me this today, I responded by saying that this was okay but my own feelings were different and that Anthony’s existence in the nursing home was never a black cloud for me despite the many cloudy days, weeks, months and years of illness. If Anthony had lived beyond the pneumonia that killed him, he would soon be entering his sixth year at the nursing home. He was already pretty much bed-ridden but to add suffering to the situation would have definitely been a black cloud for me too; I would have had great difficulty coping with Anthony suffering.

That’s why I am so grateful that Anthony died when he died. The quickness of his death still shocks me but I am gradually recovering from that shock I guess. It will take much longer, of course, to process the grief I feel (my own black cloud?)

In the meantime, I am fortunate to have such great support from family and friends. I’m very grateful for messages I’ve been remiss in replying to.

Ming’s honesty is sometimes ruthless but it is so refreshing that he isn’t nervous to say what he really thinks and feels. I didn’t know that Anthony’s nursing home existence had become a black cloud for Ming and I don’t know why I didn’t know that.

 

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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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