jmgoyder

wings and things

Our TEDx talk

Here is the link to the talk Ming and I gave the other day at Bunbury’s TEDx event.

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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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Happiness

In just over a week, Ming and I are off to Sydney to speak at a conference. Check out the link!

http://www.happinessanditscauses.com.au/

The title of our talk is – yes, you guessed it – “Dementia Dialogues”. I am hoping to convince the audience that it is still sometimes possible to derive, and give, great joy within the context of Dementia. Ming and I are simply going to cite a few examples of the funny and poignant conversations we share with Anthony. We only have a 15-minute slot, so our talk has to be succinct, a bit like a TED talk I guess.

I emphasised the word “sometimes” above because I am well aware that our own experience of Anthony’s Dementia is not necessarily like other people’s and I recognise how lucky we are to have a husband/father who is so resilient. The other day, when I got to the nursing home earlier than usual, and was able to feed Anthony his breakfast in bed, I asked him if he was comfortable and he whispered a booming “EXTREMELY!”

Anthony’s sanguine nature is a wonderful ‘plus’ when it comes to Dementia but every single person who has Dementia is just as individual as those of us without Dementia. Now that I am involved in support groups for carers, I have heard a fair few horror stories and I do remember our own horror story before Anthony’s admission to the nursing home. So I guess another point I want to emphasise in our conference talk is that the idea of placing a loved one in a nursing home needn’t be a tragedy.

I haven’t blogged for so long that now I’m rambling – ha! It’s good to get the words out. Now I just have to prepare for the conference – yikes!

 

 

 

 

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New kid on the block (and the reason I haven’t been blogging lately)

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Well, here she is – Pip – a miniature schnauzer who is just eight weeks old. Once she has had her next vaccinations, I will be able to take her with me to see Anthony and other people.

The story behind her name: years before Anthony and I were married, I lived in a little cottage a few kilometres from his farm. I was undertaking my first year of university studies and feeling, I guess, a bit isolated. I was also suffering a severe case of ongoing unrequited love for this beautiful but idiotic older man who, instead of proposing, bought me a miniature dachshund puppy that we called Pip.

That Pip was the most beautiful gift, and the best friend I had ever had until she died many years later.

I was recently reminded (via a photo) of the special bond I had with that first Pip and how her company helped me through doing all of those assignments in that small cottage all alone. I was only in my 20s then and terribly naïve; I couldn’t understand why Anthony didn’t love me back. It is only in retrospect that I realise how taboo it would have been for him, a middle-aged farmer, to contemplate a romance with me.

So, instead, he gave me Pip.

And now we have a new Pip and I am, once again, not alone.

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Green juice adventures

I am a lover of green juice – a devotee, a fan, an advocate! The idea of green juice is what wakes me up in the morning, what keeps me going during the day and what EXHAUSTS me in the afternoon/early evening. Why the latter? Because I make it myself.

Let me explain the process in detail. I’ll even include a timeline.

3pm: Go out to your luscious vegetable garden and try to ignore the 35 degree heat.

3.05pm: Go back to the house to get a hat, a sweat band, and a container into which you can place your freshly harvested greens, and try to ignore the flies in your nostrils, the ants between your toes, and the possibility of a snake in your vegetable forest.

3.10pm: Once you have found your garden scissors (this may take awhile, so try to remember to remind yourself to always put them in the same place so that you don’t have to dig the entire garden up looking for them), begin to harvest your amazing produce.

3.30pm: Try not be too alarmed by the fact that all of your spinach and all of your celery plants have somehow become trees. This is because you haven’t been out to the garden for some time, but don’t feel guilty; after all, it’s hot, dirty and insecty out there. Just cut a few branches off the spinach and celery trees.

4.15pm: Take your container of beautiful green vegetables to the wash house and plunge them into a sink of cold water. If they won’t all fit, take some of the smaller greens into the kitchen and do the same. Have a little rest.

4.30pm: Cut up some apples and carrots and a bit of ginger. Put these into a big bowl with the washed greens from the kitchen sink. Make sure your wonderful cold press juicer is responding to electricity and BEGIN juicing!

5pm: Don’t be upset if you forgot to change out of your white shirt; green is a lovely colour!

5.05pm: Pour the results of this exciting process into the bottles you have waiting-and-ready for the wonderfulness of this green juice and put them straight into the refrigerator. Try not to think about the recent theory that if you don’t drink freshly pressed juice immediately, it won’t ‘work’. Allow yourself a few sips of the elixir and feel the surge of energy this provides you with. You will need this energy because now you have to clean the juicer.

6pm: Now that you have washed and rinsed the many parts of the amazing juicer you bought online, have a little rest again. You may indulge in a little green juice (delicious!)

6.30pm: If you are struggling to reassemble the juicer for tomorrow, you may open a bottle of wine. A single glass of this kind of juice can help immensely as you perform this semi-final task. Try not to panic if the top bit doesn’t quite screw into the middle bit of the bottom bit of the juicer. Instead, use this experience as a kind of meditation. If moments become minutes and minutes become, well, hours, you can either call on someone to help you, or just do that whole breathing thing until the juicer is ready for use again. Do NOT swear at the various parts of the juicer that won’t cooperate immediately; do NOT send an angry email to the manufacturers (because they did their very best and, after all, this is a very superior juicer); and, above all, do not give up on loving the green juice!

7pm: The last stage of this green juice adventure is the most challenging; force your son and husband to drink it. If your son says that there is a bit of grit in it, just smile calmly; if your husband spits it out, try not to be offended. You did your best.

And all of that leftover green juice is yours!

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Poetry and sentences

When a little parrot you have never seen before

trips clumsily over the fragment of a mung bean sprout

you have placed on the balcony ledge

of the resort you have brought your mother to, to celebrate her 82nd birthday,

you hold the rest of the mung bean sprout in the palm of your outstretched hand

and smile when that little parrot takes it and flies away,

its wings flapping once

like a wink.

 

That sentence was too long and I don’t know if I have punctuated it properly for poetry. But I do remember advising my creative writing students to use commas when they felt the need.

 

Ming, Meg and I spent some time together at this wonderful resort and, thanks to Wifi, my mother was able to receive the multiple birthday messages from family and friends. We all thought the little parrot would come back as it seemed so tame. Having taken multiple photos of a similarly tame-seeming kookaburra, it seemed inevitable that the little parrot would return for a photo shoot – ha.

 

I had seen Ants and fed him his lunch on the day I drove us down south to the beautiful resort. My mother and I were supposed to check in at 2pm but I was delayed because Anthony was in ‘agony’ (his unusually dramatic words, whispered to me) due to constipation. Once that the situation was remedied and he was back in his armchair and comfortable, I told him I was taking my mother out for lunch for her birthday.

Anthony: I think I might stay here.

Me: That’s fine, Ants. I’ll see you after the birthday lunch.

48 hours later, my mother and I arrived at the nursing home in time for me to feed Ants his lunch again. He didn’t appear to realise that I had been gone for longer than a day which was a blessing to me.

 

During our time at the resort, my mother and I basked in the luxury of the beautiful view, the wonderful wineries, the gift-shops where I found unusual wine glasses (my latest hobby). My mother found a fantastic onyx ring which absolutely made my day. And we walked through the rather magical gardens – just us the first time, then with Ming who came down laden with three varieties of Bailey’s Irish Cream – his birthday present for Grandma.

 

I saw the kookaburra once more, from a distance.

My mother recollected how much I cried and cried after placing Anthony in the nursing home and I admitted that I didn’t remember this phase. I know I can look back on my blog and re-see that pain but I don’t want to because it is all fine now; Anthony, Ming and I have accepted that it is what it is….

Happy birthday, my beautiful mother – thank you for your support and love for all of us, not just me. I have learned the most important life lessons from you – to be ready for anything and to always, always, get back up from a fall.

And I know that parrot’s address

like a wink….

 

 

 

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Dementia Dialogues 21

Me: I’m a bit upset about these wrinkles on my cheeks that I’ve just noticed, Ants – see?

Anthony: Yes.

Me: What do you mean by ‘yes’? You’re supposed to say that you can’t see any wrinkles!

Anthony: But I can [and, OMG, he puts a finger into one of the many new little grooves of my left cheek!]

Me: I’m not happy about this, Ants, and, by the way, the only reason you don’t have wrinkles on your face is because the Parkinson’s Disease has made your face expressionless!

Anthony: That was not my intention.

Me: What? What!

Anthony: You look beautiful, Jules.

Me: Okay, but do I have wrinkles?

Anthony: Just the nice flavour.

I tried to laugh without further crinkling my face….

 

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Dress rehearsal

It’s now been a bit over a month since I thought Anthony was on the brink of death. In the space of a couple of days, he had suddenly become unable to chew and swallow food in the ordinary way, and, on two occasions, had been unconscious for several hours.

The fact that these two ‘end-stage’ things happened in a matter of days convinced me that Ants was definitely on the way out – soon. I was catapulted into action, messaging family members, making appointments with funeral directors, our lawyer, meeting with my best friend, the Anglican priest who blessed Anthony with the last rites, picking songs for the funeral, and asking nearly 20 people to be pallbearers ….

And then, as my new friend Moira described it, Anthony “did a Lazarus”. Okay, so that is all very well and I am glad, but the panicked anxiety and anticipatory grief I felt during that week has left a bitter taste in my brain. I feel as if I have been tricked, deceived; here I am all ready for Anthony’s death but the joke is on me because he is still beautifully alive, holding my hand and watching a movie with my mother and me… today.

Ming, our son, our one child, always gives good, sensible, pragmatic advice to me. He is an absolute rock of a person and has had to cope with Anthony not recognising him several times recently. Ming is philosophical about this because he already knows how dementia works.

No dress rehearsal prepares anybody for the death of a loved one.

 

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Caring for the carer

I am on the brink of facilitating a couple of carer support meetings, so I thought this would be a good place to air some of my thoughts beforehand.

Carers/care-givers – who care for and/or about loved ones who suffer from diseases like Dementia – are, according to the latest research findings, amongst the loneliest people in western society. The loneliest people are, of course, those with Dementia, especially those in care, like my husband, Anthony.

I have always loved being alone and am comfortable with solitariness. I am not naturally gregarious but I do enjoy the company of friends. Until recently, I have never actually felt lonely, but now I do – acutely. I miss Anthony being home with me, with Ming, milking the cows, chopping firewood, lighting the Aga, cooking steak on the barbecue, washing the car, watching ‘The Bill’, snuggling up in the big bed with toddler Ming in the middle.

But these memories are now nearly two decades old. More recent memories are stark with the years of frustration, avoidance, anger, sorrow, exhaustion – mine mostly. Having to quit my job in order to take my husband to the toilet, to stop him from falling over, to hide the car keys so he wouldn’t try to drive, to turn taps off that he’d left running, to open the vegemite jar when he couldn’t….

For awhile Ants and I hid what was going on from little Ming but it wasn’t long before Ming had to help out. I became so exhausted that I ended up in hospital and after that Ming and I shared the night shifts with Anthony.

And then – years later – the nursing home decision, the subsequent paradox of guilt and relief and now – more years later – the ongoing grief and loneliness. I miss him so much!

I am very glad to have the opportunity to facilitate these carer support groups because I have developed a few ways of coping better than I used to. Until I became involved, as a volunteer, with these groups, I had no idea that there might be some support for carers out there somewhere. If I can be a part of this, I will be so glad!

 

 

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Galah!

Today Anthony was perky, lucid, vocal and even sarcastic!

I had picked a double camellia bloom from our favourite tree but forgot to take a photo (sorry, flower-lovers!)

Well, he loved it but its stem was too short so one of the carers brought a bowl in so we could somehow keep it alive until tomorrow. There were many admiring exclamations from staff and I felt quite the gardener – ha! On this first day of Spring, there will be many more blooms and I will take them in every day because it gives Anthony such delight.

My mother, Meg, visited this afternoon and she, too, admired the double bloom.

Meg: This is a potentially prize-winning flower, Anthony!

Anthony: Yes.

Me: Ants, it’s my tree – remember? I paid a small fortune for that tree!

Anthony: Yes, but I nurtured and loved it.

Meg: I think God created it but did you have a hand in it too?

Anthony (smiling): Yes.

Me: I’m the one with the foresight to buy a rare tree!

Anthony is silent.

Me: Have I upset you, Ants?

Anthony: No, but you are irritating me.

A lot of banter followed this, then my mother went home. I put the food channel on for Ants and, as usual, pretended to go shopping for chocolate or blue cheese, saying I would be back later.

So, after a very panicky few weeks where I thought Anthony was on the brink of death, he has now come back to life it would seem. Surreal! How does this happen? It is beautifully scary but so disconcerting.

The last thing he said to me as I left this afternoon was “You are such a galah, Jules!”

Yep, I agree!

 

 

 

 

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