jmgoyder

wings and things

Imagined conversation 38

Me: Do you remember that trip to Balingup?

Anthony: And the oysters?

Me: Yes.

Anthony: I’ll never forget it.

Me: I’ll never forget it either. You were mobile and you easily walked out of the nursing home, and we easily got you into the car, and I easily drove you back through time to the place of your childhood.

Anthony: And the old pub, all done up.

Me: And it was a beautiful day.

Anthony: You were in a hurry.

Me: Yeah, but only because if I didn’t get you there soon enough – at least by noon – the timing might not work, the pills might not kick in, you might get that nervous constipation thing, or worse….

Anthony: Worse?

Me: The opposite.

Anthony: Oh you mean my penchant for pooing unexpectedly?

Me: Yeah, that and the whole panic thing, for me, and Ming too. You know like that time in the restaurant where Ming had to take you to the toilet and figure it out, and that other time – OMG – after the funeral when your nephew had to figure it out….

Anthony: Sorry about that, Jules. We didn’t know about adult nappies then did we – wonderful invention.

Me: I was always amazed by your lack of embarrassment – like you just took it all in your stride!

Anthony: What else could I do? My bowels stopped belonging to me.

Me: You see, that’s one of the things I most admire about you – the way you accepted it all. I would be dying of embarrassment for you and yet you’d always be so sort of ….

Anthony: Philosophical?

Me: Yes!

Anthony: And the point of this conversation is…?

Me: Oh, sorry, our back to Balingup outing. So it was only an hour’s drive but you began to visibly falter about ten minutes before I parked the car at the pub so I was doubtful as to whether I’d be able to get you out of the car and into the restaurant.

Anthony: You were so weak.

Me: What do you mean I was so weak? You were like a dead weight! I couldn’t even move you enough to get the stupid seat-belt off, and when I finally did, I couldn’t get your legs around enough to get you even close to getting out of the car, and when I finally did, I couldn’t get you to stand up, even with the walker.

Anthony: I kept wondering why you couldn’t do it.

Me: How could you not know how bloody heavy you were?

Anthony: Because I didn’t feel heavy to me? I was skinny.

Me: Argh, that again – always so proud of your washboards? You were teensy in the end – diminished!

Anthony: You want to say “pathetic” don’t you.

Me: What?

Anthony: I was pathetic. I know that now.

Me: Okay, you were pathetic, yes, but you were also heroic, and I wanted to take you to Balingup for lunch and such a simple thing became a kind of nightmare. When I couldn’t even get you out of the car, I rushed in to see if they might bring the food out to us and they said yes! And they even had oysters – fresh oysters – and I ordered two dozen.

Anthony: An unexpected delight….

Me: And you vacuumed down the first dozen so I rushed back in to ask for another dozen and they got served to the car!

Anthony: You’re a champion, Jules.

Me: Seeing you eat those oysters, and not having a toilet issue, equalled pure joy, Ants. And then, all of a sudden, it became urgent to get you back to the nursing home and all you wanted to do was stay in Balingup.

Anthony: I’ve never seen that trip back from your perspective until now.

Me: I was freaking out because you were slumping so badly and I was worried we’d overdone it. Plus how the hell was I going to get you out of the car and back into the nursing home when you were almost comatose on the way back?

Anthony: But you did it – we did it.

Me: Yes but at the time all I wanted to do was get away from you and the nursing home and get home and just be by myself, away from the horror of your incapacity, away from the bittersweet day, away from the overwhelming love-guilt I had for you.

Anthony: My memory is different; it was a wonderful day.

Me: Yes but it was also final, Ants.

Anthony: How so?

Me: Well, I didn’t know it then but it was the last time I ever took you out and I am so so sorry for this.

Anthony: Please don’t cry, Jules. I wouldn’t have bothered to take me out in the first place.

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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 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 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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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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New beginnings

Every day, I smile back at my favourite photo of Anthony which was taken many years ago when he was well. This is the photo we chose for the bookmark distributed to those who came to his funeral, the one I often put into the back pocket of my jeans when I go out. Luckily I have a few spares because I accidentally washed one of them with my jeans the other day and Pip has dog-eared another one with her sharp teeth. FullSizeRender

Another new beginning: today I got to meet my newest great nephew, Archer, beautiful second son of my niece Ashtyn and her husband Gordon. He is such a winner! His big brother, Spencer, is equally adorable.

Archer with Julie

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I love them.

But something else new seems to be happening to me; I have regained that curiosity about the future that I experienced fleetingly not long after Anthony died. It’s a very simple curiosity and consists of doing deliberate but simple, rather mindless things that are somehow meditative and calming, like the jigsaw I have begun, and cooking new, interesting recipes. The curiosity comes in the form of the question: “Will I be able to do this?” And because these activities are so simple and enjoyable, the answer is, of course, “yes”.

Small steps I guess – a kind of hop-skip-and-jump into each new tomorrow of Anthonylessness, his smile of encouragement somehow more real now that I have lost the real thing. He was always so proud of me.

Standing on a slippery rock, with imagined wings preventing me from falling, on the brink of a new beginning, almost smiling again.

Beginning again

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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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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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