wings and things

Anthony antics

Apart from tossing my hand aside occasionally, Anthony would often come out with the most extraordinarily apt one-liners.

I found some of my scribbled renditions of these today when Meg (my mother) helped me sort through a few boxes of mixed up paperwork – everything from tax receipts to sympathy cards to my scribbles. One of the jobs I had been avoiding was to ring the ambulance people to get a refund on the ambulance ride to the hospital from the nursing home, and the ride back. The ambulance woman on the other end of the phone promised a refund after establishing that Ants had died. Her voice softened and she offered her condolences. This made me cry, of course and, if Meg hadn’t been here, I would have given up on the rest of the paperwork.

Anyway, in amongst my scribbled notes, I found a gem:

Me: Are you okay, Ants?

Anthony: I’ve been having an argument with my ego, Jules.





An ‘aha’ moment

Since Anthony died, I have, of course, experienced all of the stuff I’ve already described – the emotions, confusion and shock. But, over the last week or so, I’ve also been bothered terribly by my struggle to figure the grief out. For example, I couldn’t understand why, when I was feeling more at peace, all of a sudden it felt horrible again, really horrible.

Why did the bouts of sad, wretched sobbing keep coming back when I had already accepted that Anthony was dead?

I suddenly remembered the 23rd Psalm and that line “even thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” got to me. To be in a valley, and also under a shadow, is like being in some sort of dark, inescapable horror movie scenario where there is no escape. But the psalm does continue to say that “I am with you” and that is comforting.

And then it hit me: I haven’t just lost my beautiful husband, I have also lost my identity as his wife, i.e. my wifedom is gone. Yes, of course I am still a mother, daughter, sister, cousin, auntie, friend, but I am no longer a wife. And, over the last several years of Anthony’s illnesses, this wifedom had become an absolute priority – a purpose even.

It has come as a bit of a relief to have figured out why the grief over the death of a loved one is so ferocious, unpredictable and relentless. Not only have you lost that loved one to death, you have also lost your identity as his/her someone. So in a way, you lose some of your own self.

A sense of identity is one of the most vital human needs so when you lose a big chunk of it (as millions of us have, of course), the job of grieving becomes terribly complicated and difficult. Recovery seems impossible at times. Outside you there is this gap that the person you loved left, and inside you there is this gap that used to be the ‘you’ who loved him/her.

Understanding this helps me to accept that this is a brand new situation, a new experience, a new way of living. I can either look at it as an adventure and become curious, or I can deliberately refuse the notion of new. I choose the former and am even getting a bit excited about it.

I think Anthony would approve.



Humour and grief

Humour and grief are an odd match but sometimes they do collide unexpectedly. For example, just moments ago, I googled “how to fast-track grief” and, after discovering that this was pretty much impossible, I belly-laughed at my idiocy. I also read a useful article:

After all of these years of Anthony being so ill, as well as the last several years of him being in a nursing home, you would think that I would have a handle on how to ‘do’ grief but I don’t have a clue! I might have a sense of peace on Monday, be in a state of sobbing despair on Tuesday, sharing funny anecdotes on Wednesday, feeling blank on Thursday, totally confused on Friday, determined to get my act together on Saturday, unable to get out of bed on Sunday and then there is the inevitable Monday again and again and again.

Well, tomorrow is another Monday, the seventh Monday since Anthony died, and the anniversary of the first night I ever stayed at the nursing home on the armchair beside his bed. It is still such a shock to me that he died so quickly because many people with aspirational pneumonia either recover, or linger on for weeks.

Over the years, there have been many times when I couldn’t rouse Anthony (TIAs or just sleepy), so I had become a bit complacent because he would always come back. On that last Monday, I even shoved him a bit and joked, “Are you dead or alive?” This was typical of our banter and of course I had no inkling that 48 hours later he would actually be dead so it’s a strange memory now. This is very sad for me because Anthony always came back so I guess I just assumed he would live for many more years and that I would write my book about him in his nursing home room.

Anthony was the funniest person I have ever met, with Ming coming a close second. The fact that Ants, Ming and I were able to share humour over the last few weeks before he died (Ants thinking Ming was the hair-dresser, and proposing to me all over again because he thought we weren’t ‘officially’ married) makes all of the moments of all of the last years worth it.

It is heartbreaking to continue to love someone as much as I love Anthony, even after he died, because that present-tense love is such a mismatch with the reality of death where everything is in the past-tense. I keep wanting to go to the nursing home to tell him about my latest philosophical findings (a habit that always caused a cynical bemusement on his part, and, usually, one of his slow smiles). But I can’t go and see him anymore because he’s not there. I keep having vivid dreams that I have somehow infiltrated the nursing home so am always in his room with the various people who will also live their last years/moments there. And, even when I am awake, all I want to do is to go back to that nursing home room; it is a dreadful longing and probably the worst part of my young grief.

The best memories are, I think, the funny ones. The sad, despairing memories are always there of course but, up until the Sunday before Anthony’s death a few days later, we were all still smiling.

How did Anthony cope with it all? How did he cope with going into a nursing home? It must have been an unbearable blow to his pride, his ego, his sense of himself as a strong man. How did he deal with the idea that he would no longer be the master of his own home, his own farm? How did he accept that he wouldn’t be living with us anymore – with Ming and me? And how the hell did I cope?

Mostly, we dealt with all of this with his/our amazing humour and an incredible ability to accept what is. Anthony knew he had prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease but he didn’t ever know he had dementia because I never told him. What would have been the point of worrying him further? The dementia aspect of his Parkinson’s disease was so gradual, and sort of sneakily incremental, that Anthony never, ever, knew he had it!

Anthony: Let’s get married, Jules!

How wonderful, strange and funny that he would have proposed to me again just weeks before he died.







A sense of peace

Today, for the first time in the six weeks since Anthony died, I experienced a sense of peace and, now that it has lasted several hours, I trust this sense.

I did a radio interview this morning with Stan Shaw

It was a bit nerve-wracking to do this interview because my grief is still so raw but I’m very glad to have spoken about Anthony’s dementia and his death. I was terrified that I might cry during the interview but I didn’t and it was a pre-recording anyway, not live. My mouth kept getting dry and water-slurping probably doesn’t sound so good on radio. Stan assured me this would be edited out, and gave me a hug as I left the studio. What a lovely man. Thanks, Stan.

I have graduated from the weird adrenaline rush of the initial grief and shock, to the dull thud of unbearable sorrow, to today’s sense of peace but I realise that these stages of grief are not linear. I might have to re-live them over and over. If only there were a fast-track to overcoming grief, but there isn’t.

For a man of 81 who survived kidney cancer, prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease dementia, for over a decade, most people would think that death would be a relief for him, for me, for Ming, for all of us. No! On the Friday before his death on the following Wednesday, he was fine. Yes, he was bedridden but he wasn’t in physical pain and he always had a fantastically intuitive grasp of his own mental health and would often say to me “I’m nearly better now, Jules.”

And I would always reply with a ‘yes’.

I want that Friday before he died back; I want to re-visit the days before I didn’t know he was going to actually die; I want his big, warm hand in mine; I want him back, just for one more moment. It is said that grief is a form of love that doesn’t know where to go and I really get that now.

It is lovely to be experiencing a new sense of peace today.



Thank you

IMG_0335Since Anthony died, apart from the next day when we cleared his room, I haven’t been back to the nursing home. I’ve wanted very much to go back but was too nervous that I might disintegrate so I just sent a thank you card in which I said I’d bring a thank you gift soon. I arranged, then disarranged, to meet my mother, Meg, there twice but today we finally actually did it.

I had bought three of those extra long toblerone chocolate thingies and a ribbon to tie them together with. My mother and I met in the parking lot and we walked in together but, just as we were about to turn the corner into the hallway where Anthony’s room was, I began to cry. Meg suggested maybe not today but I really wanted to get it over with – to give the gift, to walk up that hallway, to peek into Anthony’s room, and to give the woman in the room opposite his a hug.

The male nurse who was in charge today accepted the chocolates and gave me a look of such wonderful sympathy but the crying had kicked in so I kind of fled, with my mother just behind me. Back down the hallway past not-Anthony’s-room-anymore to the outside.

There is a little area outside with chairs and I have often wondered who might sit there. Now it was us – my mother and me – I cried and she hugged me. Various staff, coming and going, saw us and came over to have a chat/hug and I gradually calmed down and stopped crying.

It will be easier to visit people in the nursing home next time. I plan to take little Pip in to see the various residents who I have become so fond of over the years.

I have a great big thank you in my heart – to everyone at the nursing home who cared so wonderfully for this beautiful man.

Thank you.





A year and a half ago … Anthony’s 80th birthday


We weren’t a perfect team – Ants, Ming and me – but we were a team, the three of us. And, when I look at these photos (which my mother must have taken because she gave Ants the 80th birthday goblet that I am holding in the photos), I can see the love we three had/have for each other.

I am a bit astounded that I am writing so much about losing Anthony but I can’t seem to stop! The blogosphere is, of course, a perfect place to loosen the ties of day-to-day restraint and I am actually enjoying writing about our wonderful relationship – about me, about Anthony, and about Ming.

I think a love story like this is worth writing about.




An electrical moment

The two electricians who were working on re-wiring the whole house the same week Anthony died were probably a bit nonplussed at my behaviour in the before-and-after days. At one point I came home and wrote the funeral notice at one of our outside tables and, as there was a deadline for later that day and Ming wasn’t home, I came back into the house and asked the two electricians for feedback.

They were on a coffee break in the kitchen and they didn’t mind at all. So I read them what I had written:

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 ….

Okay, so it was at that last sentence that I got stuck with an adjective dilemma. I had wanted to say “my shattered soul” or “my sliced soul” or something like that and J. said it was good but G. said it was a bit much so I took this advice and simply got rid of the adjective and finished it with …

… the king of Paradise Road. Beautiful husband. Beautiful father. We love you, Anthony.

I am so grateful to these two wonderful electricians who not only fixed our power problems but also gave me editorial advice, and comfort, during that horrible week.












I have had to see our lawyer, social services, contact our accountant and financial advisor, reply to condolence messages, meet with friends and pull myself together.

During the week that Anthony died, we experienced heavy rain and storms, so much so that our power went out. Man-of-the-house, Ming said we should wait until the sun came back and the power might come back. In the meantime we lived with a lantern until I insisted on calling the electrician. They began work on the water-damaged electrics on Monday and Anthony died on Wednesday (it all seems like yesterday now, but this was nearly five weeks ago).

Due to having no power, I had arranged to stay at my mother’s place for the duration of electrical repairs. This never happened as Anthony went downhill so quickly I ended up sleeping at the nursing home for a couple of nights (this is where my confusion kicks in; was it one or two nights?)

I hate this confusion – my mind feels like mush and I keep forgetting conversations and arrangements and plans made, or else getting mixed up. And when, this afternoon, the insurance assessor came out to suss the claim, I completely forgot who she was and sobbed while I tried to explain the water damage etc. She was so kind.

So many people have been so kind – relatives and friends; blog friends; Facebook friends. All of those kind words have been matched with real and virtual hugs and I am so grateful for this throng of support. I am not the only person in the world to have lost someone they love this fiercely and I so ‘get it’ – the shock+grief.

Apart from the feeling that Anthony is in our hearts in an ongoing way, there is still, also, the fact that he is dead. This is made plain to me in my midnight sobs, my scrambled egg mornings, Ming’s presence, the black and white tiles on the kitchen floor and no Anthony sock-prints any more.

Perhaps my confusion is borne of a temporary inability to face the word/concept that Anthony is, indeed, dead.

Dead, death, dying – these are all words that don’t scare me any more but I am still so confused.



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.



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:

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.