jmgoyder

wings and things

Turning corners

Corners on King (https://www.facebook.com/cornersonking/?fref=ts) is the restaurant where Ming has worked for just over a year now. It is run by a couple of guys who have very good taste in terms of decor, food, AND picking staff who are willing to dress up for Halloween.

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Yes, that is Ming on the left in the above photo. I was feeling a bit blah yesterday morning but, when I switched on my newly-switched-on computer, and the internet rushed into my laptop, this photo was the first I saw.

Okay so it took me a few seconds to realise that it was Ming! Other photos followed and I was so overtaken by laughter that the whole blah thing disappeared. I got showered and dressed and drove into town for lunch with this beautiful nurse.

Once I figure out how to save the photos I took of Ming in his nurse’s outfit, as he and I lunched together during his break, I will post them. It was the most glorious hour of halloween hilarity.

And then I went to the nursing home to see Anthony. I arrived at 1pm and left at about 4.30pm. For these hours I was unable to wake him up no matter how much I shook his shoulders, squeezed his hands, shouted (as quietly as I could) ‘Wake up, Ants!’ His nephew visited, a friend visited, the nurse-in-charge came in and checked his blood pressure etc. and reassured me that all was well. I visited the dementia wing a couple of times, showed several staff and residents the photos of Ming, laughed and joked, in the hope that when I returned to Anthony’s room he would be awake. He wasn’t.

The possibility that Anthony might die during – or soon after – one of these TIAs (which seem to be occurring more often), is a corner I have been hesitant to turn into. I was calm yesterday afternoon, then terrified, then resigned. When I got home, Ming was here, and listened to my tearful fears in the same way I listen to his; after all, we both love Anthony.

It is entirely possible that Anthony will live for many more years; it is equally possible that he will die soon. I am not ready for the latter, despite many attempts to BE ready, and I cannot imagine my life without Anthony in it. His room in the nursing home, the staff who have become such wonderful friends, my arm around his shoulder, our long afternoons watching television, bantering, just being together, sometimes reminiscing, sometimes eating and drinking, laughing, looking at photos, doing paperwork, engaging with staff, residents, friends, relatives, visitors … his room has become my refuge, my home.

Ah, but I do have another home – a place where I can eat, drink, write, relax. I can be one of those trendy people who drink short blacks whilst writing articles about the meaning of life and death OR the proud mother of the waiter at Corners on King.

Corners on King (https://www.facebook.com/cornersonking/?fref=ts) is the restaurant where Ming has worked for just over a year now. It is run by a couple of guys who have very good taste in terms of decor, food, AND picking staff who are willing to dress up for Halloween.

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A brief moment of panic

Yesterday morning I received a phone-call from the nursing home manager to say that Anthony had had a ‘turn’, most probably a TIA (transient ischemic attack or mini-stroke). He has had these before but this time he was unresponsive for ten minutes.

As I rushed into town, I experienced a brief moment of panic even though I knew Ants had recovered from the TIA, because the more of these he has the more likely it is that he will have a serious stroke. On the other hand, he has been having TIAs from well before I knew what they were and twice, when he was still living at home, I had to call the ambulance. And, during his years in the nursing home I suspect he has had more of them than anyone realises because he sleeps a lot anyway.

Four years ago, at the huge 75th Ming and I held for him here, I remember being fairly certain it would be Anthony’s last birthday. His prostate cancer was well advanced and so was the parkinson’s. Daily tasks had become extremely difficult for him and I was exhausted. Perhaps it was this exhaustion that made me more accepting of the fact that he might die soon.

But now that all his care needs are fulfilled by the nursing home and I have the leisure to simply enjoy Anthony’s company, the thought that he might die soon is unbearable. Having outlived his prognoses by several years already, I have become used to the idea that he will continue to live for a long time.

So the thought that he might either die or become even more incapacitated by a stroke is horrifying. I can’t imagine my life without him but maybe I should prepare myself a bit. Who knows?

Anthony’s fortitude amazes me; he is so resilient! When I said to him yesterday, “You had one of those mini-strokes again, Ants”, he retorted, “No I didn’t – I just fainted.”

But for the rest of the day he kept hold of of my hands with both of his until I left to come home with the usual goodbye.

Anthony: Don’t be long, Jules.

Julie: I’ll be back soon, my beautiful man!

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My dad’s birthday

Today would have been my dad’s 94th birthday if he had lived. He died when my brothers and I were teenagers so he never saw any of our children who nevertheless know him as Granddad. My mother was only 43. Dad was only 57 and died in Intensive Care at the local hospital. He had been admitted having suffered two heart attacks and was recovering when he suffered a third fatal one. The shock and grief of that day is something I will never forget especially as I was on the other side of Australia at the time, in Sydney.

The following portrait was done of a photo taken of Dad a couple of years before he died. We all have the photo and the portrait and my youngest brother even has it tattooed on one of his arms.

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Herbert Henry Brinsley Lane, who went by the name of Brinsley but was most often called Brin, was a tall, well-built man who had a presence. He was known for his eloquence and his strong silence, was not particularly gregarious, but very compassionate and generous. His love for my mother is the lens through which I remember my childhood.

He had a Charlie Chaplin way of standing which, as a child, I tried to imitate, and a habit of talking to himself when trying to figure anything out. A strict father, he taught us all manner of manners, especially table manners! But he was a gentle giant.

A radio announcer and high school teacher at Sydney Grammar School, Dad made the extraordinary decision in his early 40s to embark on chiropractic studies and thus began our travels – first to Canada (I was 8) where he completed his chiropractic degree, then to Papua New Guinnea (I was 12) to work as a chiropractor on a mission in the highlands, then to Western Australia (I was 15) where he set up a practice. He was a wonderful chiropractor and if patients couldn’t pay, he would accept milk or apples as payment.

Not long before he died, I was on the phone to him about how much I hated the college I was at in Sydney and, despite being a godly man he told me to come home and to tell the college people to “go to buggery!” Those were his last words to me, unforgettable in the way they still make me laugh, and cry, in that I didn’t make it home in time to see him alive for the last time. At the time of the phone-call, there was no indication that he was ill.

In my writing room, I often look up to my right at the portrait of my father and, underneath, a more recent one done of my mother.

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Significantly, Dad approved of Anthony when nobody else did, including Anthony! After all, I was eighteen and Ants was 41. After Dad died, I went back to work for Anthony’s mother, Gar, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I often feel the presence of my dad: when I am having lunch with my mother; at family get-togethers; in the nursing home with Anthony; during moments of hysterical laughter with Ming; during those unexpected moments of intense grief; and when I accidentally speak with my mouth full. Sometimes I imagine that Dad is there/here with me/with us, smiling proudly.

Happy birthday, Dad.

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I went to a funeral today

Martin was 90 and his room was two rooms away from Anthony’s. He died a few days ago and I went, with my mother and one of the carers, to the funeral service at the Catholic cathedral today. After the service I was able to give Ruth, Martin’s wife, and three of his daughters, a series of quick hugs before withdrawing from their private grief. Ruth and I have formed a friendship borne of mutual care and grief over the endless months of our husbands’ deterioration so, even though it sounds selfish, I am not sure how to go on without Ruth’s visits to Anthony’s room. Already, there is someone else in Martin’s room and, even though I had just been to his funeral, I caught myself just about to wave goodbye to him – as I have done every afternoon/evening on my way out. Martin’s ‘gone-ness’ has been so swift.

This morning, as I psyched myself up not to cry at the funeral, I checked my emails and discovered that my blog friend, Bill, had died from COPD. The shock of it was terrible. His friendship, humor and rapport had blessed me for over a year. Here is his last, heroic post: http://dealingwithcopd.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/how-i-feel-for-the-week-ending-08-29-14/

Then, hesitantly, I opened another email about another blog friend, Rhonda, and my heart did a somersault of dread as I read that she, too, had died. Jennifer’s post here honors Rhonda beautifully in a way that respects the horror of this tragedy. http://jenniferkellandperry.wordpress.com/ Jennifer’s post provides links to Rhonda’s blog.

My heart goes out to all of those who have been left grief-stricken by the death of their loved ones.

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Parkinson’s disease dementia and life expectancy

Okay so I googled this today with a mixture of guilt and curiosity. In watching Anthony’s physical and mental abilities diminish over the last year, I have become increasingly concerned that (a) he will become very depressed; (b) his confusion will cause him anxiety; and (c) he will suffer physical pain.

Some of these things are already happening of course but, so far, he is not in physical pain and – remarkably, in my opinion, – is not depressed in any clinical sense. He is plagued by bouts of immobility and incontinence but we have both accepted these aspects of PD. Recently, however, the confusion of dementia has caused us both anxiety. For example, if he is home for the day, he will often talk to Ming and me even when we aren’t in the room. And sometimes, in the nursing home, he will think we are all home on the farm, and can’t understand where Ming and I are going when we leave him.

It is over seven years now since Antony’s PD diagnosis, and just over two years since he has lived in the nursing home. He is sad a lot of the time, mainly because he misses me, Ming and home, but mostly he is resigned and heroic in the way he has accepted now that he is too heavy for a single person to lift (in and out of bed etc.)

As much as possible, I have tried to inject a daily dose of joy into our equation but sometimes that isn’t enough and visiting him yesterday with my youngest brother and his youngest son, although wonderful, gutted me when we had to leave him, leaning on his walker, waving goodbye, with two nurses ready to take him back to his room.

How long will this go on? I catch myself wondering if sudden death would be better than this excruciatingly slow journey into an illness that has no cure, that ends with severe dementia, and that robs us of the energy we once had to adore each other. Of course the love is still there – maybe more than ever – but it is no longer a gleeful, adventurous, exciting love; it is more like a needy, obligatory, remembered love – not quite real in the here and now.

My grief and love for Anthony are in equal proportions and every single day it’s as if they draw straws to see which one will win – usually love, but not always….

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The littlest peachick

Yesterday morning, just outside the back door, you took bread from my hand for the first time,
even though you are the littlest peachick.
Surrounded by your peacock father and his brothers, surrounded by your peahen mother and her sisters,’
you raced all of them and won each piece of bread I tossed onto the ground,
even though you are the littlest peachick.

Your big sister didn’t stand a chance and you gobbled all of her bread bits until I gently brushed you aside,
littlest peachick.

This morning, just outside the back door, I saw you again, but this time you were all alone.
I thought you were a pile of leaves blown together by the wind,
until I saw your little legs pointing upwards like the bare, autumn branches of a bonsai.
I went outside and approached you cautiously, not wanting to see what I already saw, that you were very dead,
my littlest peachick.

Your mother, big sister, and all of the others, came over very quietly to look at your dead body.
Then, just as quietly, they all stepped back, turned around and went away,
my littlest peachick.

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This morning, the farm is strangely silent. Your family, usually so noisy and boisterous, has withdrawn from the vicinity of your death.
Out in the paddock, they nibble halfheartedly at the grass, looking up and around frequently, as if sensing danger, bewildered, as I am,
at your mysterious death,
our littlest peachick.

I see you now, from the corner of my heart’s eye,
high up in a tree that is so beautiful that it has no name.
You are no longer little; you are huge and your rainbow wings span the sky as you fly in and through the marshmallow clouds
of where you are now.

The littlest peachick.

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To my sister-in-law, Pat

Dear Pat

I am finding it very difficult to believe you are gone because Anthony and I were just talking about you the other day, about your pink jacket, the fact that you made the effort to come 200 kilometers south for his 75th birthday even though you and your family had to go back to Perth that same night. You and Anthony sat next to each other all night and I was a teensy bit jealous!

Anthony and Pat2

And I remember your 90th – the joy of it, and your family, and your beautiful pink jacket, and how much you loved the photo I gave you of Anthony sitting on his motorbike with baby Ming. In amongst the food, frivolity, speeches and chitchat, you shone bright – always, always with a glint in your eyes, a mixture of wisdom and wit. And once again, you and Anthony sat next to each other.

The weekly phone-calls, before your hearing failed and Anthony had gone into the nursing home, were a highlight for us. Ming would answer the phone and yell “It’s Auntie Pat, you guys!”

I remember being a bit nervous of you when I married your little brother even though, at the time, he was 57 and you were the age he is now. It took you a little while to approve of me but, when you did, you gave me your full older-sister-approval and I learned how to answer you back!

Even though I never had a chance to tell you when you were still alive, I want you to know, Pat, that you taught me how to be assertive, how not to take nonsense, and how to love unconditionally. You also taught me the art of a brandy before salmon mornay – and the way you and John smiled at each other is an image that is imprinted on my mind forever.

I know, if I had tried to say these things to you in years gone by, you would probably have shrugged them off as sentimental because, like Anthony, you were/are pragmatic and that is one of your many legacies.

At your 90th, I was sitting next to Mary, the daughter who lived with you and she said, quietly, with her eyes full of tears, that it was a privilege to look after you. And, that day, seeing how much all of your children and grandchildren loved you, I wished for a moment that I had had more than one child.

One of the things I will miss most is those booming phone conversations you had with Ming, both of you shouting into the receiver so loudly that I could hear the whole thing. Your first question was always “How is Anthony?” and Ming and I would reassure you.

And remember that time you came to Glengarry Hospital, when Anthony was being assessed for a new medication regime? You created a bit of a scene with your “What are you doing with my brother?” The nursing staff loved you immediately!

I will miss you so much, Pat. And the first thing I am going to do, after your funeral, is to buy a pink jacket. My/our deepest sympathy to your beautiful children and grandchildren. You were – you ARE unforgettable.

Lots of love
Julie, Ants and Ming

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Death

I keep trying to embrace the idea of death, but I can’t imagine Anthony gone.

So I’m beginning to understand this kind of grief via the blogs of friends who grieve for loved ones.

It might be my turn next but I’m not sure…. Death-defying?

My best friend – Anthony.

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Empathy requires effort

A few thing have happened lately that have drawn my attention to the notion of empathy – that ability to identify with someone else’s suffering and to feel it too. This is not as easy as sympathy.

Okay the first thing that made me think about empathy was (as blogged previously) Ming’s inability to feel it for Anthony. Then, last night, after Ming got home from his weekend away, he was obviously unconcerned about my asthma until I said, “Why don’t you care?”

“Because I don’t know what it feels like, Mum!” he said. Ïf you want me to care, you have to tell me to; if you want my support, you have to tell me how.”

Food for thought: empathy doesn’t necessarily come naturally.

The second thing that made me think about empathy was a blogpost by a friend whose beautiful daughter died recently after years of suffering. This mother’s grief is raw and almost unbearable to read about, and my sympathy for her is enormous, but what about my empathy?

So I tried to imagine it; I tried to imagine my only child, Ming, dying and dead, but I couldn’t get my imagination to get beyond his dying to his death because it was too hard. I felt so wretched with grief I had to stop my imagination.

Food for thought: Empathy does come naturally to some and I thought I was one of those, but I’m not sure anymore whether it is possible to feel empathy (automatically) for someone who has experienced something that you haven’t.

How can 19-year-old Ming feel empathy for his 77-year-old father? Is it something that needs to be taught?

I wonder.

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What did I say that for?

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This morning I wrote a post about coincidences in which I said, I was 19 when my father died. Ming is 19 now and his father is dying.

I don’t know why I said something so morbid when I wasn’t feeling morbid. I was feeling a curious mixture of fatalism and resignatiom, I guess, but not morbid.

Now, however, I do feel morbid because of my own stupid sentences and I wish I had said, I was 19 when my father died. Ming is 19 now and his father is alive.

Some people philosophize that you begin to die as soon as you are conceived which is, of course, true, but not a particularly pleasant way of thinking about life.

When Anthony was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and given 1-3 years to live (several years ago!) we were utterly devastated. I remember tearfully telling a friend and he said, Well, we are all dying aren’t we and another friend said, well, he’s had a good life. Neither of these comments were helpful, but they were true.

Anthony has outlived his prostate cancer prognosis only to fall into the arms of Parkinson’s disease. But I no longer think of this as cruel and tragic and neither does Anthony. In fact I have never seen the tiniest sign of self-pity from him in all these many years of illness.

Yes, Anthony is dying, but he is also living. And that’s a coincidence.

Oh yes and all the geese are alive and well, especially Godfrey!

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