wings and things

Forewarned is forearmed

Yesterday was a day of terror for me and last night I couldn’t sleep, thinking that any minute I would receive “the phone-call” from the nursing home, to say that Anthony had died.

In the early hours of today, I eventually slept but woke up and, once again, in the grip of that horrible terror, I reached for my phone. No messages. Phew.

This morning, I headed in to the nursing home, thinking I would be met by sombre faces and bad news and, instead, I found Anthony, alive and in a wheelchair, watching the news in one of the communal areas. I wheeled him back to his room and managed to get him into his armchair, then rang a couple of worried relatives so that they could speak to him on the phone. He managed a few words but kept handing the phone back to me.

At noon, I fed him his vitamised lunch which he ate most of and he said, about the dessert (a frothy vanilla mousse), “My favourite”. I must find out what it is so I can bring him some, because he loves it and it’s easy to swallow.

After lunch, he fell asleep, just like yesterday, but he didn’t lose consciousness. I know this because, every time I shook him, he woke up. Yesterday, he didn’t.

Yesterday forewarned me by forcing me to face the prospect of Anthony’s death, something I have been reluctant to do until now. And, in facing this inevitability, I am now forearmed with the knowledge of how to plan his funeral, right down to the kind of casket/coffin to purchase (the cheapest is still around $1,500 – I had no idea – Ants would be appalled!) I have decided who to ask to do readings, be pallbearers, deliver eulogies and am now trying to decide what music would be appropriate.

The terror has gone – whoosh – gone! There is no way of knowing how soon Anthony will die – even the doctor can’t predict that – but, as the latest deterioration has been so fast, and so shocking to me, I feel much more prepared than I was.

And that’s a good thing.




Once upon a time 1

Once upon a time, a dairy farmer fell in love with a girl half his age. She had come to help his mother out with the scrambled eggs, the polishing of brass and silver, the arrangement of camellia blooms in the shallow pink dish on the kitchen table. He didn’t know he was in love until, underneath the clothesline one day, she called him a ‘selfish pig’. The next day, he took her hand and led her outside to see the once-a-year bloom of the moonflower.

She, on the other hand, knew she was in love with the dairy farmer but she didn’t know what to do with the love. It felt like a disability, a heavy, sinking secret. As she cycled home each day, she would sometimes stop to eat an orange his mother had given her. The discarded seeds resembled hope but nothing ever grew from them.

They became best friends, confidantes, buddies. When her father died suddenly, the dairy farmer took her for a long drive. When his mother was admitted to hospital, the young girl sat with her for eight days and was holding her hand when she died.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that the unlikely couple would be united in their mutual grief but, instead, the earth seemed to shift, a strange chasm tossed them apart. The dairy farmer continued to milk cows and the young girl went to the city to train as a nurse. She figured she’d be a good nurse as she already knew about death, dying, and how the sight of a camellia bloom, or the scent of cow manure, can bring a person to their knees.


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!



From heart to heart: The Dr. Says

I have made many friends in the blogosphere, one of whom is Sandra Callahan. She is wise and funny and positive and she and I share some very similar experiences. We have supported each other through many ups and downs and yesterday she made a comment on my post that compelled me to rethink yesterday’s doctor’s appointment with Anthony during which he described his dreadful terror the night before as ‘a bit of fun’. Sandra said, ‘He must have been embarrassed by his behavior. I cannot imagine how scary it must be when he doesn’t recognize people and they are trying to force him to do things he doesn’t understand.’

Sandra’s comment made me realize that Anthony’s bravado with the doctor was to cover his embarrassment and, even though I was aware of this at the time, it didn’t really hit me until I read Sandra’s wise words. Of course he was embarrassed – to be confused, to have been terrified of nurses, to have possibly made a fool of himself, and to have worried me so much. Anthony’s ‘bit of fun’ was his way of covering up his embarrassment and I understand that much better today than I did yesterday thanks to Sandra. She has once again helped to sharpen my sense of perception with her amazing empathy.

Our hearts have a lot in common except for one fundamental thing: mine is still beating loud and clear and Sandra’s is failing. She has congestive heart failure and is dying. But she is also living to the utmost, encouraging people like me and talking honestly about dying. Her book is now available and here is the link.

From my heart to your heart, Sandra.


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.


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!