jmgoyder

wings and things

Changing

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw

I have changed my mind so many times over the last few years, months, weeks, days, minutes, moments, about how to best care for a husband, 79, in a nursing home, and our son, 21, embarking on adulthood. It’s doubtful whether Ming will want chooks in his future life!

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Not very long ago, whenever people talked about the weather, or gardening – whether it be small-talk or serious-talk – I would tune out. I have never been the least bit interested in anything relating to the actual job/hobby of gardening despite numerous attempts to get interested.

Okay, I got interested many times; but I didn’t remain interested, mostly because I was busy working at the university and bringing up the beautiful brat, Ming (who, by the way, isn’t interested in gardening either.)

Gardening was Anthony’s ‘thing’. His family (mother and younger brother) came here in the late 1950s to run a dairy farm and Anthony began planting things – camellias, palms, silver birches, flame trees, roses, citrus, hedges … and a whole lot of other stuff.

Up until the year before the nursing home, Anthony was still interested in planting, watering, and wandering about, in the garden. But he would get stuck! We only had the walking stick then so he would go out the back to check on a hose and then become paralysed and sometimes it took a whole hour to get him back to the house. Then, one day, when he was in his armchair in front of the fireplace, I told him not to move while I went up to the shop to get some supplies, only to find him face-down in the front yard; he’d fallen again!

Parkinson’s disease (and all of its off-shoots, including dementia) is an ever-changing condition that can make life tricky for those who care for family and friends inflicted. For example, sometimes I can show Anthony photos of home – the new chooks, the better-kept garden, the mowed lawns etc. and he will think he has been home.

But, at other times, Anthony will ask to come home and I will have to distract him. This is not because I don’t want him to come home; it’s because he is mostly immobile now so I actually can’t physically manage him. The guilt is ghastly of course but it is easily blitzed by my almost-daily company, in the nursing home, during the afternoons. And photos of the new chooks!

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This morning this wonderful group of gardening people came over (it’s a group I’ve recently sort of joined) and each person had a good piece of advice for me. Plus everyone brings some produce to exchange – fascinating!

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I am changing into a gardening person!

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw

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Jigsawing Parkinsonisms

When most people think of Parkinson’s disease, they think of dyskinesia which is the involuntary movements, tremors and tics that are symptomatic of the disease. Anthony’s version (called ‘Parkinsonism’) is not like this. Instead, his disease is characterized by bradykinesia – the chronic slowing down of movement.

Big words to match small, sometimes unnoticeable, symptoms. To begin with, many years ago now, I deliberately tripped over these words and many, many more – like ‘idiopathic’, ‘hypokinesia’, ‘ataxia’, ‘dysphasia’, ‘mirographia’, ‘akinesia’, ‘palilalia’ – just as Anthony was undeliberately tripping, literally, over his own feet. I didn’t want to know what those words meant back then; I didn’t want to know what was coming. The glossary below is for those who are curious:

http://www.webmd.com/parkinsons-disease/parkinsons-glossary

The first signs were subtle like Anthony’s inability to open the vegemite jar, and his reluctance to drive the car. But then the signs became more dramatic: Anthony’s increasing stoop, strange gait, the drooling, getting stuck in the back yard and being unable to walk back to the house, the hallucinations, me coming home from the local shop to find him face-down in the vegetable patch, Silver chain home assistance, hospitalisations, drug experiments, nightly toiletting shifts with Ming, Anthony’s apologies, his gradual loss of control over his body, his shame and frustration….

All of these things jigsawed into each other crookedly, violently sometimes; we could not get the jigsaw back together again no matter how hard we tried, because already there were too many pieces missing. A simpler jigsaw needed to be built and learning what those many big words meant has helped frame the centre of this new jigsaw, the centre being Anthony himself of course, and his incredible resilience and acceptance.

One of the most wonderful things that has happened lately is that just when I thought Ants had become totally immobile, the staff told me that his nephew, P, visited on the weekend and Ants was able to use his walker to go outside into the sunshine with P. This nephew visits Ants every weekend, but he doesn’t do this out of duty, he does it because he loves Anthony (and I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t).

Another wonderful thing is that just when I thought Ants had completely lost his ability to speak coherently, I arrived and rushed to give him a kiss yesterday and he smiled his newfound smile and this was our conversation:

Anthony: You are a wonderful person!
Me: Why?
Anthony: Well, you always find yourself in the most extraordinary places!
Me: What – like here?
Anthony: Yes! You always find me, Jules!

The fact that Anthony’s eloquence, mobility and ability to smile all seem to have come back to some extent, after a long period of struggling with all of these things, is quite strange. I write down all of his extraordinary sentences and am thrilled when he can actually walk; as for the smile, it is almost as if my determination to get that brilliant smile back via any means – including slapstick antics, banter, his favourite comedy series, and just laughing my raucous laugh – has somehow tickled his facial muscles into action again. And, like any exercise of any muscle, the more Anthony smiles, the more able he is to smile. Ming has noticed this and so have the staff and everyone is surprised and delighted.

Does this mean Anthony is getting better? Of course not, but it’s a very interesting turn of events made even more interesting by a conversation I had with a resident whose room is two doors away from Anthony’s. She beckoned me over to where she was sitting in her wheelchair and whispered loudly, “I’ve heard a rumour that Anthony is getting most of the attention these days and is the most popular, but don’t let it bother you because we are all treated well.” Then she guffawed enigmatically and I have yet to decode what she meant.

The other day I told Anthony about Gutsy being killed and he kept reaching out his hand to put it on top of mine.

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Over and over and over again – his hand, found underneath the blanket that is always on his knees, and my hand bringing his out into the cold air of a heated room, and his hand finding my hand – a jigsaw of interlaced fingers, a smile, a repeated hand tap.

But, when I was telling Ming about this tonight he said he’d seen Anthony earlier today and Anthony was so confused and blah that he almost didn’t recognise Ming!

Ming: I get it with the smile thing, Mum, but Dad was pretty bad this afternoon.
Me: So should we give up then?
Ming: No!
Me: No?
Ming: I don’t know.
Me: I don’t know either.

The above is not an exact rendition of our conversation but, rather, a compression of many conversations over many months/years. Ming, at 21, is always going to be the vital jigsaw piece that has the elasticity to fit right back in and complete the puzzle, or else wing to and fro.

Par
kins
on
ism
saw
jig

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The loss of Gutsy 9, our pet peahen

The evening before last, Ming found Gutsy 9’s body just in front of his shed. He came over to the house to tell me that he wasn’t quite sure that it was Gutsy but he’d taken the body to the woodpile. He had two friends over to stay, so he said they would leave me alone and they retired to his shed.

Once the boys had gone, I did the crying thing, then I took a torch and went out to the woodpile, but I couldn’t find her, so I came back inside and cried some more. I felt bewildered, because, despite the danger of wild foxes, the peafowl have always ranged free because they can fly up and away. Our dogs, too, had become so used to their presence that they would drink from the same water trough.

I will never know what happened that evening, or how it happened, but at dawn yesterday I went over to the woodpile and there she was – her crooked left foot and her white feathers making it easy to identify her body. I picked her up, but couldn’t find where she had been wounded; her eyes were closed and her neck flopped against mine in a last hug.

As a pied peachick (half white, half blue) G9 was rejected by her mother nearly three years ago, so I raised her, and we all loved her. Just the other day, we had some visitors and I picked her up and put her on my lap and she purred her unique hello.

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I feel absolutely devastated, but am now beginning to appreciate G9’s fantastic presence in our lives … in retrospect – my beautiful bird.

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Gutsy

Gutsy, or Gutsy9, our pied peachick/hen, turned two last November. Anyway, she has now assimilated into our flock of peafowl but the others are still in awe of her audacity. If I leave the back door open even for a few seconds G9 will not hesitate to come into the house. This morning, for example:

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She is often outside one of the four doors to the house, wanting to come in.

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Or posing outside; yes, she is quite the poser and always has been.

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Sometimes she still tries to fly up onto my shoulder but she’s a bit big for that now so I usually sit at one of the outside tables and she jumps up and lets me tickle her under the chin or stroke her head feathers. I wish I could take her into the nursing home to see Ants but it would probably freak her out now (not to mention the staff!)

Oh well, I can always show Ants the photos – the old and the new.

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In the following photo she is resting on Anthony’s arm in the nursing home (2012).

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And in this one, she is looking up at him during one of his last visits home (early 2014).

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G9 has been, and continues to be, a very important addition to our lives. As many of you know, she was a bit of a foundling, rejected by her mother (whose identity I still don’t know) possibly because she is half white and half blue (‘pied’) and she has a very crooked toe on her left foot. Raising her was a learning curve for me because I had to take her everywhere with me during those first few weeks of her life, either in my pocket or underneath the collar of my shirt – a shock of course to anyone who spotted her. The funniest of these occasions was when I met friends for lunch at a restaurant and she poked her little head out of my shirt.

In many ways, G9 represents the years of our transition (Anthony’s, Ming’s and mine) from Anthony being home/coming home to Anthony being in the nursing home permanently. It is now the beginning of his fourth year there which somewhat flabbergasts me as he has outlived his advanced prostate cancer now by years. It is the Parkinson’s disease that so incapacitates him. He is now (and has been for some time) a ‘two person assist’ meaning that it requires two carers to get him out of bed/chair to toilet/dining room etc.

It’s a peculiar comparison perhaps but G9’s adorability, tenacity and head-held-highness resembles the way Anthony is coping with his situation. He is never depressed, rarely complains and is able to glean joy from the smallest of things; my presence in his room; freshly picked flowers; the domestic staff’s attention to detail; food (the lunchtime roast, my gifts of blue cheese and cherries); the occasional brandy; a soft blanket pulled up around his arms (yes, even in the heat of summer!); quips and humour from carers; slapstick comedy via Ming and me; and the pot of fake silk roses I gave him some time ago that everyone admires.

G9 is gutsy, yes, but Ants is gutsier; Anthony IS Gutsy.

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Dusk

I went outside specifically to take photos of the cheeky willy wagtails but of course they disappeared as soon as my clumsy presence was felt, so I just took photos of anything and everything. And they are not very good photos because, even though I have a camera or two, I am not a photographer.

So this is Blaze, son of Doc 3 (deceased):
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And this is Jack, the Irish terrier, who was gentle until Blaze taught him to hunt which is why we no longer have any poultry:
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Blue wren:
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Flame trees from dog yard with one of our many Christmas trees somehow flourishing in the heat:
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Blaze again:
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Feeding time – that’s Gutsy9 in foreground:
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The last figs:
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And, just a moment ago, Ming’s best friends about to take him out on the town:
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This afternoon I sat with Ants watching two episodes of our latest series, ‘Luther’ then came home around 5.30pm having told him, as usual, that I would be back later. I hate this lie but it works! When I leave Anthony in the late afternoon, or evening, and promise I will be back soon, I re-enter the reality of dusk on the farm, and a sense of peace. Of course I wonder if he will be okay as the carers put him to bed but, now that I am a staff member as well, I hear wonderful stories about his sometimes witty okayness with the way things are.

In the summer, dusk can be dusty here, but it is also rather beautiful in a dry way!

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Gutsy 9 – my fantastic bird-in-hand

For those who don’t know, G9 is a peachick who, for some reason (maybe because she was half blue/half white) was abandoned by whoever hatched her. I caught her as she was scuttling, terrified, into the old dairy and pretty much raised her with the hands of Ants and Ming.

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Today, I decided that I would come home earlier than usual from the nursing home. I told Ants I had to go and feed the birds and dogs, and then said I would see him later.

Ants: You won’t come back.
Me: What do you mean? I always come back!
Ants: Not, yes, what car?
Me: Our car, silly!
Ants: How many calves? I need those people for the fireplace
Me: Only ten left to feed. Ming will do it. I know who you mean for the fireplace.
Ants: Are you sure?
Me: Yes, should we ring tomorrow?
Ants: You do it – something is wrong with me.

When I got home, I went straight out to find Gutsy and, as usual, she was waiting for me:

I’d like a word, Julie

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You’re always out and about and I feel ….

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Oh I think I’m going to cry – how embarrassing!

G9!

23 Comments »

Resting

I’ve had a wonderful rest from blogging (as in NOT reading, writing, commenting, replying) and, despite the inevitable guilt, it has been great to concentrate on other things.

Like my navel!

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That’s Gutsy9 by the way.

Life here has become too busy to sustain blogging every day so I’ve decided to post once a week instead of once a day. Again, I really appreciate the support and friendships formed with other bloggers but I simply can’t keep up.

I think, too, I have oversubscribed to blogs in general and, especially to those that deal with grief. The kinship and support exchanged with those bloggers continues to sustain me but also makes me sad. I can hardly cope with my own sorrow about Anthony, so reading about the grief of others is very hard – too hard for me at the moment. For those of you who I have become close to, we have each others’ emails so we can still keep in touch. Please feel free to email me on juligoyder@gmail.com

Years ago, when Anthony was younger and still milking his cows, he would have a mini-rest after lunch and that would sustain him for the afternoon ‘shift’. He would have a solid sleep for around ten minutes then get up again, full of energy!

The memories, all mish-mashed now into the present, are sometimes heartbreaking for me, but not for him, thank God. He is okay; my husband is okay; he is being well looked after in the nursing home; he is warm; when he is confused, the nurses reassure him. And tomorrow, I will go in and stay with him for the afternoon and ask him if it is okay if I lie on his bed while we watch TV ….

Resting.

33 Comments »

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.

34 Comments »

The peachicks have chosen a new bedtime tree

Queenie’s chicks have become incredibly assertive. They take the food out of her mouth, fly at her aggressively if she is in the wheat bowl, and now they even choose the bedtime tree. Last night they decided to move to another tree while poor Queenie waited in the original bedtime tree. These two peachicks are absolute brats!

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But Queenie doesn’t mind.

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Queenie and chicks

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They were waiting for me outside the back door this morning so I tossed little bits of bread to Queenie but the chicks got to them first, like miniature vultures – gleefully chirping!

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