Category: Life


Today it is eight years since John had his stroke. The week has also included Valentine’s Day.

John and I didn’t usually make a big deal about Valentine’s Day but that year he planned a weekend away. So we went the weekend before.

We had a beautiful room in the Blue Mountains looking straight down the Jamieson Valley. The weather wasn’t brilliant and the valley was full of clouds and fog. All part of being in the mountains.

We sat on the balcony on the Sunday morning and watched as the weather cleared and the glorious vista came into view.

John reminded me that I used to sing the lullaby “Down In The Valley” to our children to put them to sleep. I had completely forgotten because the children were by then young adults and it had been so long ago. It was lovely sitting there and being reminded.

Ten days later I sang that lullaby to him in the ICU so that the sedatives could be kept to a minimum. One nurse said, “keep on singing, it works.”

If he hadn’t reminded me of it the week before I doubt that I’d have thought of it. It’s a bittersweet memory for me.

Here’s a link to the song for those of you who don’t know it.

Outside

Sitting outside

In a cool, spring breeze

Feeling chilly.

Why am I still here?
Now is the time.
Walk back in, and see
My stupid, messy house,

 and dilapidated couch.

I’m not sitting on it.
That’s how my children will see it.

Turn off the television,

Go to bed.

Cheese

I was eating some rather smelly washed-rind cheese this evening.

I’m rather fond of the stuff, every now and then.

I remembered a time (back in the day) when I had bought some and it had stunk out the car in the time taken to transport it from shop to home.

John was rather cranky, I laughed at the crankiness.

Because cheese is delicious!

A few hours later I understood the crankiness because the car was still stinky.

This is a memory that only I now hold. John has forgotten it.

It is now only mine.

I remember the crankiness, laughter.

And the understanding.

Lost in Translation (Collaroy)

Today I lost my phone.

When I say lost, I mean that it fell down a drain at Collaroy. It’s now most probably floating out to sea with some grommet.

Every Saturday morning I visit my dear friend Jo at Hair Salon Des Arts at Newport. I’m happy to be the guinea pig for her apprentices to learn washing and blow-drying. It’s fun, we have a laugh, and she is a darling friend.

Today I decided to stop in Collaroy and pick up a coffee and a toasted sandwich. All good. Headed back out to the car with said coffee and sandwich, climbed in, chucked sandwich and handbag on to the seat beside me whereupon the phone flew out of the bag and landed between the passenger seat and the door. I toyed with the idea of travelling ten minutes with phone out of reach (even though I don’t look at it while driving) and decided to go around to the other side of the car and rescue it. Just for my peace of mind.

Around I went.

I noticed the big drain below the passenger door.

The thought occurred to me that perhaps the phone was against the door, and that when I opened it, the phone may fall into the drain. I chose to ignore that thought. Well, almost. I stuck my toe under the door where I thought the phone might be.

I was wrong, phone went down the drain. Bounce, bounce, plop. Into the darkness.

At that moment I felt completely alone. All the comfort I take from being connected, from dear friends knowing where I am via various apps, was gone.

I thought about calling someone to help me to retrieve it but know in my heart that my “best friend” was gone. I needed to get in touch with my son but couldn’t remember his number. Hell, I couldn’t remember any numbers. My mind went completely blank in panic. Finally, between Collaroy and Newport, I remembered one number, the number with which I’d grown up. The Dad’s home number. I called him, asked him to call my son and tell him to get in touch with me before he went away for the weekend.

That sorted, I remembered one other number, my best mate (and boss). Called him from the salon and told him what had happened. We agreed that I’d done a really good job of losing my phone as I had no insurance, and hadn’t backed up for nine months. This is why he likes me. I don’t do things by halves.

What has done me in is my reaction. I wander the planet with phone in pocket, feeling connected. Suddenly I was on my own and it made me feel desperate for a while. Noone really knew where I was and I was completely disconnected.

There was a minor panic.

To say nothing of going to the special hell that is Warringah Mall on a Saturday afternoon to replace the phone. Plus, what would it cost?

Anyway, my hair looks really nice. It’s a bit shorter.

I gritted my teeth and headed to the Mall. A darling young fellow sorted it in ten minutes (thanks Vodafone) and I now have a new phone at no cost. I’ve lost nine months of data but so what? I now have my real and imaginary friends back around me.

My response completely surprised me and made me think. How could I have felt so helpless without my phone?

There was a feeling of responsibility: nursing home can’t reach me, boss can’t reach me, family can’t reach me. (Yes, there are days when it goes in that order. After all, the kids usually know where I am.)

My need to feel needed was thwarted because noone could reach me. My need to reach out was rendered impossible.

Apparently I’m a cog in the modern engine.

I’m now connected, once again.

Knitting

It’s Sunday, a balmy summer evening in Sydney with a cool nor-easterly blowing in. I’m knitting.

I’ve had a difficult few months. The optimism I’ve always had, and treasured, deserted me and I had been wondering why I should even try to continue living.

Last Sunday I took advantage of a rare coincidence of a free few hours and a sense of well-being. I took myself into the city and went to a shop that sells beautiful knitting yarns.

I’ve always been a knitter. My mum taught me to knit when I was about nine years old. It’s one of the most treasured gifts that she gave to me. When she died, all I asked for were her needles and patterns. I have those old patterns, marked all over with her notes and amendments, all her old needles, battered and some bent. Many of those needles and patterns had been passed down from her mother.

I haven’t been able to knit since that awful year when she died and John was so ill. I’d tried a few times but couldn’t do it.

So it was a big thing visiting that shop last week.

Anyway, I bought the yarn: soft, white pure wool 3-ply. For a baby. I’d heard that friends are expecting their first and I figured that not many babies receive a hand-knitted shawl these days. This baby will receive one.

So I began this week. I chose an old-fashioned lacy pattern and it wasn’t until I began that I remembered I’d knitted it many years ago, for another baby. I don’t know where that baby is now but I hope it gave him comfort. My fingers remembered that pattern.

I’ve begun on the rather boring (to a knitter) stocking stitch foundation for the shawl. Next week I’ll move on to the complicated lacy border which will take months to complete. As I knit I remember all the happy things that have happened in my life and how lucky I am.

I’m hoping that as the shawl grows, so will my optimism and calm return; that as I produce something beautiful I will grow something beautiful again in my heart.

When Spring comes, there will be a baby, a shawl, and hope.
Knitting 1
Knitting 2

Call the Ambulance

For almost all of the time that I have known John, he had asked me to promise, and I did, many times, not to call an ambulance if I found him unconscious.

He knows how I think, that I put great faith in modern medicine, and that with love and support and science, any medical problem can be overcome.

He also had a belief that he would be dead by age 48, the age at which his father died. He was 46 when the stroke happened, he’s 53 now.

So I had promised, many times, that I would not call an ambulance.

That Monday morning, when I couldn’t wake him, I was torn. I wanted to honour that promise.

Our daughter was telling me that we needed an ambulance and I explained. Her response: “Well I didn’t make any fucking promises.”
So the ambulance was called. I was relieved, because I know in my heart that I’d have done the same.

These promises we make are made on an intellectual level, at least so for me. At the time of making those promises, I really believed I’d stick to them, and perhaps I would have if our daughter hadn’t been there. I really don’t know.

I have asked John many, many times, if I did the right thing. He always says yes.

I wonder though, what our lives would have been like if the ambulance hadn’t been called.

I certainly wouldn’t have spent a year next to him, unemployed, because I wouldn’t leave his side.

I wouldn’t be watching him live a half-life.

Our children would only have a memory of him as a strong, loving man who looked after all whose he loved and could be counted on, no matter what.

Instead they now live with the reality of their once huge father living in a nursing home and dependent upon strangers for his daily needs.

So their memory of their father will always be coloured by what has happened in the last (almost) seven years, the ongoing pain of seeing him completely dependent upon others, with limited communication and cognition.

As their mother, I wish that I hadn’t woken that morning, or that I’d had the strength to not call that ambulance. I’d have saved them so much pain.

I know though, that I’d have broken that promise, even if I’d been on my own, because of my faith in medical science and because I believe, still, that where there’s life, there’s hope.

And that old bastard just kept on breathing!

I’ve asked John, so many, many times, “Did I do the right thing, calling the ambulance?”.
He always says yes.

And I always wonder, knowing him, if he’s trying to make me feel better.

Spring Weekend

He’d be asleep now,
It’s 7:43pm and it’s dark.

Spring.

I have flowers in the house,
Picked from the garden this evening.

All around I can hear neighbours
With friends over,
Smell their barbeques
And listen to their joy.

That used to be us,
Boy at the barbie,
Me inside,
Organising the salads.

Spring.
So many flowers.
So much love,
And
Joy.

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It was the closing night of the Sydney Olympics. Our young Labrador Charlie was safe in our back yard and we headed up to Beacon Hill to watch the panorama of the fireworks across Sydney and up the Parramatta River. Yes, you can see the Parramatta River from the northern beaches.
Sadly, a friend who was volunteering came to pick up her car from our house (close to the Olympic bus stop) and left the gate open. Charlie got out and was run over and killed. We were all devastated, he was the first pet we’d had as a family.
About a month later, with my husband and children still grieving for Charlie, I dragged them to the North Sydney grower’s market where i knew a breeder of Labradors from Adelong sold her apples.
We convinced her that her last two from the current litter should be ours. And so we welcomed Max and Oscar to our family.
They became the delight of our lives. Friends asked: “How are The Boys?” in the same breath that they asked about us.
John adored them and they became the best-trained Labradors you’d ever meet. Always motivated by food of course, but never jumped up, always did as they were told. Oscar (the black one) guarded the house at night, Max (the yellow one) was in charge during the day.
We weren’t a family of four, we were a family of six.

Life went on and The Boys were a huge part of it. They shared their birthday with my husband, which made all of us laugh when we realised it was just like Homer Simpson and Santa’s Little Helper.

Oscar was a typical black Lab, a bit more uptight than a yellow Lab, always worrying that everyone was okay, Max was the “people dog”, the one everyone loved. We loved them both.

They both worshipped John, the leader of the pack.

Life went on in our blessed northern beaches life until October 2007. I was in New Zealand, visiting a dear friend, when I got the call that Max had fallen very ill and was not expected to live. He’d eaten something (typical Lab!) and was in doggy intensive care, in an induced coma to stop the fitting. Somehow he survived, thanks largely to the fact that he’d been kept slim and fit all his life. We were told that he he wouldn’t have as long a life as your usual Lab.

It was the first time the boys had been separated and Oscar’s face turned grey overnight.

Then four months later in February 2008 was John’s stroke.

Life turned upside down.

The boys looked for John, as we all did. They were allowed inside, even at night. We needed them. When all seemed lost those boys made us smile. They were a reason to keep functioning, they needed to be fed, walked.

John went to the nursing home, the house was sold. We didn’t know where we’d be living and we didn’t know what to do with the boys. A friend took them to live with him for six months. Driving them to his house near Liverpool was very difficult but he took such wonderful care of them and they came back eventually.

After some time they went to live with my daughter at her share house in Mona Vale. If they were missing, the housemates all knew to go looking in the industrial area where they’d be sure to be found, sharing lunch with the workers. They’d wander home afterwards if no one had come looking.

In June 2011 while I was away for the weekend I got a call from one of the housemates. My daughter was working and Oscar wasn’t well. He was taken to the vet and the news was cancer of the spleen and he was bleeding internally. It’s a common cancer in Labradors. I came home, rounded up the kids, and we said our final goodbye to Oscar. One of the links to our old, happy life was broken. Oscar was gone.

We worried about Max. How would he cope without his brother? Max struggled but adapted. The dog who was supposed to die early kept on and on.

He saw us through so many house moves (I’ve lost count), so many times when we wondered how we’d go on.

Always we’d be greeted with the wagging tail, didn’t matter how bad things were, he always made us smile.

For the last three months, Max did it tough but never changed his attitude. The tail still wagged.

He’s put up with the puppy and taught him a few life lessons. The puppy repaid him by encouraging him to eat when he had no appetite.

Finally, last Thursday, at 5:30am, he stopped breathing.

Our last link to our old, happy life was gone.

Max has been more than the family pet. He’s been one of us.

We have lost one of our own.

Rest in peace Max, you grand old boy, be happy with your brother in that big, sandy park next to the sea.

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It was six years yesterday.
A time to think about all that has happened in all our lives in that time.

This time of year is very, very difficult.
It begins with my mum’s birthday on Feb 13 and ends with our wedding anniversary on Mar 13.

In between is Valentine’s Day (our last weekend together) and the anniversary of the stroke.

Six years ago I was full of optimism and absolutely sure that John would come home, no matter what. I thought that that all mountains were surmountable.
I thought I could anticipate any obstacle.

Since then the unanticipated obstacles have appeared.

I’m proud of the way my little family has climbed over them but I worry about our ability to continue to climb over and keep going.

Life is becoming more and more frenetic. The old life appears from this distance to be so serene, yet I know that it wasn’t.

I don’t visit as often as I once did, and this is a source of anxiety and guilt.

We have a wonderful friend in Sandra, who visits so often and makes John’s life as good as it can be. We are both so lucky to have her. She has picked up where I leave off.

Beauty keeps me going, and I hope it keeps our children going too.

The beauty of an evening sky, the rain today, my little puppy Piño and our old dog Max. I try to pass the joy of this beauty on to our darling children.

And beauty reminds me of love.

The love John has for us,
The love we have for him.
The love of all of our friends.

Love and Beauty.

Unending Love

I heard this poem today, Valentine’s Day. Sort of sums it all up for me.

If you wish to see Gregory Peck read it, dedicated to Audrey Hepburn, here’s the link:

Unending Love

I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,
In life after life, in age after age, forever.

Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, it’s age-old pain,
It’s ancient tale of being apart or together.
As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,
Clad in the light of a pole-star piercing the darkness of time:
You become an image of what is remembered forever.

You and I have floated here on the stream that brings from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another.
We have played along side millions of lovers, shared in the same
Shy sweetness of meeting, the same distressful tears of farewell-
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.

Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –
And the songs of every poet past and forever.
Rabindranath Tagore

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