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Onwards and Upwards

Nine years today since our world turned upside down.

I was reminded this morning on facebook, how could I forget, by all the posts that I had done over the years gone by.

They are, each and every one, very sad.

This year, things are different.

John has made enormous progress. He moved rooms in the nursing home to an area where there is not so much dementia and, as a result, sleeps well. He has his own bathroom.

Two little things that make a huge difference.

He went to an art class late last year and he’ll be going to more, thanks to NDIS funding.

There’s now gym every week. A normal gym where he goes into the zone and works out as hard as he can go. Thanks Steph!

He’s calm, no more lability.

Life is on the up, both for John and for me and our family.

We’re working hard. We’re buying food and cooking meals.

I shower every day, wash my clothes and bedding. This sounds awful but for a long time I didn’t care.

I’m thinking of buying a bicycle!

Love to all of you who have given so much support and love over the last nine years.

My gratitude is now the only thing that makes me cry.

This painting by the man who was never supposed to wake up.

harbour

 

 

I’m walking this month to raise funds for stroke awareness and stroke rehabilitation. I’ve commoitted to 300km for the month of November, an average of 10km per day.

Today, my birthday (I’m 54) I walked 11km.

Walking.We all do it, every day.I spend most of my time figuring out how to do as little as possible.

However, doing the walking over the last eight days I’ve been thinking.

Life is a lonely walk at times, no matter how many people join you and no matter how much love surrounds you.

I had a wonderful day, with the added bonus of discovering a beautiful new walking path very close to home. It leads through parks down to my favourite beach.

But there was a big hole in the day. John didn’t share in the celebrations.

I’ve finally realised that that I’m doing this walk on my own. This month has become a metaphor for the long, lonely walk. Not just mine, but John’s.

If you would like to donate to the cause of stroke rehabilitation, here’s the link:

https://strideforstroke15.everydayhero.com/au/julie-2

We’re all doing the long, lonely walk.

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.

Seven Years

Yesterday marked the seventh anniversary of that cataclysmic day.

Seven years, where did that time go? That’s what people say when they speak of their children growing, time passing, growing old.

John’s stroke was always going to be the five-year project, something we’d get through, overcome. Some lessons have been learned since then:

You can’t put a timeline on a brain, or a body.

Friends will appear where you least expect.

Old friends will react in their own way and there’s no judging because they are also feeling the loss.

New friends come along and you feel that you’ve known them forever.

And John doesn’t know who they are.

Our beloved children have grown up and are making me (us) proud, and I don’t really know how that happened.

Some very dear people of whom I thought badly have turned out to be the best friends of all.

Thank you.

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

If I Go Now

If I go now

There’ll be

No more

Wondering if I did the right thing

No more

Wishing I’d been a better mother

No more

Money worries

and what will we do when we can’t live here any more.

No more

Wishing I didn’t have to work so hard

While trying to find ways to work harder.

No more

Being a bad friend,

Not making the effort.

No more

Not taking good enough care of the new little boys.

There will be

Sleep, eternal sleep.

If I go now,

There’ll be no more

Memories

Laughs with my children

Sitting by the ocean

Laughing with my friends

Cuddling the little boys.

If I go now

I couldn’t forgive myself.

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.

An Alone Soul

I suppose
I must be
An alone soul.

I’m happy to spend time
On my own

I guess that’s why
The Boy and I
Were drawn to each other.

Two
Alone souls

He now sits
In a space of aloneness.
In that noisy, lonely place.

I am not alone,
Nor is he.

Wish we could be
Alone, together.

Swimming

I love the ocean.
I go to the beach, to think and to find comfort, and to be reminded that I’m such a small piece of this beautiful planet.
Those waves roll in no matter what is happening in the human world, and the sound of their crashing gives me peace.

John lived in the ocean.
He was a master scuba instructor and was more at home in the sea than on the land.
We were at the beach and swimming or walking every week without fail.
The wilder the weather, the better.

I still often go to the beach, but not as often as I used.
And I have not dipped a toe into the ocean since his stroke, in February, 2008.

I just look, and wish.

This weekend, my seventh birthday without his knowing, I will go back to the ocean.

Waves, over my head.

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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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