Tag Archive: Family


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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The Hard Words

I am
Always scared
Of
Saying the hard words.

You may not
Love me
Any more?

The words
Cannot
Go
Unspoken

Or we may
Never speak again.

Five Years

Monday morning
I’m awake early, a lot on today.

You’re taking me to work, but you don’t wake.

I shake you
Shout at you
Throw water on you
But you don’t wake!

There’s a promise that was made, and repeated often.

So I call The Girlie

Her response:
“I didn’t make any fucking promises”

The ambulance comes.
Four of them to take you.

Take you, and me, us
Into that netherworld.

A world of:
The kids and me
Ushered into a special waiting room at the hospital
So we know it’s bad.
They’re cutting off your clothes, intubating you.

A doctor crying while he gives the bad news
(It’s a stroke)
And me, saying:
“That’s okay. Five years is all it will take.”

Monitors
A medical retrieval
(a nurse saying: “I really wish I’d known him”)

ICU (Level 6)
That waiting room

Strangers, suddenly our best friends.

And the news filters out.
Family, friends
All coming
To comfort, to cry.
We don’t know if you’ll live

Central line.
Ventilator.
Family conference.
We’ll go on, because if any man can make it, this one will.

Look how he responds when I sing lullabies, sedatives turned off.

There’s a whole new universe to navigate.
You are at the centre.
Suddenly I know how to suction a trachy.
Every 15 minutes, because the nurses can’t cover it,
And the Ethics Committee is trying to shut you down (too expensive).

Your score on the GCS is 6, not viable.
So I say:
“Play dead!”
A least you can obey that command,
Though the poor registrar looks horrified.

Yet you keep breathing
And those damned monitors show that you know
When we are there.

You have a tube in your stomach to feed you
Because I will not have you starve to death.
You survive the pneumonia.
(At least the MRSA means you have a room to yourself)
You survive the nurse who made an almost lethal mistake.

And then they say you are well enough for rehab.
You’ll be allowed eight weeks.
We stay there four months.

Your paralyzed eyelids open,
Your first words: “Hey Em!”

And we are in a different reality
Of physiotherapy
Speech therapy
Occupational therapy
Recreational therapy

And while all this goes on,
My mother is dying
And you will never know that she is gone
Because you can’t remember

Then, the decision is made
No more money can be spent to help you
It’s a nursing home
And another reality

Now life goes on.
You are now walking
When they said you’d never get out of bed.

You eat
Where they said I had “condemned” you to a feeding tube.

You speak
And, more importantly, read and write
Where they said you could not possibly do that.

It’s been five years now.

And always
You are the same, gracious, loving, peaceful man
Who carried our family on his shoulders.

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The Photo

50 / 50
Love / Sadness

I think
About my life.

33 / 33 / 33
Love / Joy / Sadness

I see a photo
And remember the joy.

A mental note (mental kick):
Life is not about numbers.

It’s about that photo.

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A Decision Made

I’ve been quiet the last few months. Not seeing many friends, not going out much. Other things have taken priority: moving twice in six months, spending a lot of time with my aging father. But the main reason has been that I’ve been coming to terms with a decision that had its germ at the beginning of this year.

In the middle of 2010 The Boy had an “episode” which for the first six hours looked like another stroke. There was another trip in the ambulance, this time from the nursing home, with lights flashing and siren blaring. I left the hospital that night not knowing what the following morning would bring, whether I would be asked that awful, final question: how much treatment do you want to be administered?

The following morning brought a changed Boy. In some ways it was like the last two and a half years had not happened. He wondered why he couldn’t speak, walk, think clearly. He asked what had happened. I explained that he had been ill since February 2008, and that this was what his life had become. He accepted this with seemingly much improved cognition. Previously he had been in a bit of a dream, just drifting. Suddenly he was more aware and motivated to improve, though at the time he was actually quite ill with a severe chest infection that kept him in hospital for a week.

Because of that improved cognition I was able to sweet talk another month of live-in rehab out of the system. We went to the Royal Rehab Centre at Ryde with high hopes. It seemed like finally we were getting somewhere and his brain had suddenly “woken up”.

We went to Ryde in September 2010 and spent a month there. Goals were set that related to skills needed for living at home. Skills like being able to put on a shirt, brush his teeth, shave himself without assistance. Continence was worked on. For the first couple of weeks the improvement was noticeable and encouraging.

Then it all stopped, again.

This is the nature of rehab – improvement followed a plateau.
At the end of the month we went back to the nursing home with some plans in place to build on the work done during that time. We kept hoping for another improvement, particularly in cognition, the main obstacle to his coming home.

That improvement has not eventuated. While he continues to make good progress in mobility, walking with a frame and one assistant, feeding himself, the cognition has not improved. This has resulted in a serious fall in August resulting in a cracked hip and another four falls since then. He forgets that he is unable to walk unaided. He has no understanding of how serious his disability is.

The lack of improvement by the beginning of 2011 meant that I began to consider that he may never come home. This was a massive shift in thinking for me. I had said from day one that he would come home and I would look after him come hell or high water. But I began to realise that at the very least this would be a mammoth task.
I could not expect our children to devote their young lives to helping and there was no one else to help. Having him at home would mean that we could either live in poverty on the pension, or I could work and then come home each evening to a 24 hour care proposition with no help.
The grim reality finally sank in.

I have talked this over with some very close friends and our children, who have been supportive. I still cry every day. He has told me many times, in moments of clarity, that he does not want to be a burden. I’d willingly shoulder that burden, but there are practical considerations. The painful reality is that we both have a better quality of life if he stays in care. We’ll both eat better and be able to afford entertainment and therapy. The little things that make life bearable.

So, finally the decision is made. Unless there’s a miracle, we will never live together again. There will be no more travel together, no growing old sharing the same bed. I now have friends he’s never met. I wear clothes he hasn’t seen before. My hair is different. My life goes on while his has stopped. Hopefully he will eventually leave the nursing home and go to a shared accommodation situation where he’ll live with others closer to his age and have a more fulfilling life. I’ll still visit most days and take him out to activities and to see friends.

When we were originally given the grim prognosis that he would never wake up, would spend the rest of his life in a coma, and that he may not recognise anyone, my response was that this was a five year project and that he would be back at home by then. Perhaps the five years was the time it would take me to accept this new life.

This was not something we thought about at the age of 16 when we saw each other across a dance floor and fell in love.

I feel like I have broken every promise I ever made to him. Failed him.

In spite of all that’s happened we’re still so very lucky. We had almost thirty years together before the axe fell. Two beautiful children, a life time of memories, and wonderful friends. Who could ask for more than that? We’ve also met some inspiring, dedicated, and passionate people in the last few years. Had the opportunity to look at our lives and jettison the things that aren’t important. Old friends from our school days are back in our lives. (We still laugh at the same old jokes). Life is good, and love is all.

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