Tag Archive: 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.

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.

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

Photograph

I came across a photograph
While fossicking through a drawer.

It’s just a licence photo,
One of those ones
We all love to hate.

You look like a tough guy,
But I know you’re not.

You never were.

I realise
That the memories are slipping,
Sliding,
Disappearing with the ocean’s breeze.

And I need
These little discoveries

To remember you

As you were.

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A New Chapter

On the eve of beginning a new job, having finally unpacked (almost) all of my stuff in my new place, and sporting a new hairdo to boot, I’m in a reflective mood.

The five year anniversary of The Boy’s stroke was a milestone, a difficult one. At times it seemed it crystallised my failure to work a miracle. I hadn’t thought of the task as miraculous but that anniversary made it so.

I still believe in miracles by the way.

The key word though, is failure. For five years I have felt, at times, that I failed him. And through failing him I had failed my children. I should have been able to rebuild what we had. I certainly thought I was capable of it.

So the anniversary was a low point.

Since then, much has changed. I’ve moved house and now have all my things around me once again.
I’ve cut my hair. Anyone who has done that knows it’s not trivial.
And I’m beginning a new job. Working in a very young company with people who are full of passion and enthusiasm.

These three changes were decisions I made completely on my own. The first life decisions I have ever made alone. 

Each one was a leap.

I may be unhappy in my house, hate my hair, and hate the job even more.

I don’t care. I made those decisions and that’s what makes me realise how far I’ve come. 

I’m learning to have faith in myself.

That has only been made possible by some wonderful people who’ve walked beside me, held my hand and been happy to let it go when I was ready.

I will never, ever be able to explain my gratitude.

I am so very lucky and I thank you all.

The Meeting

Kangaroo Street,
The Radiators were playing.

I was wearing a red skirt, white blouse
And my first pair of high-heeled shoes.

You were wearing brown trousers,
Striped button-down shirt.

You were hanging over there with your best mate

And I came in with mine.

Who’s that?
We both asked.

Our hearts already knew.

You Sleep

You, asleep.

Deep, slow breaths
(you told me once that I breathe so slowly when asleep that you worry)

Your face
Half a lifetime etched there, 
Relaxed now.

Do your dreams make sense of this dream-like life you now lead?

I know you do not dream the old, terrible dreams
Because I have sat with you through many a night.

One thing remains from the old life:

When I come close:
You stir,
Smile,
And tell me you love me.

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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Smoking

When I was fifteen years old I tried smoking, as many do at that age. I didn’t particularly want to, but I was at a party and peer pressure did its thing. 

I remember it clearly. They were menthol cigarettes. The party was at Newport on the northern beaches of Sydney. Of the two friends I was with, one was already a smoker and the other one smoked for a few years and gave up.

I quite liked it. But cigarettes were expensive (though nowhere near as expensive as now), and, more importantly, I knew that they were bad news.

We had had lots of education at school about the dangers of smoking. We’d even seen two preserved lungs – one of a smoker, one of a non-smoker. I’m not stupid, I knew it was a bad idea. Over the following week I smoked exactly five cigarettes.

There were three reasons I didn’t become a smoker back then.

1. I simply couldn’t tell lies to my mum. In those days smoking was legal in buses and I could easily have said I was sitting near a smoker on the bus, but I just couldn’t do it. That was the main reason.
2. My best friend was aggressively anti-smoking, and she helped to keep me away from them when we were out.
3. I met The Boy. He detested  it. Both his parents smoked and his father had died of a cerebral haemorrhage. 

So positive peer pressure and the influence of my mum got me past those years when kids often take up smoking.

I really believe I became hooked back then. I often craved a cigarette when out. I was lucky enough to have positive influences around me constantly to stop my taking it up.

Over the years I became a real anti-smoking crusader, a pain in the arse actually. Friends and acquaintances were lectured on the evils and the dangers.

And yet, I often craved a cigarette, especially if I was having a drink. Many times the only thing that stopped me was the thought of how disappointed The Boy would be. So in spite of those five cigarettes playing in my head, I never took it up. 

I had children, I worked, played sport and continually spread the word about the dangers of smoking.

Then The Boy had his stroke. It was a hell year, and at the end of it, I took up smoking. Only the odd one for the first few months, but after a year it was a habit. 

The Boy now smells cigarettes on me and shakes his head and worries. But he does not tell me to stop because that’s not what he does. I now realise he wouldn’t have stopped me back in the day, it was just his antipathy that did the trick.

So now, here we are. I’m a confirmed smoker of a pack a day and I’m giving up for the third time.

It’s bad for me. 
I can’t afford it (do the math, they’re twenty bucks a pack.)
But most of all, I hate being a smoker. It has a stigma attached which I’m happy to use as a tool to quit, but mostly I see the worry in my children’s faces every time I light up.

Today I started using Champix to quit. It has side effects, which is why I’m awake at this hour, writing. But it’s supposed to be a very useful tool in giving up the cancer sticks.

Wish me luck, my first smoke-free day will be March 17, St Patrick’s Day, a special day for me.

I’ll give up these smokes if it kills me.

I’d appreciate your comments and support.

NB: Information about Champix. http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcmed.nsf/pages/pfcchamt/$File/pfcchamt.pdf

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