Tag Archives: death

Who could have known there would be so many tears?

15 Aug

Hello everyone,

I’m on my way to Sydney to sit with my husband, who has suffered a massive stroke.

Though we’ve been married for some twenty-six years, a second marriage for both of us, for the last few years we’ve had little to do with one another. Ours was a ‘love of my life but we can’t live together ’ situation.

We could never bring ourselves to divorce. “I’ll never want to marry anybody else,” he said, when I once angrily advised him to expect the papers. Of course, his response disarmed me completely, and I realised I probably wouldn’t want to marry anyone else either, so we never took that final step.

I thought I saw him for several days before I heard the news of his illness. Going about my business in the little village where I live, I thought I saw him walking ahead of me, the loping gait, the baseball cap, the jeans and checked shirt.

I remember that every time he was about to make another appearance in my life, I would sense his presence in the days before he arrived in the flesh, or rang up, or emailed, or sent something in the post. So I knew these imagined sightings were precursors. He always said he also knew when I was about to make an appearance, because he started dreaming about me.

I don’t know why we couldn’t sort it out a whole lot better than we did.

He said he wanted to die before me because he didn’t want to be on this planet if I wasn’t. I said if that was the case, I wanted to lie down beside him and hold him in my arms as he left me.

He may or may not know me now.

For some reason all the planes were full today, so I’ve had to take the train. As it turns out I don’t mind at all. I don’t feel like being above the earth. I feel like being firmly upon it. The landscape is simply gorgeous at 7am on a winter’s morning, with fog rising above the rivers and paddocks, and sun on the dew. My best friend, with whom I share a house (she a widow, me still yet a wife) drove me to the station in the dark. I call her Mrs Chook. She calls me Senora. These nicknames have something to do with a trip we made to Mexico, though I’ve forgotten what. The Dog, who yesterday cost us $200 for his dental hygiene, was left sulking at home.

Yesterday Mrs Chook visited a sleep clinic in search of a remedy for her snoring. Around 6pm she walked in rigged up like a suicide bomber, with wires on her head and hard-cased things wrapped around her torso to monitor her sleep. This is because I recently refused to travel with her anymore in situations where we have to share a room. It was for her own good, I told her. I would have injured her eventually, probably fatally.

Mrs Chook has lately had to care for her ageing mother and a sick brother. We have been thrust into a world of aged care facilities and hospitals, an area both of us have been free of for some time.

At the other end of the cycle, we regularly spend time with my youngest grandchild, to whom Mrs Chook is an honorary grandma. This gives both of us a satisfying sense of connection with the beginning and ending of life, of extremes we don’t understand, but that somehow fully ground us. Without each other, neither of us would do it half as well, I suspect. It seems to be our fate, for the time being, to stand by the others as they move into life or out of it.

I think it will be hard to see him helpless, he who was always vigorous. How he will hate his present predicament, if he has any awareness of it.

I have spent today with him. It’s terribly difficult to understand him as his speech is severely compromised. “Why are you here?” I think he said. “Because I love you,” I replied. “Aaaah,” he sighed, “take me to the Opera House.” “Not today,” I said, “but I’ll sing if you want.” “No, no, no!”

His food arrives. Baby mush, the same stuff I fed to my infant grandson two weeks ago. He rails at the nurse. “Not you! She’ll feed me! Her!” All goes well till dessert. “Not fucking apple sauce! I won’t have fucking apple sauce.”

That came out quite clear.

Then he cries. And cries. His body is so small now I can scoop him in my arms. These last weeks my arms have been filled with baby Archie, and now they are filled with him.

Then five minutes ago, a message that another new grandchild is on its way, and will arrive in the autumn.

Who could have known there would be so many tears?

This is what my arms are for. The beginning of life. The end of life. I am glad beyond words, that I have them.

 

 

 

 

 

I must be alive ’cos my heart’s still beating.

29 Jan

Some time ago I was told that I have an indolent lymphoma, a death sentence, the specialist implied. But so is life, I said. The moment I’m born I’m old enough to die. David stared in dismay, as if he found my attitude cavalier. As if he feared I hadn’t been listening.

Dying Rose. By lovestruck via flickr

After receiving this dismal news, I left David’s office and went into the hospital bathroom, where I stood looking in the mirror for a long time, talking myself down from the ceiling and back into my body.

Who am I, I wondered as I stared at the pale woman in front of me.

Where am I going?

This sudden loss of self- recognition and purpose spooked me. Get a grip, I advised myself. I adjusted my old leather backpack on my shoulders. I washed my face, put some balm on my cracked lips, and left the hospital.

I was wearing jeans, brown boots, and a white shirt. An emerald green silk scarf, a gift from my youngest son whom we all call The Adventurer, was thrown carelessly around my neck. The scarf was stiff with tears and snot. I’d lost my bravado when David insisted on repeating his diagnosis. I’d held up both palms in protest, as if to keep him and all his words away from me, then I’d sobbed like a little girl who’d been unjustly punished, that it wasn’t fair.

David pushed the tissues across the desk. I’d used my scarf instead. It smelled, still, of my child.

This is how my life ended, and my dying began.

 

GET OFF MY CLOUD

After leaving the hospital I walked carefully down the familiar Newtown streets,leaking vital energies like a dying alien.

Dog in the forest

To return to the city after a long absence is to invite a serious assault on the senses. My senses were attuned to the ocean, and the secret scents of the rainforest.To the distant chug of trawlers as they crossed the bar at sunset, heading out for the night’s fishing.

My senses were used to the sounds of the whistling kites nesting at the bottom of the garden, and the sorrowful cries of the black-capped terns on the winter beach. Calmed by the blue heron absorbed in picking its delicate way across the mud flats in the wispy grey of an early morning river mist.

These senses were ill-prepared for traffic fumes and the roar of trucks; the hot sun glaring off shop windows, and dog shit in steaming piles around my feet. Neither had they managed well with the hospital’s chemical odours, and the sight, through an uncovered window, of a purple-gloved hand preparing a large syringe.

Purple. The colour of bishops, martyrs,and feminism, and now of cancer.

I was much taken with the name of my illness. It sounded refreshingly non-medical, even poetic. In.do.lent. Having or showing a disposition to avoid exertion. Sluggish, I read when I looked it up, the better to get a handle on the nature of the intruder.

I imagined the Indolent Lymphoma loafing on a Caribbean beach in a Panama hat, sunning itself under a striped umbrella, with a pink cocktail in its hand and a bag of weed in the pocket of its board shorts. I imagined myself confronting it.

‘We need to talk,’ I’d begin. ‘You’re on my cloud. You need to get off. Your attitude is costly for my life, and it cannot be allowed to continue.’

When I got up close I saw the creature had reptilian eyes and a self-satisfied leer. It winked at me and sucked on its roach. It didn’t speak, but roused itself enough to adjust the umbrella to keep the sun off its face. Then it idly threw the last of the roach into the warm turquoise sea. I lost my temper.

‘Well fuck you!’ I yelled.‘This isn’t fucking over yet, you know!’

 

STUFF FUCKING EVERYTHING

For a long time I slept with my teeth clenched, and woke each morning with an aching jaw. I couldn’t rouse myself enough to talk to anyone. I dreamed I was swimming in a turbulent sea and when I sank beneath the waves, my skirt became trapped under a rock.

I told no one I was ill. I thought that by telling someone I would make the diagnosis real. I lived alone then. My children were scattered across the world, and I was bereft of husbands and lovers. It was easy to keep a secret.

The dreams became worse. Apocalyptic, with tidal waves; angry wolves, soldiers, and smoking theatres of war littered with the limbless dead. I became afraid to fall sleep. I sat up at night watching infomercials on television and drinking red wine. In the early hours of the morning I’d swallow non-prescription calmatives. I didn’t consciously consider suicide, though I had it in mind if things became too bad, if pain became too bad further down the track.

A frightening aridity then took hold of me. My fevers were dry and wouldn’t break. My skin shrivelled. My eyes felt full of grit. My salivary glands reduced their output and my tongue, deprived of normal lubrication, became unwieldy and attached itself to the roof of my mouth as if both were lined with Velcro. I craved fluids and drank frequently and in large quantities. But the liquids brought no relief.

My spirit is burning itself out, I thought. I hadn’t anticipated this deathly dryness, this burning up, this slow progression towards grey ash.

Grim Reaper. By Brave Heart via flickr

‘I don’t know how long I’ve got,’ I realised in a rare moment of reflection and assessment. ‘What do I most want to do?’

I had infant grandchildren as yet unmet on the other side of the world. Why not take a trip and visit them? At this thought I was immediately afraid. Fear has always been my Achilles heel.

‘What if I get sick, really sick in a foreign country?’ I worried, as I walked the winter beach with my black and white dog.

‘But why does it matter where I get really sick?’ I argued back.’Does anywhere feel like home to me? Where do I belong, where have I ever belonged? Does it matter at all where I die?’

I considered these questions mostly in the abstract. As generalised philosophical meditations, as a scholar rather than a sufferer, and got nowhere.

There are times when knowledge fails to make the necessary journey from the head to the heart.

‘Stuff fucking everything,’ I thought one day, overwhelmed by circumstances of such magnitude that my mind rebelled against admitting them. And besides, I was beginning to bore myself. There is only so much time one can spend contemplating one’s death. It was now a time for action, not stasis.I also wanted very much to start smoking again after twenty-four years of abstinence, and that urge had to be resisted at all costs.

So, with what felt like my last reserves of self-care, I decided I would go to Mexico. My son the Chef lived on the Mexican Caribbean coast with the grandchildren I had yet to meet. What better journey could I make? And my best friend, Jane, agreed to join me there later in the year.

I stored my winter clothes in boxes. Where I was going it was always summer. I packed my bags and boarded the 10am Qantas flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, to Dallas, Forth Worth, and on to Cancún. A thrilling optimism took me over. No regrets! No tears goodbye! Hola! Buenos dias, senors y senoritas!

Flying into...

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