Facing the light


Had an appointment this afternoon at a hospital to get my leg checked on. It was a small private hospital further out from where I live. I sat in the waiting room watching the comings and goings around me. Maybe it was the suburb, or maybe it’s because more old people get sick than young people, but it was hard not to notice that everyone waiting to be called to the doctor were to some degree old. There was certainly no-one younger than me. The next oldest might have been 15 years my senior.

I’ve never liked hospitals. They’ve always depressed me. It’s the clinical nature of them, the scent of disinfectant, nurses bustling around to serve people not in the best of health. I’ve always walked into hospital and felt my spirits dim just a little. Unfortunately as you get older there’s no reason it should improve, just the opposite. There’s all of that still, but as I get older myself something I never considered before begins to loom larger in front of me. Is this where, or how, I might end up? It puts the fear of god into me.

I watched as patients shuffled and hobbled and wheezed and gasped and got wheeled around seeming half dead. The best of them listlessly read magazines in the waiting room, or tended to the dear other half in much worse health than themselves. You have to expect some decline – I know I won’t always be as sprightly or healthy as I am today. Nor as handsome. I’m sure I’ll come to terms with most of that. I have to anticipate that there will be the odd health concern. That’s life, and I think I can manage that too.

What really scares me is the thought of chronic illness. One thing to another, never quite well, on a steady, but inevitable decline.

I think I’m as determined a man as there walks the earth. I hate losing, and have a perverse streak a mile wide running through me. For many years I refused to countenance the possibility that I might be mortal. I’m made to fight, and too often relish the contest. In theory I’m the guy who will rage against the light with every breath in my body. But then I look about me in hospital waiting rooms like today. I feel a creeping dread. I ask myself, is that how I want to be? Am I happy to ‘live’ like that?

I seriously wonder. I want to live on my feet, and go out that way. That may be an overly romanticised and unrealistic attitude. I’m fit and healthy now – my mind may change as my health does. Fair enough if it does. Yet I wonder what is the point of living a life diminished? I’ve done so much, had so many adventures, I’ve lived big. I don’t need that always. Hell, I couldn’t manage it always. I’m happy to settle into a sedate, pleasurable lifestyle. Fine, but what happens when I lose the capacity to enjoy that life?

I feel almost embarrassed to admit that there are circumstances I think when I will give way. I want to live my way, and go out the same. Maybe that means I let it happen rather than fighting it.

Of course it’s all academic if I turn out to be immortal after all. I still haven’t given up on that altogether.

One year on


Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of mum’s death. Unsurprisingly it’s been on my mind the last few days. The other night I went back and read this blog leading up to and out of this event. It felt so fresh and vivid. I remembered all, remembered the strange state I existed in for a few days, the extremes of emotion, the melancholy contemplation. It was a horrible time.

A year on I’m past the casual absence of mum. I no longer pick up the phone to call her, or think ‘I must tell mum that’. Occasionally things crop up and I wish I could pose a question to her. There are pangs of regret sometimes that I didn’t ask some questions I’ll never have answers to. I know she’s dead and gone though, I have absorbed that truth into my daily routine. I still miss her though when I think of her.

In the last few weeks there have been a couple of things that brought home to me the difference in a world where she no longer exists. It was my birthday early in the month and for mum this was always an excuse to put on a show. If we did not go out for lunch or dinner then she would cook something at home for us. Gifts were presented with great fanfare, and I think mum was always more excited by it than I was. It was infectious nonetheless. There was none of that this year.

I had a couple of drinks with friends spread over the weekend. I had a birthday lunch with my sister and her kids the following weekend. That was pretty well it. Now I’m not one for extravagant displays on my birthday. I guess I’m more inclined to the cool end of things. I sort of missed it though because it brought home to me the great loss mum has been. It was so low-key that it was not until a week later that I had only received my present this year – a bottle of beer Cheeseboy brought with him to share with me on the occasion. Another gift I later bought on behalf of my sister. That was it. A far cry.

Then I had my operation. As it has turned out it has been much more intrusive than I ever expected. Up to a couple of days ago I was really struggling (the miracle of anti-inflammatories – Prednisolone – has worked wonders since). Now I had the Cheeses offer to help me out through this, but the only real problem I had was getting my trousers on. The offer was much appreciated all the same. I like to be self-sufficient, and will always try to get by before requesting help. Still, I couldn’t help but think of mum. She’d have been all over this. She wouldn’t have nursed me – that isn’t her style – but she’d have been in constant contact, she’d have come by bearing pastries or something, she would be just ‘there’, as good mums are.

We don’t always see that until we miss it. So, a year on, it’s probably worth repeating, thanks mum, for everything, and I love you.

Ripping the wings off a butterfly


Spent the day listening to old David Bowie and Elvis Costello, Talking Heads and the Smiths, the Models, the Divinyls, Tears for Fears and Bryan Ferry. It’s a lovely sunny, quiet afternoon otherwise, I’m squirreling away in the rooms of my mother’s house going about the now regular, not altogether happy task of sorting through her things: this thing we keep, this thing we give away, and that gets thrown out. It’s a ruthless business requiring a ruthless attitude. Still, I stop more than I should, hesitating over old photos, or finding my mind cast back years to memories long forgotten, insignificant moments that now, here, doing this business and with the shaky knowledge that I’ll never see mum again, now loom large.

I don’t know if I can say it enough: I find it hard to believe that mum is gone. I know it, consciously, but it seems too bizarre to accept without question. Perhaps that makes this job harder. It feels intrusive, invasive, to be tipping her home upside down, to dismantle all of the things she put together over a lifetime. And why it feels so shocking when people fight over what remains. I’ll never forget this. I don’t doubt that there is a part of me that will be forever changed now.

Goings


It was my mum’s birthday yesterday. That’s my dead mum, and the first birthday to go by after her death. Had she been alive she’d have turned 72 and I’d have called her to wish her a good one, bought her a present, and at some point we’d have all gone out for lunch or dinner to celebrate. It was on my mind in the days leading up to it, but even if by chance I had forgotten then it the repeated warnings from my calendar alarms would have reminded me.

I woke up with it then yesterday. I didn’t feel sad. I knew she wasn’t around. I wished she was still here, but have come to accept that she is not. I went about my business then normally, with the only concession being the somewhat forlorn comment I posted to my Facebook status: Happy birthday mum. Like many days I felt a kind of muted melancholy.

Midway through the morning I got a call from Cheeseboy. He told me that the mother of a mutual friend had passed away on the weekend. I’d heard the week before that she was in a coma. A sudden and unexpected stroke, the coma, and now death without waking. It was sobering news in many ways, not least because I knew what it felt like to lose a mother.

I will go to the funeral on Thursday. We look after and support each other in these moments of grief. I know when mum died I was gratified to see my friends in the audience at the church. I feel so much for this friend, can appreciate the utter shock at not only losing a mother, but in such an abrupt and violent fashion. Though I didn’t know her well I remember her as a vibrant and lively woman, a good person, and the last person – as they say – you’d expect something like this to happen to. They are a good family and it’s a occasion of great sadness for them.

I move on. I’m still passing through the transitional phases of grief. I’m becoming accustomed to my mother’s absence. Now it is time for me to lend support to others. It’s more than returning the favour, it’s recognition that we are all in this together. We knit together because it is the right thing to do, and because we choose to. Times like this we remember that we are all of the common weal.

Life goes on


Tuesday morning, another in a string of lovely days. It seems serene out. The door to the garden is open through which I can hear birds gently tweet. The sunlight today seems to have a glow to it. A clock ticks.

I’ve been out and back this morning. I deposited some cheques to mum’s account and inquired about closing it, but need the death certificate. At my bank I had a bank cheque made out to pay for the funeral catering. Popping into the supermarket for a couple of things I bumped into one of mum’s friends from Probus who had come to the funeral last week. Back here I rang the funeral directors to query an account, then received a call from someone seeking news on the fucking will. I’ve paid bills and cancelled accounts and slowly bringing things into order.

I’ve felt quite aimless the last few days. I’ve tried to impose some semblance of order on my life hoping that would help. Through all the ructions moving home and dealing with mum’s illness and death many of my small routines fell by the wayside. I ate erratically, sometimes much, sometimes little, often more unhealthily than I am accustomed to these days, and at odd times. I’ve probably lost more weight than I’ve gained, but it’s probably yo-yo’d 3-4 kgs in the space of a few weeks.

On top of that I normally exercise each day, but that has been a rare occurrence in recent weeks. It probably wasn’t a big deal when I was shifting house – I was too bone tired to exercise – but I feel unhealthy and uncomfortable without it, and in recent times sluggish – thanks no doubt to the erratic diet, and the cortisone I’m on.

These are a couple of obvious things, but in reality just about every aspect of my lifestyle has been disrupted and turned upside down. Much of what I miss now I must do without for months. There’s little I can do about that for now. What I can control is my diet and exercise, and so I’ve attempted to re-assert those routines, exercising much as I did before, and looking to eat more healthily and regularly. That’s tougher in an unfamiliar kitchen and with everything going on, but it will come.

While that sounds sensible the fact is it’s a very little thing. A couple of feeble routines don’t a life make. And in reality much of what I am going through is independent of anything I can do. I struggle against it of course by getting busy, but there’s a part of you that is perfectly aware that you’re whistling to keep the ghosts at bay.

On Saturday I woke up and wondered what I should be doing. Back at ‘home’ that was never a question – there was always more to do than time available. Here, alone, rattling around in mum’s big, empty house I had to create something. That afternoon I tagged along with my sister to Doncaster Shoppingtown. That was an experience. As malls go Doncaster is at the premium end, all marble and high end shops (amid the $2 shops) and grand piano’s. It’s the mall I would go to most often when I was  a kid, but nothing remains of that version.

I spent 5 hours wandering around without seeing daylight. The world may have ceased exist outside and I wouldn’t have known it. It killed time for me though. I bought a couple of little things, browsed the lovely gourmet shops, and poked around in some of the more boutquey places. I watched the crowd too, well to do in general, though very suburban to my inner-city eyes.

That night I went to my sister’s to lounge in her big bathtub before sharing a lovely meal of roast beef with her and the kids. Returning here I watched a great game of footy. Next morning I went out to have a cooked breakfast, looking to recreate part of my life. The day after degenerated into playing Civilisation V on the Mac for a good 8 hours straight. It’s the intellectual equivalent of smoking dope, and I felt quite guilty afterwards.

Yesterday was the flattest of my days here. I woke and didn’t know what I should do. For the most part I didn’t feel bad, just dulled. I’m slowly recovering my strength after a very fatiguing month, but this was something different. I was not tired, rather I felt as if I had been unplugged and left to run down. My emotions hovered around the midpoint with barely anything registering above it, but a number of sudden troughs appearing. I’m not sure why it embarasses me, but a few times tears came to my eyes, and once I cried.

I cry for mum, but mostly the tears are for myself – what I am reminded of, what I miss and know I will have to do without, what I have lost, and what I don’t know. Doubtless there is a good mix of self-pity in there too. I’m sure it’s quite normal to be this way, especially in my extreme situation – probably more than normal. Still I struggle against it, struggle to assert that self image that has me strong and forever in control. I am those things, I feel strong, I remain in control, my ability to cope is undiminished – but I am frail too in aspects. I understand it and excuse it, but remain resistant. Silly though, like being ashamed of getting wet in a  rainstorm.

Today I am better. I grind on. Each day I’ll shift up to another cog. There are things to do, and I do them. Though my mind is not in it I’ve set myself to return to the studies I put aside 7 weeks ago. That will feel strange, but necessary. I am out tonight and tomorrow, and probably Thursday too. Sunday night I fly out.

The last parting


This time last week I’d not long heard that mum had died. It’s probably something I’ll always  remember. I’d gone to bed the night previous certain that mum would perish sometime before I woke. Friday afternoon I’d got the call – the time was close, the next 24 hours. We’d had previous warnings that had come to naught – for the last fortnight mum had been said to be 2-3 days from death – but this time it seemed different. I felt it in me as if it was true this time, that it would happen.

I had a broken sleep. There were dreams and half awake thoughts. At 6.40am the phone rang. I knew what that meant. I was informed that mum had just passed away. A few minutes later my aunt, who spent the night by my mum’s bed, rang to tell me of the night. She said that mum had not woken up at any point, but that at 12.30 her breathing had changed, and then in the last 10 minutes had become very ragged and confronting.

I was wide awake. I rang my sister. I sent some messages. Then I cried. It almost exploded from me. It shook my body and I let it go. It felt so big: my mum was dead.

I recovered. I made more calls. I had a long shower letting the water wash over me. It was not yet 8.30 when I got in the car and left the house. I wanted to be out. I had a poor breakfast in Whitehorse Road, then did some shopping. I came home. Donna arrived, and soon after the funeral director. We talked and organised things. Then I made the rest of my calls.

This I could do. I kept very busy, very methodical.

Most people I spoke to felt both relief and sadness. Her death was no surprise, but it still comes as a shock. I could not quite believe yet that my mother for all my life was actually gone, and harder still to think that when I sat amid her things in the house she would never again come home to. There was a sense of unreality, a distant but weighty sorrow, and guilt.

I’m sure the guilt is almost standard. I lived on while she didn’t. I had no fears that I had done everything I could for mum in the last months of her life, but, predictably, I felt as if I was not all I could be as a son in the years before that.

My plan had been to visit mum last weekend, and was glad that did not become necessary. I had said my goodbyes to mum the previous Sunday. It was a good parting, a fortunate, fortuitous few moments together.

For the last 2 weeks of mum’s life she had been out of it more often than not. I remember the shock one day to the next as she so drastically declined. Was it Friday three weeks ago? That had been so hard to witness. I felt as if I had missed my chance. It’s important I think to control that parting. Sad as it is you want a positive memory, something you can close on. Now though, unconscious mostly, and then only semi-conscious when she wasn’t that seemed a forlorn hope.

So I went that Sunday intending to make my parting from mum, but not hopeful that it would be as I hoped. As previously she was barely awake. She was weak and occasionally unsettled. I held her hand. I told her things. I had always the policy of being honest, never to sugar-coat anything. I asked how  she felt, and in a moment of rare lucidity she answered.” Very tired,” she said. “How do you feel in your head?” I asked. Again she understood. “Very tired and confused,” she said in her weak voice.

I told her that I didn’t know if I would see her again, and that I wanted to say my goodbyes. I told her I thought she would see Fred again soon. I stood up.
“Give me a hug,” I told her. I bent down over her as she put her arms around me. I gave her a kiss as she gave me a couple of small kisses on my cheek and murmured in my ear, “you’ve been wonderful.” Soon after I left thinking that was probably it. It was as it turned out, and the best parting I could hope for.

 

The day done


It’s a little more than 24 hours since I last wrote. It’s a beautiful sunny morning. I’m sitting in mum’s garden,which is  really a small paved space surrounded by native plants and lush greenery. It is both pleasant and genteel. Sitting here I can hear the kids play in the kinder over the back fence. I can imagine spending many a happy day sitting here listening to those happy sounds.

It’s been a big 24 hours. This time yesterday I felt almost becalmed. In a few hours my mum’s funeral was set to begin, but there I was, alone, my preparations done, waiting. I realised that the toughest part in doing all this alone was not the sheer scale of stuff needing to be done, but the solitary nature of it. I needed no help with anything, but it would have been nice to have someone to rub up against in those hours.

I say that knowing that an essential aspect of my nature is independence. And though it was a big job I think I wanted to do as much as I could by myself. Part of that is the control freak in me – I’d rather do something right myself than trust to someone else. The bigger part of it though is that I wanted to shoulder this myself as a modest tribute to mum. It was always so important to her that we do things right. I wanted to make sure of that for her.

Soon enough it livened up. I ironed my shirt and was pulling on my trousers when Kylie and family arrived. Soon after came others. Though by now I was busy I had to join someone to pick up the booze for the reception, which is when the first mini-disaster occurred. Stepping up into the SUV I suddenly felt my trousers tear. “Fuck,” I thought, and said aloud. And this my good Versace suit!

While the booze was being loaded I ran up and down the street looking for a patch to tide me over. No luck. Back at the house one of the girls put a few makeshift stitches in my pants. Then I headed off to the church.

There were people everywhere. It was still half an hour to the service but many had come early. I did my thing, conferring with funeral directors and ministers and meeting people and receiving their condolences. Up to then I had been so focused and controlled: now I felt that control slide.

As I expected I had many people come to me with tears in their eyes, kind words in their mouth. As they cried I felt the tears come. I said what I could, agreeing what a marvellous person my mother had been, thanking them for all their support, and for their presence. I managed, but felt the words catch in me again and again. I wondered how I would be standing up to deliver my eulogy.

The church filled, the service began. In no time I was called to the pulpit. I felt in a focused daze, if that is not contradictory. I stood and looked about me at the crowd there watching me, and I began to speak.

Earlier in the day I had told myself to look upon this as a challenge to overcome. Often that works with me because it goes directly to my pride, even my competitive spirit. Win this moment, be strong.

As it happens it worked. It was not easy – at times the words felt very raw – but I didn’t falter, and what I said felt true and right. I was doing this for mum.

I remained standing while Blaine made a speech too about his Nonny, and sat when the the other speakers took their turn. They were all very good.

The service was just about right except for one thing. Mum had entrusted the officiating to her next door neighbour, a retired clergyman. He’s a lovely guy if a bit aof a duffer, and tends to waffle. Unfortunately he waffled at length yesterday, and, sad to say, waffled on about arcane religious trivia rather than the subject of the service. Very little of any real meaning was said about her, and this despite the great lengths mum had gone to to make sure that she had every relevant detail. I was as pissed off as I could be in the circumstances, and felt like giving him the wind-up.

Afterwards we returned here. I don’t know how many came back – perhaps 80? Besides family and friends and mum’s Probus friends I was lucky to have my dad fly down from Sydney for the day, and have friends of mine come to support me. You’re so busy, and I guess a tad stressed with everything happening, and so it’s hard to properly catch up with them. It means a lot. I guess that’s what I meant earlier – nice to know that there is someone in my corner.

Anyway, I’m a bit woolly now because I did my best to unwind. I did my social duties for a while mingling and so on. Then I just chilled as the crowd thinned to the hard-core support group, including Cheeseboy, who was great – he’s such a sensitive guy, and a great supporter. And of course Donna, who has been wonderful throughout looking after me. When I sent out the news Saturday that mum had passed I got a text message from her an hour or so later telling that she was “on the doorstep waiting to give you a hug.” She’s been great.

Overall the day was good, or as good as it could be. This morning I got slowly out of bed, then began the job of cleaning. I’ve put things away, thrown the empties in the bin, washed plates and glasses. I have a cleaner here right now doing the rest.

That’s it. It’s done. After all that normal life is somewhere near. Of course it’s a different normal life from before – a life without mum. Today is the first of many without her. I’m fine, better than I thought I would be, but perhaps a bit numbed. There will be moments I’m sure, but I know the only way is up.