Greeted With Open Arms

A year ago today I was out very early in the morning in the garden deadheading my many buddleja, flowering Andean sage, nasturtium and hibiscus. It is the best time to do it as at other times the plants are always covered in fat bees and butterflies. I did not want to get stung and I have an ongoing conversation with the bees that they do not own the plants, I do!

By 10.30 I had showered and dressed carefully for my day ahead. The day was going to be a full one, firstly the dentist for an extraction of a very painful molar and later on in the afternoon a visit from a special friend. I easily caught the bus up to the dentist, had a lovely chat with the receptionist and was even able to give some requested advice to one of them about not having her scheduled surgery using gynaecological mesh. The dentist assistant was a lovely silver haired girl in her teens and the dentist was a fabulous female. Very gentle.

The extraction was difficult, involving curved roots that were immediately near the sinus cavity. I was warned if it perforated it would need surgical repair. However all was well and we all smiled with relief when it was over. I did have to be careful not to sneeze with my mouth shut for a few days though! As I bit down on some gauze I tentatively made my way over to the shopping centre to get some goodies for afternoon tea.

Then I walked home, not bad considering my Cervical Spinal Stenosis makes pressure on my neck …..difficult. Perhaps the dentist asking that the nurse hold my head made a difference. Once home I had a very milky cup of tea, an interesting taste through blood soaked gauze!

When I checked my messages my friend said his daughter was through sooner than he thought so they would be over early afternoon instead of late. I rang him and asked what time and he said they were in Belmont! And asked for directions! I replied I had no idea as I do not drive and isn’t that what Google Maps are for? In the background I could hear this delightful giggling coming from his daughter G and much chatter and fun going on between them.

So after I hung up I dashed to the bathroom and spat out the second gauze plug…no further bleeding so was very pleased. I whacked on some bright red lipstick and fluffed up my hair and made sure the bathroom was ready for guests. Luckily I always over prepare so the snacks were plated up. Fresh plump blueberries, Maltezers and some sort of biscuits, perhaps Tim Tams? And lots of Irish tea.

Almost as soon as I had poured milk into the jug of my lovely Maxwell and Williams afternoon tea setting I heard laughter, giggles and chatter. I made my way to the door, suddenly overcome with nerves. I need not have worried, I was greeted with open arms by J and introduced to his daughter, whom I hugged with less reserve. J chatting all the way inside and gladly accepting the offer of a cuppa.

This was a very special meeting, one delayed by many many years, almost a lifetime in fact. We had met by phone only when he helped me with my dad in 2014, which was the year mum passed away. Early the next year he retired and his kindness and his lovely voice was quite a loss to me, so after six months I contacted him and we became Facebook friends. This led to playing Words With Friends, maniacally at times, depending upon who had a free afternoon midweek. Matches often went on all afternoon. I liked to online chat as we played. He preferred to play then chat.

We lost touch late 2015 until late last year, it coincided with my getting off my walker and having correct diagnoses for several issues which had made me less mobile than I should be. I was full of joy at being in charge of my health again and looking forward to the possibilities life might have in store for me rather than a life limited by disability. It had made me rather reckless in my online communication with J and I felt quite overcome with embarrassment at some of the things I had got up to online.

I put my best Verger front on though and we had a lovely time, with me teasing him about his many accents. He speaks in many UK dialects! Chatting with G was wonderful, about fashion, her new job and her move down here recently to be near her family. I loved her freshness and innocence. We all three trooped out to see my infamous  buddlejas and the rest of the garden.

After a fun time involving me begging J not to make me laugh because of my extraction, accompanied by peels of laughter from G, it was sadly time for them to go. J hugged me goodbye, a protracted hug which I was mortified by as I did not have a bra on! G then answered a phone call and J came out of the car for more cuddles and said we would be talking online. To which I answered of course.

So I survived the first meeting, met my man of many voices, his gorgeous daughter, and survived my embarrassment. How good it is to be over 60. To have nothing to lose. To trust someone so deeply that anything is possible. Indeed to even meet someone where anything is possible is a rare thing. Over time since then we have committed ourselves to each other, in words and deeds. And to each other’s adult children and we love being involved in their lives.

 

 

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A Good Death

I have just finished reading Kevin Toolis’ book “ My Father’s Wake.”  

His life as a child was not unlike mine, there was much to reflect on of my own childhood summer holidays in County Mayo, Eire in the late fifties, early sixties. We too were way out on The Wild Atlantic Way, on the blustery coast at Dooyork, Geesala. My grandparents raised four boys and five daughters. Out of them only one, uncle John, stayed behind to look after the farm.

Kevin’s book shows the emigration of so many from Eire. The villages left to literally fall down as a tribute to the people who once lived there. People migrated to America and England in his book, he did not talk about the ones who went to Canada or Australia, such as my uncle Michael and my parents.

His book resonated so strongly with me. The idea of a culture that welcomes death into their homes. Shows the young how not to be afraid of death and indeed, all ages. I had not had much to do with death until the last seven years when I lost my mother in law in 2012 and my own mother in 2014. Both were sudden deaths, with both living in Care Homes. Sue, my mother in law in the UK and my mum here in Newcastle, Australia.

On the morning of 29th July 2014 I was awoken by the Nurse Unit Manager with a request to call her ASAP. It was about 7am and I thought mum must have had a fall so was totally flabbergasted to be told bluntly that mum had gone that I even stupidly said “gone where?” M the NUM said she is dead Kate, and continued talking, I did not hear what she was saying as this awful sound came out of my mouth. I wailed. And wailed and wailed. I have never ever done it before or since. I realise now it was the shock, but it seemed to be something that just had  to come out. The NUM started crying quietly, she loved mum’s spunk, her defiance of anything not fun. In her last year living despite Alzheimer’s she had embraced life so much. I was so proud of her, so, delighted whenever I saw her achieve the near impossible.

Immediately I started to say that it was wonderful, that mum would not be a vegetable, trying to convince myself of that to sustain me through that awful day. My son came with me to the home to see my mum. She looked so tiny.  Her spirit was huge and obviously could not be contained within her body. I stroked her hand, sat with her and her first born grandson while so many of the staff who knew mum came to pay their respects. In its way it was a little like a wake, each person told us how sorry they were for our loss. Some cried and looked very distressed for us. They thought mum a lot of fun. Her death was totally unexpected. She could have had many happy years ahead of her, it was a shock for us all, or so a lot of us thought at the time. Now that the home has been sanctioned twice for not looking after their patients properly I am sure she should not have died like that. Alone. In her sleep. Flat on her back with one leg outstretched off the bed. The NUM had tucked it back in to make mum look presentable.

We were left alone for some time with mum to make our goodbyes, I gave her huge wet noisy kissses all over her face and told her she was the best mum in the whole world  and that I loved her. So much. I stroked her and wanted to get on the bed and cuddle her but I held myself together. How I wish I had done that but things needed to be done there and I had to inform family. Especially my elderly father. My son and I caught three buses to tell dad. I stayed with him for two weeks, neighbours came over and mum’s brothers. My brother came the next day and there was a mad rush for my aunt and uncle and my brother and dad to get to the funeral home to “view” mum before her cremation early the next day. There was to be no funeral and nobody to attend the cremation, all this I found out the day after mum died.

So unlike Sonny in the memoir, my mum passed quietly, with the people who were involved in her life in her last years around her. I was not able to bury her and felt a dreadful sense of bereavement, of lack of respect, lack of saying goodbye to my mum. Even after holding a small Service of Thanksgiving privately for her life I still woke from my sleep, crying, with her foremost in my thoughts.

Four years after she died my son and partner and I took her ashes and sprinkled them in Lake Macquarie. Or rather tossed them, it is very hard to get ashes out of the plastic containers. We watched as the lights reflected off the water at Croudace Bay, as her ashes streamed forth onto the lake. The lights caused her stream of ashes to sparkle. It was remarkable. My son who is a photographer took photos, as did my partner. I felt enormous grief but also relief, that her body was finally free, as her spirit had been when she was cremated. Mum had been in my food cupboard for four years, she had been a brilliant cook before she forgot how to do that so it was a good place for her to be. There she had been surrounded by my friends and dad visiting and lots of laughter. Perhaps she did have a Wake after all, after her ashes came home, to me.