End Of An Era

Recently my uncle who passed away after suffering with cancer and severe lung problems was farewelled in a poignant memorial service. Held in the place where he had worshipped for over twenty years, the service was remarkable in many ways. Firstly the two clergy presiding were senior clerics of the Newcastle Diocese, a Bishop and a Dean. Secondly they were female.

It seemed fitting somehow that this was so, especially as two of his three children are strong, independent, professional females. The other is a sensitive kind man who was brought up ahead of his time to be a SNAG by his mother, my late and much loved Auntie Shirley. My cousin Stephen gave a truly wonderful eulogy, which had humour and truth mixed in with so much love and pride the tears flowed down my face. No sound, just tears of empathy for my cousin Jayne and her husband who had helped my uncle live at home by being live in carers for the past two years. For my cousin Louise who had been there for her mother who suffered so with cancer over twenty years ago.

I also felt a deep sense of kinship, of family bonding which had been nourished so much when we were younger by our parents. There were times when I had such vivid flashbacks of memory as Stephen recounted how the family had first joined us here as migrants in the sixties. I remember sleeping in our small fibro cabin while they were out the back yard in an even smaller fibro one.

I remember the debates about which TV channels to watch. We watched Channel 9 and 7 while Uncle Eddie insisted on ABC. Thank God for the little bit of intelligent viewing we had for the weeks they were with us! I remembered how glamorous I found Auntie Shirley, how I could not wait to show her my Heidi and Little Women books.

The girls had long hair and it was Uncle Eddie’s task to brush the knots out of their hair. Jayne particularly used to let out blood curdling squeals of protest but Uncle Eddie was no pushover. He tamed their often seawater and salt laden hair and the time doing this created a wonderful father daughter bonding.

We had been here for some years by the time the Elsom’s arrived and while my sister and I had quickly integrated into school and made firm friends my mum had been increasingly isolated by my father who did not like neighbours inviting her regularly to dinner and afternoon tea. Dad worked all hours and though he took us fishing at night in summer after he finished work our next door neighbours became our family. Mr Cadogan had become a proxy dad to us, teaching us to swim and snorkel at The Rock Pool, later on having the most delicious sausages he had barbecued in soft fluffy white rolls. We prawned with nets at Canton Beach, cooking the prawns in boiling salted water in pots over fire pits right there on the sand.

I can only imagine the sheer wonder of this outdoor life for my cousins. Once they were settled in a gorgeous old house with a huge covered verandah in Lorn in Maitland we had regular get togethers whereby Uncle Eddie drove the family down to our house. We either ate the food both families provided at home or if the weather was not too hot we loaded up our car with food and went to The Rock Pool or The Lighthouse or Soldier’s Beach, wherever there were picnic tables.

Oh the food! Food was love in my mum’s mind and she adored her nieces and nephew and my little brother who was born not long after The Elsom’s arrived here. Auntie Shirley was just brilliant at anything she touched. So we usually had a huge cold home made steak, potato and vegetable pie from her and a big homemade Pork Pie from mum. Plus all sorts of side dishes including Aunty Shirley’s famous coleslaw and her incomparable slices for afternoon tea. It was like the feasting of The Famous Five or The Secret Seven during their long summer hols, but this was twice a month!  As soon as the clothes for Sunday church were removed and casual things thrown on the Elsom’s were on their way. And I was SO impatient!

We also visited them regularly on Sundays at Lorn where we would go for walks on the most amazing things. Paths! We eventually meandered across the bridge and down the High Street. This was town life to us and always thrilled me. Even if my sister was a right witch in the back of the car and we both got into HUGE trouble with a very angry dad we still both wanted to visit our only family.

So now that Eddie is gone I feel there is an ending of an era. We cousins are now the older generation, the keeper of these memories. It is why I am determined to get them down now. I am not very mobile but do my best work sitting down so am capturing as much as I can here and in my other blog kissmekate. Eventually I want to join the two blogs together into a memoir and then I can put the whole story together, because as events happen in my life I remember more of the past. So much was hidden before due to emotional trauma in childhood and as a teenager.

Eddie and family, along with The Cadogans made my life normal. Because in seeing them as such happy family units I knew how it could be. How it should be. I will never ever forget what Shirley and Eddie meant to me, including the adult me. They accepted me. They loved me. They showed Christ’s love to me and they were the first people I told when I found faith in my twenties. Uncle Eddie looked out for mum until I got up here to look after her. We chatted on the phone regularly and he was a great support to me when I was live in caregiver to an extremely violent father. When he became very ill I offered to take him regularly to his specialists but he said confidently and kindly that Louise would take him. His children and grandchildren came together to make his end of life quiet and peaceful. Qualities learned at Eddie’s knee.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

I Cannot Let Myself Go Down That Path

Today my story is featured on ABC News Radio and News Online which both go national across Australia. This is my second time being interviewed by Giselle Watakama and she really makes it easy. She also has a magic way of pulling the secret stuff out of me. The stuff I try to cover up from the public, the people I know and often from my loved ones. She even manages to capture the quaver in my voice, because dammit I cannot hide that. Would if I could, truly.

I do not want my son or my lover to see me panting as my body tries to fill my ostomy bag. Panting as if I am birthing a hippopotamus. Because that is what it feels like. Pure agony for at least thirty minutes, often two hours  and exhaustion afterwards. And then there is the small matter of getting a bag to fit on my ostomy now. The mesh has sucked an area a bit like an inverted teacup beside my stoma. Right where the mesh is. And it is next to impossible to get a seal. So out of the myriad modern devices designed to make life easier for the modern ostomy I am left with an older version which does not seal and also the filter does not function well. Requiring me to ask friends if I stink. Because these days all I smell is poo.

Things are not all bad. As everyone knows I do not like to give in. And I am very stubborn and determined. And I like to advocate to help others who are injured and to try to stop others from becoming injured. While in hospital last week I met a really impressive Colo Rectal surgeon, Dr Peter Pockney who also teaches surgery at Newcastle University. And he is a member of my surgeon, Dr Brian Draganic’s team Newcastle Colorectal. I was impressed with his intelligent way of communicating. Dr Draganic also is very down to earth. I am hoping at some stage to talk to them about starting a mesh clinic up here at John Hunter Hospital. Or a Hernia Mesh Clinic as RPA has the Pelvic one. These two surgeons did not place my mesh. Presently I have started a support group on Facebook for Hernia Mesh injured. It is called Australian Hernia Mesh Support Group. We are gaining more members due to the radio interview on ABC today which is wonderful. People who do not usually use Facebook so I have given then my name and mailing address instead.

Some of the timeline of the article was a little bit out. So much for Giselle to sort through. Basically I had the mesh inserted in 2015, three years after my ostomy was formed. The photo above was taken after I got home from the mesh repair. Not knowing then I had a mesh infection, which is NOT considered to be a good thing in mesh circles.

So for most of early 2015 I was in and out of John Hunter with bowel obstructions. I was given emergency surgery in August 2015 for a Parastomal Hernia  and mesh was inserted. I have been much worse since, though not to the point of vomiting faeces but that is because I am so vigilant to not let the obstructions get to that point. But she is right. I do fear choking on faeces, because I did, for many many hours and even The NG  tube could not suck it all away. It was the only time in my life I wanted to run away and die somewhere where nobody could find me. Well I did once after I started looking after my demented parents in 2013 but I had just left my nasty husband and walked into the hell of Alzheimer’s. With a new stoma and a then undiagnosed Hernia.

So basically Giselle let me talk, and tried to make sense of what I said, with no medical training and my tendency to ramble she did a great job! What was even better for us Mesh campaigners and advocates was the info she came up with. We need these skills!  Basically the College of Surgeons are concerned about this Hernia mesh issue. It is so good to know that.

‘Anyway the article is here. I will leave you to read it, to absorb it, and to try to know that my life might sound awful but I do see the bigger picture. In my case I do not have Alzheimer’s. Whew. And I can still laugh at myself. My son is wonderful,  as are my friends. And I have a magical lover/partner who does not notice my bag, thinks I am brave and encourages me to not see myself as disabled. It is only when I try to walk that I feel disabled, and it is only brief. Cause I cannot let myself go down that path.

Finally I would like to thank the lovely Rosie and Marion of John Hunter’s new Acute Surgical Ward. Talk about wonderful nurses. Beyond wonderful. And then there was the delightful Rory, the resident from Belfast. And the canular technician called in who finally got a vein. Am covered in bruises. Little love bites to remind me of my stay.

Common Circus Belmont

Yesterday I had a flu shot administered by a medical student under the expert instructions of my GP. We all survived, I still have my arm, though it is a tad sore at the site which is usual.

The student was male which was unusual as we get a lot of female med students and he did an excellent job for a first injection!

I felt in need of a coffee as I always do if I am in the vicinity of Common Circus, the wonderful homewares and coffee shop opposite Belmont Lake.

I have been coming here since I moved into my home in 2015 and really love sitting at the large communal monk’s style table. I blog my memoirs, surreptitiously people and baby watch and chat to people from all walks of life as well as these days assess who is a tourist.

I remember the first time in 2016 when I was asked if I was a local! By a tourist. It was incredible and I felt really proud of my beautiful region. Then I chatted about Words With Friends and other things and yesterday I observed a lovely interaction with some young mums at the table.

One mum had a newborn in a sling which the other mum nursed for her. Her little toddler was hidden by the plants in the middle of the table so I could not see what he was doing. He was very quiet.

I asked if it was okay to take photos for my blog. Assured them it was anonymous and covered women’s health etc and coffee shop reviews! They liked that I think though the gorgeous young mum was concerned she looked awful as was sleep deprived and had no make up on.

You can judge for yourself from the photos below. There were lots of people coming and going. Business types in suits getting their take away coffees. Older people reading newspapers while they savoured theirs. And then the younger ones perched on the stools looking towards the lake.

There is a lovely outdoor area with a communal table and the staff is always perky. And not as a result of the coffee. They are naturally inclined that way! And. They know the names of most of their regulars!

I highly recommend this place, not least for the service they provide but for the way they make use of recycled paper boxes and napkins and cups instead of plates and cups and saucers. Their coffee and food is unparalleled too.

The decor is gorgeous with patchwork panelling and colourful coffee machines. Currently pink. Used to be aqua. I prefer the aqua but that is just my taste and the pink does not nauseate me as it may some people I know. Think fifties kitchens. Pretty.

Five star review. Excellent and has remained so, even improved if that is possible.

I Got That From Her

On This Day five years ago G and my son and I had a great shop at our local Vinnies in Swansea. We stocked up on lots of clothes for Mum as we knew she would need a lot for when she went to Respite in the Care Home. She needed warm clothing, nightgowns and dressing gowns and shoes and slippers.

She loved cardigans, indeed one day a gorgeous softest silver grey boucle cardigan arrived for me from eBay UK and when mum saw it she beamed cheekily and grabbed it and said its mine. Of course I gave it to her instantly. As she had with me as an adult. She would literally give me the clothing off her back. Come to think of it I got that from her as I do that too!!

Shopping was pretty exhausting as we trotted off to Coles to stock up on food for the folks. Mum had eaten us all out of house and home again! When I got back I left the youngsters to unpack and escaped to my little retreat way downstairs where I read and knitted each afternoon after getting everything for my parents organised in the morning. I loved it down there though it was starting to get very nippy.

We brightened and personalised the empty space by rearranging the furniture and adding a cube bookcase, a big faux leather storage ottoman and some affirmation plaques. Very much needed after what we had been through for the last year. G has them now in her flat, I no longer need them as I am on the other side of everything now.