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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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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Where I Choose To Be

Yesterday was my late mum’s birthday. But that was not why it was such a difficult day. In the morning I rang my dad in the aged care home. He has dementia, stroke damage and stage four Prostate Cancer and he was very worked up and totally out of it with agitation. He told me he had manhandled and literally thrown a lady out of his room and that her friends had come to help her. Dad had swung at a man who used to be a fighter, who said he ducked. And dad told me he was going to get a man, later on. He has never been fond of people he finds stupid and these people are demented, bless them.

My son and I then set out after lunch for my appointment with Dr Russo of The Hunter Pain Clinic in Broadmeadow. It’s a level one pain service where medications and injections and ablations into and of nerves occur, unlike at John Hunter Pain Management. I went six months ago, found great success with my SFN and other neuropathic pain due to past surgeries and mesh. It is a lovely bus trip by the lake to Cardiff and then a train to Broadmeadow. Unfortunately it’s a long walk for me from the station, I know now to get a taxi from there. Silly of me not to, I was overconfident.

At some stage of the day the AINs told dad his blood pressure was up, probably to try to get him to stop fixating on the men he particularly hates. So he started phoning and when he could not get me he left messages. Three before I wised up and stopped taking the voicemails. Each was worse with him crying, wanting to go to hospital and beside himself thinking he was going to die.

Meantime my son and I waited over an hour for Dr Russo, who was brilliant as always. He said I needed to increase the Lyrica in my Neuropathy cocktail by 75mg. After that nerve ablation of the Femorogenital Nerve and the Illinguinal Nerve on the left side is all that is left to do. He also wrote that I could have a sustained release painkiller, Palexia. All I use at the moment is Panadol Osteo.

The trip home was a long one. To avoid the walk to the station we caught two buses, one to Glendale which was forty minutes and then a bus home which was around twenty. I stopped being a nasty snarly bitch to my poor ever suffering son once off my feet and on the bus and dropped into a ten minute retrospection ending in quite the insight. I have had moments of clarity before but never quite like this.

I was wondering if it was worth it. Really. To have Small Fibre Neuropathy pain so badly that I had needed a walking aid to get around. The pain so unspeakable I found it hard to describe it. And to lose that pain totally for four months only to have it start to return? With no real hope of it ever going or being controlled. More so with the unbelievable mesh pain beside my stoma. Would I have done it if I had known? Would I not have been better to not have that wonderful break, only to have to learn to deal with the agony again?

And yet, if I had not tried the cocktail, I would never have got off the walker, might even have been encouraged into a wheelchair by now. I would not have had the courage to meet up with my man of many voices, not in an intimate way. Would not have started any relationship at all. Talking to Dr Russo I realised how much had changed since I saw him in November. For the good. Life is full of joy for me, despite the pain. Or in part because of it I truly appreciate life and the beauty in the world.

So yes I would have tried the drugs, I would have knowingly tried them even if they had told me they would not continue to work much beyond the six months. Because where hope is is where I want to be. Where possibility is is also where I am meant to be. Where determination is is where I choose to be.

But for dad, my quandary is very different, to hear him at 4.59 this morning. Crying. Because he “does not know what is happening.” The catch cry, especially of the Vascularly demented. What is the point in prolonging his misery? His fear? His degradation? Should I have ever let the specialist put him on the Zoladex which is stopping the Testosterone which is fuelling the cancer? It will wear off by the end of this year anyway but it’s month upon month of agonising fear for my dad, a once proud, strong man. Can I in good conscience ask for it to be stopped? And let the disease take its course?

In other countries he might have been able to choose his death. But dad thought he was immortal and never prepared for old age. Now I am trying to look after us both. Making tough decisions for both of us. Mine is just pain, it will not kill me though the increase in Lyrica will likely affect my memory. But only while I take it. Whereas dad is going to die. A long, drawn out protracted death whereby he slowly withers away. Even now he is dehydrated. He could choose to stop eating at any time. It happens. And I will be here witnessing it, but thankful my mum did not have to. That she was taken before that. She always looked after dad, he was her first thought in the morning. Her duty was to care for him. Her duty born of love. Mine is a different love, but mum knew I would look after him. It is who I am. And who I am is very much someone who questions suffering. Suffering, the kind that does not enrich life, only demeans and terrifies our elderly. Our loved ones with dementia.

 

 

Mother’s Day 2018

Wishing mum’s everywhere a truly wonderful day, while thinking of the people who no longer have their mothers. There is also the unspeakable grief of the mother’s who have lost their children. I know a few and my heart goes out to them. Usually I find they are the first to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day.

This is the first Mother’s Day since 2014 that I did not cry when I awoke. My mum passed away mid that year. I never thought I would be able to get over the unrelenting grief but life is full of possibilities. It goes on regardless of our feelings or of what is happening in our lives.

I had one Mother’s Day with mum in her large home, just before she went into care and one the next year, where we spoiled her rotten before celebrating our own little family. I bought mum a beautiful aqua boiled wool jacket which she wore for one outing with me after that. She died suddenly a few weeks later.

I have added some photos of my mum throughout her life. She was full of fun and cheeky at the beginning and end of her life and I was truly blessed to share those years with her.