Grief is a real thing

So grief, grief is a real thing let me tell you. I’m not sure I really understood the whole process of grief and grieving until we had roughly 18 months of onslaught. I’d been sad before, obviously, you hear about death, you lose a beloved pet (and I howled like a banshee for days after that), contemporaries of your parentals pass away etc etc but it’s only (in my opinion) when it comes knocking at your front door that you really get it.

So first of all my mother in law died, we weren’t close but she died ugly (rampant alzheimers and all the accompanying stuff that goes with that) and I needed to be support for my husband while he dealt with her passing and his father and siblings and all their stuff. I need a new word for stuff but you know – emotion and baggage and arguments and discussions and stuff! Then 6 months later my feisty, never ill, full of life 86 year old mothers appendix burst and she dies two weeks later in hospital. My father literally fell apart and I put up my hand and said it’s ok, I’ll sort it out. You see, I told my comatose mother on the day she died that it was ok to say goodbye and I would look after my father and well that’s a promise you can’t exactly break. She, in her infinite wisdom, had always done everything from cooking, cleaning, finances, shopping for groceries etc etc My father was just, I can’t, I don’t know how, I don’t know what to do. So in the next 6 months we sold his house (at his request), moved him into a retirement village (best decision ever) and tried to find solid ground to stand on. The phone calls were endless and I can remember one night going into a room in our home, switching off the lights and curling up on the floor with my arms wrapped around my head and thinking I can’t do this anymore, I can’t do everything for everybody, when do I get a chance to grieve? Did I tell my husband the depths of my despair? No I didn’t (rightly or wrongly) I’m also the “strong” one, always the one who picks up the pieces so I did, I picked myself up and got back to getting on with life. I think the first time I really cried, well other than at the funeral because who doesn’t cry at funerals (I hate funerals with a passion let me reiterate but we did it because my father thought it was the right thing to do) was driving home from work on my birthday roughly 10 months after she died. It was in the winter and cold and dark and I wept for my mother for 8 kilometres and then I packed it away.

I’m jumping around here but about 4 months into project Save Father, one of our dearest friends also died from colon cancer. He was in his 40’s and once of the loveliest people you could wish to know – his parents have now buried both their sons (the first one in a car accident) so you can imagine walking that road of pain. On the day of his memorial, we got a call to say that my father had been involved in a car accident and was being rushed to hospital. You seriously cannot make this shit up – the photographs from the memorial are something, I look like a ghost. My father was lucky with relatively minor injuries but the psychological impact was massive combined with everything else.

Grief and grieving is an individual process – I don’t believe there is a guaranteed or recommended formula for everyone to follow. I do believe time is critical and that there has to be a line drawn in the sand and when you get to that line its time to start living your life again. You don’t forget, ever, but you remember how to live and why you need to live.

Its now three years later – I’ve had some health issues, nothing major but enough to give me a wakeup call. I’m quite convinced the utter overwhelmingness of the stress and grief was a contributing factor. What has grief taught me? I’ll tell you one thing its taught me –  to take care of myself and make myself the first priority in my life. I consciously avoid people and situations that are stressful and I have redrawn my boundaries – I put up with a lot less than I used to. You’ll probably find that there are people that think I’m selfish but that’s ok because I know my truth and the people that matter know me.

Hands

My mum and I were talking about hands the other day. She suffers from severe arthritis so her thumbs go every which way but straight and as a result she can’t abide her hands. There is no pain but to her they are unsightly. To me they are so much part of who she was and who she is – years of hard work in her business, taking care of her family, being a wife and mother that they are a badge of honour (after a fashion).

I looked at my hands tonight, gripping the steering wheel, making a salad, holding a cup – a few dings and scrapes here and there so with the aid of some fancy techo gadgetry… hand art

photo (2) photo (1)
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“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”
Maya Angelou

What happened ……

When DH and I go to visit my mum and dad we often drive past a hobo sitting forlornly on the side of the road with a mismatched, ragtag bundle of meager possessions. He’s a big man, long hair and a full beard – filthy dirty with a puce colured coat and head down, never looking at the passing cars. I always wonder how he ended up in such a dire state?

“I used to be somebody you know
People used to look me in the eye, shake my hand and call me sir
That was before
That was before that night – I signed the deal and they told me I was the best
Everybody wanted to buy me a drink and I didn’t say no
Dave wanted to drive me home but I told him to piss off, I was no girly that couldn’t hold my drink
I got in the car

I killed him you know
They say I hit him so hard that he ended up in the ditch across the way
Just 16 he was, on his way home from football practice
They put me away for a while but I got parole for “good behaviour”
Bloody joke, no booze inside.

And now, sleeping rough,
My family moved away, no forwarding address
They deserted me – the bastards
I’m afraid, especially at night
I hide behind the station
Under the boxes
They hurt me when they can find me
They take my stuff,
I’m all alone.”

Postscript – I wrote this a few weeks ago and didn’t get around to posting it. The irony of the situation is, when we went to fetch my parents for Christmas lunch at my brother’s today, there was a plain wooden cross in the spot where he used to be. Willie, that was his name, died on 17 December 2012.

From me to her

So my 80 something year old mother (a lady never reveals her true age apparently) had a cataract removed yesterday. A lifetime of rude health and then a hip replacement last year and now the eyes. At our bi-weekly dinner on saturday night she announced to us that she was going to die yesterday (note: this isn’t a sign of mental disease more just a flair for the dramatic and an overactive imgination).While my father and DH sat with mouths agape I retorted with an “ok then – burial, cremation or compost for the roses?” We laughed and drank a glass of peach champagne. I phoned her on Monday to say all the best and she said “I’m scared” and it broke my heart just a little bit – this bright, competent, wickedly funny woman who knows half the planet was suddenly very vulnerable. To cut a long story short, she’s much better and the op seems to have been a success but I was thinking maybe I might write a letter (she likes “old fashioned communication”) …………………….

Dear Mom

I love you – you know that right? We tell each other every time we’re on the phone (funny that we don’t say it when we’re together for dinner, maybe the hugging and kissing make up for it). I’m so very grateful to have you as my mother and my friend – we’ve always had a different relationship I guess, even when I was a teenager we were friends.

I’m so very proud of how you came through a dire first marriage and had the courage to leave the ratbag with nothing but the clothes on your back and my brother by your side. Then you met Daddy and despite your misgivings about getting married again you took the plunge and the rest, as they say, is history. I’m a lot like you in as much we’re careful with whom we allow to get close to us whereas Daddy has room in his heart for the entire world and their dog. I know the last 18 months have been scary for you – you’ve always been the strong and fit one while himself has been full of aches and pains and hospital visits.

It’s going to be ok, the upside down world will soon get back on an even keel and we’ll be drinking champagne and doing crosswords without a magnifying glass before you know it.

Stay strong, forever your partner in crime.

Me

Thief of souls

Alzheimers – my mother-in-law has recently been diagnosed with the disease. A bitter and twisted woman on a good day has now transformed into a forgetful, paranoid, bitter and twisted woman – it’s a dreadful situation. My 80 something father in law remains stubborn about accepting help and continues to deteriorate on a daily basis with stress and exhaustion. DH’s siblings are all out of the country and continue to proffer thoroughly useless advice. DH is at a loss as to what else to do and we have settled on providing moral and logistical support to his father as best we can.

My best friend lent me a dvd to watch the other day called The Notebook and despite my initial misgivings (romantic love stories are not really my thing) it turned out to be a wonderfully warm and loving film with huge relevance to the current mental health issues in our immediate circle. Watching the inconsistencies and uncertainties manifest themselves in the lead character was like an obscene snapshot of life in DH’s family home – it brought me to tears, often!

And walking a familiar route, when disgruntled and discombobulated, I must populate a bit of paper with a whirlpool of unco-ordinated thoughts ……………………………

“The plate lay shattered on the floor, food scattered everywhere

Silence

The silence surrounded them, a cloud of confusion swept through her eyes

She was afraid,

He could see that, her lip starting to tremble as she turned to flee

My love, he said, dont leave me

She started at the sound of his voice,

Who are you, she said, her voice rising hysterically with the coming storm.

Where am I, her head twisted from side to side, eyes wide with terror

Jen, he groaned, its me we’re at home my darling

And then, she was gone

The girl with the honey brown eyes and generous laugh,

His lifetime companion,

Stared through him and she started to scream.”

~ xxx ~

Drive-in

I read somewhere the other day (as one does) about the invention of the drive-in movie. Talk about stopping time or an “Alice through the looking glass” moment or some other literary allusion – my family used to be devoted drive-inners.

 image courtesy of blog.1aauto.com

Back in the day when I was under 8 we used to own a bottle green station wagon and a bright orange boxy Datsun of a vaguely dodgy lineage. They were both in their dowerage but still sprightly and the station wagon was the vehicle for drive-in. Our local venue came amply supplied with various fast food joints but my mum would always pack a hamper. If I close my eyes I can smell the coffee that was dispensed from a mustard coloured flask into crocodile green plastic mugs (we must have had a thing for green). Apparently I was too young for coffee so my beverage du jour was juice – something that you had to mix with water, can’t for the life of me get to the brand! On the menu were sandwiches – packed snugly in square Tupperware containers – cheese & tomato, egg mayo or chicken mayo. I think we had muffins for pudding (carrot maybe – so bizarre what you remember and what you don’t). The clearest memory is going from the bath to pj’s to the back seat armed with 2 pillows and a pink blanket. One of those really old-fashioned blankets with braid around it, king size so you could snuggle and make an igloo or a cave or a 5 storey mansion depending on your creativity.

With a full tummy the anticipation took on lyrical proportions building to an epic climax when my folks would pull in the extendable speakers (one on the driver’s window and one on the passenger window), turn up the volume and the adverts would spew forth their drivel (not everything changes). Horror was always the most fun at the drive in – somehow the big screen lent a slightly ridiculous quality to an assortment of ghouls and severed limbs which glossed over their intended purpose. It was fun, it was “good” family time – we always went for the double bill but I don’t think I ever made it past the start of the second showing. My waking memory would be being carried from the car to bed by my dad and my mom “going to put the kettle on”.

PS. DH and I drove past my old “local” drive in yesterday – it’s been closed due to lack of demand, old fashioned apparently doesn’t cut it any more.

image courtesy of 123rf.com

Fudge

No, not a failsafe recipe for sweet, golden indulgence but rather a euphemism for a general feeling of being out of kilter, Do you know those days tainted with discontent, discombobulation and the thoughts of being a blunt needle on a record player?

My ceaseless quest for harmony is no secret but the gathering storm beats a loud and strident rhythm.

This “don’t tell” policy with DH’s mother and her dementia is ready to explode – the catalyst is on the horizon. Envisage primer cord and a flame thrower!

Work is beginning to resemble a teepee being attacked by wood rot from the inside out. Although perhaps a diseased body is a more appropriate analogy where the core is rotten and affecting the whole system. I have no answers for the staff that are looking for guidance.

My intent for this diatribe is not for it to translate as a pity party or a self-indulgent quest for acknowledgement. Scripting malcontent is cathartic – I’m still at odds though to find a solution or a clear path to follow!

In a nutshell, even the most ordinary of lives is littered with an infinite number of potholes.

“If tomorrow never comes”

In the dulcet tones of Ronan Keating.

Have you had a good long look at the concept of “what if tomorrow never comes” – will those that are nearest and dearest to you know “how much you love them”? With the latest onslaught of in-law issues – my FIL’s pneumonia and my MIL’s now officially diagnosed Alzheimer’s (big surprise – not!) there was a delegation at their house on Saturday night. My SIL has come haring out from New Zealand, my BIL was down from White River and us of course (being only 5 minutes up the road). Our phone has been going non-stop with the other two overseas siblings – questions, answers, “advice”, and instruction … ad nauseum!

They are normally not a close family (no humungous reason that I’m aware of) and the most poignant part of Saturday night was this sudden outpouring of care and concern because of the current situation. In a way, if blame were being apportioned, my in-laws would have to shoulder a large chunk thereof. As parents, the most uncaring and unconcerned people I’ve come across in a long time – you know the kind where “I’m the parent, you’re the child so you owe me”. It has, as expected, bitten them hard with most visits (from all the children) being a duty thing and not a genuine desire. You could argue and say that any concern is good concern whatever the spark is. I would argue that and say envisage a scenario where there was no long term illness and they both passed without warning (for example a car accident) – would DH’s siblings have been overwhelmed with the what if scenario and I could’ve, should’ve, would’ve? Guilt, in my opinion, is the most destructive of emotions – if you’re distant that’s ok if you’ve made your peace with it but if you’re distant because you can’t be bothered then you’ve taken the lid of Pandora’s box and be prepared to deal with the consequences.

The point of this rambling is this – tell your spouse, tell your children, tell your family, tell your friends (if it’s the way you feel) that you love them / care for them / wish them only well. Tell them today – it may feel a little weird, they’re may think you’re a little off but let their most recent memory of you be positive. If you’re having a fight and you don’t want any more verbal exchange, tell them electronically! DH and I are very close with my parents who are both in their late 70’s/early 80’s and chatting to a friend of mine the other day about loss and that sort of thing she remarked on how devastating it would be for me when my parents pass away. She was, I think, somewhat taken aback when my answer was contradictory. Obviously I’ll be sad but I’m so very grateful to have had a steadfast, reliable, nurturing relationship with people who tell me they love me every time we communicate.

“If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say?  And why are you waiting? ” ~Stephen Levine

PS. A quick confession – trolling through my blog looking for something else I came across a very similar post that I wrote in April last year – identical title, different circumstances and slightly different content :O Deja vu of epic proportions – so apologies to anyone who may have thought – hey, she’s already done that!

So, how was your day?

This first day of the new year? A brassy, bold day in Africa – pale blue skies and a light breeze.

It’s been a different start to the year in our household. Normally the first of the first is spent trekking around friends and family in a frenzy of greetings and salutations for the coming twelve months. This year, however, the humble telephone stepped up to the plate and did a stirling job in interpersonal communication – we stayed in!

“Mundane” you snort, “boring” – probably but quite cathartic nevertheless. We slept late, pajamed even later – breakfast was a hedonistic feat on the verandah accompanied by good orange juice with the bits in 😉

Our attempts at doing it “how the other half does “ didn’t last much past this first repast of the day as the pile of ironing loudly called for attention like a neglected toddler and the pea green grass grew before our eyes as we watched the hadedahs probe its luscious depths.

Conversation has been lively, bouncing rapidly from cricket to football to motorsport (our much beloved Dakar started in Argentina today) – politics and economics have both put in a good showing ….. in the interests of a well-rounded debate, naturally!

Lunch was an eclectic combination of “pigs in blankets” and the balance of last night’s bubbles partnered by a hotly contested game of Stratego.

The bulging workbag and plethora of urgent e-mails lies forgotten and forlorn – the blinking red light “look at me, look at me” studiously ignored.

Should one categorise a passage of time? I’m going to call it an idyllic day.

In memorium

Not for any personal loss but for a year that lies on its deathbed. In that respect, there is also the whole rebirth/renewal thing in a few hours time that goes hand in hand with a tsunami of allagorical references.

Can you simply flick the switch on 365 days of life and living or is it human nature to minutely scrutinise each and every episode?

Without rehashing the good, the bad and the ugly, I think an all encompassing summary would be:-

Marriage – good, tightly bonded, approaching two decades.

Career – Obscenely busy, I will catagorically state too busy – the treadmill is out of control.

Social Life – See career – largely non existant.

Health – Surprisingly springy and “in the pink”.

Family – Fraught with upheaval. My SIL has had an epic late midlife tantrum resulting in a ridiculous fall-out with my mom and a gargantuan rift which will require serious patching. My MOL is exhibiting every sign and behavioural quirk of early dementia. It is being denied by the rest of the clan – we face a difficult 12 months.

On a purely personal and self indulgent note, i’d sincerely like to say “thank you” to everyone who has taken the time to read my blog and chat on twitter. It’s been my privilege to connect with you and I’d like to extend my heartfelt wishes for a most auspicious 2012!

“New Year’s eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darknesson other nights.” Hamilton Wright Mabie