Thursday, August 29, 2013

Finding Peace

I am starting to like what I come home to now, after I've been out and about — which is peace. 

For a long time I missed what I used to come home to: the warmth of his presence here. But the months have passed, and I guess I'm adjusting. After he died, for a long time I came home to his absence — and, simultaneously, a house full of his vividly remembered presence. The memories accentuated the actuality of loss. It was only today that I noticed myself feeling peace on entering my home.

I have made it my home now, in various ways — new furniture and household appliances as needed, a rearrangement of some rooms, and new routines becoming new habits. It's nice.  It suits me. 

And I am further away now from the way things used to be. Time has done that. The last year of his life was particularly intense in terms of caring for him. He started seeing the geriatric specialist; it became necessary to put some respite care in place, because he could no longer be left alone safely; he had to use the wheely walker at all times, even around the house; and I managed a complex regime of blood tests and medications which he could no longer manage himself. But now another year has passed, in which none of those things happened, and so I arrive at this new state. 

'He was a lovely man,' people still say about him, and indeed he was. I will never have again that warmth he brought to our home, even in his decline, just by being here and being who he was — but I am thankful to have peace.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I Want Someone to Make it Better Now!

We're in a sudden cold snap, just as we thought we were over the winter. The blankets I took off the bed are back on, and I've reinstated my hot water bottles. 

I'm glad it wasn't so cold this time last year. I'm glad Andrew wasn't cold in the hospital. He liked Murwillumbah Hospital. The whole community agrees it's a beautiful hospital, specifically because of the warmth and caring of the staff. He remarked, towards the end of that last stay there, 'This is a lovely hospital.'  

He hated being cold. 

I guess I'm saying that I'm glad he died when he did. I am, for many reasons. As I keep saying — because it becomes evident over and over again — it was perfect timing. What I'm sad about is that he had to die at all. Which of course is not rational, as we all must. And I'm sad that he was so ill before he went  — yet he bore it bravely, and still had many times of great joy in life. 

Earlier tonight I went out and communed briefly with the full moon. I did my full moon ritual the night before, when she was 99% full, which is close enough for the full moon energy to take effect. Not sure why; just felt that it was the time to do it. Perhaps the Universe, or my Unconscious, knew that tonight, on the actual night of the full moon, I would need something more personal. 

I went out because it was full moon. I rugged up warm because it was very cold out, using the hoodie again as my witch's robe (over slacks and boots). I was glad of both the hood and the length. Because I had done a full ritual last night, this time I simply greeted the moon and the elements. Then, unexpectedly, I found myself in tears, begging for help to heal my grief.

I want to have joy in remembering Andrew. I do have that, but I also have many tears. I don't suppose I'll ever stop missing him, and I wouldn't exactly want to. But I do want the intensity of grief to end. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Good Life — Past, Present, Future

It's an overcast day. It's gone all cold again after a few days that seemed as if Spring had already arrived. And I'm a little unwell, with an upper gastro-intestinal tract infection. Food tastes awful, and I'm unusually tired. It's exactly the sort of day I'd like to go to bed and snuggle up to my darling. But he ain't here. I did lie down earlier for a little snooze, but it's not the same.

Sometimes we had lazy days in bed together even when we were well, just for the heck of it. I miss that so much, but remind myself I'm glad to have had them. I constantly think of the Kahlil Gibran quote, 'in truth, you are weeping for that which has been your delight.'

I think way back to the little flat we had in Brighton, Melbourne, and the first weekend when we decided to just stay in bed and snuggle (apart from a few forays for food). Our friends Jim and Jen phoned up, and said, 'Oh how wonderful. We've forgotten what a good thing that is to do. We must have a day in bed soon, too.' That was in our very early days together.

We came up here to the subtropics around Murwillumbah, this little rural town in the Mt Warning Caldera, in search of a better life, according to our ideas of that. We found it. The things we thought we might miss in city living were art galleries and theatres — but Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Byron Bay and Lismore were not far away. We saw wonderful theatrical shows and art exhibitions over the years. And it was nothing to run up to Coolangatta for the latest movies, with lunch at a favourite cafe; and then later an even better cinema was built at Tweed Heads. We told family and friends we left behind that we'd be down to see them often enough — and for some years that was so. Also they visited us in our new home. We even travelled to Perth; we even went around the world.

Andrew was, as I have said before, a dynamic and adventurous man in those days, full of enthusiasm and initiative. He didn't mind driving all over the place. We became a one-car family before we left Melbourne, after I wrote mine off in an accident. For quite a few years he had a manual car, so he was the driver. I only had my licence for automatic. After he went to hospital in Brisbane for major heart surgery in 1995, I realised I had to learn how to drive the manual too. Several kind neighbours gave me lessons. I was never very comfortable with it, though, and one of my friends remarked that I drove it like an automatic. When we needed to replace it, we went to automatic and stayed with that. 

He still liked to drive if we were together. I was usually the navigator instead. (When I eventually took over, some people were surprised; they thought I was a non-driver.) We drove down for a visit to Melbourne at least once, but then discovered the delights of cheap train travel on our Age Pensions. We loved the daytime train travel, when we could look at scenery, read, write, enjoy a meal.... 

We drove to Tamworth the year I was asked to be a psychic reader at the annual Country Music Festival. Some people who lived there were readers and liked to have a 'stable' to make a killing at the Festival. They came across me doing readings in our town when there was a street market, watched me a little while and invited me. When I asked later why they picked me, hoping to hear something flattering about my reading style, they said, 'You were out in the open. You weren't hidden away.'

The trip to Tamworth was an experience. I had my stall in the daytime, with others, and Andrew mostly hung around and helped. Evenings, we'd go to see all the shows. The atmosphere everywhere was of great excitement and we loved it all.  There was plenty of colourful stuff happening in the daytime too, accessible from where we were placed in the centre of town. We could have gone back every year, but we decided it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, a great memory.

Because we rented, and landlords tend to want their houses back sooner or later, we got to live in different places around Murwillumbah, all of them beautiful and interesting — by craggy mountains or rolling hills, streams or the ocean, close into town or semi-isolated. We made many friends and saw them often. We participated in arts and literary events (even initiated some), in environmental movements and Reconciliation. We wrote books; he went to university; I did online Druidic and Wiccan studies. We held Reiki classes. We met Hare Krishna devotees and followers of Sai Baba. We had stalls for years at various Sunday markets. We learned Pranic Healing, Seichim, Thought Field Therapy, Theta Healing, Genome Healing, and many advanced versions of Reiki. We even learned Indian Head Massage. We did weekly Reiki treatments at a local youth centre. We acquired two kittens, who became our immediate family and are still here 15 years later.

And we wrote. Ours was the writer's life, times two.  He was a fiction writer and a journalist; I was, and am, a poet and a blogger. That was what our days were always most filled with.

Very gradually our activities became more and more limited due to ageing and his deteriorating health. That period had its compensations along with it's difficulties, as we grew even closer. But for the best part of our 20 years together we had a full, rich life. Our friend Dinah, in her speech on his 80th birthday, remarked how engaged with life he was.

So we did find, and create, the good life we came in search of. It was both peaceful and adventurous. The thing I need to make myself understand is that it's still there for me. I still live in this place. I still have my friends. Because I ended up being the driver, I gained the skills and confidence to travel to surrounding places to see friends or attend events. 

I do go out and about, as I couldn't when he was so ill. I do keep up with my friends, and make new ones. I am doing one Sunday market and seeing clients at home. I am training a new Reiki Master. Life goes on. I just have to learn to relish it more, as I used to. In some ways, nothing has changed; in another way everything has changed.

Meanwhile the medication is kicking in. My body starts to feel better.

I have been writing this bit by bit, over the hours. It is evening. I sit up in bed, where I am writing by now, propped on big pillows, and look around. How much I like my room! I notice myself thinking 'my'. It is largely the same as it was when it was ours, but there have been changes. The latest is bookshelves where his wheely walker used to stand, on his side of the bed, just inside the door. It was always a nice room, a cosy nest for us. Now I like it even better, as it becomes more streamlined, less cluttered — or at any rate the clutter more neatly and aesthetically arranged. It gives me pleasure to see my many books-still-waiting-to-be-read on shelves instead of piled higgledy-piggledy on tables. 

I let my mind wander over the various bedrooms we shared, as we moved about the Caldera, and also went travelling. I think of things I did to make them comfortable and beautiful. Good memories all. I come back to this one and see how well it suits me now.

Yes, it was a good life we found and created here. It still is. I just have to let it integrate with me again, or me with it. 

The Australian Opera's production of Carmen was recorded and is showing tomorrow afternoon at the local cinema. I'll be there.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

It's Been Almost a Year, and ...

Only this morning I fed the cats, then sat at the computer checking emails before breakfast, and after a while had the habitual thought from the back of my mind that I'd better see if it was time to do something for Andrew — give him insulin, get his breakfast, dole out medication.... Wait a minute — habitual? Hey, that was nearly a year ago! 

Well, my psychologist reminded me yesterday that a year is not really very long on this particular journey. 

It's good to be seeing her. I was telling her about 'a bad memory' of an altercation Andrew and I had in his last week at home, a product of his dementia and my exhaustion — after which we both cried and hugged, and reaffirmed our love for each other. 

'Was it only a bad memory?' my psychologist asked. For a minute I didn't get it. I looked at her blankly. Then I realised: 'No, it was a good memory too.' Now I can allow myself to dwell in the love we expressed, rather than the difficulty. 

We only came to live in this unit two years and nine months before he died, so it's full of memories of his final decline. He wasn't in perfect health when we moved here, and some of his physical ailments were giving more trouble than they had, but he was still full of life. Six months later he had a sudden collapse and went to hospital, and they didn't know if he'd recover. He was weak and frail when he came home, and that's when I raced out and got him a wheely walker. He recovered and didn't use it much for a while, but then things deteriorated further and further. So I tend to remember him shuffling on painful legs, staying in his dressing-gown some days, always having breakfast in bed...

He used to apologise for that. I finally convinced him that it was only fair, after him giving me breakfast in bed most mornings for the best part of 20 years!

It still feels surreal at times, not to have him around. 

I've always talked to the cats, but now I talk to them in new ways as well as the old. I find myself passing the same sort of little comments I'd once have made to Andrew. Nothing special, nothing earth-shattering, just remarks on what I'm doing or how I'm feeling. 

In the bathroom this morning, I moved a jewellery box back to its usual position, where I think it looks best — then suddenly said out loud, 'Oh shite, what on earth is the point?' I was hit by the realisation there's no-one but me to see or care. Yet, that IS the point: it's I who see, and do care. Andrew would have moved it for convenience, not for aesthetics. It's taking such a long time to grasp the concept of doing things just for me. (Even though for the most part I do keep up my standards, because my head tells me I must.)

I hear the new neighbour start up his motor bike and drive off. That's a big change! It used to be lovely Penny next door, in the other unit on this block: Penny who was so understanding about Andrew's illness and death, and my stress and grief. She wanted to move nearer town, and we're still in contact, but I selfishly wish she had stayed. The new guy seems OK — polite, pleasant, unintrusive — and that's all one can ask. But, as one of my friends pointed out, it's probably not a great idea to do any more skyclad rituals in my back yard!

My friend Mo is concerned about what I'll do on the death anniversary. She's ready to step in and help if I need. I don't at this point know what I want to do. Maybe stay home and write. I'll ask for guidance on that one.

For reasons both emotional and financial, my stepchildren are still undecided what to do about a memorial service for their father in Melbourne, where he used to live. Perhaps they will decide on a small family gathering, or perhaps a larger event close to the anniversary of his death. Meanwhile, with his old friends in mind, many of whom became my friends too, I want to get on with a project I've had in mind for months. I want to turn one of his old blogs, which are now under my management, into a memorial site. I want to get all the wonderful tributes that were posted on his Facebook page, and first of all print them out and stick them in the book which people wrote in at the memorial I had for him here. Then I want to type up the handwritten tributes from that book, and put the whole lot on his blog. It would be good to have that ready for the anniversary, and invite people to add anything else they might wish.

Meanwhile, there are things to enjoy about the solitary life. In his last months he didn't want me watching episodes of my guilty pleasure, 'True Blood' (sexy vampire show, if anyone doesn't know, with lots of explicit sex and violence). 'You don't understand,' he said, in some distress. 'I can't have that energy coming into the house. It's not good for me.' I expect he was right. But I think I can clear any bad effects for myself, and now I can watch it freely. Season 5 awaits right now. 

The cats and I have settled into new routines. Some clothes and some household appliances have worn out and been replaced. The rooms, particularly his old office, have been more or less transformed. I have made new friends who never met Andrew. The GP who looked after us so well has moved, and I have a new doctor who didn't see me through all that. The vines with orange flowers have grown halfway along the side fence, where I've been training them. I have begun writing my memoirs — or perhaps it will be a full-scale autobiography. 

'Change is the only constant.'

Monday, August 5, 2013

Difficult Decisions

My cat, Freya, is strongly suspected of having bladder cancer. Further tests, which would be costly, would tell us which kind, and that in turn would tell us whether surgery might help or would be useless. It's possible the tests would indicate instead that there's nothing to worry about — but that's highly unlikely.

Freya is 15, and at present appears well and happy despite the bleeding from her bladder. The blood was orange one morning, bright red the next, dark red the next, and today is not there at all, and there was none in the urine sample the vet took this morning. So apparently an area bled for a while and has now stopped.

My concern is her quality of life. So far, that seems excellent. I have decided to do nothing further at this stage, apart from keeping a close eye on her. If she were a young cat, I would probably have decided differently, but at her age I can't see much point in subjecting her to invasive surgery, when even that might reveal the cancer to be inoperable.

As I see her all the time, if her quality of life markedly deteriorates she'll be in discomfort only a few hours. I wouldn't let it continue. Meanwhile she can enjoy her life as long as possible ... as long as it remains enjoyable.

It's very distressing, but after all I'm no stranger to caring for an elderly loved one in declining health.

What to watch out for? Leakage from the bladder, frequent urination, and 'vocalising', suggested the vet. She's always been a very vocal cat, so it could be hard to tell if that's any more so than usual. I guess I'll just pay attention. 

'Give her lots of cuddles,' said the vet. Well, that'll be nothing new.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Is My Girl Leaving Me Soon?

My little furry girl, that is: my cat, Freya. She seems well enough in most respects, but she's pissing blood.

Yesterday I took her and her brother, Levi, to the vet. I didn't know which one had, as I thought, bloody faeces. After tests, the vet didn't know for sure either, but thought probably Levi. She recommended a white diet (chicken) for both for a few days, and wormed them in case it was due to intestinal parasites. 

But today I saw Freya use her litter tray and now know for certain that it's her, and that the blood is in her urine.

Both were diagnosed, maybe three years ago, with incipient kidney disease and put on a special diet. They've done well until now, but this is not a good sign! 

The vet is shut until Monday. I could take her all the way to the Cabarita vet tomorrow — indeed, could have done so today — but why subject her to such a long trip, when she hates car travel? I don't think it's the same sort of emergency as if she'd had a tick bite or something. She is full of energy, shows no sign of pain, and appears quite happy. I think she must be dying, and I don't know how long that is likely to take, but I don't think she will go tomorrow. 

So I'll phone up on Monday and take it from there. Meanwhile I am trying to harden myself to the thought of losing her. Once again, as with my husband, it's about quality of life. I'll have to wait and see what the vet says, but I certainly don't want to prolong her life beyond the point where she can be both comfortable and independent. She's a very independent little soul!

In one month it will be a year since Andrew died. As I have repeatedly said, the cats have helped to keep me functioning and grounded since then. I know they are elderly and have health problems, and can't go on forever, but I had hoped for longer — just as I did with him. With our grown-up kids and our grandchildren all living far away, those cats have been our family. (Freya is also my 'familiar', the one who lends her presence and energy to any sacred or healing work. When I held meditations, she would sit in a chair and join the circle. When I gave a Reiki treatment, she would come and lie alongside the client. And so on.) It will be a blow to lose her.

I am well aware of animal ghosts, and animal reincarnation too, but there is no substitute for a physical presence. However, it is good to know that physical death is not the end.

A few days ago my friend Heather, who is very psychic, came and had a cuppa with me. After a while she said, 'Andrew's around. I just saw him standing at the end of the passage there and looking into this room, as if he might often have done that.' She had not visited this house previously, but of course she was right. He would come from either the bedroom or his office to do so.

In the few days before that, I had felt as if he was living here again. Instead of this thought making me cry as soon as I realised it was not so, I stayed happy. I didn't ever feel, in those few days, that it was not so, no matter what my head was telling me. When Heather saw him, that was the icing on the cake, the verification.  

Now I am wondering if he came back to remind me that there is after-life, in preparation for Freya's departure. In the past, when someone leaves, I have had this sort of confirmation before the event.

Well, whatever happens, he will be glad to spend time with the cats and they with him. And I guess I'll still have my family around me, in one form or another. Funny how, just now, that doesn't stop the tears.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I'm Getting Into 'This Time Last Year' Territory

The anniversary of his death (September 3rd) approaches, and this time last year he was about to enter his final decline, although we didn't know that yet. 

I have been reading my personal journals from that period, from some weeks before the present date, up until his death. Time is kind — I had begun to forget how intensely traumatic that time was for both of us.

This week last year, however, was good, and the one before it too. He was in respite care at Heritage Lodge, enjoying it. He felt a little as if he was in a luxury resort. He read, he talked to people, he gave Reiki to one of the patients and to one of the nurses ... and I visited often, had lunch with him, took him out to appointments, watched TV with him. I enjoyed my time to myself also, between visits. My son David visited on his last weekend in there. It was ideal, though not originally planned that way, as David of course stayed with me and we had a good chance for a catch-up without my attention being on caring for Andrew. We went and took him out to lunch one Sunday (next Sunday, this time last year) and to the Art Gallery. 

It was altogether a nice time, that fortnight, and it was nice for both of us when he returned home, too. We were happy.

It was the times before and after that which were traumatic. I had forgotten to some extent, for instance, just what excruciating pain he was in for so much of the time — so much so that when he finally lost the use of his legs, I almost felt relief because he also became free of pain. 

I had also forgotten some details of how very difficult it was, dealing with his increasing confusion. Everything was so unexpected, so unpredictable. It was scary. At night he became a different person. I had to play it by ear, go along with it as much as possible, and also keep him safe.

Well, it's all over now, but re-reading what I wrote makes it clear to me again that neither of us could have gone on.