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Busted suitcase

There is certain stupidity in expecting of another, that which they are unable to give.

There is a greater idiocy in waiting for this circumstance to change.

Enlightenment has its own agenda. It visits sometimes, sometimes not at all, other times fleetingly. The footprint remains or is washed away.

Each day is silenced by night, yet another awaits in the gloom to shine anew.

I am processing loss. It is not only the loss of my mother, or the loss of my father. Both are now, tucked quietly into the earth. One long settled, the other freshly sown.

It is not only the loss of my innocence, my youth, my health and wellbeing, the loss of career aspirations or the loss of friendships.

This lump of solid sorrow, is the other half, of what my journey has given me. I understand the equation of balance.

Patched together, tucked beneath, I am wrapped in a quilt of loss.

I am eager for isolation, quarantined from the desire of others to collapse my loss in useless rehearsed rhetoric.

For I am not afraid to feel. I will not dishonor those for whom I truly mourn.

I am currently indisposed, to those who display cowardice, an incapacity to feel.

It is just loss in another form.

My suitcase is busted, I simply can’t carry anymore.

 

 

A Tisket, A Tasket…. A Wicker Casket


My father rather loved the humble ‘basket’.

During his life, the wicker basket played numerous invaluable roles in history.  Across England, factories used baskets for the packing and delivery of a range of goods.  Many a wicker basket could be found buckled by leather straps to the handle bars of a pushbike.

During WWII thousands of baskets were used for the transportation of messenger pigeons. Baskets were used to house shell cases. Airborne pannier baskets dropped supplies of ammunition and food to the troops.

Wicker furniture, prominent in the Victorian era, has endured numerous reincarnations over the years, featuring today, on many Australian verandahs in the original and a plastic version.

The art of weaving fibrous materials into a pliable shapes feature throughout human civilisation and across many cultures. Vines such as the kudzu vine, bittersweet, grapevine, honeysuckle, wisteria and smokevine make good basket weaving materials.

Baskets created from perishable materials, rarely survive the ravages of time. The oldest examples of baskets have been carbon dated back to between 10,000 and 12,000 years old.

While not exactly sent off down the river Nile, like Moses, my father was laid to rest in a woven casket. He would have wholeheartedly approved being the environmentalist that he was.

This was truly fitting for a man who would have said, ‘No need for a fuss, you know I’m no longer here. I’ve gone to meet my maker’.

Staying top of mind

During the past few days, I have been working through the list of numbers that Dad had conveniently pasted to a piece of recycled picture mounting board.   All except one call, have solicited receptive responses.

On that occasion, I definitely experienced a phone call with someone who is experiencing decline in their mental acuity.  It was a Monty Pythonesque type of conversation where in the end, you wish nothing but to politely repeatedly hit yourself in the head for going where no sane person would tread. Please accept my apologies for my lapse in compassion.

All the other responses have been positive.

Reg has been described as a true scholar, a gentleman, an artist and a poet.

People have shared their memories of my parents kindness, my father’s intelligence, his artistic ability and his willingness to teach others the skill of watercolour painting.

No-one has said that they don’t have any of his works. Quite the opposite in fact. They have told me, how many and of what.

Dad would say, ‘What is the point of art, if it is not shared?’

He used to sell his work at a price point that he believed that all could afford. This did not always sit well with my mother, who counted on income to purchase large items, such as a new sofa.  She would frown and mumble under her breath, ‘Oh Reg you are no businessman, there goes the new sofa!’.

He once had a commission for a work of art from a man that had been involved in an accident, leaving him a paraplegic. It was a large commission in oils. A rural scene and was about 2 metres in length and a 1.5 metres in width. He came weekly over a period of months,  to see it evolve. Dad would lay down wide rails so he could wheel himself into the studio.
Mum would provide a range of baked goods that were frankly, ‘top notch’. In the end, after several months, Dad decided not to sell it to the man, but simply gave it to him. Mum was furious.

His reasoning was that the conversation and companionship that he experienced were of greater value than his work.  I’d argue that today, this work would be worth a small fortune.

I will add ‘charming’ to the list of descriptors, for he was certianly that.  Not in the awkward greasy tabloid inappropriate way.

No, he was 100% old school . A gentleman that could delight you with a fathomless depth of general knowledge.

He quite liked to re-tell stories of ‘human folly’.  He laughed openly, but not in a malicious way.

He liked to ‘hold court’, and in fact he was rather skilled at it. He did this until recently with the journalists from the Launceston Examiner newspaper at the 125th anniversary of the Launceston Art Society. He was a master at strategic positioning.

I have no doubt that I garnered some of my skills by observation.

Fifty shades of emotion

I heard myself speak one of the saddest sentences. ‘My Dad died today’.  For me, the world shifted a little more to the left of centre.

These four little words, punched holes into the psyches of everyone who heard me speak them.

To those that know me, words of comfort, reassurance and love were given generously.

From strangers, condolences, mostly genuine, reflecting their own loss or fear of such.

This momentous personal event, triggered new experiences, new conversations and new decisions.

Some quite difficult indeed. Dying is an expensive business, fraught with confrontation.

There is much to do, when someone dies. These necessary actions provided a welcome place to shelter from the relentless tide of deep sadness.

I have learned that Centrelink doesn’t need proof of death to cancel an aged care pension.

I was the nominee for my father, however I could have been acting out of spite, and no one would have been the wiser. The Australian Government is keen to remove anyone off the register of social need.

I am yet to discover what the British Government requires in terms of proof. My father received a small pension, on a quarterly basis.

I have also learned that ‘Power of Attorney’ is meaningless once someone dies. Access to my father’s bank account which I have been managing for 14 years, is no longer available.

I must request an interview, provide a death certificate and then the bank will arrange payment of funeral expenses and disperse the remaining funds as per the instructions of the executor of the will.

I understand the legal implications, however if you want to pay nursing care expenses, in a timely manner, you have to circumvent the system by setting future payments in place. That is before you inform the bank that your loved one has died.

As if you need this in the midst of deciding which casket or urn to select that best reflects the person that you loved, who you will never speak to again.

Choices regarding a minister, a private or public service, which music, how the deceased will be dressed, what kind of flowers, what printed matter and how many copies, what food and who will deliver the eulogy, are required to be made as soon as possible.

This is further more compounded for me, by the Easter holiday period, limited business hours, and travelling interstate and all that entails, to finalise my Dad’s earthly life.

In my case, it is I who is making all the decisions and it is I that will seal the event  with words of meaning.

Then there is the matter of disposal of the remaining items of clothing, books and memorabilia. Most of this has been done in stages over the past three years. There are benefits to being a pragmatist.

I am not alone in having family that lives at distance. These are complicated times that we live in.

It is as though I have found myself in waist deep water. I search for the shallows, a rock to momentarily perch before the next current sweeps across knocking me back into the river of tears of my own making.

Perhaps I will have wrung out enough grief to remain dry to deliver the eulogy at our family’s private funeral.

I am grateful to my foresight in gathering family history in preparation. Trying to recall my parents wedding date in the flux of great emotional upheaval would have found me looking at the river from beneath the surface.

The slow burn of destruction

While there are no longer any doubts that domestic violence is truly ‘in play’ when physical evidence is apparent, many of us, still maintain ‘false truths’ about the breadth and depth of this type of violence.

There is a deep sadness and an overwhelming fear, that all women harbour, when confronted with a ‘sister’ who is ‘sporting’ a black eye, split lips or finger bruises on her arms.

Perhaps our language is to blame, for this is no ‘sport’.

Maybe like myself, you have witnessed domestic violence and not intervened. Walking in similar shoes, can leave you too traumatised to act for another.

With the advent of the internet, information can be sourced so easily. There are plenty of resources and support services to assist those that feel that their lives are being controlled by the intervention of another.

If you think that you maybe at risk, you can test yourself for ‘early signs’ of domestic violence here:

http://www.dvrcv.org.au/knowledge-centre/quizzes/quiz-warning-signs

The violence of denigration is a too subtle weapon. Sometimes, there is no ‘verbal judo’, there is just a one sided attack.

Recently returning from interstate travel, a young urban couple with their two small sons, waited in the queue, in front of Greg and I. There was a long delay. Seriously, it would have tested the patience of Job.

I thought it curious, that these young boys looked only to their father, for reassuring approval when testing boundaries. A stern look was all it took for them to immediately cease what they were doing and wait quietly.  Later on after waiting in line became too torturous, the boys sought comfort from their father directly, avoiding their mother.

She remained withdrawn and quiet. She kept eye contact with the boys and would smile and occasionally when he wasn’t looking, wink. The young couple appeared to be quite fit and healthy, although she was noticeably thin. I noted that when she did respond to her children, she did so in a quiet calm voice,  in order not to gain any attention from him.

On the way to the plane, she accidentally dropped the tickets. It was then that he launched, what could only be described as a subtle but persistent verbal attack.

He mocked her capability to hold onto the tickets.  Reminding her that they would need them to board the plane. He asked her ‘if he needed to hold the tickets for her’. He said, that she was clearly incapable. His tone was not one of loving concern.

He spoke to her like she was a toddler. He framed his words slowly. He edged them with sarcasm.  He persisted, mocking and belittling her.

For a brief moment, she told him to ‘shut up’ in a quiet voice. Perhaps she felt protected by the crowd of people around her?  Maybe she was close to cracking?

If I pointed out this young Caucasian couple, with their expensive travel luggage and well dressed children,  you would have thought it unlikely. But all the signs were there.

I looked at this woman. She wore beige pants and beige shirt, no make-up, no jewellery except her wedding ring. The only thing that she appeared to be in control of was her weight. Her bones screamed that on this account, she was victorious.

Twisted Twine – Part Two

I believe that we can never truly appreciate the depth of the impact that we have on each other.  Our interactions can leave the softest of footprints and sometimes the deepest of wounds. As humans, our lives are inextricably interwoven.

I like to think of everyone, as coloured twine. The length of the twine determined by the days of our individual living experience.

A person’s twine, shifts and changes in texture and strength, varying between vibrant and strong and frayed and bleached in colour.  It can be matted with extraneous clutter, weak at points, even diminished to a single strand, only to become robust again, a distance further and so it goes.

This twine is not severed with the umbilical cord, instead it is set free, to roll forwards.

Science would describe the life force, as atoms of energy attracting and repelling, creating ‘pure light’, and at our death, returning to join the ‘great universal matter’, only to be recycled once again.

At this point, our beliefs may indeed, dictate the direction of those released atoms and the reincarnated recycling.

My faith promises me, that my father’s atoms, are heading straight to join the ‘atoms formally known as Mary’,  his beloved wife and best friend.

My father’s twine has been woven though the lives of others,  over the course of 101 years.  His kindness and his generosity has enabled him to be deeply loved by many.

Some of these people, as his only daughter, I will never know. There are many who say that they ‘love him’.  He has been blessed by many of these relationships, and burdened by several others.

I have always respected an individual’s right  to choose whom they will love. I have shared this old school gentleman, my father,  with my beloved family and friends, because his intelligence and wisdom governed by his deep faith, has been far too bright an energy to selfishly trap in a box of neediness. He has taught me well how to ‘pay it forward’.

Now in the final weeks of his life, a woman has emerged claiming to be a ‘surrogate daughter’.  There are no dirty secrets. No trysts, no cheap liaisons. No front page news.

Their friendship is not one that I recall being mentioned in the weekly conversations that I have had with my father or have been made mention in any of the hundred of letters exchanged between my father and I.

We have through our life choices and through circumstances,  lived in different states of Australia.  This has not prevented us maintaining a strong loving relationship. The art of letter writing is something we both have embraced.

I have no real knowledge of who she is, and who she has been to him since the death of my mother in 2003. I suspect that she is like many people, been attracted by his light.

This woman, whom my father has struck up some ‘undefined friendship’ , unbeknown to him,  has claimed him, as her ‘surrogate father’. A woman whose psyche, I suspect,  has been disrupted by grief of the loss of her own parents (this she divulged to me ), and the suicide of her partner (third party report, that she had told another aged care resident).

This is also a woman who does not understand boundaries. In the past week, after a claimed absence of three years, she gained access to my father, undertook personal tasks she insisted were directed by him, accessed his wallet, his address book, opened his mail and read my private correspondence.

She introduced herself as his ‘surrogate daughter’, to me, when she proclaimed that I could ‘speak to him, through her’.

I did not hesitate to correct her regarding her role, to question her presence and request of the nursing staff that she was not allowed to gain access.  She did however return twice more, throughout the week and gained entry once.

Her ‘claimed need’ was only to ‘be there and to hold his hand’.

Her needs, it seems, outweighed my father’s right for peace and my need to keep my stress levels down. It is challenging to have your aged loved ones living at distance. It is not always practical or possible to be able to sit with them over the many weeks or months, while the twine slowly rolls to an end.

She did not recognise or adhere to any protocols, seek permission, respect family wishes or interact with professional staff regarding my father’s current medical state.  Her presence included harassment of myself and the staff. The police have been informed and a standing order is in place.

It is questionable, that this woman’s development of several new relationships with two other elderly people at the same residential facility,  (who are on the continuum of dementia), can be construed as simply charitable. Their families can decide if they want her to access their loved ones.

I am clear about who has access to an 101 year old man, who has diminished cognitive capability, is physically weak, and whose twine is slowly coming to an end. It isn’t someone who doesn’t understand ‘ethical boundaries’ or skilled in caring for the highly vulnerable.

It isn’t only death, that finally separates us from the living. It is our own selfishness and a twine knotted tight,  tangled with grief and loss, weakened by self interest and deep fear of loneliness.

Embracing the state of being uncomfortable – part one

I am committed to ‘doing the work’. Sometimes this means a metaphorical barefoot stroll on manicured lawn, other times I am body slammed against the sheer cliff face of my own stubbornness.

The roundabout of unresolved anger and disappointment willingly revisited is like agreeing to a daily paint ball session, blindfolded while wearing a mankini. Seriously, would you?

But we do. Perhaps we are addicted to the emotional trauma? Is feeling angry preferable to feeling nothing at all?

There is a desire for karma to prevail, for balance to be restored and for those that treat others with contempt, to be held to account.

Embracing the state of being uncomfortable, is accepting that life is not fair and that justice may not be realised.

But when that injustice is targeted towards your elderly father, for me, a brand new kind of anger recently emerged.

 

Towards the end of days

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My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night; but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — it gives a lovely light! – Edna St Vincent Millay

My father’s candle has been alight for many years. It is expected that soon, there will be no wax left to burn.  Is it, as the night, follows the day.

But I am in not in the wings for this performance. I am like others, living at distance from their ageing parents. I call and talk to care staff often, listening for hope that my father will rally and recover his will to rage on into the grainy dawn.

At 101 years of age, his protest is a quiet, polite one…simply refusing to eat much… to walk unaided….to talk on the telephone.

Tell my daughter, I am as fit as a fiddle’, he said.  He is not.

Truly, there is nothing that has been left unsaid….I love him and he ‘loves me more than dearly’.

We are not into protracted goodbyes, and still here we are..in one.

I am managing it from a distance and it is not easy. It is not about control, it is about ensuring that he is treated with respect. We place such faith in carers to do so and for this we pay so little.

How did we get it so wrong? Our teachers, nurses, emergency services, armed forces and carers are paid less than they deserve. What did the recently resigned Australia Post CEO, Ahmed Fahour do to justify his 5.6 million salary?  Sounds like the price for a commercial hit man’s wage to slash jobs, reduce services and implement software to replace human labour.

My once active father is now bed bound. Hoisted and cradled in a sling, like a slightly bruised overripe banana in a hammock.His humour has not quite dissipated, although the waves of pain medication, has dulled the flame.

Talking with his carer Andrew today, we laughed about my father’s idiosyncratic ways.  I asked if he had a call button close by.

‘Oh he now knows how to use that’, he laughed. ‘Never heard a peep out of him for years, so independent, now he calls me whenever he needs me’. He calls it, ‘ The Communicator’.

On the rare occasion, that he has sat in his chair, he has asked for the ‘slippers with the zippers’, in a singsong voice, amused by the rhyme.

Andrew was able to mimic him, like many of us can. We do it out of respect for him, and because of his distinct use of language and his Cornish accent.

He does not have Alzheimers, or dementia, though he is forgetful. In my crowd of menopausal and post menopausal women that is a given.

My father, Reg and I have found ways to bridge the distance over the past fourteen years, since his beloved wife, Molly, my kind mother passed over. I have travelled to Tasmania, to many times to keep mentioning. We talked on the phone each week and wrote a flood of letters.

I have kept his ‘pearls of wisdom’.  One year I constructed a book of his poetry with accompanying images and presented it to him.

A writer or perpetual ‘communicator’, lives to be published, self or otherwise. He offered me, his second edition, which I kindly refused on the last visit.

He is no Wordsworth. He has not been a lover of great narrative fiction, preferring autobiographies of war heroes and the occasional politician.

His is no Edna St Vincent Millay or  e.e. cummings, my favourite two poets, but his poetry reflects his love of nature and the need to preserve the environment. ‘Oh wondrous Mother Nature..’

I confess in my twenties I stole, ‘The Collected Works of e.e.cummings’.  There are worst things to do.

The poet’s defiance of using lower case resonated with my twenty something, middle-class socialist rhetoric of ‘rebellion’ and ‘free education’, so I released it from the university.

I didn’t factor in that a ‘future me’, might also enjoy reading it. I returned it over 10 years later and paid a whopping fine.  My parents  had royally screwed with my consciousness, early in my life.

When that dreaded phone call comes, and I race to see him for the last time, I will be deeply in grief.  There is no better words, in my opinion,  than these from e.e.cummings to describe the power of love.

 

 

 

 

 

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
I fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Clearing the road on the way to clarity

Four months or so, have passed since I committed to declutter. I have been chipping away at drawers, piles of paper, cupboards and shelves.  There is a renewed feeling that the battle waged is being won incrementally.

Before you start envisaging me, trapped in a room between towers of newspapers, empty food containers and a collection of memorabilia of a life lived without restraint, I don’t own that much.

I have, I admit only tiptoed around my bookshelves. A new shelf of books for ‘library loan’ to close friends is now available. Here collected are great examples of storytelling, escapism and hope.

I have also shredded a lot of paper.  I have learned that lining the chicken coop is problematic. It only takes one enthusiastic fowl, or a ill-timed gust of wind for snippets of useless information to fly into the air.  Like we aren’t already waist deep in information?

While I do save to the ‘Cloud’, let’s get real,  if your vocation is education or training, you may as well roll up the recycle bin to your front door and shovel it in! Staying current is an educator’s nightmare.

I have relinquished the salad spinner. I implore you, please do not under any misguided need to inform me of my error, now offer me reasons that I should have kept it! It has taken years to let it go!

I have also noted some odd disturbing idiosyncratic behaviours.

As a researcher and one plagued with the voices of my pro-green parents, ‘Kumbayaing’ in my ears, I have over the years, acquired a selection of approved water bottles. No bisphenol.A’s for me!

To those of you, who missed that lesson – BPA or bisphenol.A is an industrial chemical used to make polycarbonate plastics. BPA is believed to ‘leech’ into the fluids kept in containers made with the chemical, especially when heated. No I’m not guzzling hot water, but many of the bottles of water are stored in warehouses for long periods and even in the sun.

It is with some irony that I admit to struggling with dehydration for years and have resoundingly underestimated the impact of it. I have, like millions of others, instead of drinking water, substituted ‘fluids’ for….tea, coffee, alcohol and the occasional soft drink.

Over the past three months, I have embraced a clear water container,  no BPA’s of course.

I throughly enjoy watching litre after litre of water disappear. Seriously….how did I miss that?

Last week a GP, advised me to ‘keep up the fluids’.   My advice – keep it simple – replace the word ‘fluids’ with WATER!

I think that nutritionist and celebrity chef,  Zoe Bingley-Pullen would agree. I have already learned how to boost my metabolism through water consumption, in the first week of her ‘Falling In Love with Food’ program.

See more here:http://www.fallinginlovewithfood.com

I look forward to more ‘sage’ advice over the next seven weeks.

Clearing the clutter, has challenged the ‘ghosts of my childhood’, leaving me a little rattled.

From my collection of stationery, it appears I have a deep affection for the stuff. I have collected a ‘shipload’ of it. This is despite sharing my addiction with children from third world countries.

Sure I could argue, it is an educator’s tool…blah….blah….blah….and if you work for government as an executive, you’ll naturally end up with stationery….well you do…..right?

If I unpack this conundrum a little more, and take this frayed piece of string and rewind it through my life, I would find myself at any early age, watching my father guard his art materials as if there were jewels cat-burgled from the Louvre.

There is also the case of the ‘recurring missing pen’….

Child (me) has new pens – fine-nibbed and expensive

One parent has undiagnosed stationery addiction

Child (me again) leaves the room…….

You get the rest…….it ends in denial and tears…..

Parent without addiction (Mum) retrieves pen…

REPEAT

Is it any wonder that I have anxiety around knowing where my pencil case is?

Saying this, it hasn’t prevented me from stamping my own brand of genetic madness, which I like to call ’empathy based parenting’ onto the psyche of my sons.

I raised my two sons mostly singlehandedly, though I had a small community of wonderful friends that assisted at times.  When I think back to that time, I was like an hamster on steroids, trying to reach the end of the wheel. I worked hard for every cent, with little regular maintenance, running a personal development program for children and working in after school care programs.

This did not prevent me from losing the plot, to what is referred to as the afternoon, that ‘Mum stole our bikes’.

I had bought the boys each a new shiny bike for their birthdays (a month apart). The boys had left them abandoned at the front of friend’s house on the street where we lived. They probably just lost track of time but when I saw the two bikes forlornly dumped on the grass, I spun out of my ‘wheel’ and out of control.

They returned home, mildly hysterical, weeping, shoulders hunched.  I  listened with mock concern, as they tried to explain the ‘terrible thing that happened, that wasn’t their fault’.

Hmmmm…….

Did that ever happen again? No! Are they avid bike riders?

No… probably too traumatised….

Is this admission of less than perfect parenting, a form of clearing the clutter?

If so, I a feel a tad lighter….