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.




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.

Towards the end of days


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)

A good death

As much as all of us crave and pursue a ‘good life’, we equally fear a ‘bad death’. What defines a ‘bad death’ is individual as we are. For some that is a sudden death that interrupts the living of a normal life through illness, accident or misadventure.  Any violent wrenching from the visceral experience of living, with final moments of great pain and fear is to be avoided. For others it is dying alone, without a loved one to mark the passing from body to spirit or to shed tears of loss.

Others decide to take their own lives,  maybe in a depressive state, worn thin by ongoing pain and anguish or as a way to control the ‘final’ of all actions. A death of a baby, child or young adult, seems cruelly unjust. A poor hand indeed to be dealt.

Former editor of the British Medical Journal, Richard Smith declared recently, rather boldly that ‘cancer was the best way to die’. His comments have sparked a storm of outrage from families of sufferers, who have labelled him, ‘insensitive’ and from Cancer Research UK who described him as ‘nihilistic’, giving scant regard for young people who lives were cut short.

Smith claimed that billions of dollars was wasted in trying to cure the disease, as it was clearly the best way for an ageing population to die. He argued that a ‘good death’ was one that was protracted which allows time for reflection, goodbyes and the celebration of all that is loved, before the light is extinguished. The pain of dying could be made bearable through ‘love, morphine and whiskey’, he added.

He is right to a degree of course, but he is also foolish.  Anyone who makes such comments who does not have cancer, or has not experienced cancer, remains a spectator and not a participant. If a person older than 50 makes this statement, then they have had the privilege of living 50 glorious year of life. It is a comment blighted by romanticism and ignorance. To write about cancer, or to watch someone die of cancer, it not the same has having experienced the reality of cancer, and all of the emotions, fears, anxiety and anger that comes with the diagnosis.

I commend his comment about staying away from ‘overambitious oncologists’, as I too believe that without the capability of the adrenal and immune system, death arrives earlier than necessary. There is a great deal of enthusiastic insensitivity and dissociative behaviour in the medical industry. Smith stopped short of connecting Big Pharma to the equation, but perhaps the British Medical Journal receives support from such sources?

I am fortunate to have love, and when the time comes no hesitation in taking a ride on the silver horse of morphine. I have been in the past a lover of fine whiskey, a habit ceased in the pursuit of good health, which ironically renewed will be a welcomed tool in the event of my death.  I would however prefer to live a long life, with good health and slip quietly into death in the state of perpetual sleep.








In honour of Rachael

Why is it, that the simple truth is the most difficult to accept? Actor, William McInnes recently reflected upon the journey that we all must face, our mortality. He described the grace and courage that his wife, displayed during her stages of dying. He reflected that medals should be given for such displays of human excellence. These are, in general, reserved for acts of heroism in war and on the sports field. It is curious what virtues our society rewards and how unprepared for death we often are. We do not engage in such discourse, for fear of being labelled morbid, odd or negative.

It is far too easy to fall into a state of complacency as the roller-coaster of cancer treatment begins to slow. After the initial healing from surgical intervention occurs, and the heavy grey days of nausea, nerve pain, mouth ulcers and exhaustion during chemotherapy cycles fade and fatigue from weeks of radiation eases, a new phase of post treatment begins or so I am told. I am yet to complete my six weeks of daily radiation treatment, however I have gratefully experienced the lull between raging storms over the past 8 months.

I am not alone in wanting to return to the halcyon days of ‘pre-diagnosis’, before cancer became a word used regularly in my conversations. Often I awake stunned that I have had cancer. It still seems surreal, despite the evidence of trauma and pain. My face is now, one of the faces of cancer. There is no profound reason why I should not be. There are many others who have cried indignantly when diagnosed, living poster lives of healthy, fit people. Cancer is far more complex than the surface read.

I simply had not scripted a life threatening illness into my journey. Who does? Rachael didn’t either. At 41 with 2 children under 10, a husband and family that loved her and a career as a Federal Government public servant, Rachael was mostly content. No different than most of us. That was until she found a lump in her breast. Rachael had a little over two years to live, dying on the 22nd August 2012, taken too early at 43.

I had lost contact with Rachael, due to my relocation back to the West in late 2010. The last time I saw Rachael was at a luncheon in her honour. She was mid-cycle in her chemotherapy rounds, and wore a brave face generously, to make it less confronting for the rest of her work colleagues. A face that I now recognise as reflective of my own. I decided, post my diagnosis and majority of treatment to search Facebook for her. I found many others including a recognisable Australian actress, who borne her name, but not the Rachael that I had worked alongside. A simple Google search lead me to the Canberra Times obituaries.

Suddenly the possibility of my death became ‘real’ again and the bubble of ‘complacency’ burst. The illusion is that we all live with the presence of death in every second of life. Those of us who have had cancer are more acutely aware of what is at stake. We are encouraged by spiritual gurus, to live in the now, adopt a state of mindfulness and balance work and life. I’m still working on the first one and frankly I struggle with it, as I am ricocheted from memory to memory. Ironically, I have less problem with a fantasised future.

Rachael is the first woman that I have personally known to die from breast cancer. All the other women that I know that have had breast cancer, are thankfully still living. We can thank the Australian Government for the early intervention, screening and monitoring service that we can access, though free access for women under 40 and over 65 is still a barrier. Most of these women I know, have passed the 5 year mark, some with reoccurrences, though the majority are living the new ‘normal’. I am shattered that Rachael will never experience the milestones with her children that I have with my beloved sons, and that they in turn have lost her generous and gentle love.

It is for Rachael, as well as myself, that I have recommitted myself to the lifestyle changes that I must adopt to secure the best chance for my survival. Words like rare, aggressive, and difficult to treat, haunt me. I hang onto descriptors like clear margins, clean pathology and early diagnosis. It is not the wealthy Angelina Jolie, whose preemptive mastectomies performed by a top plastic surgeon who inspires me. When I waver, I think of Rachael. I have found the secret to happiness, it is being healthy and loved. Thankfully I am presently both.