Saturday, 24 May 2014

A short story - 'My Mother Always Said . . .'

“My Mother Always Said . . . .”

We followed the hearse along the main street of the small country town. I sat in the back, finally able to cry. Old men stopped outside the grocery store, faced the funeral procession, hats held to their chest. Men I didn’t know, men Dad did not know. A tradition of yesteryear, a gesture of respect to a stranger no longer living, on his final earth-bound trip. To the graveyard.

I had asked the difficult questions a couple of years ago. Dad believed that religion was a lot of hogwash, so I wasn’t surprised when he said he wanted the Salvos to bury him. “No church. Put me in the cemetery on the hill. No fuss,” Dad answered, always a man of very few words.

Dad arrived earlier than we had expected. It was kind of nice having him watch over us as my sister and I decorated the hall with sprigs of cumquat from Mum’s garden. Comforting, yet sad. Sort of unreal. How could my father be dead? Was he really in that shiny coffin, wearing the pale blue shirt that Mum had made for him so many years ago? How had I reached this stage in my life? Where had the years gone? Poor Dad, his life had been long, but empty. Devoid of depth, 87 years and he missed the point of life. But what would I know? I was over 50 when I broke free from a similar warped sense of denial.

An oak casket. “As plain as possible, please” my sister and I said in unison. Native flowers, no hymns, nothing religious. 40 chairs would be ample. We agreed on every detail organising Dad’s funeral. We worked well together, re-establishing a closeness that had somehow slipped away over the years. A wonderful re-connection; an opportunity provided by Dad. I chatted to Dad as I hid vases of dusty silk flowers in cupboards, replacing them with potted native plants that would later be part of my garden. A different look, lovely, but not fancy. Masculine, but with a softness that was appropriate. The quiet time with Dad was healing.

Dad’s 11 grandchildren attended his funeral. It was the first time they had all been together, and I hoped Dad’s spirit might be smiling on the family gathering. Pity though, that my father rarely appreciated the company of his grandchildren. He was anti-social, showing little interest in those around him, never forming friendships, avoiding relationships. Most of the grandchildren were there because they wanted to catch up with each other, and it was a happy occasion for them before and after the formalities. I’m sure Dad would have approved of all the proceedings.

Mum was more than a decade younger than her husband, took good care of herself, and had made marvellous plans for her widowed old age. Her dreams were simple: spend quality time with her family, learn new things, make friends, take a bus trip or a long walk on the beach. “Maybe I could learn to use a computer,” Mum said with excitement. “Do you think I could?” Her eyes would light up when she dreamed her dreams out loud. Dad was not a dreamer, and Mum wasn’t strong enough to fight for her dreams. “Yes, when Dad’s gone, I’ll get a computer and join a class,” said Mum in a wistful tone. “Mum, you don’t have to wait till Dad’s dead to learn to use a computer, it’s not a crime,” I answered, validating her dreams. But we both knew she did not have the courage to disobey her husband.

“I’ll hop on a bus and visit everyone,” Mum told me in privacy and confidence. “When Dad’s not here to complain, I can stay as long as I like,” she continued with mounting enthusiasm. Mum was sure her youthfulness would outlive her husband’s years of self-neglect. “I’ll get to know my great-grandkids, take long leisurely shopping trips, sit in the garden till well past tea time. I’ll even buy take-away,” she said, sounding just like a child talking about Christmas. “Dad never lets me buy take-away. I’m tired of cooking every night, with no appreciation.” Mum’s voice trailed, and she fell quiet. We retreated indoors to prepare the evening meal.

“An adventurous bus trip. When Dad’s gone I’ll go somewhere really interesting, like the desert,” Mum confided in me. “I’ll still be fit enough to go camping. You know those camping bus trips? That’s what I’ll do. I’ll camp in the desert, safe with other people, make friends, see the wildlife, sleep under the stars,” Mum dreamed out loud again. I tried to convince her to ignore Dad’s selfish rants, and to go off and take a bus trip, but Mum’s fear of my father’s angry tirades ran too deep.

With her two daughters holding her hands, Mum coped well at the funeral. Six tall young men lifted their grandfather’s coffin. Strangers. Mum followed, frightened eyes, slumped shoulders. Glancing sideways from her wheelchair, Mum’s blank face saddened everyone infinitely more than the sight of the slow-moving coffin. She ate a sandwich amongst loving strangers, sustenance for the arduous trip back to the institution that was home; her only bus trip as a single woman.

By Gaye Drady. The CWA (Country Women's Association) encourages members to further their creative and cultural skills by entering the CWA competitions each year. Their short story competition stipulates the same title for all, and a limit of 1000 words, and only one entry per member each year. This was the third time I entered the short story competition; last year my story came 2nd, and this year my story was awarded equal 1st place with another competitor. Of all the creative pursuits I am involved with, writing is my first love and the one I want to pursue.  This feels like a milestone for me.
 

A Poem - 'Meeting'

Meeting

Seek,
Search within,
For entwined throughout your physical body
An energy being exists,
Vibrating higher
Creating joy and happiness
With your every compassionate act,
Vibrating lower
Creating darkness from your negativity.
Become quiet and still.
Be.
Sense your spirit,
Listen,
Feel,
Connect with your higher self.
Awaken the dormant angel within,
Know her, love her,
Blow away the cloud of self-doubt
With the wild winds of life.
Meet yourself, embrace her,
Harmonise your eternal nature
With the Earth body in which she dwells.
Meet with her every day
And watch the flower bloom.

By Gaye Drady
for 2013/14 CWA poetry competition (3rd place)
I don't wish to do anything with my poetry, it is simply a satisfactory method of expression that I have come to enjoy.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Coping with grief

How do we cope with grief? A rhetorical question only, I haven't got an answer, and I'm not resorting to reading material that sets out the supposed 'steps' of grief and instructions on how each one might be handled. Surely we are all too individual to follow a manual on such a personal and private experience.

I'm managing moment to moment, day to day, and of course I see a loosening of the grip. My grieving process started several years ago, after it was evident that my mother would not recover her sensibilities following two strokes. Mum was a vastly changed person with her disabilities and damaged brain, so naturally our relationship changed. Although she was still my mother, the capacity with which she was my mother had changed dramatically. I loved her, but even though I was 50 years old, I missed not having a mother who was actively being my mother. In reality, I know I lost the one who 'mothered' me a long time ago.

It was obvious that she loved having me around, and although she couldn't remember my name, I am sure she understood somewhere deep from within the confusion of life, that I was her daughter. She knew what things I was good at, and saved appropriate jobs for me to do when I visited. Mum would save different jobs for my sister to do, because she knew "that one" was good at something else.

So everything changed. Mum had little recollection of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so I could no longer have long pleasant conversations about what my family was up to. I missed that. I also missed not being able to explain to her all the things my husband and I were doing to our new home in a small town in north-western New South Wales where we will soon retire to. I would have loved to have taken her there, to show her where I would live out my old age when she was gone.

As my mother's condition deteriorated and she was placed in care, I continued to grieve. Not only did I feel sorry for my mother being dealt such a cruel blow when she was just at the onset of her old age, I grieved for all that I also missed from my mother. I grieved the loss of my mother even though my sweet little old mum was still a part of my life.

Mum suffered, and had no hope whatsoever of improving her life in any manner. I prayed that she would be blessed with death. It was heartbreaking watching my mother deteriorate into barely more than a vegetative state. Heart-wrenching, impossible to comprehend, sad beyond words. Because I had already grieved the loss of my mother for years, I presumed the grieving process following her death would be made easier. Perhaps it  has been. But on some days I am so overcome with sadness that I feel this thing called 'grief' is larger than me, unmanageable, unending. I dissolve into tears at the most inappropriate moments when some small thing tugs at my heart.

Of course, my emotional state is made worse by the fact that it has only been 4 months since I lost my father. Such a monumental combined loss of both my parents within such a short space of time. Dad's passing was very different to Mum's. He was much older, coherent to the end, and was afraid of dying even as his organs slowly shut down. I loved my father, but it was a different love than the unconditional love I had for my mother. Simply put, Dad could be a selfish bastard, and treated his wife with little respect most of their long marriage. But I am sure that Dad did the best he was capable of. During the last few years of his life, I had some wonderful long conversations with my father, and was privileged with a glimpse into the private person that he was.

I miss them both so very much, especially my mother. Does a woman ever truly get over the loss of her mother? Another rhetoric question; there is no answer. I will not try to force anything, I will let my grief take the course it takes, and I will be OK.


  

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

. . . and then you are not the same

You know, when you're late or in a huff, slam the car door and head for the house in the dark - and a voiceless message instructs you to stop and look to the heavens. You obey, and you are astounded by the awesomeness and vastness of the night sky as if seeing this spectacle for the very first time in your life. For a moment time stands still, and you are so affected by the magnificence that has been revealed to you, that you feel you are no longer the same.

Words are not adequate, for how do you describe to another person the impact this simple night scene has had upon you? You can't. For this simple pleasure has not only delighted your senses, but has imprinted it's magical beauty deep inside of you; on your soul, the unfathomable spiritual energy that transcends human time and space. It is much more than just physical beauty that you behold; it is a rush of thrilling power of gratitude, of grace, that envelopes and penetrates your being. Have you felt it?

This sudden awareness of beauty, an unexpected gift from the Universe, is bestowed upon us often, if we are awake to receiving such gifts. And the crux, the key here is the unexpectedness of the experience. Unlike walking through a splendid garden appreciating all the beauty surrounding you, the unexpected presentation of a simple single bloom suddenly spotted amongst a patch of weeds - that's what does it. You smile with delight and your heart feels light and joyous, and you are not the same. You glow, unable to look upon the world with anything but love and gratefulness.

You are going about your daily business and suddenly some 'little' unexpected thing makes you laugh out loud. It doesn't matter who hears you, for the child inside of you bursts forth, and your light shines. And you are not the same.

A surprise; a compliment out of the blue; the unexpected appearance of some gorgeous little creature popping it's head out of the grass; a butterfly alighting on your arm; a dog jumping for joy; a child running to you and throwing his arms around you. You exclaim with delight at the unforeseen, startling, stunning beauty in all it's simple glory, and you are not the same.

I
I was sitting in my car, upset, by the river, when through my tears I suddenly turned to see a donkey watching me through the open window twitching his ears and sticking his nose into the car - this was one such moment when the beauty and unexpected comical experience of a red and green donkey invading my space touched my heart - and I was not the same.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Rest in peace, Dear Old Dad

“I’m going to check out tonight,” Philip whispered to the male nurse, who compassionately attended to the patient’s needs, staying longer than his schedule permitted. But two days later Philip still clung to life.

The curtain shielded me from the corridor, not that there was much activity in the country hospital at midnight, but I appreciated the privacy. Dad was frightened. He wanted to die, and knew the time was near, but he was afraid to sleep just in case he did die. He hung on by a thread through all the pain and discomfort, not willing to give up. He knew his kidneys were shutting down. He stared at the wall in the dim light. Would dying hurt more than bloody living? What the hell’s going to happen? This just isn’t bloody fair. I knew my father well enough to guess his thoughts at this crucial hour.

“Help me Gaye, help me please,” his voice was only just audible, yet clear, even though his lips didn’t move. I sprayed his gaping mouth with water to moisten his swollen tongue. He flinched. “Gaye, look after Mum, please,” Dad struggled to get the words out, but then repeated himself.

“It’s OK Dad, we’ll make sure Mum is looked after,” I answered, gently stroking his shoulder. “I’ll stay here with you. Try to sleep,” I spoke loudly, but he strained to hear my words. He knew I was with him, that was important. He wasn’t alone. I lowered the bed so I didn’t have to stretch to touch him. “Gaye, are you there?” he asked in a frightened tone. The dying man needed reassurance. He couldn’t hear me, so I stood and bent over the naked figure on the bed and kissed his face. His skin was cold, but he refused to wear clothes, so I pulled the bed-sheet up to cover his chest. He pushed it back.

A familiar figure appeared from around the curtain and placed a cup of tea and plate of sandwiches on the table, wheeling it next to me. The nurse hugged my shoulders, and suggested I eat. I thanked her with a squeeze of the hand, aware that my tears would flow if I spoke at that moment. Nurses are special people.

Sleep eventually came to Dad. I silently prayed, and then went home to join my husband in bed. He held me as I recounted the evening. Morning came too quickly.

I touched my father’s arm, the colour of bruises, the texture of worn-out paper-thin leather. His prominent brow formed a shelf over dark, sunken eye-sockets, his eyes barely focusing. Even though he still carried excess weight, his cheek bones protruded unnaturally from an unfamiliar face of grey and a dingy shade of yellow. Impending death was not a pretty sight. He called for me in his ventriloquist whisper, mouth agape, lips not moving, yet still coherent. I assured my father I was with him, but he didn’t settle, still afraid to die. When night fell, Dad became distressed. I settled at his side, comforting him, reassuring him that he was not alone.

“Let me go, Gaye, let me go, please,” he pleaded. I hugged him and kissed his face. “Dad, you can go whenever you’re ready, it’s OK,” I answered my dying father, and rested my cheek on his cheek. Later, the night nurse again brought me tea and sandwiches, and again hugged my shoulders. When Dad seemed sound asleep, I prayed, said goodnight to the staff, and went home to bed. An hour later the phone call came. Dad hadn’t woken, had died peacefully in his sleep. I was overwhelmed with the wish that I had stayed with him another hour, so that I could have been there when he slipped away. But the Universe knows best, and I know it happened the way it was meant to.

****  ****  ****

I had asked the difficult questions a couple of years ago. Dad believed that religion was a lot of hogwash, so I wasn’t surprised when he said he wanted the Salvos to bury him. “No church. Put me in the cemetery on the hill. No fuss,” Dad answered, always a man of very few words.

An oak casket. “As plain as possible, please” my sister and I said in unison. Native flowers, no hymns, nothing religious. 40 chairs would be ample. We agreed on every detail organising Dad’s funeral. We worked well together, re-establishing a closeness that had somehow slipped away over the years. A wonderful re-connection; an opportunity provided by Dad. 

Dad arrived at his funeral earlier than we had expected. It was kind of nice having him watch over us as my sister and I decorated the hall with sprigs of cumquat from Mum’s garden. Comforting, yet sad. Sort of unreal. How could my father be dead? Was he really in that shiny coffin, wearing the pale blue shirt that Mum had made for him so many years ago? How had I reached this stage in my life? Where had the years gone? Poor Dad, his life had been long, but empty. Devoid of depth, 87 years and he missed the point of life. But what would I know? I was over 50 when I broke free from a similar warped sense of denial.

I chatted to Dad as I hid vases of dusty silk flowers in the Salvation Army hall cupboards, replacing them with potted native plants that would later be part of my garden. A different look, lovely, but not fancy. Masculine, but with a softness that was appropriate. The quiet time with Dad was healing.

I had put a lot of thought into writing the eulogy, and held my emotions intact until the last paragraph. I hoped that estranged family members might connect with my description and acceptance of my father and that which were commonly perceived as his failings. 

We followed the hearse along the main street of the small country town. I sat in the back, finally able to cry. Old men stopped outside the grocery store, faced the funeral procession, hats held to their chest. Men I didn’t know, men Dad did not know. A tradition of yesteryear, a gesture of respect to a stranger no longer living, on his final earth-bound trip. To the graveyard.

Rest in peace, Dear Old Dad.