Tag Archives: death

Because it’s real

Ripples in a pond

Take a stone, any stone you like, Feel the weight of it in your hand. Is the surface smooth? Rough? Is it heavy? If you’re not happy with it, pick up another one. Because it’s going to be you.

Happy with your stone? Now find a lake, or a puddle. Somewhere with still water, and throw your stone out there. Watch the ripples surge away from the rock that is you.

Those ripples are the people you know. The closest circle isn’t necessarily your family, although for most of us it probably is, while we’re young. It’s the people you’re closest to, your very best friends, your partner, maybe your kids. The next ripple is friends and people you don’t see so often, but you share time with. Beyond that the ring widens to include people like your doctor, or accountant, people you know from work. And so it goes. The further the ripple is from you, the looser the relationship.

That’s just as true in Facebook as it is in real life.

Make no mistake, Facebook IS a slice of real life and for many people, it is a large part of their social life. I have Facebook friends all over the world. Some I’ve met, many I haven’t, and never will. The interesting thing is that where I have met people in real life, it has been exceptionally easy. I already knew them, you see. From Facebook.

I’m writing this today because one of my Facebook friends lost her battle with cancer a few days ago. Jo was diagnosed early last year, and went through a harrowing round of chemotherapy and radio therapy before modern medicine could do no more. She died at home, surrounded by her close family. Jo had many more Facebook friends than me. She connected readily with people. And she shared her cancer experience via her blog. Her stoic courage shone through in her words, admitting to tears, but always being upbeat, always being sure she could win. In an incredibly brave move, she wrote her final post and told her husband to publish it after her death.

I first met Jo online when she lived in Victoria near Hanging Rock, not far from Greendale, where Pete and I had lived. We shared stories about gardening, and weather. Coincidentally, Jo had grown up in Queensland near where we live, then lived in Perth for many years. I had grown up in Perth and now lived in Queensland. When Jo announced she and Tim were leaving Victoria to move back to her roots in Queensland I knew we would finally meet. I visited Jo and Tim at their home in Maryborough before they’d had a chance to make the massive changes they had in mind. It’s a beautiful old Queenslander with its cool, elevated veranda, high ceilings, and horribly overgrown garden stuffed with palm trees and bromeliads. They set in to make changes, bulldozing a dilapidated shed, removing the palm trees and bromeliads, and getting rid of some of the trees. Now there was room for a lawn and a cottage garden – place for the daisies Jo loved. I recall Jo’s blogs about painting the new white picket fence – during which process she broke her wrist. Jo visited me at home while her little white terrier, Daisy, was having her coat groomed in Hervey Bay.

The next time I saw her was in a ward at Hervey Bay hospital, when she was finally on her way home to Maryborough after months of treatment in Brisbane. Sure, she’d lost her hair, she was thin and weak, but that spirit shone through. She hadn’t been in the hospital long, hadn’t had a chance to get to know the staff. Because she’d come from another hospital, staff had to take special care to prevent any bugs being transferred. I waited outside while two nurses carried out a procedure, and heard her talking to one of them, asking about him, where he lived, his job. The young man opened up, and Jo had made another friend.

To reach an understanding of this lady’s impact all it needed was a visit to her Facebook page. All through her ordeal people shared uplifting messages with her, pretty pictures, videos of cats and dogs, jokes. She loved jokes. I’m sure those messages helped to give strength. When she died, her page was flooded with messages of sorrow. For very many people, all around the world, that loss was real.

Say what you like about Facebook. Yes, some of it’s yucky. Some people are horrid. Some people believe things I cannot. Some of my friends are devout Christians. Some voted for Trump. Some loathe the man. But that’s life, a slice of real life with all its warts and troubles and people struggling with everything the world throws at them. For me, Facebook is a learning experience. Every day I read what people share about their lives. I know a lot more about autism because one woman has shared her journey. I feel for friends who lost their homes in floods, people struggling with mental health.

Much as I dislike some aspects of social media, I’ll stay with Facebook. Because it’s real.

 

And I thought to myself, “Not me.”

picture of Death as a skeleton with a scytheGetting older has its trials. You get sick of the endless “old fart” comics and jokes about hearing loss, memory loss, libido loss etc. You get sick of the equally endless round of emails pointing out how much better it was ‘back then’. Or the ones that ask if you remember what the relationship was between a cassette and a pencil. You get sick of being told you’re only as old as you feel. In a way, of course, that last one’s true. There was a meme going around Facebook (correctly spelled and everything) that said “Inside every old person there’s a young person wondering what the hell happened.” The brain is alive and well and firing on all cylinders but the body… the body’s suffering from shell shock. Not so very long ago I used to be able to stand with my feet together, and rest my palms on the floor in front of me. These days it’s a painful struggle to put on a pair of socks.

You’re probably wondering what caused this particular rant. Death. That’s what. I read a blog post this morning written by an online friend. She related the demise of a backyard robin at the paws of next door’s cat, then talked about three human deaths, all different, with different impacts on the living. One stood out to me – the fellow who had a massive heart attack. The doctor wouldn’t accept death and tried all manner of invasive treatments to resurrect him. In the end, his son told the doctors to let him go. And the blogger related the story of the deceased as he’d been eighteen months before, aware of his mortality, aware of the limitations caused by his condition, and resigned – even content – that death comes at the end.

An hour or two later I read an article written by Graham Richardson, well-known political commentator and a stalwart of the Hawke government. About the same age as me, he explained how he’d been diagnosed with cancer in 1999. How he should have sought treatment earlier, but being a typical bloke, didn’t. The first op kind of worked, but some of the deadly cells remained to spring up and grow again. As they do. The article (in the Weekend Australian 4th July 2015) is well worth a read, and gives an insight into chemotherapy, cancer treatment, and its effects. It now seems Richo will have to have an operation to remove his bladder, bowel, prostate, colon and rectum. He will be fitted with colostomy bags which would have to be emptied regularly. The man is already in constant pain.

And I thought to myself, “Not me.” When you get to your mid-sixties you can pretty much guarantee you will have seen death in many different guises. My mother died of bowel cancer, as did my oldest sister. Another sister wiled away the last years of her life in an old folks’ home where she needed help for just about everything. Three or four people I know died of pancreatic cancer, the one where the diagnosis is always too late. The doctors can take bits out of you to offer a semblance of being alive, but who wants to live like that?

Well, let me tell you, folks, when the seven-foot skeleton with the scythe and the brilliant blue orbs in his eye sockets comes to call, if the options are the living death of constant pain, or being eviscerated, or coughing my lungs into a handkerchief, I’ll move along, thanks.

 

Sir Terry has left the planet #pratchett

Mort-coverI wrote most of this post a few years ago, when we first learned Sir Terry had Alzheimer’s. Today he and Death walked through that final door, no doubt with cats curling around their legs. I have a bookcase full of hard backs with his name on the cover. Goodnight, Terry Pratchett. Your name will live on.

I’ll always remember the first Discworld book I read. I was kicking my heels in the domestic terminal at Perth airport, browsing for a book to read on the long flight to Sydney. I’d seen the book with the cartoon cover in the SF section a few times before, but had skipped over it for spaceships and things. This time, I picked it up and read the blurb. Then I read the prologue, in which TP introduced everybody to the great space-going turtles that carried worlds on their backs. It was an Indian legend that I’d come across in my studies.

Some scientists believed in the ‘steady gait’ theory, in which the turtles journeyed unendingly through the multi-verse, never changing pace. Others contended that the turtles were travelling to a meeting place, where they would mate and create more star turtles. This was known as the ‘big bang’ theory.

After I’d wiped tears of laughter from my eyes, I made my way to the counter and bought the book. Since then, I’ve bought hard copies of every book Sir T has written and enjoyed them all, some more than others. Why? Because I like them.

That, dear reader, is the only reason I read books. However, I shall go a little further. Sir T breaks every rule in the Little Red Book of Writing. He uses ‘there was’ all the time. He indulges in great swathes of apparently superfluous narrative, such as regaling us with the amount of food etc consumed in the city of Ankh-Morpork. He writes in accents. Sometimes he has prologues which serve no other purpose than to bring the reader up to speed. And so on.

What I love about his work is the way he can brew an eclectic mix of myth, folklore, history, archetypes and pure, hard science, all laced with a shrewd understanding of human nature and politics, and make it funny. Mind you, much of what he writes has a darker, more serious side. He examines racism frequently, using the on-going tensions between dwarves and trolls, people and paranormal people like vampires, werewolves and zombies to mirror our own behaviour in our round world. Sir Terry has sent up just about every icon we hold dear – he seated the four horsemen of the apocalypse around a table and had them learning how to play bridge; he examined what happened to heroes like Conan the Barbarian when they get old; he has mocked sexism (in ‘Men at Arms’ and ‘Monstrous Regiment’ to mention two).  The church, academia, Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli’s Prince – you’ll recognise them all in the Discworld.

In the midst of all this he creates believable characters such as the reformed alcoholic, reluctant member of the peerage Sir Samuel Vimes; Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax the tyrannical witches; the wizards at Unseen University and their Simian librarian. (The librarian was turned into an Orang Utan by a random discharge of magic in an early book and has since steadfastly avoided any attempt to persuade him to return to human shape.)

Sir Terry examines truths and mores as if they were rocks in a field. He picks them up, turns them over, looks underneath. Take Christmas, that iconic Christian festival. Sir Terry’s version is Hogswatch, when the Hogfather comes down from the north in a sleigh drawn by wild hogs. Except Death has to take the gig because the Hogfather is missing and we wouldn’t want to disappoint the kiddies, would we? So the archetypal Death wraps himself in a red coat and does the department store ‘meet the kiddies’ thing, which is absolutely hilarious. However, Terry digs deeper. Underneath that rock labelled ‘Christmas’ we find the meaning of that red coat, blood sacrifice to bring in the turning of the year.

There are so many examples. I could analyse every book and find serious messages hidden amongst the hilarity. It saddens me more than I can say to know Sir Terry has Alzheimer’s Disease. Long may he hold back its ravages.

***************************************************

It wasn’t for very long at all. He was just 66. His ghost will loom large in that cavalcade I wrote about in a previous post.

A cavalcade of ghosts

IMG_3552_HDRYesterday I was told that an acquaintance who very recently contracted lung cancer had died in the night. I’d met him twice, knew of his condition through a neighbour who was his friend. It was quick and relatively painless for him, and since his quality of life was very low, I think it was for the best. I’m not too sure why his passing has affected me as much as it has.

Maybe it’s because he was about the same age as me. Maybe it’s because so many of the people I’ve known – either in real life, or vicariously – people like Spock, Gough Whitlam and today, Stuart Wagstaff – are gone. If I close my eyes I can see a cavalcade of ghosts. Names bring up memories, some good, some bad. Days of my life, high points and low.

And maybe it’s a reminder that there all things must pass. Someday it will be my turn.

/navel-gazing

Oh, by the way, I’ve joined the group on Space Freighter’s Lounge, where we talk about science fiction romance, movies, TV shows, books and stuff. Come and say hi. My stint is on a (US) Thursday.

 

Musings on death

picture of Death as a skeleton with a scytheDeath. It’s something that everyone reading this post must face at some time. At my age, many people I have known and loved have passed the final portal. Some deaths were expected, and indeed, were a relief to the dying and to those left behind. Others died suddenly, brutally, and far too young. Yet others took their own lives.

Just recently another person I cared about succumbed far too young to cancer. I knew that, unlike me, this woman had believed in God and I suppose that’s the reason I’ve written this.

If you ask me, I’ll tell you I’m an atheist, that I do not believe that anything but the strange and arbitrary forces that operate in the universe ‘created’ us. But actually, if pressed, I would have to say that I’m an agnostic. Just as the religious among us cannot prove there is a God, those of us who don’t believe in the imaginary father figure in the sky (or whatever) cannot prove there is no such thing as ‘god’.

So what happens as we face death? My anticipation of what will happen is as certain as anyone else’s. I believe my body will cease to function. I will go to sleep and I will never wake up. The cells that together made up my being will be swept up into a new creation. My ashes will help something else grow and thrive. It fascinates me to think that every cell in my body – indeed, on this planet – was created from elements once spewed out into the universe from the death throes of a giant star. It’s only right that those building blocks will be passed on, in some way, to something new.

Those with a religious bent believe there’s more to life than the corporeal, that we have something else, call it a soul if you will, that ‘lives’ on independently of the body. What happens next can vary, according to tradition. You might be reincarnated as a new entity. You might go to heaven or hell. You might be entertained forever by virgins, or have the Valkyrie sweep you away to feast in the halls of your fathers. Or whatever.

Terry Pratchett has the most wonderful way of dealing with the mythology surrounding death. In his Discworld books Death is real, an anthropomorphism of an idea. Over the centuries death has often been pictured as a skeleton with a scythe, an image which Pratchett uses in his books. He adds bright blue, distant lights in the eye sockets of the skull, which always makes me think of those stellar super giants whose fiery deaths are an act of creation. Death has a cameo appearance in almost every Discworld novel and has a major supporting role in Reaper man, Mort and Hogfather. And he likes cats. In the best traditions of witchcraft, witches and cats can see him while they’re still alive.

Just about every time an important character dies, Death appears, speaking in sepulchral tones (all caps) never dictating what will happen next. If the recently deceased asks if there will be dancing girls, he says, “Do you want there to be?” Perhaps that’s the best thing you can wish the family of someone who has just died, that their beloved is now at peace/in heaven/carousing with the Valkyries/about to be reincarnated as a cat.

Sorry about the morbid navel-gazing. We will now return to normal programming.

 

Reflections on a life

Wendy and Adri 3Life’s a strange roller-coaster ride. Last week I wrote a feel-sorry-for-myself post which I subsequently deleted. I’ve done pretty well out of life, I’m healthy (if a tad overweight), I’m well educated, had a good job, can turn my hand to most things. Now I’m retired, I’m comfortably well off if not rich, and I have a lovely husband.

This morning it was brought home to me in bold letters, underlined, how very fortunate I am. I received news that one of my nieces passed away suddenly, aged just fifty-seven.

I won’t pretend I was close to her. My family isn’t, wasn’t, like that, even when we lived in the same city and it’s many years since I moved away. But we kept in touch on Facebook, spoke a few times on the phone. I knew she was ill, but she has never been a particularly healthy person and I, like her own immediate family, expected she’d recover and soldier on as she always had.

But she didn’t.

My memory of her has always been of a very caring woman. She taught primary school and I’m sure she did that very well. It suited her big-hearted personality. She always had time for others. When my sister Ann, their mother, was diagnosed with cancer, she and her sister nursed her for several years as Ann declined and finally died, also in her mid-fifties. After that she and her sister, who was always her closest friend, would take their grandma (my mother) shopping to the Dutch Butcher. Later they took on looking after my brother’s welfare, taking him shopping, seeing he attended medical appointments and the like. Recently their father had a stroke but his daughters were there for him.

Life wasn’t always easy for Adriana. The last year was difficult for her in many ways. Perhaps stress contributed to her death.

All I can say is I’m saddened by her passing.

Not too many of my family reach sixty it seems. One brother (I’ll not count the one who died in infancy), two sisters and my father died in their fifties. Life is short. Make what you can of it, because – in my opinion – you only get one go at it and you’ll never know when the curtain will come down for ever.

Rest in peace, Adriana.

A question of Identity : part 1: the remains of a life

ScrimshawMy sister died last September. Oh, don’t feel sorry. She’d had a good life and towards the end, she was more than ready to go. Always an intensely private person, the inevitably intrusive care became harder and harder to take, increasingly an affront to her dignity.

Even so, death has its impacts, mostly on the only one really close to her, her husband, Frank. They’d been together for forty years and more, no children, few friends. My husband and I travelled to New Zealand from our home in Australia to attend the funeral and do what we could to console Frank. We held the funeral service at the nursing home where Frank and my sister had lived for the past several years, a brief and simple service shared with a group of inmates at the home. Their turn would be coming up, soon enough. We were the only relatives there. The only person outside the hospital to attend was the gentleman who looked after my sister and her husband’s financial affairs.

One thing about death is, life goes on. Since we were now responsible for Frank, who has dementia, we did what we could to sort out his affairs in the few days we had in New Zealand. We were told he and his wife were admitted to an aged care hospital in the space of a day. They went to see a doctor, who took one look, and sent them into care. They never went home again. The house, of course, had to be sold and to do that, it had to be cleared. The contents were packed into a storage locker. You know the type. A space like a huge garage, for which you had the keys.

Despite the threat of rain, we obtained the keys to see what was there, thinking to perhaps take some important papers and family photos with us. Getting the lock-up open was a chore in itself. The lock hadn’t been opened for several years, and needed WD40 and some elbow grease. The door lifted, and there it was. The remains of a life.

Everything from a house was in there. Whoever had transported it, hadn’t packed the goods properly. Items had been shoved into old grocery boxes, glasses weren’t wrapped, nothing was sorted. We were confronted with a higgledy-piggledy pile of… stuff. A lathe stood next to a glass-fronted dresser. Frank’s tools (he used to be a master carpenter) in their home-made wooden boxes, were to the front. Figurines stood next to anonymous boxes. The frame for the water bed, built by Frank and inscribed F L, stood against the wall. The bladder was somewhere at the top and back, beyond the sofa. In a few hours we examined what we could, feeling a bit like mountaineers without safety gear as we clambered up precarious piles. We took a few family photos, a magnificent piece of scrimshaw, and a few of Frank’s antique and beautiful tools with us. It was all we could manage.

Fortunately for us, a lovely lady who is now a friend, offered to sort through the lock-up, looking for photos and documents. Everything that could not be sold, would be disposed of. Over the next several weeks, she would tell me what she found, some funny, some odd, some poignant. The people who had emptied the house, had not even thought to throw away food. She found packets of biscuits and other perishables all thrown in with the pots and pans, and out-of-date medication.

When it was all over, the auctions held, the lock-up emptied, Cathy told me of the profound effect the process had had on her and her husband. Fragments of a life, a thing of the past, all too soon forgotten in the march of time. Yet Cathy saw a life well-lived, not the old and frail couple she’d known at the nursing home. Time was when they were young and fit and strong. Frank and my sister had travelled extensively around New Zealand, had lived on both North and South islands. They would go out in their station wagon and see the world. At night, travelling on the cheap, they slept on a mattress in the back of the car. They had also been overseas to America, a couple of times back to Australia. And a few family members had visited them. Sure, gravity had its way over the years, as it does with us all, but in their fifties they still had a photo taken with Santa. I guess for me, it was enough to know that life had been good for them.

Meanwhile, stage two was unfolding. Frank was born in Australia, and he and my sister married in Australia. In the early nineteen-seventies, they decided to leave family ties behind and travel to New Zealand, where they’d lived ever since. But Frank had mentioned to me when I went to visit them briefly a couple of years ago, that he wanted to come home. To Australia. And at my sister’s funeral, he said that again. “I want to come home.”

Of course, I agreed to make it so. It would be easy. Of course it would.