Tag Archives: life

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.

That old fart was a young fart, once

Photo of tree reflected in waterReflectionsOn this last day of 2012 I’m indulging in a little bit of reflection.

When I was younger, old people used to annoy me. They’d get in my way, putter around when I wanted to hurry. They’d shuffle along, backs bent, maybe a walking stick in hand. Silly old farts.

Like I said, maybe I’m getting ‘old’. These days I look at those old people, hunched over their canes, shuffling along, and I wonder what they were like when they were young. They’ve lived a life. Been to school, fallen over in the playground, kicked footballs, built billy-carts, had a cat or a dog or a horse, or maybe all of them. And then they were teenagers, bopping along to Buddy Holly or Bill Hayley. They went to the drive-in, snogged (or shagged) in the back seat of the car. Perhaps they sat in the back row of the pictures on a Saturday afternoon watching serials of Tom Mix or the Shadow.

Those folks might have had kids, gone through the trials and the joys of childbirth and raising a family. Now maybe there are grand-kids, perhaps great-grandkids.

There was a time when those backs were straight, those legs strong and active. Maybe, like me, the brain in that old head thinks it’s still thirty. Or twenty-one.

These days, I don’t have much time for the emails circulating amongst us retirees listing all the things ‘we’ used to have. So what? Time stops for no man. Life goes on. I remember my mum saying (in the eighties, I think) that she wouldn’t want to bring up children in ‘this day and age’. And she’d cite the cold war, and drugs and cars and crime and and and. This from a woman who married in the Great Depression and lived in occupied Holland through WW2 with five small children, before packing up the whole kit and caboodle and migrating to Australia in 1955. I hear it now, too, from people my age. Sure, I feel sorry for today’s kids in as much as they’ll find it harder to buy a home, they’ll have to cope with pollution and global warming. But my generation had its own burdens. Every generation does. And for every generation, it’s the same – and yet different. They’ll cope. It’s their life, their choices and they’ve never known anything else. And they never will.

I also don’t have much time for older people who won’t even try to cope with computers and the like. Sorry, but it really isn’t hard. It’s a matter of choice and the benefits of the internet far outweigh the drawbacks. The ability to easily keep in touch with friends and family is probably number one.

So I guess it’s possible I might be one of those with a bent back and a walking stick sooner, rather than later. But my brain won’t be old. Of that you can be sure.

Happy New Year, folks. And remember, that old fart was a young fart, once. Live life to the fullest. Try things. If you don’t like them, stop. Life is not a dress rehearsal.

/introspection