Category Archives: Grief

Christmas Revisited

Christmas 001I’m not even apologizing for my tardiness this time. I just looked back and the last two blog posts begin with some kind of mumbled excuse for being late. I’m not doing that this time … at least, I wasn’t going to.

We got through Christmas. Or should I say, most of us got through Christmas. Some of us didn’t. There are those of us who believe they’ve been chiselled out of Christmas, that the Christmas they got was a non-event. They’re not letting us forget it. And so begins a tale of despair, misery, hope, and finally, a tale of triumph … or at least semi-triumph. You still with me? Comfortable? Good. Let’s go …

The week before Christmas, all through the house, nothing was stirring … my Girl included. She slept long and she slept hard. All I could see of her was a little face, nestled amongst the pillows. The doctor had set up a pump to deliver pain medication. All her other meds had been discarded. As they say in times of disaster, we were prepared for the “Big One.” So we waited. And waited.

For almost a week, she slept.

For the entire time, I hovered over her, brow furrowed, lip clamped between teeth. Watching, waiting.

Suspecting this really was the end, we had Christmas on the Saturday. We crushed as many as twelve people into her room, all sitting around the bed with hopeful looks on their faces. We sang Christmas carols, pulled Christmas crackers. Still she remained unconvinced.

So on the Sunday, the Chukker-boy dressed up as Santa, simultaneously delighting the Girl, and psychologically scarring the Grandson forever. No dice. She didn’t believe a word of it. She knew Christmas still hadn’t arrived. Not really. But with her energies exhausted by two Christmases spent, she slept once more.

Watching over your child as her life ebbs away is strange sensation. It goes against every instinct. Mothers by their very nature are duty-bound to keep their children from harm. We care for, we nurture, feed and support.

So to sit by, refraining from offering the necessities of life, watching on helplessly while your child fades away—despite the obvious problems, regardless of the situation—well, it feels foreign. No one said caring for the terminally ill is easy. There’s a reason for that.

So at a point when I thought I had everything under control, when I’d reached that moment of acceptance and my stress levels plateaued. With my inner calm radiating stoic resolve, and my focus shifting to the near future, my counsellor suggested a few days of respite with my Girl in the hospice.

I hesitated. By all accounts, I had a handle on things: Inner calm: Check. Grip on reality: Check. Sensible brain engaged: Check.

Then I thought, “Why not? The offer may be a one-time opportunity.” So, not wanting to look a gift horse, I bundled my Girl, her medication, a few hurriedly-collected clothes, and Booboo the bunny rabbit into the car, and happily took off to the hospice.

Did I dance the dance of the free? Did I race about catching up on my shopping, the latest movies, my last minute Christmas shopping?

The hell I did.

The instant I got home, I flopped on the couch. Inertia set in. I couldn’t move. Some swine must have slipped into my house while I wasn’t looking and sucked every ounce of energy out of me. My limbs weighed a couple of hundred kilos each. Every now and then I managed to raise enough oomph to open my eyes and let out a groan. Meals consisted of shortbread biscuits and chocolate from prematurely opened gifts (the wrapping from which now formed my only living room Christmas decoration, since all other decorations [tree included] had been transported to the Girl’s room). Occasionally when it got dark, I rolled off the couch and crawled to bed. For four days, my bed went unmade, the dishes undone.

Eventually, I found me again.

I began to think straight. I drank liquids without an alcohol content. I ate foods that boasted a level of nutritional value—albeit low. I showered. I applied makeup.

Then I visited the Girl.

While she slept, the wonderful, fabulous hospice medical team ran tests, watched over her, cared for her. They stabilized her meds, fed, watered, and washed her. And on the fifth day, she rallied.

Yep. Just in time for Christmas.

She was thrilled. But it wasn’t exactly what she’d envisaged. Our traditional Christmas with family didn’t eventuate. The seventy-five dishes of foods I would normally prepare (simply because I can) never got made. The Chukker-boy and family didn’t arrive. It was me and the Girl. We had a hospice prepared Christmas dinner. We ate to the sound of her CD player pounding out Snoopy’s Christmas for the 76,830,654th time.

And at the end of Christmas day 2013, exhausted and fed, she thanked the doctor for the presents I bought her, thanked the nurses for the TV I bought her, then settled down to sleep.

Now she’s home. It’s like we’ve been in a time bubble. She wants Christmas. She wants to paint Christmas, eat Christmas, live Christmas. She wants the whole Christmas experience from go to whoa, and she’s not taking “No” for an answer.

Me? I’m over it. She can have her Christmas CDs, her decorations. After that, I’m putting my foot down. Christmas is gone. There’s another one at the end of this year.

In the meantime there’s a birthday in six months. For once, I’m looking forward to it.

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Filed under Christmas, Coming to the End, Grief

Under Pressure

The Girl on Polly.

The Girl on Polly.


Friends, fans, followers, people I’ve never met,

As you’re probably aware – or if you weren’t, you are now – I haven’t blogged for almost two weeks now. It’s not because I didn’t want to. I’ve been suffering from a bout of poisoning. Not physical poisoning, this was mental poisoning. I had toxic sludge coursing through my veins. And, as I later discovered, it was all to be expected.

Let me explain.

My beautiful niece flew in last week to get married. This girl, just for the record, is tall, slim, and absolutely gorgeous. At one stage, she did a spot of Modelling – well, with a figure like that, it was the obvious choice. But of course, being unbelievably brilliant and securing her PhD in the sciences, she chose to follow her dreams and become a scientist working in London with her ab/fab fiancé, a neurosurgeon.

Believe me, if I’d written this girl into a story, any agent worth their salt would have immediately written a reply, saying, “Dear Ms. Lea, I read your manuscript with interest, however at this time I won’t be offering representation as I find your heroine just far too perfect and unbelievable, and no one ever lives like this. I wish you every success, blah blah.

And it’s true. Everything about this girl is fabulous. She’s widely travelled, politically astute, and, to make matters worse, she’s the sweetest, most wonderful girl, so you can’t even hate her.

Don’t get me wrong. She has worked hard; still works hard. She’s currently working in a team to find a cure for Motor Neuron Disease. There are times when she’s so snowed under, she hardly finds time to eat. She’s committed and deserves everything she has – amazing husband and fabulous job included.

But at the end of the day, she is everything my Girl is not. And the differences between them are hard to overlook.

So, somewhere amid all the excitement of the impending nuptials, something I thought I’d slain long ago invaded my brain one night and threatened to turn me into something I really didn’t like. First, it was like a small, yet intensely hot flame had burst into life in my chest. Next thing, I had toxic fumes of anger and jealousy leeching into my system and coursing through my veins. I tried dousing them with sensibility. I tried tamping them down with common sense. But somehow, my level-headed eye-glasses got knocked sideways and suddenly all my niece’s excitement, happiness and good fortune were, in my mind, contrasting with my own Girl, who would never have her happy ever after; whose health problems worsen each day; whose next milestone is finality. And it all seemed so unfair.

I kept telling myself not to be so stupid, that I’d gotten over all these feelings long ago and left all this crap far behind. But the more I fought it, the more those feelings raged.

And by the time I got home from the wedding, all these dreadful emotions had gone out and invited friends over. I had something like Saturday Night Fever of the Damned partying through my head. I kept thinking, “I’ve dealt with this shit. Why is it coming back?”

The following day, The Girl was unwell so I kept her in bed and stayed home for some serious inner demon wrestling. At one point, I really wasn’t sure who was in worse shape, The Girl or me. Some hideous narrator in my mind kept throwing comparisons between this girl and mine at me. They went like this:

• Incredibly tall/Unusually small with physical abnormalities
• Beautiful and gregarious/Not so beautiful and single-minded
• Unbelievably intelligent/5-word sentences
• Free thinking and independent/Totally dependent and always will be
• A long life filled with joy/A life shortened by liver disease and diabetes
• Well-travelled/Never leaves home
• Has a husband who loves and adores her/Has a toy lion, a dead cat, and a bunny rabbit with indelible ink scrawled across it (oh, yes, and me. Although at this point, I wasn’t worth much)

And with every comparison, I got angrier and the jealousy and pain swelled.

Then it got worse. The monster in my head made me start seeing the inequities as some kind of punishment I didn’t deserve. I kept wondering who “Up There” had it in for me and what I’d done that could have been so bad? I was beginning to think I’d gone all the way back to where I used to be and that I’d never get over this.

Then something in my brain kicked in and rational thought moved in.

First, I started see the picture as it really was. Not as the demon would have me see it. I made myself respond to some sensible questions. Like:

• Has my niece’s good fortune been at our expense? – Answer: No.
• Did anything anyone has done create this situation? – Answer: No.
• Do I think my niece doesn’t deserve everything she’s got and worked for? – Answer: Definitely not. She deserves everything she’s got and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
• Would I want her to be as ill as The Girl? – Answer: Good God, no!
• Would I want her to be unhappy; to lose her gorgeous husband or her job? – Answer: Bloody hell, what kind of a person would I have to be?
• Would thinking someone else was unhappy make me feel better? – Answer: That’s just plain ridiculous.

And then I came to realize something else. If The Girl wasn’t the way she is; if she was smart, if she was tall, if she was this way, or that. If she was everything a person ‘Should’ be – well, she wouldn’t be my girl. Would she?

Let me tell you, I’ve been through some tough times. I’ve had to work hard to be able to rationalize in this way. I’ve gone through crap I wouldn’t have my worst enemy experience. I’ve done things for others with a smile on my face and pain and sorrow and grief I can’t even begin to describe in my heart. And when it’s patently obvious that I’m suffering; when it’s as plain as the nose on your face that I’m really struggling to keep my head above water and the people I thought who really cared can’t even pick up a phone to see if I’m okay, I tell myself one thing:

After all I’ve been through, I’m human. And I will survive. I will use every form of self-preservation I can think of. I’ve learnt to be stronger, tougher, more resilient. I’ll rise like a phoenix from these ashes and I’ll love my Girl until I don’t have her any longer.

And I’m a better person for it.

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Filed under Grief