Friday, October 29, 2010

Blog This Challenge 60 - Life's Hard Lessons

Life is Too Short

One of the certainties in life is death. My mother, Wise Woman, always told me life is too short, make the most of it, do not let the small bad things detract from the big wonderful ones. This is the hardest of lessons you will ever learn. I guess it is another way of saying stop and smell the roses.

God decided to try and instil this one in me at a young age of fifteen. He took my sister. Suddenly, brutally, bang - gone! My whole life changed and I became an only child. My parents fell apart and I, the only remaining child, had to attempt to keep our lives functioning in some semblance of normalcy. It was my first life lesson in grief, and my initial experience of life IS too short. Other losses followed, and today I am once more living this life lesson. I buried my mother on Tuesday. The woman who gave me a life has left mine. Not in my heart or my head but in the physical.

Some of you are sitting, reading this and wondering "why on earth at such a time as this would she be doing this challenge?" Simple. Because one of the biggest ideals my mother has left me with is so very important: Life is short. She would hate me feeling the way I do (and I do, believe me, right now I feel like my guts have been ripped out), and be telling me to look at my blessings. They are many. I had a wonderful mother who loved me deeply and shared my life for nearly forty seven years, I have a beautiful family, we live in a glorious part of the world, I have true, loyal friends who support me and hold me above the waves when I sink.

This is not coming out as I intended. What I am trying to tell you is to love those near as much as you can. Hold them, laugh with them, live with them. In the moment. The bills will end up paid, that job will eventuate, the problems will be resolved. Sometime. Children grow up, people die, life changes so EACH new day take time to smile, feel good about yourself, change those things that drag, take control of life on your terms. Live, Laugh, Love. A very Wise Woman once taught me those very things.


I am awake, remembering, thinking. During the day I can avoid going to that raw, festering wound of grief. I keep busy, so very busy. But in the darkness of ungodly hours it is unavoidable. Confronting. I just want to talk to her, hold her, feel her arms around me comforting me. But all there is is pain. And the one person who always made it all better is gone. Forever.

Breathe, just breathe.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Blogging the Memories: Tales of a Wise Woman.

Writing my mother's eulogy has brought to the forefront years of memories. And as I tend to close off and batten down in real life you lot will have to put up with being bombarded.

I watched Uptown Girls today. The final scene where the little girl, Ray, dances to Molly's song remonded me of my dance classes as a child. Yes, the totally cool, uber trendy Madmother once danced in a pale white tutu. And a kilt, but we'll leave that one alone for a while, m'kay?

Back to ballet. I studied for two years and each year completed my exams. I came first in Scholars, managed an honours mark and even beat the teacher's daughter in the testing (nah nah nah nahna - yes I know it should be ner). But I was never given the lead roles in the end of year production, or even in the smaller recitals during the year. Nooo - that went to the daughter didn't it. So, my only chance to shine in front of the families and other girls was during the solo during examinations. Me being, well... me, I took the opportunity and ran with it.

The competition was fierce (between the kids too). Mothers sat glaring at any other whose daughter was considered a threat.

We had learnt a little dance called The Butterfly.  It was a light, happy little fluttery piece. You had to try to catch an invisible creature performing little jumps and turns, twists and poses. Positions. At the end you caught the butterfly between your cupped hands, smiled at it beautifically and set it free. Well, that is what all the others did whilst holding leg straight, toe pointed, fixed in position. My beautiful mother sat serenely waiting as I was the last to perform.

I executed it perfectly, not an error, broad smile splitting my face, but in my unique junior Madmother fashion I decided to add a bit to liven it up. Jump, twist, catch, release smile. Hold position... music ceases. I then do another small series of leaps chasing the invisible insect once more, but as I grab it in my palms I crush the pretend butterfly. Look aghast, open hands, change look to disgust, shake and wipe remnants of invisible bug on tutu.

Class in hysterics, a gaggle of giggling girls. Teacher frowning. Other mothers horrified. And my tall, elegant mother standing, clapping madly. Oh, she loved me. Always. Unconditionally.

I quit ballet the next year. I came second and that just wasn't acceptable to six year old me.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Here It Is - My Farewell to My Mother

I have spent the last few days wondering how on earth to do this incredible, awe-inspiring woman justice in a few short lines? How do I describe the woman who loved and supported my family and me unconditionally to those some of whom had never had the joy of meeting her? And I realised the only way was to treat this as if I was sitting in a room full of friends talking about her, because in reality, although this is a church and her earthly farewell, I am in a roomful of friends.

My mother, M, was born in an era where women were seen but not heard, their role to run the household quietly whilst also being the hidden backbone of the family. Softly spoken and genteel, she lived long in the shadows of those happier in the limelight. At the time of my rather outspoken, incredibly outside the square Grandmother’s passing, my mother turned to me and said “I have always been dominated and overshadowed by my mother; I was always Mrs D’s daughter. Now I can be my own person and I only have to put up with being told what to do by you.” That being said, my mother was one of only two people in this world who could silence me with a look, the other being that man sitting there. Anytime I stepped outside her boundaries I was told in no uncertain terms: “You may be an adult but you are still my daughter and you will behave as such!” She once smacked me on my upper arm with a fair amount of force, hard enough to leave welts, because I had slipped and uttered a profanity in front of her. At the same time, she also threatened to wash out my mouth with soap. I was in my thirties.

When people first met my mother they were always surprised to realise inside the tiny, fragile outer package was a core of remarkable inner strength. For those of us close to her this strength was inspirational. Quite a few people underestimated her intellect and confused her ladylike demeanour and good manners with weakness or vulnerability. Many a businessman has been left in awe, shaking his head and muttering: “How did she?” as she manoeuvred her way around any obstacles thrown in her path, all the while maintaining her decorum. At nearly 91 she still used excel spreadsheets to organise her financial matters, a fact that made her a legend in the long-term relationship with her accountants. I remember the principal in the firm telling me many decades earlier how he used to hold her up to the many younger businesspeople walking in with shoeboxes of receipts. He would tell them “I have a client in her late 70’s that sends me her receipts attached to spreadsheet summaries! If she can do it why can’t you?” Of course, the impact of her resourcefulness increased as she grew older. She topped it off a couple of years ago by making me bring in her tax return to sign in the hospital the night before a procedure just in case the anaesthetic made her mind go funny.

The other thing about Mum many people missed was her wicked sense of humour. My mother and I spent much of our time giggling uncontrollably whilst others looked on totally lost. I think a lot of people wrote us off as slightly mad. On one occasion, Mum and I were in David Jones at Bondi Junction, in the shoe department. We were admiring a pair of highly priced stilettos (it was the 80’s) artfully displayed within a cubic glass case, not touching the case, not even breathing on the case. Plop. One shoe fell off the small holder. We looked at each other chuckled. Plop, the second shoe dropped. By this time we were laughing and had drawn attention of the disapproving staff. We scurried away giggling only to end up in a worse situation when a clearance table full of handbags decided it was time to run. One dropped off the edge, then the next and the next just like a set of dominos. We could barely walk, we certainly could not catch our breath and the stern frowns of the employees only made things worse. We dragged each other out of the store to collapse on a bench in the centre. I think it took us quite a while to be able to return to the car.

I could tell you so many things. The hours she patiently spent sitting in the sandpit with me as a child. The wonderful meals she cooked, the glorious cakes she baked not only for her children but also for the children from the local orphanage on each of their birthdays. I recall one such cake - it may have even been the first one she volunteered for after completing a cake decorating course - it was a circus theme with icing elephants all around the edge. I was not allowed to touch, but the minute her back was turned I snuck one elephant off a corner. The next time she turned away, I snuck another from the other corner. I repeated it twice more, coming unstuck on the fourth and final elephant. She was furious, demanding to know why I would not only take one BUT four elephants? “But Mum, I had to even it up for you”, I explained. I still remember her lips starting to twitch as she tried her best to stay mad. I also remember going to bed without tea that night, until she snuck in some vegemite sandwiches later. That was my mother all over, punish me but worry about my needs as well.

I could share with you her terrible grief at the loss of my sister, and her amazing strength in going on in life, mainly for me. She was sharp of wit, dry of humour, incredibly smart and truly beautiful inside and out. My mother loved all of us without boundaries. She accepted my children quirks and all, was so very proud of her boys. She leaves a huge hole in our lives but we are grateful to know she left on her terms at her time. Six years ago upon leaving her Taree home of 52 years to move up to Eagle Heights she said to me: “I am coming up to die.” A few months later, when her health had improved, I told her: “You didn’t come up to die Mum, you came up to live.” We had six years of fun and time together, albeit with a few health hiccups along the way. She loved this mountain so much she chose to spend the rest of eternity up here, leaving Dad plenty of room to stretch in his double granite plot.

I am so grateful to have been the child of such a woman it takes my breath away and leaves me speechless. So once again, this time without the look, she has silenced me.

I will leave you with the words of an unknown poet:

When I am no longer with you
Let no tears fall or sorrow prevail
When you see your reflection shimmer in the water
Smile and know that I see your smile
When you feel the cool grass beneath your feet
And the sun's warmth upon your back
Know that I feel it also
And when you hear the leaves rustling in the wind
Know it is my voice softly whispering to you.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Eulogy

I have been struggling terribly, procrastinating and putting it at the bottom of my list but this morning I have no choice. I have to write her eulogy.

A lovely friend (whose blog is private, so I will not post a link) has given me the start. She posted a poem for me on her blog and I am taking the beginning to start the eulogy with. Thanks Sal - you have no idea how much this means and has helped:

And I am no longer with you
Let no tears fall or sorrow prevail
When you see your reflection shimmer in the water
Smile and know that I see your smile
When you feel the cool grass beneath your feet
And the sun's warmth upon your back
Know that I feel it also
When you hear the leaves rustling in the wind
Know it is my voice softly whispering to you

And so now I am going to go off into a corner, and sit and try to bring to life a wonderful woman for many who have never had the joy of meeting her, and only know her through my words. I am blessed to have so many beautiful souls in my life who are attending to support me, and because they feel they know her via myself and the boys. Some family is flying in but most are elderly and frail themselves, as are her old friends from our home town. But I have had long, lovely phone conversations with many and know we are in their hearts and prayers.

I must admit the only thing that has disappointed me is the resonant silence from one who proclaimed to be a friend. But I guess this is the time that people's true colours are revealed and I am better off knowing.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I am an orphan. Today I am planning my mother's funeral. Today I face life in a very new and scary world without my biggest support.

We lost her at 3.30am 21/10/10. Like everything, she chose her own way to leave the world, and her own time. The doctors' thought it would be days and I stupidly went home late the night before planning on returning before sun-up in the morning. But she beat me to it. At 4am another of those dreadful calls came through, and as soon as it woke me I knew.

She was quite coherent until the end, had made her wishes more than clear. Tired, in pain, and finished with life. Gave the doctors strict instructions on a DNR. Expressed her gratitude to me for not denying her the right to choose death. Yesterday a dear friend reminded me: "Just like your grandmother chose to leave." And she was right. Strong stock these Madmother women.

Wise Woman asked to say goodbye to Boy 1 and Boy 2, which was another reason I chose to leave. Even though she had been in hospital nearly two months they honestly thought Nanna would bounce back, after all she always had in their lifetime. They cried, told her they loved her, thanked her for being there and everything she had ever done for them. She left them in no doubt as to how she felt about them, they had given her reason to breathe for the last decade or so, without them she may well have chosen this path earlier believing her work to be done.

"But why is she dying? what is she dying of?" Boy 2 cried. How do you explain to an 11 year old about choosing death. As bright as he is the choice was simple: you love me, why leave me?

I spoke to him as clearly as I could get my mind around it (and I must admit there was a little girl inside me screaming the same thing)... "Nanna is frail, the pain is too much and her tired body is worn out. She has lived a wonderful, happy life and does not want the end of her life to be full of misery and anguish. It is her choice and as WE love her we need to let her know it is okay and we understand."

Driving home from the hospital, after much thought he states: "I am really sad, but inside me is a little part rejoicing for her."  God, these children, they amaze me and give me strength to go on.
Boy 1 was quiet, tears silently rolling down his cheeks. Once home he asked me: "How do I go on without someone who has helped me all my life. How do I get used to her not being there?" I could not answer straight away for I too feel the same.
I must face life without her, knowing that the one person who saw me warts and all, who loved me no matter what, and who was my biggest safety net when I fell, is gone. Not in my heart but in my physical world. No more can I ring her to laugh over something, no more can I seek her wise counsel when the angry world confuses me. No more can I drop in unannounced, giving her last minute warning with a "tooot toooot" at the door.

I am hurting, and yet grateful. To have had Wise Woman in my life for so long is an incredible blessing. To be raised by such a woman, well, words fail me.

Mum, I love you, I will always love you and hold you in my heart. I promise to do you proud.

Wise Woman
5/10/1919 - 21/10/2010

daughter of an incredible woman.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tonight Things are Bleak

They operated last night. Put a huge screw through the top of Wise Woman's left femur to piece it back together. She was in ICU last night and most of today, but they have put her back in the ward late this afternoon.

Five minutes ago they rang. The specialist. Wanted to have the talk. The we don't think it is likely but just in case do you want a do not resuscitate order on? The you know how frail she is at the moment and anything could happen and we don't want to call you in the midst of the night, do we... conversation.

I love her. I love her so much, she is my mum. And I love her enough to let her go if that is the way it has to be, to give her permission to lay down her gauntlet and leave the battle.

But fuck it hurts.

And I am scared.

What do I do when the only person who can make me better is the one I need to let go?

Friday, October 15, 2010

The One I Didn't Want to Write: Or the Second Worst Thing...

The phone broke the silence at 1.30 this morning. It is the sound you dread in the early hours of the morning when someone you love is at risk. We were bringing Wise Woman home today. Yes, she was frail. Yes, we had big battles ahead. But we were ready.

And at 1.30am the worst living issue we could face came roaring into reality. She had fallen. At first the garbled message led me to believe she had broken her leg and her kneecap. Jumped in the shower (because I needed to), jumped in the car and DROVE like hell. It is an hour to the hospital and I know the road inside out after seven weeks of daily driving. Once there I tracked her through the hospital from rehab to emergency to ward. And found my fragile, tiny mother swaddled in blankets, scared, in pain, vulnerable. With a fractured hip. Our worst living nightmare due to the state of her bones.

This time I cannot rant and scream at THEM. This time it was a foolish choice by her to pick up something because of her dignity, to put herself at risk due to her pride, to lose the gamble so tragically. I understand why, I know the what for's, as angry as I was at first it has now drizzled down to sadness and compassion.

In the wee hours of first light I sat in my car and sobbed. People walked past watching, understanding, for where else but the carpark of a hospital would we cry so freely? Then I did what she has always taught me. Suck it up, get on with it. WW has always had the belief where there is life there is hope, where there is hope there is no excuse to chuck in the towel. Plenty of time for tears when the battle is lost, never when there is a lull in the gunfire whilst the enemy reloads.

And so I am loaded back up. Placing one foot in front of the other and remembering to breathe. Most of the time. Kick me when I forget. Please.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

How To Write a Biography: or Eulogy 101

Many, many moons ago Wise Woman asked me to write her eulogy. Yes, I know this is not a usual request when in robust health, but then again my mother is not your usual lady. Today, feeling very ill, she asked me again. What I laughingly brushed off with a "plenty of time to get it right Mama, don't stress..." now has become reasonably critical for her peace of mind if nothing else.

I noticed how very little she has become. Not only due to loss of height, but now because of the massive curvature in her spine; she is so stooped she can now look only to the ground.

My mother always walked tall, she was tall. Shoulders back, long-legged stride, arms swinging, people turned to watch her progress along the path admiring this fine figure of a woman.

She began to lose height almost twenty years ago with the first fracture (1990). But we never imagined this disease could strip so much of her height. She once graced life at 5'7". Now I doubt she is 4'7", more like 4'5".

But I digress. The eulogy. How do you put into words the way someone has influenced you, how can you sum up a long life in a few words? I want to do her justice, I want her to listen to my words and know how much we all love her, I want to create a picture so vivid that all who hear it can see her clearly, hear her voice and laughter even when she is gone.

Can someone please tell me how to do that? Please?

Friday, October 1, 2010

FYBF - In The Wee Hours of The Night

The Rules are here. She says it so much better than I ever could.


I know Flog Yo Blog Friday is meant to be funny and lighthearted but I just don't have any humour inside me at the moment. Life is challenging, but even worse when you add sleep-deprivation into the equation.

I woke with heart pounding, gasping for breath at 1am. Up until now there have been sleep issues, but not as severe as this nightmare induced panic attack in the cold of just past midnight. I dreamt of her. I dreamt she was dying. My thoughts were of her struggling to breathe, each rasping, painful breath slower than the last.

The terrifying thing is that this is not so far from the truth for now Wise Woman has a chest infection and we all know how susceptible the elderly are to pneumonia. Add in her emphysema and we have serious issues.

I have been coping well, running on pure adrenalin as Ro said, but am I dealing with the thought of losing her? I don't know. It is a very real risk right now. She will be 91 on Tuesday, every little health problem erodes her already frail grasp on life, and I know she does not wish to be here with no quality of existance. Death comes to us all and logically I know at her age I should be very grateful to have had her in my life with so much joy in hers for so long.

But humans are not only logical creatures, we are emotional beings and I want to know how on earth I get my head and heart around losing someone who created me. Not in life (as we all know I am adopted), but by moulding my very core to be who I am. How do I ever reconcile myself to letting go to the one person who loves me unconditionally. How do I say goodbye to my mother?

This may not be it. I hope and pray the miracle woman floors the professionals one more time and fights back to quality of life. But it will be one day. And I do not know if I can face it. Ever.