Calm Before The Storm

I have previously written about the prospect of losing my Mother which to me was the worst possible event in the world and as she passsed away just over a week ago I am now in the throes of the most awful sadness. I have never been brilliant at verbalising my feelings but am able to write a little so this is now a sort of cathartic exercise which I hope by writing about now – plus some of the events leading up to her death – a quick trip to Sydney the week before Mum passed away which was also cathartic with some actually quite funny and pleasant moments – will lessen the pain of the deep loss I am feeling right now plus bring closure to my previous blog entitled ‘The Unavoidable Journey’. The meaning of the title – The Calm – being the week in Sydney and – The Storm – being returning home to her passing.

Mum had been very ill for many years with recurring bouts of non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma  which through good luck plus excellent atttention from her medical team she was able to manage and keep at bay. However a few months ago the dreaded disease returned with a vengeance and the cancer was taking over body so the next stop was to admit her to an aged care facilty where they actually told her she was dying and they promised her that she would not be in any pain – how I wish that that had in fact been the case – more on that later!

We have four dogs and one of the greatest pleasures for Mum during her stay in the hospice was when we brought along one of our dogs to visit – her little face would light up – a huge smile would cross her face as the dog – usually Marley – would rush up to Mum – kiss her on the face and then go straight to sleep lying in her arms.

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Earlier this year we accepted a kind invitation from two of our dearest friends in Sydney – Shane and John – who asked us to spend about ten days with them on their three properties in Sydney. Tickets were booked and at that time Mum was coping quite well! However as the time to depart for Sydney drew nearer Mum’s condtion worsened. We of course felt guilty about leaving Mum at this critical time so we spoke to her individually and separately and she insisted that her wish was for us to please go to Sydney and enjoy ourselves. She even spoke briefly to our host and told him of her wish. After a sad farewell we headed for the airport to catch a midnight flight.

On arrival at the airport we proceeded to check in where we were told that our excess baggage charge would be $350 – we only had one case between us – because it turned out that I stupdly misread the booking form on the web and paid for two bags for the return trip and none on the outgoing trip. Angrily I snatched the tickets from the staff member saying we would not be going because for that cost we could have almost paid for two extra passengers to travel. Seething I sat on a barrier away from the desk while Sach returned to the check-in desk trying to organise some sort of compromise which he did to a degree having the charge lowered to $175. I then went to nearest ATM which promptly ate up my credit card. I kicked that ATM with such force that I had to limp away and sit until the pain in my leg subsided.

Onward to the departure lounge where I sat sulking and looking like a stone figure – jaw clenched. Just when I thought things could not get any worse Sach nudged me and suggested that I turn around which I did to behold a chap dressed in full Middle Eastern garb with a huge beard – sandals and carrying a very large back pack. At the best of times I am a very nervous flyer and having just heard about the dreadful attack in Paris I was not in the calmest of places seeing this gentleman. I have been critcised for suggesting they say unfairly that this person should have been the cause of concern. Anyone knowing me would know that there was no ill intent – just total fear. On boarding we encountered the head flight attendant who was quite the storm trooper – barking at everyone to store bags – raise their tables – pay attention to the safety drill – keep legs under the seat in front etc. She was very intimidating and I was tempted to give her the Nazi salute but Sach suggsted that if I wanted to continue on the flight it may not be a good idea.

About an hour into the flight the aforementioned gentleman went into the toilet at the front of the plane – near our row – and left the door open as he proceeded to take things in and out of his back pack so of course my imagination went into overdrive. I immediately ordered a scotch and coke – took two valium hoping they would knock me out. However all that occurred was that I was slurring my words more than usual and sort of slept but with one eye open for the remainder of the flight! Just before we landed in Sydney our stormtrooper attendant stomped up and down the aisle whacking seats that were not upright and generally maintainng her frightening demeanour – frightening to me!

Sydney holds many charms and memories for me and I was excited to be back even though each time my mobile rang I froze expecting to hear upsetting news about dear Mum. We dragged the bloody suitcase through peak hour crowds to John’s and Shane’s city office where they gave us the key to their beautiful apartment to rest until they finished work at about 6pm. They suggested that we take a taxi to the apartment because it was some distance away however I foolishly thought we could save money plus that it might be nice to mingle with the Sydneysiders once again.  My decision almost did both of us in on the first day of our trip. Sach had a particularly painful knee that day and I was totally out of condition. Almost an hour later we lobbed ourselves at the apartment foyer. My head was spinning – my breath was coming in short pants and my ankles were battered  by the suitcase ploughing into them whenever we had to walk downhill. I dumped myself on the steps of the apartment and looked behind to see poor Sach limping along and stopping every few yards to give me the evil eye which I thoroughly deserved. On reaching the apartment we staggered into the bedroom – fell onto the bed fully clothed and didn’t stir for three hours.

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At about 6pm the boys – Shane and John – picked us up to take us to their magnificent northern beaches home however we thought we would take them to dinner first which we did . Sadly – for the waitress –  that meal was soured when Sach paid the bill still in an exhausted state and neglected to add a tip! Well – the charming waitress suddenly had a face that wouldn’t take a joyride – if she could have put laxatives into our coffee I’m sure she would happily have done so. Thus ended day one in Sydney!

The following day the boys had to attend a funeral in Port Doulgas so we were left to  our own devices in their glorious home whch was no hardship. Sach had a swim  in their infinity pool while I watched on. I have never learned to swim – all that water!! -and ever since seeing ‘Jaws’ if I do swim and something brushes against me underwater I practically walk on water to reach the shore.

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On their return from Port Douglas the boys took us down to their property in the southern highlands – we truly felt as if we were a million miles from the issues in Perth such was the calming effect of their beautiful property. However of course we kept in contact with Mum several times a day. The boys have four beautiful alpacas and while we were there they also purchased four very young sheep. Shane’s joy is the farm – he maintains it beautifully and his love of the area is infectious. Apart from swimming my other big fear is snakes and the boys informed us that there had been sightings of several on their property. So whenever I walked around the property I wore full length socks, jeans and thick shoes – even in 38 degrees heat – and my toes were curled like a crab in my shoes. If something  moved in the bush I moved even faster out of the bush.

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During our stay we were kindly invited to dinner with some people who actually owned a large part of the city we were staying in and people of standing in the community. The boys who know me too well suggested that I try and be a little less ‘out there’ shall we say during dinner. Not an unreasonable ask! However – after the introductions were made and we settled down to a pleasant evening I was asked how long I had lived in Perth and I said – ‘Eight inches!’. John and Shane visibly blanched – Sach rolled his eyes way back into his head but thankfully they all thought it was hilarious and they even said that I was their type of person! I’m not called ‘Mr Inappropriate’ for nothing !

On another day we were taken by the boys to a chicken auction. That was truly a revelation for me especially – not so much for Sach who was a jackeroo at one stage of his life. Shane was very keen to add to his lovely collection of animals etc and this day he was looking for some ducks and pheasants! We arrived at a dusty sort of cluster of sheds where there were cages all numbered from 1 to over 400 and the auction started at number 1 so a long day was obviously awaiting us! Hundreds of fowl feathered birds arrived slowly – delivered by a, shall we say, interesting looking group of enthusiasts. Now – in the following observations I certainly do not mean to offend it’s just that I have not mixed much with farming folk and some of them were most interesting looking – and all salt of the earth I’m sure. John, Sach and I sat just outside the main shed near a van where two persons who looked like Ma and Pa Kettle were serving up food all day. I was temped by a bacon and egg roll but as I was eating I looked over beside John’s seat where there was a portion of a dead bird – feathers and all. Appetite lost! I don’t think many of the persons there that day owned a comb or mirror! Remember now – no offence meant. At one stage two rathery leathery ladies marched out to their cars with a huge bird under each arm which they carried like big living feathery handbags! One dear lady looked as if she had flown in on her broomstick directly from the movie ‘Wizard of Oz’ – however I’m sure she was the sweetest person!

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At the start of the auction persons were rushing out in a high state of excitement with just a carton of eggs. I thought it rather unusual when they could just have easily bought a dozen eggs at their local deli. I was then informed thay they were fertilised eggs of special breeds. I decided to cruise around the main shed but at almost every cage I went up to the bird inside would puff up and give me the ‘chook eye’ and some even hissed at me – a bit like some people have done at times in my life. Then a baby bird fell to the ground from a nest in the shed roof and was obviously hurt. I immediately ran out of the shed and stayed outside in the sun near the car rather than watch the sad goings on.  Meanwhile Shane had success in purchasing two beautiful caller ducks. So cute! So all in all a productive and most interesting day!

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Back to Sydney for one final night in the boys apartment with a most splendid view and luckily it was the day the complete fleet of five P&O liners was in Sydney and one of them berthed just across from the apartment.

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We then caught a ferry to get a closer look at the ships moored in the harbour. How we love that harbour and the buzz of the city.

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For our last night – knowing we were returning to an incredibly sad situation we did a little pub crawl and had drinks in one of Sydney’s oldest little pubs in the Rocks and then dinner in a lovely pub called The Cook House which was at the back of an older pub but converted into a lovely atmospheric area where one cooks one’s own food. The atmosphere and staff were both splendid as we counted our blessings and gratitude to our special friends John and Shane – at the same time stealing ourselves to face the inevitable outcome of Mum’s illness.

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Now this epistle takes a very sad turn as we flew home and then went to see Mum. When we walked into her room her beautiful face lit up as we both kissed and embraced her. However she was obviously nearing the end of her time on this earth and was in great distress. Her pain was so bad that times it felt as if she would break my fingers she was squeezing them so hard. I asked her where it hurt and she said ‘everywhere’. For some reason the morphine etc woud only work for an hour or so and then she would wake up again scared and in pain. She asked me not to leave her as I kissed her and held her close to me – her body was cold and she was like a tiny bird! I offered to sing for her and she half smiled and said ‘Probably!’  I don’t think I will ever forget her distress – it just seemed so unfair and unnecessary in this day and age. Shocked me to the core seeing the person I loved most in this world going through such emotional and physical pain.

After about twelve hours she passed and the staff said that they truly believe that she waited to see us again. I miss her more each day it seems – I keep wanting to phone her for a chat and gossip as I did several times a day.She was deeply loved by so many and the cards, messages and flowers I have received from all over the world are a testimony to that fact. Family and friends and even just acquaintances plus dear people like Debbie Reynolds, Lisa Scaffidi, the Lord Mayor of Perth and even my ex wife Su Pollard! On Tuesday 15th December Sach is hosting the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre Morning Melodies and they have agreed to the event being dedicated to the memory of my Mum. Hopefully after that event I will be able to start the process of closure. They say that a death brings out the best and worst in families so we will see over time what turns  my life takes in that respect.

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