TWO WEEKS

Two Weeks 7th Dec – 21st December

Gerts is here and he’s not here. The house is emptier and his room is silent. No electronic hum, no blue light and shelves gathering dust. The pictures of his ‘boys’ on the walls of his study no longer look down at Grandpa. The car port looks huge now that his car has gone. Vitamin C bulk packs say he is gone. I say ‘He is gone’, all the barrels of vitamins, the scattered apricot kernals and the quack supplements say ‘gone’. The old wheelbarrow with the punctured tyre says gone. So too the dead tomato seedlings and the empty shelves in his poly tunnel. His shed, crowded with unsorted stuff, hanging with cobwebs says ‘missing in action’. The horse radish is out of control and needs lifting. The juicer in the kitchen is clean and silent. I haven’t bought soy milk for over a month.

The blocks have been removed from under the dining room table. He needed them for extra height to get his wheelchair in close.The position of the table no longer reflects his need for navigation space. Two armchairs are back in position for the same reason. I have removed the digital clock from his bedside table. The house has a sterile neatness with an overlay of my current slovenliness. The funeral flowers have been binned after the recent heatwave, but not their droppings. The Sympathy Cards are unanswered and lying where the gusty cool change blew in and scattered them.

Last week, I followed the bereavement booklet ‘s list, ‘People to Notify’. It helped to have a list to tick. Yesterday I took scissors to his medicare, pension and credit cards. It felt like a crime. And why should I return his passport to the passport office? I am also keeping his wallet and his drivers licence.

I still feel strange informing people of his death. It sounds like I’m lying! A huge presence in my life has disappeared but to the world and the universe it is less than a speck of dust. Life like Nature is largely indifferent and inexorably dynamic. I will be swept up in it when I want to be sad for longer. He deserves that. But already I am making plans, effecting slight changes. I am a single now for Health Cover, there is only one car to insure, one name on the bank account. I changed all the policies! Not just in name but to different companies with cheaper rates. Tomorrow I take possession of my new car and I have bought a new standard lamp for the lounge room without his input .

My habits are changing too. I get up early in the morning and stretch with some yoga poses and go for a walk in Victoria Park. It is such a wide open space and the trees are grand. I poked around his shed today and found his ‘medicine chest’ of emergency tools. The drill and the driver, the drill bits and the screw bits. I found the chargers and the lithium batteries that click in and out. I had man help putting my new wheelbarrow together and replacing the leaking tap. I started the whipper snipper by following the instructions on the stem. It took a man to show me where they were! I took to the compost with a fork and carted it in the new wheelbarrow to the cleaned out bed and despite hot weather on the way, planted out the seedlings that have been on the verandah for a week.

Images of Gerts failing body still come to mind and I have taken to kissing his photo, something I have not done before to any deceased person in my life. And I love to dwell on his face in those last days when he could do little more than raise his hand to caress my face. The staff told me that they noticed how, in all his time with them, his face lit up when I entered the room. I also know it lit just as brightly for the very kind breakfast lady! He did take pleasure from the people around him.

Tomorrow I take possession of my new car. What fun!

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THE LAST TIMES

When someone is dying ‘last times’ are like a series of showers. You never know which of the showers will be the last for today. And there is little point wondering. It is a shower. Do whatever it takes… stay home, go out but with a raincoat, hat, umbrella and do what you have to do.We don’t spend time wondering if it’s the last one.

We didn’t know when Gerts came home in the wheelchair that it was the last time. The next time he had to cancel. We didn’t know that with one cancellation it was cancelled for life.

I can’t remember the last time we went to the cafe , only that there was one. Did we have the good coffee made by the man or the bitter coffee made by the woman.

Was that the last sparrow we watched together, eating that jelly slice?

The jelly slice from Rosencrofts was so good and we planned to have many more. But we didn’t.

When was the last time you wore your rabbit felt akubra? Was it sitting in your wheelchair in the sun on the street pavement, in front of your new home at Gandarra?

When was the last time I wheeled you anywhere in the wheelchair? That one and the one before I do remember. Your  daughter visited with the boys. We went to the Japanese garden. Chris had made a fudge slice and the boys who were climbing the trees and kept appearing as the slices disappeared.You kept saying ‘Aren’t the boys lovely?” Liam sat on the stone ledge and talked about something interesting but I don’t remember what. Later that day I wheeled him out to the same place and we had a red wine with Jacinta and Peter. Jacinta brought cheese and bikkies. That was the last time. By then time Gerts had a wonderful non-discriminating eating pattern. He had let go of the restraint he doggedly maintained throughout his life. We didn’t know it would be the last time he indulged in cheese.

How do you plan your life to be present at ‘last times’? You want to plan for them, be on time, grasp them, photograph them, hold them. Sometimes, wondering about ‘the last’ time can spoil the present time. Is the last time important if one is ever present? Can it be held, bottled? Is it so very different to previous times.?

I remember the sudden surprise and joy when you opened your eyes for me two days after your decision to go in your sleep and it happened again the next day. With difficulty of focus  you  moved your  hand to my face. Your eyes were full of love, a kind of bliss. With all my heart I loved you.

The last day, before I knew it was the last day, I said to you,’Gerts you are already gone from us but that engine of yours keeps going like a steam powered piston.  Chug, chug, chugging, working so hard. You can stop now Please rest.’

When I squeezed your  hand and said, I’ll be back in a minute,’ and kissed you  on the forehead, you gave a little shudder and a gasp of breath. That was the first time I had heard that response,and I went to the bathroom. I came back to some change, some shift, in the room. It was very quiet. There was no sound of breathing. There was such stillness.

‘I think you’ve  gone,’ I said in amazement. There was no-one else in the room. I put my head on your chest. I thought I heard something. I checked your pulse. Nothing.

Then a nurse came in and confirmed it.

I didn’t know that the gasp I heard was your last. But I remember it.

By the end of that last hour in the room, you didn’t even look like my Gerts. You had been dripping away for a week in the peace that  palliative care can provide. No spasms, groans. No delirium, no Last Words. But such a tender time for me of listening, not counting those last breaths because where would I start?