Grandpa’s day

It’s Fathers Day and G’s daughter made it Grandpa’s Day as well. The boys had chosen a card and written in it ‘You are the awesomest grandpa’. Signed Liam and Rory. I took some time out while they were here for time with my awesomest friends wondering how long the boys would last confined to indoors with no computer games, dogs, trampoline or bikes. Although they did have cake but that diversion only lasts  the first 5 minutes. They were taking turns in the wheelchair when I left and I wondered how long it would be before they grabbed the controls of the hospital bed and were raising poor Grandpa up and down. I was surprised to find them still here when I arrived home.

They were playing a game with one of Grandpa’s drinking straws. On the dining table they had an A4 piece of paper divided into 4 equal sections with an alternating ‘yes’ ‘no’ in the sections. They had one of Grandpa’s pill thimbles in the centre of the page. On top of this was balanced the straw.

Rory took the straw and rubbed it between the palms of his hands to build up some static, placed it on the upturned thimble and asked in a loud voice

‘Are you there, Charlie?’

He held his hand near the straw without touching it and the remaining static activated the straw towards a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. More or less. If there was no action there were more loud exhortations to Charlie to reveal himself with a yay or a nay. If still no action, not to be undermined by any scepticsm about his possible presence, there would be more rubbing of the straw.

If the indicators were positive there was a half hearted attempt by me to look for him on the ceiling fan, behind the curtains. Small boys of 8 and 10, you gotta love’em.

Another Stage

The hospital bed made transition from bed to wheelchair easier for about 3 days. We had been given a ‘slide baord’ to bridge the gap between the bed and the chair but G did not and could not ‘slide’ on it. Because I cannot physically get his pants under his bum and up his backside, he is trying to slide flesh on the board. He had a fall backwards, just onto the bed, but the pain was excruciating. It spooked him and frightened me. We called on his son-in-law, Hamish, to call in after work to help return G that evening from the chair back to the bed. Later that night, Hamish rang me to say how shocked he was at G’s deteriorating condition. He saw for himself how little control G has over his legs. He said he considered the present way of moving him manually, unviable, and suggested I enquire about a hoist. It was a huge relief to have our difficulties validated and for him to appreciate G’st true condition. On the 4th July G was managing on a walking stick at his grandson’s 10th birthday. Four weeks later he can only get around in a self propelled wheelchair and can spend time only in bed or in the wheelchair. He can travel outside the house only in a maxi taxi. When the weather picks up come September I may be able to wheel him into the garden or even around the block.

We have mastered the hoist and G is very patient hanging in mid air while I manoeuvre the wheelchair under him. He praises me for my handling and steering abilities, not quite a heavy vehicle licence but a skill nonetheless.

The days have settled into a routine. Broken only occasionally by the odd disaster. He had a full on bowel movement in the bed one night which had me cleaning up competently at 4am and howling on his shoulder later in the day. I feared that he had lost control of his bowel due to the nerve damage creeping up his legs and that we might face it again the next night. But it was a one off unfortunate occurrence. His laxative regime had not been adjusted to allow for his intake of Cookies.

Apart from giving him the runs the Cookies are helping keep him peaceful, the morphine has decreased and we have now sorted the laxative balance.

The cheery District Nurses visit 3 times a week and Hospice is on hand 24/7. But I have not rung them in over a week. I have adjusted to being home to the point where I don’t want to go out! Weeding the garden has become sheer pleasure, just to be outside even on a cold or drizzly day. The marigolds, the salvia and the cornflowers are planted out and the soil is looking great. My sister comes to sit with Gerts once a week and busies herself with my housework. She gives the weeds a good walloping too. It was she who alerted me to G’s pressure points and showed me how to elevate his feet with cushions to avoid or at least minimize them.

I am working on my stories for a short story competition, reading heaps of Adrian McKinty ‘s novels set in Belfast during the Troubles of the eighties and watching Netflix. I have lost interest in the granny squares as they are all turning out to be different sizes because of the different tensions created by the different patterns. Maybe I’ll get back to it.

Gerts’ experience of time is distorted somewhat with the his special medicine, but it is accompanied by some euphoria which must be a blessing.

The Blow Up

The hospital bed has arrived. It would not have happened if G and I had not blown off to each other!

Sometimes emotions have to be vented before constructive measures can be taken. That’s the way it happens here. Argument is second nature to G and I like to avoid arguments. We have more misunderstandings while arguing. Because G reins in his feelings, they build to a pretty primal outburst, highly coloured with emotional blackmail and other catastrophes. I deal with it much as you would with a child. Allow plenty of room to vent and don’t retaliate or emotionally engage. That’s the general rule. This time I broke it.

The one thing that makes it hard for me to face each day is the regime of Vitamin C. He takes 100g of Vitamin C, ascorbic acid, in a powder form, on a spoon every day. High potency Viatamin C is 500mg per tablet. He would have to take 200 tablets per day to equate to his powder form. He takes 5g per dose which means 20 doses a day, which means more than 1 dose per hour because he can’t take it while sleeping. He crams them into his 16 hours waking time and if he wakes during the night I hear him self administering from the bedside table. It is impossible to have everything in reach from a bedside table with his level of mobility. He takes it from the bed, from his study, from the dining table and sometimes in the bathroom. He needs a spoon, the container of Vitamin C, the glass of water to wash it down and the glass of pear juice to nullify the extreme acidity in his mouth and throat. And if any of those elements are missing he gets desperate. If they are not within reach he gets desperate. It is a mantra, ‘I must take my vitamin C.’ It might be easier having all these things within reach everytime, everywhere, if I believed that it really was doing some good. But I don’t and there has been no evidence of improvement. I told him so. We said some hurtful things to each other. Then the doorbell rang and the District Nurse had arrived to wash him.

I had to confess to the tension as we were still sniping. The district nurse assessed some of the practicalities and ordered the hospital bed and a hospital bedside table.

A couple of hours later, G was conciliatory and we agreed he would cut down on the vitamin C and only take it from the dining table where I could keep track of everything, including top-ups in the one place. It has not only freed me from chasing all over the house, it has freed him from the tyranny of ‘the cure’.

The Hospice

Within the space of eight months we have had an estimated life span of 3-5 years down to months and now down to weeks to months.

On Monday I had G admitted to Gandarra Hospice for 2 days. He fell out of bed the previous Saturday because his feet were hanging over the edge of the bed but he couldn’t feel them. When he inched himself up on his elbows, the weight of his feet and legs dragged him off the bed and in slow motion with no means of prevention, he fell onto the floor. I could not get him up without causing pain and was thinking I would have to call for paramedics when he got himself onto his hands and poor wobbly knees. He then clawed his way up onto the mattress. The jolt caused further assault to his spine and he has taken the next step towards decline. He was frightened and I was frightened.

I called Hospice the next morning and a nurse came within the hour and talked to us . He arranged for more bedposts and also suggested that G have a short stay in Gandarra. He really sold it to G and I could see that it was preparation for an inevitable endplace and also, it would be a rest for me. They had a bed and I grabbed it for Monday and Tuesday.

G felt good about it and was acquiescent because he was helping me. I had my agenda of familiarizing him with the place and the care it offered and also getting an assessment of my fears which always seem out of proportion with what G asserts are his abilities. With two agendas, although not in conflict, we were bound to have misunderstanding and so it proved to be. On the Wednesday, with no firm date for him to come home, he went into meltdown. This was the third day. He had agreed to two days, he was behind in his Vitamin C program with no prospect of making up the missed doses. How could he possibly heal? And there was no wifi . He threatened to ring his daughter and ask her to come for him and he would stay with her for a couple of weeks. She loves him! She and her husband work fulltime and the children are at school but this was no obstacle to G in his state of panic. He was extremely depressed. Hospital processes are long and slow and it is impossible sometimes to see an end in sight. They were attending to some of his health issues that would make it easier for him to stay home but the way he saw it, I was lounging in coffee bars and taking long bubble baths, champagne in one hand, rose petals in the other while he was put away and forgotten.

He had no hug for me, no kiss. He was really pissed off.

I commend the staff and doctors for listening to his grievances so patiently, and while I sat quietly doing my knitting, a compromise was reached. One more day, if every effort was made towards his discharge the next.

He spent 4 days there in total and on the Friday came home at lunchtime. His black mood had lifted.

We had our new hospice toys to try out and our old ones to ship out. We were given a ramp (not wide enough as it turned out) for easy access from taxi to inside. There was a commode on wheels to go over the loo. It was going to be a cinch. Not quite!

It was not easy getting him from the wheelchair to the commode chair and even more difficult getting him from the commode chair back onto the bed where he has been now since 3.30pm He fell asleep with the liquid morphine and six hours later he is still asleep.

He will become more and more tired as the weeks go by until he is too tired to breathe and his body succumbs completely to the disease. I am not sure how we will manage even one week at home in his weakened state. There is no easy way for him to change position and even his arms that do so much of the the manoeuvring will eventually fail him. The doctor told me that prostate cancer of this scale chews up the body’s reserves at an alarming rate.

Is there anything to be thankful for? Well he is in excellent spirits. Extremely optimistic.

And his mental state is reward in itself. He had some visitors today while he was in his wheelchair. His two little grandee boys, 10 and 8yrs,IMG_20150808_151915015_HDR IMG_20150808_152000140_HDR were so sweet with hugs and kisses and other ways to express their concern. It did him a power of good. Children understand that people do not change because they are ill or dying. It is the same person dying as the one that played monster and chased them round the adventure playground near the lake. With a few stragglers joining in! He just can’t do that any more.

A friend who has recently lost her husband to cancer called in and took me out to lunch. So all in all, a good day.

The pictures show a super Grandpa beating the ugly monster, Cancer.

The Harsh News

This one is the hardest of all to write.

G was disconsolate last night when I left him in the hospital. I had just given him the bad news. Maybe I should have softened it. Somehow. I hated leaving but I couldn’t stay either.

The doctors had chatted with me on my own yesterday because G was absent from the ward having an MRI (soft tissue scan) and I was there waiting for him as they did their rounds. It was not good news .The bone scan showed further spread of tumours on the spine and also some compression and collapse of the bones as they succumb to invasion. What an unlikely fate for a man who has had his back described by a chiropractor as a red gum plank and his bone density calling into question his weight vs his height ratio. The treatment will rein in the charge of the disease with further hormones, radiotherapy and chemo. Unfortunately his cancer cells are cloning in a very nasty way.

On the up side, I have some tax dollars in the account for ‘caring’.

And, further on the up side, my son is due home today from Sth America.

The Up-side continues because the next day he was discharged after 4 hours of a chemo drip. I ordered a maxi taxi, despite his protestations that he could make it in and out of our car, but no way was I having a repeat of all that.

“You’ll have to pay”, said one of the nurses when I told her an our exit plan. Catastrophe!

We paid $14. Well worth it. I guess that is a lot depending on how often you use it. But there is a means tested taxi card available with more than 50% discount. I have all the paper work. I just hate filling in government forms. It is an optimistic thing to do, however.

The Radiology Review

The trip to the oncologist for the Radiology review was a nightmare. We had the wheelchair and that was great, but we also had the deep rutted bluestone gutters on Sturt St and the angle parking and that was not so great. Angle parking meant that there was a car parked either side with restricted space for moving the rather heavy wheelchair, heavy for me, from the backseat and then G had to exit the passenger side with his awkward manouevres for avoiding pain, grab the walking stick and with legs that hardly bear his weight, get himself out of the gutter’s steep valley and line up his bum with the wheelchair seat. Lifting his feet off the ground is like lifting the non responsive feet of a stroke victim. The weather is freezing and we have to cross at the lights. Ballarat’s lights give a pedestrian time to make the wide median strip and unless you want to dice with the traffic you have to wait again for the green light. I took my chances with the traffic and they were kind enough to give us a few extra seconds. Next time I’ll wait in sleet if necessary.

The review, as I expected, was grim, with a positive spin. G has possibly sustained some permanent damage to his spinal cord from the pressure of the tumour. There has been no measurable improvement but it may take up to another couple of weeks. The Cancer Support Nurse sat in on the review which was helpful especially when I had to leave to move the car. I had thought one hour would be enough. When I returned they were eating cake. The Cancer Centre was marking 2 years of operation with coffee, eats and balloons.

Returning to the car was the same nightmare only in reverse. I am ordering a maxi taxi for the next appointment, with the urologist, in a few days. I had thought things would be easier with the help of the wheelchair. I had not allowed for a worsening of his condition. By the time we arrived home his back was throbbing, he had no interest in eating and rolled himself into bed in the hope of some relief. An hour later when there was no improvement I took the fresh script for the increased dosage to the pharmacy. This is now double what he had a week ago. He said it was not too bad if he lay completely still. That sounds like a good plan for the rest of his days! At 4pm I rang the Hospice nurse without his knowledge, and on her advice took 2 endone to him with a glass of water.

“Take them”, I ordered. An hour later, he said, “I told you they have never work.”

I consulted with him re an injection which has been a back- up plan offered by hospice.

“No way. I don’t want an injection. It’ll be alright.”

I argued and he became agitated about his right to control his management.

“Alright, have it your way.” Then I waited.

At midnight, he capitulated and I rang the 24hour hospice service. The night nurse was here in a half hour. She inserted a bung under the skin of his tummy which enables the delivery of drugs with no sharps, needles, to the layman, by screwing a phial to the delivery system. His relief was immediate and palpable. He awoke the next morning, booming with joy. He was turning cartwheels out of bed and sat up in front of telly for a slap up brekkie of baked beans and egg washed down with a hot chocolate that he called bliss. That was Friday morning and our worst night so far, but not the worst to come.

Friday was a good day. Hospice arrived again at 9am with more morphine and a discussion with him about pain management yet, again. They left more phials and when I expressed some apprehension about the responsibility , the nurse assured me it was completely my decision. That made me stop and think. I may have to have certain parameters but for now, we are managing well enough with a regular dosage of the liquid morphine taken orally via an eye dropper measure. He is getting up and down from his chair and in and out of bed more easily. He even had a shower with no assistance.

“This is living,” he said gleefully. I had to agree. He went to bed about 8pm and I had a couple of hours of Kevin Spacey’s “House of Cards”. How I love that series. Watching Francis and Claire is like watching a spider devour a fly. I think of nothing except what a cracking piece of writing it is.

I had been in bed 2 hours when he woke to go to the loo. To our horror he had no control of his legs. He could not sit on the edge of the bed, his legs would not hold his weight even with my help and that of the frame, and he could not lift them back on the bed. We improvised a urinal bottle and he had his morphine. I called the nurse first thing the next morning and although he was marginally improved, we sent for an ambulance to take him to Emergency for assessment and they decided to keep him there for two nights which brings him to his next appointment with the urologist.

I left him late in the afternoon when he was admitted to a ward and he was confident he would be doing the renovations on his daughters house come September. Is that an hallucination or just the very active brain of a man whose body is becalmed?

Hospice Care

As G progressively worsens, I have to train my brain to deal with what is and not what was or what should be. Radiation has worked because there is less pain. The morphine patch is working. That’s big guns trained on his body. His legs are so thin. They used to be tree trunks. G was a sprinter at school played football and trained like a fiend at the gym. Bicycle Victoria 10 day rides were a piece of cake. Now his legs can barely hold his weight. They buckle under him and even with the walking stick he is seriously unstable. Despite this he is cheerful. He is happy to lie on the bed for hours and listen to me moving about. A sneeze from me is music to his ears. He even enjoys my recorder practise.

He still has some self prescribed supplements. He puts a lot of faith in the vitamin C powder which he ingests in huge gram quantities. It tastes so disgusting and makes him fart like crazy. He has thoughtfully engineered his doses so that when I join him in bed of a night he is relatively fart free. Thank you G.

We had a visit from a nurse at the Hospice Centre at the hospital and she told me about the ‘Carers Allowance”. I had not thought of myself in that role. G is determinedly self reliant and struggle is no stranger to him. I think of us as a couple having a difficult time together and trust he will let me know what he needs.

She also elicited what we needed in the way of aids by taking us through our daily routine. They arrived within an hour of her leaving. There was a collapsible wheelchair to take him from the carpark to the Canced Centre, a  wheelie walker which he finds so much safer than  the walking stick and an adjustable stool for the shower.He felt like it was Xmas. We had always joked that our home was well set up for wheelchairs, but had no idea that the day would come so soon.

To me, however, it marks another stage of  decline and it is very sad. We had looked forward to a very long life together.

The nurse was always careful to say that when we have no need of the aids they can be returned, implying recovery and giving hope. G is absurdly optimistic. He is absolutely convinced of his recovery and his ability to go to the gym and hop on his bike. I love to hear him talk like this but to me it is bitter sweet. Looking at him curled on the bed, swaying on his feet or closing his eyes while a surge of throbbing subsides, I just can’t share his optimism.

He told the nurse that he had ‘bounded’ out of bed! And that he feels terrific! He never attributes these good days to a fresh surge of morphine that comes with changing the fentanil patch. He had no objections today, to me changing the patch after 2 days rather than 3 when he was again uncomfortable this morning. Now he is I heaven as he puts it, resting and healing, waiting for the day when he can help his daughter with the next renovation.

The Good News

The Good News

The good news, today is that G may not be dying, or not just yet. But I have to backtrack a little to the GP visits. He gave us a script for a truckload of endone, a relative of methadone. It had no effect even though G did use it freely. The GP warned us to be discreet about having it in the house and to watch that we were not followed home from the pharmacy. Seriously. Apparently, people desperate for any kind of fix hang out in the street outside the pharmacy and can recognise the boxes of the pills they want.

“OK,” we say,”we’ll be careful.”

Downstairs to the pharmacy, we hand over the script that’s burning in our hands.

The Pharmacist was apologetic.

“I can’t give you that much today,” he said,”or I would have nothing left for the rest of the day”

“Thats quite OK, I say. Can we call back as we need it?”

“That’s what most people do with this quantity”,he said.

“Phew!’ That saves us from being mistaken for Dealers.

After a couple of days of endone popping, we face the doctor again. G explains that it made no difference. Instead of reaching forward to the monitor on his desk, the doctor sits back in his chair looking somewhat defeated.

“You may need radiation. When do you next see the oncologist?”

“In 3 weeks.”

He writes us a referral and marks it urgent.

“I’m not having radiation”, G says to me in the car. “ Mary, I’m telling you, it is so bad for you. I would rather continue my own Vitamin C treatment because it heals the body.”

I say nothing. I didn’t know he was doing another “alternative” cure.

“But I’ll go along and listen to what he says,” G continues. “I have an open mind.”

“They won’t make you do anything you don’t want to do,” I say. “Its your body”.

A few days later we receive an appointment time from the hospital. G has been feeling somewhat more mobile over the last 48 hours. He is encouraged that the Vitamin C is working.

The oncologist is very direct and forthright with G.

“When do we get your next PSA reading ?” he asks

“In 3 weeks”, we answer.

“This is what I think is happening. Sometimes, Prostate cancer causes small fractures in the bones where it has spread . Maybe you have a fracture in your vertebrae and in time it will heal. In the meantime we give you pain relief to the best of our ability. If as you say, rest is an effective pain relief then that is what you must continue to do. If it is an enlargement of the tumour then we can offer targetted radiation, which is extremely effective in relieving pain. There will be no side effects because there are no organs so close to that area on your spine.”

G nods. Yes he will give the radiation a go if it can be targetted to that specific area.

“But first, we have to ascertain which it is, a fracture or an enlargement, and for that we scan.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………….

“That was interesting about a fracturing of the bones”, I say to G when we are home. We both think that is a very likely scenario for what has been happening because the pain came on quite suddenly and intensely and always worst when he stood, and it explains why it was largely beyond most of the pain killers. So my vision of a rampage of cancer up his spine and to his head (his head does bother me sometimes) is highly unlikely to be fact. The next couple of days will give us the definitive answer!

I Get “the Look” again

This is the second time I have had this Look. It is the look that goes past G to me in the consultation room. The doctor who gave G his first diagnosis of aggressive cancer held my gaze with this Look. The gaze that said this is sadder and more serious than He, meaning G knows. It was a look that went past G elaborating on the power of the Gerson Therapy to my place, to the side and slightly rear of where G sat. I think that is what it said. I know that my eyes held that message and the doctors eyes mirrored back compassion. That was in February. Now we are at June and we are going down to the local Bulk Bill Medical Centre. This is the first time I have been with G. He hates to wait and his favourite doctor does the early shift so G is up and off before 7am. It is mid morning for him by then because he has been awake since 4am. Also, added to G’s life long aversion to waiting, is the agony this now imposes, sitting and getting up and down out of a chair.

The doctor is witness to this when G sits in his office. It’s a strange kid of indifference. I suppose it is a survival strategy for people who face pain and suffering on a daily basis.

The following is a quick of G’s standard consultations of 5 mins. Which took place over the previous week to 10days.

“Still having pain? Increase the dose. P’forte not working? Use this patch.”

Next time

“Patch not making much difference? Take these opoids.

Next time

“Opoid dose not working ? Double it.”

Next time

“Doubling not helping? Forget the patch and top up with these.”

Next time, I go with G. “Come if you want to”, he said.

I want to and he agrees to me driving although he has considerable input from the passenger side.

“Any reason you’re going this way?”

“Because I always do”. I think to myself that his way is 2mins shorter but then my mind is so full of his deterioration and it is so early in the morning with no cup of tea, I am driving because I am the least disabled of the pair of us. I am also looking to demist the condensation all over the windscreen The fog is thick and I have forgotten my glasses. Now I have the hazard lights and the new reverse camera has a screen on top of the rear view and its messing with my head.

“What are you doing?” he asks as if I am trying my best to light up the car like a Xmas tree. I have just watched the most painful descent into the car seat and I ask myself why the hell does he come here when the Base Hospital will send out a nurse to check on him. I told him this a couple a weeks ago but when I repeat it to him again in the car, it’s as if he has heard it for the first time. I can see it strikes him as a very good idea.

We wait outside the clinic in the Ballarat fog at 7am and watch the doctors arriving one by one and lifting the slow moving screen on the entrance to the carpark. The doors to the clinic open soon after. G is very relaxed with this doctor. He likes him. He begins his rather long winded tale of what he can and can’t do, how he has to manoeuvre his body to get in and ount of bed and up and down from a chair. He blames himself when the pain stabs him because he has moved in the wrong way. He must solve this problem and there is an answer if he just keeps experimenting.

The doctor pulls out his prescription pad. He and I know there is only one way to deal.

“Take as much endone as you need”says the doc.

“But it doesn’t seem to work”, says G

“Increase the dose”, says the doc.

“What? Take two?”

“Yes. Do not be afraid to take as much as you need.”

I butt in because I know we are not in a land where side-effects or addiction have traction. This man is dying, slowly at the moment but there is no stage where painkillers are going to restore his life beyond being an invalid.

“So he could take it every 2 or 3 hours.”

“If he needs to.”

Thats when I get the Look, past G and straight at me. It is kind and thoughtful, a small but significant crack in the Bulk Billing mask.

Sadness

Today I feel calm enough to write.

I have been fighting down my well of sadness. It began with the birth of my little grandchild. I loved my children and was besotted with them but in that little baby girl I experienced a different appreciation for a new born’s utter vulnerability and their need once separated from the watery womb for another womb like existence in an oxygen charged world. Its is like the mighty step taken by the first water bound animal to cross over to land. The responsibitlity for my first baby scared me to panic and crippling anxiety. I had to see her as less than what she was, in order to care for her. It created an alarming, alienating effect where I went through the necessary motions . Fortunately I sought help and she did survive, she was a bonny, healthy baby and I have had her life time to build emotional closeness.

My husbands illness and his constant battle with pain, has rekindled all my latent anxiety. For how long will he be this invalid whom I come across asleep on the bed in the middle of the day, curled like a child, hands under his cheek. Every movement is a study in choreography as he finds ways to sit, walk, get in and out of bed and in and out of his chair with the least pain. His upper body strength has gone and his legs lack their muscular springiness. He is alone in his pain and I am alone, in the dark, with my fear of the future. The rustle of blister packs in the night chill me. He has a hormone injection to shrink the tumours but it does not shrink the one near his spine. He is wearing a patch for slow release opoid, he has a strong opoid tablet and he still has to top up with another opoid derivative. What does it all mean? The next scans are not until mid July , 4 weeks away.

. . . .

I was so proud of the love my son and his wife were able to give to that baby and my joy for them was bittersweet. I remembered most my struggle with post natal depression . It had no name in the early seventies. Depression which seems like an epidemic these days was not talked about or acknowledged. I spent my teenage years in that sorry state imitating an adult persona with some bizarre behaviours. Desperate need for affection and maturity led me to an unsuitable marriage with a man as immature as myself despite a twenty year age difference. He was kind and sweetly eccentric and I began to hate him for it. My son’s ability as a loving father has reminded me of his father’s inadequacies not to speak of my own.

Seeing my son and his wife work together managing their lives and parenting now 2 adorable girls, has given me much joy. Parenting in those early years is a total immersion in another culture with a new intuitive language for communicating with a tiny species as close to a primate baby as it is to a human. I see now that my communication with my babies was more inhibited, cooled by anxiety , fear and doubt not to mention the life sapping tiredness. It was a joy to have a second try at that language in my besotted need to get to know my grandchildren..It is a tribute to their loving environment and their sweet natures that they love me back, if briefly and somewhat temperamentally. It does not hold the feeling of rejection that I had when my own children were disgruntled , disobedient or sullen.

My son’s deep attachment to his children brings back to me the depth of my sin in leaving them. Not that they were babies. I was was a devoted and passionate, overly emotional mother who lacked skills. But I still question how I came to such an action with no-one alerted to my depressive illness. Was I so brilliant at hiding it? I think that a divorce was inevitable after twenty one years but did it have to come about as a result of such drastic surgery as literally walking out on them with my pianos and my mothers sideboard and little else. It has been haunting me ever since Grace, my grandchild was born. It is a useless ruminating that keeps me awake at night and sits in my gut, compressed. It is my shame. At the time I was proud of my courage in making such a change to an increasingly souring relationship but I deeply regret the hurt I caused my children.

Sadness is, in my mind, the branding emotion of my family. My mother displayed the bitterness that comes with a life unfulfilled and I am pretty sure her demon was an anxiety/depression illness. Her menopause was difficult and occurred during my teenage years. How else can one explain her callousness and constant fear. She spent so much useless time on her knees praying for us but I now see that she felt helpless. My parents relied on the Catholic church and the parish priest to steer them through life and the Church gave them and their children a bum steer of tragic proportions. We were suffocated in the fifties and sixties by the pressure of the church on our behaviour. The catholic angst was done to death in the sixties and seventies in art, drama and stage comedy. Lucky those few who could find the humour! It overlay a lot of pain. Catholicism is a ghetto of sorts, an invisible ghetto defined by one’s attendance at Mass and education in a catholic school and parents commitment to its strictures. I see the Muslim faith in Australia in a similar mindset. Neither faith is without its merits and many ride out the demands easily but others can drown in the judgemental, righteous and invasive moulding of the mind .