Friday, February 2, 2018

My dad loved me. Always

Why is it so easy to advise others, to see them and their situation yet be blind to our own?  Maybe it's like when you hold a book too close to your face and you can see sweet bugger all at a certain age?  A little distance is needed to get clarity.

The past 17 months have been a time of so much learning and personal growth as we navigated the journey that is terminal cancer and mourned the loss of Natey.  Both tragic yet very different.   Different grief yet grief none the less.  A few days back a friend in the US wrote the sweetest eulogy for her dog Dewey.  She wrote about what a terrible, terrible puppy he was and all he had destroyed.  All he had never learned to do.  And then she wrote something like this…when I accepted him for who he was and not for who he wasn’t we got along just fine.   He was a great source of love, company and comfort for her.  And this got me thinking about my dad.

I wish I could have seen him more for who he was in my life than for who he wasn’t.  I only got to see him clearly and properly at the end of his life.  It was like the less physically present he became, the more accessible he became.  His soul and spirit and love and affection grew as his body declined.   I am very grateful I got to see him like that even though the cost was so high.  I got to love him as much as I wanted, as I possibly could.  And I felt loved in return.    One day after a really hard day I lay on his chest and he patted my back.   We didn’t speak, just connected.  I didn’t say ‘love you Dad’ at the end of a phone call.  I said ‘I love you Dad.’  The I is the important part.  The deliberate part.  He didn’t say ‘love you too.’  He said ‘I love you my girl.’ 

Yesterday on my wedding anniversary I looked at my wedding album.  I don’t know why I didn’t think he was proud of me.  Or at times felt unloved?  He looks so happy and proud in those photos.  He was not a super involved grandpa or father, that was my mom’s job.  But towards the end, that moment when Max my nephew walked into his room and he was so ill but gave that incredible beautiful smile, well it was a revelation of how much he loved his grandkids and delighted in them.  I wish I had seen all that all along.  It is a bittersweet gift, this knowing how much he loved us all, how proud he was of his family including me.  Of course me too??  How and why did I doubt that?   I am incredibly sad he is gone.  It is has been a long painful month but the end of his life was also a gift to me.  To all of his family.  I am glad we got to show our love for him in such a tangible way by caring for him.  We got to tell him and show him and he got to tell us.  It makes the loss that much more painful though.  

I told a friend the other day her father loves her in the best way he knows how.  How he is a product of his upbringing and generation.  And the same applies to my dad.  My dad really loved me, he was really proud of me.  He couldn’t really say it or show it or maybe I couldn’t see it but it was still there and ironically it took an awful disease to bring healing and clarity.  It makes his loss so much bigger.  I miss him.  All the parts of him. So much.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A new journey, a new normal?

I love traveling.  I love the planning before hand and obsessive googling.  The packing of my bag, desperately trying to pack light but never quite managing it.  The trip to the airport or the roadtrip and the actual flying or driving bit.  And then the new experiences and people we meet and memories made when time has a different quality and just seven days can bring profound change.

Life is one long journey but within the one from birth to death, we take many smaller ones.  Some last for years and years and others are shorter.  We have defining moments and experiences that provide a before me and an after me.   We have all sorts of firsts in our lives too, both good ones and bad ones.  I have just completed a really really tough journey and embarked on another and I feel like I am inside out completely raw with no protection against the elements.

My last post was about 3 weeks ago and since then most of you know we lost our father on the 1st of January.  We had been waiting for his actual passing for over 2 months and dubbed him Laz as he kept on making a come back.  The emotional toll was enormous, especially for my mother.  Now that I have gone through it I understand the real end, when you truly know its close now.  I won't go write about the last 36 hours expect to say it was incredibly tough and traumatic and I begged God to take him home on the 31st.  In hindsight it had to be the 1st of January.  In 2017 it was the day I found out about Natey and my world stood still and a new journey began.  In keeping with my synchronicity theme, this life changing date was the day my dad made his exit.

A family is like a puzzle.  Each member is a piece and has a slot and a place.  We have lost a major piece of our puzzle and the picture will never look the same again.  We are floundering around trying to keep our shape but the puzzle is broken, our family is broken and our hearts are broken.  It feels literal, this brokeness.  The anxiety is off the charts, my dystonia is awful and my speech is bad.  I feel weirdly pregnant.  (So not!)   Emotional, nauseous, fragile, achey boobs.  I am not sure if it's the worry about my mother or the absolute tenderness I had towards my father at the end of his life. 

I miss my dad.  I miss Mimi&Pops, one unit.  I miss our boring phone chats:  "Hey Dad. Hello my girl." And then talking about the kids and dogs and my mom and camping or whatever it was.  The absolute relief of the end of suffering and the shock are a buffer and then reality hits 2 weeks in and the person is not away on a trip somewhere.  They are gone, forever.  I want to make it better for my mom and my siblings and the grandkids and Uncle B and Uncle Ralph.  But I can't and we all grieve alone at the end of the day. 

So what do I do?  How do I find my new normal?   How do I get my heart to stop racing?  Its achey this grief thing.  Just so fucking painful.   And everyone has to die.  And this grief truck will hit me again as it has in the past and even though I saw it coming and longed for the end, the force of that truck has literally knocked my breath away.  I miss my dad.  I miss our family. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Endings and beginnings

I like the symbolism of the ritual of New Year's Eve.  Not the whole big party vibe which for a 46 year old non drinker like me, is a literal non event.  I like to reflect on my year past both the lovely and the not so lovely and focus on the new year going forward.

So many people say their year was the worst one ever and they think in a day things will magically change and the next year will be full of sunshine and roses.  While I remain hope junkie and will never be cynical, I know better than to expect a tra lah lah year or one with 12 months of easy peasy bliss and calm.  2017 was a painful year for me.  On this day last year Natey drowned.  I was away in the mountains with no cellphone reception so had no idea the devastation that had just occurred.  I woke up on the 1st of January to a brilliant hot day and snuck off for a trail run before we started the big pack-up after camping.  I was so damn happy and grateful that 2016 had been relatively good.  The first year after 6 hard ones characterized by loss and hard times.  It was a really good light year and even the cancer diagnosis of my father on the 27th of August although devastating, was put in denial as he was so positive and handling the chemo like a boss so I hoped and denied with him somehow thinking he could be that 1% that survived the 5 year mark. 

I ran hot and sweaty and then cooled off in my bra and panties in the coke coloured river and lay on my back and gazed at the brilliant blue sky and thanked God for all that beauty and my year of lightness I had experienced.   I would journal later and write all my resolutions for the year, my goals, my bucket list.  And then as we got down the pass I got cell phone reception and my sister phoned.  I heard the wobble in her voice and she told me she had sad news but it wasn't Dad.  Natey drowned.  Natey??  Not Natey.  That is simply not possible because he is the most beautiful adored little boy and we love his story and his family and he is this little celeb in our lives who we follow every day watching him grow up.  But it was true and it broke all our hearts and life changed for everyone who knew and loved his parents and him.  The ripple of grief spread far and wide.

It has defined my whole year.  I have not had a day when my heart doesn't ache for his parents and his brothers.  He pops into my head several times a day.  The words spoken by his daddy at his service have made me a better person, a better mother.  Nothing can make up for a loss like that but by living long days and being more present and kind and aware I feel I honour his memory and legacy.  I have had many good happy days in the year.  Its a patchwork of different experiences all making up my life.  My studies were incredibly demanding and my community work involved hundreds of interviews and observations and 30 long reports.  I wrote interesting assignments and despite the pressure, enjoyed my last year of studies.  The boys from Bright Lights made me laugh and made me cry.  I have not been around there much and when I popped in 2 days ago I felt so guilty when they were so happy to see me and had thought I was gone forever.  I gave the staff some money to take them swimming which I know is the easy way out but I don't have the capacity at present.

I am not going to write too much about my dad other than to say he has been really really sick the last 4 months and the waiting is very hard.  I am proud to be his daughter, what a fight he has put on.  I have also walked alongside my close friend as she lost her mother to cancer exactly 2 months ago.  We get it, we get each other and the impossible journey we have both had to travel and travel still.  Cancer, Natey, my studies, family, my incredible solo Zanzibar trip, triathlon, friends, camping...all rolled into one year.  Some very happy times and others full of heavy sorrow with lots of ho-hum normal every day life in between.  And that's life I guess.  Hard and easy and beautiful and ugly and happy and sad with everyday chugging along in between.  That will be my 2018 and all the years to follow.  I will stay grateful for my life and the people in it.  I will continue to live long days, to fight good fights and surrender in pointless ones.  I will challenge myself and grow and learn and love and lose and win and be.  I will stay present, mindful and grateful and figure out what and where I am gong next.  Just not right now.  Now I take some time out and be.   

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The cancer journey, losing my dad

We are at the find stage of a very long 15 month cancer journey.  Unfortunately 9 years ago I walked a cancer journey with my mother too but thank God early detection meant we could put vile toxic chemo into her body and kill the cancer and keep the Mama. 

Chemo is brutal.  When my father-in-law got cancer in his late seventies I was convinced the chemo would kill him before the cancer did but old Basil managed to survive both and is now 82 and just fine.  His girlfriend (do you have a girlfriend when you are 82?) lost her husband to cancer too.  Basil lost his wife, Gary's mom to cancer over 20 years ago.  And we lost our Bee too who was only in her forties.  My list can go on and on.

How is it possible we can facetime each other across the world?   We have all this incredible technology most of which is beyond my understanding but someone gets cancer and they die??  When Pops was diagnosed on the 27th of August last year I did what we all do when faced with news like this: google.  Google everything I possibly could about pancreatic cancer (PC) and the news out there was pretty bleak.  Its the cancer with the highest mortality rate due to the late detection and very few cases where surgery is an option.  Most people die within 3-6 months.   The 5 year survival rate for stage 4 is given at 1%.  I suspect its zero but they have to put a tiny glimmer of hope in there.   My dad at age 67 being a stroke survivor with stage 4 PC and mets to the lungs with his old patched up heart of 2 triple bypasses and numerous heart attacks was not given the best odds.  They just sent him home to die and we did not think he would make last Christmas. 

His response was a big fat f*ck you to his death sentence and he decided he was going to beat this monster.  He would throw whatever he could at his cancer because he had a whole lot of life to live and places to go.  We used the same sweet kind oncologist who saved my mom our beloved Dr Loots.   Life became about tumour markers and blood tests and numerous visits.  Bouts of grief and then mad hope junkie moments as I would get swept up in his cycle of hope.  Maybe?  Just maybe he could beat the odds.  My dad is the Man van Staal.  He is one stubborn bugger who loves a good fight like his grandson.  He should have died many times in his life. 

When the first chemo stopped working we hit the second type of chemo but this one was horrendous and left him exhausted and feeling horrendous.  And then he got an embolism which could have easily killed him too but he caught that one in time.  Unfortunately it left him too weak and we had to stop the chemo and were unable to get the port placed.

And so began his real decline and the loss of irrational hope.  Pops finally had a battle he could not win.  He became smaller and smaller and weaker and weaker.   He used to be over a 100kg, he is now 60kg.  Once again the frantic googling began of signs of death.  The not knowing when he will pass is very hard.  Every time I read a symptom and get an idea of time my dad does not follow the rules and defies the odds as always and stays the exception.  He will die at home.  I am grateful to my mom who has given him that gift, an incredibly hard gift to give.  I am also grateful they have brilliant medical aid that pay for the hospital bed and the nursing staff.

This end is very drawn out.  2 months ago he ate a few mouthfuls a day.  4 weeks ago he stopped eating completely.  Like zero food for 28 days??   He cannot even sit up he is so weak.  But still he stays?   We wait every day expecting it to be the day.  I have days when I am so very sad, I have days when I feel like I can't stand one more day of this slow suffering.  My exhausted mother cannot continue like this day after day.  Their are good parts of course.  The closeness of my family.  The humour we all share which is mostly inappropriate but keeps us going.  The sweet gentle side of my dad I never knew existed.  He is so polite and nice.  He could be a real arsehole when he was well.  And we were not close growing up with little physical affection or I love you's.

Now, now I get to rub his bony back and massage his hip and legs which aches.  I rub his arms and skinny little legs and kiss his face and old head.  Every time I leave I say 'I love you Dad' and he says 'I love you my girl.'   I want to know that is the last thing he said to me.  So we wait in limbo unable to plan anything like Christmas carefully watching my mom who has to dig so deep to care for her husband of 49 long years.  He gets very confused and talks the weirdest stuff and we stay infinitely patient with him just going along with what he says.  I love this sweet kind gentle man who I finally have access to after feeling on the outside forever.  The price to pay for that closeness is way too high and I would rather have him alive and well but I will take beauty from ashes.

My sister and brother arrive the end of December so perhaps on some unconscious level he is waiting to have all his kids around him.  I have been glad they have been spared the sight of him so incredibly thin and frail although I know how hard it is for them to be away.  I am so fortunate to have the family I have.  So grateful for my father's close friends and brother who have been incredible with him and my mom.   My Uncle Brian who keeps us all laughing.  My brave, stubborn, fighting dad who I love.  We call him Laz after Lazarus because he keeps rising from the dead.  Mom is Florrie (Florence Nightingale) as she cares for him.  Florrie & Laz, what a team.  Mimi & Pops.  Okie & Dokie.  I can't imagine the one without the other but its the end of the line now.   We salute and release our Pops and give him our blessing to step off the battlefield and sleep forever.  My Dad, what a legend. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Poverty of idleness/recreation

What I wrote on my magical holiday.  I am ready for another!

I have learned many interesting things in my 6 years of studying and 46 years of life.  Learning about poverty is a core focus in social work studies and all the different theories.  One of them is by a Chilean man called Max-Neeff who identified 10 fundamental human needs.  A lack of any of them is recognized as a poverty and causes us to act to fulfill that need.  He has the obvious ones like poverty of subsistence and freedom but then he also has poverty of idleness as well as of transcendence or spirituality which he places of equal importance.

I am typing this while on my magical little holiday on my bed with my big mozzie net all around.  Like a little tent.  Sadly the back of my thighs are on fire as I did not reapply my sunblock while snorkeling and now I can hardly sit.  Hurts like a bitch!   But back to my point:  Before my trip I had my hair done and my hairdresser remarked it was the first time she had seen me without my laptop or textbooks.  I am always working and always busy trying to fit in the 100 beans in my 80 capacity jar.   Sometimes they spill over and sometimes the pressure of all those beans threaten to crack that jar.  I knew I just had to hang on till the 30th of October this year.  I had planned a road trip with my dog Goose as my reward to myself.  I was going to be deliberate and take some time out after literal years of being busy.  Somehow the road trip became a beach holiday and I looked at Vietnam, Bali or Thailand.  With just 7 days the prospect of a 24 hour journey didn’t appeal plus I did not have lots of moola saved so I found Zanzibar.  Another good word…Zanzibar.

When I booked my trip my dad was still doing well but has deteriorated since then.  I had such angst about going.  What if, what if…??  And then just before I left Frances lost her mom who was diagnosed 2 months before my dad.  We have travelled this journey together finding solace and comfort and understanding with and in each other.  I also got really sick but my trip was booked and paid for and so I went.  And now I sit albeit gingerly with my bright pink thighs but even after such a short time, I feel myself heal and breathe again.  My anxiety and sorrow and exhaustion was over whelming.    I felt broken.  And now I feel like I can exhale. I am so so grateful.  To myself for recognizing what I needed and being brave enough to go off alone.  For my sisters and brother and mom who basically pushed me on that plane never considering I need to stay.  And Gary for understanding and my kids for being so excited for me. 

Under the layers of busy and mothering and studying and grief and worry is a person who has this enormous capacity for joy and I found her again.  I am known as a HSP.  A highly sensitive person.  I feel everything with great intensity and I am a total empath so others pain becomes my own.  I can’t drink coffee due to the caffeine or take an advil or any meds.  I am allergic to the hypo-allogeneic tape the physios use and micropore tape and the tape they use under my eyes when I have my lashes done.  My entire system is so finely wired but the plus side, is when it’s good, its very good.  A simple swim in the ocean every morning is a source of enormous delight and I literally grin as I swim up and down so frikking happy.  I know real life awaits me back home and the girls write exams but this little trip has been amazing.  Like washing my dirty windscreen so I can actually sit back and drive and not hunch over trying to peer through the window.  I won’t allow myself to get so poor again re time out.  I can take weekends off now and read books and journal and watch crap TV.  I can swim and beach and hike along with my busy life.  I don’t regret studying for a single second but I do wish I had done a short course instead of a bloody 6 year honours degree.  What an arsehole?  And every year I was in too deep to stop. 

I have loved chatting to people who I would never normally talk to.  The locals are genuinely friendly.  Not the tourist ‘have to be fake’ friendly.  My fave barman Shehe and I talk for ages about our countries and cultures.  Meeting the Israeli young guys was definitely a highlight.  We laughed a lot and spoke shit and had fun.  We will probably never cross paths again but life threw us together for a tiny moment in time and all barriers of age, language, culture and gender melted away and we were just tourists hanging out.   Today I was alone on the trip so 2 guys from the tour company joined.  The one guy is 19 and we could park off on this little boat and talk about random stuff.  That powerful human connection we so often miss because we have our people around us.  

I have 2 days left and done all the tours I want to so I plan to savour them.  My last few swims in the early morning ocean.  Hanging at the pool reading my book.  I might do another bike ride if my butt and legs stop burning.  I am not bound by any schedule or the wants, needs and desires of others.  Being alone is so vital.  Liking your own company.  I was not sure what to expect but I know this week has been an absolute gift from God/the universe/karma.  Just life in general putting back so I can stand up again.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  My gratitude knows no bounds for this precious little trip.

PS:  It’s my last night.  I can’t connect to the wi-fi on my laptop for some reason so I will post this at home.   What a magical week and what a difference it has made in my life.  I found what I was seeking but that’s yet another post for another day.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Coming full circle

I have found the answer to the question.  The secret.  The meaning of life.  And no, I am not stoned or on any mind altering substances.  It is a little like the revelation I got 8 years ago when I was journaling and trying to figure out where I would send Daniel to high school.  A really simple answer.

But back to the big question, what is the meaning of life?  The meaning of life is to never stop searching.   To question what you know and why you know it.  To seek the truth and wisdom from many sources and people.  We construct our truth based on our perception and on our concept of self.   As organic beings we are continuously changing and growing and we cannot wear this same truth all our lives.  It will no longer fit or be too worn and tattered for new circumstances.  We evolve and change and grow and our truth grows along too.  And when it doesn’t, we stagnate and become hard and arrogant and judge others not stopping to have a peek at what they have learned or know to see if we can take a little piece of their wisdom and mix it with our own.

Nothing is cast in stone so staying flexible means we can absorb the unpredictable.  There is give so we don’t snap when faced with something we did not order, did not anticipate.   18 years ago on this day I landed up in Camps Bay United Church.  I found the love side of God that day, the Jesus bit without the religion and rules and guilt.  And then ironically the very freedom and love I found got smothered by rules and what others thought I should be doing or thinking.   For many, many years until that constant nagging about who I knew God to be, was greater than this intolerance of anything different and lack of acceptance of all people.   I took another few years to figure out I did not need a label to define my faith.

When we take the truths out the bible that resonate with us we are accused of cherry picking.  Why would I not choose the most beautiful sweetest shiny fruit?  Why would I not ask questions or wonder if a story is literal or a parable? In every book I read.   I can’t remember how many authors the bible has but I know not one of them was perfect.  They all had flaws and unique perceptions based on who they were, and what was going on at that time hundreds and thousands of years ago.  It was their interpretation of what they felt God was revealing to them.  They were imperfect men.  Much of it aligns with universal truth and much of it reveals the pure love of God.  Those bits I pick.  Universal truth and cultural relativity.  In other books I find different bits of wisdom and I mesh them all together to make my own book of all that sits well with my soul.   For those who believe every single word that’s ok too, that’s your truth you can live with which fits in with your life and soul.  Just don’t get so hung up on the rules you forget the love bit, the Jesus bit.

So the meaning of life is found in the question and the quest to answer it.  The journey is the destination.  

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Hot and stormy

The weather, not what I am doing right now.  I am actually sitting on Gary's side of the bed.  If I face the bed, the LHS is mine.  The RHS is his.  This is anywhere we go and we have been fortunate to travel quite a bit sharing big white soft linen hotel beds around the world.  It was never a conversation or a discussion, we each had our side.  And last night I slept on his side.  I don't know if it has any meaning.  I think too much, you might have noticed.

I went to see my psyche on Tuesday.   Gary and I go once a month for marriage maintenance.  People give me 'that look' when I tell them we go which I find quite odd as going when the shit has hit the fan is too late.  But I digress, I told him I needed to go alone and even though he actually loves her and she loves him, (true story) he was delighted not to be shrunk by our shrink.  In chatting to her I realize that being self-aware and having a theoretical knowledge of one's emotions is quite different to allowing myself to feel them.   Analytical knowledge and feelings just don't line up regardless of how we make them fit.

I am going to write loads while I am here.  I have been craving writing for ages, catching all these thoughts in my head and turning them into words in the hope I make a pattern and I can figure it all out a little.  I love words.  I am a word porn addict.  We are a certain species us word porn people and we find beautifully written pieces or quotes on FB and irritate some by posting them and delight others.  Vomit.  Isn't that a good gross word.  Not beautiful but it SOUNDS like vomit. see.  It sounds exquisite.  And no, I am not stoned.  I have always had this irrational fear of going to jail.  Wearing an orange jumpsuit and eating awful food and having a lesbo girlfriend with a shaven head and numerous piercings.  So I am packing for my Zanzibar trip and measuring out my daily meds including my medical cannabis which helps my clenchy jaw and I suddenly remember its not legal everywhere.  Fortunately I checked as even though its 8 little low dose capsules, what if dogs sniffed my bags and they locked me up and I was on the cover of YOU magazine.  So no, not stoned, just waffeling on.  And I can you know because this is my holiday and the weather is so bad I have to hide in my room. 

They gave me a stunning room but I think it might be too loud later as it is opposite the jetty bar.  When they opened the door the storm was so fierce the lamp crashed off the side table and now I have a teeny prick in my foot so I think I stood on a little piece.  Prick, another good word.   So far in my zen time I have eaten, swam quite far in the pouring rain in the sea which I admit was a little scary fighting the current coming back, thought of what I need to think about, almost decided to think of my future job, and then decided to write some crap first before I do some real posts.  I need to write about my studies.  About my work.  About Grief.  Grief sounds like grief.  Like you breathe out the end of the word.  Ffffff. 

OK, I am signing off.  I know I have been a bad zenner so far but I it will take a few days before I can unwind.  Zenner is not a good word.  Shit, day 1 is almost over.  Making yourself relax is like making yourself like a boy when you don't.  Back in the day.   Ah, a cocktail!  That will work. Going to the bar in the storm.  Cheers.