I do my best thinking while driving. I drive a Fiat Panda.

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

There are still and always red balloons

In my last post I mentioned my dad’s recently diagnosed illness. Since then, I have been touched by the outpouring of good wishes, aimed both at me and my family, and my dad himself. It is a marvellous legacy of a life well lived, for a man well loved, and even though we are still treading with sorrowful shoes, not quite sure yet where the path is actually going, it makes me think of the up side.

The up side is the wonderful outpouring of the human spirit when times are sad. I think it is what makes us human – being able to feel and share each other’s hardships and react with sympathy and kindness. Every single note I have received, whether electronically, by phone or in person has helped me. For those I haven’t answered yet – and there are quite a few – my apologies. Unusually, for once, I’m not so chatty right now. But I saw your note, I heard your message and I felt your kindness.

And life goes on. It must. And the children help. Whether it’s looking after them physically and preparing meals and taking them to school, or hearing their voices over the phone when I sneak in a quick call from work, or going with them to a five-year-old’s birthday party, there is no doubt in my mind that the children help to deal with sorrow.

From this summer fabric of blessed children’s normality I weave myself a tiny bit back into a semblance of being okay. At least for now.

Today’s birthday party was a good one: a jumping castle, a bubble machine and two puppet shows were all on offer, together with great snacks and some really nice parents to chat to. Afterwards there were balloons to take home together with the party packs. My boys both wanted red, so red balloons were handed over with kindness.

I decided to take a slightly different route home and we landed up driving past our old house, where Liam spent his first year of life while Matthew was still just a promise in the future.

“Look,” said I. “There’s our old house, Liam. Where you lived when you were little.”

“Yes,” said he, “with the yellow walls and the green (garage) door.”

“And I also lived there!” piped Matthew.

“No,” said I kindly, “you were still in heaven waiting to come down.”

‘Yes,” said his older brother decisively, “you were waiting to pick your body. You still had to pick it.”

This I found intriguing.

“I like your thinking,” I said carefully, “but who told you that? Where did you hear it?”

“Nowhere,” said Liam. “I just remember being in heaven waiting to pick out my body. I wanted two eyes and two legs and two arms… And you Matthew, you also picked out your body before you were ready to come down. I still remember my spirit but I don’t remember what colour it was…”

He trailed off. Trying to remember?

“Well,” I said, feeling that surreal feeling that sometimes comes over a person when having philosophical and esoteric discussions with children, “I like what you chose. You picked a nice body.”

“Yes. I did.”

This in an absolutely matter-of-fact manner with no hint of ego at all. Young children just call it like they see it.

“And I picked a nice body too!” said Matthew, not one to be left out of important conversations.

“Yes, my love, yes you did,” I replied rather inadequately (feeling by now slightly overwhelmed by the universal and rather gigantic philosophical concepts being played out in the Panda with such nonchalance).

Soon after that we arrived home. Leaving me to bring my handbag and other paraphernalia that I seem to somehow gather into my car, the children grabbed their balloons and ran briskly up the stairs to see their dad.

I followed more slowly, thinking about the wonderful conversational gems – and universal truths? – that children freely and amazingly utter before they grow up and get self-conscious.

As I type this there is a red helium balloon clinging to the ceiling and the boys are out walking the dog with Frank.

The balloon has a happy, carefree look to it.

It is nice to think that even when times are tough, life can still give us red balloons and universal comfort from the mouths of babes.

(Note: Thanks to Tracy for the photos)


As I sit here at my computer and start to type, I am really am not quite sure how to begin. I just know that something needs to come out because otherwise it will sit inside and fester. And then later it will pour out, like blood and pus from a septic wound, like it did last night onto my husband and children.

So. To begin.

My father has been diagnosed with a chronic disease.

At this stage we don’t yet know the form that his motor neuron disease is taking, just that it is the label and the explanation for the speech impediment that manifested some months ago, followed by the incredibly sore back and rapidly shrinking body. It has been very hard to watch – my father has always been a very precise man in his speech, and physically active his entire life. Is mortality now staring our family in the face? Please, God, no – it’s too soon.

At this stage of my life I know that I have been incredibly fortunate. I have a loving husband and two wonderful young boys, and parents who have played an active role in their grandchildren’s lives from the moment they were born. My mom and dad are seriously good, kind people.

In comparison, my husband doesn’t speak to his father, whom I’ve never met in all the many years I’ve been with Frank. Like a spectre at the feast, ‘Francois senior’ – otherwise known to his now-anaesthetised family as ‘Old FAF’ – used to pop up in our lives with a certain notorious regularity in the early days of our relationship. It started two weeks after we’d started dating, when Frank casually mentioned that his father had disinherited him, and then pulled out the letter to prove it. But that’s another story, however interesting to the non-involved.

Other friends of mine have already lost a parent. Ed has been unlucky enough to lose both mother and father. Anne and Mike are currently sharing the journey of mortality with Frank and I, as their mother recovers from heart surgery that became life threatening in its aftermath (this after she had already recovered from a brush with cancer).

Having known some of my friends’ now departed parents, having spent time in their homes and shared meals and laughter and conversation with them, I have shared a small part of the sorrowful journeys’ ends. Now, I fear that it will shortly be my turn.

Or perhaps we will be lucky and the time frame won’t be too short. My dad is still in the testing phase. It is a frustration in some ways and a relief in others. Nothing is yet completely finalised in the labelling.

The thought that I would one day lose both my parents has whispered its way across my mind from time to time – it is an inevitability of life that it must end in death – but I have always brushed it away and refused to allow the thought to linger, let alone be dissected. Now it is harder to brush away.

Frank, who says my dad has been more of a father to him than his own biological father, has chosen to embrace the diagnosis by doing as much research as possible. He has armed himself with knowledge, and discussed it with my parents.

In contrast, I found my parents to be relatively unforthcoming with me at first in sharing information, so tried instead to arm myself with hope. I’m still trying but the specific knowledge that I am absorbing – reluctantly – by osmosis is a creature with teeth. It bites you in the heart.

I think that is where the wound came from whose aftermath overflowed onto my family members last night.

Playing judge and jury now, I think my beloved does have some fault to bear in last night’s shouting match but I do need to admit to over-reacting. I hope that under the circumstances I might be forgiven.

Meantime, drugs here I come. There is some or other tranquilliser out there with my name on it for a little while, and I’m going to get my GP to find it. With no shame and no apologies.

Some crosses just need a bit more help than others.

And while we play the waiting game, please send your positive thoughts, prayers and good wishes. As Anne and Mike will testify from their own recent ordeal, it does seem to help.

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