thoughtsfromthepanda

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

Archive for the tag “sorrow”

I grieve – one year on

I have been out of sorts all day today, and in fact all week.

I’ve been anticipating the first anniversary of my beloved father’s death.

grief-2

My dad died on 28 October 2015. It was a Wednesday. It was  probably the most dreadful Wednesday of my life. I will never forget the call when I was still at work one year ago saying, “Come. Now.”

By the date, then, the anniversary is the 28th, but by the day of the week it is Wednesday – today, the 26th.

Maybe it’s just me but I often do an anniversary (good or bad) twice – by the actual date, and by the day of the week.

So here, on the day-of-the-week anniversary, is a song of grief.

I post it for my dad, for my mom, for my sister. I post it for his grandchildren, for his daughters’ life partners, for all those who loved him and were loved by him.

I have believed all year that my father’s benevolent spirit brushes over me from time to time – usually when I’m least expecting it, and sometimes when I most need it – in the form of herons flying overhead.

I see herons quite a lot, actually, and I live in Johannesburg.

(Not many people whom I interact with in my home town seem to notice herons flying majestically above us quite the way I do.)

I saw two of them earlier this week, and they made me smile.

Thanks for the herons, my dad. It was a good week to send them. We miss you, so much.

But I know that you are flying free now, and it comforts me.

heron-fly-past

 

I grieve – Peter Gabriel 

(Ed’s note: if you access the song via the link above, you will see I have deliberately chosen a version that pays homage to the victims of 9/11)

It was only one hour ago
It was all so different then
Nothing yet has really sunk in
Looks like it always did
This flesh and bone
It’s just the way that you would tied in
Now there’s no-one home

I grieve for you
You leave me
So hard to move on
Still loving what’s gone
They say life carries on
Carries on and on and on and on

The news that truly shocks is the empty, empty page
While the final rattle rocks its empty, empty cage
And I can’t handle this 
I grieve for you
You leave me
Let it out and move on
Missing what’s gone
They say life carries on
They say life carries on and on and on
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Rain and music

I was sitting on the balcony last night when the children were asleep, in the section that’s under cover from the weather, when the rain started falling. It was a heavy, fat downpour accompanied by some not too distant thunder and lightning. It was magnificent and it was good for my soul.

I was immensely grateful because I find myself, right now, completely unable to cry, even though I have this overwhelming desire to have a small but healing meltdown. The tears, though, just won’t come.

So it was good to have the rain dropping down its heavy, fat tears on my behalf.

The other day I found a song that metaphorically did the same.

sadrainwoman1

“The stars don’t shine without you” by The Mission

(Album: Neverland)

 

I’ll cry myself to sleep ’cause you’re not here by my side

I’ll cry ’cause you’re not with me, with me tonight

I’ll cry myself a river and drown in a torrent of tears

I’ll cry ’cause the stars have thrown down all their spears

 

The stars don’t shine without you

And it makes me, makes me sad and blue

The stars don’t shine without you

And there’s nothing, no nothing I can do

 

I’ll cry ’cause the stars don’t shine for me no more

 

stars

 

I am waiting for the stars to shine again and to once again feel joy after sorrow.

I know it will come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My father’s voice

A eulogy for Ralph Gray

 

My dearest dad

Daddy.

We are still trying to process your absence. I have told the awful news a few times over now; I have kissed your peaceful sleeping face and watched my dear mother, your beloved wife of so many years, cry over your still form in anguish because you left her; and still I can’t quite believe it.

Right now, I can’t really think of a life without you in it.

And yet, I think you were fading from us for a long time; slipping mentally and spiritually into shadow realms where we could not always follow. Peaceful realms, I like to think. You always looked peaceful when you opened your eyes again this past short while – as though you’d been in pleasant, restful places.

a_patch_of_sky

The last three years have been so hard – on all of us and most especially on you. You fought to stay with us for so long, doing your best to fight off a terrible enemy that ravaged your own body from within, just for a little more time with us all.

Now I am going to start remembering you as you used to be, before the disease took hold. I am going to start erasing, or at least subduing, the memories of my dad who could no longer move or talk, and had to communicate with hand gestures and facial expressions.

I am going to wave the magic wand of memory back to a time when your body was still as active as your mind; when you jogged down the driveway to open the gate to visitors; when you worked in the garden to bring us organic vegetables, or climbed a ladder to clean the leaves from the gutters, all the time wearing that funny hat to – ostensibly – protect your face from the sun.

Dad bday 2011

In my mind’s eye you are again that stocky man with broad shoulders who kept busy around the garden until finally you allowed yourself to relax when the work was all done. The Scotsman who enjoyed a temperate measure of Bells in the evening or maybe a can of Guinness; the man who read poetry at quiet moments; the family man who loved to tell stories and jokes and chortled with laughter all the way through the telling.

I loved it when you told jokes. They were always long and complicated, and you so frequently messed up the punchline – that was the best part!

V and dad Christmas 2011

My earliest memories of you, when I was very small, encompass bedtime stories and you trying to save a baby bird that fell out of the nest. Later on there was a time when you untangled a heron from some fishing line at a local dam. Whenever I see a heron flying majestically overhead I always think of you. I also think of how I loved to hear you say ‘heron’ – with a double ‘rr’ in there and a bit of a Scottish ‘burr’ (brei) on the ‘r’ sound.

Herrr-rrrrrron.

great blue heron in flight

I wish I could hear you say it again. Together with words like ‘loch’ and ‘poetry’, which you rolled around your tongue and pronounced as ‘locch’ and ‘poi-ye-tree’. It was very poi-ye-tik, I always thought.

Your eternal Scottishness sometimes entered conversations at unexpected moments and in unforeseen ways. In my teens, you amazed me once by requesting that I play a song from ‘Dew-rrrrran Dew-rrrran’ on my brand new boom-box. I couldn’t get away with the fact that you even knew who Duran Duran were – let alone that you actually liked any of their songs!

Duran Duran

Another time, when I’d recently discovered a Scottish rock band called Runrig and you’d apparently been listening to my music again, you gleefully referred to the lead singer as ‘that Teuchter (choochter) from the highlands, but he haaaaas a guid voice’.

Donny Munro

Apparently the word ‘teuchter’, said by a lowland Scot about a highland Scot, has implications of being a bit of an unsophisticated roughneck. I remember you chortling when you called him a teuchter. Sometimes mornings before we went to school and work were quite entertaining.

And who of us around the table that family dinner could ever forgot the immortal time you demanded of your own wife and teenage daughters, with huge exasperation, “Cahn yoo lott no onder-stond me?” The answer was gales of laughter and a pithy ‘no dad – at that precise moment we couldn’t’. I think you were asking someone to pass the salt, or something fairly mundane like that.

And then there is the “No-aht the caap! No-aht the caap!” memory (‘not the cap’). It turned out that you’d been holding out on your teenage daughters when they went through a brief stage of requesting some of your Bells to put in their coffee, together with some cream, for an occasional little treat in the evenings. When we were writing exams, you understand, and were stressed.

Lorna and I were deliberately mis-informed, for quite some time, that the standard unit of measurement for making the Scotch version of an Irish coffee was the cap of the whiskey bottle. Which is not actually a lot of whiskey. This went on until the night that we offered to make you, too, one of our special coffees. When you realised that you were about to be short-changed on the amount of Bells in your coffee cup, it seemed that a mild panic set in and the truth came out. Thereafter the true unit of measurement for Scotch was revealed to us for all time.
glass of Bells

Of course, your accent got put to good use when it came time to read the immortal words of Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns. Around the world, people sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ every new year, but in real life, only you, my dad, could spout Scotland’s most famous son, Robert Burns (Rabbie Burns) without a book in front of him. Chapter and verse – you used to pull it out of the air.

So here is one for my mom. I’m not going to try the accent.

 

A red, red rose

By Robert Burns

red rose inkwell

O my Luve is like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melody

That’s sweetly played in tune.

 

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

Till a’ the seas gang dry.

 

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,

And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;

I will love thee still, my dear,

While the sands o’ life shall run.

 

And fare thee weel, my only luve!

And fare thee weel awhile!

And I will come again, my luve,

Though it were ten thousand mile.

 

I’m going to end with another poem, this one from John Keats. I think it was one of my dad’s favourites. I won’t read the whole three verses, just the first one, because this verse especially reminds me of how much my dad enjoyed working in his vegetable garden. Mostly. The digging, of course, wasn’t so much fun.

 

Ode to Autumn (verse one)

John Keats

season-of-mists-and-mellow-fruitfulness

Close-bosom friend of the maturing son

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage trees

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more

And still more, later flowers for the bees

Until they think warm days will never cease

For Summer has o-er-brimmed their clammy cells.

 

 

Goodbye, Ralph Gray.

Or shall I say ‘Au revoir’ and ‘Arrivederci’?

 

You were a truly special man. We were so lucky to have you in our lives.

With much love…. Always.

Linda and Ralph young

 

 

 

 

 

 

I eavesdropped on your photos

My dearest mom

Today I found myself unexpectedly eavesdropping on your photos.

It was so good to go back in time. Do you know there are photos on there that you still have to print out from 2010? (Yes, yes, I know you are busy. A truer word was never spoken.)

The reason I was snooping inside your digital memories is, of course, because I’ve been using your camera on an ad hoc basis lately for my work: partly because my own gave up the ghost long ago, and partly because I currently own a smartphone with an un-smart camera.

In the process of borrowing your camera on a semi-regular basis these past few months I have been, er, keeping it between assignments. And, of course, quite rightly you wanted it back.

So today I had a spare couple of hours to turn on my laptop and start processing. Firstly, I sorted all my work photos from the happy family photos on your camera’s memory. Then I gaily deleted my work photos, which I don’t need any more. And then I started looking at the family photos, and found myself on an unexpected trip down memory lane for the next two hours.

In vivid technicolour (mostly un-blurred), I remembered previous birthdays for Liam and Matthew.

I remembered previous Christmases when we were all together as a family: you, me, dad, Frank and Liam and Matthew.

I saw some of the photos from the time you and dad went over to visit Lorna and Domenico in Italy and celebrate dad’s 70th birthday.

 

Linda and Ralph in St Peter's Square

I remembered times when dad could still walk and talk; when the scourge of his motor neurone disease had not yet manifested and brought with it this overwhelming sorrow for us all.

When we still had so much joy on those family occasions.

And so I eavesdropped on your photos.

I ended up copying all of them. Going through them was utterly marvellous. It reminded me that life is a process; that there are some things that can be changed and others that must be accepted and made the best of; that sometimes we discover our true strength only in the fires and the burning of unavoidable bone-deep sorrow.

And yet, at the same time, I refuse to give up on the flames of happiness and hope for the future. I just can’t. It‘s not in me to let the darkness overcome the light. I’m quite pedantic about it, really.

Vivienne and dad wedding

I find myself so grateful for all the happy times we have had – as well as for the strength and courage and sheer (sometimes bloody-minded) tenacity my Scottish heritage has bequeathed me. It’s been a most surprising gift.

I know the less-diluted happy times will come again in full strength, albeit in a different form and with different players taking centre stage or different roles.

I plan to be there.

Flower-sky-clouds-sunshine-mood-485x728

PS Just one tiny confession: I deleted an image from your camera – just one, from almost 500. I simply had to. I knew I’d picked up quite a few extra pounds back in 2011/2012, but it was really quite unbearable to imagine this particular photo being around for posterity. It’s called editing.

Boo-yah!

 Or, more graciously:

2014: a less serious epitaph than last year’s

 

AND SO HERE I AM

From this year of shocks.

 

STILL

I’m still standing, baby.

 

STUBBORNLY

It’s Celtic blood flowing through my veins, mo gradh.**

 

STALKING THAT SILVER LINING

I refuse to give up on the joy after sorrow.

 

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-YAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!**

 

flowersinrain

Here’s to 2015.

 

 

** Mo gradh (pronounced ‘Moi rah’ – Scottish Gaelic for ‘my love’

**Boo-yah: used in order to abruptly express great joy, usually brought on by victory or some other sort of accomplishment – Urban Dictionary.

New beginnings and the passage of time

Since I wrote my last entry, I have cried. Quite a lot. And I have not been in enough of a positive, creative space to write much.

For a few reasons, this has not been a good year thus far.

It has been a year of obstacles and trying to find solutions to really big issues. And, where there were no solutions, trying to find the courage simply to deal with the issues.

It has been a year in which my natural optimism has been sorely tested.

And yet I have continued to walk this earth; continued to learn, survive and – I trust – grow.

fairy ring

I was helping Liam and Matthew to find something a few days ago, and during the search process, I came across a 2013 calendar. It was a little late to rediscover it, because we have already officially clocked up more than two-thirds of this year.

It got me thinking about the passage of time.

calendar

I remembered when the old lady in the pharmacy gave it to me, some time in very early January. She handed it over with a warm smile, as though she was bestowing a quite precious gift. In a way she was, because what she gave me was not only a piece of rolled-up cardboard with dates marked on it and decorated with some pretty pictures.

She was also giving me the hopeful gift of time still lying ahead and with it, dreams to forge and memories to build: new beginnings every month.

And as we cross over into a new month every four weeks or so, I find myself still determinedly and stubbornly trying to cultivate hope for brighter days ahead.

flowersinrain

I’ve always been a fan of opportunities for new beginnings. Besides, there is no other option if I am to stay sane and true to my inner values.

I am blessed that right now, I’m still lucky enough to have the gift of time on my life’s personal credit card. This makes it important to me to try and seek joy wherever I can find it.

We took an opportunity that arose recently to get a new puppy. To be very honest, I pushed for him, very hard. I persuaded and cajoled. (There is the issue of more doggy-doo in the garden to pick up, after all…)

But you see, I wanted to bring a little more joy back into my life.

And there he was. Just waiting for us. Perfect timing.

From the moment we picked up ‘Nickelback’ and took him home, he slotted seamlessly into our lives and our hearts. He is just gorgeous! He brings happiness and puppy love to everyone he meets. I call him our ‘joy boy’.

joyboy smaller

For me, our puppy and the unconditional love he brings into our family symbolises new beginnings in the purest of ways.

Even when picking up the you-know-what and trying hard to avert your senses.

 

 

Post script – song now playing (again):

Kyrie eleison’

 Mr Mister

 

Kyrie eleison

Kyrie eleison
Kyrie

The wind blows hard against this mountain side
Across the sea into my soul
It reaches into where I cannot hide
Setting my feet upon the road

My heart is old, it holds my memories
My body burns a gemlike flame
Somewhere between the soul and soft machine
Is where I find myself again

Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison, where I’m going, will you follow?
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light

When I was young I thought of growing old
Of what my life would mean to me
Would I have followed down my chosen road
Or only wished what I could be?

Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison, where I’m going, will you follow?
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light

 

My daughter, my dad

In the midst of a life that has blessed me with our two amazing boy children…

LIam and Matthew philosophers

…I have still, at moments that always take me off guard with their painful intensity, yearned and yearned for a girl, as well.

A girl child.

I breathe out sometimes when I think it, with a tiny stab of hurt.

A soft, small, mini-me who would grow up understanding what it is to want to wear dresses (or not), apply make up (or not) and understand the trauma of a bad hair cut that needs to be grown out.

 

A girl child.

A soft, green-eyed (maybe blue?), fair-haired being like I was when I was younger, who would understand me in a way that my little boys just don’t always get.

 

A girl child.

A delicate baby to dress in pink or white or pastel green; a little girl whose face and body would stay soft and eventually grow curves and never stubble; a young woman who would read the kind of books I read and react to emotional issues as I do, and who would eventually speak the language of women with me.

 

A girl child.

And I did not have her, and I have mourned.

Even as I loved my boys with all my being, there was still a little hole in my heart that felt not quite filled, which sometimes I forgot about and which sometimes came back to haunt me unexpectedly.

 

It returned to haunt me about ten nights ago. I was sitting in our back garden enjoying the moonlight and the wind on my face, looking up at the night sky and the stars. I was feeling peaceful. I love a big open sky, night or day, and I don’t sit under it often enough.

And as I absorbed the peaceful night air and the sky with my body and my soul, the haunting was back, and with it the sudden tears in my eyes. But I wasn’t ready to go inside and ignore the hole in my heart this time; I was really enjoying being under the stars, and so I stayed and I felt the pain return all the way through my body. And as I enclosed it inside me, I remembered a long-buried fact – two long buried facts.

I remembered that, before Liam and again before Matthew, I was also pregnant for a very brief time: two pregnancies where the babies did not quite come all the way down to earth, or else they did come down but did not stay.

I remembered Frank and I together in the doctor’s office that first time, and the look on the doctor’s face when the expected heartbeat did not sound through the monitor and he braced himself to tell us the bad news. I remembered hearing the term ‘blighted ovum’ for the first time, where there was no heartbeat, only a tiny empty shell.

 

blighted ovum

That first time, there were apparently hormones in my body but no life, and an operation to follow – when enough time had passed for us to be certain – to clean out my womb. And I woke up in the hospital bed with Frank standing beside me, and a shadow hanging over us because we did not yet know that Liam was still to come.

And then we had Liam, and joy returned.

And then we had a second miscarriage when we were trying for Liam’s sibling – before Matthew’s safe arrival, and more joy.

 

But the second time, Frank is convinced, was slightly different, because he swears he saw a heartbeat flicker, and even the doctor was not quite sure but said, “Let’s give it ten more days.”

And I hoped.

And we hoped, together.

But instead my body bled.

 

And again there was the operation, only this time we had felt – we thought – a stronger life pull. And this time round, Frank had to be away on a work trip and so my dad, instead, was beside me at the hospital bed when I woke up – my dad, younger and stronger than he is now, with a sorrowful face and unsure of what words to offer.

And this memory returned as I sat under the big night sky, and as the stars shone their light on me, I sobbed as I have not sobbed for those lost babies for many years. And I sobbed also for my father, who is battling so bravely with the disease that is unceasingly ravaging his body and taking away his strength and his clear speech. And for my mother, who has loved him for so many years and who loves and cares for him still.

And as I sat there, I felt a presence somewhere deep in my body, and words that were not words spoke in my being and told me that there was, indeed, a girl child once.

But she had to go back.

And all these years later, when my dad crosses over into the spirit world, she will welcome him to his final home.

blonde shadow fairy

Somehow this is what I learned as I sat under the stars, through the voiceless words.

And the hole in my heart was almost filled.

 

I believe I had a daughter once.

I shall call her Skye.

 

painting baby

 

Postscript:

I found comfort, after this emotional experience, in these words from Journey (click on the link for the song):

 

“Remember me”

 

 Remember me, remember me
Find myself all alone

In darkness without you

Now I can’t turn away

From what I must do

You know I’d give my life for you

More than words can say

I’ve shown you how to love someone

I know you’ll find a way

 

Say goodbye, close your eyes

Remember me

Walk away, the sun remains

Remember me

I’ll live on somewhere in your heart

You must believe, remember me

 

No way I can change my mind

I don’t have the answers

If you could see through my eyes

You’d let go of your fears

And though I have to leave you now

With the thought of each other

I’ll miss your touch, you call my name

I am with you forever

 

Say goodbye, close your eyes

Remember me

Walk away, the sun remains

Remember me

Be there to watch over you

Remember me

Feel I’m gone, my heart lives on

Remember me

 

Don’t you think of this as the end.

I’ll come into your dreams, remember me

 

Close your eyes, say goodbye

Remember me

Say you will, say you will, say you will

Close your eyes, remember me

Say you will, say you will, say you will

Say goodbye, remember me

Heart sore

Dear Blog.

Nice to be back.

Sadly, I am not my usual ‘every cloud has a silver lining/the glass is half-full/I can do this; yes I can’ self today. (Sorry President Obama, you actually didn’t invent that last one; you just globalised it, and good on you by the way and yes, I’m a fan, but just for the record I was there all by myself with the Yes One Can scenario like I said.)

I digress.

Today I am heart sore.

I am heart sore for a few reasons.

Where to start.

I am heart sore today because.

Amongst others.

Not a completely comprehensive list.

Because my father is so fragile now.

Because of the Oscar Pistorius ‘fallen hero’ desperate, desperate story that has been invading us through the media for nearly two weeks now. So many lives ruined. So, so many. So much human sorrow encapsulated in the bitter story of this fallen demi-god.

Because my father is so fragile now.

Because little Layla died a week ago, despite so much love and hope and optimism and energy and goodwill that got poured into her brave, wonderful mother’s ‘Love for Layla’ campaign’ and the bravery of the little girl herself. And their family, and the community at large.

Because my father is so fragile now.

Because little Adam’s  condition is unlikely to improve significantly unless stem cell research and miracles come together super-fast, like, oh, say, no really – super fast.

Because my father is so fragile now.

Because of the children – yes, children – who are raped and stabbed and left for dead and outright murdered in South Africa every day. Male and female, birth to teens. Cry, the beloved country. Cry. For shame.

Because my father is so fragile now.

Because of the corruption and ineptitude that seems to be endemic around us at the moment. For shame, I say again. For shame

Because my father is so fragile now.

Because today I am not in my twenties and I now know I am not invincible.

Because sorrow has etched its way across my heart.

Because I can’t fix it.

Any of it.

None at all.

I will look for silver linings again tomorrow. Today, I am heart sore.

Because my father is so fragile now.

And because my mother is so brave.

Close encounters with celebrities

In South Africa we have a well-known former Springbok rugby player, only 40 or thereabouts, who once led a charmed life. About six years ago, I sat across a table from him and his wife for a short while. Almost everyone in the room was wearing white towelling robes and matching slippers, which sounds a bit odd, but was explained away by the fact that we were all, for various reasons, visiting a day spa at the time, and this was prescribed attire.

As I was then more than six months pregnant, the fluffy white towelling robe and slippers wasn’t my best look for appearing in public, but that was the deal if we wanted the back massages and other treatments. We also had to listen to a presentation about washing machines. You get the picture – it was a carefully crafted product launch, and I was there as part of the merry group of media and celebrities who’d been invited to meet the washing machine for the first time. I was in the media section of the room – not one of the celebrities. Just to clarify.

Being pregnant, as I said, and wearing a towelling robe, I became even less comfortable when I spotted an aging roué with whom I’d once had some unfortunate dealings in a previous job working for a radio station. At the time one of the country’s hallowed band of rock DJs, he had on one occasion refused to get out of my car until I ‘gave him a kiss’. He’d had a lot to drink at the time and it is a long story, which I won’t elaborate on now, but suffice to say that whenever I heard his slightly raspy smoker’s voice on the airwaves thereafter, I cringed somewhat. And for the record he was bundled out of my car sans requested smooch.

Anyway, it was an odd sort of day at the product launch and I remember trying very hard to avoid the aging roué. I simply didn’t want to be recognised, especially as I didn’t feel I was quite looking my best at the time, and so, truth be told, I didn’t pay that much attention to the charmed and charming rugby hero and his attractive, vivacious wife. But I do remember that they were both extremely pleasant and polite to all the other guests, and very nice about the washing machine.

And so it was a shock when the news broke that the charmed rugby hero and his bubbly wife were going through a relatively acrimonious separation and divorce. Barely was this an old story in the South African public’s mind when we then learned that he had been diagnosed with a very severe form of motor neuron disease. At such a young age, the news must have been utterly devastating to him.

I realise this more completely now that I know a little more about the disease. The very next year my own father was diagnosed with the same illness. Although my dad was obviously a fair bit older than 40 at the time, the news was still dreadful for us all.

At this point, while we were starting to wrestle with my dad’s diagnosis, the rugby hero had moved on from some stormy and unfortunate personal moments, and by all accounts was dealing with his disease with courage. He had started a foundation to help fellow sufferers and from time to time, a story about him would still appear in the media. He seemed to be doing better than expected and had vowed to play something of a ‘human guinea pig’ role, if he possibly could, in the fight against his symptoms and the illness invading his body.

When I recently visited my GP for the sole purpose of getting something to help me temporarily deal with my emotional pain about my father’s illness, I picked up a magazine in the waiting room, and by coincidence it featured an interview with the rugby hero. I was astonished at how good he seemed to look in the photos, and even more astonished at seeing him photographed doing a work-out, but I did wonder if the pictures hadn’t been photo-shopped a bit.

Meantime, my dad was not doing so well. As the days went by, he seemed to shrink on an almost weekly basis before our collective and sorrowful eyes.

And so recently I finally decided to brave the quest for the truly detailed information I had been avoiding.

As a first step, I accompanied my sister and my dad on an appointment to my dad’s neurologist. My sister and I wanted to meet the doctor and hear what she had to say.

I liked her. I met a woman who is probably a bit younger than me (oh how that makes me feel old!) and I thought that her funky dress sense showed an ‘out of the box’ way of thinking that I found comforting.

She was good to my dad. She also told him he was doing well. My sister and I listened to her words and wrote up some notes after the visit. In a way I felt that I was making some sense out of the fog.

But the knowledge was very painful and later that day, back at work after the visit, I left my desk and went down to the office coffee shop, so I could cry bitterly without being seen by my colleagues. Just to keep a certain amount of dignity intact.

A few days later, I went onto a search engine and typed in the words ‘motor neuron disease’, but what I found there only made me feel very low again.

With the tears once more not far from the surface, I decided to go on the website that had been started by the former rugby hero, and there, for the first time in a long time, I felt a little bit of hope coming back into my mind and my heart.

He looked good.

He looked really good.

His website was a story of simultaneous acceptance and determination: having accepted his fate, he was nonetheless going to try to live his best and live his longest, through a combination of cutting-edge drug treatment, where applicable, and an appropriate diet and exercise regime with his doctor, biokineticist and other specialists.

I began to feel that the photos I saw in the magazine that day hadn’t necessarily been photo-shopped after all, and was moved to send him an email.

In my email I wrote, very briefly, that my dad had been recently diagnosed as a fellow sufferer; that it was still a dark and sad journey for me and my family, and that I wished the rugby hero well. I thanked him for his courage and his example.

Then, deeper into his website, I read a message of hope from his doctor and discovered that she was my dad’s doctor also. A little flame of hope that had been almost extinguished started burning a little stronger again.

 

The doctor wrote:

“…In the last several months I have had an influx of MND patients from all over the country desperately seeking a second opinion, a glimmer of hope and some answers. Many of them sent away from their original practitioner with the diagnosis and a handshake saying there is no treatment, sorry nothing I can do! This is not how we were taught to practise medicine – remember where there is life there is hope and this is not a degenerative disease of “old” people – surely we cannot throw our hands up in defeat!”

Thank you doctor…

But funny enough this little story doesn’t end there just yet.

Armed with a print-out from the rugby hero’s website to take to my dad, I left work that evening in a very positive mood, with the little flame of hope still flickering.

My office is on the tenth floor and so, in the early evening when most people have already gone home, I always expect a smooth ride from the tenth floor to the ground floor with few or no interruptions in between.

With three of us in the lift, the doors opened after a long smooth ride down and I exited quickly onto what I thought was the ground floor. Still chatting to my colleague (still in the lift), I suddenly noticed someone in front of me trying to get in. Mainly, actually, I noticed her rather beautiful high-heeled shoes as I was trying to exit, and then realised that we were blocking each other.

Half a second later I realised that the woman in front of me had legs to die for above the amazing shoes. As we did a little dance around each other – she trying to get into the lift and me trying to get out – I then realised, yet another half-second later, that the beautiful legs were topped by an utterly amazing body in a little black dress, and a vivacious, well-known face I couldn’t quite place – and that I was not on the ground floor, but the first floor. She was trying to go downstairs and I was blocking her way like an idiot.

I was still laughing and trying to excuse my unintended clumsiness when I suddenly realised that this petite and incredibly shapely goddess with the great shoes was the rugby hero’s estranged wife.

“Oh dear, this isn’t the ground floor yet… my mistake… so sorry…”

She smiled at me warmly and got in the lift.

And was immediately followed by the rugby hero, who’d been standing behind her all the while.

“That looks just like…” said one half of my brain.

“Yes, that’s because it is him,” replied the other half.

 

It was a very surreal moment.

The odds of the timing were astounding.

“I emailed you just a few hours ago!” I wanted to blurt out – but of course couldn’t.

Not wishing to stare at him or the goddess – the South African public knew some of their story from the media, after all, and the rest of us in the lift were trying to be polite – I nonetheless found myself risking a small glance. I needed to see what he looked like.

In that small glance, in that small time-frame as we travelled just one floor down, I caught his gaze nonetheless, and for about half a second we exchanged genuine eye contact and genuine small smiles before I looked away.

I thought that he looked amazing. His body was straight and his gaze was clear. He looked as good as he had looked in the magazine article where I’d thought the photos were retouched.

 

As I write this, I don’t know yet what my close encounter means in the grand scheme of things. I am not expecting any major miracles, but I do now feel that perhaps a small one here and there might be asked for and, more importantly,  might be granted.

Since that day, and perhaps fortified by my story and by the knowledge that he shares a doctor with the rugby hero, my father has become a little lighter in his mind and a little fuller again in the face. And he has finally made a booking with his own biokineticist and started his own exercise regime. It’s really early days but – aided and encouraged by my mom – he has started trying to work with his body in the best possible way: like the rugby hero is doing.

You can’t start dealing with something until you know what you are dealing with. My family has started dealing with it.

There are still stormy clouds overhead but I think we have all started seeing the sun peeking through from time to time – at least for now.

It’s a new mantra – ‘at least for now’.

And so today I shall choose to be happy.

Today I shall revel in my family and their combined presence and different individual personalities – in my husband, my children, my parents, my sister.

I shall laugh at the exuberant dog doing her ‘happy dance’; I shall make plans for Christmas present shopping; I shall enjoy quiet nights in with a good book as well as occasions with my girl friends; I shall read my boys bedtime stories and sing with them at Sunday school; I shall stroke the cats; I shall enjoy conversations and glasses of wine with my husband.

I shall share and enjoy times with my boys and their father; I shall plan to invite friends round in December; I shall go for walks.

I shall look forward to time off work at the end of the year, while still being grateful that I have a job which challenges me and provides me with colleagues I can learn from and laugh with.

I shall enjoy the rain on my body, the sun on my upturned face and the green summer unfolding before my eyes.

As I have done for some time now, I shall continue to do all of this, and more.

At least for now.

 

 

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)

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