Archive for the ‘Life and Death’ Category

One of the things that has changed my life the most is that I have learned to let go. But it is a lesson I started learning a long time ago. And possibly the most difficult thing we can learn.

When I was much younger, I was so full of rage and hate. Mostly directed at myself. Most of my childhood and youth was spent feeling terribly lonely and worthless. I really had nothing positive to cling to. So, I guess I clung to the hate and the pain. Every slight event took on huge proportions. Needlessly.

On the flipside, every kindness, every smile was taken to be a sign that someone loved me deeply. you can cue James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” here. While I really don’t like the song, I know exactly what he means.

I cannot exactly say why it changed. Hell, I can’t remember when it started to change. But there is one event that marked it quite clearly. I was still living with my mum, in my early to mid twenties. It was a beautiful summer’s day and I walked down to the bank to take out some money to pay her for board. It must have been about $120. Foolishly, the money was just folded up and put in my pocket.

I must’ve had my hand in the pocket and taken it out because all of a sudden the money started blowing down the street. Chasing after it, I was really amazed that other people were helping, but we weren’t quick enough to get it all. I must’ve lost just over half of it. I got home and calmly said to Mum “Oh, sorry, I’ve got to go back down and get some more money. I just lost most of it in the street”. She was flabbergasted. It was so unlike me. The me she knew at the time would have been raging. I think something just clicked in me, realising that there really was nothing I could do about it.

For many years, I still reacted badly to events in my life. Still had the rage. Maybe it was growing up (finally) or maybe it was some of the things I had to face. But things started to take on a different perspective. Starting on anti-depressants was probably a fairly big part of it too.

The next major thing was when I was told I had some brain tumours. The old me might have been apoplectic, but the new emergent me understood that, again, there was nothing I could do, and that I didn’t even know what if anything was wrong. I could only wait, and look at it analytically.

But these last few years of having my online life have been another big step. The chances I have had to reach out to others, to share my experiences, to share theirs. Real contact.

In fact, just the last year has been fairly major. I have written previously of a young friend I had been helping. Not long after I started trying to give her hope, she tweeted that she was going to end it all. I was beside myself. What can I do?  She is just so damned far away! Did I do enough to help? What did I do wrong??  Well, it turned out that she was (thankfully) unsuccessful in her attempt. But more recently we discussed this issue and whether I would be disappointed if she took her life. I advised that I would never be disappointed. That I would miss her terribly, but I have to believe that I can only do what I can, and she has to make her decisions in life. And when another tweet came suggesting serious self harm, I was sad, but knew that (to put it bluntly) it is not my problem.

A course I was recently sent on by work put words to it. Detached empathy. To understand people. To feel (a shadow of)  their pain, to reach out. But over all of that, to respect them enough to know they can make their own decisions. That you are not responsible for them.

And it was this last that helped the final piece of the puzzle slot into place.  To finally understand that I can only do what I believe is right. To know with absolute certainty that I am a good person, making the best decisions I can, helping people as far as I can. And whatever anyone else decides…well, that is their call.

When my Mum died a while back, I actually felt no sorrow. I knew she was where she wanted to be. And with her death, some of the truths of what I have always known hit home.  We hold onto things because we cannot handle the idea that we are not in control. That our actions have to mean something, or that we have certain expectations that must be fulfilled.

Grief, after all, is a selfish feeling. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Just that it is all about us, not them. We don’t feel grief that someone has died or left, we feel grief that we have lost them.

I’d like to leave you with this video. There are other versions of this song. Like John Barrowman’s dedication to past pets. But, being a Buffy fan, and because I adored Tara, this is the one for me. I warn you – you will cry. [edited to make the video embed properly)

Today, the me I am now, just feels SO good.


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I amazed myself one time when I realised how I coped with things.

I had been on anti-convulsant medication for years after just two seizures.  One day I was massaging my darling wife’s back (she wasn’t my wife then) and thought I saw this bright spot appear on her back.  I remember it so clearly.  It was bright white. Almost completely round but with a wavy bottom.  Just a little like Pinky.  “Gosh, that looks strange” says I.  Then it starts moving around her back and changing colour.  Hmmmm … not good.

I look up and it is still there.

After a chat to wifey, and how I had been having funny dizzy spells (you know the sort – the blood pressure ones where you grey out a little, lose a bit of vision, have ringing in the ears and all that?  No?  well, I’ll continue then).

Where was I?  Oh yeah – dizzy spells.  Trundle off to the doctor who is a tad concerned and sends me to see the neurologist.  The neurologist is a bit concerned and sends me off for an MRI.  All of this was pretty ho-hum and just going to appointments.  The neurologist told me “If we find anything we’ll let you know”.  “Bloody well hope you find something in the MRI of my brain” thinks I.

Time goes by, and nothing was heard.  So I start to forget all about it.  Then the call.

“Ah hi, David, it’s Mr [name] here.”  pause  “We have your MRI back and, uhhh, there’s something … not quite right”.
“Oh?” (that doesn’t sound very good)
“Yes. I’d like to see you first thing tomorrow morning.  8:00”
“Oh.  OK then”  (shit, that serious – that I have an urgent appointment with a specialist??)

Funny thing was, it didn’t really matter.  Yeah I was shocked, but for some reason I switched into analyst mode.

Well, had the appointment. There were two brain tumours.  One about 2cm in diameter in the corpus collosum, the other about 1cm on the parietal lobe. Neither operable due to their location.  The one in the corpus collosum might become operable if it grows because it would push the hemispheres of the brain apart, giving access to the tumour.  The parietal one was on gross motor function area – risk too great.

What sort of tumour? (medical analyst coming to the fore again)
Well, we can’t tell.  Based on the expected mass (you can tell by how bright it is after the contrast was applied), we think it might be an oligodendroglioma.

 (Or check this).  But without a biopsy (out of the question) or a mass spectography test (too expensive), we don’t know.  Curiously, at about the same time, Buffy’s Mom was dying from the same tumour.  And I just found out that things called buffy coats can be used in the diagnosis of this and other conditions.  If anything, it was the Buffy episode that shocked me more than anything.  Because as soon as the diagnosis was mentioned, I knew what was up.

Wait for the second scan in six months, and if anything changes, come back and see me immediately.

Meantime wifey calls the bigger tumour Sylvester and the smaller one Tweety.  Bless her.

…. waits ….

Second scan – no change.

Great news – no change means that it probably isn’t growing.  (Yay – love that word probably … not).  But still, we just don’t know.  Either it will kill me, in which case knowing about it won’t do me much good, or it won’t, in which case I don’t need to bother about it.  Another scan in another 6 months.

… waits …

Third scan – same as the first.  The “Yays” are getting bigger.  Another scan in a year.  And another. Then two years.

Still no change.  Although Tweety has shrunk a little.

“OK, we’ll go for one last scan, and if there is still no change, then we will stop altogether and if your symptoms get worse, let us know”

… waits for results …

Tweety has disappeared.  Completely.

“That’s cool” says I.
“[laughs] Absolutely is” says the neurosurgeon.

OK, now we want to do more scans to see if we can tell why it disappeared.

There is still no change to Sylvester.  He is still hanging around in there. Not doing any damage as far as I know.

But the whole episode taught me a vital lesson.  When faced with something that might be horrible and life-threatening, we often get anxious about it when it is just so far beyond our control.  It taught me that when I am faced with bad things, to put it aside and look objectively, analyse, gather information, and then figure out what it all means.

I have often said that crises are often easy to manage.  All the trivial day to day stuff just goes away.  There is only one priority, and things become really clear.  It is the day to day life that gets you.  The old parable of “It is not the mountain in front of you, but the grain of sand in your shoe that wears you down.”


Apologies, folks. Not overly happy with this post.  But want to get it out tonight.  I promise I will write something better soon.

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The one about the kitty

Following a tweet from MiZ_CaRLy, I thought I’d share the story of my cat.  Trigger warnings for tears and grief.  Carly, my friend, hopefully this story (although it will probably bring you tears) will also bring you some release.

I was flatting in Breaker Bay and decided it was time for me to get a pet.  Being a cat-lover, there really wasn’t any decision to make.  I’d been heading to the Newtown SPCA for a while, checking out what was there.  This one time, I went and was chatting to Julien, the woman who managed the cat-run. She said there was one cat in there that has recently come in, and wasn’t ready for re-homing.  One that was really timid and will probably hide from me.

I went in and had a look at a few cats. On the balcony, there was a branch set up and this “timid” cat popped her head out from behind her hidey-place walked up to me and leapt onto me.  She walked up my arm (thankfully I was wearing my motorbike leathers), got up to my shoulder, walked across the back of my neck and sat on my other shoulder.  I carried on looking around at the other cats, but if I ever got close to any of the others, she would hiss at them.  If another cat came close by, she wouldn’t mind, but wouldn’t let me near any of them.  A decision had been made.  And it wasn’t me who made it.

They kept the cat there for me until she was ready to re-home.  When I got her back to the flat, my flatmate and I sat down to try and re-name her. My flatmate was good friends with Barry Saunders (who lived down the road at the time). So we started going through Warratahs songs.  We stopped at Maureen and thought that was a pretty shit name for a cat.  Tried shortening it to Mo, but I didn’t like that either.  I was a big fan of Michael Ende, so extended her name and chose Momo.  Perfect.

At the same time, my flatmate’s cousin was staying. When flatty and I had to go to work, the cousin was told that under no circumstances let the cat outside. Two days later, after getting home, there was no cat.  “Oh she seemed to really want to go out”.   GRRRRRRR!!!!    Called Momo.  Again and again.  Nothing.

Nothing the next day.

Or the next.

But three days later, she re-appeared.  Our place had a whole heap of bush going back up into the hills, and dear wee Momo had taken off exploring and came back when she was ready.  Another sign of a soul match.  She became a devoted companion.

When I moved flats, I knew that she was really bonded. I kept her inside on the first day.  Carried her around the edge of the property on the second day, letting her sniff the edges of the property.  And just let her go on the third day.  My new flatmate wondered about me a little. Here was a sensitive guy with facial hair, long hair, a cat and arrived on my moving in day with a dozen chocolate muffins as a welcome-me present.  Now that was a bit of a stress – baking muffins on the day I was moving out.  Mind you, this new flatmate did end up becoming my wife.

When I shifted again, I didn’t even bother.  Got to the new place and just let her out.

I was able to leave a window open so she could come and go as she pleased.  She would go out at night, and I would wake up in the morning with this furry little bundle that had burrowed its way under the blankets.

This of course posed a wee problem when my former flatmate and I fell in love.  She was already allergic to cats, and I had become allergic.  Poor sweet Momo suddenly became much more of an outside cat.

Time passes. Flats change.  Girlfriend becomes partner.  Partner becomes fiancee.

As she aged, my poor wee Momo became increasingly sick.  She developed kidney problems.  Which developed into early stage kidney failure.  But, I was told, this was to be expected for a cat of her age.  Funny thing is that, at times, she still behaved like a kitten.  She did become very clingy. If I left the room, she would cry in the way a mother cat cries for her kittens. She would worry that I had gone forever.  At least that’s the way it seemed to my wife.

The vets, ever time I took her in for her checkup, were amazed at how well she was lasting.  We went from booking her in to the cattery if we went away to booking her in to the hospital.

We eventually found our first home to buy.  It was (and is) a beautiful place.  Lots of sunny courtyard, big lawn to play on, hedges to hide under.  A cat’s paradise.

Before we moved, I had to take Momo back to the vet because she was now at end-stage kidney failure.  She was in pain, she was losing control of her bladder.  They took care of her over the weekend. Kept her on steroids.  We took her back to her new home, knowing she only had days left.  But I so really wanted her to enjoy this lovely new place.  The vets kindly drugged her up with steroids before I took her home.  It was so good to see.  She was herself again.  Running around and having a really good time.

Sadly, her good time was only a couple of days as she started to slip away.  We made the call to take her back to the vets for the last time.  They told us that it was amazing how long she lasted, and it was a testimony to the love she received that she lived so long, so well.

When they put an animal to sleep, they give a wee injection to calm the animal before giving the fatal dose.  The first injection was almost enough to take her.  As she was euthanased, she looked up at us with something that I like to think (hope) was gratitude. Grateful that she was finally being released.  As she passed, she was so beautiful, so restful.  There wasn’t so much sadness really.  I knew she had a good life – at least after she came into our lives.  I knew that she was finally released from her pain.

We buried her in our back garden where she had just a couple of days of great fun and planted a lemon tree to mark the spot.

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Two posts in one day.  This one has some rather heavy stuff in it.  It may well be upsetting for some, so please proceed with care.

One of the big headlines in today’s paper was the story about the little boy who has been allowed to die.

A seven year old boy was finally allowed to die after a lifetime of an amazingly painful disease. The boy’s mother devoted her life to caring for her wee boy.  As if it wasn’t enough, the boy’s older sibling died from the same disease, and to cap it all off, the boy’s father apparently stated that he wanted nothing to do with his care or upbringing. This leaves me with such incredible love and respect for this mother.

“You always want the best for your children. You just want to be able to pluck  the disease out of them, just remove the disease. Out of love, you want them  with you, out of love, you want their pain gone.”

What this comes down to is the idea that sometimes there are things worse than death.  Sometimes, death is a blessed relief.  But sometimes, death isn’t the answer.  As the mother said, you want the pain gone.

This came to me not so long ago when my mother tried to take her own life.  Here’s a brief summary:

  • Grew up with an abusive father;
  • Dealt with an abusive brother-in-law;
  • Husband who emotionally and spiritually crippled her;
  • Fell into really poor health, alcoholic and chain smoker;
  • Separated and eventually divorced;
  • Gave up drinking almost straight away, and later gave up smoking unassisted;
  • Regained health, walked everywhere, and found her strength;
  • Major surgery – came out of it fine and well
  • In mid-70s, had second major surgery – partially paralysed and flaccid bowel

Now, I know many people put up with much worse, but for my mum, this was devastating.  After finally regaining her sense of self, it is taken away again, with no hope but gradual deterioration, and vascular disease making her almost blind. She tried to take her own life because she could see no future.  But in reality, what she really wanted was all the bad things taken away.

She asked me, before her attempted suicide, whether I would be ashamed of her if she did so.  I categorically said “No”.  I love my Mum dearly.  I don’t particularly want her to die.  But more than that, I don’t want her to suffer.

My point in all this is that it is really pleasing to see that death is regarded as a viable alternative to … well, life isn’t really the right word for it.

The case has finally been able to be reported, but almost all the details are still subject to a suppression order.  But whether she ever knows of it or not, I want to take this opportunity to give my utmost respect and great love to the mother of this boy.  She has shown such amazing strength.

It is always important to remember that life finds a way.  That when we can’t see any way forward, sometimes we just have to hang on, and get through the next minute, next hour, and the bad will pass.  But in cases like this, where there is no future but one full of agony and absent of dignity, death isn’t such a bad chap after all.

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