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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

It was a birthday with a zero, and though initially reluctant, my eldest sister decided to have a party. “Oh good!” I said as I suggested to my husband that we arrange our loop around the South Island to get to her place on the day in question. Our plan was doomed to fail, though, as work plans changed for him, and these days when work is scarce, it has to take priority, and so we found ourselves driving around the South Island in November rather than December, and calling into my sister’s house about three weeks early. Still, my younger sister who lives further north and I decided we should be there, and wanted to be there, and so on Saturday morning we met at Christchurch airport, sans Charlie (much to Charlie’s disgust, but not to her mother’s) and husbands, and drove south.

We weren’t the only ones who travelled, though, and we didn’t travel the longest distances either – our two nieces who live in Australia easily outstripped our domestic efforts. It was the first time since middle niece’s wedding early in 2015 that we were all together, and the first time there had been a family gathering in the area since our mother’s funeral in February this year, and so we marked it (though we almost forgot) with a photo of two generations of three sisters; a bit of familial symmetry is always nice.

We celebrated on Saturday night, but started early before the official event with whitebait (yum!) and a barbecue and lots of summery salad outside in the sun, then later at the party venue even as the rain came down outside, with a few drinks and lots of good (old) music and dancing and laughter and some good food and a birthday cake about midnight, and then more chatting back at the house before collapsing into bed around 3 am.

The next day was relaxed and happy, filled with much-needed cups of tea and restorative ham and eggs and catching up, and distribution of recently harvested avocados and birthday cards and Christmas presents and personalised cards and well wishes for the coming Australian baby, and even some cross-generational middle-child bonding, before youngest sister and I had to depart, giving hugs even though we’re not really a very huggy family, and fond farewells, with invitations for the southern families to visit us in the north, promises to get together again soon, and some emerging pressure on me to have the next party – though I have to emphasise  it will be a few years yet before my birthday with a zero comes around.

 

Microblog_Mondays

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(The 15th in a continuing series)

Charlie visited again a week ago, but this time, for the first time, without her parents (though they were only across the city attending meetings and staying in a hotel), and so it was an adventure for all of us, but a successful one we all hope to repeat again, when I can learn new things, such as:

  • Biscuits taste better when we’ve iced them together, but …
  • That meat really was “in serious need of gravy!”
  • Quiet time is just as important as adventures.
  • It’s better to do things in the morning when you’re awake and enthusiastic, than later in the day when you’re tired.
  • Sometimes, if you have bad news, it is best to ease into it.
  • Te Papa is always awesome, no matter how many times we go, but it’s even better when we have no time limit.
  • Exercise is good, no matter what the temperature.

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(The 14th in a continuing series)

  • It doesn’t matter if you do something that’s unusual or a bit weird, because that’s you and that’s good.
  • Quirky clothing (eg. hoodies with cats ears) is fun.
  • I should trust her judgement. “It’s going to be awesome,” she whispered, as Pete’s Dragon started, and she was right.
  • Practising your hand-eye coordination will give you skills.
  • Strawberry ice-cream and a very very good chocolate cake is a good combination.
  • Best friends are to be cherished.
  • So are aunts.

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End of an era

Today was the settlement date for the sale of our mother’s house. My elder sister and her family did a wonderful job of cleaning it out and preparing it for sale, and I am very grateful to them all for this. I gather that this week, there were a few last minute visits to the house, taking some cuttings from the lemon tree and the rose bush. It makes me happy to think that these might continue growing in the gardens of my niece or my sister.

My parents built the house when they retired from the farm. It was a small home perfect for retirement, with an open plan living area which never felt cramped, and a nice private garden with a view of the mountains, though to my mother’s distress over the years the trees and houses on the horizon blocked out most of this view. My mother and father both worked in the garden, and when my father left the house the final time on the way to the hospice, he was wheeled through the garden to the ambulance, so at least he got to say good-bye. My mother was always pottering around in the garden, pulling weeds, or watering, though in her last few months in the house it was harder for her.

I seem to make it a habit of not seeing my family’s houses at the very last. My parents moved out of the old farmhouse when I was in Thailand as a teenager, having built a new house right next door. I returned home to a new house, a house that was never my home. I was back in Thailand ten years later, when they retired and sold the farm. When I returned to New Zealand, they were already ensconced in their new, and last home in Timaru.

My broken ankle made it impossible for me to visit the house one last time, but that’s okay. Any emotional connection with it was with the people who inhabited it. And they’ve already gone, but will always be with us.

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Honouring my mother

In honour of Mother’s Day on Sunday, this first Mother’s Day I’ll spend without one, I thought I’d share a few anecdotes about my own mother.

She wasn’t well educated, and – like many New Zealanders of her era – left school at around 15-16 years. I think she thought she wasn’t very bright, perhaps not achieving academically as highly as her sisters. But she spent much of her life teaching herself new skills, in our little farmhouse in rural New Zealand.

For years she and my father hoped to build a new house on the family farm, but for various reasons they had to wait. She pored over books filled with plans and took a course to learn architectural draughting. When the house was finally built the year, it was to her design and technical drawings.

In her retirement, she bought a typewriter, and taught herself to type in the dying ages of that technology, then – after being gifted an old computer from my cousin – she took herself off to SeniorNet and learned word processing, and briefly, we taught her email, before her brain stopped being capable of learning anything new. I watched this with real pride. Even though she had never been surrounded by technology, she wasn’t afraid of it and, in fact, was keen to embrace it.

Back to the late 60s and 70s, she taught me piano for the first three to four years, taking me through the first three of the Royal Schools examinations. Later, when I was studying piano with the nuns, sitting both practical and theory exams, she taught herself the theory first, then helped teach me.

Likewise, when my sister and I became involved in athletics, my mother bought a book outlining the particular skills of many of the events. There were no athletics coaches in our small town, and we would read the book, together learning how to throw a javelin, the shot put or discus, and the best techniques for long jump, high jump and hurdles.

Frustrated that it had taken so many years to get the new house, she decided it was no longer worth keeping the garden up to its usual standard, and dug up the rose garden in front of the house, to use as a long jump. I would stand at the gate to the house, run around a large shrub, past the swing, down a small slope, around the house and take off almost before I saw the rose garden/long jump pit, hoping that none of the rose thorns were still in the dirt.

She also devised a high jump mat, by taking empty wool bales, sewing them together, and then stuffing them with hay. Plumped up and piled together, they were a marginally acceptable padding that we used when teaching ourselves how to high jump, and land on our backs. If we got lazy or forgot to shake up the hay in the bags, or check there were two layers of the bags, then we had a rather hard landing.

I realise that my own desire to learn new things might have come from my mother. I teach myself languages to use when we travel – to date I’ve been able to communicate in self-taught Italian, Spanish, and German, and have brushed up other languages. I’ve taught myself various computer skills, though I haven’t yet got to coding, though it is something I’d quite like to try. I love learning new things.

And I hope to continue to learn, until – like my mother – my brain can’t learn anymore.

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Sombre times

Today is ANZAC Day, and a very welcome public holiday, even if the reason for the day off is much more sombre. But then, we’ve had a pretty sombre few weeks, or in fact, a pretty sombre year so far, to be accurate.

Whilst still dealing with the aftermath of my mother’s death, a week or two after tumbling down the stairs and breaking my ankle we were woken in the middle of the night to find my father-in-law had had a heart attack. It took over a week to get him stabilised and safely home, and then just a few days later, there was another early morning call, and he was back in hospital again, with another suspected attack.

So it has been a stressful few weeks, particularly for my husband, as he’s had a particularly busy period on his current contract, has had to care for his mother and drive her to and from the hospital (a three-four hour round trip every day after work), and then on top of that has had to look after me. With little time (and less inclination) to cook, he’s become particularly innovative at finding different forms of takeaways for meals, including roast meals and of course the ubiquitous Chinese, both providing lots of vegetables to ward off the scurvy that was threatening if we lived on pizza or fish and chips.

Brothers are flying in, coming back into the country to see their parents over the next week or two, giving him some welcome relief. We are all hoping, of course, that the crises are over for the time being, but life isn’t always that cooperative, is it?

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Saying good-bye

I’m writing this in the plane returning home, turning from my iPad to look out at rivers and mountains and wispy clouds when the tears threaten to spill over. It’s the first time I’ve been alone in the last ten days, so I’ve managed to keep them largely at bay till now. You see, I’m on the way home from burying my mother.

It was always going to be a sad trip. My younger sister and I headed south about ten days ago to see her, conscious that she was failing fast, and if we waited any longer, she might not know us, or be able to take any pleasure in our visit. Since an operation in November, which was in itself successful, she needed full-time care and entered a rest home. But her cancer was progressing faster than we had expected, and by late January, she was unable to walk. Unfortunately, she couldn’t remember this fact, and fell and broke her hip and wrist. The combination of dementia and cancer is a nasty one.

Her first days in hospital were comfortable. But as they attempted to make her ready to move to a hospital-level care rest home, and adjusted her pain medication, she began to suffer. Between my sisters and I, we fought for her. Uncharacteristically, she cried out in pain, and later, cruelly, she could remember the “terrible, awful” pain when usually she forgot everything else. She was so fearful that it might return, and utterly confused as to why it was occurring, and she cried and wanted to go home. Her daughters wept in frustration and anger to the nurses, pleading for pain relief. Finally, it came, and she was comfortable.

“I’m as good as gold really,” she said to me – one of her classic phrases – in a short lucid phase, after a particularly agonising episode. My mother was an expert at the stiff upper lip, even though (or perhaps because) she had suffered (largely undiagnosed) periods of depression during her life. Long before we knew the phrase “suck it up,” we were practised in its execution, with her as our role model.

Later, comfortable at last, she hallucinated – “can you see that?” she asked – chattering away to me incoherently, but still sounding like her. “Let’s have a party,” she said. I smiled, and agreed it was a good idea. Of course, it turned out that we did have a party, but it was the one party she would never be able to attend.

We knew she was failing, but the end came much more quickly than any of us had expected. But she was ready to go, and knowing that has made it easier. We had been saying our good-byes for years now, as little parts of her slipped away. Our final farewell was a lovely service on a beautiful day, filled with family and friends, and neighbours from the years on the farm, and even one or two of her old schoolmates from the ’40s.

She, who never forgot she was born a Rose, went surrounded by bright, beautiful roses, some from her garden, some from my sister’s.

The radio had always been the backdrop to her life, her connection to the outside world. We, her daughters, all remembered her listening to and liking different music, so there was some of the organ music her mother used to play, along with Elvis, Beethoven, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Henry Mancini.

“Fly me to the moon,” sang Sinatra, before the service.

Not quite, Mum. But close enough.

 

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My photo of my elder sister’s rose, given to her after my father’s death ten years ago, featured on the front of her service sheet.

 

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