Is that June I hear knocking at the door?? Is 2015 half spent??? Is the darkness coming???
You know, it’s quite a curious thing that just when you start bleating about how time is cheating you out of a happy, relaxed life, and how can the year already be half over, and God I miss summer…. stuff can happen that makes you actually feel pretty blessed that it is rainy and cold, and that it’s nearly June, and that you’re alive and kicking.
I have had three such things happen to me this week.
I’ll do this chronologically.
As some of you may already know, Mothers Day didn’t end well for a certain member of my family. We’d had a beautiful picnic up at Leura Cascades in the Blue Mountains (biting, cyclonic wind aside, oh how we prevailed), and following a warming hot chocolate at the groovy little Leura Garage cafe later in the afternoon, we then sallied forth on our two and a half hour drive home. The road was a car park. Good thing it wasn’t Husband’s Day, as I did not listen to a word of complaint about the traffic and ‘why do we have to do this every year’?
It was MY day, and our tradition is that my beautiful children make a gourmet picnic and we take the scrabble, a rugby ball, and other assorted amusements, like wine, and we stretch out on picnic blankets in what has to be one of Sydney’s prettiest parks. Autumn’s golden parade flutters winsome against a backdrop of stoic green native bush, and the mountain air is brittle bright.
Then there is the Gaudi inspired toilet block.
Have you been to Park Guell in Barcelona? If so, you’ll understand this reference. Antoni Gaudi was a Spanish Catalan architect who worked predominantly in Barcelona up until he died in 1926 at the age of 73. His magnum opus is the still incomplete Sagrada Familia, the most visited monument in Spain, but it is Park Guell, on Carmel Hill to which I draw this connection.
There are a few things that prevent me from getting too carried away with this reference. Firstly, and probably secondly, is the stench at the Leura Cascades toilet block. Now it may have something to do with the lack of electric light that may, just saying, hinder a certain aim, or it could be that the cave-like interior actually does attract and house wild animals. Who would know, it’s not like you can see your hand in front of your face. All I can tell you is that it sure smells zoological.
I don’t remember any stench at Park Guell…
However, this was not a day for worrying about how much the toilet stinks and who is to blame. I have 364 other days for that.
Mother’s Day is a day when I feel totally spoilt, appreciated, loved and lazy. I am pampered and I am worshipped and I receive cards of love and adoration from all my seven children that I keep in my diary for the rest of the year. These professions of undying love that I carry on my person provide easily accessible reminders of their love when it is urgently needed – like when they tell me they hate me. It happens. That’s why Mother’s Day was invented, because children can be moody.
It is my favourite day of the year – it is NOT some commercial trick played on us by some malevolent materialism, as is boringly often claimed. That is just a crap argument employed by those who forgot to send their own mum a card.
So anyway, on this lovely day of days, things took a worrying turn when we got home and Tex started looking somewhat green around the gills. Now you might ask, how can a black dog look green around gills he doesn’t have, but I would urge you to use your imagination. He was the very picture of nauseous doom.
When does a labrador ever refuse dinner?
When he has ebola for dogs.
Texas Summerhayes had come down with a case of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis that meant, politely, that he literally shat out the lining of his lower intestine.
Good thing is, this all happened after check in at the vet hospital where he was to then spend five days. Just in case you were wondering, we could possibly have flown the family and Texas to Bali business class for the price we were to spend on fees at this particular – MAGNIFICENT – establishment.
This is not in any way a criticism – merely an observation.
I urge you to encourage your children to all become vets…
To see poor Tex hooked up to drips, barely able to keep his head off the ground for the first couple of days was horrendous. This is a dog who has no idea he is not human – we’ve never had the heart to tell him. I mean, his nickname is The Prince! It is a shameful fact that our dog has delusions of grandeur so great and so real, that I think he actually thought he’d already died when he found himself in a small metal cage on the floor of a busy vet surgery.
We were told that his condition was the worst case the vet had seen and that they had no idea how or where he contracted the bug. It could have been foul water he’d drunk from a puddle (or worse), or it could have been seriously rotten food he’d found. Personally, I think this is the most likely – the guy would eat the crutch out of a low flying duck.
All they did know was that they had to stop the internal bleeding and rehydrate him before his levels of – um, whatever… didn’t reach the critical mark. To reduce the risk, they gave him, huh hum, plasma infusions.
You guessed it, if Texas Summerhayes didn’t have enough on his plate, he then had to have an allergic reaction to the plasma (as i did, at the hemorrhagic expense of the stuff). This meant his lips swelled up – making him look scarily like a Mosman matron. Trout pout. However, unlike a Mosman matron, he saw this as regrettable.
He was so pumped full of fluid to try to counteract the dehydration caused by the prolific pooing, that his feet swelled too, as did his undercarriage (Mosman matron references already used) and his underneck – if that’s a thing. He was a hot mess.
A very loved hot mess.
We visited him every day and much to our huge relief, on Thursday afternoon, he’d taken enough of a turn for the better, that the vet suggested we take him for a walk around the block.
Can you guess how I knew he was better?
First it was the stale crust that he spotted on the footpath and zeroed in on like a Peregrine falcon. A dog on a very special diet as a result of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis does not NEED stale white bread. But the cruncher for me came moments later when I had to stop him grinding his teeth to stumps on the pavement in a desperate attempt to retrieve a filthy, hardened, muck-covered lump of old chewing gum.
I said ‘Tex, where’s your dignity?’
He said, ‘I shat it out last Monday’.
On Friday, he was allowed to come home.
We spent the weekend watching his every move, terrified he might regress, but apart from inhaling his lunch on Saturday and choking briefly, he has been absolutely fine.
The second of the things that happened this week, was that my father, Dair, would have turned 81 on Tuesday May 19, had he not succumbed to cancer two years ago. The single good thing about my father’s untimely death, was that he never had to admit to being an octogenarian. For a big, handsome, strong man who was playing polo well into his seventies, that particular monicker alone would have felled him.
So for the second time, my siblings and I celebrated his birthday without him.
If you have lost a parent, you might understand this sense disbelief I feel every time I think of my father – that he’s no longer here. It’s so absurd, it’s almost comic. Only, it’s not.
I’m feeling generally cynical about death.
I like what Henry Scott Holland wrote in May 1910. He was Regius Professor of Divinity (say wha?…) at the University of Oxford, and also a canon of Christ Church, Oxford. So a big gun, pardon the pun. He delivered a sermon at St Pauls Cathedral following the death of King Edward Vll that was titled, Death the King of Terrors – which I think it pretty much is for most people.
But unlike most religious dudes, the sentiments he expressed align with what I’m trying to describe – this resistance to, or even rejection of, what we think conventionally about death. About it being an ending.
So he wrote…
Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
A negligible accident. I’m feeling it.
Thanks Holland, old boy. I hope the dead king could hear you from the next room, because these words are now about as well known as the British Monarchy, trundled out at funerals the world over. The words, I mean…
Now that I’ve covered the nearly dead and the dead in this happy post, to top it off, I’m going to tell you about an incredible woman I met by chance at a cafe a few days ago. Her name is Anna and she’s dying.
You’d think this would be the solemn and sorrowful, right?
Anna is not that girl. At 32, she has been living with brain cancer, or dying with it I should say, for the past four years, and yet her attitude towards living is what defines her. She’s pissed off that she won’t have children, that she will probably someday in the near future lose her mobility, and she dreads a drawn out, painful end.
But Anna has plans. She is thinking creatively and compassionately about others, coming up with ideas for internet applications that will connect terminally ill people in a forum that will enable them to share not only their stories, but their experiences, their aspirations, their bucket lists. Anna is thinking about others at a time most of us would have time only for ourselves.
Anna is the kind of woman who makes you feel pathetically inadequate. Her positivity and her crazy, fabulous humour that she musters in the face of the King of Terrors, puts anyone else’s complaining about the weather, how far off summer is, and how time flies… to shame.
At a dinner only a few days before meeting Anna, I heard Charlie Teo speak about the awful statistics on brain cancer: only two out of ten people survive for at least five years, it kills more children in Australia than any other disease, and it kills more people under 40 than any other cancer. The worst thing is that in the last four decades, these statistics have barely changed.
It’s a major bummer.
I miss my father, I’m unbelievably relieved that my dog survived, but you know what? I’m really glad that in this difficult week, I met Anna. I feel very privileged to have heard some of her story and I feel uplifted by her indomitable spirit and her positivity as she faces her own mortality.
Life really isn’t about a destination, though that’s how the rat race makes us feel. As corny as it sounds, it really is about the journey.
When June 1 dawns, I want you all to punch the air and yell, ‘I can do this!’ – and I want you to be bloody happy that you can.