Tuesday, February 28, 2017

In which I have a brilliant idea even though I'm poorly

Think life is catching up with me.

My cough and sticky eyes of last week have metamorphosed into very sore throat, headache and swollen glands this. Really what with one thing and another it hasn't been the best of years for us so far - although it's been a lot worse for others.

And Lent begins tomorrow. (Causing my plan of putting uncle's funeral flowers in the church to fail spectacularly.)

I saw a very good idea on facebook. Each day of Lent find something you no longer use or need and put it in a bag to give to a charity shop at Easter. I think it was a Sally Army initiative originally but it would work for any charity. Another Facebook post suggested filling a bag a day and while that's probably what I should do it's a bit extreme.

I'm also setting myself another Lenten challenge. As I've said in previous years I find it easier somehow to stick to a resolution over a set period - or more specifically Lent as it doesn't work if I create my own.

But I'll talk about that in another post. Right now I've had a brilliant idea! Instead of taking the coffin flowers to the church I'll put them on the grave of my mother and grandparents. I think Uncle would approve of that.

P.S. I also discovered that the soluble aspirin I'd been taking were 75 mg each instead of the usual 300 mg. No wonder they didn't seem to be helping.

P.P.S. Also remembered that the deadline for my next The Bay article is 15th March, or roughly two weeks tomorrow. Better get my brain in.

Free health care a good thing?

Amongst Uncle's things we came across this Daily Telegraph from March 22nd, 1946, announcing the setting up of the NHS. Uncle worked for the NHS from the very beginning eventually becoming CEO of Nottingham Family Practitioners before being asked to head up national training for staff in the Family Practitioner Services (I've learned this from letters received since his death). 
 What I found particularly interesting about this newspaper cutting is the reactions of the BMA and BHA, which both sound less than enthusiastic about a nationalised health service.

So that was Monday

Twenty-seven people turned up in the end for champagne at uncle's apartment but I forgot to tell them about the nibbles so some had already eaten - which meant I had to force down ever such a lot. It was such an effort I tell you! A very jolly time was had by all who came from various sections of Uncle's life and all had happy and inspiring stories to tell.

And then it was the funeral. A very grey day with sleet alternating with sunshine - though not a lot. The church was full and the service was fine. Towards the end we had the tributes: one from me, one from cousin Jimmy about their growing-up, one from Anna, CEO of Fitzroy, and one from Mark on behalf of Jane and Kate about the man who'd been like a father to them. All showing different aspects of this amazing man. 

At the end as we sang the favourite rugby anthem, Bread of Heaven, the coffin was accompanied out of the church by an all-female escort. I think Uncle would have approved of that!

From there it was a skedaddling race across town to the crematorium: the service and tributes had gone on rather longer than anticipated. Father Frank didn't even have time to take his red anorak off before he raced through the committal and we were out the other side before we knew what had happened.

Then it was back to the hotel for more food - but no champagne! - before being able to go home and flop. At least until the second service next week.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Meeting a Mummy

Threw away Uncle's teeth yesterday. Hesitated a moment in case there might be a charity that collects dentures but then thought, 'No.'

Tonight his body is being received into the church. Not entirely sure what that means but afterwards I've invited people back to Uncle's apartment for a champagne toast and nibbles. (Did I mention that I originally intended the toast to happen at the wake because Uncle had left us a large number of bottles of champagne, but the hotel intended to charge us £15 corkage per bottle, which is just silly?) To be more accurate I've invited those people I've remembered to tell. Which could be anything between ten and some other number.

That's why I was in the apartment yesterday: having a little tidy. That was before I went to the hairdresser's - at long last. If only the bags under the eyes problem could be resolved in an afternoon at the hairdresser's. It was the only appointment I could get and it clashed with the Wales Scotland game, which we recorded. The news reporter on the radio started talking about it while Mark was finishing off my hair. I yelped, put my fingers in my ears and he quickly switched on the hair-dryer. So I didn't find out that we were trounced until I finally got home and watched the recorded game.

I thought Scotland might win - they're on the up - but I didn't expect the score to be quite so bad (29-13). Oh well, another year, another defeat.

In other news, on Friday I took GrandSon4 for a walk in the sling while his mummy was in a fabric-printing workshop. He managed to stay awake until we'd done the library but fell asleep before we went into the museum.

There is a fascinating exhibition in the corridor of photos by a woman who lived in Swansea at the beginning of the twentieth century. I was surprised by their artistry, which is illogical really as people have been creative and artistic since time began. It's not a new thing even if the method of expressing it may be. Lizzie East was a professional photographer at a time when few women entered the profession. 

The photo I liked best was of an elderly woman in her going-out clothes standing/walking by a hedge. She has a very slight smile on her face unlike many of the photos from that time. There are also lots of lovely photos of Lizzie's nieces. 
From the Lizzie East Facebook page
I also took GrandSon4 to meet a mummy. Not his mummy but Hor, the 2,000-year-old Egyptian, who has a small room of his own that can feel quite enclosed and spooky when you're on your own. Or maybe that's the result of watching too many Scooby Doo cartoons with my children. We didn't stay in there long anyway.

Instead we carried on to the display of childhood toys - including a 1979 Jackie annual. We didn't stay there long either. Nothing like seeing your childhood in a museum to make you feel old.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Less of an orange and more of a sausage

I've been poorly. Nothing serious, just a cough, sore throat (from coughing), and sticky eyes. And I'm just another one in the household to be poorly. We've all got/had something or other. I think we're on the mend now although currently our idea of a romantic gesture is Husband offering to make me a hot Lemsip when he does his.

Plans going well for Uncle's two funerals. I ask you: not even the Queen will have two. First he's being cremated then buried. Half his ashes scattered in the sea at Mumbles, the other half buried with his wife and son in Nottingham. (Something is ticking in this room. Very fast. I shall have to find it or it will irritate me. There. Sorted.)

To the hospital this morning for another scan. The radiologist did the scan and then did that scary thing they do. She paused and said, 'I'll just get the doctor to come and have a look.'
Keep breathing, I tell myself. Don't panic. It's either gone or got bigger. Turns out it was neither. 

The doctor came in and introduced himself as he shook my hand. I said, 'How do you do.' How do you do?! Where did that come from? I never say how do you do, particularly when I'm stretched out on a bed with my belly exposed.

Anyway the cyst is the same size. Roughly. But now less orange and more sausage. So I have to wait to see a doctor to decide what to do next. I'll forget it for a while. Too much else happening.

Like going to Verdi's this afternoon to cheer ourselves up.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I'm fine

Everyone keeps asking how I'm doing and I tell them I'm fine. Which I am. But I shouldn't be really.

After  months of being closely involved in my uncle's life and death I should be feeling something. But I'm not. It's my pills you see. They keep me happy. Or if not happy at least stable.

Perhaps I should stop taking them for a while so I can show people that I'm not a cold emotionless human being. I stopped while I was in hospital (because I forgot to take them in with me) and I found myself in tears at the most innocuous sentences in my romantic novel. Perhaps that what I need to do now. Let myself cry. 

But is feeling necessary? I can't go back to where I was before I began taking my happy pills where I had slipped into a half life ruled by anxiety. I won't go back there. 

Is it so bad to not cry? To not demonstrate emotion? Does it mean I don't care? I don't even know the answer to that.

I saw the flash

At first I thought I was having a funny turn then I realised it was the speed camera. It turned out I'd been doing 36 in a 30 mph zone and my reward was four hours in a room with other offenders taking a speed awareness course.

Now I know how to tell what the speed limit is on any stretch of road, the difference between speed signs outlined in red (mandatory) and any other colour (advisory), and the benefits of commentary driving aka talking aloud to oneself. 

But the highlight of my afternoon came when the trainer asked what the lines down the middle of the road are for. One suggestion, to keep traffic on different sides, was acknowledged as being a secondary reason but did anyone know the main reason? As no-one else seemed to know I said, 'More paint more danger?'
'Well done, Liz! That's excellent.'

I'm still preening.

At the end of the course we had to complete an activity: What are you going to do differently? (Concentrate, allow more time etc.) The final question was, 'whose help will you need?' Apparently the correct answer is no-one's; you have to do it yourself. After that I didn't feel I could shout out the answer I'd written, 'God's.' I honestly can't imagine how else I'm going to change the habits of a lifetime and stop being late.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sorry, but it's not fair

In the last six weeks three of the people in this family photo from 2008 have died. Two of them, Uncle John and Great-auntie Joan, were in their 90s and wanting to go; the third (at the top of the stairs) was in the prime of her life and most certainly didn't want to.

Now that's not fair.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

My uncle John

Uncle John was born on 13th December, 1925. He was my mum's little - 6'3" - brother. 
With my mum at my grandparents' golden wedding party in about 1970.
In 1978 he gave me away at my wedding to Husband.

With his dear friend, Margaret, when they were young.

And with Margaret four years ago when he drove them both to Italy for Younger Son's wedding.

At his 90th birthday pre-celebration with Anna, CEO of Fitzroy, the charity he helped start.

In 2014 he received a national award, The Mansell Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Learning Disability Sector, and was interviewed for the Guardian newspaper for which this photo was taken.

Uncle John was a loyal friend and inspirational character. He was also charming: at his 80th birthday party most of the guests were women and, indeed, women played a large part in his life: Margaret of course, in the photos above; Audrey, his wife of about 30 years; Edith, his close companion in later years before her death; and Jane, a good friend from his time in Nottingham. And many more who've phoned and kept in touch especially during his illness, and have related lovely stories to me about him.

He was a special man.

The death of Uncle

Uncle died on Wednesday afternoon. I'd just gone to the shops to get a present for Daughter whose birthday was the next day when I had the phone call. His end was peaceful and he was at home, which was so important to him, and his carer was there. The last day or so he'd been on a morphine drive so he wasn't in any pain or discomfort.

It was what he'd wanted. When the doctor had given him the option of stopping all his medication he'd agreed eagerly - he'd been suggesting it before but we'd said, 'No! You mustn't!'

The last days were long and slow - and exasperating as he'd breathe and then stop for up to a minute at a time while we'd watch anxiously until he'd suddenly gasp again. The district nurses came in twice daily and I'm sure they fully expected each visit to be their last. Please take this the right way when I say that his carer and I kept looking at each other and saying, 'He's never going to die!'

I'm not entirely sure that the doctor who came to confirm death about an hour afterwards took my comment the right way when I said, 'Watch out, he'll probably sit up and start breathing again. He's been teasing us for days!' Husband and Carer looked at me aghast and the doctor, well, she just looked. (Must learn not to say the first thing that comes into my head.) (Like saying to the undertaker, on discovering that the funeral will be just before St. David's Day, 'Maybe everyone could wear yellow. Or dress as leeks ...')

I blame lack of sleep and general brain-mush. And too much chocolate, my staple diet for the last few weeks.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Go gentle into that good night

I wrote this in the depths of Friday night.

My uncle was a presence at most of the significant moments of my life.

He gave me my first teddy, who, bedraggled and moth-eaten, still sits on the shelf.
He 'gave me away' at my wedding thirty-eight years ago.
He and I spent a night sitting in hospital together waiting, as it turned out, for my mother to die.
He was the one who phoned me in the middle of another night to say my grandmother had died. 'It's just you and me now, love,' he said.

And yet I hardly knew him.

It wasn't until he retired and eventually moved back to the village of his childhood that I got to know a bit more about this amazing man. Father of a son with cerebral palsy - when Huw was born Uncle John and Auntie Audrey were advised by the doctor to put him in a home and forget about him - Uncle John was one of the founders of a charity, Fitzroy, that has home-from-homes across England for disabled adults who can no longer be cared for by their families.

But it's not just love and care he gave to his son and wife and his achievements in his working life as well as the charity work; it's the love and respect that so many people have for him and the value they place upon him, the inspiration they receive from him.

After his dear friend, Edith, died, Uncle John continued to care for and play a part in the lives of her daughters. One of them told me yesterday, 'He's been a better father to me than my own father ever was.'

I was glad to hear that but sad too. Sad that we'd never had that close relationship. The closest it came was when I told him that I was being treated for depression and he took me out to lunch and answered my questions about my mother and my father. He said, 'I'm so sorry; I should have talked to you before this.'

We both have our regrets but as I sit here, by his bedside at two in the morning, I remember another night almost forty-five years to the day, when we sat in a hospital together and I prayed so hard for my mum to live.

Tonight I have prayed just as hard that he would die, that God would take him. Out of his struggle, out of his pain. He's had enough, he's ready. He is tired and distressed.

Dying is undignified, It's not right that a strong gentle-man should suffer this. He has no energy to 'rage against the dying of the light.' 

Answer his prayer Lord. 'Dear God, how long does it take to die?'

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

D is for Delilah and Dragon

Let me tell you first that I am Welsh. I come from Wales, a country once described to me as 'that bit on the side of England'. A proud would-be independent country with its own language, traditions and flag. A country whose mood can change in sync with the fortunes of its rugby team.

We can get very worked up at an international rugby game.

And we do love to have our allegiance clearly shown on our faces. This is me a few years ago in Cardiff for a game. You can tell it's taken before the match as my Welsh dragon is not yet smudged by tears - of joy or misery? Nobody remembers the score afterwards.
The dragon has been associated with Wales since Roman times when the cavalry were believed to have used a dragon emblem on their pennants. The dragon was later used by Welsh kings to symbolise their authority and later formed part of the Tudor monarchs' coat of arms. The flag of Wales as it is now was officially recognised in 1959.
Something else that features at Welsh rugby matches is the singing of a song made famous by Tom Jones, Delilah. Released in 1968 it tells the story of an unfaithful woman and her boyfriend's response - murder. (Interestingly there have been moves to have the singing of Delilah at rugby matches banned because it legitimises violence towards women. Police reports indicate that numbers of assaults on women increase after an international - regardless of who's won.)

When we travelled across the world two years ago to visit Malaysia and Vietnam I decided to take a dragon with me. The idea was that I would take photos of her in various locations so my grandchildren could follow our travels. Unreliable internet connection meant I wasn't able to maintain a complete log but nevertheless the dragon, whom I named Delilah, did get to see quite a lot of the world.

Here she is sunning herself on a beach in the beautiful Perhentian islands.
Other entries in ABC Wednesday can be found here.