Saturday, 20 February 2010

Illness, Obituary and other meanderings

I've been sick for three weeks. This is probably not of any interest to anyone other than members of my family, but it needs recording. I spent the 9th February (2 days after my birthday) in the medical day ward of Wellington Hospital, eliminating some fairly scary things I could have had but didn't (hepatitis, pneumonia, thyroid condition, neurological disorder), but had no diagnosis to show for my day off from the everyday world.

After doing a fair bit of research of my own on the wonderful world-wide interweb thingy, I believe I had an acute and miraculously brief attack of polymyalgia rheumatica. Interestingly, I (jokingly) told Wally when I first got sick that I had either the flu or an acute attack of rheumatoid arthritis, and then didn't think about it again, flu being the most likely explanation. Anyway, my symptoms ticked all the boxes for PR, including the instant onset of aching muscles (it started at 11pm on 26 January), anorexia, rapid weight loss, sensory distortion, anaemia and a few other things I can't remember because my brain is still a little fuzzy. The only variation I displayed was the length of the attack - 5 days, as opposed to 2-4 years! I'm still weak, and I have days of sitting on the couch gazing into space, though I seem to be able to work on alternate days without needing a long lie-down every half hour.

Anyway, one of the few things I managed to do while I was in the early stages of recovery was to write an obituary for my Dad for Menzed, the monthly newsletter of Mensa New Zealand. Here it is, for the sake of internet posterity:

Obituary - Colin Russell Gilbert, 17/12/23 - 18/10/09
Telephone engineer, grocer, taxi driver, park groundskeeper, gardener, bowler, Forest & Bird trip leader and much-loved father. How do you sum up an 85-year long life, without reducing it to trivialities? Dad was a man who believed in himself. He wasn't the perfect parent - who is? - but he did a good-enough job that when he got sick we fought over who would get to look after him. He chose the prodigal sister who lived in England for 40 years (and who has subsequently invoiced the rest of us for his care), because he wanted to stay at home until he died, and not go from house to house as the rest of us could manage.

Dad qualified for Mensa in the 70s, when he was still in his fifties. He chose not to join then, as he felt like it would be skiting. I gave him membership for his 81st birthday and told him he was old enough to skite all he liked. He displayed his Mensa Certificate with pride, attended a few events, including the 2008 AGM Gathering in Silverstream, and then let his membership lapse after he hosted a games afternoon which no-one attended. I tried to persuade him it was nothing personal - that Mensans are crap at RSVPing and travelling out of town - but it was rudeness as far as he was concerned, so that was that.

Dad was diagnosed with melanoma in January 2009. He already had congestive heart failure, kidney failure and gout; nevertheless I expected him to live another 10 years. He came from a long line of 90+-year-olds. We only got 10 months after the diagnosis. In September he was offered radiology as palliative treatment for the map of White Island that had erupted on his left flank. The caring sister thought it would kill him and refused to drive him to Wellington Hospital, so my younger sister and I willingly took on the job. Twice a week for three weeks Lency would drive to Waikanae to pick him up, I would meet them at the hospital, he'd have his treatment, we'd have lunch at Wishbone, and then I'd take him home. Those were amongst the three most precious weeks imaginable. We had Dad to ourselves, and for an hour each way he got each of us to himself.

I remember with great joy the times we used to spend together in his taxi when I was a teenager and could always get a safe lift home from parties - driving around with him until he got a job that took us near home. He wired and insulated my house when my first husband left after removing all the wall coverings, ceilings and wiring. Dad made all his grandchildren feel as though they were the most special of all, and he called me his "favourite middle daughter" without ever referring to a favourite oldest or youngest daughter or son. He maintained his loving sense of humour to the end, and the day before he died he asked to be moved into the living room so he could watch his final Wellington Lions game - he and I shared a love of rugby from very early days and made many trips to Athletic Park together.

He was cremated 2 days after he died, in a beautiful plywood coffin made by my husband Wally ("Thanks for making my bunk, Wal") which was filled to the brim with flowers from his garden, so we could see just his face. We included Mum's ashes, so they could be together again.

The funeral, which I organised (having been brought up by very independent parents to do everything myself that I can) was attended by about 100 people, and Dad had a soldier's farewell from a representative of the RSA, a ritual that never fails to move me.

It's been four months now, and there hasn't been a single day that I haven't missed him and I would trade my soul to have him back. But that's the way of things - we all end up orphans eventually, and we have to make the most of taking our turn at being the family elders.

Gales have stripped
the mulch from my garden
exposing the living earth
to its fellow elements.
I would ring you Dad
to tell you
and we would laugh
and be amazed together
if I could forget
for just one breezy moment
that the fire
has already taken you.

So now I've had to give up selling Dad's house myself (another job I hate to pay someone to do) because I've given up driving for the duration and can't get to Waikanae to show people around or run open homes, I'm wayyyyyy behind on my competition promotion work and I haven't started the March issue of the magazine, due at the printer tomorrow. On the positive side, I've managed to give up housework and am paying my oldest daughter (a single mother who needs the money more than I do) to clean for me, which means it gets done far more efficiently, and I have her in my home for a couple of hours every week - lovely.

That's life. If I thought things would go back to normal after my difficult time around Dad's death, I was dreaming. 'Normal' is whatever's happening, and you'd think I'd have learned that by now, at my vast age. I keep forgetting. Perhaps that's a human defense mechanism to get us out of bed in the morning - "Oh, today will go just as I expect it to".

Like this blog - most of the time I've been working on it I've been trying to work out what font it started with, after I foolishly imported the obituary in Palatino Linotype and had to retype it. Blogger wouldn't let me publish because my Html was wrong. Anyway, now I'm boring myself, so I'll stop.