How are we doing now?

click here for the account of the funeral

click here for previous news


Sunday 17 March 2002

Well it's quite a while now, since we lost Margaret, and the family has been moving along. There is now a headstone and inscription on Margaret's grave. I visit most times when passing by.

There are still many memories that produice a jerk but Margaret would want us to be happy and we seem to be doing well at home - or in our homes. Catherine is one third of the way through a six month training and work assignbment with Green Corps living in Milton. NSW. Here is a picture of Cat speaking at the launching of the project at the Milton Show on 28 February.

Liz has been fiercely busy as usual, or more than usual, with two subjects to complete her Arts Degree this semester, workng part time and writing busily, her website continuing to evolve.

I have spent quite a lot of time at the farm with a view to living there, so with Cat in Milton and Liz in Canberra and myself in the bush we do quite a bit of talking on the phone.

I have managed to lose 10kgs since September, and develop some fitness, though this photo is not suggestive of stylish dressing - you dress to cope with the cool damp and to ward off the mosquitos when you go up our rainforest gully - which runs through about 30 acres of the property, which we do not plan to touch, other than lightly and occasionally with feet. At least I don't look as old as the tree!

The farm house,is small, thus easier to clean, easier to keep warm and easier to get out of. There is much to do outdoors. The two Tibetan 'wind horses' have auspicious messages, and in the corner have a garuda for wisdom, a dragon for courage, a snow lion for fearless joy and a tiger for cunning; The green and yellow is to draw one down to earth, the multicoloured for balance - mainly they are there to look cheerful and they succeed in cheering. The flag poles are two of this year's crop of bamboo, poles 9 or 10 metres (over 30ft) long and four inches in diameter at the base, apart from those eaten as shoots, of excellent quality. It puzzles me to have a large number of fruit trees and have been able in January to make a years supply of stunningly good Seville Orange Marmalade from just three fallen fruit. The birds are doing well! Margaret would be pleased to have shared in finding our first modest but delicious hazelnut crop after 10 years wait. As usual the blueberries were tops, the bushes now three metres high.

There is now a good internet connection available at the farm, and as well as servicing machinery, finishing the inside of the house, making compost and cutting firewood, etc, I am back to moderating a discussion group related to my own health, reference to which is on this page. I am still contributing to the OzBrainTumour discussion group which sadly keeps a membership of around 120, with new members and old friends lost. It is a process for which it is hard to find appropriate adjectives (interesting? fierce? altering? demanding?), to see friends and friends' loved ones die, and meet and brief new people entering the same dark channels of life. I want to get things in order so I can rewrite the briefing paper I wrote for the group way, way back on the learning curve. I am not obsessed with this, I just think people should have help with the learning curve and with better support and advice than is available formally.


Thursday 4 October 2001

I said yesterday the diary was ended. But I want to paste here the text of a message just received this morning from a person I don't know, on the other side of the planet, which is an example of lots of messages over time and which makes the effort to maintain this web site all these months worthwhile. Here is what someone wrote out of the blue just now:

Hi Dennis-
It is very early here, and I have just visited your tribute to Margaret on your website. I have a deep admiration and respect for both of you to so bravely and honorably deal with death and the great joy in life simultaneoulsy. You have shared very private moments of illness with a dignity and love that is inspiring for me. My Mother is going in for a third cancer operation in October...your website has provided me a new perspective for being alongside her no matter the outcome and making the best of each moment. Thank you Dennis. My sincere condolences to you and your family for your great loss.

... oh and here is yesterday's message from the stranger:

Dear Dennis: I have followed your journey over the past many months on the Temodar discussion group and your internet page devoted to Margaret. My wife, R....., also has a gbm, however, that's not what I am writing you about. A good friend of ours here in the States yesterday advised me that two of his nephews in Australia have recently been diagnosed with brain tumors. Although M..... pretty much grew up in the States, his dad was a Hurricane pilot in the RAAF in the Pacific during WWII. He is not clear yet on too many details as he is a bit overwhelmed with the news. Would you mind if he wrote you for information you might have on treatment options, advice, or whatever in Australia? I don't have your complete e-mail address since the list only provides the firs part of it.

That's why the internet is a force for good.

Wednesday 3 October 2001

This web site has been the story of Margaret's fight with brain tumour. That ended on 9 September 2001.

That has left Dennis [58] and Liz [21] and Cat [18] at home.

We have been doing OK. I don't propose to detail our lives from here, our lives have entered a new phase. But it is appropriate to respond to those who have asked how we are doing by saying 'pretty well'.

We spent a long hard year and a half, a highly communcative year and a half, looking after Margaret, and ourselves. The girls were by themselves at home for over four months in 2000 (late May to early September; late October to late November) and for in 2001 for several short periods and a long period from late June to Margaret's death. They learned a lot about themselves, and about each other, and about their parents, from new perspectives. I spent most of the time with Margaret, but farewelled her to major surgery three times, and left her alone in hospital wards in May and September (both in Canberra) and November 2000, and April 2001 (both Sydney, RNSH), May (Canberra) and from 27 June to 4 September (Sydney, RNSH; ACT Hospice; RNSH; ACT Hospice); I was very pleased that I was able to spend the last four nights of her life in Margaret's room at the hospice, in a recliner. We loved Margaret to the last, but we knew, as she eventually accepted, that she was a dwindling shadow of her former self; she sought to retain as much quality of life as possible for as long as possible, and then let go. There was, in the end, for her and for us, some relief, an end to the struggle.

The girls have had a lot of support from friends and have been very good support for me. We have enjoyed some mutual slovenliness, some falling in a heap at home, some sluggishness to put the house in order. The girls have gotten on with their lives. I realise that they have been at a point of neglecting meals a bit; so I have incentive to do some cooking.

Cat is coming out of her glandular fever wearies, with spring here too, and it has been good to be free to help her a bit; it is also evident that she has felt a burden of 'waiting for it all to be over' and that is done, and is nothing she should feel guilty about. She has some part time work as a tutor and in a comfy and sensible sort of bar in Civic. Having deferred education after year 12 last year, she has done one subject at the Canberra School of Art this semester, somewhat interrupted, is looking at design courses in Sydney for 2003 and getting enough income between now and then to qualify for independent Youth Allowance status. She is also wanting, during 2002, to do a design course at the Canberra Institute of Technology, part time.

Liz, 21, is bewilderingly busy and a little weary prone - it's a resource management issue for an active body and mind. She will not quite complete her Arts Degree (English and Anthropology majors) this year, with a couple of units next year. She has some work as tutor and is highly sought after as a Life Drawing model by the art schools. She also continues to write, and is working in parallel on a novel, play and screenplay arising from a role playing module she wrote when 16 or so, award winning in the realm of Role Playing conventions (best new designer award) at the time, about six people meeting again 20 years after leaving school, after the funeral of another of their peers after death by cancer. She continues to try to find time for aikido training, is President of Women on Campus at the Australian National University and a member of the board of the university Sports Association. Oh, and she has been accepted as an Army Reserve Officer Cadet, and expects to do six weeks initial training in January-February next. Actually, so far as that screenplay is concerned she is in pursuit today of an independent film producer...

I'm very happy to accept advice from these guys. As for me, I have been in a very closed in world, this last year and a half, and I need new friends. I have responded to a couple of newspaper personals this week and (Catherine saying, as I go out: "Let me look at you. Good, you look nice.") have had a couple of coffees and walks with women of similar age seeking friendship; not seeking to rush into another relationship, but to meet people outside the circle of good supporters who perhaps know me and what has happened all too well. I will not be doing film reviews of these events and people!

There is a lot of 'sorting out' still to do, of a large bedroom - actually ours is a whole bedsit granny flat at the end of the house - with decades of intertwined things of hers and mine, emotional patina, depths of fantasy and imagination. I thought intially I should sort through all this in a businesslike manner, but realised quickly that it's not a business to be sorted out, and in terms of our intertwined existence still, much will remain entwined. So its been nice, when hunting underwear for myself, to step into a pair of hers and say, 'aha, I guess I wear the boss's pants in this house now' or 'well, I'm back in Margaret's pants'... There are textures of cloth, there are gifts put aside and never given to anyone. There are some scarfs, still in cellophane, which I think I brought back from Korea, as gifts, in January 1984, lost in the stocking drawer... a book for a grandchild. There are small imperfections, grease spots, tears in items, all of which have historical, emotional warm content and meaning. So it doesn't need to be a laborious process, it isn't going to be a quick unloading, at all. And while there are little jolts here and there, as something falls out and sparks a memory (this morning a red scarf with a spot of food on it, from very recent, very hard times), most of the memory is good. Yes, it's sad and terribly disappointing not to have her here with me, but the memories are profoundly good, though my view of the screen is fogging as I write this. I don't want to cease to be moved emotionally by memories, I don't want my life cleared of all this. I hear some people speak of the survivors carrying baggage, or such notions. Well, life is baggage, life is complexity, life is rich and memories make us. I have nothing to be ashamed of or to regret in all this history and it makes me the colour and texture I am from here...

There is legal stuff to be done, I see the lawyer Thursday afternoon to get clear what has to be done about the estate, about applying for probate on the will. And at some time I will need to review my own will too...

I spent last week away at our 'farm', doing things that needed doing to a small house locked up for a year and a half - damp, with moisture condensing on a vinyl covered concrete slab floor, unheated through the winter, was the main problem. Running the wood fire day and night, and opening the house to fresh spring warmth, was good. I collected a harvest of bamboo shoots (to boxes, left for sale on consignment with an Asian produce store in Canberra) and did an amount of other tidying and visual auditing (can you do that?) the farm itself, doing some mowing, eyeing the blueberries which promise a monster January-February harvest from bushes eight to ten feet high, totting up several weeks of further work promptly useful. And I blew a lot of cobwebs out of my system, falling in love with that idyllic, and to some eccentric, property, exercising physically and eating and sleeping to no other rhythm but my own.

I continue daily writing technical and counselling advice to internet discussions on brain tumour; I am resuming moderator responsibilities for a 500 member group discussing Chronic Fatigue and fibromyalgia syndromes. My views on this subject are here. I am enjoying the relief of writing advice to the Compact Tractor internet discussion group, 300 members, of which I am also a moderator... :-)

And so I have confidence that we will find our ways. The girls are more confident and aware of life than they might otherwise be. I am attuned to living life to the best, daily and in the present. I thought to myself at the farm that if I were to be able to say anything to Margaret now it would be that in whatever the future may bring, I think I will be a better person than I was with her, not because of deficits then, but because of all I have learned, shared and been given while and as Margaret's husband and with an ability to build on, rather than dwell on, that.

Here, I think, the diary ends.

Thanks to all for so much support. If you'd like to keep in touch, you can email Cat here or me here.... Or Liz here.