Vale, Tony, my precious friend

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
~ Ray Bradbury

 

On Tuesday night the world lost a gentle gardener of souls.

My friend Tony slipped away.

Tony was the heart of Sangsurya, the place where I run my retreats.

We’ll be a little quiet here for the next few days as we mourn our friend and honour his life and legacy. How many lives he has shaped and changed, including mine.

Bless you, Tony. May your heart spin ever faster.

Onwards on your journey, dear one.

You will be missed.
<3 xoxo

Photo taken at Sangsurya by Dana Hartnell

 

Only Someone Who Has Chronic Pain or Illness Knows…

“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”
~ Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor

 

I’ve been unwell since my teens.

There have been so many diagnoses. (I won’t list them all here, although perhaps I should.)

I’ve pursued so many kinds of treatments. (Really. In over thirty years of continuous concerted effort I’ve done more kinds of diets, therapies, herbals, treatments, drugs and totally-out-there-hokey-but-I’m-doing-it-because-desperate regimes than I care to mention. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth. And I’m still here. So some of it must have worked.)

There have been times where I have only been able to see myself through the prism of loss.

But that’s soul-destroying. It makes you die while you are still alive. And I want to live. So mostly I choose to view my life by framing it up around what I can do, rather than what I can’t.

I have read deeply and widely, in order to get an inside angle on my health. I have come to understand my body better. I have become a master at hiding or managing disability and at creating a life that works on my terms. Mostly.

Some days a pain comes. Or some other symptom. After which I spend hours backtracking and investigating. Was it because of something I ate? A chemical? Lack of sleep? A million other possibilities? Did I do this to myself or make things worse? I’ve lost days to this kind of hypervigilance. It never helps, although it can gift me a temporary illusion of control.

I have a long, long list every single day – of pains and problems and freakish symptoms which it long ago became too boring to mention, even to myself. Mostly it is background noise in my life. I live with pain. I live with the kind of things that would have other folk rushing off to the doctor. After a lifetime of discussing them with doctors and having no resolution these kinds of things become your new normal, and then, eventually, just part of your life.

Mostly, just like other people with chronic or terminal illnesses, I have continued to look quite unremarkable on the outside. Maybe just a bit tired sometimes, or a bit puffy or drawn or pale.

Image from www.wallls.ru

Image from www.wallls.ru

These days I’m actually doing much better. Especially after two solid years of horrendous antibiotic therapy for Lyme. After major surgery last year ( and then the superbug I acquired) and an avalanche of new drugs (and some old favourites) and then Chinese herbs, essential oils, modified diet (again!) and intravenous vitamin C.

I feel like I’ve turned a corner. I can function better, I have more energy than I’ve had in years. Life is opening out a little more for me. People comment on how well I look.

Although that better is comparative.

I still can’t drive. My vision is still impaired. I still need early nights and nana naps to get through the day. I have a horrible startle reflex. When I’m tired. I lose words. I sound like. A badly. Edited film. With pauses and breaks in. All the wrong places. Because. Brain not working properly.

I’m still immuno-compromised. (And please, will you quit rolling your eyes and commenting about how it always seems to be one thing after another with me? Yes, that’s true. Because I am immuno-compromised after so many decades of illness. The bugs that barely register with you or that inconvenience you for a few days still have the power to take me down, or even out. Don’t visit me when you’re sick. Wash your hands more. Practice good hygiene. Rant over.) Incontinence issues? Yep. Not quite nailed the superbug? Yep. Foods that send me spiralling into misery? Yep. Exhaustion? Yep. Pain that wakes me up and keeps me up? Yep. No libido? Yep. Tendon stiffness that sees me hobble when I get out of bed, or up off a chair after sitting for a while? Yep. Pay for increased activity levels with increased night-time pain and exhaustion the next day? Yep.

Yep.

Still, I have coping strategies, and meditation, and healing foods and emergency triage treatments. I have a wonderful local GP and acupuncturist. I have an incredible husband who is my full-time carer (although I hate to think of it like that, it’s the truth.) I have a beautiful group of friends and an online community who lift me up every day.

My life is good. It’s precious and wonderful and I am grateful for every breath.

Mostly.

I am one of millions just like me. People living with or despite conditions and illness. We’re doing our best. For some of us that’s actually pretty messy and awful at times. Most of which you won’t ever see. Some of us can’t get help. Some of us aren’t believed. Some of us don’t have the financial resources or the energy or education or support to even try to get past what ails us. Some of us will fail, decline, die despite help and treatment. Some of us have trajectories that are all downhill.

So, what can you do?

If you’re one of the millions, try to find some small thing each day to focus gratitude upon. Look at what you can do. That’s a big ask at times, but I’ve come to realise that what we focus on magnifies. I’d rather focus on the pleasure of savoring a cup of tea than on the fact I can’t see the bloody thing clearly anymore. When I focus on what still works and what’s still good, peace comes to me. You can heal or endure when you’re peaceful, more than you ever can when you are stressed or angry. (I know this from experience, but I won’t say ‘trust me’ – it’s better if you experience this yourself too, so that you can own it as truth in your body rather than just a concept in your mind.)

If you’re not one of the millions yet, know that it’s entirely possible that one day you might be.

If you’re not one of the millions, please stop pandering that New Age drivel to us about how this is all a beautiful learning experience, or that our souls chose this, or that we somehow created it, or perpetuated it. Or how we can turn this into a wonderful soul-growth opportunity. Or that God only gives us what we can handle. Don’t hang that judge-y guilt-trip on us. It’s not helpful and it’s not kind. Especially when we are having a bad day, which, incidentally, may be invisible to you. If you are one of the millions, stop hanging that guilt-trip on yourself.

Know that if a vegan, paleo, superfoods, raw diet, prayerful contemplation, soul-searching, vibration lifting, better exercise routine, detox or no-negative-thoughts regime actually worked for everyone there would be no more cancer or depression or chronic illness, or genetic abnormality or disorder already.

Don’t hang judgement on us when the network-marketing-product, special diet, cleanse-in-a-box, worked-for-your-neighbour or someone-you-read-about-online cure, doesn’t work so well with us. Or when we just don’t want to try one of those things. Again. For whatever reason.

Don’t tell us we’re heroes or warriors. We’re only dealing with the hand we’ve been dealt. Don’t tell us that you don’t know how you’d ever cope or that we’re incredible the way we are coping. Some days we don’t cope. Don’t perpetuate the myth of the incredible brave-warrior-ill-person. It’s just one more pressure we don’t need.

Please don’t treat us like we’re invisible. Please keep including us and inviting us. Even when we’re unreliable, or can only attend for a short while or not in the way you (or we) would prefer.

Unless you’re going to be mean or judge-y. In which case it’s actually better if we’re invisible.

Let’s not hide illness and disability anymore. Let’s bring it out into the open where it belongs, instead of shaming ourselves and each other around our perceived frailties and failings.

Every single one of us will know illness or injury or critical failure of something we had previously taken for granted at some stage in our lives.

Let’s treat this with kindness. Kindness isn’t a cure, but it’s a very helpful medicine.

Holding you in my prayers and meditations,

Nicole <3 xoxo

Death Of A Friend – Saying Goodbye to Bert

Nurse Bert

“We who choose to surround ourselves
with lives even more temporary than our
own, live within a fragile circle;
easily and often breached.
Unable to accept its awful gaps,
we would still live no other way.
We cherish memory as the only
certain immortality, never fully
understanding the necessary plan.”
~ Irving Townsend

 

And so it seems that for the next installment in my Wednesday series on death and dying that I shall be writing about something very raw and close to home…

On Sunday January 15 at 4am Ben and I made one of the hardest decisions we have yet made for our little family. We chose to euthanise our darling dog, Bert.

It was an entirely unexpected place to find ourselves in. Although, if you have read last Monday’s post, you will see that I was in fact forewarned, after having chosen the oracle card for the week ahead earlier on Saturday morning. A card that I discounted and put down, so that later I might choose another, better card.

That card was such a portend; a heartbroken woman, tears running down her face, cradling in her arms her dead dog – the little ginger pup with the red collar.

Grief

Who would have thought on a sunshiny Saturday morning, with our two dogs Harry and Bert well and happy and flourishing, that by Saturday evening it would all be going horribly downhill for one of them?

Dear readers, this is so often the way death finds us and our loved ones. This is the way the world is. One moment life is fine and normal. The next moment everything is different. Changed forever.

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Our Saturday started as Ben and I grabbed a coffee and the weekend papers in town then headed home to sit on the veranda. We did some writing together before the heat of the day while Bert and Harry sat at our feet, went off for a little wander, and then came back to the shade again.

The farm is in the grip of a heatwave. As I sat down mid-morning to do a little prep work and then start a day of skype readings with clients the boys all retreated to our air-conditioned bedroom – the one cool room in the house. Bert stayed there all day, happy on the bed. Harry and Ben did a little farm work and then came back to the bedroom. It was just too hot for anything!

When I finished work just before 6pm we all headed up to the pool. While Ben and I swam Harry and Bert ran around the edges, following us. Eventually Bert tired of the game and lay down. He’d only been lying there a few minutes when he stood up suddenly. He was violently ill. After which he pooed everywhere and began to shake. Bert looked at me and our eyes locked. I got a terrible cold feeling and a sense of certainty that he was going to die. He collapsed in front of me.

It all happened in seconds.  But even now those seconds feel like hours. I called to Ben that something was wrong and we jumped out of the pool and hurried to Bert’s side. Ben thought he might have eaten something. I was sure it was more urgent than that.

I ran back to the house, my heart pounding, and began to ring the local vets. Frantically I called vet after vet. Most were on holidays. No-one answered the phone. Finally, on the sixth call a vet in Lismore, a thirty minute drive away, picked up. If we came straight away she would meet us at the clinic. By this time Ben had brought Bert down to the house. Our beloved dog was lying on our bedroom floor, his gums pale, his breathing laboured, his heart beat erratic, his body twisted with pain.

I was sure it was a snake bite.

Leaving Harry in our room, Ben carried Bert to the ute and placed him in the back seat, where I climbed in beside him to cradle his head and comfort him as Ben drove us to get help.

Our poor dog. He was in a bad way, and as I felt his heart race and slow and flutter beneath my fingers it was all I could do to stay calm. I poured every ounce of love I had into him, and told Bert stories to keep him quiet and listening to my voice.

While our world spun, life went on as normal for most everyone else. Families came to the dinner table, or sat in front of television. People went about their lives. This is how it is when your world is falling apart. Other people’s lives are progressing as they always have. The only sky that falls is yours. It’s as if you move into a parallel dimension.

The vet was young and inexperienced. She was not sure what to do. She kept walking out of the surgery room, leaving us alone for long periods of time. It did not instill us with confidence.

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It took several goes for her to find a vein. She did a coagulation test, and told us it wasn’t a snake bite. She thought our sick dog might have eaten something. Meanwhile Bert was increasingly distraught, and then began to poo an acrid foaming mess of faeces and blood. The vet thought she might give Bert a drip and then leave him alone in the clinic overnight, after which the senior vets could assess him and give him some scans the next morning.

Our dog was shaking and moaning and the vet wanted to leave him alone and unattended in a cage all night.

Ben asked for other options. The vet suggested an emergency vet hospital on the Gold Coast. But less than an hour further up the road and we could be back in Brisbane, with a place to sleep, and close to our trusted family vet come Monday morning. As soon as the drip was in place we paid the bill and Ben carried Bert out to the car, our plan already decided.

I sat in the back with Bert’s head on my lap, wads of towels under him to catch the stinking bloody waste that kept oozing from him. We strapped the drip to the door frame and raced away.

Ben hugged the speed limit as he drove us home to the farm. The familiar country roads went by in a blur. Night fell. It was still stinking hot, and I was grateful that the car was cool and quiet.

At home one of us stayed with Bert while we took turns picking up Harry Dog and locking the house and sheds. I grabbed a bottle of essential oil and my computer. There was no time for anything else.

We were soon on our way again. Ben concentrated on the road, and Harry Dog sat in the front seat, twisted around so that he could see Bert and I, his eyes worried and fretful.

I rubbed Peace and Calming Oil (the same one I used when I helped my friend Angela to pass) on my hands and then let Bert breathe it in. I rubbed it along his spine. It took away his agitation and helped him to settle. It helped me too.

I noticed everything. The velvety feel of Bert’s muzzle, the raggedness of his breathing, Harry’s gentle and frequent sighs, the steady drip of the saline from the bag into the tube that was bandaged to Bert’s leg.

As we drove I patted Bert, and talked to him. I breathed in his pain, and breathed out love. I thought about the fact that here we suddenly were, pushing ourselves on this frantic journey to get help for our loved one – enroute to an excellent animal medical facility. I was monitoring Bert’s drip, we were safe, and yet there were so many people in the world in that same moment who did not have the care, attention or even the rudimentary treatments afforded our dog.

Bert settled under my touch and rested. But his eyes tracked our movements and he did not sleep. If I stopped patting him or talking to him he nudged me until I began again. He seemed unaware of the smells and the ooze. He became peaceful. Almost content. I filled the car with gentle talk about burgers and walks and adventures and lots of food stories. Bert loved his food, and burgers most of all.

When we arrived at the veterinary hospital it was just before midnight. Ben went ahead to get help and soon orderlies came with a stretcher. They carried Bert away, Ben following, while Harry and I stayed with the car.

As soon as the heavy doors shut and we could no longer see them, Harry began to whimper. I could not quieten him. He did not want me to put essential oil on him. I understood. He wanted to feel his feelings. He did not want to be pacified. Eventually the whimper became a howl. I crawled onto the front seat beside him and held him in my arms. I couldn’t cry, so Harry did for us. Nothing I did gave him any comfort. It was awful.

Ben took forever. Enough time for me to wipe up most of the shit and the blood from myself and the car. Enough time for me to use the remains of a bottle of water to clean things as best I could and to dump all the filthy towels into a vet waste bin.

Finally Ben returned and beckoned us to come inside. The vets had suggested that we bring Harry too, so we clipped him onto a leash and he trotted in beside us.

Reception was similar to a hospital waiting room. While Bert was being attended to by the vet team a nurse brought me a cup of tea. Ben couldn’t stomach one. We sat in uncomfortable chairs and waited, Harry lying pressed against our feet. Above us the minutes ticked by on a gigantic clock.

Then they brought me Bert’s big red leather collar, which I stuffed into my bag.

Ben kept one hand on me, and one hand on Harry. Somehow his hands steadied us enough that we could breathe again and be calm.

The night dragged on.

The emergency vet came and talked to us. The young country vet in Lismore had not forwarded Bert’s test results and records like she had promised us. They were running new tests but it was clear that Bert was a very, very ill boy. I asked if she could run the snake venom panel again, and the vet told us that the first test in Lismore would have been done too soon, and therefore was possibly unreliable. The best way to test would be with urine, but they’d need to insert a catheter. Bert was dangerously dehydrated so they were currently pumping him full of fluid. The vet agreed that it looked like snakebite, but the tests would take at least an hour. She was quietly reassuring. They were getting things under control.

I still felt cold to my core. It didn’t seem real and at the same time every detail was seared into my memory. I was certain we were losing him.

The vet went back into the surgery to do her work and a nurse took us to another room where we began filling in forms and giving our credit card details.

Finally we were asked to come through into the big, airy treatment room. There were several dogs in crates, most of them sleeping. There was medical equipment everywhere, and teams of people in scrubs working at lab stations.

It was three in the morning and Bert was now resting on a comfy bed in a large open cage on floor level. The nurses had given him a pillow for his head and a stuffed toy to keep him company. The vet was sitting beside him on the floor.

Harry went over and licked his face and cried a little. Bert rallied and licked him back. Suddenly Harry pulled away and went and sat on his own with his back to us, near the door. Ben and I gave Bert cuddles and hugs, and told him what a good boy he was and how much we loved him.

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The vet staff urged us to go home. Bert was stable, they had given him pain meds and he was getting dopey. Soon he would sleep. They would call us as soon as they had any results. We could come back and see him in the morning.

One final round of cuddles and we did go home. We scrubbed ourselves clean under long hot showers and then slid into bed, worried and exhausted.

We’d only just gotten to sleep when the phone rang. It was 4am. The vet had news. She had decided to do an ultrasound of Bert’s belly while they waited for the snakebite kit. She’d found a large mass on his spleen that was bleeding heavily into his abdomen. Then the snakebite test had come back positive. Bert needed urgent surgery for the mass, but his blood wasn’t clotting because of the snakebite. If she attempted surgery in his current state he’d bleed out.

He was bleeding out anyway.

On top of that it was likely he had damage from the snake venom. Heart damage. Nerve damage.

The vet was distraught but professional. She began talking surgeries, transfusions, risks, medications. Chemotherapy. Radiation. Months. Pain management.

Everything was risk. Everything was a gamble. All of it would mean more suffering for our beautiful boy. But she could try.

Meanwhile Bert was resting comfortably, finally asleep from the pain meds and a sedative.

So, Ben and I told her we’d call her back.

We sat on the bed with Harry beside us and we didn’t even need to talk. We just looked at each other and both of us shook our heads, tears running down our faces. It was enough. We couldn’t let him suffer.

So we called her straight back and asked her to euthanise him. We didn’t want for him to have to wait for us to travel to see him one more time (although we wanted to, but that was about our needs, not Bert’s), or to wake him up when he was finally calm and asleep. The vet explained that it was easy for her to do. She just needed to add a little extra medication to his drip. The vet promised us that she would hold him and stay with him until he passed. She had been unable to be with one of her own animals a few weeks before when her elderly pet had taken ill and had needed to be put to sleep. It was something she wanted to do now for Bert. I knew she would help Bert to feel loved, and one more time Nurse Bert got to comfort and support someone in need.

Because that’s what our beautiful dog always did. He loved you and stayed with you and looked after you until he was sure you were okay again.

It’s been ten days now.

Our home feels emptier.

Harry Dog is pining and clingy.

There’s too much room on the bed.

If I drop food on the floor it stays there.

Even though we are grieving our hearts are full, because this goofy dog who came into our lives when I found him abandoned and near death one hot summer afternoon – in a cardboard box at a suburban shopping centre – turned out to be one of the greatest friends we’ve even known.

We’d had him nine years almost to the day.

Nurse Bert. Our dog. Our friend. <3

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A Quiet Wednesday Today

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“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
~ Kahlil Gibran

 

Wednesday is my day for posting about death and dying.

Today just happens to be Ben’s birthday as well.

And for us, death and dying just came right to our front door, with the recent heartbreaking and sudden loss of our dear friend, Nurse Bert, the bestest and goofiest dog we have ever known.

I have tried, but I still can’t bring myself to tell you what happened yet. It was a little like being in a war zone for those last few hours of Bert’s life. We are still running on adrenaline and not enough sleep. We’re all still bruised and traumatised and too numb. We’re all still raw and feeling too much and not numb enough.

That’s what death brings to those who remain. A deep grief and sorrow. A total disorientation. An ocean of feeling and a desperate need to be able to find a way to navigate that ocean without our flimsy crafts being tossed around and going under.

On top of all of which I am undergoing procedures to help settle this intractable antibiotic-resistant UTI, which has been making life a misery.

While enduring a heatwave.

And with a dog left behind who is mourning the loss of his brother hard, and for whom there is currently only sadness in this world. Poor Cafe Dog, our sweet Harry, needs extra cuddles and care right now.

So, today we are having a very quiet day at home. We might just retreat to the only room with air-con – the bedroom – and all have a cuddle and a cry and try to catch up on some sleep.

Thank you so much for your outpouring of love and support. It has been such a comfort to us all.

Hug your loved ones, and be kind to yourselves and each other, today and always,

Much love to you from Nicole, Ben and Harry xx

Vale, Good Sir Bertle, the most distinguished Nurse, companion and burger connoisseur.

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Nurse Bert

The Week Ahead – Oracle Reading for Monday 16 January

Grief

“Grief does not change you… It reveals you.”
~ John Green

Hello, dear friends!

I apologise that today’s post is late in coming. In fact I was unsure if I would even be able to write it at all. But here it is.

Here’s the oracle card I have chosen this Monday, and my take on the energetic outlook for the week ahead.

‘Grief’ is from the Chakra Wisdom Oracle Deck by Tori Hartman.

On Saturday morning I chose this card for the week ahead. I thought I might get organised and write my weekly post early, before my unplugged Sunday, and so that I might spend Monday morning (today) working on my almost-finished memoir.

When I pulled this card, I did a double-take. Oh, I thought, looking closely at the picture. It’s a heart-broken girl holding her dead dog. I can’t post that! So, I put the card down, and I moved onto another project and then some client readings and suddenly it was Saturday afternoon, and I forgot all about that card, and I went for a swim on that hot afternoon, with Ben my husband, and with Harry and Bert our dogs.

Well, some of you already know what happened next. Bert collapsed without warning. The next minute we were racing him to a vet. And then racing him from our country home back to a big veterinary hospital in the city. Our beloved dog Bert died at 4am on Sunday. We are all heartbroken. Yesterday was just a wash of tears.

And then this morning I remembered the card, and wept anew.

But, that’s enough of me. I need to talk about this card, and how it relates to you.

Grief is actually a beautiful card. An important card. I’m sure some of you are feeling these energies right now. These energies of grief and loss and tragedy and yearning and heartache and regret and disappointment and emptiness, right as the year began fresh. What an awful energy, you might think, to strike right when we need to be  hopeful and optimistic and to enjoy our fresh start.

It’s okay. The Grief card has a powerful message for you this week.

This is what grief reminds you: Grief is just love with nowhere to go.

That’s as it should be when you first lose something. Until you learn how to keep loving without it.

If you let grief keep rebounding inside you with no expression and no flow, eventually it can lead to frustration, anger, and then to depression.

All of that love, if you don’t eventually give it form again with something else, all of that love held as grief will weigh you down, and prevent you from living truly and fully in your life.

So, feel into the energy of grief this week, for in it are the seeds of so much locked-up positive emotion, so many gifts, so much power to propel you forward again.

This might be grief around relationships, choices, changing circumstances, mistakes, outcomes, all manner of loss…

Where have you got energy locked up in grief? Where is there energy trapped in your life with nowhere to go? How can you untangle that and repurpose it and give it somewhere to flow again?

How can you take all of this love with nowhere to go, and channel it into something new and good?

You might be surprised at the breakthroughs you have this week!

Supportive crystals this week? Rose Quartz, Chrysocolla, Green Aventurine and Citrine. Helpful essential oils? Young Living’s Inner Child essential oil blend, or  a combination (or singly!) of any of orange, jasmine, rosemary and geranium.

Feelings are a part of our lives for a reason. They help us to understand ourselves and the world around us, and they light the path for us, if we can be brave enough to follow where they lead.

Holding you, as always, in my thoughts, prayers and meditations.  All my love,

Nicole ❤ xx

 

 

Let The Dying Live!

Painting by Iain Vellacott at www.inoils.com

Painting by Iain Vellacott at www.inoils.wordpress.com

“You’ve got this life and while you’ve got it, you’d better kiss like you only have one moment, try to hold someone’s hand like you will never get another chance to, look into people’s eyes like they’re the last you’ll ever see, watch someone sleeping like there’s no time left, jump if you feel like jumping, run if you feel like running, play music in your head when there is none, and eat cake like it’s the only one left in the world!”
~ C. JoyBell C.

 

This post is the next in my Wednesday series on death and dying…

Many years ago, my friend Pixie was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. It was caught late because she was breast-feeding, and doctors kept telling her she had mastitis. It was only her continued urging that led to her ultimate diagnosis. Despite using both aggressive traditional and alternative medicine the cancer continued to progress.

With her initial diagnosis and surgery came much attention from friends. But then Pixie’s illness dragged on.

And on.

Friends stopped calling. Family came much less frequently. The immediate crisis had been averted, and other folk went back to their regular lives. Some also stopped visiting or calling because they didn’t know what to say, or what to do. Chronic and terminal illness can be very lonely.

I was also seriously ill. So it was logical that Pixie and I should keep each other company. She would go to my house, or I to hers. We talked a lot about life. We talked a lot about death. Both of us had been given a poor prognosis. Both of us had experienced physicians tell us that we were dying.

Eventually I found a new doctor, and a new regime that seemed to promise better outcomes. My outlook improved. But Pixie continued to decline. Soon she needed a cane to walk. She was frail, and tired easily. She could no longer drive. Her life became an endless round of medical appointments and resting at home.

One morning she rang me. She’d had more bad news. There were no treatment options left for her. Her doctors could only suggest pain management and palliative care. Could I come over for a visit? Yes, I could. (this was back in the days when I was still driving!) Dress up in something pretty, she said. Wear a nice perfume. We are going out!

I drove to her house, and Pixie shuffled to the door to greet me. Instead of her usual dressing gown and slippers she was wearing a pink dress, pearls and flats. She had a scarf tied over her head where only patchy hair had ever regrown. Closing the house door firmly behind her she took my arm. Come on, she said. I’m taking you for coffee!

Are you drinking coffee, I asked, surprised.

I am now, she laughed. And so are you. Today we are ordering like we are living, not dying!

We ventured a short distance to a large local plant nursery that had a gift shop and a cafe attached. Taking my arm, Pixie and I walked slowly through the gardens and rows of plants for sale, and then took a seat in the little cafe. It was still so early that the staff were busy watering the plants and sweeping the paths, ready for the day ahead.

A waiter came and took our order and very quickly two excellent coffees arrived.

Pixie picked up her coffee, inhaled and smiled rapturously. I sipped mine tentatively. It was delicious. Neither of us had drunk coffee for the longest time. It wasn’t on our cure-everything-diets.

We were quiet for a moment, perusing the menus. None of it was the food we’d usually eat. The lemon tart looks amazing, Pixie said. So does the eggs benedict, I added. We got both, with extra side plates so that we could share. Pixie made sure that her lemon tart came with cream and ice-cream.

What’s the occasion, I asked, once the waiter had left with our orders.

I’m sick of dying, Pixie said. I’m still alive. I’ve been alive for ages and I’m going to be alive for a bit longer yet. Hopefully. So I’ve decided to live while I’m alive. Dying is overrated, and it isn’t any fun!

We were both quiet for a moment, sitting with the truth of that.

It is so easy for dying to sneak in and rob the colour and the pleasure from life while you’re still alive.

For the eight months before Pixie became completely bedridden and shifted into that final stage of life we continued to have little outings, or on days when Pixie wasn’t up to a car trip I’d bring the world to her via treats, flowers, conversation and news.

One of our most precious days was when I wheeled her bed out onto their patio so she would feel the dappled sunlight and smell the fresh air of the changing seasons. She could look up through the pergola and see green leaves and flowers. She could see trees. She said it made her feel connected to life in a way that she couldn’t experience from between the white walls of her room.

My dear friend taught me something very important about dying.

Even when you are dying you are still living. That time is precious. There can be so much pleasure and value in it if it is lived and savoured.

So, if you, or someone you know has a chronic or terminal illness, think about how to have more shared experiences of living. This goes for people who are aging too!

Take Pixie’s hard-earned wisdom and let it shape your life. Celebrate and live life. For yourself and for your loved ones. Let the dying live. Help them to live while they are still alive. It will enrich life for both of you.

Sending so much love your way, Nicole <3 xx

 

Conversations About Dying – We Need To Have Them!

“When the time comes to die, make sure that all you have to do is die!”
~ Jim Elliot

“Everybody will die, but very few people want to be reminded of that fact.”
~ Lemony Snicket

 

This post is the next in my Wednesday series on Death and Dying…

 

Last year a good friend of mine died.

She died from breast cancer – a cancer she decided to treat naturally. A cancer that completely ravaged her body in less than two years while using those natural treatments. (And no, we are not going to discuss cancer and cancer treatments today.)

My friend avoided seeing me for months and months after she first detected the small lump in her breast. Why? She was frightened of what I might see psychically, and what I might tell her. She knew I would tell her to see a doctor, and to get additional information and ideas about possible treatment plans. So instead we kept never being able to make our calendars meet, even though we lived so close to each other.

But I knew there was something wrong. Very wrong.

Finally her husband rang one day and asked if we could come over.

I was so shocked when I walked through the front door. Here was my friend, suddenly an emaciated old woman. She smelt of death. I could see cancer throughout her body. I packed my shock away. My friend shuffled towards me for a hug and I saw it, a massive fungating tumor where her breast had been – so large that it was preventing her arm from moving naturally. Her arms and legs were swollen from lymphedema.

I hugged her gently, and she burst into tears.

Can you help me? my friend asked. I need some help.

As her husband made us a cup of tea I followed her to the lounge, where they had set up a bed for her.

You’ve defied the odds, my friend said. You’re still here and you should be dead. What else do I have to do to get better?

She then gave me the long list of everything they were doing. The infusions and diets and injections and colonics and green juices and superfoods and anti-cancer foods and no sugar and oxygen therapy and bicarb and turmeric and every other thing. Such a long list of things. Such a stressful thing, this list, with its military precision timing and increased severity as my friend’s condition worsened. They were having trouble coping with administering the regime. And now my friend couldn’t breathe if she lay down. What else could they do? There must be something else they could do? She couldn’t control her thoughts. She couldn’t stay positive. Could I help her meditate? Maybe that would sort her mind out?

I held my friend’s hand and our husbands brought tea for us and then disappeared out into the garden.

I found some lavender essential oil in my handbag and gently applied some to her swollen feet and hands, and showed her how to breathe it in. Then I talked her through a meditation as she sat in her chair, propped on soft pillows. Mercifully, somewhere in the middle of all of that my friend fell asleep.

I took my tea out into the garden, and told my friend’s husband that his wife was sleeping. He burst into tears.

Will she be okay? he asked me.

You already know the answer to that, I said. She’s dying. She needs medical care.

Can you tell her? he asked me.

Yes, I said. I’ll be back tomorrow.

Artwork by Daryl Zang

Artwork by Daryl Zang

The next day I sat on my friend’s bed and we talked about dying.

These are conversations I have had to have with my own husband many times during my illness. We’ve come to realise that they are conversations we all need to have, whether we are ill or not.

My friend and I talked about the possibility that she might die.

We talked about how to manage her care and her pain.

These were long, hard conversations with many tears.

We talked about wills. Did she have one? What did she want to happen if she could no longer make medical or other decisions for herself?

Our husbands joined us and we talked some more. We talked about all the things which were suddenly hard to talk about because they had become so real and so close.

We talked about her wishes, and the need for a plan.

Just a few days later my friend was admitted to a palliative care unit. She remained there until her death six weeks later. Until a few days before her death she had truly thought that she would get better enough to be able to go home and keep fighting.

In that whole time not one medical practitioner told my friend that she was dying. They told her only that she had stage four metastatic breast cancer.

I spent much of those last weeks with her, for short visits. For some of that time I was in hospital too and we would text madly, and talk when we could. We laughed a lot. We cried a lot.

The thing that broke me heart was an incident two weeks before she died.

I came to see her just after morning tea and she burst into tears. She felt so guilty, she said. The morning tea trolley had come around and she’d had the most delicious pumpkin scone with jam and cream. All that sugar. All that dairy. All that wheat. All the things she had been depriving herself of as she continued her green juices and superfoods that her husband brought up to the ward each day. She’d eaten cancer foods.

Darling, you’re dying, I said as I hugged her and wiped away her tears. One scone won’t make any difference. What matters was that it was delicious! Take pleasure from that. Then I went down to the canteen and fetched us both an excellent coffee and a chocolate brownie that was so good and we devoured them and laughed and for a moment we were two old friends who could have been anywhere.

Image from North End Coffee Roasters at Foursquare

Image from North End Coffee Roasters at Foursquare

Am I really dying, my friend asked me when our coffees were done.

Yes.

She burst into tears and sobbed into my arms all of the regrets she had. That she would never get to travel. That she wouldn’t go home. That she never tried the new Thai restaurant, and we never had our beach picnic with the dogs. So many regrets. So many thing she would have done differently if she’d realised that her time was so limited. If only someone had been honest with her. She thought there was still time.

And she confessed that she’d known the natural treatments weren’t working a year ago, but her husband had been so committed to them, and she was a naturopath and dietician so she felt it was her duty to keep going. Now she knew she’d made the wrong choice. She hadn’t honoured her intuition. And that choice had shortened her life and put her on a terrible path of suffering.

The little chemo she had been given palliatively had shrunk her masses and given her a better level of comfort. But it was too late.

I could barely talk that night for the pain of it all.

When my friend died she went downhill suddenly. She and her husband hadn’t talked with doctors about what might happen. There was no plan. Things were managed quite badly for her.

My husband and I got back to the hospital in time and I helped her to have a peaceful transition. Her death became a beautiful one.

But she died without a will. Without instructions. And it took her husband painful months to sort it all out after she was gone.

We don’t know when we will die. We don’t know if we will die unexpectedly and quickly, or if we will have time to prepare.

The only thing we know for sure is that one day we will.

Please talk with your friends and family. Do you want to be an organ donor? Are there situations where you would prefer that medical staff did not fight to save your life? What other instructions would you have if someone else was suddenly making the decisions for you?

Is there a point in trying where you might want to stop treatments?

Would you go into care? What would need to change if you ended up with a disability or chronic illness? Or a terminal one?

Funeral? Do you want one? Buried or cremated? Donated to science? Scattered at sea or the family plot?

Do you have a will in place, or at least have your wishes known to your family and friends? Is there a plan for your home, your children, your car, your possessions, your pets, your finances?

What matters to you in life? Are you living that life right now or are you putting all of these important things off to some mythical time in the future that may never come?

Death is a part of life. Let’s start having those conversations. One day you might be very glad that you did.