Archive for the ‘Grandfathers’ Category

After we first got over the shock of my father’s death last week, we four siblings began to think about writing our eulogies.

I remember the first night, I couldn’t come up with a single word. I had about five scrunched up notes in my bag and nothing but crossed out lines on a pad. By the fourth and last night before the service, I really still only had the bare bones. My elder sister, who speaks for a living in her job gave me a few tips and suddenly, at the eleventh hour, I was able to write my eulogy.

Here’s the speech I gave at the Committal Service for my father last week…

 

Dad, My Hero

 

I’m Yvette, “daughter number three,” and I’m here to fill you in on some of the details of my father’s life, who he was, and how he came to be here.

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Dad was born 5 July, 1932, in Hastings, England, the only and treasured child of Nan and Jim. Nan was a magistrate and County Borough Organiser for the Women’s Voluntary Service, Jim was the manager of the Hastings Power Station.

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At the age of eight, when WWII broke out, Jim was needed in Hastings to run the power station, and dad spent years separated from his parents as he was evacuated to St. Albans.

As a young man, fresh out of school, he went to the University College School of Navigation in Southampton.

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Dad joined the merchant navy in 1949 and worked for them for ten years, working his way up to the rank of 1st Mate, navigator.

During that time, dad met mum. After their first meeting, his mother, Nan, said, “Why don’t you go out with a nice young girl like that?” and dad said, “She’s not my type.” Luckily, Shirley was his type, and they were wed in 1955. They had two daughters, Gina and Jag.

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Dad joined the Union Company in 1961. When he and mum decided to emigrate, he brought a new ship called the Nakuta out to New Zealand, in 1962. Mum followed with my sisters a year later.

My brother, Alan and I were born here in New Zealand.

Dad couldn’t leave mum alone in a strange country with young children so he left the sea in 1964. In 1966, he joined the NZ Post, working his way up to the position of senior supervisor.

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After nearly 30 years, dad finally retired to his beloved Tairua, living full time in the house he had built with the help of his family, which was his pride and joy. Dad lived here for twenty plus years and would say, “This is all the view I get to look at each day!”

Looking back, I realize how fortunate we were to have such a wonderful father. He was attentive, caring, disciplined, loyal, hard-working, kind, generous and good. He created a spirit in us, a fellowship of strength.

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Growing up, I felt secure and stable, because dad gave us that foundation, and I’ll always be grateful for that. He never had a bad word to say about anyone, and I learnt a lot from his example.

Dad was neither racist nor sexist. He believed all people are equal.

Perhaps because he’d been raised by such an extraordinary woman, he had a reverence for women. The only woman my father looked at was my mother. He didn’t look at women as objects of desire; he treated them as people worthy of respect and admiration.

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I never had the sense that dad expected any less of his daughters than he did of his son. He always said to me, Girls can do anything! And he wasn’t just paying lip service to the ideal. He believed it, therefore so did I.

At the age of seven, I had a formative experience with my father, which I’ve never told anyone until today. It was something special between him and me.

One day, dad took me for a drive. He said there’s something very important we need to do. We drove up to a car yard and dad said, “I need your help. We need to buy the family a new car and I want you to help me decide which car we should buy.”

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I took this very seriously because my father was a man of his word.

I walked around the cars. One by one, I looked inside and out, studied the angles. I was seven, I knew nothing about cars. Yet, dad never gave a word of advice or questioned me, he let me continue to prattle about how this car was too small, and this wouldn’t work as it had only two doors and listened carefully to my reasoning.

Eventually, I chose a ghastly green coloured Milford Marina. Dad said, “Good choice.” And he came back five minutes later with the deeds and the keys. It turned out, he’d been to the car yard the week before and bought it, but I didn’t find that out till later.

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All I knew was, I’d been empowered to believe in my own decision making, in my self-belief, my ability to think.

Thank you, dad, for your stellar example, for your open-minded leadership of this family, for your loyal love, your unwavering support. You were steadfast, ever present and dependable. You were our rock, and in my heart you ever will be.

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When you died, a blanket of cloud covered the mountain behind your house. It seemed fitting. The head of our family was gone and the landscape reflected the sad passing.

Thank you for everything.

I love you.

I’ll miss you, dad my hero.

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Sometimes it’s better to light a flame thrower than curse the darkness. ~ Terry Pratchett

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On Monday morning, I got the phone call most people dread, and heard the words no one wants to hear, “Dad’s died.” The bottom fell out of my day and my world.

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After my father’s miraculous recovery from double pneumonia last year, we had gotten another precious seven months with him. I wonder if it took a toll on his heart. Last weekend, dad suffered a massive heart attack, and he died three days later in hospital, surrounded by family loving him to the end.

At first, I went into a state of shock. Nothing seemed real, and everything seemed to happen around me without touching my bubble.

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I threw the boys and bags into the car and we headed for dad’s seaside town, as I wanted to ready the house and prepare for my sisters and brother to return (they’d been the amazing support team for dad through his final hours in hospital).

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Driving along, I searched the landscape for some sort of message or reflection of dad passing into the realm of spirit. Then, as we arrived in his town, we saw an unusual sight; the peak of the mountain where my father lived was obscured by a cloud. The headless mountain seemed to echo my feelings at the idea of our family continuing without dad at the helm. When my siblings arrived, we agreed, it was as if the mountain were “flying at half mast.”

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At dad’s house, we could hardly see the surroundings for the white-out. The entire place remained cocooned in this soft white cloudy mist for two days, as the rest of the family arrived in dribs and drabs, and the crying began anew.

We spent a lot of time sitting talking, sharing Grandpa stories and making the necessary arrangements, trying to get our heads around our new reality. Dad ‘had had 85 years of excellent health’ and ‘a life well lived,’ he’d left ‘a good family’ and an even better reputation as people told us, kindly. Yet, nothing could ease the pain of the loss.

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The service was held at dad’s beloved church, which he’d raised funds to build for the community over many years and had helped to run and maintain. People turned out for his Committal Service saying, their town would ‘never be the same again,’ and that everyone was scrambling to find volunteers willing to take over his many roles in the community, and how much they’d miss him. Boy, so will we.

All in all, we were happy we gave dad a fitting send off. The whole family contributed at the service. At the cemetery, extended family sang ‘Let not your heart be troubled’ (John Ch 14:1-6).

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After baking in the sun at the church and the interment, and attending the reception at lunchtime, we headed back to dad’s place to change out of our hot mourning attire. We went to the beach for the afternoon, and I can’t even tell you how refreshing and good it was to bathe in the sea and let the salt water wash the remaining residue of the emotional preceding days away.

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Those of us who could, elected to stay and hang out together another day and night at Grandpa’s house. There were more conversations to be had, there were more tears to shed, and we needed extra time to continue to come to terms with the enormous loss. The patriarch is gone. It’s inconceivable and yet it is real. The whole notion of dad’s absence still messes with my head.

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This morning, before we left, we trekked to the top of the mountain.

Every scene takes on more poignancy when you’re in the throes of grieving. Every situation, every conversation seems heightened to new degrees of sensitivity. Even the light streaming through the trees as we descended seemed to be imbued with special cast and resonance, as if the environment was trying to speak to us.

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We made the drive back to the city around noon. I’m home, and yet, everything feels different, my foundations have changed.

Looking back on the last week, I think the family worked together and we did well with a difficult situation.

Despite terrible initial writer’s block, in which it took me the whole four days after my father’s death to come up with the words for his eulogy, I gave it my best.

The speech I gave at the service will appear as Part Two, next week.

Joy will return one day, but for now, life as I knew it has disintegrated, and pieces of my heart have dispersed with my father.

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Talk to you later,

Yvette K. Carol

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‘The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.’ ~ E.B.White

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The fourth day of the year and 2018 is already off to a promising start. The boys and I have just returned from a family Christmas and New Year holiday visit to Grandpa.

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We opened the boys’ presents at home on the 25th before driving down to the Coromandel Peninsula. We arrived before lunchtime, joining a large number of the family, who had travelled from far and wide to spend Christmas day at the seaside. The feast was divine: a first course of turkey, roast lamb, baked ham, roast potatoes and vegetables, green salad, fresh peas, and vegan nut dishes. Dessert was pavlova, fruit salad, chocolate éclairs, and I had iced the traditional fruit cake which the boys and I made with a rich brandy butter icing.

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Being summer, as soon as the dishes were done and the kitchen cleaned, the family headed for the beach. We were so hot and full and tired by that point; the only alternative would have been sleeping! Instead we were refreshed and swam about like fish for the afternoon before going back to the house for a glorious dinner of Christmas leftovers. It was lovely.

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Towards evening on Boxing Day, my father pointed out that various tips on the outlying island were tipped with bright orange light, an effect he’d not seen before in more than fifty years. I noted that near the island rising from the ocean was a “grandma rainbow,” or small rainbow. I said hi and a few words quietly to my mother and wished her a Merry Christmas.

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We spent the week in between Christmas and the 31st relaxing. Each day, we’d meet down at grandpa’s favourite café for lunch, before going to the beach for a swim and play in the waves. In the afternoons, we shared the job of creating big meals for more than a dozen people. In between meals were ice creams, hot chips, cold beers, and trips to see the Xmas lights, cards, sandcastles, playgrounds, kayaking, body surfing, and walking.

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There were many special moments throughout the week, like burying the youngest son in the sand. The boys had electric fly zappers and spent hours hunting down and killing wasps and mosquitoes, which was hilarious. One of my nephews and his wife brought their gorgeous six month old baby to visit. The boys and I walked to the top of the mountain behind my father’s house. From the peak, we could see pohutakawa in bloom, “New Zealand’s Christmas Tree,” which makes any landscape look more beautiful.

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On New Year’s Eve, there was a big fireworks display. The kids stayed up late and they were so excited. Most of the adults were tired and having difficulty staying awake, while the kids were bouncing off the walls.

The whole evening went smoothly despite losing my son Sam-the-man, a fifteen-year-old with Down’s syndrome at about 10.30 p.m. We discovered Sam was missing, and we spilled out of the house in all directions with torches to look for him. Luckily he hadn’t gone far. I found Sam about five minutes later, sitting with a group of neighbours watching some domestic fireworks being let off in the reserve below Grandpa’s house.

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A few minutes before the countdown at midnight, the kids and I walked together with our family to the lookout point. From there, we had a grand view of the harbour. At midnight a firework display was set off from a barge on the water, exploding in the air above the amphitheatre of the harbour and mountains and in the sky above us.

As we walked back to the house, my nephew said, ‘Isn’t it amazing to think that all of us are here tonight because of Grandpa.’ Yes, it is wonderful.

A friend’s daughter coined the term, “Thankmas,” as a way of making Christmas also a celebration of gratitude. Our Thankmas was the gratitude our family felt to be celebrating another festive season with Grandpa. We came so close to losing dad to double pneumonia in 2017, that to be together again for another precious holiday was a gift to be thankful for. Happy Thankmas!

What are you grateful for as you start the New Year?

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Talk to you later.

Happy New Year!

Yvette K. Carol

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Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go. ~ Hesse

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Having just returned from the first half of our school holiday break, we can report that Grandpa is doing well. We drove down there, having heard he had ‘a sniffle and a cough.’ The constant worry about my father went into overdrive. I was thinking, he hasn’t recovered from double pneumonia long enough to get sick again.

In reality, he has a bit of a drippy nose and does cough now and then. Apart from that, dad seems completely healthy and well and normal. 85-year-old normal though. He is, after all, a year older now. We celebrated his birthday while he was in hospital and at death’s door.

Since released a couple of months ago, dad has been noticeably quieter, slower, and less inclined to search for the right answer in the crossword.

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Yet, that hasn’t stopped him getting back into bowls and all the other clubs he belongs to, as well as going to church twice a week. Dad drives himself everywhere, even over the mountains to buy groceries once a fortnight. My brother and I relaxed a little. The whole family has been checking on visiting dad regularly since July, monitoring his progress back to health. I felt reassured, heartened to see that he has made a marvellous recovery and is doing well.

Prior to dad contracting pneumonia, my brother and I had been taking our boys to visit with him in every holiday break. It is healthy for all of us to return and touch base with our heritage. What could be better for the boys right now, than time with their grandpa?

Our boys have grown up a lot in the last two years since we started our trips. Yet, they’re still young enough – that delightful in-between – when they still want to play ball at the park, and build “houses” for crabs on the shoreline at the beach. So, we spend part of each day at the parks, the beaches, and fishing off the wharves. Breakfast, lunch and dinner and the evenings are spent with grandpa. We help each other figure out crossword puzzles. We play two rounds of cribbage each night, and grandpa can still be relied upon to keep perfect score.

But, where once he would entertain us with stories in the evenings, those days are long gone. He doesn’t reach for his handwritten book of old time song lyrics or limericks and jokes and regale us with the best of the best anymore.

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Sometimes, dad wants to watch a certain show on television. But, then he returns to what he’s doing. He withdraws, somewhere. Even his eyes look faraway. I notice it’s hard to get him into a conversation of any length. He’s more interested in the newspaper or the crossword or his jigsaw puzzle.

When we left today, I told him that another one of his daughters would be there in a couple of days.

Dad responded gruffly, “I haven’t been alone more than three days since I was released.”

“We care about you,” I said.

I didn’t tell him, ‘we’re worried you’re not looking after yourself. We’re trying to take care of you in such a way, by doing little things here and there each time we visit, that we take some of the strain off you and in that way, we enable you to stay in your own home for as long as possible.’

Dad knows the writing is on the wall. Losing the dignity of independence is a rough road for anyone. That’s where family comes in.

We try to cushion him, and we’re doing our utmost to help him stay where he’s happiest.

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Each time one of us comes away from Grandpa, the rest of the family gather round wanting to know, whether in person or by ether, how was he? What was your sense? We try to get a gauge on how dad’s doing and what the appropriate response should be.

This time, the answer is, “Grandpa has a sniffle. Otherwise, he’s doing great.” He is complaining of being smothered by family! But, still, I didn’t hear him say no when I offered to make him a hot lemon and honey drink at night. I suspect he secretly likes all the attention.

We’ve returned to the city. My brother and I agree, we feel good, reassured about our father’s health and wellbeing, and yet, already, we’re planning the next check visit. You know how it is. Any time spent with him is precious and it sets our minds and hearts at ease.

How do you support your parents’ wellbeing into graceful old age?

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Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Wealth is the ability to fully experience life. ~ Henry David Thoreau

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This week, I took the boys down country to visit their grandfather. Dad has been recovering from double pneumonia. “I’m a medical miracle,” he told us proudly when we arrived. He is a miracle, getting over his life-threatening bout of illness at the rate of someone half his age. And, he was released home after a mere ten days instead of the usual month.

The last time we were there, dad was transitioning home from the hospital. He was still weak, only able to sit in a chair and doze, and he needed to use a walking frame to move.

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This time, he had colour in his cheeks, the normal tone had returned to his skin, and dad was walking unaided. My sister who had been nursing him reports he is now able to do everything for himself. “I’ve been driving for three weeks,” was the second thing he said.

They made them tough in the old days.

It’s great. Although there are worrying signs as well. It is not a simple matter to get over being gravely sick when you’re eighty-five. While he’s come a long way, there’s still a long way to go. Having lost a lot of weight, there is physical rebuilding which needs to take place. Until then, he needs to rest more often. He tires easily.

The pneumonia has left its mark.

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Thankfully, dad has such fire, such spirit. There’s no keeping a good man down, as they say, and it’s so true in his case. It doesn’t matter how far he sinks down, he comes back swinging. Yes, there are a few more issues, however, at the same time, he is doing marvellously. He’s busy doing his crosswords again, although he now sometimes gets the answers wrong. We grab the paper and correct them when he isn’t looking! Playing cards, where dad used to be a whiz at scoring, he now sometimes adds incorrectly. We laugh it off and make it fun.

The thing is the constancy has gone.

Some days, dad’s back on form and gets everything right. He’s so bright and bushy-tailed; he’ll come down to see his grandson fish off the wharf. Or he’ll spend the whole morning playing bowls and spend the afternoon working in the garden. Other days, he forgets the little details of his life which used to be automatic, like locking the door at night, or what he has with his vinegar in the morning (honey). And he’s so weary, he’ll barely leave the house, or take his evening walk.

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It’s hard to see this happening to a beloved parent. The fact of the matter is our parents do age ahead of us and aging is not the easiest process for a lot of people.

It’s our job as the children to take care of our parents into their dotage. The wheel turns and those who cared for us now need to be cared for. Yet, when a parent is still mentally sound and is physically strong; there is a fine line to tread between being supportive and intrusive. While our aim is to assist dad to stay in his home, we have to be careful not to impose our will over his. So one visits, cleans, gardens, does small maintenance jobs and meantime keeps an ever-watchful eye on them. All the family who have visited have done their bit. This is where the family support network plays a key role. It helps to share the load with someone.

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My sister and I holed up together in her room at the end of each long day, after the kids had gone to bed, and talked into the wee hours. We found that simply talking it over helped ease the burden. We let off steam that way, came up with strategies and plans for going forward.

We’re agreed we need to continue to share the visiting among us as a family and have enlisted dad’s neighbours to keep a weather eye upon him when we can’t be there.

In seeking common ground between us as siblings, we laid a platform to better assist dad to a happy, safe lifestyle, and hopefully, this will enable further constructive conversations in the future.

My youngest son said, “I like the way grandpa talks. He makes everything sound important.” Yes. Me, too. With a bit of help, grandpa will be able to continue to live in his wood cabin by the sea and keep telling his stories for a long time yet. It is a miracle!

What do you do to support aging parents while treating them with respect?

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“The wisdom acquired with the passage of time is a useless gift unless you share it!” ~ E. Williams

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I think my father’s recent illness and brush with death has been a shock for everyone in the family. You are immediately reduced. Humbled by the experience. You know what’s important and what isn’t. Time seems to elongate and become meaningless. I felt how precious this person was to me. Here was my father, who was always hale and hearty, now gasping for air; his deep brown eyes faded to murky blue. He, who had nurtured me and supported me, now needed my support. I remember the feeling of desperate gratitude I had that first time I saw him in hospital, when I grabbed for his hand and it was still warm.

When my father slipped into delirium, he no longer knew who we were. I sat by dad’s bedside holding his hand, talking to him, while he recounted random sequences of numbers. It was terrifying.

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The family rallied, my sisters flew in from London and Austin. We kept a family vigil at his bedside, offering him constant drinks (which seemed to restore some of his cognitive powers), and we continued to have conversations with him and ask him questions. We kept him talking. My eldest sister had supplied us with information on how to help patients out of delirium. So we asked him questions: what his name was what day it was, how many children he had, where he was born and so on, to keep his mind active and the cogs spinning.

Within ten days, my father had made what the doctors termed a miraculous recovery. His lungs were clear in the x-rays, which they said would have been difficult for a twenty-five year old to achieve.

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The doctors were so pleased, that two weeks after being admitted to hospital with double pneumonia, my father was released home with a “fancy” walking frame and into the care of our family and local nurses.

We had gone in to dad’s home in between whiles and cleaned it from the rafters to the floorboards. Once we got him home, we showed him how to dry his home out in winter and we bought him a dehumidifier. We’ve helped him see he needs to light his fire during the day as well as at night to be warm in winter.

Dad admitted he’d given himself a fright. It’s hard to see his inner struggle as he works to come to terms with the fact that this has aged him greatly. A few days after returning home, the keys to the church were collected off him by another member of the congregation. The job of counting the collection money each week was also taken off dad’s shoulders and given to another member of the church. As he is unable to do these jobs at present it makes sense to delegate them.

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We keep telling him it’s temporary, when in reality, none of us know what the outcome will be. Yet, I think for a man of my father’s generation it’s particularly difficult when you have such a sense of pride. It’s hard for him to lose the ballast of that sense of “usefulness.”

We are aiming to help dad transition fully back to the independent life he once had, if possible. But he went a long way down and he still has way to come back up again. He lost a lot of weight and his appetite is greatly reduced therefore he needs to rebuild body mass, muscle and strength. Dad’s doing as well as can be expected for an 85-year-old who has been seriously ill. He’s still a bit wobbly. We’ve noticed he is bit more forgetful.

001 (2)As a family we want to keep dad in his own home as long as possible. Home is where he wants to be, where he can still make the fire each day, tend the garden and feed his wild birds.

Even so, my sisters, who have been nursing him, tell me dad is ‘down,’ the opposite of his normal happy self. My two younger sons and I will relieve them soon and take our shift to stay with him. The boys will cheer him up with their rambunctiousness.

Whatever happens, our family will move heaven and earth to make sure dad stays where he wants to be, in his own home until the end.

It’s our turn to look after you now, dad, as you’ve always looked after all of us….

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Wealth is the ability to fully experience life. ~ Henry David Thoreau

 

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Humankind have been obsessed with the idea of immortality and living forever for centuries, according to Adam Gollner in The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever:

Gollner tells us the twenty-five-year old Emperor Ai died in 365 CE, after overdosing on longevity drugs. In medieval times, they thought the answer lay in the moss that grew on hanged men’s skulls. And, David Copperfield has an archipelago in the Bahamas, where the magician claims to have found “a liquid that reverses genes.”

Why are people fascinated by immortality? Is it because we’re afraid of death?

Watching my father go through a life-threatening illness in the past fortnight has instigated many thoughts on mortality for me. It’s been an interesting ride. Everyone knows their parents will die, as we all will die and so will everything alive at this moment. However, mental knowledge is a very different animal to seeing and experiencing it for yourself.015I understood to some extent what people have felt in the past about wanting to cling to life as long as possible.

In the 1300’s Nicolas Flamel created a “sorcerer’s stone” which was said to make the drinker immortal. In the 1500s Ponce de León, discoverer of Florida, is rumoured to also have set out in search of Bimini, a legendary island in the Bahamas. Long sea voyages of discovery in those days cost vast fortunes to finance. Why did he go? Because the fabled ‘Fountain of Youth’ was said to be on Bimini. It was believed the Fountain of Youth ‘gave everlasting life to all who drank from it.’

 

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We can laugh at those from the past. Yet, when you think about it, as author Adam Gollner pointed out, we each take a modern version of magical elixir every day in order to prolong and hopefully preserve our lives. ‘We’ve tried elixirs, hormones, prayers, pills, spells, stem cells.’

I myself take vitamins and pills. It’s no wonder the health supplement industry is one of the biggest growth areas today.

Why are we afraid of death?

I guess we fear dissolution. When I thought I was witnessing my father dying, I faced my own mortality. I saw it and felt it all around me. It felt confronting and a little scary.

Yet, there is freedom in surrender.

I said to myself, ‘death is an inevitable thing.’ I felt the comfort of being present with it in a quiet way. I released into the emotion of love for my father and love for my own life. That brought me into feeling a lot more appreciation of this wonderful moment right now.

I remember an old friend of the family said to me once, ‘Acceptance is the hardest word in the English language.’

Ever since, I’ve come to realize how wise that statement was. In the middle of being there for my father through his scrape with death, I wept and wept. I struggled to accept that this could be our final goodbye. It was only when I was able to accept his mortality and therefore, my own that I found the relief of coming back to ground zero. I felt that was the gem amidst the grief.

Since then my father has made a miraculous recovery. He has successfully made the transition home, where he is now doing well, recovering rapidly.

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In the wake of ten days fear and worry and tears at my father’s bedside, I feel I understand my own drive for a longer life. I empathise with my ancestors’ quest for immortality, and yet, at the same time, I have a new feeling of acceptance for death. Happily, these things have gone hand-in-hand because, while exhausted, I feel great serenity. I have a sense that I can cope.

In ancient times, our forebears went to extremes. I was quite shocked reading in Gollner’s book that members of the Tang dynasty poisoned themselves taking untested potions. Apparently, people trekked into the Himalayas seeking the restorative powers of drinking pure llama urine, bathed in the blood of murdered virgins, and concocted saline solutions with the ash of dead bodies and myrrh.

Even in our modern, technologically advanced era people are still obsessed with anti-aging. Plastic surgery has never been more popular. There’s research being done into cryogenics and prolonging life.

Yet, when you come right down to it, acceptance is a far easier option. It costs less. It’s less stressful, which leads to inner beauty, to having a happier life and greater equilibrium while you’re here. Win, win.

My father’s health scare was a reminder to me that life is short and time is fleeting. I made a mental note: must gather together with loved ones and have more parties!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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The only secret people keep is immortality. ~ Emily Dickinson

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This year my father’s 85th birthday passed by with dad seriously ill in hospital, suffering double pneumonia. If a person is a smoker, the rate of mortality from this illness among the elderly is high. As a non-smoker, and also a relatively fit person, dad’s chances of survival were better than average.

Nevertheless, none of the facts take the edge off, when you see your father that close to the final curtain. I remember how in those first moments of my first visit, when I saw his face with the cheeks sunken in towards his gaping mouth, I felt my heart clench. A keener sense of reality accompanied it. I felt even more love than usual for my father.

10599505_10202530643248555_4175807170543700148_nThat was a week ago.

Dad’s still recovering in hospital. The family has taken shifts to sit with him and my elder sisters are with him now. I shudder at the thought of what lies ahead. The shadow at the dinner party. The ghost at the gate. The pitch darkness that lies beyond the horizon.

It’s only been two years since my mother died. She passed away blissfully in her sleep, June 25, 2015, just four months shy of what would have been my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. It reminded me never to bank on tomorrow. My teacher always says to ‘live as if death’s at your shoulder’ because it is.

It’s winter here in New Zealand, and it seems fitting to face these thoughts at this quieter time of year. As without so within and all that jazz.

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It’s also the first week of the school holidays.

Normally, my brother and I would take our kids to stay with dad for some of the break. It was so great to see the kids get to do all sorts of adventurous things outside in the fresh air on those visits, stretching their legs and their wings as boys need to do.

Even my boy with Down’s syndrome, Sam-the-man, who gets quite put out by any changes to routine, always welcomed the chance to spend quality time with his grandfather. Sam appreciated that his grandfather would sit and take the time to play cards and board games and patiently explain the rules.

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In Sam’s writing books, brought home from school at the end of each year, I noticed the words ‘Grandpa,’ ‘beach,’ and ‘sandcastles’ cropped up in his stories often.

We’ve had a special time and there are many wonderful memories.

These holidays, instead of going to the beach, the boys and I travelled to spend a couple of days sitting beside grandpa in hospital. We make the next visit soon.

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It’s sad to see an old tree fall. This profoundly good man has sacrificed a great deal for his family. He has given selflessly to all around him. Now, all he asks is to go home. While he is still very weak, we’re hopeful that one day, he will return home, at least in some capacity.

In a few days, the boys and I take our next turn at grandpa-sitting.

My sisters say dad’s health has improved.

We might not have noted dad’s birthday as we’ve done before. But as soon as he’s home we will celebrate.

We’ve remembered life goes on. Hope springs. And the human spirit is irrepressible. Thank goodness, no matter how many crazy despots come into power, life does go on. And I’m reminded of those sage words someone said once long ago; it’s never too late to bake a cake. 🙂 Words to live by.

Love you, dad. Happy Birthday!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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 “If you’re distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” – M. Aurelius

 

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A reality bloomed before us yesterday…one I didn’t want to see…that shocked me to my very core. My father is mortal. The superhero of our family – our fearless leader – who has never spent a day in hospital, apart from when he got bowled over by a truck, is lying in a hospital bed at death’s door.

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As dad said when he was still lucid, ‘I never get sick. I’ve never had anything wrong with me.’ He couldn’t understand why people started to fuss over him in his town a few weeks ago. A few worried reports filtered in, that dad’s colour wasn’t right; he was ‘looking blue.’

When I rang to check on him, Dad said he’d had flu for about four weeks. I said he must see a doctor in the morning. He promised he would.

My sister rang the next morning to check on him. She found dad was panting and fighting for breath. He still refused to see a doctor. Nevertheless an ambulance and friends in the community raced to side. My father is so fiercely independent (as the nurses keep telling us, also) that he fought being taken away by the ambulance. He didn’t want to go, and had to be persuaded in no uncertain terms.

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My father was transferred to Waikato Hospital HDU where he could be put on oxygen and have his levels monitored. The doctors said he had pneumonia in both lungs which accounted for his difficulty breathing.

In talking to him, dad admitted he’d “been a bit wobbly” for a few weeks when getting his firewood. He said he “had been struggling a little.” That’s understated dad-language for ‘I’m desperately ill and have been struggling a lot.’ No wonder the other people in his town were concerned.

I travelled to Waikato Hospital yesterday, along with my eldest son, and we were in for a shock. I saw dad’s mortality written across his face, and for the first time I faced the fact we could lose him.

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Holding dad’s hand, I stretched one of Ma’s crocheted blankets across his lap. He was counting erratic sequences of numbers in his half-sleep. His normally brown eyes, when he opened them, looked murky blue.

My superman had landed. I could have wept a thousand tears. But I had to hold it together for my son and my niece. I’m sure my father doesn’t want to see us grieving before he’s even gone, either.

Unfortunately, because it went on so long, dad let himself get very sick, and at this point, he is still no better.

Bless him, we were told he is a “flight risk” even so. He keeps trying to leave the hospital to go home. While we were there, if he wasn’t sleeping, then every few minutes he’d check his watch and say, “It’s time to go.” He was feeling anxious because he hadn’t laid the fire and ‘needed to get home to collect the wood.’ Yet, being so wobbly, he can’t go anywhere without a walking frame and someone holding him.

It was hard to leave dad at the hospital. I’ll take my younger boys to see him tomorrow.

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The call has gone out to the family. The time has come to gather from various points on the earth. We just need to focus on supporting dad through this and surrounding him with love. So that’s where our energy goes at this time, being there with him, no matter what.

We’re still praying he can recover and return to his beloved hometown. But, as one of my young nephews so sagely said, ‘Grandpa will never be able to go back to the way things were before.’ As a family, we have turned a corner. It’s just that none of us know which corner we’ve taken.

How do I approach the decline of this great man? Step by step. Moment by moment. There is no other way to do it than to let one’s heart be broken, petal by petal. That’s what it is to love, to surrender to the process of life. Yet, in all its suffering there is still sweetness and divinity. On the drive home from Waikato, the setting sun rimmed a burst of clouds with gold and sent out long apricot-yellow “fingers of God” into the deep blue sky. The scene was overwhelming in its pure magnificence. I looked with joy and I wept with tears of grief for my father.

How do we approach all of life with the same equilibrium? That’s something I’m currently pondering on…your thoughts are welcome!

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Talk to you later…

Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart.’ ~ E.B.White

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*Courtesy warning: contains meat products.*

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I wish you could smell my kitchen right now. The smell is savoury, deeply fragrant and spicy. I’ve spent the whole day making meatballs. And let me tell you, it has been so much fun.

For those of us with children at school, we’re coming to the time of year when the kids take their next holidays. My thoughts have swung forward to organizing our next trip to visit grandpa.

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With travel in mind, the first thing I do is start to plan the food. This time, I plan to make a batch of pumpkin soup and freeze it into small batches to take with us. I like to take a few pre-made things. That way I don’t have to spend a lot of time making food when I’d rather be spending time with my father or with the kids.

I recently went to see a “medical herbalist.” She takes a comprehensive look at diet and lifestyle. She suggests herbs and some kind of eating plan. Mine discovered a few things absent nutritionally from my diet and she sent me an eating plan as well as a great list of suggested snacks.  Boiled eggs. Check. Tahini or hummus with vegetable sticks. Check. And homemade meatballs, “a small concentrated bundle of protein, handy to have as they last well in the fridge.”

I had never considered making meatballs to have on hand as a snack. I thought, what a great snack food for my hungry growing boys as well. I’m always looking for easy protein options for them.

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Mini meatballs would be the perfect thing to go in the boys’ lunchboxes for school as well as for the upcoming car journey. Why mini? Kids like small foods. So I decided to come up with a “healthy meatball” I would feel good about the kids and I eating on a regular basis. I retreated to my kitchen lab today and I came with a tasty low fat treat. The nice thing about having precooked meatballs with you on vacation is that they make a great sandwich or roll filling and can form the basis of a nice dinner with the addition of pasta and tomato sauce.

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Here’s my mini meatball:

Combine 375g mince, fresh herbs and a good dose of dried mixed herbs, fresh ginger grated on the fine grater, a cup of crumbled fresh Vogels (or wholemeal) bread (not the crusts), 2 tbs tomato sauce (I added a few diced angel tomatoes), a handful of minced fresh greens like spinach or silverbeet, I used the light-green inner of one leek, finely chopped, plus a glug of good olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper.

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The best part is smooshing all the ingredients between your fingers and then rolling balls of the mixture between your hands. In case you’re wondering, yes, it is just like rolling play dough into balls as a child! I’ve heard chefs say before that meatballs are a favourite recipe and now I can see way. It was brilliant fun.

All it takes is chopping and mixing a bunch of ingredients, pinch into small balls and you’re done.

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However, as meat is fatty, and I’d added some good fat to make it stick together, I didn’t want to add more fat by frying the balls in a pan. I wanted to bake them like miniature meatloaves. I came up with the solution of placing each little ball in a miniature container.

I baked them for 30-40 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius.

When they came out they were each sitting, bubbling, in an inch of oil.

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At this point, you have to be ready with paper towels spread over the baking rack, and a pair of tongs. You want to whisk those meatballs out of the oil as fast as you can to prevent them from soaking the oil back up again. If they hit the paper towel warm they’ll continue leaking even more excess oil. The resulting meatball will retain some of the fat but most of it has been rendered.

Take them off the paper and let them cool the rest of the way on the baking rack. Freeze in relatively small batches, so you can take out half a dozen at a time and still have some for another day.

Our mini meatballs look and taste great, they’re our family’s healthy take on an old favourite.

Do you have a go-to recipe to take on holiday?

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Do your little bit of good where you are; it is those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world. ~ Desmond Tutu

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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com