A different kind of Christmas

When life changes sometimes the impacts are obvious, and other times there’s what a friend would call collateral damage that keeps on appearing for ages afterwards. Last year I had my birthday on the 11th December, Mum died on the 15th December and, to be honest, I have no recollection of Christmas Day 2012 at all. By New Year’s Eve I was at A&E as a result of damage collateral damage to my wrist, caused by injury to my shoulder in a car accident 6 months earlier. This year my sister, brother-in-law and nephew came down for early Christmas on the 14th and we out Mum’s ashes in with Dad on the 15th.

So what does Christmas Day mean to us now? I’m not sure to be honest. A phone call to Tony’s daughter and grandson, to my sister and her family, and Tony’s brother. Connecting with a few people via email and Twitter. My best friend’s birthday. What does all that mean to me? Not a lot really. I could phone them any time, and do.

I’m not a Christian, I have no children of my own, and none of our extended family lives close. We choose to stay home because of our pets, as we don’t think it’s fair to ask others to housesit at this time of year. Really it doesn’t mean a lot to me, but I guess over time we’ll find ways of making it special for us as a couple; with Tony unwell our guess our focus is on other things.

What I do have is a greater understanding than ever before of how hard Christmas can be for some people. A Twitter friend, a librarian in Australia, said as someone who suffers from depression she started the day “bawling at 7am”. My heart goes out to her and all those who are feeling similarly lonely or sad. Whatever today means to you, stay safe and be kind to yourself.

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Remembering Dad

It’s 22 years today since Dad died unexpectedly, a month before his 66th birthday. He retired at 60 and spent his days helping farm mates, pig and deer hunting, and going fishing. He and Mum made 3 trips to Asia once he retired. He was a busy, and seemingly fit, man.

He went fishing at Waverley Beach one Sunday morning and had a massive heart attack. The young man next to him did CPR but had to leave him to get help and, by the time he got back, Dad’s heart had stopped again. As bad as we all felt for the young man who had tried so hard, I’m pleased Dad did not survive. He’d have hated being a patient, being told what to do, being incapacitated. As Mum used to say “Mansel got it right, he just died ten years too early”.

So today, and every day, I remember him with love. He was a hard working, patient man who gave huge bear hugs. I miss him.

Dad teaching Catherine to ride motorbike

Dad teaching me to ride his motorbike.

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Mum and Dad’s wedding.

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Able Seaman D M Barker

Dad at Lions CLub

Dad receiving a Lions Club award.

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Taken after a swimming competition.

Dad and Jenny

Dad and granddaughter Jenny.

Catherine & Dad

Dad and I on holiday somewhere.

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Mum always used to say I was whispering secrets to him. Corduray overalls, knitted cardigan and bare feet! This is one of my favorite photos and probably the most like how I remember him.

Catherine & Dad feeding ducks, Wanganui

Feeding ducks with me at Virginia Lake in Wanganui.

Catherine, Mum & Dad and Marion Scott, Palmerston North 1967

Me, Mum & Dad, and Marion Scott, Palmerston North 1967

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Ailsa and Jim’s wedding. Mum, Ailsa, Jim, Dad, me in the front.

 

My mum

As many of you know, until May of this year my Mum was being cared for at home by Tony and I, and had been for 14 years. She had a stroke and decided to go into a rest-home as she no longer felt safe alone when we were at work. In the months since her health has got progressively worse, despite the wonderful care she has been receiving. Her kidney and heart problems were reaching end stage.

Mum spent 3 weeks in hospital recently and we decided, along with medical staff, that Mum would return to the rest-home and never go back to hospital. If she got sick we would use comfort care only, and if she got an infection such as pneumonia we would not treat it. Mum had simply got too sick.

Friday last week her health deteriorated rapidly overnight and the palliative care nurse was called in. We got to the home at 10am and basically never left again. We had a quite rough afternoon and evening but by midnight Friday she was comfortable. I went home for 3 hours sleep, and Ailsa went for off for a bit when I got back.

Ailsa and her family were down because we had already planned an early family Christmas, so both Ailsa and I and our husbands, and most of her grandchildren were able to spend time with her. The rest-home manager, Judy, sat with Mum for an hour while we had Christmas lunch – Judy said Mum would be proud of us for doing the family thing for her.

Mum slept all afternoon with us stroking her hands and hair, and talking to her. She passed away peacefully late afternoon Saturday with Ailsa, Tony and I right with her.

I am glad she found the peace she needed to be able to let go and join Dad. I will miss her terribly but I am grateful she is no longer in pain.

I want to share some of the things I wrote to say at the funeral: I ended up only saying part of it, for various reasons, so here it is:

In the 14 years ago Tony and I looked after Mum the Hawera ED staff got to know us on a first name basis…  We’ve had amazing care from medical and ambulance staff over the years. On Mum’s behalf, I have to say a special thanks to Dr Bok and ICU Nurse Simon – she remembered you both right to the end.

My sister Ailsa has provided endless support, coming down from Auckland most months. She’s been the patient recipient of many “hey, we’re just off to ED” phone calls, providing support, and a sounding board.  In turn, she could not have done it without the endless support of Jim and their children.

Finally my husband Tony. We’d only been married 3 years when Mum got sick; for most of the years we have been together we’ve been caring for Mum. You haven’t just used your ambulance skills with Mum, you’ve been patient and kind; you made her laugh and taught her to do the fingers! You’ve supported me when I had to make difficult choices and never once suggested a particular path just to make life easier for yourself. Those things are part of the reason I love you; thank you for having taken this journey with me.

I have worked full-time throughout the years Mum’s been sick. Sometimes, particularly when Mum was very sick and I was truly nursing her – feeding her, dressing her, tucking her into bed at night –people have asked if I was tired or whatever. Yes, I was; tired as all hell sometimes. But few daughters get to spend the quality time with their ageing mother that I have had, and, as I have written on her coffin, the journey with Mum was worth every second. 

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