Vale Warren

I just attended the first funeral since our son’s funeral last May.  I thought it would be enormously difficult, bringing it all back, and mentally steeled myself  in advance.

But no.  Sitting in church (yes, the same church!) I realised this was not about me, not about my family and my grief, not about Ross. It was all about Warren, a beautiful person without a mean streak, marathon runner extraordinaire, deeply committed to his church, his family and his work, carried off before his time to a sudden and aggressive cancer.

I was sorry there were no hymns in the service.  Apparently this was requested, but I believe the funeral is for all of the grieving community too, and for that packed church (standing room only, even with the hall opened up and full) it would have been good to have hymns.  So many church people there, we would have lifted the roof, and it would have been a very fitting tribute to a man who was there pretty well every Sunday.  More than that, it would allow us as a community to stand and express in words and song something of our grief and our hope.

Vale, Warren.

I know that writing a blog is a place to spill your guts, let it all hang out, tell it like it is – and I admire those terribly personal blogs that I often read. Some touch the heart so much – yes, Laurie, that includes you although I have never posted a comment on your blog about being a multiple sclerosis sufferer or especially your other blog “Jacob’s Song” about the loss of your son  twenty years ago although your poems have made me weep (well, there’s something new!!!) and I have actually copied out some of the poems there – but somehow I find it hard to be so open about my grief.   It’s so public, being on the internet.  Did you read my blog “A Real Live Author” where Patty, a published author, got terribly upset that I mentioned her? Being in a library catalogue is one thing, being referred to on the internet is quite another!

Well, I am admitting – yes, publicly, yes, on the internet – it has been a bad day.

Today has been the day the Coroners Court was to deal with the matter of our son Ross.  If you know anything about Coroners Courts, you will know that this is not particularly significant, and certainly not a one-off!  The matter came before the court on 15th August, 19th December, and again today 30th January, and in each case it has been deferred to another date. Which is what everyone expected would happen, apparently.  So of course nothing happened, and we now wait until May.  I said to the officer on the phone, That will make it almost exactly one year since his death!  And she said, Please don’t get me wrong when I say that this is not a particularly long time for a result.

The fact of the Coroners Court meant it has been in my mind all day.  I planned to go to Sydney to attend – thankfully did not go, circumstances prevented – but all day I have thought of Ross and how much I miss him.

And how much I would like to be able to talk to him about his father and what is happening with the multple sclerosis.

And talk to him about his brothers, and Stewart’s decision to leave New Zealand and come home (I think a mistake).

And ask him if it’s a good idea to request a full inquest, because Ross would usually have an opinion and often wisdom.

And give him a hug, because he is good at bear hugs and you feel quite enveloped.

And tell him I plan to open a bottle of red wine tonight because I am so strict with myself these days but having “a bad day” is just so hard to deal with because it means pretty terrible really – I use euphemisms quite a bit – and he would be so accepting and non-judgmental about that.  He was totally non-judgmental about people’s weaknesses – possibly because he understood them so very well – but very judgmental about other things, attitudinal things, people who were “up themselves”, intolerance, idiotic opinions (you had to be very sure of your facts before you entered into an argument with Ross or you would be annihiliated.)

Actually he often annihilated me in an argument when I know for sure that I was in the right.  I wish he would come back so that I could tell him that!
Here are some photos: (And that is another thing!  All the photos we have of Ross, meagre though they are, are all we will ever have…)

At Gavin’s party when Gavin turned 3:

He just loved Christmas 2007 with all the extended family, but then he always loved Christmas because we all got together:

Where is he?  The anguished cry of every bereaved parent, and nobody else understands the question.  (I was planning to post a blog on that sometime, if I can get my head around it.)  …Well, my prayer is that he is at peace and in bliss:

I have joined a group with very exclusive membership requirements – a group that no one wants to be qualified to join. 

“The Compassionate Friends” is for bereaved parents, and offers support and friendship to anyone whose child has died. They publish a newsletter that gives dates and times of meetings, and contains articles and stories and poems contributed by the members. There is a local chapter at Newcastle (I’ve made phone contact but not attended a meeting) and a group in Sydney for those who, like us, have lost an adult child. There are special groups for those who have lost a child to a cot death, or suicide, and a group for siblings, and so on.

Reading the newsletter is heartbreaking but healing, too. This poem pierced me to the heart, it expressed so exactly what I would want to say too:


If I saw you today
What would I say?
    I love you; I will always love you
    I’ve missed you; it’s been so long
    I think of you every day,
    And tell you of our lives
    Since you left.

But you know all these things
And knew how loved you were
We were so fortunate.

So today I would say – Thank you
    Thank you for teaching me so much.
    I never realised when you were here
    You were teaching me.
    I thought I was teaching you.
    Then when you died, you taught me even more.
    So much more.
    Some things I didn’t want to know
    Or learn.
    But now I have that knowledge I am thankful
    Even though acquiring it was so painful.

If I saw you today
I would hug you
And ask you not to go
Even though I would know you must.
I would hug you, grinning, crying
I would take this little piece of eternity
Time with you
And thank you

But I’d want
To ask for more

I contacted the writer of that poem, Carolyn from Tamworth, and in response she sent me a book of her poems “Once Upon a Shooting Star” that she has written since the death of her son Ben at the age of 21 (plane crash). I told her I will attend a Compassionate Friends group one day but can’t bring myself to do so just yet. She encouraged me to go anyway, said no need to be brave, doesn’t matter if you go along and don’t say anything, or if you just sit there and cry buckets of tears, or anything. They have all “been there” and just want to be there for each other and strengthen each other.

“The wounded healer” in practice. God bless them all.

Don has been in the nursing home for five months.  I visit him every day, and so we are able to spend several hours together every day.  I wheel him out into the gardens and read him the mail, or we go to the activity room and chat with other residents or visitors and I’ll read him the newspaper. Or if we stay in his room we’ll watch TV together (cricket, at the moment!) and I’ll read him Christian Century (he still subscribes) or the lectionary for the day, or leaf through the various magazines we still get to see if there is anything interesting.  Sometimes we listen to a talking book or a CD.

From all this you will realise that Don’s eyes are no good.  It’s nothing to do with the multiple sclerosis, although that can cause blindness.  And Don’s not blind, just “vision impaired” due to glaucoma. It’s also hard for him to manage the TV controls, all the buttons and numbers are quite small.

What I am leading up to is that I also print off my blog entries from time to time and read them to him, just to keep him up to date with what I am doing.  So yesterday I read him a couple of entries, including my New Year entry that describes how our son Ross had searched for a kangaroo they hit, and knocked it on the head to put it out of its suffering.  And that for me, that meant that the best thing I could do for Ross’s memory, as well as for myself, was to put away the suffering and get on with life.

Don said drily, “Are you sure that’s what it means?”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
He looked me in the eye and kept a straight face.  “Well I could interpret it to mean that you just need knocking on the head.”
I took a swipe at him.  “You”ll miss me when I’m gone!”
He just laughed – and so did I.

Life goes on.

When we are home on New Years Eve, Don loves to watch “Dinner for One” on SBS. They play it every year. So this morning I said to Don, I’ll come back to the nursing home about 6.30-7.00, and we can watch the show together, and then perhaps the Edinburgh Tattoo (thinking that he might be asleep by then, which in fact was the case).

So I bought a bottle of bubbly, and some peanuts and cashews, and some biscuits and dips and plastic glasses, and in the early evening I went back to Bayside to spend New Years Eve with Don. We shared the bubbly and the nibblies with the guy next door and anyone else who might be interested.

Watched the show, and talked about 2008.

This year 2008 began in a rented holiday house at Stanwell Park, south of Sydney, a wonderful fortnight that I am so pleased we splurged and actually did that. Don was pretty staggery on his feet, but all the boys (sons, I mean, they are all adults now!!) helped get him to the wheelchair, to the car, to the toilet – so we managed fairly well.  When we left there, son Ross drove us to Griffith to visit Grandma – Don’s mum, now 96, in a nursing home, in better shape than Don nowadays – and then home to Muswellbrook at which point Ross returned to Noosa.  Then Don’s decline and hospitalisation – Ross’s arrival from Noosa and vow to become his Dad’s carer – Ross’s death (aneurism), the funeral, the aftermath (still going on) – Don hospitalised again, then the nursing home, then life since then.

I remembered an anecdote about Ross: They were driving back from, I think Broken Hill, and they hit a kangaroo. The car was not badly damaged, but Ross insisted on searching for the wounded kangaroo. If it was in its death throes he would hit it on the head with a spanner – could not bear the thought of its suffering. They found it, and that is exactly what he did.

My new resolution for 2009 is:  Enough of the suffering. If I am grieving for the loved one who is gone, then the one thing that he would be horrified, devastated, to learn, is that we are suffering so much. He would be totally shocked, and it would be unbearable for him. So — enough!!

Ross, I am getting back into life. And 2009 has to be better.