Sunday, 18 November 2012

Mum and Dad Pass On.

 In March Mum passed away followed by Dad in June. Mum died from another stroke having been paralyzed eighteen months before by the first one. Dad I think died from not wanting to be around after Mum passed on, as they had been married for 69 years.Pat and Ken would have celebrated their seventieth wedding anniversary on the 21 December 2009. 

Mum up till she had the first stroke was full of beans, having recently moved from the Gold Coast to Terrigal on the Central Coast.The move was  to much for  them both and was the reasons for Mum's first stroke.Plus the searching for a new house, to enable them to be closer to me and Jazz. 

The property they eventually decided on was a suitable choice. However there were some before they inspected and were to proceed with, which were not so good. They were both tired. I drove up to inspect one such choice, they were about to exchange contracts. Fortunately  they listened to my rationale regards it's unsuitability. Normally I was never consulted, mainly because I was rarely available. 

 Once they moved in Mum in her inimitable fashion, quickly shaped the place to her liking; buying new carpets throughout and installing a new kitchen .The next job on her agenda was to be the outdoor courtyard, which she would have had looking a treat, as Mum had a ‘green thumb’. 

But it was not to be. After only a couple of months of them moving in. My Father phoned me to say that Mum had, had a stroke and was in Gosford Hospital.She was there for two weeks. Then they moved her to a private hospital for a period of several weeks.She hated being in that place and could not wait to get out and be home.When we bought her home, the right side of her body  was paralysed,  she could only talk with supreme difficulty. Mum needed assistance with all activities, from her toiletries  to walking, in fact the only activity Mum was capable of was; lying down or sitting upright in a lounge chair.In time she learnt to use her left hand to eat and  change channels on the TV remote control.

 Dad became her carer for eighteen months. There was considerable support for them both.  Dad was a war veteran and received benefits from the Gold Card. Improvement was minimal.  Mum was not happy and why would she be? Mum was aware mentally of what was happening.Due to her incapacity in speech she was unable to communicate or participate in conversations

She would get so frustrated, sometimes in such pain from her back, that she would be curled over in her chair screaming. No one could ever fathom what caused the pain, obviously  something arthritic or osteo related. Poor Mum, our hearts used to go out to her. The only relief we could give her would be, to rub some heat balm or ointment, to provide a hot water bottle, which seemed to provide some relief. Physios and therapists used to visit on a weekly basis, giving her  exercise routines, non seemed to help. There was a nursing service that visited each morning, called Sue Mann’s. These nurses  helped Mum shower and attend to her toiletries,  relieving Dad, allowing him his own time.Other nurses visited her weekly,  to chat and give  Mum  time with another female, which she appreciated. Dad would use that opportunity to get out of the house and go somewhere for a coffee and do a shop.

I Would drive up from Sydney on weekends and do some shopping  at Erina Fair and then do the cooking for the week end. Dad was not much chop in the kitchen, he was not accustomed to that task.  Mum always did the cooking, in fact, would shoo us out of the kitchen, so as she could be left to do her thing. I am sure they both appreciated when I cooked. Having been involved in the running of restaurants for several years, being a single parent for the past fifteen years, rustling up some nourishing food was pretty simple. 

 So rewarding, it was some help, as I used to feel a bit helpless.I'd take Mum's dinner on a plate to her, setting it on her lap with a spode. Mum taught herself to use her left hand. She would look up and smile with her lovely face and say” thanks Tone, looks good.”That was bout the extent of  Mum's talking skills. I used to steam vegetables and often stir fry chicken with coriander and other herbs and sauces, or sometimes a Shepherds Pie, food that was healthy, easy for her to eat and digest.Mum was not a fish eater, at times I would impeach her to so.

Dad was so patient with Mum. I was so in love with Dad for the way he was so patient and caring for Mum. Sometimes because of the illness she could be like a naughty little girl and be quite rude. I used to say to her "why don’t you say thank you to him", if he did something for her, like - get some hot water for her water bottle. Mum would say “he knows” by this she was inferring, Dad knew what he was doing was appreciated. Which was not the case always, because he told me he found it up setting, but always made allowances. If she was angry at Dad she would point her finger at him and wag it. He would say “don’t you dare do that” and then she would get remorseful and apologize to him.

The frustration Mum went through was obvious. Wanting to join in the conversation. Start to say some thing, it always went no where, not because of us. We would encourage her to say more. She would not even be able to start .  Mum would say one word and then be unable to continue with what she was trying to say. She would then forget what she was trying to say. In frustration, move her head sideways - as if to say "forget it". Sometimes that would lead to her breaking down into big sobbings. I would just gather her up and hold her to me.You knew she wanted to be in the conversation,but unable to spit it out.

 Mum used to get a big kick when Jazz would visit. He would sit next to her on the couch watching television and hold her hand. Mum couldn’t  open her left hand. It was in a clawed state  because of the paralysis. You could tell how she enjoyed feeling his strength and the comfort of him sitting next to her.

Dad contacted me at home one morning and told me Mum had had another stroke and was In Gosford Hospital. I met Dad there shortly afterwards in the emergency ward. To be told by one of the nurses, Mum would not recover from this stroke and to prepare myself for the worst. This was new territory, not the hospital, but the emotional mental wrestle of coming to terms  with the thought -  Mum not being there, how would Dad cope.The thinking was difficult to adjust to. The coldness of being told within a short time of arrival, only seeing my Mother, she was about to die. I suppose that is what nursing does in emergency- makes you direct , to the point, no time for sympathy or consideration for feelings. 

Dad and I after spending time with Mum, adjourned to the coffee shop which was in the lobby of the hospital.We discussed Mums chances of coming out of this, if so, what condition would she be in. We  both knew  she would be worse, than when she went in. Already having been through the rehab of Mum’s first stroke and had seen no improvement in those eighteen months. We both seemed to know that Mum would not recover. We then went back to spend further time with Mum in the ward. 

The nurses then moved Mum from the public to a  private single room with all the life support equipment,  advising that they were making her as comfortable as possible. 

Here was the stark reality of them preparing Mum for the afterlife, which was so hard for both of us to contemplate.Dad broke down, I was crying. Looking at my beautiful Mother lying there so helpless with tubes supplying her life,  only just, as her breathing was so ragged. I said to the nurse "Mum doe'snt want to be like this" and she said  "I know".I am crying as I write this. It was so strange as we did not want to see Mum like she was, but once we left we knew that would be last time we would see her alive. To go or not to go - we went as it was to painful to stay.

Dad and I drove home to his house and we spoke about the inevitable.We knew it was only time before her passing. At 11.50pm on Tuesday March 10, 2009, Gosford Hospital contacted Dad to inform him of Mum's passing.In some small degree relieved that Mum would not have to suffer any more, we were so so sad. Mum would  no longer be with either of us. The house appeared empty, as were we.

 The funeral service was held at Palmdale on the 12 March I gave the eulogy.

Mum was a beautiful lady, extremely feminine.Mum always looked so attractive and well groomed, even when gardening, which she loved with a passion. Her big floppy hat she wore to protect her porcelain white skin from the sun.She would peer out from underneath the wide brim, her huge brown eyes smiling.That's one of my fondest memories of Mum, in the garden.That and when she would go and make some tea and sandwiches for lunch. To have in the garden where we would talk about the work achieved  and Mum would give Dad her plans for more to do !!

Over the years Mum and Dad bought and sold many properties and the main activity they enjoyed together, was getting stuck into the garden. They would buy a property, refurbish what was needed to be done in the inside; Kitchen, bathroom, paint, work, new carpets.Then start on the gardens. Sourcing nurseries in the area. Deciding what plants were suitable for the climate. Ripping up the lawns and re turfing, with turf that Dad had some prior experience and success with. Mum would be weeding. Mum had a fetish with weeding, she would get her little spade and a bag and sit in an area and weed and weed till not a weed was there.

Mum loved her antiques and the house was always immaculate, to immaculate for me. She had it looking like a showroom. Hated us lounging around,  lying spread out on the sofas, as it made it look untidy. House proud and stubborn. It was Mum who insisted I go to a private school.Dad was indifferent, coming from a well heeled  and privileged back ground. He was more circumspect - what ever you can afford, is what he would have thought . If you can't afford, go without. Not Mum, if she wanted something she would go and save, till she got it, as with my schooling.

Mum worked most of the years when I was at Newington, just so they could afford to send me there. It was not that I was in love with the school,  I hated it sometimes, mind you,I was there for ten years.Because Dad went to Palmers School in England,Mum wanted a similar education for me - bless her!!  There was no argument, but I know there were.I loved Mum for her stubbornness  she would dig her heels in, and would not give in or listen to reason. She thought it through, that was what she wanted, or the way it was to be, we went along with it.

My Mother when young, was a striking looking lady, tall 5'8' with long black hair and very statuesque, lovely legs, beautiful white skin,a Leo.I could see why Dad was so in love with  her.In certain company she was shy. Mum was conscious of her upbringing, which she rarely spoke of. She never spoke about what school she went to or her early years. I think her early years  were pretty tough, so she put them out of her mind.Which would have been another reason why she wanted me to have a good, continuous education.

 Mum came from a medium/ large sized family, of three brothers and two sisters, all  brought up single handedly by her mother. My  grandmother,Pearl, came from Bega on the south coast of NSW, her maiden name was Newlands, I know nothing about her background. Her husband and Mum's father was like a shadow, not around,not discussed and not much known.

Over the years we stayed in contact with Mum's two sisters, Aunty Laureen and Aunty Beryl.Aunty Laureen we lived with,  in their house at North Sydney. Whilst Dad was away fighting in WW2 for several years. I didn't see him till I was about four. Aunty Laur and Uncle Rowley were like surrogate parents to me, while Dad was away. There two sons, Barry and Rowley, who were four and six years older than me, were like brothers to me when I was a toddler. We all lived together in the one house, till I was six.Mum's brothers - Laurie, Bruce and Walter we saw occasionally over the years. 

Uncle Laurie who was an ex POW in Changi was Mum's favourite.  I know she helped him a lot, financially helping him to buy a house. When he was repatriated from Changi and returned to Australia from the "Hell Hole" that killed so many young Australians,he was never the same.Apparently he looked like a skeleton and spent nine months in Concord Hospital with many others as they tried to build up there health.He never held down a job. I remember going to my grandmothers house in Five Dock where Uncle Laurie  also lived, he was always studying the "form", as he called it. With the punt and his pension he managed to get by. I know he helped Mum and Dad when they built there house at Lane Cove.

 Mum's funeral was small. Mum's youngest brother, Walter who was still alive, came and his three children, most of their friends had already passed on.Kevin Mudie and Joe Foster from Access Industries where Dad was a director were present, Renato Ius a fiend of mine and Jazz plus a married couple who were neighbors.

 After the service which Dad organized, we  retired for drinks at the local RSL. Jazz went back to Sydney with Renato. Kevin, Dad and I went back to Dad's house in Terrigal for a few more and Kevin left.

Dad went so quickly after Mum, twelve weeks later on the 1 June. I think he decided that that was what he wanted, he spent a lot of his time listening to their music which was modern classical.They both loved; the tree tenors, Andrew Lloyd Webbers Phantom of the Opera and had a great collection of cd's. I spent as much time with him as possible, driving up most week ends.

 Many a time when I was there he would say " Tone you got work and stuff to do, I don’t mind being on my own, you shoot off ". I knew that he was ok. it provided him time to decide and think through what he wanted to do. At one stage we talked about moving in together which he would of thought about. This meant moving to Sydney.Knowing Dad another move was not what he would have wanted. The amount of moves they have had since he retired would have been about ten to twelve. Retirement homes would not have agreed with Dad and his health was deteriorating.  He was complaining of loss of energy and not having the inclination to get out of his pyjamas most days. Mum would have stimulated and energised Dad. Now he had nothing to get out of bed for, he said to me once "I think there is something else out there".

Dad in these weeks after Mums death had come to accept his own mortality and maybe embrace it, and to accelerate it. Dad was a very positive minded person who always was chirpy and it was only at the very end that I saw him become vulnerable. My Mother's passing knocked the daylight's out of Dad, more than he and I realised.

Up till Mum's death, Dad would not have thought much about death, as he was to busy looking after her first, himself second.Keeping her alive and active, building her spirits up and his own.  He did so marvelously.As I have said,I fell in love with my father for the way he looked after my mother over those final years. He was glorious, always keeping his sense of humour, rallying her constantly, because she was never happy.I was in awe of Dad how he kept the flag flying and it was not till after my Mothers death, that the toll on his own health became evident.

 Dad In his solitude, was able to think through his options and decided that he wanted to join Mum.   I was with him when he said "Tone would you call  the ambulance". He was having trouble breathing. They came in quick time to take him to Gosford Hospital.  He was admitted to emergency and stayed overnight.  They rang the following day and told me to come and pick him up as they could  not detect any thing wrong, and let him leave. I picked him up and took him home. 

That day I had to go back to Sydney and was to return the following day, as I was leaving he said “ I think your ready Tone” to which I replied "you’ll be here tomorrow won’t you" and he said “ I’ll be ok". I went and saw their neighbours and asked Len to keep his eye on Dad, explaining,I would return the next day. 

That evening Len phoned and told me Dad had been taken again by ambulance to hospital and was in emergency. The following morning Jazz and I drove up to Gosford Hospital and visited Dad who was in a ward with some others. When we walked into the ward,he was being asked by a young intern what medication he had be taking, to which Dad did not seem to comprehend or able to answer.He seemed a bit muddled, which was strange for Dad,as he was very articulate. I have a feeling he was taking some of Mum's medication.Kevin Mudie, one of his associates from Access Industries , happened to be coming back from their workshop in Newcastle, also was at his bedside. 

Dad mentioned about me taking over his car, as the constant trips to Gosford would be a bit wearing on the Bluebird.Which was a strange request. We were not there for long before Dad asked us, in a jocular way, to leave as he felt tired. On the way to the car Jazz broke down, as he was shocked to see Pop’s condition. We drove back to their house  in Terrigal and had dinner at the Terrigal Hotel that evening. We spoke about being here the last time with Dad. He always liked their food, often having "the Barramundi" which was one of his favourite dishes. 

That evening at 1am on 1st June the hospital phoned to tell us that Dad had passed away.
Jazz and I went in to Gosford Hospital. Dad was in the Morgue lying on a bed it was cold and sad,but I know Dad was happy to be gone, to be with Pat.

I arranged the funeral at Northern Suburbs Crematorium, as that was where Dad wanted to be laid next to Mum. As I had her ashes and they are now both together.

The service was small, attended by; Renato, Bob Raymond and Kim who flew down from the Gold Coast, Leigh Moore who flew up from Melbourne, Penny Perkins, Paul Quiney , Belinda and Tom Mainprize and Kevin Williams. From Access where Dad had been a Director for 27years there was Kevin Mudie, Ron Francis and another lady in a wheel chair who I had not met and do not know her name. 

The service was attended by a representative of the RSL who spoke on behalf of  the veterans and their contribution to Australia. They provided the Australian  flag which was draped over the coffin which Jazz and I helped carry in. 

I gave the eulogy. I spoke about Dad been born in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Where his parents, who were British, went to liveafter the First World War.Dad's father was in the cattle and sheep industry  in Tierra del Fuego. His father died from trench wounds suffered from that war,at an early age. His mother and the two boys, aged three and eighteen months, with out her husband, no income,was unable to continue living in such a remote and isolated region of Argentina, returned to England. 

On her return she  remarried a past suitor. A  wealthy businessman called Andrew Gibbons who owned flour mills. Dad's stepfather was of fortunate circumstances and was able to provide well for Dad and his brother and later his step brother Brian.  Educating Dad and his brother in one of  England's oldest schools - Palmers School founded in 1706. 

After  leaving school Dad worked for his stepfather for awhile and then he got the wanderlust and emigrated to Australia with the Dreadnought Association. Where he was posted to a dairy farm in Macksville in Northern NSW, to learn about farming.His ambition was to be a cattle rancher, to follow in his fathers footsteps.Working on a Dairy farm was not his choice, but a step in the right direction. He spoke highly of the couple he worked with on their farm and enjoyed the Australian out door life, being on horseback and working from dawn to dusk which is the life of the dairy farmer.

On the outbreak of WW2 he joined up, being inspired by Churchill's oratory. He joined the 2/5th Field Regiment as a gunner. He said "I went in as a gunner and came out six years later as gunner" I was asked to do officers training and on advice of some wiser heads in the unit, I passed as "I wanted to come out alive, young officers had short lives in wartimes and i had a wife and family to think about". 

 He met  Mum whilst on leave, outside the State Theatre. Mum was working there as an usherette. Apparently he was walking past and they spotted each other, he walked past  her a couple more times, before he mustered the courage, to ask her out. They married in quick time as he was about to be posted to the Middle East. 

He had arranged to meet with his brother Den in Cairo. Den was an officer with Montgomery's Tank Corp and was killed fighting Rommels Afrika Korps, before they could meet up.The anguish he must have endured after hearing of that. It was something I never spoke to him about and he never brought it up, as was the case with most of the war.

After the Middle East and fighting the Germans his regiment was shipped back to Australia to Far North Queensland. Here they were trained in jungle war fare in the rainforests of the slopes of the Atherton Tablelands.  Mum became a camp follower, she and some of the other wives and babies travelled up to Ingham and Tully where they lived for a few months enabling them to see their husbands when  they on weekend leave. 

They were  shipped  to the jungles of Borneo and New Guinea to  fight the Japanese. Dad said nothing could have prepared them for what they had to endure there : the swamps, mangroves, heat, humidity, mosquitoes, flies and diseases from the conditions they were exposed to were horrific. Then the Japs for  three years.He said they were so sick, sometimes fighting the Japs was secondary.The medical supplies the Australians had were so inadequate, that if it was not for the Americans flying him and others to the highlands for respite and treatment in their hospitals half the regiment would have perished.They all came back suffering from every tropical disease known to man; berri berri, malaria, dysentry, Dengue fever, name they had it.

On his return, he 
applied for a Soldier Settlement Scheme,whereby the Australian Government granted land allotments to returning discharged soldiers.To no avail. Trying to do an Economics Degree in the evenings at Sydney University. At the time living with his wife and son in one room at his brother in laws house; to hard!! He then commenced work for the Government and rose to be a senior director in the Department of Social Services. 

Dad retired early when he was sixty and joined Access Industries.Here his work was honorary and voluntary, where he was chairman or a  director for 27 years right up till his death. 

I can not imagine how difficult it must have been for Dad after six years of active service returning to family life. Having a wife and four year old son who didn't know him from Adam.I would presume their was a certain amount of competition from both of us for my mother's affection.The three of us were living in a cramped conditions in Mum's sisters house which would have stretched their patience with each other.

But they stuck together, buying a block of land in 41 Richardson Street, Lane Cove.  It was a steep, rocky piece of land, with a creek that was the boundary at the bottom of the block.Dad on weekends would be there digging the trenches for the foundations with a pick and shovel, rock hammer and stone wedge - back breaking work as their was rock everywhere.Mum working as his labourer.

Dad was a good looking man, about 5'11, fair in complexion, he was of medium build, always pretty fit. He had a moustache and wavy light brown hair. Mum said she was taken with his voice and how he spoke, she liked his British accent.I remember him working on the block of land, stripped down to just a pair of army shorts and boots, bare up top, he like getting a tan, working with a pick and shovel.He was very strict if I ever got out of line he would belt me, with a switch and that happened more than a few times.

They had a builder who must have sympathised with their plight over the two years it took to build the house. I say sympathised, as their was rationing in those days on all building supplies such as, cement and bricks.Their was an allocation of how much could be purchased. Dad used to go to a hardware store in Chatswood called Benjamins where he had an account and bought  the building materials for the house.When he had bult up sufficient reserves, he would contact the builder. Who would bring his team of "brickies', they would mix the cement and sand lay the bricks and when the supplies were exhausted go somewhere else till Dad had enough for them to come back. . 

The bricks were called "commons" apparently the only ones available for residential work, or may be the only one's Dad could afford.Dad was always complaining about their poor quality and how they did not match and were different colour shades

They were so bad that the whole exterior had to be painted.Which was a bitch of a job,as two coats was required, the paint used was called "Boncote" a thick substance to apply over a very rough surface.Another of the many jobs Dad took on. It was hairy work, as he only had an extension ladder and the back of the house was two stories. There he was,' up about 20', no scaffolding, with a 20L paint tin attached to one  of the top rungs of the ladder, a big paint brush in one hand painting under the eaves, holding on for grim life with the other'.He would do a section, then have to climb down, move the ladder to another unpainted section, fill up with paint climb up and start again.

Eventually it was built, brick by brick , tile by tile. Every step of the way, they kept at it, working during the week, weekends at Lane Cove grinding away. Working on their house till they at last could move in..

The house built by Pat and Ken was a white painted L shaped house of one and half levels, upstairs : two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, lounge and a sun room that faced north.Downstairs was a laundry, spare room and garage.Their was a white picket fence across the front garden, Mum insisted on this.There was a steep driveway to the garage which housed their first car - a Ford Prefect.

They would come to Newington to watch me play rugby or cricket. I would ask them to park the car out on Stanmore Road. I was embarrassed, as the parents who parked their cars in the school grounds all seemed to have limousines.That was one of the disparities of going to schools such as Newington. Mum used to say" "darling you have to remember you have very young parents". Which they were - Pat and Ken were 20 and 21 when they married.

I sold the house in Terrigal In October  I did not wish to rent as Mum and Dad would not have wanted me to do that.The hard part of all this was packing up all the personal items they had collected over there 69 years of marriage, in all 35 large boxes were packed with crystal, art works , crockery cutlery silver, linen, clothes and private papers. I did this solely

We are over Christmas  '09 which  has been the first time I  have spent it without Mum and Dad either in their presence or at the end of a telephone.On the 21st December  they would have celebrated their 70th Wedding Anniversary which would have been quite astonishing. There are not many married couples that achieve that longevity in their relationships, especially these days. They were happy together I know there was a period when Dad may have strayed in the late fifties, I think he had a fling with one of his female work associates, her name was Phil Gough – From other stories Mum may have done the same with an American during the war. Otherwise Pat and Ken enjoyed their lives together especially so in retirement. 

I miss them more than words can convey, I wonder,if, as Dad said "I think there is something else out there".

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