March 22, 2013

Grand Dames & End Games

A year ago today, the Barraclough clan gathered at the home of my splendid mother-in-law Dorothy. We sat around her antique mahogany dining room table, spread out the place mats and coasters like she always showed us, and ate Shepherd's Pie. We talked and told stories and even laughed a little while down the hall, Dorothy lay in her bed (her own bed, mind you) dying.

And it was beautiful. Sad, of course, but also beautiful. Being together as a family, surrounding her with love, going as far as we could on the next part of her journey with her. It felt like the highest honour.

While we ate dinner, a carer sat with the sleeping Dorothy. Her jobs done, her patient comfortable, she sat there holding Dorothy's hand, stroking her hair, talking to her softly, crying occasionally. Why was she so devoted to this dying elderly woman, lavishing so much love and care on her? She had barely known her patient and the Dorothy she had known was not healthy, vibrant, golf-playing Dorothy, champion roast dinner cooker and witty raconteur. She was at the end of her life, fearful of leaving, tired of staying - a combination that will make anyone a tad cranky.

But something always shone through. Even when things were at their most grim, Dorothy had a light inside her that still burned brightly and an elegance about her that never left. She was a Grand Dame in the full trouser-wearing, razor-witted, glamourous Katherine Hepburn-esque meaning of the word.

The formidable Ms Hepburn once said "If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun" and that was so true of my spririted MIL. Her grandchildren adored her because she had such an enormous sense of fun, setting up games of indoor bowls and encouraging them to raid the biscuit jar when parents weren't looking. She told me only a few years ago that she still felt like her 21 year old self in her mind. I'll remember that when my own body starts to fail me.

Kate Hepburn also said "Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get, only with what you are expecting to give, which is everything". Truer words were never spoken. Dorothy gave and gave, with never any expectation of return, a quality that I admire and strive to emulate. It's hard to do (try it!), but she made it a way of life. Giving - love, money, food, golf tips, an ear to listen - was her modus operandi. Even at her sickest in hospital, she would learn all about her favourite nurses lives, asking them questions and taking an interest in them. I suspect this may also have been one of her wily ways of detracting attention from herself. The nurses and carers were all devoted to her.

She could also be tough, especially in a debate. But so damn classy with it. A velvet sledgehammer sipping Irish whiskey.

Tonight, I'll be thinking of that final dinner in her home, the night she breathed in and out for the last time and drifted off to meet her badly missed husband on the other side of this life.

She's with us though. We like to keep her around, not just in our hearts and minds, but in the photograph that sits on top of the piano where, in her wedding dress made of pure white parachute silk, she keeps an eye on Jack's fingers skipping across the keys. In the quilt that rests on the back of a chair in Francesca's room. In her favourite crystal tumbler from which John drinks his nightly whiskey. And she is brilliant about finding me car parking spots when I most need them.

I wrote this poem (actually that seems too posh a term for what is just a few rhyming sentences) and read it at her funeral. For it is the minutiae that can sometimes offer an insight into a person.

Dorothy’s Pearls Of Wisdom

Bridge is wonderful, you must learn how to play

Don’t ever call in during Home and Away

The best bananas are Lady Finger

After one’s putt, one mustn’t linger

In arguments or debates, you must be a ninja

Every dish is improved by the addition of ginger

Skim milk is awful, you must drink full cream

When sewing one must do a neat French seam

Religion is suspect, have you considered Buddha?

Some of those priests and ministers shoulda

Embrace golf and bridge but give bowls the flick

And Richard may be Rich, but not Rick or Dick

Those new fangled tech investments are far too risky

Whatever you do, don’t drown the whiskey

The only dog worth having is a golden retriever

Behave like a lady, never a diva

When on the tee, just breathe and swing

On the car? It’s a scratch, never a ding

A book must have a decent plot

And the name is Dorothy, NEVER Dot!

Vale dear Dorothy. We miss you every day xxx

March 16, 2013

Genea wins Masterchef with new soup

As if it wasn't enough that Genea has a 30% higher success rate than the average of all other IVF clinics in Australia, the good doctors and scientists there have had another amazing breakthrough, increasing your chance of getting pregnant by a further 26% per embryo transferred.

Talk about a bunch of show-offs! But seriously, if you're thinking of trying IVF, you want this bunch of clever show-offs in your corner. In fact, I would go so far to say in the manner of loud television infomercial host "why go anywhere else?!"

A few weeks ago, Genea received TGA approval to use their new and improved 'culture medium' (the solution that the egg, sperm and embryo grow in) for all IVF patients going forward.

If it were Masterchef, Matt Preston would be declaring that the cook's clever inclusion of lemongrass and chilli have made the soup literally POP with flavour to create an absolute winner!

I think my favourite IVF doctor Prof Mark Bowman summed it up beautifully (you can read the full article here):

"We are very happy with this. I am a big believer in minimising the randomness of IVF. We can give patients a better chance to have a successful pregnancy in a shorter time. It saves money and heartache."

Saving money and heartache. Isn't that what it's all about? Ask any couple embarking on IVF what their two biggest fears are and they will be (a) fear of failure and (b) how much it's all going to cost. This new development in the land of IVF minimises both of those things and in my opinion, that's not just a scientific coup but another warm blanket for IVF couples to wrap around themselves on a journey that can sometimes feel long and lonely.

March 8, 2013

Letting Go

Letting go . . . 

I've been thinking a lot lately about the concept of 'letting go' and conversely, why we become so attached to things and people in the first place. Buddha is good on this. Do you know Buddha? He's that laid back guy sitting under the tree in the park with a smile on his face.

Of course there's the cruel attachment one forms with one's favourite TV shows and the agonising wrench of having to let go of Don Draper or the good folk at Downton Abbey at the end of every season. It's difficult but achievable, especially as there are always reruns of Modern Family to fill the gaping hole with lovable humour.

Harder to let go of are people. And not just the horrible-nasty-no-good-very-bad-just-plain-mean people who pop up in everyone's life at one stage or another. They should be let go, and rightly so.
But sometimes it's important to let the people you love go too.

Let me explain . . .

We've just moved to a house high on a hill overlooking the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Every morning at dawn I stand in the still, cool air on the deck of our house, high above the world. From this vantage, the sky also seems bigger - I can see banks of clouds running towards us through the blue overhead and big bashing storms forming out to sea. And perhaps because I feel so small in the universe amongst all of that, I suddenly feel more 'me' than I do at any other time of the day.

Not a mother.

Not a wife.

Not a daughter.

Not a business owner.

Not a friend.

Just. Me.

All alone, with my childhood dreams, my sense of wonder, my knowledge of all that I am. A happy introvert. A sentimentalist. A believer in love and forgiveness. Too emotional at times and sometimes not emotional enough. A former fairy-believer. A tryer who is sometimes trying. A girl who wants to be everything all at once and fails to be anything often. A dreamer who would rather write a cool novel than make a cold call. A shower-singer. A total dag.

And it's such a gorgeous, liberating feeling to have those few minutes just being grateful and accepting where I am right now. My place in the universe.

But to get to that place, it's necessary to let everything go. Fear and anxiety are inherently linked to the things and people in our lives. Worrying about something happening to the children, anxiety about jobs, money, the future. It's all too much. Modern life is overwhelming. It wakes us up at 3am and gnaws at us. No wonder we're all so tired all the time. It's fricking exhausting being a human being on this earth, being harrassed at 3am by an internal harridan about the cupcakes for the school fete and the screechy brakes on the car and the mean kid who's telling your child they're not allowed to play.

But up on my deck, my eyrie, for those few minutes, I bring the people I love in close to me and I thank the universe for them, their health, and everything we have in our lives. Then one by one, I let them drift away from me. My husband, my parents, my children. I send them floating off into the sky on their own journeys, knowing that they will back with me momentarily, after I've had my fill of solitude. Of getting back to me.

It's like picking up a beloved book from long ago and rediscovering a gorgeous, warm story. One you can come back to again and again.

Happy Friday xx

Image author's own doodle. Note the excellent big hair and absence of tuckshop arms.
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