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Archive for January, 2013

The pain is bottomless. So intense it defies description. I feel extremely sorry for myself.

Over the years life has dealt me many blows of the kind we all have to endure sooner or later. Still, last year tops the list of things-that-come-in-threes, only in my case it came in five.

I had no idea I was so poorly prepared to cope with it, though.

I walk Mischa. And suddenly, the huge gaping holes left by the five I lost in the course of 2012 open up and I tumble in. My eyes fill with tears, my heart beats like crazy, and then there is this noise, an “uuuh-uuh-uuuuuuhh”-noise, not even proper howling, just sore, painful grief. Mischa gets confused and waddles up to me and rubs his head against me. There, in the park next to Votivkirche, I huddle over Mischa hiding my tears from the general public gaze, sobbing into his neck.

Gerard died in April. Unexpectedly while on tour with his partner, Pat. He was one of the few people who really knew me, who never took any shit from me, who always shared his jokes and sent unexpected e-mails with acute observations of life. He had an uncanny talent for sarcasm and explosive anger, as well as the ability to get over it in a matter of seconds. He never bore grudges. Over the years we shouted at each other, laughed together, set the world straight with the help of several bottles of wine – in London, in Skibbereen where we first met in 1993, in Dublin and even here in Vienna. He introduced me to Kevin, and to Irishness. Istill can’t believe he is gone.

Gerard at my wedding 2011. It was to be the last time I saw him.

Gerard at my wedding 2011. It was to be the last time I saw him.

Next to die was Orion. Only weeks before he died he had been with us on a biker event in Germany. The proud, nervous, aggressive rescue dog we’d had for two years by then had turned into a wonderful family dog in our care. He took his inspiration and comfort from Mischa: the two were like the grumpy old men in the Muppet Show, bickering all the time and yet clearly enjoying each other’s company – though Mischa only just put up with Orion using him as a pillow.

Orion

Orion as I will remember him

The day he died he could suddenly not get on his feet any more. His energy was simply not there and I could not even get him down the stairs before he collapsed where we were, on the landing, and he pooped right where he was. He was so ashamed and so helpless. Our funny, sweet, long-legged dog who so clearly loved his life with us had nothing more to give.

Then Don died. Though I had lost touch with him over the past couple of years, I still saw him from time to time when swinging by iT for a show. One evening he did not turn up to run the lights for a performance, and when Jack and Osas went to his flat they found him dead in his bed and the cat hiding in a corner where they could not get to it, absolutely terrified. A quiet death, at least, and the cat now lives with another friend, as batty and scared of life as itself.

Next up was Colin. Another talent of sarcasm. And another who knew me well. Better than I at times was comfortable with. He was given the death sentence several years ago, told that he had prostate cancer which would probably finish him off within three to six months. I still remember him calling me and asking me how I coped with my back pain as his back was so damned sore and he had no idea what to do about it. Then the diagnosis. And his reaction: “Well, THAT sorts out a few things, anyhow!” He was quickly ready to meet his maker but things lingered, he got bored, got a girlfriend who made him feel alive, finally settled his debts and then went into hospital for an unrelated operation on his leg. He died in the morning of 5 December, supposedly after complications from the operation. Kevin later gave me this description of the funeral:

“Well, what a day. Lashing rain, howling wind, deep mud underfoot, the grave actually caved-in before we started and they used a mechanical digger to get it ready. The coffin really was a cardboard box…and quite heavy…and ‘he’ arrived in the back of what looked like an estate car instead of a hearse. We all got covered in mud as we lowered him into the grave…but…it worked. Tim said some wonderful words, Cristina (yes) played a penny whistle tune that he loved, another friend sang two lines of a song that he’d asked for, and Zoe and Dan [daughter and son] read a poem Colin had written about football results. We put a dictionary, a packet of cigarettes and matches, some crosswords, the poem into the grave… And then we had a drink or three in a nearby pub. And we laughed a lot and cried a little.

I feel I celebrated the lives of three people today, Gerard, Don and Colin.”

I couldn’t be there. I had no money. I wish I had money.

When we were in Norway in July, it was clear that mum was not very well. In September, she finally had a pacemaker fitted, and she apparently improved. She improved enough for her GP to give the go-ahead for mum and dad to travel to Spain in November. There, she had a wonderful week, going for walks with a “rullator” – one of those walking frames with wheels, and enjoying the sun and food and dad’s company. One evening she felt unwell and collapsed and was sent to hospital in Benidorm. Hanne and I were contacted and flown in by the insurance company after the hospital reported multiple organ failure. We had a few awkward days together waiting for mum to come out of intensive care, days we used to talk about mum’s many plans, a little about life and death, and to eat and drink together. We don’t see each other anywhere near often enough. When she got out of intensive care and was transferred to an upstairs ward, I moved into her room – to the nurses’ dismay. But it was the only way I could see that mum would get any sort of stimulation – to them it was easier to just let her lie there, feed her occasionally, check her vitals and leave again. She could not really watch TV as her eyesight had deteriorated even further and left her with only a narrow field she could see. She could barely hear, and when her hearing aids were not in she was virtually deaf. Reading was thus no option, TV no option, radio another no-go.

I spent the next ten days nursing mum, trying to get her to move arms and legs to prevent bed-sores and help increase circulation, helping her in and out of bed, to the toilet, wiping her butt, cleaning her teeth, rubbing cream onto her legs. And helping her eat. I tried to get her to do things herself, but she impishly whined that it was soooo cosy being fed and nursed… I would sit on her bed, talk right into her ear so she could hear me, and we talked about life. About her many plans. She instructed me how to do this and that at the cabin, how to do things in our flat in Vienna, that she wanted to finish repairing a cardigan: could I help her find the yarn she had brought (but which I could not find anywhere). We talked about her parents, about dad and Hanne, about Anja and about Mischa, Kevin and Thomas (she finally forgave me for divorcing one and marrying the other). And she talked about how she was still so curious about life, always wondering what would happen next? My heart broke a little more with each day.

Mum with Anja in 1978

Mum with Anja in 1978

The doctors at the hospital were very reluctant to giving me a leaving-date. They kept saying we had to wait and see. It added to the strain as mum could only communicate with me: the nurses generally spoke no English, and when they did not loudly or clearly enough – or with the right accent – for her to understand. In return, her voice was very weak and she mixed her languages, dithering between Norwegian, Danish, German and English in one sentence, sometimes chucking in a “si” or “oui” for good measure. Eventually, I grabbed the Dutch cardiologist and told him with devastating honesty that they did NOT want her to die while in Spain, just think of the paperwork! and that I was perfectly aware that we were facing the end of mum’s life, there was no point in pretending otherwise. Finally the doctor worked up the courage to be honest, and he showed dad and me how mum’s heart worked.

We saw leaks. We saw her enlarged heart pumping away at high-speed and blood leaking where it should not go. The valves were leaking. Her days were numbered.

We got a leaving date set, we got an SOS air ambulance organised, and once it was all in place I told mum when it was all to happen. She was disappointed. How come she still had to wait three days? The explanation of the logistics of it all fell quietly on her deaf ears.

The day finally came. Mum was characteristically impatient, wondering at 5am why it took the nurses so bloody long to arrive with breakfast and when on earth would she get a shower so she could get dressed and groomed a little? I tried in vain to tell her that it was 5am, that I could do with a little more sleep, that no one would come until 9am at the earliest, that her pickup was not until the afternoon. Totally in vain. We spent the morning fussing over this and that, packing and repacking imaginary items, I explained over and over that her big suitcase was with dad (“then what am I supposed to wear?!?”), that she had to wear one of the new nightgowns I had bought her in Benidorm as she would be lying on a gurney hooked up to oxygen and a catheter, that… she wanted OUT. Now.

She can be very stubborn.

A young Spanish-only-speaking doctor accompanied us to the airport in Alicante. By the time we got there it was raining, befitting the occasion. The ambulance plane was delayed. We sat on the runway in the ambulance looking at the rain for over an hour. I tried to keep mum calm as she could not understand why everything took so damned long. We ran out of things to say. We ran out of final things to say.

The ambulance plane arrived. A young, healthy-looking Norwegian doctor came onboard the ambulance to check on mum. He asked if she could walk up the steps to the plane – mum was all game but I said a sharp “No!” which startled the poor doc but with a little more information he understood. She was transferred from one gurney to the next, attempted kept dry under a couple of umbrellas and finally carried onboard the SOS plane.

Mum

Mum

It was the last time I saw her alive.

The Spanish-only-speaking doctor and the ambulance driver helpfully took me to the commercial part of the airport for my flight back to Vienna and there the doc hugged me and  I burst into tears.

Mum died in the early hours of 18 December 2012. She had been taken straight to hospital on arrival. I have little understanding of the new trends in healthcare in Norway, but it seems a little faulty from my angle. There seems to have been little attempt at communicating with dad, mum was shipped hither and dither with insufficient information being passed along between hospitals and eventually dismissed and sent to a care home closer to home. There she could only lie and wait. There was talk of sending her back to the main hospital, Ahus, to have her lungs drained properly as she could barely breathe and they had not fully drained them while she was there. But it didn’t happen. Dad had the feeling she was pushed aside as uninteresting due to her age. I trust him: he is not prone to exaggeration or hysteria. Ageism should not be an issue in a wealthy country like Norway. It’s sad that it is.

The funeral was held on 27 December – a cold, clear day. The small medieval church was almost full. But even with all the wonderful show of support and empathy from friends and family, nothing can fill the gaping emptiness left by mum.

Mum, surrounded by her grandsons and our cousins carrying her coffin, dad and Hanne behind

Mum, surrounded by her grandsons and our cousins carrying her coffin, dad and Hanne behind

I wonder how long it will hurt.

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