Secrets, Lies & Chat

Friday, December 30, 2005

2006 - The New Year Looms

It's Friday 30 December 2005. Sydney Australia is feeling the heat. It's pushing to 40c here where I live, near Penrith, and we have been told to expect 39c tomorrow and 43c on New Year's Day, Sunday. The heat is oppressive and the elderly are suffering. I imagine the very young are as well. Plenty of water is the go and if possible, staying indoors with fans or air conditioner cooling.

I spent the day out and about. My son flew out of Sydney at 12.50 pm, returning to his new place of residence, Geraldton Western Australia. He had a flight on Virgin Blue to Perth and then a much smaller plane from Perth to Geraldton. I just had a call from him to say he is at the Airport in Perth waiting for the next leg of his trip to begin, in approximately 1 hour's time. It's now 7.05 pm in Sydney. The flight to Perth takes approximately 4 hours and the flight to Geraldton 55 minutes. My daughter, grand-daughter, and I travelled to the airport with my son and stayed there until his plane was in the air. Sad parting for all of us. He has been gone for only 6 months but as we are a close family, it's a big thing to have to part again. He flew over to see his father who has been gravely ill in hospital. Things have improved enough for him to return to WA although the days ahead for his Dad are dark ones.

It was nice and cool in the airport but once we emerged outside to walk to where the car was parked, the heat was fairly intense, with a hot sun burning down and a hot wind. We were at the Airport for about 1.5 hours and the charge was $18 in the carpark. The M4 cost $2.20 (from Penrith to Auburn) and on the way back, the M5 cost $3.30. We took the different route back as I decided to visit my aging Aunt & Uncle. My Uncle had a melanoma removed 18 months ago and now has been told the cancer has spread around his body. He looks very frail and it appears that the New Year for my family will have some of the same as the old year, with the death of relatives.

In 2005 I lost an Uncle, an Aunt, and my Mother just before Christmas. My ex husband is in hospital with both his legs amputated almost to the groin and my three 'kids' have spent the Christmas period visiting him and anguishing over his condition, and there have been many angry outbursts. I stand on the sideline and help when I'm asked. My daughter now has to look into, and put her father's name down, in care facilities. If, within the period the hospital has designated to find such a facility for him one is not found, then they will place him wherever he can be placed. If the family don't agree to this then he will be discharged to their care. So much for private health cover and our system of care. He is 63 years old and has been assessed high care, which means he won't be able to return to his home. What a way to end a year, what a way to start a new year.

Seeing my Aunt & Uncle brought to mind how fast the years go and how quickly my age group, 60, will be where they are now. It's frightening. Just as well when we are young we don't think about these things, thinking we are indestructable and everyone over 30 is old. Once you reach 30, the years fly, filled with family, children, the home, work, survival itself. The children grow up and fly out of the nest; you look around and realise that you are now on countdown. You see that you won't be able to earn a living for that many more years, nor will you want to, and you start to worry about how you will make ends meet. If you live alone, you worry about how you will cope.

Perhaps it was best in the days when people didn't live to an old age. They didn't have these worries, weren't a burden to their families. You would think, knowing how old the 'baby boomers' are now, that governments and private organisations would be planning plenty of nursing homes, aged care facilities, retirement villages etc., so that people can be looked after. I consider that having paid taxes probably since age 15, all of these people deserve to be looked after by their government. We should all be allowed to retire and to live a slower lifestyle, not be expected to keep on working till we die at our desks and therefore don't go onto a pension.

I for one don't have much superannuation as I left work for 14 years to bring up my family and, due to a marriage breakdown and subsequent divorce, I had to give up one job, temp for a couple of years until I secured another permanent job. My superannuation payout won't keep me for long at all, unlike those who have been in the one job all their working lives. The mind spins, the fear begins. Where will it all end and where will I be and what circumstances will I be in, in say 10 years' time. Ah well such is life, and as one of our 'great' Prime Ministers yelled to the country at one stage, "life was not meant to be easy". One wonders how Malcolm Fraser would know about that one seeing as how he was born into a rich family and probably hasn't worked a hard day in his life nor gone without.

However, one must be optimistic. After all, there is $32 Million up for grabs in Lotto New Year's Eve, and if I could win just a portion of that, I would be happy as. So, I'm going to think positive. Saturday night I could well be smiling from one end of my face to the other, and, if I'm not, then there's always next week.

Keep smiling and have a great New Year with everything good coming your way.

Vena McGrath
December 30, 2005

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas/New Year Thoughts

Christmas has come, and gone, again with some speed. After all the preparations, perhaps months of hoarding away gifts as you find them for friends or loved ones, it's all over. I always think it's a shame once Christmas arrives as the pre-Christmas period is one of anticipation. Not for gifts, well not as far as I'm concerned. I'm more interested in having a couple of weeks break from the robotic routine of going to work 5 days a week. It doesn't matter if I wear makeup or not, I can spend the day in a big Tshirt and nothing much else and no-one cares. My feet are bare, the way I like them to be. I get familiar with my home again, spending 24 hours a day inside it's walls and outside in the yard, having a swim if I feel like it. There's no need to plan any of my days; whatever I feel like doing, I do, and if I don't feel like doing anything, then so be it.

I love the non routineness of the break, and I mourn it when it's gone again for another year. It seems that I spend most of the year thinking about the end of it. For the last 6 years I've had breaks of a week or so perhaps 3 times through the year, travelling to Queensland to see my mother. But these breaks were never holidays as my time away had to be scheduled; arrangements to have my pets looked after, deciding whether to leave my car parked near the airport or to have someone drive me in and then pick me up on my return, arranging to hire a car in Brisbane at the airport, booking flights, booking accommodation if I wasn't staying with family. On arrival I would pick up the car, drive to wherever I was staying, have a short chat, then go and visit my mother. That would be the start of a day by day depression that lingered with me after I returned home. For all the efforts I made to fly to see my mother, she showed no recognition mostly that I was even there. She rarely said my name and in fact called me by her sister's name. When I would tell her I had to return to Sydney and wouldn't be seeing her for a while, she would look at me blankly. No kiss goodbye, no sadness, just nothing.

My breaks at Christmas haven't included flying to Brisbane as it's too hot to fly north and it's also school holidays so everything is more expensive, and there are too many people everywhere. That's why I always look forward to this break because it's a chance to spend time with my little family, and a chance to veg out at home. I don't go to the sales because I know that most of what is on sale is junk the retailers couldn't flog off during the year. A lot of the so called specials are actually the same price, or even dearer, than they were during the year! I know this to be true as I used to work in retail and I knew the prices of some things before the sales and the price of them during the sales. Total ripoff for the unsuspecting looking for a bargain. The only real bargains I feel are in manchester and it is a great time to buy sheets, towels, beach towels etc. Anything else, forget it.

There will be no more visits to Brisbane to see my Mum as she passed over on 10 December. I still have cousins up there, and my brother and his family, but there won't be the need to go up every few months ever again. I guess if I were truthful I would admit that I will miss going away every few months. I have this adventure gene in me and I love to fly away. Each time I go to the airport to drop someone off, or pick someone up, I get this strong urge to go get on a plane and take off.

The New Year is looming but for me it doesn't hold any great excitement. It's just another day in another year of uncertainty. My aunts and uncles are aging and 2006 is shaping up to being a sad year for some of my cousins who will have to face what I have this year. For my ex husband, who has had both his legs amputated above the knee, the year ahead, if he survives, will be one of trauma, anger, despair and frustration. He, along with many others in our society, will perhaps wish that 2005 had been his last year in this world. It makes you wonder why so many people who you don't think deserve to suffer, do suffer in cruel pain before they die, and yet others who don't deserve to breathe, live on seemingly untouched by hardship. One of the frustrations of life, an unanswerable question ... why?

May the New Year bring you peace and fulfilment and may you make others less fortunate travel their roads easier by a smile or a helping hand. The richest man in Ausralia died last night - Kerry Packer. I am now richer than Kerry Packer; he has nothing and I have a few dollars. Money can't buy health, and his death proves that you can't take it with you. You might as well have little as having a lot doesn't give you eternal life nor can it save you if you are terminally ill. Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.

Take Care & Happy New Year 2006.

Vena McGrath
27 December 2005

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Penny Wort - The Elixir of Life

‘GOTA KOLÁ - aka ‘Penny Wort’ in Australia
“ 2 leaves a day keeps old age away!”

GOTA KOLÁ (commonly known as Penny wort) energizes and rejuvenates the brain and body. Penny wort, a tiny leafed, low-growing plant, has been called the “Elixir or Life”.

Research herbalists have called Penny wort the finest of all herb tonics and nutrients. It appears, they say, to have no equal in the treatment of general debility and decline, digestion is strengthened, and foods better utilised, and the process of metabolism increased.

This low-growing ground cover herb has been used by the Sinhalese, and the people of India who live along the Indian Ocean, for many hundreds of years, because they believe that it contains remarkable longevity qualities. They say that Penny wort will increase the span of life 50 years by developing the brain, thus making it incapable of breaking down for a long period of time.

The leaves act as a brain food. 2-4 leaves eaten raw each day will strengthen and revitalise worn out bodies and brains to a remarkable degree and will prevent brain fag and nervous breakdown. “Two leaves a day will keep old age away” – this is the claim of the ancient Sinhalese.

It is the belief of the Sinhalese and of the Indians, that one or two leaves are necessary daily to bring about a gradual return to health and strength, provided the body is exposed to the sun for a time each day.

It is said that if the leaves are eaten daily, disorders like poor memory, rheumatism, arthritis, neuritis, nervous breakdown, abscesses, blood pressure improve. The natives of India use the plant medically too as a diuretic or stimulant to the kidneys and bladder as well as a blood purifier. Gota Kola also has been found to be a safe aphrodisiac.

This rejuvenating herb has also been used medically for:

Fluid retention
Age spots
To strengthen the heart
Combat stress
Nervous and mental problems
Skin problems
As a thyroid stimulant
To improve reflexes
Help the body defend itself against various toxins
And, in cancer treatment.

It was renowned Chinese herbalist and Professor, Li Chung Yun, who lived to the age of 256 years using this herb that awoke our western world as to its values.

Li Chung Yun was born in 1677 and in 1933 the New York Times announced the death of this remarkable oriental, whose life span had reached over 2.5 centuries. His age was officially recorded by the Chinese Government.

At 200 years of age, Professor Li gave a course of lectures for 20 weeks (each lecture lasting 3 hours) on longevity, at a Chinese University. Those who saw him declared that he did not appear older than a man of 52. Professor Li outlived 23 wives and that is perhaps proof enough of his age. He stood straight and strong and had his own natural hair and teeth.

After Li Chung Yun’s death, the French Government, under Professor Menier of Paris, undertook extensive studies and experiments with Penny Wort to see what was so special about this plant. They found that it contained an unknown vitamin, which they called Vitamin X, the ‘youth vitamin’. It was called this because it was found to have marvellous rejuvenating effects on the brain and endocrine glands.

Another French biochemist, Jules Lepinė, conducted an examination of the herb and after extensive study, found that it has rare tonic properties which have a marked energizing effect on nerves and brain cells and keeps them functioning well.

Many people who take Penny wort daily tell how they no longer feel brain fatigue and feel physically well and energetic. One person who took the herb for 6 weeks said she did not fee fatigued in spite of a busy schedule. She stated she was more relaxed and arthritic pain had gone. This person, whose fingers were quite knobbly and bent from arthritis, could not praise Penny wort enough. For years she had not been able to remove the rings from her fingers and, after taking the herb for several weeks, was able to again.

Penny wort (Centella Asiatic or hydrocotle asiatica) is a low-growing ground cover with a leaf the size of a thumb nail and with a serrated edge. It has a long tap root and matts over the ground. It grows in sun, but will thrive in shade and grows taller. If grown in shade, the flavour is milder too. It is propagated by seed or root division. The flower is extremely small, in fact hardly visible between the leaves.

Penny wort can be eaten straight from the bush, added to salads, or chopped up at the last minute as a garnish on a meal. If chopped finely as a garnish and added to meat or savoury dishes, even the youngest child will not object. Leaves can be used fresh or dried as tea, and sweetened with honey if desired. It is important to take Penny wort daily and for several weeks before any marked beneficial effect is noticed. Some people find it helpful, until they have the habit ingrained, to make a reminder note and tape it to the refrigerator or kitchen table, to remind them to take their leaves daily.

This amazing tonic plant is rich in chlorophyll. Vitamins A,B,C,G,K and particularly, the mineral magnesium.

Plants and seeds are available from nurseries and some larger stores with garden departments where plants and seeds are sold.

This article was distributed by Shipards Herb Nursery, Nambour Qld Australia, date unknown.

Postscript: I have found it difficult to find the plants in Sydney although my daughter did find one plant at a nursery near Richmond. Fortunately an Aunt has Penny Wort growing, having obtained plants from my brother in Queensland, and she has potted some for me.

Vena McGrath – December 26, 2005

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Christmas Message

A Christmas Wish
Good Morning to all my friends and visitors.

It's Christmas Eve in Sydney Australia and at 8.21 am Daylight Saving Time, it's 35 degrees celcius already (in the shade)! We are expecting a top of 38, but where I live, close to the bottom of the Blue Mountains, we usually can expect it to be hotter than that. It's very humid so the chance of being energetic isn't high.

My Christmas this year is one of mixed feelings. My mother passed away on the 10th December, two weeks ago today. In her passing there was sadness, and yet there was relief that she was no longer in the limbo land of dementia and more importantly, her family no longer had to live with the knowledge that she had gangrene in her limbs and that it was spreading. My mother died without dignity, although I am told she died peacefully, with morphine being administered over a three week period that I imagine helped her to slip away quietly and with no pain. The only good thing about dementia is that the disease allowed her to be relatively pain free in spite of what was going on with her body.

My youngest son, who is 36, lives in Geraldton Western Australia, with his lady Helen. Geraldton is approximately 4,500 kilometres from where I live, so it's a long way from home. Aaron's father, my ex husband, has been ill for all of this year with circulation problems. He also suffers from emphysema which is affecting his heart. Earlier this year he was taken to hospital by our daughter suffering extreme pain which was diagnosed as a blood clot in the groin. He was hospitalised and operated on to clear the arteries of the clot. Then he was watched for a few weeks. His right toes began to blacken and he was told that he would need a toe amputated. The gangrene progressed and the amputation of a toe became amputation of more toes, then a foot, then a leg.

Finally after weeks of intense pain and morphine for relief of the pain that sent him into hallucinations and a dark place no one wants to see a loved one in, they amputated his right leg below the knee. To cut a long, sad, painful story short, he now has both legs amputated, has undergone surgery 7 times, 4 times in the last 4 weeks, and the legs have been amputated as far as they can be. I am horrified, distressed, saddened. My two sons and my daughter are in deep shock. I flew my youngest son, Aaron, over from WA yesterday, his first flight, and picked him up from the airport late yesterday. My daughter was with me waitng for him at the airport. I took them straight to the hospital and sat outside in the car for 1.5 hours while they visited their Dad. When they came back out we hugged in a group and they cried for him. He was screaming in pain, hallucinating, thought he was going home, worrying about his shirt, about catching a train. He thought Aaron was our other son, John.

We came back to my home a sad family and my partner Bryan had dinner cooked for us. We ate at 10.15 pm, which wasn't late for Aaron as in WA it would have been 7.15 pm. I had a troubled night, tossed and turned in the heat, and because of my thoughts for my kids' dad. They have one wish for him, and that is he goes to sleep and to his resting place. Aaron is troubled also as he had to leave Helen alone in WA for Christmas. They had their dinner planned and their weekend. Helen is now alone. It was important for Aaron to come back to see his father as it's really not expected that he will live very long. It was also important for him to be here with his sister now, as it is important that my eldest son, John, be here for her as well.

My children have been told that their father's illness has been caused by excessive alcohol consumption over many years and excessive smoking over many years. As a smoker myself I now see what could lie ahead if I don't kick the habit. My New Year resolution, and I never make them, will be to give up smoking and I will start the process of weaning on New Year's Day. As much as I love to smoke, I now see what it can and does do to the body and what my ex is going through is horrifying and enough to scare anyone off smokes.

So, whilst my Christmas Day will be complete with my three darlings around me, this isn't Christmas for any of us. We will try our best though to make it the happiest day we can under the circumstances, for my grand-daughter who is 11, and count our blessings that we are together and that we are, as far as we know anyhow, all well. The missing link is my son John who is driving down this morning from Orange, west of Sydney, some 3 hours drive time. Once he arrives I will breathe a sigh of relief.

I wish you all the very best for Christmas and may your New Year bring you peace and happiness. And for those who are spending Christmas with sadness, as my family and I are, all I can wish for you is closure, acceptance, and perhaps relief as your loved ones are released from the pain of this life.

Take care, drive carefully, and see you all in the New Year, 2006. Vena

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Tonight my Mother passed away in the Nursing Home she has lived in since 2000. My Mother actually left her body quite some time ago I believe, with just a remnant of her being remaining for the time it took for her release to come. She died peacefully with a nurse holding her hand. I received a call 15 minutes before she passed over to say she was failing fast but it was too late for me to do a thing about getting to her. It was the one thing I really wanted, to be with her at the end. I visited her 3 weeks ago for 8 days, having been called to her bedside as the end was near. But Mum had other ideas and I had to return home, not wanting to, but having commitments I needed to be here for. If I could have I would have stayed but as there was no way anyone could say how long it would be, my options weren't favouring my stay.

I was bringing in the washing this afternoon, in a howler of a wind, grabbing the clothes before they blew out of my hands across the yard. My mind suddenly was with my Mother and I knew a call was near. I felt she had died and a voice told me I would be going back to Brisbane on Tuesday. I came inside and told my partner Bryan about what I had experienced and then I waited. My daughter and my granddaughter were visiting me, and my son-in-law, and we were in the kitchen making up one of my mother's Christmas puddings from a recipe of hers I had found in the cupboard a couple of days ago. The phone rang; it was my brother telling me Mum wasn't well and to expect a call either tonight or tomorrow. My cousin rang to ask after my mother and I had no sooner hung up the phone than it rang again. It was 15 minutes after the first call from my brother. Our mother had died peacefully; neither of us were with her.

We talked for a little while about Mum and about how we both felt and then we said our goodbyes until my brother makes the arrangements and calls me. At that time my daughter, grand-daughter and my eldest son and I will drive north 1100 kilometres to the service. My mother's wish was that her ashes be placed in my eldest brother's grave, along with my father's ashes that I have safely here with me. Her ashes will be returned to Sydney and I will arrange a small service at the graveside for Mum and Dad.

The end of part of my life occurred tonight with the passing of my Mother. Both my parents have departed this life and now there are just memories. Tonight we celebrated my Mother's life by having dinner together and drinking a bottle of wine, by candlelight. Mum would have loved that and the table looked as she would have had it herself. We had a photo of Mum and Dad on the table with us and we toasted their lives and our love for them.

I'm not devastated by my Mother's death as I have known for weeks it was going to happen. I just didn't know when. She had dementia in an advanced stage, and she had gangrene in both feet and a finger. As far as I'm concerned Mum was already gone and no doubt was hovering above her body wondering why her heart wouldn't stop beating and release her from the hell she was in. My brother, although he isn't what anyone would consider religious, told me tonight he prayed to God to take Mum and he did.

So tonight I sit here late, thinking about many things, and I guess most especially about how I knew my Mother was about to die. It's not a strange thing to happen to me because I often know things before they happen. I'm glad I told Bryan because if I had said it later, then I wouldn't have been believed most likely. I felt her dying although I shook my head and thought I was just wishing it would happen so she would be out of pain. It will be interesting to see now if I head north on Tuesday.

My Mother is now at peace, I hope. She has suffered enough, she deserves peace.

She is not gone, she is just away.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Curse of Dementia

6 December 2005 – Today was just another day in my life. Up early, off to work, doing my best to concentrate on the jobs at hand whilst my mind wandered to a place where there is no light, no hope, just total frustration.

My mother, aged 88, resides in a nursing home Wellington Point, on the coast out from Brisbane. Wellington Point is a lovely place and, as you could judge by the name, the main street in Wellington Point leads down to the point, where Moreton Bay is on both sides of the tract of land. That part of Wellington Point is picturesque; a place where fishermen take their boats out to try their luck, where others fish from the small jetty, and where countless others sit on the grassed areas either inside gazebo like constructions or on the grass, and gaze across the Bay.

The tides are quite huge in this part of the world and can be treacherous. The water recedes quickly leaving many a hapless fisherman sitting in his boat on a sandbar, stranded until the tide turns and he can be freed. If you walk out to the edge of the water at low tide and the tide changes, you have to run to try and keep ahead of the water as it rushes back to shore. Wellington Point is also a haven for people of all ages who flock there with those kites on skis that fly across the Bay in the wind. There’s a restaurant that’s open long hours and it’s a beautiful place to sit and eat and drink and just gaze.

The nursing home isn’t on the point; it’s about 5 kms south of there (I think). I’m not from Brisbane so my sense of direction isn’t very great. It’s a shame the nursing home doesn’t have a water view as I’m sure it would enhance the lives of the inhabitants who all go there for the few years or months or weeks before they pass over to the next life.

When my mother became a prisoner there, in 2000, she had mild dementia. She had suffered a series of strokes in September 2000 and was assessed 24 hour care. As most people would realise, there are few families that can afford the money or the time to care for a loved one on a 24-hour basis. That’s where my brother and I found ourselves; in a position of having to allow our mother to be committed to a nursing home for the rest of her life.

When I first visited the nursing home I was appalled. It was in a very old Queensland mansion type home and because of the wooden floors and the age of the building, the smell of stale urine was always in the air. Visiting there was certainly no pleasure, living there must have been a nightmare. My mother wanted to go home most of the time during her first year there, and yet there was nothing my brother or I could do about having her go home to either of our homes. I lived in another state, in Sydney NSW, and although my brother lived quite close to Wellington Point, he knew he couldn’t take care of our mother. She had to be lifted as her ability to walk was limited after the strokes, and he knew that he couldn’t handle it. Two people always moved her around at the home.

In the beginning Mum was alert, taking in a lot that went on around her. She wasn’t like most of the others who sat around with their mouths open, eyes closed, like they were doped out of their minds. She watched the traffic of people who passed by her bed and she knew who did what and when in the home. The conditions were not the best, and yet we counted ourselves lucky that she had found somewhere to be placed that was close to my brother, as many people were being shunted off to homes that were an hour or more from their loved ones.

No one appeared to have any privacy, just a curtain pulled across between the beds on a veranda. What the conditions were like in other areas of the home I don’t know; I didn’t venture to find out. I would fly up to Brisbane, stay with a cousin, and visit my mother a few times over a few days before I had to fly home again. She was doing okay in the beginning and would read the magazines I bought for her. She loved flowers so I always arrived with the brightest coloured flowers I could buy. She had a TV set and watched and actually enjoyed watching shows that she knew.

Those days were short lived. With each visit I noticed my mother deteriorating. Where once she was alert and interested in her surroundings, she was now withdrawn and becoming more withdrawn each time. She rarely spoke or made any indication that she knew me. A new nursing home had been built just down the road from the old one, and now Mum had a lovely room of her own, with a window looking out on a garden, and a bathroom she shared with the person in the next room. She wasn’t reading anymore by this time, and she wasn’t doing much walking anymore either. My brother bought her a ubeaut airmchair that is electronic and would place her in a standing position with the push of a button. It didn’t get used much at all except as a place for her to curl up in the tv room where all the inhabitants were lined up daily so they were out of their beds. They stared at the TV, I’m sure not really knowing what they were looking at, and then at other times they would all be asleep, mouths open, in a state of comatose.

Each visit to see my mother became a nightmare for me. There were times when I would be at my cousin’s home for a day, even two days, before I would get up the courage to go and see Mum. When I did go, I couldn’t stay long. The walls closed in on me together with the despair and total frustration I felt at a situation I couldn’t change. I didn’t want her there and yet where else could she go where she was looked after 24 hours a day? She didn’t know me and in fact, thought I was her sister. She asked me how our parents were (my grandparents) and of course they had been gone for many years.

She called me by my aunt’s name, Joy, and she even showed me a photo of my aunt and uncle and said, “See, I have a photo of you and Doug”. When I tried to talk to her about my childhood she closed down the shutters. When I spoke of my children, the children she spent so much time with and loved, she thought they were her sister and brothers. I would always return to Sydney depressed and guilty that I was so useless to my mother and that I was so insignificant in her memories that she had totally forgotten who I was.

My brother, who visited our mother regularly, became her brother Eric. He and my mother had always been so close and I guess if any satisfaction could be gained from any of it, it was that she had forgotten who he was as well. As each visit came around, communication with my mother disappeared. I sat in her room with her, or in the TV room staring at the walls. Sometimes she would look at me with dead eyes, other times she would just look. Most of the time she looked away from me and would even turn her head away. If the TV were on in her room she would stare at it the whole visit and never look at me. When I first started to visit she would wave to me as I walked down the corridor. Now there was nothing.

In 2003 Mum, in her many attempts to escape from her bed (forgetting she could no longer walk) fell heavily onto the floor and broke her hip and her arm. My daughter and I flew to the hospital as soon as we received word of the accident and we stayed a few days. They intended to operate but because of her state of health, the operation was delayed. We returned home and some days later her hip operation was carried out. She had a broken arm for weeks before they attempted that operation. Remarkably, as close as she looked to death when I visited her before the operations, she recovered and her wounds healed quickly. Now she was almost totally bedridden as it was impossible to get a woman her age, and in her frail state, back up on her feet.

She was now lifted around with a big belt that went around her middle. It had two handles, one each side, and a nurse would get on each side of her and lift her. Once her arm healed she could once again feed herself, but the decline in her health began in earnest. Each visit from then on was a bigger nightmare for me. She was wasting away before my eyes, and with about three month spaces between visits, I noticed it dramatically. There was little if any communication then. She suffered another stroke before, during or after the fall and lost the ability to swallow. She had to be taught to swallow and gradually she spoke a few words again, a very few.

Three weeks ago tomorrow I received a phone call at work, mid morning, from my brother. He told me our mother was not expected to live long and that perhaps I would want to go to see her. I packed my bag at work, excused myself, and left. I rang my daughter on the way home and later that day the two of us climbed into my car and started the 1100 km journey to hopefully see Mum before she passed over. My one wish was that I could be with her when she left, as I didn’t want her to be alone. In spite of all the differences between us throughout my lifetime, now was a time to forget all that and be there for her. We left home at 4.30 pm Sydney time on the Wednesday and arrived at the nursing home at 4.30 am Queensland time (5.30 am Sydney time) on Thursday. My daughter rang the home a few times during the course of the trip and was told that they couldn’t say that Mum would be alive when we arrived.

We saw Mum as soon as we arrived and then pulled some chairs together and laid down best we could to try and get some sleep. We saw the doctor at 9.00 am and he told us it wouldn’t be long, but how long he couldn’t say. We visited Mum twice a day most days for eight days and some days she looked good, other days she looked terrible. It came to the crunch. I had to get back home and to work and my daughter had to get back home to her family and her work. And so, with heavy hearts, we packed up and drove home. I felt that during the eight days we had made contact with Mum. She actually held our hands and squeezed them, something she hadn’t done for a long, long time. She seemed as though she was pleased to see us walk in, even though there was no communication from her. She watched us quite a lot when she was awake, and if I was sitting in the corner of her room and my daughter was standing by the bed, I would see her moving her head so she could see me.

While we were visiting Mum we were told she had gangrene in her right foot, in a toe, and that it needed to be amputated. But the doctor told me he would not be doing the amputation as it would be too cruel when there was no future for my mother, she was after all dying. I despaired about her being left to die with her foot rotting off and I believed, and still do, that the kinder thing would be to prepare her for the operation and hopefully she would go to sleep and not wake up again. I was told emphatically no, it would not be done. Last week I learned that my mother has gangrene in her other foot, and much more advanced that in the foot where it’s in a toe. I was told today that she is being administered morphine so that the nurses can turn her in the bed and tend to her without causing her extreme pain. Again there is no chance of operating.

I know I’m not the only person to have to live through something like this and I won’t be the last. But I ask why? She is dying, there is no hope, and yet they let her lie there rotting from the feet up until she dies of natural causes. How can they call that natural? If she was a pet animal she would be humanely put down. But she is a human and therefore we can’t be humane.

I tried to speak to my brother about our mother and how I felt, but he became very upset, angry even, at me. How could I possibly think that putting her through an operation was the answer? I told him that as he was the eldest, and he was there close by Mum, it had to be his call. He wasn’t happy with that either but I had no intention of having an argument with him as I knew, from my visit and spending the eight days with him, that he wasn’t handling things very well at all. I didn’t wish to add to his pain knowing that both options are not options at all.

My mother would be devastated if she knew what she looked like now. She is like a child, a baby even. She is fed, bathed in bed, changed, her nappy changed, and she sleeps. That is all her life comprises of and they call it the right to life? I call it the right to die with dignity and without pain when there is no hope.

When will the world decide that euthanasia is acceptable and indeed, humane? I guess not until a long time after my mother dies and many more like her. I can fully understand now why people who realise they are terminally ill take their own lives. They are brave for everyone else who is a coward, and if there is a God, then I hope he blesses them with eternal peace. A nursing home is really just a waiting place for death, and those that reside therein have already left their bodies. My Mother left quite some time ago. The body I visit sure isn’t hers.

God save my mother because no one else is going to do it for her.

Vena McGrath
6 December 2005