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A Long Dying

I don’t normally post other people’s writing on this site.  But this is different.  Special. It’s written by my mother-in-law Maggie, about her mother.  And what it says has particular resonance for me.  There are people I’ve cared about who’ve died too long, and without the dignity they wanted.  Like Maggie, I don’t want to be among that number.  And especially not because someone else – politician or any other ‘authority’ – denies me my choice.

My mother was 84 when she had a stroke, 88 when she died.

A woman who loved to talk, she became aphasic. Her greatest fear – that she wouldn’t be able to communicate verbally – became reality. She could speak, but what she said made no sense. And she knew it, knew that the words coming out of her mouth were gibberish. She used to beat the arms of her chair in frustration.

I watched when she refused food and drink in a rehabilitation hospital, trying to kill herself, trying to control the end of her life. That wasn’t allowed, and so a naso-gastric tube was forced into her trachea; a second attempt, under xray, managed to get the tube down her oesophagus.

Then I was told I should allow her to have ECT, somewhere between eight and twelve sessions,  “Because her kind of depression responds well to ECT.” When I refused, I was told ‘the case’ would be put before the Guardianship Board which might grant the permission I was denying.

My mother decided to eat and drink again and I never knew just what it was that made her change her mind.

I watched her in the nursing home as she shrank, physically as well as mentally. After four years she was bedridden, curled up like a foetus, her hands like claws. Following multiple admissions to a hospital for treatment for pneumonia I was told I could write to her doctor asking for ‘no more active treatment’. I wrote that letter, feeling both relief and horror. And resentment.

My mother had a long dying.

I don’t want to face a death like my mother’s. I want to be able to choose the time and place of my dying. Surely that’s not too much to ask?

The Weird Warrior

As a young man, White Bear fought with the Dakota Sioux at Pryor Creek.
As a young man, White Bear fought with the Dakota Sioux at Pryor Creek.

This story is based on true events, recounted in Joseph Medicine Crow’s book “From The Heart Of The Crow Country”. Both Crow and Sioux survivors of the 1861 Battle of Pryor Creek agreed on many of the details, including those of the more mysterious incidents. Some could be regarded as significant coincidences, while others defy even that explanation. I’ve embroidered the history with some of my own ideas around ‘magic’.

The Sioux tribes of what would one day be called Dakota had gathered. The wagons and guns of the white men were pressing them westward.

Men seeking gold and a “new life” had poured towards the Rocky Mountains, wiping out the buffalo herds and desecrating the sacred Black Hills in their search for the yellow metal. The tribes had fought but the numbers were overwhelming.

This new vast land they had reached was still rich with game, and still free from the encroaching whites.

It was the country of the Scared Raven people – the Absarokee. You might call them the Crows, and the land Montana. The Absarokee were known to be strong, but also known to be few in number.

A Dakota chief addressed the assembled council of war chiefs and warriors.

“Let us take one whole year to make plans against the Raven People. They are not many, but they are shrewd and tricky in battle. The time has come that we must destroy them, but first we must make time to make our plans.”

Continue reading The Weird Warrior

A Traveller’s Tale

A friend of mine, Julia, just got back from a cruise along the coast of Alaska and Vancouver Island. It’s a great trip, I know – I did it a couple of years ago!

Comparing notes, I asked what her highlight had been. Her answer surprised me.

“It was about seven o’clock on the first actual morning of the cruise,” she said. “I was out doing a little run around the promenade, getting my miles up, you know?”

I get it. I’m used to seeing Julia walking or doing a gentle trot along the beach near where we live.

“A door opened and this lad walked out onto the deck. Nearly collided with me. I suppose he was about eleven. He just stood there, looking around, kind of hugging his stomach and going ‘Wow!’ a lot. I asked him if he was okay – it looked like he might have a tummy ache or something.”

“The boy shook his head and explained he was from a little town in central Canada. It was already dark when they got on the boat last night. He lived near a river, but this was the first time he’d ever seen the ocean.”

“The sight literally took his breath away. That was my highlight – sharing that moment with that boy.”

And moments like that, my friends, are why some of us travel as much as we do!

The blind leading

I’m always impressed by people who overcome adversity to achieve the stuff they really want to do. Economic, social, psychological or physical adversity.

That last one used to be called ‘disability’ or more recently, being ‘differently abled’.

I was chatting to a bloke recently who works for a really big Information Technology company based in Europe. With enormous respect in his voice he told me about a small group of programmers in his company.

The distinguishing feature of this group is that they’re all blind.

Think about that for a moment. Blind computer programmers – they have Braille keyboards but can’t see any monitor screens. As my mate explained, they retain the equivalent of whole screens full of coding (the raw data of programming) in their heads.

I wonder if they’re able to do it because they don’t have the distraction of a lot of visual information cluttering up their memories?

WHITE SPIRIT

Another early Dubious Magic story, set during the early events of Book 1: The Wizard of Waramanga – in which Wilko gets a little foretaste of the weirdness he’ll come to know around John B. Stewart.  With thanks to Dana and Julie for giving me some time to work on it, and to Meredith for giving me reasons.

It had been an unexpectedly successful weekend for both of them, right up until very recently.

John B. Stewart and Robert ‘Wilko’ Wilkes were a pair of fairly ordinary Canberra public servants.  Except for John B. having magical powers ever since he’d hit his head on a poker machine.

The Tasmanian Wilko didn’t believe a word of that story, no matter how earnestly John B. tried to convince him that his wishes now came true.  Not always predictably, he would admit, but results happened.

What they did agree on was a fondness for a game of golf.  When the chance arose to play in a social tournament in a little country club a few hours drive west of Canberra, they’d agreed it seemed a good way to spend a couple of days.

“It’s your turn to have a few drinks, mate,” John B. had said.  “We’ll take Kraven and I’ll drive us home.”

Kraven was Stewart’s battered but well-loved old Hillman Hunter.  Wilko had been slightly concerned – the old car had been the recipient of some of his friend’s rather dodgy ‘running repairs’, but the offer was generous and the Hunter did seem to be reliable at the moment.

The golf had gone remarkably well.  John B. had won a ‘nearest to the pin’ prize on Saturday, and Wilko had gone from a decent Saturday to a terrific Sunday, becoming the upset winner of the overall competition.

It wasn’t a great financial windfall, but it was a nice trophy and a few extra dollars to put over the clubhouse bar.  So it was rather later than they’d originally intended when they finally waved their farewells and headed east.

John B. had been as good as his word and had very little to drink.  A couple of good single malts spread over the hours, interspersed with plenty of soda water.  He was tired, though.  Sharing a hotel room with Wilko was challenging.  The Tasmanian was a heavy sleeper, and completely oblivious to his own snoring.  John B. wasn’t so lucky.

The sun was well down as the Hillman trundled along the road.  It wasn’t a well-finished surface, and the ride was a bumpy one.

It was one particularly bad pothole that had been the cause of the sudden change in their fortunes.  Kraven’s front left wheel had hit hard, the car had bounced and landed heavily.  When it did, all the lights went out.

John B. rummaged under the bonnet by torchlight to no avail.  There was a small place a little way ahead.  Less than a town, it was barely a village, but it was a destination that could be reached by driving carefully with Wilko holding the torch out the window.

That plan worked well until it started to rain.  Torchlight through the wet front windscreen proved woefully inadequate to drive by.

They limped the car slowly into Bullangar and found the only hotel in the place.

“Sorry mate – we’ve only got two rooms and they’re both full tonight,” said the manager apologetically.  “I’m really sorry, I wish I could help.”

“Yeah, I wish you could too,” said John B. with a sigh.

He and Wilko turned to go back out into the rain.

“Looks like we’ll have to sleep in the car,” said Stewart.

“Bit cramped, but I guess you’re right,” agreed Wilko.

‘Noisy, too,’ was John B.’s unspoken thought.

The manager looked after them, genuinely concerned, then called out, “Wait – you reckon you can make it down the road a little further?”

“Not keen, but what have you got in mind?” asked the driver.

“There’s a farmhouse about five minutes away, on the left.  Belonged to my missus’ family.  Auntie Grace passed away a few months back.  Family’s still fightin’ about what to do with the property, and whatever money they can get for it.”

“You know what they say, where there’s a will there’s a relative,” John B. answered with a smile.

“Bloody right,” agreed the manager.  “Can’t say that in front of the missus, but.  Old Bert was a funny cove but Grace was a nice old stick.  I can let you have that for the night.  No lights or power, but a roof over your head and you can stretch out while you sleep.”

The two golfers looked at each other and shrugged.

“What’ll it cost?” asked Wilko.

The manager looked out into the rainy night and replied, “Nah, no charge – just don’t nick anything, eh? There’s a few things the family locusts haven’t cleaned out themselves yet.  Here’s the key.  Just leave it in the mailbox in the morning and I’ll pick it up later.”

“Mate, you’re a champion! Thanks!” said John B. warmly.

Continue reading WHITE SPIRIT

Tears

I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve cried more than I would have liked in the last couple of days.

I’ve lost a dear friend in John Bos, who I’d share a drink and a laugh with. We’d help each other out without question or pause. I had the pleasure of actually getting him to appear on stage, just once. He wouldn’t memorise lines, but he did dance, more than willingly, with the woman he loved.

And I’ve lost a mentor, inspiration and yes, even a friend in Sir Terry Pratchett. The privilege of adapting his books for stage was wonderful – even better was the joy of watching his genuine laugh-out-loud delight when I wrote something new for him and he saw it performed for the first time.

I’m not crying for John or Terry. They’re both out of their pain and suffering, gone on to whatever is next in their journeys. I’ve wept for me. Selfishly, for my loss – for the conversations not had, the laughs not shared.

That’s what grieving is. My life is a richer thing for having been touched by both men. Thank you, guys. Be seeing you.

Renoir, Terry Pratchett, Discworld, fantasy writers
Renoir (L) and Sir Terry Pratchett discussing characters

Happily Ever After

“There’s no such thing as living happily ever after!”

said a mother to her children.

“You shouldn’t read silly stories that tell you such untruths!”

“Bad things happen to good people!”

“You’ll be disappointed!”

“Promises get broken, and things end!”

All of that is true, of course.

But remember this, my friends:

Living happily is not the same as being happy all the time.

Sometimes you will be hurt.

Sometimes people will upset you, or let you down.

Even your friends and the people you care about.

But there is always someone who loves you.

They may be right beside you.

Or they may live in your memory and your heart.

Or you may not have met them yet.

But they’re there.

There is still beauty in the world.

Beautiful places, beautiful things, beautiful people.

Look out for them.

Find them, and cherish them.

Remember the things that have been good.

Believe that there will always be more.

Live happily.  Ever after.

One step at a time…

I apologise if you’ve missed me!

It’s been a challenging few weeks since the last post.

Some significant Unwellness, then what can be best described as a mojo deficiency.

Thanks go out to my darling bride Meredith, my housemate Stevie, my doctor Jess, and a bunch of good people at Lismore Hospital.

I’m back now, taking it gently, but importantly back in front of my keyboard and writing again.

Best piece of advice I’ve heard lately:

  • Follow
  • One
  • Course
  • Until
  • Successful!!

A TRAP FOR THE UNWARY

Another Dubious Magic story – one which takes place quite early during the events of Book 1: The Wizard of Waramanga.  John B. learns more about being careful what you wish for.

 

It was the definitive lazy afternoon in Waramanga. The leafy Canberra suburb was warm, but not unpleasantly so if you stayed out of the direct sun.

That was precisely what John B. Stewart had chosen to do. He was in the back yard of his cottage, reclining on a deckchair in the shade of a large tree. His housemate Darren was at work. There was no sport of interest on the radio, so he relaxed in comfortable quiet, enjoying the light breeze and the sounds of the garden.

John B. had recently accidentally discovered that he was a wizard. Ever since hitting his head on a poker machine he’d found his wishes coming true. Not always predictably, though, so he was learning to be cautious.

He might, for instance, as he rested there wish for something to eat.

‘Ah, no,’ he thought to himself. ‘At best, Darren might come home early from work bearing leftover pizza. Or at worst a plane flying overhead might explode and leave me showered with in-flight snacks – and other debris.’

Sometimes having a vivid imagination could be disconcerting, although it did, he reasoned, serve as a kind of warning device.

John B. opened one eye and smiled at the sight of his other housemate. Kat was a generously proportioned white Persian cat who was currently lying under a favourite shrub quite nearby. He too was enjoying the shade.

The cat’s posture reminded John B. of the Sphinx, but with the chin resting comfortably on the forelegs.

Kat and John B. were both comfortably relaxed. Neither had moved appreciably for well over an hour. If they weren’t both sound asleep the difference wouldn’t have been obvious to any casual observer.

The lilting chorus of birdsong that John B. had been enjoying took on a new strident note. A noisy mynah had flown into the garden, and as was the way of its type, was aggressively trying to hector other birds away from the territory it wanted to occupy.

“I wish you’d be bloody quiet,” the wizard muttered in mild irritation.

He watched the newcomer for a few moments. It seemed utterly oblivious to him, and unconcerned at his annoyance. John B. sighed and closed his eyes.

After a while the mynah’s voice grew louder as it came closer to the deckchair. John B. opened his eyes again without otherwise moving.

The bird had evidently taken note of the lassitude of the yard’s two occupants. It was hopping about on the ground quite close to them both, foraging for whatever it is that noisy mynahs forage for. Once, twice it hopped right by Kat. The big Persian didn’t so much as twitch his nose or open an eye.

But on the bird’s third pass the left paw shot out and back almost too quickly to be seen, and there was an audible crunch.

John B.’s eyes widened. Most of Kat hadn’t seemed to move at all, but under the left paw was the mynah’s body. Its head was missing.. Eyes still closed, the Persian was contentedly chewing his afternoon snack.

A small drop of blood on the white fur of his chin was the only clue of his culpability. Well, other than the headless corpse still idly held.

The wizard made a silent apology to the mynah’s ghost, shook his head and said to Kat, “I’m glad you’re on my side, mate.”

Kat swallowed, and purred.