Stupidity

I have had a  week to contemplate this.  A week in which I have howled when trying to dress myself and whimpered when rolling over in bed.  If I can’t get my son to pull me out of a chair, I have to take a couple of breaths before I tackle it for myself.

As for getting into and out of the car – do you have any idea what that twisting motion can do it you?  I rode to work on a scooter for a couple of days, as sitting upright as though riding a kitchen chair was preferable to the slouched position in the car – once you had actually levered yourself into it.

Wearing trousers is a problem, and even threading feet into knickers is a challenge.  I just throw food at the cats now – I can’t bend over to nicely dollop food in the bowls.  They seem to cope.

It’s frustrating when I thought that I was going to do so much this weekend.  Finish the weeding for a start and perhaps plant some tomatoes.  I can crawl around on my knees, but how will I get up afterwards?  I had to drive up to the Barossa Valley today to conduct a wedding ceremony.  At least I do that standing up but unwinding myself after an hour travelling in the car was not a pretty sight.  Didn’t feel good either.

Putting the lawnmower into the boot of my car was probably not the smartest thing, but trying to lift it on my own with a convoluted lift and twist action defied not smart.  It feels as though my sacroiliac joint will never be the same again.  Yeah I know.  Stupidity.

Searching for the Lights

Strictly speaking I should be drinking Aquavit, but instead I am sipping duty free Southern Comfort as I wait for the sky to light up. I am on the MV Kong Harald, sailing up the coast of Norway between the island villages of Lofotr and Svolvaer. I am on this cruise in search of the Northern Lights, as well as visiting the Arctic Circle and learning more of this part of the world.

On the port side, there is a soft glow, a halo lifting above the horizon that is the beginning of a northern light. It is so soft that at this time, it would not be easily picked up by a camera, and the colour is a lighter shade of grey, rather than the vibrant greens and blues of all the postcards in the ship’s gift shop. My cabin is on the right side of the ship, so I can peep out of my window from time to time to see if the colour is deepening and progressing. We will be docking shortly in Svolvaer though, and I think that until we leave the lights of the town behind, we will not be able to see anything dramatic.

In order to venture outside on deck, particularly the upper deck, I need to pull on an extra pair of trousers, my fleecy-lined boots, padded coat, gloves, scarf and furry hat. Up on the top deck, I added a balaclava as well. It is the wind that is the real killer. A public announcement has just advised that there is a Viking Museum adjacent to the dock in Svolvaer and it will be open at this time of night (9:00 pm) so I might sneak ashore briefly to have a look. Perhaps I will locate some forebears, as I am sure that some early ancestors came from this part of the world.

No such luck. We wandered around the town and only found a war museum, covering the years of the second world war. It was Vikings that I was after, not modern war memorabilia. I am now back on board, waiting for the ship to finish loading and to depart. This particular shipping line runs a continuous service from Bergen to Kirkenes and back again. Many of the passengers are tourists like myself, but others are Norwegian travellers, moving between towns and villages. Most of the Norwegian settlement is on the coast and at this time of year, road travel is very dicey. To travel by sea therefore is very practical.

The glow of northern lights has now disappeared. Hopefully, it will appear again tomorrow night when we are further north. At 11:00 pm I will go up to the top deck for some sort of ceremony that the captain is putting on, with a special supper of fish cakes provided. There was an announcement about this, but sometimes the accent of the woman who is in charge of communication is a little difficult to interpret.

Just after 8:00 this morning, we crossed the Arctic Circle, and so after breakfast we had a baptism ceremony with King Neptune. This involved having a ladle of cold water and chunks of ice poured down the back of your neck (inside your clothing) after which you received a certificate and a tot of mulled wine. This was up on the top deck with a howling wind, but everyone lined up for the ‘baptism’. It was only a momentary shock, but the dampness persisted for some time. I applied the hair dryer to nether regions and knickers after a while to hasten the drying process.

Arriving in Oslo was such a treat. A snow storm started a bit before my aircraft touchdown, with visibility out of the plane windows very limited. By the time I had caught the train into the city and checked into my central hotel, the snow was thick on the ground. I caught up with Dermot and Catherine here, and the three of us rugged up and went tromping through the snow, taking photos as we went. We were all a bit agog at the beggars sitting in the snow, with a candle in a cup placed in front of them. I was also surprised at the number of men, who were not wearing hats, even those who were bald. The cityscape was magical though and we were intrigued with the novelty of it all.

I have just come back from the top deck. I still don’t fully understand what it was all about but think that appeasing the Fjord Trolls had something to do with it. The hot fish cakes were wonderful and the hot mugs of tea served with a dash of rum provided their own heat as well.

Already, a year has passed …

Sitting, and waiting seems interminable.  Living so acutely in the here and  now as we are, it is all we have ever done and all that we ever will do.  It has become our raison d’etre in a world governed by unreality.    People come and go, phones ring quietly, tears flow and desperate hands clutch.  Occasionally within this there is a shared anecdote and laughter. The waiting goes on and we have a cup of coffee.

The changes are so subtle that you don’t really notice them in that whispered room.  When the ragged breathing changes, it comes with shocked disbelief.  Not now, it can’t really be happening now. Mightn’t she hold on just a little longer?  An airborne daughter is still mid-flight.  The final breathe is whisper soft, and then there is nothing bar the sobbing. No final words of farewell – just nothing but still indelibly recorded in the collective memory.

*****

One year ago today, my sister died.  This was not an easy or kind death.  It was a drawn out process over two years, with much of it abominably cruel.  There was a good period in the middle of her illness  where she responded well to a drug trial, surviving longer than expected as one-by-one, others on the same trial did not respond so well and fell by the wayside.  At the official end of the trial, there were only two participants left including her, and the drug company agreed to keep supplying them with the drug, for as long as there were positive indicators.

The company demanded  a continuation of the 6-weekly scans, giving a level of radiation exposure that could precipitate other cancerous conditions over time.  She protested but the response was firm with the unspoken inference.  You are terminally ill anyway, so the level of scans is of no long-term consequence.  She was in a desperate fight for her life – they were concerned for the raw data and clinical observations that her condition was providing.

That good period whilst the drug was working was super-charged.  She joined a gym and pumped weights.  She returned to work and resumed also her presentation and teaching activities, travelling around the country to deliver training.  She attended seminars and on one memorable occasion as a guest speaker.  It was a conference for palliative care specialists and it featured a videoed interview with my sister on the palliative care process from the patient’s perspective but with a medical specialist’s understanding.  I haven’t seen it yet but I gather that it is hard-hitting.  She took questions from the floor and then at the end of the day, in response to an impromptu invitation, gave the closing address that brought the attendees to their feet.

Importantly, she continued her work in Forensic Medicine, focusing on the protection of those who have been subjected to sexual violence.  Even while desperately ill, she insisted on appearing in court as an expert witness, knowing that without her evidence a perpetrator could walk free.  It was the last time that she left the hospital under her own steam.

We have established a scholarship fund under her name, with the recipient to be a mature-aged female medical student entering third year at the University through which my sister undertook her training.  I took part in the interview process to select the first recipient and this Friday we have a Memorial Dinner for colleagues and friends, at which the recipient will be introduced and will receive her presentation.  The legacy lives on.

As sisters of course, we didn’t always have an easy relationship.  She was a few years younger than me, and we were chalk and cheese.  I was the adventurer and risk-taker and learnt from my mistakes – eventually.  She was the considered one, conservative in her outlook who chose her battles carefully.  She was emotionally fragile and very quick tempered, and I was resilient and rolled with the punches.  She was also the bright one and needless to say, the comparisons made by others rankled and were hurtful in our growing-up years.  I kept my distance as much as possible and went my own way.

Ours was a tenuous relationship that fortunately improved over time, and the advent of children had a bit to do with that.  Hers came first and then my son, and she insisted at the last minute on flying interstate to be with me during the birth so that I did not have to be on my own. She gave me lots of support in relation to my son.  When our mother died, she seemed to draw closer to me as well.  She had always been mum’s girl, and missed her dreadfully.  Of course we all did, but my sister was especially devastated.

It’s weird what you find out about people after they die, but it was so clear that my sister had a whole different life to that which was known and understood by the family.  Her reach and influence in the area of women’s health and well being was far greater than we realised, as was evidenced by the number of people who attended her funeral and the number and diversity of speakers.  We knew in general, but still listened in amazement to those who spoke of the differences that she had made to the lives of others.

One patient was so enthralled by my sister that she became a stalker, primarily of her but peripherally of other family members as well – anything to build up the knowledge base about my sister.  The patient suffers mental problems that  probably mean that she will never work or live independently, but with my sister’s mentoring she acquired the confidence and managed to commence a degree in politics at a local university.  This woman pops up everywhere, and I know that when I visit the grave today, there will be a bunch of flowers already there from the patient.  One lesson that I have learnt is that we don’t ‘own’ other people, not even our immediate relatives.  Everyone else retains their own part of them.

The first anniversary is always difficult.  This morning, which the day was still fresh I picked a posy of soft roses and lavender from my garden.  I might add a couple of sprigs of Rosemary for Remembrance, and shortly I will take them to my sister for a bit of a chat.  She has a beautiful plot in the hills, overlooking the valley and so peaceful.  It is a haphazard cemetery where people have planted their favourite flowers and creatively built their own headstones and grave enclosures.  She would be happy with that.

Weekend Weddings

My weddings  (I am a celebrant) went well last weekend.  The first was in an old mansion that is now used as a Youth Arts Centre.  It was gusty and windy, so the decision was made to move it inside to the central stairwell, with many of the guests gathered around the upper balcony and looking down.  Others were clustered around the bottom.  Ceremonies on stairs can be very tricky as if the photographer is positioned further down the stairs, he or she captures the double chins and those great views up your nose.

I warned the photographer about this aspect, but noticed that this was exactly what she was doing.  She stayed lower on the stairs the whole time.  She was not a professional wedding photographer but a friend of the bride and groom (B&G) whose hobby is photography.  I know that this is a big saving for B&G as they do not have to pay their friend, or if they do it is a cost-recovery amount but so often I have seen that using friends for this task leads to less-than-optimal results.  In part this is through not having appropriate equipment, and in part in not having the experience and understanding enough about positioning, framing, lighting, etc.

After the ceremony, the guests adjourned to the ballroom for nibbles and drinks while the B&G had the family photos.  There was also Bocce, quoits and some form of croquet happening outside for those who preferred more active pursuits while they passed this time away.  All in all, it was very civilised.  The bride looked stunning in an elegant slim-fitting strapless gown with a fishtail train.  The groom, who was in the armed forces, wore his dress uniform.  This was not quite in the style of Prince William, but the Aussie khaki outfit, with various badges, insignia and bits of braid.

The second ceremony was quite different.  It was in a public park on the banks of the River Torrens, and took the form of a handfasting with pagan elements.  It was not a fully fledged pagan ceremony as the bride was concerned that it may perplex her guests.  It took place within a sacred circle which I cast at the beginning of the ceremony and before B&G entered, I ceremonially washed their hands with salt water to cleanse them and wash away the burdens of their every day life so that they might focus on their promises.  I also called upon the gods and goddesses to bless their union.

Before the exchange of vows, I bound their left hands together with a length of ribbon, explaining to the guests as I did so about the ancient ritual of handfasting.  It was initially a form of betrothal and if the couple were still together a year and a day later and chose to remain in the relationship, then they were considered to be permanently married.  Before that however, either was free to leave.  A sort of cooling off period.  The vows, which were quite poetic, were exchanged while the hands were still bound.  We finished the ceremony with a honey mead ritual, involving the B&G sipping from a chalice of Liqueur Honey Mead, which is absolutely lovely.  It tastes like a mixture of chocolate, orange and honey – a form of liquid Jaffas.

This couple were arranging their wedding celebrations on a shoe string and the Bride had done all the catering.  They had taken a small gazebo down to the park and also carried a dining table down there as well.  The food was laid out on this.  On the grass, they had laid out lots of picnic blankets, and on each blanket was a picnic basket.  I think that there were named labels on each basket and inside there were plates, cutlery, glasses etc for each person who was named on the label.  The baskets looked as though they were collected from various op shops.  The wedding guests were therefore clustered around the picnic area on their blankets.

The wedding cake was a large chocolate cake, and B&G had collected a heap of pretty plates from op shops as well – the sort that afternoon tea would be served on.  This was for the cake and each guest could choose the plate that they liked and could take it home with them – a unique form of bomboniere.  A young woman was singing and playing guitar.  She was so slight and skinny but had a powerful voice.  I enjoyed listening to her for the time that I was there.

I didn’t stay too long, and unless the B&G are friends or there is good reason then I don’t stay too long.  My work is done and I don’t like to impose on the gathering.  It took ages to pack up of course as these ceremonies, with their various props and supports for different rituals are a lot of work to set up and then to dismantle again.   I was a bit tired as well and was happy to head for home where more prosaic tasks awaited like mowing the lawn.

I still have to catch up with this couple again as this was not a legal wedding ceremony that I conducted for them.  They did not submit all of their required paperwork to me before the ceremony so I could not marry them.  What I performed was a betrothal ceremony, with careful re-wording throughout.  When their paperwork has arrived from interstate, I will conduct a small private ceremony for them then.

I am off work today as I have a sore throat and laryngitis.  I shall use some of the time to work on the structure of a renewal of vows ceremony, for a couple who would also like to include pagan-influenced rituals as well.  I think that this is a twentieth anniversary, so it is good to see that some unions last the distance and presumably is still going strong.

******

A successful marriage is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day. (Andre Maurois)

Final Words

Aside

Working tonight on the text for a funeral ceremony that I will deliver on Friday.  Just a small family group, perhaps about eight people, unless some old army mates manage to come.  It is always a challenge to sum up a life in a few pages and to capture the essence of a person such that the mourners feel that you have done justice to their friend or relative.  Makes you consider also the measure of a life – is it what one has achieved, what one has amassed, or who one leaves behind?

Makes me wonder what I will be remembered for.  Sometimes, putting the wording together is like pulling hens’ teeth although it always works out in the end.  I will probably get up early in the morning to edit what I have written and to put the finishing touches.  I am a morning person and so write with more clarity and purpose at that time.  He was an Elvis fan, so I will finish off with ‘Return to Sender’.