Lovelocks

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One of the golden rules of blogging as our inspirational teacher, Will Kostakis, told us – is to keep posting.  But as it has been over a year so I have truly broken that one.

At this point in time, I would like to invite the great writer, Charles Dickens, to my defense. Among his last words were these:

“Be natural my children. For the writer that is natural has fulfilled all the rules of art.”

So I would argue that the rule of being natural – and having my gap year – was a more profound rule than that of a regular blog post.

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I have been busy travelling and following the Universal Truth I learned during my NDE – to follow my heart in all things. In my travels I stayed in many towns but it was in Heidelberg where I first noticed the recent European phenomenon of couples who celebrate their union with an engraved, locked padlock bolted onto some  picturesque bridge.

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A cute idea perhaps, but it’s become a headache for local councils – how are they supposed to properly maintain the metal structure of a bridge when it is covered with locks?  IMG_1437

And it’s not just the metal fretwork where padlocks are found. In Kraslava, Latvia, I saw a painted chain (and padlock) drilled into a small boulder.

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I know couples will always look to find their own sacred sites, for these become part of the narrative of their love.

Yet whether its engraving padlocks or carving initials in a tree, how much nicer it is to leave our beautiful environment alone and just celebrate the moment with one another …

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Happy Valentines Day.

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A Wish

Vera in 1943, Riga.

Vera in 1943, Riga.

It was a dying wish of her grandmother’s and as much as she tried, it was one she could not forget.

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This was not the post I had originally planned. I like my posts to have a theme and as it was Christmas and New Year, I had drafted one about the interconnectedness of people. So, in all honesty, this theme has been rattling around my head for some weeks. And then, coincidentally, a peace activist that I have befriended told me the prophecy of the coming of the Shambala Warriors. Hmm, I thought – another fable about interconnectedness. Perhaps a better post than the one I was writing.

Then three days ago I receive a message. It was a random Facebook message from someone, a stranger, looking for my 90 year-old Latvian mother, Vera.

She came to Australia in 1947 as a World War 2 displaced person. She described herself as an only child and an orphan. Some members of her family were killed in the war, others disappeared behind the Iron Curtain which had slammed shut.

Vera on the right. They were dubbed "Beautiful Balts" by the local press.

Vera on the right. They were dubbed “Beautiful Balts” by the local press.

She told us this time and time again. She was all alone, she said, with no family. No-one. I used to say, “Don’t worry, you’ll always have me. I’ll never leave you.”

But what about distant family I thought? Aren’t we all connected to someone – however distantly? And so I travelled to Latvia twice, in 1992 and 2010, looking for information about her people. I wandered down graveyards in strange towns that she had mentioned, trying to find a Ludzitis. Having never seen photos of my grandparents (she lost most photos in the war) I have always wondered what they looked like. I looked at old photos in regional museums hoping that a face might jump out and claim me. I sat down in records offices looking at lists of names, trying to find a connection to her, a document of some kind that would retrace her footsteps. All her family did indeed seem to have gone.

And yet a beautiful soul in Latvia had known all along about Vera’s story. While growing up, her grandmother told her Vera’s story – how she had fled to Australia along with thousands of others displaced refugees.

And she made her promise, as her dying wish, that she would one day track her down and find her. She spoke no English, but found through contacts someone who knew someone who lived in Australia … perhaps he could help. He did. He was prepared to do a couple of months of research, grill older members of the Latvian community and, once he located Vera’s married name, fire-off random messages to all the Hickeys on Facebook.

Her grandmother, Ursule, was Vera’s sister. I had an auntie? And there seem to be other siblings too. I am still not sure whether to believe this news yet they seem to know too much about Vera. I am in shock. Double shock. Stunned that she has relatives. And more stunned that she lied to me, to us, all those years ago. I was intensely close to my mother, I adored her. What was behind this invention? It was the Cold War. Was it fear, paranoia or a desire to protect family who could be arrested? I ring her best friend, Reina, who came on the same migrant ship and quiz her: did Vera ever, ever speak of a sister? No, never, she said. She spoke of an auntie in the country, but not a sister.

Yet more than this I am thrilled and excited to pieces for suddenly, the missing pieces of my family puzzle are within reach. I rush over to her hostel to tell Vera the news. What a dark horse you are! Your family … they have found you!

In my heart, I absolutely knew it! Hadn’t for weeks the Universe been telling me that loud and clear? We are all interconnected. Like roots from a giant tree, we can grow miles away from the trunk, and not even recognize where we came from. Yet we are still connected to the same source and love will find a way.

Artwork byCarolyn Taylor - 2012.

Artwork by
Carolyn Taylor – 2012.

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A Different Logic

 

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I was damned if I was going to die before the auction.

For the last year my life had been heading towards this event. First, there had been the search for a good hostel for Vera – my 86 year old mother who had Alzheimers. I found one that was suitable however, as with all good dementia care places, there was a long waiting list so I did what I could to keep her safe. I enlisted community carers to help, but still found myself going to her place most days, making sure that she didn’t get into too much trouble.

But trouble came anyway. It came with the delivery boy, a teen conman, who brought her medication from the chemist for which he demanded cash payment and promptly pocketed. But Mum, your pills are all paid for in advance. You don’t have to pay him anything! She never remembered instructions and didn’t always read the guiding notes that I was leaving everywhere. She chased away community carers that were booked in to clean her place and emptied trash in neighbour’s yards.

Strange nameless men were seen loitering at her place. But Mum, please don’t let them in. And she argued back: You don’t understand, they are my friends. Money, family jewellery, objects disappeared.

And once, even she disappeared for a day and a night. I had come over at nine at night to check on her and found the front door wide open, but no sign of her. Wracked with dread and fear that something terrible had happened to her, I eventually found her in the ward of a local hospital where she had been deposited by some kindly soul.

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She embarrassed me in public places, loudly calling out unkind remarks to people standing near us. Look at that woman’s bottom. It is sooo fat! Ha, ha!

She developed her own kind of logic that I was always trying to second-guess. Once I removed an old cardboard box that was lying in her garden bed … More refuse, I thought. When she saw that it was missing, she wept like a child. Who has taken my box? I put it there to give that poor flower some shade. Suddenly my attempt to tidy up was turned into an act of cruelty. Then there was a frantic search for another recycled carton to place back in her garden, so peace could be restored.

Alzheimer’s had worn away the cognitive links in her brain, but not her nerves. Instead, it had worn away mine.IMG_0098

Though we still managed to find beauty and laughter together. In the afternoons after our tea, we would put on music and dance. She would throw her head back and laugh with sheer delight.  And I was gently surprised too how kind strangers could be with her condition. Once, during a medical exam, dressed only in a bra and slip, she invited a nurse to dance and this kindly matron bowed her assent and waltzed her around the surgery.

Always, always we took a shared delight in the beauty of flowers. Flowers we saw on our walks together, flowers in her garden or merely in photos from the pages of a woman’s magazine.  She once took pride in knowing all their Latin names, now they had been reduced to their essences – colours, shapes and scents – and this is how we talked about them.  Memories are the usual ties that bind relationships yet without them we were forced to find other bonds and the language of flowers became the common thread that kept us bound together.IMG_0749

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Love is the Glue

Once I realized that I had visitors coming from the other side, I immediately thought: perhaps I am not going to make it. I adored my children but was not worried for them. I instinctively knew that my husband would be fine without me and would look after them well. IMG_0727

I also felt immensely grateful that I had been able to spend so much time with my children during their formative years, that I had chosen to work only part-time so as to be with them more, that I had gone to every band rehearsal and soccer game. That as a community volunteer I had so many wonderful memories to treasure such as the day when I brought my son’s school string group to perform at my father’s nursing home (it brought tears to his blind eyes). So I had no regrets at all.IMG_0295IMG_1684

I looked at this moment like the ending of a story – the story that was my life – with the thought “so this is how it ends”. And I loved the irony of it all, that all my life I had obsessed over health foods and vitamin supplements, and life-affirming rituals like meditation, yet none of that had given me the protection I so desired.

I did not see a tunnel of light. But I was totally aware of this wave of unconditional love and with it an amazing sense of joy. I remember thinking – it’s too simple, but now I get it. Love is the glue of the Universe. Why didn’t I see this before? And I was so incredibly happy to have this knowledge. I thought if I got through all this I would shout it out – it’s love, love, love. That’s all there is.

I also felt strongly that I had brought this drama all on myself. For the previous eight years I had been managing the needs of two elderly parents who were in serious decline, and also the needs of two young, very active sons. Plus trying to fit in work, my partner, friends and the rest. I had become a classic example of the sandwich generation – caring for elders, caring for children and having no time for myself. So there should be no surprise that this all came crashing to an end.

Though now at least I knew that it is an end with Great Love.IMG_1094

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Love Thy Neighbour

Soon I would be reflecting – how could I have avoided this?  The answer was clear: nothing. Yet decisions were made and a number of them were a key to my survival. Firstly, I was not alone.

Yet I could have been. In fact, should have been. The original plan for that morning was for Alison, my neighbor, to take her son and mine to the aquarium for an excursion.  We decided, no, she could do that later in the day so I opted to look after the boys first while she caught up with work.

So there I was – making the bed, while a room away, the boys played happily with Lincoln Logs. We had an extremely heavy mattress, the latex kind and as I lifted it, I heard a loud “POP” in the back of my head.

And with it came a sharp jolt of pain, but it seemed to be in the base of my skull. Something spinal, I thought. I’ve cricked my neck.

Ouch! I’m going to have to get to a physiotherapist for this.

Then the headache really began.

My immediate concern was to get their friend, Max, home to his mum. Alison and Max lived across the road and once she had picked him up, then I would be free to lie down. My boys, Nikos and Alexias – at 12 and 8, could look after themselves if I needed to rest for a while.

The nausea was beginning to rise, but resting would fix that too, or so I thought. I did lie down, but promptly threw up on the pillow.

I called Nikos, “I’m not well. My head, my head! I have such a head-ache. Get me a towel.  Call Alison.” Nikos rushed over the road and then gave Alison a valuable bit of misinformation.

“Mum’s hit her head”, he said.

I seem to remember saying, “I’ll be all right. I just need a good physiotherapist.
“If she’s hit her head”, said Alison to Nikos, “we had better call an ambulance.”

“An ambulance for a crick in the neck? How ridiculous!” I countered.
Alison could see that I wasn’t making sense. All I knew was the light outside bothered me. The nausea was intensifying.

“Close the curtains,” I begged. Photophobia had set in.
Is this a stroke? I lifted my arm. No paralysis there and was somewhat relieved.

It was such good fortune to have someone like Alison nearby. With someone else, things may have turned out differently. My partner grew up with a mother who had frequent migraines. A painkiller, followed by a good lie-down in a darkened room was the usual remedy.
Of course, that’s how we lose them, the neurosurgeon would later say.
The pain in my head, and also the neck, was excruciating.
These were the classic symptoms of a subarachnoid hemorrhage, where there is a bleeding leak into one of the membranes that covers the brain and spinal canal.

At this point in time, ten percent of patients die.

Location, Location, Location. Not just a real-estate mantra, but a life and death one too. The paramedics were soon on the scene.

“Have you taken anything? Did you hit your head?” No, No.  Pain relief  injected into my arm. I was terrified to get into the ambulance as I truly realized this might be my last trip anywhere.

Alison held my hand, but then let go when they made her sit up in the front of the vehicle. She saw the look of fear in my eyes and said, “Don’t worry, I can still talk to you from here.”

The race to the hospital, with one of the best neurological wards in the country, was only 15 minutes from our house. All the while, one of the officers was trying to fill out the paperwork.

“How old?”  “Fifty.” He misheard and wrote down sixty.“So she’s sixty”, he checked with Alison.

“God no,” she argued, “if she sees sixty on that form, that will finish her off! What are you trying to do?”

They were chuckling so maybe it’s not too bad. Out of the ambulance and in emergency, Alison was back beside me, holding my hand again. She is a gentle, calm and reassuring soul. It was just the kind of hand I needed in mine.

A year later I would read about a similar case of a much more famous patient. Actress Natasha Richardson died from an epidural haematoma which, like a subarachnoid hemorrhage, is a bleed under the skull.

She had hit her head in a skiing accident. It was not a spectacular fall. She was on the beginner’s slope and although there were ski instructors with medical training there to attend to her, she laughed and joked and sent them away. Instead, she headed to the little clinic that was near the resort. Perhaps she thought as I did, that a little physiotherapy was all that was required. Perhaps she didn’t want the media attention that a visit to a major hospital would bring. So another four hours went past, her condition deteriorated and she was raced to hospital for CT scans all too late.

Doctors said later she probably could have been saved if she had got to hospital sooner.

She had a wonderful life, two gorgeous sons and a celebrity husband in Liam Neeson.

What she lacked though was the gift that I had – a wise and thoughtful neighbor like Alison.

Natasha Richardson
Died – 2009. 45 yrs.                          Photo by K.Ariyaratne

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A Fine Mess

Hello Roo, what a fine mess you’ve got yourself into!

It was John! I was so happy to see him as of all the people I wanted to reach to tell of my predicament, he was the one I thought of most.

Oh John! I am so glad you are here. Love connected us. It always had since the day I first laid eyes on him as a six year-old. An Englishman, forty-two years my senior, he roamed the globe as a diplomat for much of the time working with the UN. He regaled me with his exploits – of water-skiing beside hippopotami in the Zambezi River, meeting head-hunters in the wilds of New Guinea and courting his Russian wife with her tales of the last Tsar.

Once he was left for dead while trying to quell an argument between two tribes in Nigeria. They shot him. A bullet lodge in his brain and stayed there. Later, anguished and contrite, they marched into the hospital and begged his forgiveness. His near-death had healed their tribal rift.

A close friend of my father’s, he seemed everything that my father was not: affectionate, kind and solid. Dressed now in his usual attire – sports slacks, a shirt open at the collar revealing a silk burgundy cravat. He also had his beloved walking stick, a reminder of all the walks we had taken through the English countryside over the years.

He had a super-8 camera and I used to love following him around as he went about his filming. Our friendship endured despite the long distances that separated us for years at a time. He never forgot my birthday and I never forgot his. When we did meet, it was with much joy and laughter and that was the tenor of our little universe.

Once he took me out for a pub lunch– pork pies and beer – in one of those post-card quaint English villages in Kent. As we drove home, meandering through the country lanes, I noticed our car gently veering away to the left and heading towards some shrubbery. This seemed a little odd so I glanced across at John who was behind the wheel. He was fast asleep! I screamed. The car ended up in a shallow ditch. He woke up and we laughed ourselves sick.

Sunshine, from somewhere, radiated around him.

Anxious about the tube that was coming out of my brain draining the blood, my blood, I was tired, exhausted and wondered aloud whether I would get through all this. As if to answer, John pointed at his own head.

A surge of hope and encouragement lifted me.  I must tell Dad that I have caught up with John, I thought.

But there was one problem, John was dead.

Me, Dad and John.

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The Brain Snap

This journey began four years ago.

I was lying on a trolley, hurtling down a corridor, the paramedics running. I had been on such trolleys before, but never with such speed. I must be dying. Why else would they run? It wasn’t painful, but there was deep, deep regret. For all the things I had planned to do and hadn’t.

Dreams like skittles flew past, back into the abyss. Watching my sons, 8 and 12, not grow up. Writing my book, never. Nursing my parents to their ends, as their sole carer who would finish that job? Enjoying time with my partner, gone. Time with my friends, lost. Time, time, time. So much time wasted.

 So this is how it ends? Rudely, quickly, messily, so much left unsaid and unfinished. And I was the healthy one. Ha! All the regrets piled up, crashed into my pain-wracked body and stopped. A new force came through. A rolling wave of love, a real tsunami of connectedness swept over me and up through the core of my being. For all those rushing around me, there was intense love. Love for my family and friends, love for my community and love for my being.

So this is why we are here!

The walls of the corridor pulsated and the air sparkled around me. How did I not know this? It’s all about love! That is all. It’s all about how we love and care for one another. So simple. Why couldn’t I see it before? But now I am dying and it’s all too late. Why must I receive this realisation so late … too late?

Fade to black. In the dead space, the drugged place of an induced coma, my partner was told the facts. That I was having a brain hemorrhage. That there was only a fifty percent chance that I would make it through the night. That, if I survived, there was a high probability I would be permanently brain damaged.

The lights were turned on and I began to piece together my surrounds. A nurse bent over every hour to ask ‘What’s your name? Where are you? What’s the date?” And all I wanted to say: “I love you. You’re beautiful! What’s your name?”

The ward was brightly lit 24/7. How on earth can anyone get any decent rest? But rest is not what doctors here wanted for their patients. In the bed next to me lay Donald who was not waking up. Every hour a nurse would come past and bark “Donald”. Then louder and louder, Donald, DONALD,  D O N A L D!

Poor Donald, I loved him too and wanted him to wake up. So I could tell him.

The tubes running out of my brain prevented me from turning my head to see him closer. Yet, Donald and I were closely linked and forever, that I knew. 

Friends later pooh-poohed the mystical, life-affirming experience I had during my Near Death Experience. They said it was an illusion brought on by the drugs that were pumped into me.

Weeks after I had been discharged. The drugs had left my body, but the love stayed with me. It had entered my soul and I began to reappraise my life’s purpose through the eyes of love.

Then the changes really began. 

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