Years ago I read a post on a Yahoo group site asking why people were grieving at the loss of a loved one when they believed in the after-life. I remember thinking that the writer had not yet experienced grief because, if they had, they would never have asked that question.
In this respect, in 2002 I attended a croning ceremony – a recognition that when you have gone through the menopause you have entered your Elder years, you have moved into the wisdom part of your life, as the original meaning of “crone” was “crown” – operating from your crown chakra or energy centre with the accumulated wisdom of your life experiences.
We each gave other participants a gift – one in particular which sticks in my memory was small heart with a tear on it which had been stitched up. I still have it and it’s intended to remind us of the grief and hard times we may experience in our life from which we recover but which leaves our hearts in a new place, deposits us in a different part of our lives and churns us out as different people.
I remembered this recently as I’ve been dealing with a huge dose of what I call “The Glums” – the black depression I get with fibromyalgia which takes me into some pretty grim places and from which I am still climbing towards the light and sanity again. If you can not overdo things with fibro and maintain balance, you can manage fairly well with the pain and fatigue. But when I tripped over an electrical lead and went flat on my face, my body went into shock and I also did some damage to my spine which has led to even less mobility than usual.
It was my husband who really made me face the truth as I tend to be a bit of a blue sky gal apart from the odd descent into the Glums. He went to the local markets today, a stall-holder asked after me and he told her that I couldn’t walk too far at all now. He’s quite right but it brought me face to face with my limited mobility and with the reality that my husband is now a carer for me, even cooking is now quite painful and he’s taken on that task as well as all the other support he gives me.
So I’m dealing with the grief of acknowledging my mobility of yesteryears is long past and I’m in another part of my life. Added to this, I’ve been dealing with the grief of losing our young dog, Ziggy. He got sick and despite tests and treatment and our vet’s optimism about his recovery, just after lunch one day a couple of weeks ago he climbed down from the sofa, laid down, put his head on my husband’s feet and quietly passed away. You don’t expect a pet to die so young and it’s been gut-wrenching – not just the grief but also the guilt that perhaps we didn’t get the right treatment, or we should have got him treated earlier or whatever. I guess everyone has so many “what ifs” when loss of life is involved – whether human or a beloved pet.
On the day he died I asked him if he could provide proof he was okay – as I’ve said elsewhere, it was pretty much a way of coping with the loss of a wonderful, cheery, vagabond of a dog than really expecting an answer. But after a sleepless night I went to bed for a nap the next afternoon only to be waken by loud scratching filling the room. I drifted back to sleep and when I got up, asked my husband which of our three remaining dogs had been scratching. He said none of them. And then I realised: at night Ziggy would like at the bottom of our bed and scratch. He was allergic to fleas and however much we tried to keep him flea-free, it was a losing battle. I realised that the loud scratching noise was his way of sending a unique signal from the Hereafter that he was okay and had taken the time to reassure me of this. When I was thinking about what colour rose to plant in honour of Ziggy, a yellow rose filled my vision and we found one in the nursery closest to where we live: thanks, Ziggy!
Yet despite all this, I have still experienced grief at Ziggy’s loss. We all experience grief when we lose a loved one – whether it be a parent, friend, child, fur friend, or whatever. Grief is part of life on earth. Life is not always full of sun and bubbles and all good things. To pretend it is, is to undervalue life on earth. Here we experience a range of emotions – love, hate, anger, rage, happiness, disappointment, sadness, the highs and the lows. And as my friend wrote so truly: “It is a sneaky, rolling thing, grief. You think you are on top of things and then get punched in the heart with the most ridiculous of reminders.”
I remember a recent discussion where people found difficulty in handling anger. Anger, to me, is another emotion which is a natural experience. To deny its existence or pretend it’s awful or it’s wrong or beating yourself up because you get angry is to deny what is human in us and why we incarnate on this planet – we experience a range of emotions, they help shape and create our humanity but the crucial point is how we handle these emotions.
If, for example, in the recent shootings at the Charleston Church, South Caroline, the response is to demand the death of the perpetrator, then really not much has been achieved except to behave like the murderer. It may satisfy the need for revenge but events like this give us the opportunity to develop a more considered approach – to take action against the terrorist racism which underpins this event, to ensure the perpetrator remains behind bars with – perhaps – the possibility of redemption, to consider the matter of forgiveness, as many of the victims’ families have done, even though that may seem a step too far for many right at this moment. I think also it’s okay to spare some grief for the young man who deprived nine people of their lives and left nine families bereft. How awful to live your young life in such hatred, with such racists thoughts and with a negative energy which corrodes your heart and soul.
I called this post “Life After Life” because my dear little Ziggy reassured me he was okay in life over the Rainbow Bridge. But also because it’s a reminder that we do continue to live after experiencing grief, even if it continues to clutch at our heart at unexpected times or punches us in the gut when we remember times spent with loved ones who no longer are with us in the material world.
I rather like this poem which was read at my father-in-law’s funeral and which, on re-reading, has once again left me with tears streaming down my face:
Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!
Mary Frye (1932)
My husband, Bryan, had told me that Mum was losing weight before she was diagnosed with lung cancer as he’d been working in the country and had visited my parents’ farm nearby. Then Dad rang to say mum had been admitted for a gall-bladder operation due to her weight loss. And finally he phoned to say that the shadow seen on Mum’s lung during an x-ray was cancer. I can remember putting the phone down, turning to my husband saying: “It’s lung cancer” and then bursting into tears.
I looked up everything I could find about cancer and found that Mum’s version, small cell lung cancer, was the hardest to treat. Mum’s doctor advised she have chemotherapy and radiation or she would be dead within 18 months. Mum had both and was dead within 18 months. But it certainly boosted the coffers of the oncologist and Big Pharma supplying the oncology drugs.
The first time I saw my mother after her diagnosis I didn’t know what to do. We’d driven down to Busselton, in south-west Western Australia where my parents lived, and I just stood and stared at her after I’d climbed out of the car. Then she said: “Just hug me” and I thought I’d never let her go. She returned with us for her first chemotherapy treatment. She was scared and it was terrible leaving her alone in the hospital ward. But although she lost her hair, Mum never got really sick and seemed to respond positively to the treatment. The only time I saw her lose the plot was when she thought she’d had her final radiotherapy treatment and then found she had another session of radiotherapy to her brain. She seemed to give up after that.
I remember suggesting nervously to Mum as I was driving her home after chemo that she might give up smoking. Both Mum and Dad had taken up smoking when they lived in London during the war years and the Blitz. Mum had narrowly avoided being killed by two bombs – one a doodle bug which hit Woolworths in Lewisham, London, during peak-hour shopping and which she missed because she slept in; and the second time was because she had been transferred to the Central Telephone Exchange in central London from the local telephone exchange in Lewisham a week before the bomb shelter with all her telephonist friends inside scored a direct hit by a bomb. All her friends were killed. When Mum came to Australia, she had to have regular, annual chest x-rays as the doctor told her they kept an eye on people migrating due to the stress and possible health problems. But he said he never ever advised anyone who had taken up smoking during the Blitz to stop smoking as he said it was pretty much impossible and he’d never had any success.
When I made the comment about packing in smoking, my mother replied bitterly: “Everything else has been taken from me. I’m not having my cigarettes taken away.” It was the only time she came close to admitting that she hated Australia. We – Bryan and I – were both aware that she had not settled in this new country. Mum had left her own mother, sister, brother, nephews and friends behind in the UK. She was a sociable woman had had loved working at the jewellery and wig counters in Debenham’s in Canterbury. But in Western Australia, Dad bought an isolated farm in the south-west where the house was ramshackle and they had to travel a long distance to get any groceries. Mum told me later that she’d finally told Dad she’d divorce him unless he sold the farm. They did move into Busselton but again into a run-down home where Dad proceeded to make a complete shambles with all the rubbish he collected.
Finally they bought a house in Rockingham so Mum could be nearer medical treatment. And it was here that Mum finally died.
We had a dreadful time when she was in Sir Charles Gardner Hospital in Perth. One night the phone rang around 1am and it was the hospital advising that mum had been admitted as an emergency. We rushed over to the hospital to find Mum blue in the face and her heartbeat up to 160/minute. She was fighting for breath and it turned out that the tumour which had disappeared in her lung after chemotherapy and radiotherapy had spread to her larynx and was choking her to death. It was only the fact she had a strong heart that prevented her dying then and there. Mum was taken in for laser surgery to clear out the tumour temporarily and she looked right as rain when I next saw her which was quite amazing given her condition in the middle of the night.
But then I was out in the corridor talking to a young doctor when he casually told me my mother was now terminal and would die within a few weeks. We were standing among lots of people and I remember staring at him in disbelief. Mum had appeared to be reacting well to the medical treatment and no-one had even mentioned that she had a limited life span.
That this young man could be so insensitive as to give me the news in a crowded area left me stunned. I fell apart, gut-wrenching tears hit me, I was howling with grief and struggling to breathe. It was then the young trainee doctor said I’d better see the oncologist treating mum. I phoned Dad who returned to the hospital and we went into see the specialist. I can still remember his words: “Ah, yes, Vera Davies. I’m afraid the tumour has re-occurred in her throat and she’s terminal. We’ll keep her in hospital and sedated until she chokes to death.”
To this day I can’t believe that someone could be so cold and insensitive. I know when we first went in to see this miserable specimen of humanity after Mum’s lung cancer had been diagnosed that he started going through Mum’s test results and got to a point where he mentioned the lung cancer may have metastised in her liver, which frightened the life out of both of us. Then he broke off to answer a phone call, had a nice chatty session with a fellow physician, while we were left hanging in the air, unsure how bad the news really was. Finally he put the phone down and said: “But a closer inspection shows that’s not the case”. Personally I could have ripped the guy’s head off, but my Mum was very respectful of and intimidated by the medical profession so I stayed quiet in order not to upset her.
It was this same ratbag who so casually talked about sedating Mum until her death and not one skerrick of compassion crossed his lips. Years down the track I found a poem I wrote about him, where I expresssed my rage and fury at his cold-heartedness and I must admit, I laughed me head off, it was a very healing experience for me. Unfortunately it’s far too libellous to reprint here!
Dad and I walked out of the specialist’s office and stared at each other. We both agreed that we had wanted to reach over the desk, grab the specialist’s tie and strangle him for his utter insensitivity. Dad said then that he would take Mum home and make sure she died in her own surroundings rather than be left in a hospital which had so little regard for her dignity and well-being.
We were also pretty sure that the hospital was giving mum some drugs which were causing her to hallucinate, as she was doing really odd things in the hospital, like dropping pins into the water glass of her neighbour who was in the two-bed ward. Naturally enough, the neighbour wasn’t too impressed. We know they offered mum an experimental drug which she accepted as she was desperate not to die. But of course, she was dying so the medicos where quite happy to use an experimental drug on her as if she was a guinea pig to be used and discarded when she died.
We then we found out that one night she’d gone running around the hospital demanding the drug. The nurses’ reaction was quite unsympathetic, just annoyance at the interruption to their routine, and no sympathy for a very sick woman scared stiff of dying. We mentioned the use of the experimental drug to one of the nurses who said: “Have they told you or her of the side effects? ” When we said “No – what side effects?” she looked disgusted and said we should have been told. And as it happened it was supposed to come from America and never arrived.
When Dad got Mum home, he said the first night she got out of bed, got a chair and sat in the corner of the room, staring into the corner. When Dad asked my mother what she was doing, she said the doctor had told her to act this way. Dad told her the doctor had informed him that it was now okay to return to bed which she did. And after that, as whatever drugs my mother was being given in the hospital wore off, she returned to normal although her health continued to deteriorate.
What was hard about mum dying was that she never admitted her condition was terminal. The only time she came close to alluding to her death was when she turned to me shortly before she died and said: “You’ll write to my friends and tell them about, well, you know, won’t you?” which I did but none of them bothered replying.
Dad nursed mum right through her last days with the support of the Silver Chain hospice care. She seemed bright and breezy on her birthday on the 19th September and again was bright when I visited on the morning of 21st. But in the afternoon Dad phoned and said she’d deteriorated rapidly and her death was imminent.
I drove down to Rockingham and found Mum fighting for every breath. She would inhale and breathe out and each time we’d think it was the last breath. I was able to give her a cuddle but her torment was appalling. I know other relatives of cancer sufferers will say the same as me, that a lovely person like my mum didn’t deserve the awful death she suffered. It wasn’t until around 7.30 that the Silver Chain gave her some morphine to ease her pain, she fell asleep and then slipped into a coma. Finally, just after midnight, she took her final breath and was at last at peace.
A huge storm was passing through Rockingham and Perth that night, but an angel from the Silver Chain braved the filthy weather, came out to us, washed mum’s body with my help, and we dressed her in a lovely dress she had adored. The funeral home came for her body just at dawn and it was when I saw her being wheeled away that I finally broke down and started crying. I remember being doubled up with grief and Dad saying: “Cry all you want, love. I wish I could do the same”. I cried all the way home and I guess didn’t stop until late in the evening.
And with Mum’s death, the intermediary and peace-keeper between myself and my father had disappeared. I found that people didn’t want to talk about death and dying and losing your mother, and felt incredibly lonely and beside myself with grief and no-one to share it with. So I decided to see a psychologist and it was one of the best things I’ve done because not only could I talk about loss, the issues between myself and my father began to surface and I began to work on healing those issues.
In 1994 we decided to move – after 20-odd years in Western Australia – from Fremantle to Queensland, on the other side of the Australian continent.
What can I say? It seemed a good idea at the time.
But I think if we’d known what we’d go through in the early years, true Dark Nights of the Soul for both of us, we would have nailed our feet to the floor of our house in Fremantle and poured concrete over to boot (sorry about the pun).
Looking back I can see the sands starting to shift in 1993, when the death of my much loved little dog heralded huge changes for me, and in 1994 when my husband’s father died suddenly of a massive heart attack.
Queensland had actually come onto our horizon in early 1993 when Bryan had a holiday on the Gold Coast courtesy of the construction company he worked for as he’d had many years in their employ. I remember he phoned me raving about how beautiful it was, how Mt Tamborine looked wonderful and how odd it was to see the sun setting over land instead of sea, as happened for us in Fremantle.
I, on the other hand, while he was in Queensland, had a nasty fall in our porch which I almost view now as part of the opening stages of our journey to Queensland. It was, looking back, as if it was a wake-up call. I tripped on a brick and fell heavily, broke my glasses and pretty much had concussion for the rest of the weekend. I had appalling headaches after this and it actually led me to cranio-sacral therapy which I’ve used on and off ever since.
A bit later, in July 1993, our little dog Chloe, a part-Llasa Apso, was hit by a bus and killed. She and I were incredibly close. We went everywhere together. That late afternoon I’d returned from shopping with Chloe who was leaning against the back of the passenger seat watching me as she always did. I unpacked the shopping, made a cup of coffee and then heard a knock at the front door. It was our neighbour across the road asking to speak to Bryan. He seemed to give me a sort of compassionate look which puzzled me. So as I heard them go outside, I went to our front window to see what was going on. And saw Chloe lying motionless on the verge on the opposite side of the road. She had run in front of a bus and been killed instantly.
I can remember the overwhelming grief, that I would never see my beloved dog again. I felt as if a piece of my heart had been ripped out. You want to turn the clock back and see someone you’ve lost alive again, but of course, time marches on and it’s relentless, it won’t go back. I tried to make sense of what had happened. But, of course, there is no sense in untimely death. Or, at least, it seemed like that the first day. The following night I had a very clear dream about Chloe. I saw her surrounded in a radiant, beautiful golden light walking away from me. She turned and looked at me for one last time, as if to say a final goodbye, then kept walking. And as she faded away, I heard a voice say: “She came to teach you unconditional love. Her work is over and now it’s time for her to move on.”
When I woke up the next day and remembered the dream, I thought I was becoming unhinged. I had no idea what “unconditional love” meant. But synchronistically I saw in the Sunday newspaper an advertisement for a psychic fair. I had never been to one and had no idea what happened there. But it drew me for some reason, so I ventured out that morning to visit the fair. It all seemed a bit weird to me with tarot readers, aura readers, numerologists, crystal sellers and other such-like stalls.
I took a punt on a lady doing numerology readings, but really didn’t take in much of what she was saying. She asked me what was wrong and I told her about Chloe’s untimely death. She directed me to her friend, a psychic and medium, so I duly trotted over to see what this person could offer. I said I’d just lost my dog and her first words were: “My word, she went out with a bang, didn’t she?”
Her second words left me speechless: “She’s here now”. I looked around rather nervously because I had no idea what happened when a dead dog started hanging around. And then she said those words again: “She came here to teach you unconditional love.” I felt my jaw unhinge when she said that.
I have since then learned that, if you open your psychic senses, you can tune into images which are present in another person’s consciousness. We all have psychic ability but in our logical, scientific society, the idea of psychic ability is treated with scorn. Yet this is an intrinsic part of all of us and when we don’t exercise our psychic senses or deny their existence, we are shutting down a very important part of us.
Psychic work develops when we open to our intuitive, emotional sides and work with our higher energy centres, otherwise known as chakras or energy centres. If you look at the brain, it’s divided into two hemispheres. The left one controls the right side of our bodies, which is our logical, scientific, intellectual side. The right side of our brain controls the left side of our bodies, the intuitive, sensing, feeling side. Anyone can work with their intuitive side but too many discount that information because we are so geared to logic and poo-poo the unseen. Yes, I know it’s a great simplification and if you want to know more, you can do some internet searches and get more in-depth knowledge by doing your own homework.
I digressed a bit there because I just wanted to give you a basic idea of how psychic awareness works and why it would have been quite easy for Julie to pick up from me what happened to Chloe. But then Julie said: “She’s telling me she used to run down the stairs to your bedroom and jump on the bed with you while you read in bed.” I gaped at her as this was the last thing I was thinking of. Then she repeated herself: “You know, she was there to teach you unconditional love, but it was time for her to move on.”
There was that weird word again: “unconditional love”. What on earth was going on? I think by this time I must have looked like a stunned mullet as I was just sitting there gawping at the reader. Luckily for me, Julie persevered. She looked at my hands and told me I’d make a good Reiki healer, particularly working with animals. She also invited me to join her Inner Child workshop which was being held weekly. I got the strong sense that this was a turning point of some sort for me. I didn’t know what, but something was pushing me into exploring this concept. So I decided to attend the workshop.
And thus began my slow, halting path towards a completely new life where I learned about inner child work, healing, Reiki, developing my psychic abilities, becoming an artist, embarking on a teaching path and also doing the odd bit of mediumship work. I will go into more details of this later. This, Chloe’s death, was the gateway to a new life opening up which finally came to fruition in early 1994.
The upheaval for my husband erupted in February 1994 when his father died suddenly of a massive stroke in February of that year and we decided to return to the UK (where we were both born) to visit Bryan’s family. I had lost touch with members of my own family after my mother died.
Prior to our departure for the UK, we considered our circumstances, which were challenging our settled lifestyle. I hated walking out of gate and seeing the place where Chloe’s body had lain. And my husband decided that his working life with the company he worked for was likely coming to an end and so took redundancy before we flew to England.
So we had the inspiration to sell our home, up sticks, move across the country and settle in this far-off State where we knew absolutely nobody. Neither of us is now quite sure why we made that decision. Bryan feels it was because he was in a state of depression after his father’s unexpected death. I wanted to get away from the house because of Chloe’s untimely death, and because my alcohol intake, which had reached considerable proportions, was bothering me too. I had the vague idea of managing to escape the problem if I changed my habitat. Fat chance! A life lesson I’ve learned very well is that, when you move, you take yourself with you and you still end up having to deal with the same problems.