I am staring at a blank screen. I take a deep breath. I settle. I need to take another one. I settle again. I decide just to type this, a stream of consciousness, since anything else seems too forced, too far reaching. Inauthentic? Not sure.
Right now Olafur Arnalds is playing on my ITunes. I recently tweeted that his music, to me, is the sound of a deep breath; if it could play the piano (or an orchestra). I need this music in the background to keep me from not moving; to a new screen, to wash the dishes, to make a phone call. It’s keeping me still. Here.
I am delaying because it almost feels too big to write, what it is I want to write.
What do I want to write?
That I was witness to the healing power of Love? Ugh! Too cheesy, too obvious, too…..I don’t know…..common?
That I saw the meaning of life? Yeah, but now I just feel too pompous though it’s a little closer to the truth.
That I saw the meaning in Love? I’ll stick with that. For now.
The violin is being played now and it makes the whole room ache for something to hold on to. Now the piano, one key at a time, like a little child tippy-toeing across the room, playfully, to scare an adult. Who already knows the child is coming. Afterwards they will laugh wildly, unabashedly. Since, children bring that out.
Anyway – I digress. If, in my last post I was crying for no reason but a simple feeling of self-induced disconnect, in this post I would be crying for the unadulterated feeling of complete connection. Except, I’m not crying, I’m astonished. It’s wild what lies ahead for us. What we cannot foresee. What we can’t even imagine possible.
I’ve learnt this week that, regardless of how hard we strive, you’ll always be lead to what you’re meant to learn.
The day after my birthday, exactly 2 weeks ago, my Mum, who was visiting from Australia, called me early in the morning. My Nan had taken a turn after her operation and the hospital had called my Pa, and a priest. She didn’t have long. My mum changed her flight and left that day, leaving me to wonder what to do. Do I wait for a funeral, or do I go right away?
I went right away. I flew out on a Sunday night and arrived by her bedside on Tuesday night (Australian time). In the meantime my family and I; Aunts, uncles, cousins, brother, sister etc., reached out to each other, in a way we hadn’t before, to stay informed of our movements, and update on her progress. Her progress was never good.
Since most of our family are scattered around the country, the decision to go to her was not easy. Leaving work obligations and considering financial strains were all considered, weighed up, and then made insignificant against the need to be by her side. The family rallied. We were all headed to her bedside. My sister, a single mother, and my brother bundled up my niece, jumped in the car and drove the 2 days from Melbourne to Brisbane. My Nan’s own brothers and sisters drove 2 days to Brisbane. Cousins flew in, Uncles and Aunts flew in and the family members who were local kept vigil for the family, bearing the initial burden of a worry that had wrapped itself around us all.
We were coming together. Ironically, it was the reunion my Nan would have dreamed about.
But this wasn’t a dream.
Here’s what you should know about my Nan. She is a warrior. A true warrior of love and faith and spirit, with a fierce love of her family. Tough, for sure, I mean this woman vacuums out her oven. That doesn’t sound like a kick-arse kind of action but let me tell you, you never want to mess with a woman who keeps her castle that tidy. Fun was had, after the dishes were put away! She’s always known her worth, and when my Pa tried to court her, 61 years ago, she gave him the run around for weeks. She recently told me “I was never going to be easy!” Nor was she going to be a “farmer’s wife” she wanted a grander life than that.
My Pa was grand!
This is another thing you should know about my Nan. She is a woman of faith. She’s a devout Catholic, with Irish blood. Now you know her warrior spirit. She told us all that week that nothing fazed her, whatever was in God’s hands she has accepted and she’ll fight but, she was in pain and didn’t have much in her and in the end, she said, ‘it was up to him’. We told we loved her no matter how much fight she had and then we went to the chapel and prayed.
As it happens, when you’re staring into the jaws of grief, something bigger takes over. Vulnerability; you see men fight tears. Courage; you hug more; hold tighter, you say sorry (or not). Perspective; you realize the bad never seemed that bad, you think of an empty space and how you’ll fill it. Nostalgia; the good times are gold. Faith; you suddenly know you need it.
As each day passed, as time filed passed us minute after minute, we waded through, waiting. Every day a new member of the family arrived, or news of another person arriving filled the conversations. It was a constant stream of arrivals and with each person, her eyes got brighter. Her body was barely there, but her spirit kept showing up.
By Thursday, almost a week after the call, the doctors had told us there was no change in her condition and it was ‘only a matter of days’ which, heard through the commotion of grief and worry, translated to only a matter of days to live. “A kick in the guts” my Pa called it for he was, amongst us all, the most faithful in her recovery, without the protection of a God. A conversation with the doctors later that morning shifted perspective a little bit when it turned out that the ‘matter of time’ should have been, had a regular civilian delivered the news, ‘we have to wait and see what happens.’
Suddenly now, any hope we reserved was insignificant to the faith and belief we now had. She had a chance. So, we had a BBQ and drank a lot (we are Australian, don’t judge).
It’s interesting how the sequence of hearing news can be so impactful in how it’s received. Perhaps, if we’d originally believed we just had to ‘wait and see’, we wouldn’t have felt so free to relax around the BBQ and celebrate the family stories that night. Perhaps, faith would have given way to impatience. But, because the first bit of news was so heavy, it made the new translation so much lighter. My Pa’s face was priceless that night as he basked in the family that he and Nan have created, my sister particularly holding court (one of the funniest people in the world to me).
The next day I woke and thought; “F@*k positive thinking. It’s unnecessary when you believe.”
By Friday every one of her closest family members (but two cousins, who were very missed) would have arrived by her bedside. After this, we all surmised, she would decide her path. After this, we would wait and see what happens.
So, what happened? On Saturday she got up and walked. Her swelling went down, they reduced the pain medication and they moved her condition from acute & critical only a week ago, to stable. The doctors were amazed, baffled even. The character in her face came back and we knew she had her life fight back when she started ordering Pa around and joking (teasing) the doctors. She has quite a wit. Surprised?
By Sunday night we were resting easy. As the family filled my grandparent’s back yard for a BBQ (no shrimp on the ‘barbie’! – I know you Americans love to ask – but my Aunts insanely delicious prawn fritters! ), I noted to myself ‘my Nan would love this, she lived for her family and now, it’s her family that has helped her live.’ (I’m also pretty sure she was going bananas knowing that we weren’t vacuuming the oven and she heard I set the fire alarm off cooking my Pa breakfast!)
I’ve been writing about love for a while now. Exploring it, cursing it, struggling to find it sometimes and just like that, it showed up. Again!
On the morning after I saw my Nan for the first time I wrote this to a friend:
“I saw the meaning of life in my grandmother’s eyes last night as we took each other’s hand, she held mine tight like she did when I was a little girl and she looked right into my eyes and said everything, without saying a word. Love, gratitude, the power of family, of commitment, of faith and of staying true to one’s own meaning of that. When she spoke, she told me how lucky she was, how lucky she felt and we talked about all the little things we did when I was a child, all the long walks we went on and the plants we planted – which never took, they were too exotic for a household garden. We talked about the power of music, she loves Irish music.
I watched her, and watched my grandfather and the 61 years of being together that lay in between them and realized that this is the moment that counts. All of the questions, the pain, the enduring and fighting and wondering what will happen – none of it matters and the only thing to know for sure is that this will happen and when you’re close, do you feel lucky, and did you know Love?”
Olafur played twice.