Grief


We shed a few tears this evening watching Australian Story (an Australian TV program). This week’s episode told the story of Jane and Andrew, a couple who lost a child at 8 months.

A couple of things really struck a chord with Mary and I. The way Andrew talked about “washing the crap away”. Another moment that rang true was Jane’s comment about how many people around her ignored the fact that her wonderful child had lived and died, even though she felt her child, Jackson, was and is always with her.

Jackson died on the day that Ellen was due, and their lovely son Sam, who is now two, was born 5 days before Harry. Some stories hit home harder than others.

You can watch the full episode (titled “War Story”) here.

I came across a quote from Vaclav Havel on “hope”.

Either we have Hope within us or we do not.

It is a dimension of the soul and is not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world.

Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.

Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy that things are going well or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.

Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.

It is Hope, above all, which gives the strength to live and continually try new things.

The part of this quote that first got me in is: hope is not the concept that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out. As soon as I read this I was taken back to sitting in the intensive care unit watching the machines keeping Mary alive after she sufferred eclampsia following Ellen’s birth in 2003. The optimism and ‘trying to stay positive’ part of that experience for me (as Havel suggests) wasn’t about things turning out right (at the time I’d almost convinced myself that they wouldn’t!). It was more about knowing that I was doing absolutely everything I could to help – whether the outcome was good or bad. Doing that was the only thing that made sense, and the thing that kept me going, giving me the strength to live.

I guess if you were religious you might start substituting ‘hope’ for ‘faith’. There was probably a spiritual aspect to the experience for me – just hard to relate this to a God when there’s so much crap in the world… but that’s another story…

This evening I heard an interview with Shirley Hazzard, the Australian author.  Shirley, now in her 70’s, talked briefly about the loss of her husband.  She had a really interesting take on her life now, that she often felt was living and enjoying life for her husband as well.

I’ve never thought of Ellen in the same way, I guess that’s because in reality I never knew her… only the thought of her.  And she wasn’t the lifelong friend and companion that a husband was to a widow.  But, the idea that I’m now enjoying life for Ellen immediately struck a cord.  Mary said that she’s sometimes had this thought.  It’s certainly a reassuring one.  I think I’ll keep it handy.

Here’s the thoughts of my father, Peter Jordan, over the two weeks from Ellen’s birth and death to Mary’s illness and recovery.

My Waiting Journey
Wed 12 Nov – Mon 24 Nov

Sunday 9 Nov
Dad, Mary gone to HospitalMovements early
Need for a caesarean

Stomach turning
Thoughts running
Heart pumping
Joy and fear competing

Waiting with friends
Assurances forthcoming
Wanting the phone to ring
Wary of its voice

News, it’s a girl
Ok but breathing problems
Humidicrib needed
Mary ok

Ellen Elizabeth the name
Celebrating Grandparents
Friends and champagne
Joy and fear competing

Outside help needed
Brisbane, Townsville
Where and when travel
Expert on hand

Ellen’s life fading
Phone call sobbings
Trent and Mary holding their loss
Peter and Suzanne in anguish for them

Grandparent for hours
Grandparent for ever
Parents loving
Parents for ever
Grief pervasive

Action aplenty
Off to Mt Isa
Family post haste
Greeting and holding
Tears flowing

Seeing my grandchild
Ellen Elizabeth Jordan
Hopes for the future
Lost in last breath

Pop, Pa, Granddad for ever
Joy drowned in grief
Life coming and going
Searching holding caring

Mt Isa & flight
Woken early morning
Mary intensive care
Fear of unknown
Her life in the balance
Families all there

Exhaustion setting in
Diagnosis confusing
Trying to find out
Will the questions, thoughts stop
Holding on to hope amid deep sorry and worries
Lingering, waiting, fearing, thinking
Restless rest, awaiting peace

Ellen, not enough time
How much is enough
Time shared time valued
Time treasured, precious time

Concerned, caring, restless
Trent and Mary
His needs, her needs
Bloody do something

Decisions about care
Doctors a plenty
Townsville best care

He said
“I’m scared
I don’t want to loss her�?
O God, Ah!!
Surreal;. What’s real?

Townsville 3:15pm Wed 12 Nov

Touching down
Looking for her plane
Has she arrived
Whirling around

Taxi whirling, which way
She beat us to hospital
Great
Upward hopes
Hoping with reason
Waiting with assurance
Medivac assurance
Daring to relax
Relaxed alert

7.15pm

Waiting
Many calls
Many tears
Waiting Mary
Waiting Doctors
Waiting Suzanne, Narelle, Wendy, Robert
Drained, empty
Fighting waiting
Heart pounding
Energy to hold on

Thursday 13 Nov

Why
Is that the question
How much
Is there more
Frighten to think in case there is more
The unknown
Assurances
Dare to believe to hope
Hold on to hope
I want to believe, in hope

Waiting
Silence
Making sense or non sense
Watching Trent
The unknown
Life precious, fragile
Battling, struggling, fighting
Running on empty, not giving in
Clinging from one hope to the next
But going downhill
Come on the ups
Waiting for the ups
There will be ups

Ellen passed on
Mary holding on
Trent holding Mary, crying stroking
Bravely controlling
Calmly presenting or numbed
Loving sensitivity being shown
We parents waiting, thinking, hoping

Bloody beeping machines
What do they mean
Who knows, what they mean, bloody machines
Still waiting, sighing, thinking
Being gentle

Seeking some substance of hope
Questions, few answers
Investigate to know or can we
Leave be can anyone know
We’d like to know
Not sure what to know
So how can I know

Deciding when not knowing
Fearing to know
Fearing not to know
Being while infused with unknowing
So hope new while awaiting future hope.

Weary exhausted body
Anxious mind
Resting peaceful, mind clear
Frowning begun hope rising

Friday 14 Nov

Waiting wanting hoping
Thinking numb
Peaceful looking Mary
Inner struggle
Machine working
Mary working
Striving for cooperation
Struggling in cooperation
Struggling to relax

Whose in control
Whose deciding
What are the options
What are the problems
Looking for signs, signals
What do they mean
Giving hope

Wanting to help
Help in the air
For many
For Trent
For each other
Accepting others help
Word of help
Touches of help
Looks of help
Deeds of help
Mobiles of help

Poor priest
Overburdened giving help
Drained my helping

Families help
Families support
Families caring
Families energy
Families comfort
Quiet families
Listening families
Understanding families
Family connected individuals
Alone in our thoughts
Connected in our feelings
Connected in our hopes
Connected in our focus

In awe of Trent
His sensitivity, his gentleness of touch
His rational focus
His processing of thoughts
Love commitment vividly aglow

Time flashes by
Time drags along
Impatient time, patient time
Contemplative time
Slowing down time
Present time valued
Future time, blank
Alone peaceful time
Comfortably together to be alone

Days of fear
Day of emptiness
Days of disbelief
Days of anguish
Days of restless sleep
Days of tears and tears
Days of sharing tears
Days of tenderness
Days of touching
Days of hugs
Days of not doing
Days of wanting to do
Days of uniting
Days of hoping
Days of sharing
Days of closeness
Days aguishly cherished

What day is it
Days lived days lost
Days of hours
Hours of thoughts
Thought of life
Thoughts of comfort
Thoughts of being close
Thoughts inexpressible
Living in depth
Serenity sought
Serenity for Mary
Serenity for Trent
Serenity encompass us

3.30pm

Good news
Elation with sobbing
Scan clear
No obvious problems
But
Moves to stir her
Anxious wait ahead
Trent beside her

Saturday, 15 Nov

Another day another night
Of what
Yet to be learned
Waking in fear
Watching in hope
Ecstasy despair what awaits
Waiting still

Bloody Qantas
No concession for compassion
Fax not working
No email address
Qantas you’ve got us
Our needs your choice

3.50pm

Attempt to waken Mary
Her agony our ecstasy
Writhing movements
Hopefully some waking movements
Waiting wearisome
Trent quiet person
Trent in quiet fear
Trent holding on, somehow
Trent absorbed in detail
In caring, in loving Mary

4.05pm

Phone calls a plenty
Families interacting
Tender understanding
Life on hold
Time standing still
While advancing
Time our of control
Sitting waiting for time

6.45pm

The awakening ceasing
Hoping abating
Consequences posed
Fears unfolding
Anxiety rampant
The unknown flooding

Trent sobbing
Me aching
Everybody silent
Thoughts pausing
Thoughts raging
Stunned

Hang on to the present
Fearing the future
Holding on
Holding each other

Sunday 16 Nov

New day
New beginning
New hope

Another day
Another wait
Orchids in bloom
Familiar room
Heavy hearts
Weary gut
Settling in for long day

Door opening
Footsteps coming
Something happening
More waiting happening

Trent serene
Silent
What feelings
What thoughts
Encompass his being

A chat with his families
Some energy restored
Back through those doors again
At Mary’s side
Holding hands
United struggling onwards

Sixty years plus
Learning new pains
Different feelings
Unknown thoughts intruding
Living in the present
Recent past painful
Future scared to imagine

Mary, eyes opening
Body struggling
Mind locked away
Slowly awakening
Getting ready for ‘Rocking and rolling’

2.30pm

Rocking and rolling
Trent in
Others out
Together their moving
What’s happening
Don’t know
Hope for the best
Hope

Wondering how she’s going
Worrying and hoping yet
Weary lot in rest room
Saying little thinking lots
Chatting briefly feeling lots
Tinkering with mobiles
Trent in
She’s not good
Anguish pervading

Trent for long haul
Mary waving
Night without sleeping
Waiting with hope

Monday, 17 Nov

Early call
Trent exhausted
Mary improving
Hope progressing

Taxi ride
Hospital inside
Another day
Encouraging supporting
Deciding
Thinking ahead just a little
Is crisis abating
Hopefully it is
Vegemite sandwich
Sitting up
Asking for Mum
Coming out
Learning to feel and move

Mt Isa connection
Expression concern
Helpful awareness
Practical understanding

Reconsidering our roles
Being useful how
Parent roles and relationships
Husband roles and relationships
Families roles and relationships
Helping negotiating
Listening guiding watching
Empathetic agonising

Parting
Narelle heading off
Contented meeting Mary
Feeling with Trent
Loving with Trent

Mt Isa nurses
Helen and Elsa
Memories flooding
Tears flowing

Tuesday 18 Nov

Moving motel rooms
Accommodation decisions

Trent’s curve moving upwards
Mary’s movements looking good
Mt Isa weekend possible

Letters for Narelle and Debbie
Social worker help
Fax to be sent
Waiting on Doctors

Trent to breakfast
Relaxing and hoping
Quick from the ward
Doctors on rounds
Decisions to be made
Ward movement for Mary
Waiting on actions
Waiting on decisions
Whose decisions
What decisions
Lots of decisions

9.30pm

Had dinner on Strand
Mary new ward
Mary and Trent together
In heart and in mind

Waiting continues
Neuro this time
Two days for decisions
Trent accepting good progress
Less questions
Present advances to enjoy

Wednesday 19 Nov

Gradual awakening
Some contentment observed
Mary’s recovery apparent
Trent believing with hope

Crosswords cooperation
Momentous moment for us
Mary’s answer “fondue�?
Melted cheese pot the clue

Thoughts about Isa emerging
Thoughts about Ellen emerging
Thoughts about friends emerging

Leaflets on eclampsia
Leaflets on death
Leaflets on grief
New group discovered
SANDS [still-born and neo natal death support]

PM

Waiting continues
Walk on the Strand
Progressing slowly
Plans on hold

Dinner with Trent
Some anxiety about progress
Talking very limited
Emotions on hold

Back at the Motel
Ellen’s story being told
Robert’s involvement
Sharing the pain
Feeling the void

Thursday 20 Nov

Expectations rising
Test to proceed
Differential diagnosis closer
Ultrasound
MRI
EEG

Discussion with Registrar this pm
What will he tell
What will he know
Medical ward lacking
In staff and in time
Some Registrars lacking
In knowledge
Or maybe just not answering

Mary announced going home tomorrow
Trent unaware
So eagerly anticipating
Doctors morning round

Checking on accounts
Daring to be practical
Mary in wheel chair
Surveying the ground with Trent

Ultrasound
Minor problem
Other tests within 48 hours
Plans, what plans
Brisbane, Mt Isa
Friday weekend Monday
Don’t know
Waiting no control
Bugger

PM

Doctor family meeting
Open presentation
Not fully settled
Outcome encouraging
Prospects like gold
Needing more time
Mary mood uncertain

Family meeting
Decisions being made
Suzanne home on Friday
I remain
Bob home also
Wendy to remain

Robert and Wendy to drive
To Mt Isa
Saturday the day

Tentatively Mary and Trent
Home on Monday
With me in close tow

Some tests still remain
Plans open to revision
Part of the waiting game

Friday 21 Nov

8am rise
Cheer in the air
Phoned TPH
Tears for Trent’s fare
OK given
Family primary care

Mary EEG 11am

Trent reported good night
Anticipation in the air
Hope pervasive

4pm

Family movements planning
Waiting about offer from Macair
Monday flights to Mt Isa, waiting
Friday morning flights to Mt Isa, when
Sunday return to Brisbane, when to look
Waiting continues

9pm

Suzanne and Bob off to Brisbane
Mary pleasingly progressing
EEG ok but official word waiting
Plans for Ellen’s funeral emerging

Saturday 22 Nov

Leaving Hi Roller
Home for a week and so
Last ride with Robert and Wendy to hospital
Wendy to go with Robert or stay with Mary
Choice, Oh! being a Mum

Cherished time with Mary and Trent
Exploring expressing feelings
Ellen the focus
Her loss the pain
Their hopes the anguish
Plans without her
Emptiness pervades

Tickets to book
Funeral arrangements
Writing my words for the funeral
Nan’s situation emerged
Phone calls for consultation
Decision was Nan’s
Yes was the answer
So Nan’s in our flight plans
Heavy day of emotions
Rest at Tony and Barbara’s

Sunday 23 Nov

Waking refreshed
Breakfast with Tony
Hospital with Barb
Mary bright, still improving

Chatting about work
ICU experiences
Waking up fearing
Open about experiences
Privileged to hear

Two week
Where are you
Somewhere in dreams
Patience and waiting
Rest for night
Tony’s many issues
Chat in the night
Busted tap mess
Monday 24 Nov
Breakfast with Tony
Goodbye to Barbara
Tension a plenty
Thanks for the stay

Contacting Macair
A little chaotic
Townsville, Mt Isa
Confusion with numbers
And persons
Eventual success
Excellent service

Mary nightmare
Trent a great scare
Trent nervous and worried
Mary confident and ready to go
Others uncertain
Awaiting medical decisions
Thyroid test,
Flight today uncertain

Fine time today
Paediatrician
Blood test
Blood pressure
Doctors approval
Social workers letters
Red Cross correspondence
Airline arrangements

All clear given
Hospital to arrange
The flight to Mt Isa
Two hours on the plane

Slowly the wheel turning
Flight approved
Referral letter delivered
Pharmacy to collect
Taxi waiting
Out through the door
40 mins to take off.

Macair so proficient
All organised so well
Lost Mary briefly
While waiting for Trent
[water for Mary]

Long hot walk to the aircraft
Slowly we shuffled
To board in seat 5

Sitting on 5a
Mary and Trent side by side
Holding hands
Going home with some smiles

Mary ready to go
Doing her goal
Hoping and waiting continues
Two hours to go

The sight of Mt Isa
A lump in the throat
We’ve made it home safely
Life now off hold.
Brett avenue now home

Tuesday 25 Nov

Awakened at 6 by a knock on the door
Fear for a moment
Birds I am told
Fears still near surface
Two weeks takes it toll
Time for reflection
Time to unfold
Time to breath slowly
Waiting with hope.
Funeral on Friday for Ellen
Family and friends celebration of Mary’s well-being