Last Thursday afternoon we received the telephone call from Barry’s elder brother Ray we’d been both anticipating, and dreading. Sadly, Barry’s mum’s life drew to a calm close in the early hours of last Thursday, 24th July, New Zealand time.
Her quality of life had been unsettled since the end of 2010 when she became increasingly unwell. Due to a catalogue of challenges with the higher echelons of medical staff, and her daughter-in-law advocating on her behalf with insider nursing knowledge gained over many years (I’m certain that if she’d been 20 years younger her treatment would’ve been completely different), June finally received a diagnosis of Aeromonas infection five months after her sickness began. By that time, she’d also been infected with ‘C-Diff‘, the bacteria that returned to visit her body recently, and I believe finally overcame her.
We then, to our dismay, tracked back the start of her problem to a dinner she’d shared with Barry and I, shortly after we returned from our second UK narrow boating trip in November 2010, which included marinated fish for starters.
Be warned readers – never give raw/marinated in lemon juice fish, to the elderly or young children. A fact subsequently etched indelibly in my mind.
The past three and a half years brought her much discomfort, too many hospital admissions, and a variety of unsavoury exploratory investigations. Fortunately, these were also interspersed with some incredible adventures and nourishing times with family and friends.
From this experience, and the journey I’m on with my own parents, it feels as though Barry and I are increasingly experiencing one of life’s significant lessons. Being fortunate enough to live to a ripe old age can be looked upon, and experienced, as either a blessing or a curse – depending on the quality of your day-to-day life.
An inspirational matriarch
Being the eldest of six children may’ve been what helped define June’s stupendous strength of mind and iron will. In adult life she was an English teacher, prolific swimmer and surf life saver, wife to Frank, and mother of four children. She often told me that the best day of her life was the one when her youngest child, Jenny, a much longed for daughter, was born.
Like me, she didn’t suffer fools gladly, and spoke her mind when she felt strongly about an issue. This got her into trouble at times – something I can definitely relate to!
June’s fortitude, courage and uncomplaining manner has been amazing to witness.
In 2009, we had an inkling that she was planning to come and see us on our first UK narrow boating experience. She’d travelled to Europe, alone, for her big Overseas Experience (or OE as the kiwis call it) in her 70s (I think, Barry can’t recall exactly), and like her son, loved England. She really hoped to re-visit Cornwall.
Unfortunately, six weeks into our six-month trip, Frank was diagnosed with a brain tumour which put paid to anything she may have been pondering on.
Barry and I are going to Cornwall for a holiday in a couple of weeks, with my daughters, son-in-law and grandsons, so we’ll think of June often and hope her spirit follows us there.
In between her illnesses, in August 2011 she travelled with us all to Queenstown for her granddaughter Emma’s wedding.
To cap it all, she decided she’d spend her 87th Christmas (2011) in Australia, visiting her youngest son Peter, adored granddaughters Amy and Sarah, and daughter Jenny. Not knowing how long she’d stay, and wanting flexibility, she flew to Sydney on a one-way ticket! How cool is that?
During this period of fairly good health, around 18 months, she was able to return to her beloved golf – and line dancing. I used to go with her whenever I could – line dancing that is, not golf! We had such fun together. Her mind was as sharp as a tack, and she beat Barry and I at scrabble most of the time, just like I’m informed her mother had excelled in her time.
She also delighted in a holiday with her younger brother, Dick, and his wife Gail, to Brunei and Hong Kong.
The beginning of the end
Around this time of year two years ago, after more exploratory investigations to find out what was causing a repeat of her problems (going privately this time due to the trauma of cancellations and mis-communications), June suffered a number of strokes. For a few days she was unconscious, and no-one expected her to survive.
But survive she did.
And then some!
Some time later, as she recovered slowly, a family meeting was called. The consensus of professional opinions of the nurses and physiotherapists was that June was unlikely to ever walk again, and it was recommended by the team that she go to a hospital wing of a nursing home.
Guess what happened the very next day!
Yep, you guessed, she garnered all the strength and focus she could muster, got up and walked.
Sadly June never became well enough to return home, but she did choose a wonderful place to spend the remainder of her days – Te Wiremu House, in Gisborne. She’s been cared for wonderfully there for the past two years, by the nurses and carers, and made lots of friends with her fellow residents. In many ways it was a blessing, as she was never alone. I would love to find such a comforting place for my dad to be cared for in, close to his home. Maybe such a place exists – if anyone knows please tell me as his time for such intensive support may be drawing near.
A virtual funeral
Last night we had a surreal experience. I reckon that if there’s such a thing as life after death, and you can be a witness to your own funeral, then Barry and I had a taste of what that could be like.
June’s celebration of life and farewell, was held at Evans Funeral Services in Gisborne. David Parker and his team are the most fantastic people. When I die, I’m hoping they’re all still around as that’s where I want my gathering to be.
We ‘live streamed‘ the whole occasion, from the first people arriving to the last leaving. We could see and hear everything, but couldn’t be seen or heard ourselves. It was a little freaky, but also fantastic to be able to feel a part of her farewell from the other side of the world.
I’ve only known June since February 2006, but in those eight years she became a very special part of my life, and it’s painful to accept she’s no longer in this world. I’ve missed her from the day we left Gisborne in March 2013, and am so sad that when I return to Gisborne, which I know I will do one day, she will no longer be there.
But she will live in our heart and memory forever, as not just a mother and mother-in-law, but a dear friend and role model.