a change in time

musings on behavioural change – the small stuff and the big stuff.


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The uncontrollable variables

Have you ever heard a combination of words, and thought, that would make a good name for a book, or a film, or maybe a band? Back in the eighties, this thought must have gone through the mind of Peter Webb, my late husband, as this is what he called our band.

The Uncontrollable Variables, from left to right: Peter Webb, Margot McCartney, Richard Holt, Ruth Williams and Gerard Rowan

At the time, and over the years, I have often secretly thought it was a rather unusual choice for a band name. Maybe it’s the reason why we didn’t become famous, or maybe that was because we were ahead of our time. (Allow me a bit of delusional thinking!)

In recent days, or years, I have rethought my response to the name. When I originally asked Peter what it meant, he would say, it’s an economic term. And I would nod, knowingly, not understanding at all. In case it’s new to you, here is the definition:

The variable in an experiment that has the potential to negatively impact the relationship between the independent and dependent variables. “The issue of uncontrolled variables often occurs in relation to problems with correlation and causation. This, therefore that, is not always true.

I’m not sure how Peter would feel about me transposing the name of his band over to the current discussion of climate change and what we oughta do. I hope he is smiling. The band name lives on!

I’m guessing it doesn’t take much thought to realise how I have linked climate change and ‘the uncontrollable variables’.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about what to write after my last blog, 7 months ago.

Since then, we have attended two of the marches organised by the School Strike for Climate group, in March and September. A lot has happened since the original strike in November last year. The numbers of people attending has grown exponentially.

Sitting on the verge in Treasury Gardens, on the 20th of September, amongst the tens of thousands of people who came together to show their support for the students, one can’t help but be moved.

Extinction Rebellion, which only formed at the end of October last year, has grown to be a worldwide movement in less than a year.

Greta Thunberg has become, even more so, the voice of a generation. (She now has 7.3 million followers on Instagram.)

And Ruth Williams? I have pulled back from social media, even though that is the stage on which we are encouraged to perform.

The photo of The Uncontrollable Variables taken at the Clifton Hill Organ Factory in the early eighties, is the only photo we have of the members of the band.

In recent times, I feel that my life is being stolen from me. I’m not sure if it’s big data or the seemingly constant expectation to share one’s life, or an existential fear of whether we can create a future that will rectify Greta’s assertion that:

The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: we will never forgive you.

I was going to use one of the images of ‘angry Greta’ from her speech at the UN Climate Action however, this is the latest photo she has shared of herself so I have gone with this one.

I’m not ready to join Extinction Rebellion but I am ready to rebel.

My current gospel is ‘Climate: A New Story‘ by Charles Eisenstein. He says many things that are worthy of being included here but it’s probably better if you read the book yourself.

One of the things he says rang true with me even more so today than it had previously:

“If everyone focused their love, care, and commitment on protecting and regenerating their local places, while respecting the local places of others, then a side effect would be the resolution of the climate crisis. If we strove to heal and protect every estuary, every forest, every wetlands, every piece of damaged land, every coral reef, every lake and every mountain, not only would most drilling, fracking, and pipelining have to stop, but the biosphere would become far more resilient too.”

It really does serve as an empowering antidote!

Why today? I went further north, upstream, with Graeme Hamilton, from Darebin Creek Management Committee, as my guide. He showed me river red gums that are between four and eight hundred years old. We visited sections of Darebin Creek that are so unique and so much in need of our love, care and commitment.

My heart was broken and opened at the same time.

This river red gum lives in Parkhill Crescent Reserve, Millpark. It has been tested as being 800 years old. It is one of the lucky ones that has managed to survive the spread of the housing estates.

And being an Uncontrollable Variable seems to take on more urgency.

Dr Samuel Alexander in his paper, The Rebellion Hypothesis: Crisis, Inaction and the Question of Civil Disobedience’ states:

As the broad ecological crisis intensifies, and collapse situations become more common, challenging and disruptive, I have argued that more and more people will face psychological tipping points and become engaged in collective action. At some point, tolerance of ecocide will become intolerable.”

Some ecocide happening in our backyard. Artichoke thistle is spreading silently along and around the creek. A new housing estate will follow soon.

While Extinction Rebellion stage their events around attracting the attention of the media, you will find me down at the creek. There might not even be one photo taken.

Don’t get me wrong, I encourage their rebellion, and admire their willingness to be arrested and go to jail. Rebel for life! They, and we, are the uncontrollable variables.

Rebel for Life at Flinders Street Station. Courtesy of Extinction Rebellion.


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Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?

Do you remember this game? The call-and-answer goes like this:

Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? Ruth stole the cookie from the cookie jar. Who me? Yes you! Not me! Then who?

It seems appropriate to choose the title of a children’s singalong game for this blog. I feel compelled to write about the current groundswell of young people protesting against the lack of action being taken on climate change by governments and corporations around the world.

This caricature of Donald Trump and his cronies is along the lines of where I’m going with this analogy, however as the above rhyme reveals, I have also had my hand in the cookie jar.

On the 10th of February we attended an event at the National Sustainable Living Festival entitled ‘Schooled: Students striking out for the climate’. We wanted to listen to what younger people had to say about the state of the environment and whether they felt there were any cookies left.

The four speakers were: Marco Bellemo
Northcote High School, VIC, Yr 12
Jean Hinchliffe
Fort St High School, NSW, Yr 10
Harriet O’Shea-Carre
Castlemaine Steiner School, VIC, Yr 9
Jagveer Singh
Hoppers Crossing Secondary College, VIC, Yr 12 graduate

We were interested to notice that there was a greater proportion of adults in the audience than students. This was particularly apparent in the Q&A at the end, where it seemed like those asking questions, mainly adults, were more intent on getting across their agendas. The MC pointed out that we were there to listen to what the students had to say on this topic.

The ‘issue’ that stood out most for me is kind of obvious, and yet it hadn’t really hit me until I was sitting under this dome on Birrarung Marr. The students are not eligible to vote and yet it is their future that we are currently messing with. A member of the audience wanted to know how we can help support them. All students agreed that the first thing we can do is to show up to the next student strike on March the 15th.

Taken in Melbourne at the school strike on November 30th last year. (Photo credit, Julian Meehan) The article in which this photograph appeared is worth a read: https://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/climate-change/unions-back-next-school-strike-in-australia-ahead-of-2019-federal-election/news-story/50dcdc9aae668636129232bdc0518841

Jean Hinchliffe, the representative from NSW, cited Greta Thunberg, a 15 year old Swedish student, as her inspiration for organizing the march in Sydney. There is definitely something about Greta that causes one to feel inspired, and I’m saying that just from following her on Instagram. Interestingly, Greta’s first few posts attracted an average of 600 ‘likes’. After being interviewed by the Australian edition of the Guardian, that jumped to 10,000. Following on from her TED Talk and being interviewed by a range of different media outlets, her posts now attract up to 90,000 responses and hundreds of comments.

Australian readers will appreciate this post! The students commented on how pleased they were that the Prime Minister had responded, firstly because it meant he was taking notice, and secondly, that being told to stay in school just made them want to go on strike even more. Jean also mentioned that after seeing how committed the Australian students were to getting their voices heard, Greta was re-inspired to keep going.

On Tuesday night we joined a full house at Cinema Nova in Carlton to see Youth Unstoppable, one of the films being shown at the Transitions Film Festival. The film was directed by Slater Jewell-Kemker. Shot over eight years, starting when she was just 15 years old, Jewell-Kemker documents the highs and lows of the Youth Climate Movement. We were left with much to think about. One thing that struck me was the involvement of young people from many countries around the world. Jewell-Kemker noted how difficult it was to keep the faith, and that many of the friends she had met along the way had dropped out of the movement, although a handful have remained committed throughout those years. It’s hard enough for adults to keep up the energy and determination required for this level of activism.

Jewell-Kemker photographed with Mike Moore at the Traverse City Film Festival. Other well known Americans have put up their hands to support Jewell-Kemker. One is Adrian Grenier, the lead actor from Entourage, who came on board as an executive producer, declaring, “Young people these days aren’t waiting. They have access to the facts on climate change, the intelligence to understand our negligence as adults, and the platform to stand up and speak out.”

The three person panel assembled for the Q&A after the screening consisted of a representative from United Nations Association of Australia, Graham Hunter, the climate change program manager, as well as a representative from the Youth Climate Movement, and a young woman who had attended many of the UN Climate Change conferences but was now working for an environmental group. This time the audience was mainly populated with younger people. It was interesting to see Marco Bellemo in the audience. We had been impressed by his views and his ability to share them eloquently when we saw him speak at the ‘Schooled!’ panel earlier in the month. His question cut through the ‘feel good’ mood that was in the air.

Marco Bellemo poses with his sign at last year’s school strike. It states clearly what he stands for. On Tuesday night he wanted to know why many environmental groups shied away from declaring that what we are facing is a climate emergency. All members of the panel agreed that it was an emergency but felt that to use such a word in the public arena would panic people, which would make it harder to create change.

George Monbiot, in an article about the student strikes, published in the Guardian on the 20th of February 2019, asserts, “Drawing on the successes and failures of the past, we must help young climate strikers to win their existential struggle. This one has to succeed. It is not just that the youth climate strike, now building worldwide with tremendous speed, is our best (and possibly our last) hope of avoiding catastrophe. It is also that the impacts on the young people themselves, if their mobilisation and hopes collapse so early in their lives, could be devastating.

Many of the issues that people feel passionate about have resulted in street marches and other forms of protest. These marches are a dramatic way of showing that ‘the people united will never be defeated’. And while the excitement and media coverage of a march is likely to fade out sooner than the organisers might hope, the challenge is to refuse to give up. Such complex matters will require many more marches and greater levels of action. It’s not alright for my generation to consider passing on the baton. Everyone is needed for this chapter of our history.

We were all young once and many of us were passionate about a range of causes. The first march I attended was in 1979 in Melbourne, it was to ‘Reclaim the Night’. I took along my camera, taking photos of the streets filled with protesters holding their banners high. The night felt reclaimed, at least for a short time.


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Finding my way back

This blog originated as a response to having completed a Grad Cert in Sustainability at Swinburne in 2014. Rather than expect you to go back through the archives, I’ll give you the brief summary of the history of this site. I chose the title, ‘a change in time’ as a homage to ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. It occurred to me that a change in time, as in us changing our behaviors, would add up to something of value. I still believe this.

A book I borrowed from the library. I didn’t end up reading it but I couldn’t resist the title.

Originally, my dear husband Peter, did not feature in my posts, however as our lives became so closely linked to hospitals and the need and desire to survive them, my posts became inextricably linked to those times and those changes, many of which were to do with our ability to change our attitude, as we weren’t able to change our circumstances.

Peter, weathering the storm of hospital life with his trusty Ovation guitar

When Peter died, I didn’t think I would ever be able to continue to write about such seemingly ‘minor things’ as zero waste and climate change, however over the last few days, some little miracles occurred that have lead me back on the path, both literally and metaphorically. Let me start at the beginning.

Last Tuesday, my girlfriend, Susanne, flew over from Adelaide to spend a few days in Melbourne with me. It is the forty year anniversary of our friendship, so a catch up was compulsory.

Susanne seems to pick the perfect time to visit – last time she came to Melbourne she cheered my mother up immensely.

Our first stopover was a visit to my dermatologist in Moonee Ponds to check on a couple of spots that were a bit suss. We were early so we went for a walk in Queens Park, one of those gardens I have driven past many times and never stopped to visit. We were impressed immediately by the range of trees and shrubs and the iconic water fountain in the middle of the lake.

The fountain often appears as a background image for one of the major news networks.

We noticed a worker raking out mulch around one of the trees. Susanne, in her usual friendly way, greeted him and before long we were chatting like old friends. We soon found out his name is Russell and that he has worked for Moonee Valley City Council for forty years, with most of his time dedicated to this park. I could write an entire blog just about Russell however, for now I will just let you know that, after asking if he knew of any magnificent trees we could visit, he recommended the Ada Tree near Warburton. Based on this advice, we decided to travel there on Thursday.

The following day was my first day back at work after a three year break. Susanne went exploring around the local area, ending up at the vegan bakery in High Street Preston, where a fellow customer sat down and, before long, recommended that we visit the Redwood Forest, also near Warburton. Once again, there is much more to this story but I will cut out entire scenes and let you know that we ended up choosing to visit the Redwood Forest .

Spectacular! OMG! Add your favorite superlative!

I bet you’re now wondering, ‘What the hell is a redwood forest doing on the outskirts of Warburton?’. My first thought. Once I entered the forest – officially a plantation – I no longer cared how it got there. It’s not often that I feel that sense of awe one felt as a child, but here, in the midst of these 1400 or so trees, one feels both small and infinite. It’s not something that I can easily capture in words.

With my ‘red’ hair and brown outfit, I blended in perfectly.

As we were leaving the forest, a few seconds after we walked out, a branch fell from a tree just a couple of metres from where we were standing. Woah! That was close! There were some other folk nearby so they came over and we marveled at the branch falling and us narrowly escaping being clobbered by it.

I chatted with Michael, a Christian monk, who has a strong association with the trees; he actually takes groups there to meditate. He also organised a group of locals that managed to get National Trust status for the trees so that they can never be cut down. Bless! He was both pleased and saddened about the recent interest in the trees. As more people visit, the roads and tracks are being damaged, and rubbish is being left behind in this once pristine area.

It is a sacred place, without a doubt. I felt a similar feeling to the one expressed by Michael. I wanted to tell everyone I know that they need to experience the strength and silence of these trees, and yet, if too many people visit, the peaceful world of the Sequoia sempervirens will be compromised.

That night, Susanne, my brother Rod, and I attended an event at Preston Town Hall – the council had organised an evening to acknowledge World Environment Day, screening two films on the damage plastic is doing to the oceans and waterways. The film that stood out to me is called Baykeepers, in which we meet the local community who remove rubbish from the beaches so it doesn’t enter Port Phillip Bay.

Neil Blake, one of the team, and founder of the Port Phillip Eco Centre, came along to answer questions after the film. Neil is a great example of how one person can make a huge difference, just in following his own beliefs and acting on them.

That’s Neil in the middle, listening to Paul extol the benefits of joining Darebin Creek Sweepers.

After our day amongst the redwood forest, and an evening watching and listening to inspiring people, I could feel a shift in my being. I was back on the horse, and back on the path. And most importantly, back in touch with my desire to do what I can to continue to change my own behavior and maybe even to inspire change in others.

All of the serendipitous encounters that occurred on this day – and there were many – pointed me in the direction of ‘the way back’. I will carry all of those who contributed with me in spirit, including Peter, whom I know would love this story, and would love that I am back on track. Although he may have a go at me for overusing a metaphor!


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On impermanence and new beginnings.

Six months have passed since my last post, which lands us at one year since Peter died. I so want to use every euphemism other than ‘Peter died’. Passed away, passed on, left us, left his body. ‘Died’ is so final. Fortunately I am currently in Japan, traveling with my sister, Jann, and there are many other interpretations on offer here regarding what happens to our loved ones when they die. Besides, it’s cherry blossom time!

This was the first blossom we saw up close, in Kanazawa, walking the back streets, a few days into our trip.

Everybody knows how much the Japanese love their cherry blossoms. I like the fact that they appreciate the blossoms because they flower for such a short period of time, around a week, reminding them of the impermanent nature of all things living. They even have a phrase for it. “It is a notion called mono no aware or ‘bittersweet awareness of the impermanence of things’ (From Cherry blossom season in Japan: the love of the ephemeral well worth a read if you like cherry blossoms and Japan.)

This trip has been ‘mono no aware’ in so many ways. Jann has been the perfect person to travel with. I’ve been like a puppy, dogging her heels, as she guides me from one amazing place to the next. And every place we go, we declare, “Peter would love this place!” He really did love Japan and all thing Japanese. (Maybe not all, but most.)

Shinto shrines for example. This one was a stone’s throw away from our hotel in Kanazawa. A shrine to Inari Okami, the kami of foxes, fertility, rice, tea and sake, of agriculture and industry. Very cool.

Today we made a pilgrimage to Kifune Shrine and to Mount Kurama, north of Kyoto.

I had bundled up a package of Peter’s ashes for the journey, doing my best to make it as symbolically relevant as possible. I hope you like my efforts. Some orange fabric, clogs, a heart, and traveling in a wooden box. (The cute soft toys are along for the ride. Travel Suki on the left has been traveling with Jann for many years, Wabi Sabi Suki is traveling with me for the for the first time. It’s the year of the dog, and Peter was born in this year. He’d probably hate the Suki lookalikes but he wouldn’t tell me to my face!)

The walk from the Shinto shrines to the Buddhist temples, across the mountain, took us five hours. The Shinto shrines are spread out over three sacred areas, so I decided to spread some ashes at each spot. It was both gut wrenchingly sad and unexpectedly elating. I told Jann that part of my intention in doing the pilgrimage was to change my perspective from ‘he should never had died’, to a more accepting relationship to the impermanent nature of life. Which brings us back to the cherry blossoms.

Jann took this sneaky shot of me spreading some of Peter’s ashes amongst the roots of this tree. Someone else had a similar idea so it is clearly a good place for shrines.

While the Japanese appreciate impermanence more so than most of us in the west, they also love the way that the blossoms acknowledge new beginnings. “For people living in Japan, the sight of cherry blossoms invariably brings up memories of starting a new school, a new job, moving into a new apartment.” (From the same article mentioned above.)

When Jann was in Japan last year she had a chance to ask the gods how her friend Anka, who had also recently passed away, and Peter were going in the spirit world. This is what they said, “All human beings die and their bodies will return to the earth. It can be said that people are just parts of the earth. In that sense, human beings and all other living things are equal. It means that all living things are sure to die. In that sense human and nature are not separate things… a deceased person protects and helps his descendants and relatives. I think this is not a general way of thinking in the West.” You’re right about that, God.

So now you know, Peter is looking over us, protecting and helping us. It was such a special day. I love to think of Peter’s spirit flying around the mountain and keeping an eye on us at the same time.

The happy wanderers. Ashes scattered, after three trains, a bus ride and a long walk up and down a mountain. I’ve asked Jann to do the same for me when my time comes.


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Six months later

Today’s date, the 5th of October 2017, stamps this day as being six months since my husband, Peter, passed away.

Last night I watched a film in which the filmmaker used the technique of jumping between the past and the future, with words appearing on the screen declaring it to be ‘three weeks later’, or ‘four years earlier’. I kind of like this method of shortening time. Imagine having to watch every moment of what happened in between. For better or worse, in ‘real life’, we have to pass through every minute, there is no fast-forwarding, no rewinding.

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Peter and I often talked of life being like a movie, it made some situations easier to deal with. (This photo was actually taken ‘five months later’. I wanted to choose something that looked a bit  cheerful. This was our first truly ‘Spring has sprung’ kind of day this year.) 

We knew that the disease would eventually overcome Peter’s amazing spirit. Even though we did what we could to prepare ourselves for ‘the inevitable’, we weren’t really prepared. The last blog post I wrote, on the 23rd of March, was only two weeks before Peter’s body succumbed. I still can’t believe our situation changed so quickly.

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Peter took this photo of us on the 18th of March, five days before we returned home. Looking at it now, it is obvious that he was very ill. After having seen Peter’s appearance change so many times over the years, especially since diagnosis, I think I stopped relating to how he looked physically and instead looked past the body to be with his beautiful, irreverent spirit.  

Peter’s sister, Melissa, was brave enough to ask me if we had had a chance to say goodbye, in that ‘final chance to say goodbye’ kind of way. The truth is, we didn’t. Even though we had had many discussions over the years about that day eventually catching up with us, I think we had become so accustomed to planning for the next day, week, month etc, that the time to say such things came and went. I said to Melissa that in hindsight, I think it would have been too hard to finally admit to each other that ‘this is it’. With a little more hindsight, if I could rewind the days, I would make sure we said those words to each other. I wished I had thanked him for being such an amazing life partner. There are just not enough adjectives to describe who Peter was for me.

early days

This photo was taken when we attended the marriage of our friends, Michael and Rowena. I’m not sure of the actual date, some time in the 80s. I like this photo because you can definitely see ‘the look of love’ in our eyes. 

So here I am, six months later. You won’t be surprised to know that my saving grace has has been the support and love I have received from friends and family. Particularly family, especially ‘the kids’, as our mother, Edna, calls Louis, Tam, Yoshi and Helena.

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‘The kids’ taking their mother on an outing to Plenty Gorge Park in South Morang in May.

 You read about people who lose their life partner, and how they appear to do all kinds of things that seem out of character. Some might choose retail therapy, others, the bottle. I might have done a bit of both, however my big one was to unintentionally take on my fear of flying; a secret I only recently revealed to my inner circle. In the last six months I have flown to Adelaide, Sydney and two trips to Tasmania. (My sister, Jann, and I were meant to fly to Japan on the 23rd of September, but that is a whole other story.)
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While in Adelaide, Susanne and I visited the Monarto Zoo for a good dose of rhino therapy.   

 

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While in Tasmania, I joined Jann and Tony on several walks along the beach. Being on the edge of the ocean, seeing the expanse of water, the surrounding mountains and the sky above, one is reminded of the beauty of life, and that we even exist at all.   

I am learning to live with the paradox that ‘life not turning out as one expected’ foists upon you, being forced to face the biggest change that life has expected of me. Peter is pretty much always in my thoughts. We shared so much together. I talk to him sometimes, mainly while driving, because that is where we had many good conversations. Some days I love living in this house, where everything has been touched by one or other of Peter’s creative urges, and sometimes I just want to run away.

Three months ago, I had my haircut. I think it is fairly common for folks to acknowledge a big change in circumstances via a visit to the hairdressers.

haircut 2

I now have to take my own selfies! Peter took lots of photos, including the odd photo of me, okay, he took lots of photos of me. I mentioned this to Melissa and she has taken on a bit of this ‘job’. 

The final paragraph.

And so our ‘Ruth and Peter’ film came to an end. It was not the ending we had hoped for. Everyone wants to grow old with the one they love. It is lucky we were more about the journey than the destination. We packed in so much, and I am grateful for those days.


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It takes a village…

It’s six weeks today since we left home and embarked on our rites of passage into the worlds of hospital wards and hospice life. If you read my previous post, Sustaining one’s spirit in tough times, you will know what led us on this latest journey. My last words on that previous post were, ‘next stop, home’. I am very pleased to announce, that we did make it back home, being discharged from Caritas Christi Hospice, Kew, on Monday the 20th of March. We ended up staying at CCK for just over three weeks, and in that time, with the help of a wide range of people, medical staff and family and friends, we sorted through all that needed to be done, to return to our home.

I have always liked that proverb, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, and I have adapted it to our purposes today, it has taken a village to bring our darling Peter home. This month, our story is mainly told in pictures, I hope you get a sense of just how fortunate we are to live in such a village.

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While this is not a photo of the Occupational Therapist at Caritas Christi – they have a strict policy of not photographing staff – the content reflects just one of the many pieces she put into place for us; providing Peter with the ability to be mobile. She also checked out our house to make sure the entries, exits and surfaces were suitable for wheelchair access.

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Melissa and Philip provided love and support in many ways, including making and delivering the best risotto in the entire universe, supplying light cotton trousers (a necessity in air-conditioned rooms), and organising all kinds of things behind the scenes. they are excellent company at ‘drinkies’ time as well!

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My sister, Jann, travelled from Tasmania twice while we were at CCK, taking me out for dinner on her first visit (Yay!) and doing some much needed garden watering on the second visit, as well as being here to meet the equipment deliver guy, allowing me to head back to the hospice for any final organising that needed to be done. Those Tasmanians!

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Dean Richards, one of Peter’s long standing friends, visited several times while we were at CCK. Each time he played guitar and sang with Peter, and was happy for me to go shopping for items we would be needing back at home.

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Lisa and Darren, our closest neighbours in both vicinity and affection, were kind enough to drop over and mow our lawn THREE times over the period we were at CCK.

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It’s difficult for friends who are overseas to know how to contribute. Shannon, another very good and close friend of Peter’s, sent over this graphic novel, knowing that it would be the kind of story that Peter would enjoy.

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In the midst of it all, my mother turned 90. We had planned a family get-together at the Sofitel, the same hotel where our parents spent their 50th wedding anniversary. Because Peter was still at Caritas Christi, we had a smaller version of the celebration, with just mum and her four children. Here we all are: Rod, Jann, me, Edna and Hugo

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Louis stayed overnight at CCK while I stayed with my mother and sister at the Sofitel. After only a few hours, he had already gained a reputation as being a devoted son. Yoshi also spent time with Peter on a couple of occasions when I had medical appointments. (Okay, I can’t help being a proud mother!)

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The big day came and we made it home! The paramedics almost sent us back because we couldn’t get the control for the bed to work. Suki couldn’t contain herself on seeing Peter for the first time in five weeks.

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We are still pinching ourselves, it feels like a victory, to have been through so much and to make it back. We will continue to need our village to support us, maybe even more so.

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…and here is the view from here. You’re welcome to walk up the path some day soon, just make sure you contact me first! 🙂


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Sustaining one’s spirit in tough times

Things haven’t gone so well for us lately. We have had to muster reserves from our somewhat depleted resources to tackle what we are currently facing. And it’s all because of that darn cat. Well not really, but we have to blame someone and lhasa is fair game.

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How can you hold anything against me? I am adorable! I am even lying here between two delicate yellow flowers. Purrrrr. 

Our lives have changed again. We try to track back to the beginning of this new stage. The first fall happened on the 21st of January, just one week after we had been at home, following a not very successful chemotherapy treatment that was meant to halt the continuing colonisation of Peter’s bone marrow by the myeloma cells. (Damn!)

Peter was being an absolute darling, albeit somewhat naughty, checking the drip irrigation system, tending to a leak near the tap. He crouched down to fix it, and then tumbled backwards, hitting the bamboo screen behind and hurting himself more than he should.

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Here is my evidence that Peter can’t help himself. On the same day, after that nasty fall, he was helping Tam set up the bed for their imminent arrival. 

The next fall was on the 24th, as Peter tried to stop Suki from running to the door as I returned home. The next morning Peter was feeling stabbing pains in his legs. Fall #3 occurred on Saturday the 6th, that fateful day when Peter didn’t see Lhasa, with no time to stop himself from falling forwards onto his hands, tearing a tendon in his rotator cuff.

Fall #4 occurred while Peter was reaching out to place a glass on the table in the lounge room. Fall #5 happened before bed when Peter lost his balance in the bathroom. You’d think we would have started to suspect that something was wrong, but that thought must be relegated to hindsight.

On Monday the 6th, Peter was due at the Epworth for an MRI to assess the extent of the disease. He was surprised to discover that lying on the bench in preparation for the scan was so painful that they had to stop the proceedings and inject pain medication into his lower back. The next day he had a CT scan in the planning session for the radiotherapy treatment. Once again he felt excruciating pain whilst lying on the bench. More pain medication!

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Our first day back in hospital, on the 6th of Feb. Peter caught me pondering the thought of eating hospital food again. Peter’s oncologist had wanted Peter to stay in, but he felt fine and, who wouldn’t want to go home if they had a chance? 

Fall #6 was the final straw. The 9th of February. We had been at the Epworth for Peter’s first radio therapy session, on returning home, and on our way into our bedroom to meditate, his left leg gave way, with his shoulder hitting a nearby chair and his back hitting the ground with a thump.

That’s how we ended up in hospital for two weeks. That’s where the need to sustain our spirits in tough times really kicked in. Peter was taken in by ambulance and admitted that night, I joined him the next morning. He had four more sessions of radiotherapy – Friday, the 10th, and then the following Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, with an operation on his right shoulder on Tuesday afternoon. Valentine’s Day. After that final session of radiotherapy, Peter was no longer a ‘usual patient’. This status lasted for another week. Probably the longest week of our lives, or at least it seemed that way. But we have our coping strategies and, mostly, people were kind.

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It was Melissa’s birthday on the 12th of February. Mel and Phil kindly brought in some birthday breakfast fare for us so we could join in the celebrations.  

The hospital environment was no longer suitable for Peter’s situation. The staff are accustomed to looking after people with acute care needs. We couldn’t go home as Peter could not walk, needing three people to move him from bed to anywhere else. He couldn’t go to a rehabilitation unit because he wouldn’t be able to participate in any training. His oncologist suggested palliative care as a place to take a breather and work out our strategy for returning home. So we spent a week waiting, and in the meantime, it was the little things that sustained our spirits.

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Yoshi and Helena found this impressive rhino for us in a nearby op-shop. It immediately became our trusty little mascot. 

Having spent quite a bit of time in hospitals, both as an inpatient and as an outpatient, one soon develops a way of relating to staff members. It’s hard not to feel that your fate is in their hands so it seems very important not to get in their bad books. Some staff members relate to you based on their job title rather than as fellow human beings traveling through this life together. Others shine out like beautiful stars in the night sky.

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James was probably our favourite, we even offered to adopt him, seeing, at 26, he is halfway between the ages of our two sons. On the day Peter was being taken to the operating theatre, I overheard James saying he would take Peter as he knew him well. Sometimes connections happens quickly. This one took five days. 

I was lucky to be able to stay with Peter for those two weeks. Before this new round of hospital stays, we decided very early on that we were going as a team. We are very good at hanging out together. There are fun times, and just as many ‘deep and meaningfuls’. Fortunately the staff were happy for me to make up a bed on the floor. (They are not as yet set up to really welcome family members to stay overnight.) Part of that luck we had is that Louis and Tam had moved in just six days before Peter broke the bone in his shoulder. Lhasa and Suki would not have to survive on the birds that frequent our back yard.

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Tam trying to get Lhasa to smile for the camera, while Suki watches on. Ask me, ask me! 

I have become very good at turning a previously  unfamiliar environment into a home-away-from-home, including finding out where the extra blankets, sheets and towels were kept. I became a familiar face in the kitchen, making milo, filling up water jugs and toasting bread. The cleaning and catering staff soon became my new best friends.

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Sarah and I hit it off immediately. She has been working at the hospital for seven years and enjoys it very much. We came across each other many times in the corridors and the kitchen. One day she asked how my husband was going. On the last day, I introduced her to Peter. She said, ‘Money and house you get from your family, a good woman you get from God’. (I think she was talking about me!) 

By Thursday the 23rd, we had dug into our reserves as deeply as we could. When we discovered there were seven people in front of us on the waiting list for the palliative care ward at the Olivia Newton-John Centre, we were devastated. Catherine, one of the palliative care team at the hospital, suggested we try elsewhere. Caritas Christi in Kew was not too far from our home so we put all our cards on the table. The application went in on Thursday and by Friday morning, Peter was allocated a bed. It felt like the happiest day of our lives. Now we are in a place where the staff are trained to care for people with the kinds of issues Peter is currently facing.

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Here is the view from our room, looking out towards the west, we enjoy the clouds, the trees, the aeroplanes, birds and bats. 

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Yesterday, Peter picked up his guitar for the first time since ‘the big fall’, and managed to strum a couple of tunes. We’ll get the physio back in to advise on the best way to play without aggravating that shoulder. Good Ruth and Peter! 

Next stop, home.