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Vena McGrath

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Member Since: Feb, 2004

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The Finality of Death
By Vena McGrath
Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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Mixed emotions - death and its finality and impact on those that remain and move ever onwards towards their own day of reckoning.

As a young girl of 16, who thought she was very grown up, I met a man of 20 who was a friend's brother.  I set my sights on him even though I had never had a boyfriend before and I guess it was meant to be because we did eventually go out together and were a twosome for some 26 years.


My 'dates' with him were secret in the beginning due to the fact that my parents were very strict.  They were happy for me to go out with my girlfriend and her brother but apparently didn't twig to the fact that I was interested in the brother.  This was 1962 when life was much simpler and parents really cared about their children.  I don't remember how I eventually told my parents that this guy and I were an item but I must have because we went out with each other for 4 years before we eventually were married in 1966.


We had 3 children in less than 3 years and by the time I turned 24 I was over bringing babies into the world and made sure that I started taking that wonderful invention - the pill.  Our daughter was 21 months old when our first son was born and he was 9 days short of turning 1 when our second son was born.


Our life was hard although we had support from both our families to ensure that the children didn't go without what they needed.  We had a new home, modest but brand new, and a mortgage.  I didn't work for the first 14 years of that marriage and was a house mum and wife.  I still maintain that I did the right thing in being there to take the children to school and to pick them up.  Whenever they were sick I was home with them and we spent school holidays happily together doing whatever I could manage out of the income we had to live on.  Pleasing children in those days was easy really, with an inflatable pool in the backyard to play in and a swing set and assorted dinkies, bikes etc.


My husband worked hard as a labourer for the Water Board and moved his way up the ranks over a career of some 44 years as a PS.  As the Water Board gradually moved to contract workers and got rid of their own wages workforce, my husband moved into supervisory roles.  He rarely stayed home from work unless it was a public holiday or his annual holidays.  I remember him going to work with terrible colds and I would be very angry with him for not staying at home.  Work was his priority though and staying home was not an option if you could get out of bed and get dressed.


I eventually went back to work when all the children were in high school - actually it was the December before our 2 sons started high school.  My going back to work and gaining some independence and my own money seemed to be the beginning of the end of our marriage and our family unit.  Whilst my husband supported me in looking for a job, once I actually had one things changed.  I'm not saying that our life before then was a bed of roses, because it wasn't.  My husband was a gambler and a drinker before we were married, but drinking in those days was something we all did.  We could drive around pie-eyed and no-one bothered much because there were so few cars on the roads.


Once we were married he gave up gambling but never gave up his beer drinking.  In the early days of our marriage he went to the pub after work every day and did his drinking there.  He used to come home a bit the worse for wear and in a bad mood and yet next morning he was up and gone to work.  The children were too young to know anything was amiss and were mostly in bed when he arrived home anyhow.


Once drink/driving became a no no and the breathaliser testing was happening he stopped going to the pub.  Then he started drinking at home all the time and although he was home fairly early of an afternoon, he never had dinner with the children because he allocated himself a certain number of cans to drink before dinner.  He would sit at the table with us while we ate and give us all a hard time so that all we wanted to do was eat and run.  I think my children are probably the 3 fastest eating adults alive on this earth due to the effect that had on them.


Time passed by and life became worse and worse at home.  As the children grew up they found ways to be away from home as often as possible and I saw my family life disintegrating before my eyes.  I saw the future in a snapshot in my mind.  The children all gone, and I was left with him.  That scared the heck out of me because I had wrapped my life around my children and made a life with them when I had no life really with him. 


The day came when I finally made the decision to move out.  I had tried to do it before and never made it past the promises to change, the tears, the pleading words.  Now I was way past that and resolved to get out because I was afraid that I might kill him or that my eldest son might.  That wasn't an option for either of us as I didn't consider my husband was worth spending a lifetime in gaol for.  So my daughter and eldest son and I packed up one day and moved to a house that I had rented.  My youngest son, who was 19 at the time, decided to stay with his father. Hard to leave him there, but he was old enough to make his own decision.


And so began our new life away from the stench of beer and the man I once loved who was actually two people living in one body.  The nice person when sober and a despicable horrible person when drunk.  He couldn't see it of course.  It was all our fault, not his.


For the next 19 years I rebuilt my life.  My youngest son stayed with me on and off over those years but he never quite came to grips with life once his father and I separated and were divorced.  He was of course the meat in the sandwich and whilst loving me he was also loyal to his father. He would leave Sydney and go bush for a time then come back and either move in with me or go back to his father. 


And here we are today - going to the service for and cremation of the father of my children who was 65 years old.  He retired from work when he was 63 due to the fact that he had health issues - circulation problems in his legs that caused him to have thrombosis in his arteries.  In 2005, the year he retired, he had 7 operations that resulted in him having both his legs amputated way up high.  He wasn't expected to live each time he was operated on as gangrene ravaged his limbs and his lungs were affected badly with emphysema from smoking from a young age.  But he did survive and eventually was moved from Westmead Hospital in Sydney to a nursing home near his children.


He made the most of this life he had ended up with.  There was no more alcohol and no more cigarettes, so he went through some pretty terrible withdrawal symptoms as well. He was also addicted to morphine as he was left with gangrene eating away his limbs for different time spans as they decided what to do and how much of his limbs to remove with each operation.  The morphine was pumped into him continuously so he could be monitored without suffering that terrible pain that he would have without dope.  He had to come down from that addiction as well.


Once he was adjusted he began to become more independent and mobile in his wheelchair.  He became a spokesperson for the other inmates and brought about many changes for the good of those people in that place that he now knew as home.  He attended management meetings of the nursing home as the representative of the inmates (as I call them).  He began to paint and draw, something that he was always good at but only ever did for the children when they were young.  I believe that some of his paintings went overseas to who knows where.  Most of them he gave away and my only disappointment is that his children don't have any of them to keep.


My youngest son and my daughter both wanted to take their father out of the nursing home and look after him.  However they knew as time went by that he was better off where he was, that he had made the home his home and he would be lonely without the interaction with staff and inmates.  He always had someone coming by to visit him in his room .. they would roll in their wheelchairs and sit and talk to him.  So he stayed where he was until a few weeks ago when he became ill and was take to Westmead Hospital.


This is where I stepped back into the picture.  I hadn't seen my ex since our grand-daughter's christening I guess and she is now 13.  I knew how he was and all about the dramas and how ill he had been and how brave he was from my youngest son and daughter.  But even though I wanted to go and see him I held back.  I didn't want to upset him or cause problems for our children with their father.  My eldest son and I share a home and he has never been able to reconcile issues about his father.  So I guess I felt that it was best for the two of us if I stayed away from his father.  And then of course I found it very hard to face up to the reality of seeing him with no legs.  I guess I found plenty of reasons not to see him because I couldn't face that reality.


But once he was in Westmead and the prognosis was not looking good I did go to see him.  I went with my eldest son and daughter and granddaughter and when they went into his hospital room I stayed outside in the hallway hoping they would forget I was there.  I must have been out there for maybe 10 minutes when I heard my daughter tell her father I was outside and would like to see him.  Next thing I was at the bed and he was shaking hands with me.  How weird that was ... the man I spent so much of my life with, the father of my children, was shaking my hand like I was no-one.  He asked me to sit to the side of the bed, not next to the bed, away a bit.  He never looked at me although he listened when I was talking to the others in the room and made a few comments.  I tried not to look at the bed where there was nothing, no legs, but of course I did.


When it was time to leave I went to him and leant over the bed to kiss him on the forehead.  He lifted his face and kissed me on the lips.  Emotional to the extreme. I left there with a heavy heart because I did manage to look at his eyes and I saw fear and dread.  It seemed like he had a secret and didn't want anyone to look into his eyes and see it.  I saw a man dying.  A couple of days later after having a bad turn that night I saw him, he told our daughter he had liver cancer and they were going to test tissue and then consider chemo or radiation treatment. 


She thought he was probably suffering from the morphine and having nightmares so she hastily found a way to speak to the doctor and was told all and it was even worse than her father told her.  She was told that he had pancreatic cancer with a large tumour on the pancreas, and numerous other secondary tumours on the liver.  He had a month or less to live.  He was of course under the effects once more of morphine and was continuously on oxygen.


My youngest son was in denial.  No way was this going to happen, it was all b/s!  His father decided he didn't want to go to St Josephs Pallative Care Unit but wanted to go back to the nursing home.  So arrangements were made for him to have an oxygen unit in the room and for administration of morphine on a needs basis - he only had to ask and he was given morphine.


I saw him 3 more times after that day at the hospital and these were visits to the nursing home.  He drifted in and out of sleep all the time and always said he couldn't sleep - he was so tired, but he couldn't sleep.  We held hands sometimes and he kissed me when I arrived each visit and before I left.  I asked him if he minded me visiting him and he said 'no, I love it'.  I hoped that by being there without even saying very much due to his inability to concentrate for more than a few minutes, he would find peace and know that I was there because I cared and respected him as the father of my children.  I was also there because I remembered how much I loved and adored him all those years before.  How he was the only man I ever wanted or looked at for so many years.


Whilst all the bad history is there, that's what it is .. history.  I have found peace and did find it a long time ago by not dwelling on that bad stuff.  I made a choice and I walked away from it.  There was no point in dragging it along with me as well.  I have never bad mouthed my husband to his children because there was no need. They knew most of it and had as they grew older, lived with it and hated it and at times no doubt hated him.  We talked about those days sometimes but there never were any words of hate or hope that he would one day suffer like we did.


I decided on Sunday the week before last not to go and see my ex during the following week.  He had a lot of visitors and he was tired so I decided to stay away until the weekend.  But we received word at 2.30 am on Saturday 10 November that he died at 1.30 am that morning.  He was sitting up in bed watching TV apparently and just stopped breathing.  Although I felt a great sadness I also felt gratitude that he would no longer suffer.  If what he went through was some kind of penitence, then he had paid more than his dues.  He died courageously and with dignity and he will always be remembered for the calibre of man that he was when he was his real self.


My life is not what I envisaged it would be.  I never saw that we wouldn't be together for ever in those early days and yet we had to part even though neither of us ever found anyone else to partner up with.  I think that deep down neither of us wanted to ever be that hurt again nor did we want to ever hurt anyone else ever again like we hurt each other.


May he rest in peace and his soul find those of beloved who have gone before him.  He is not gone, he is just away.


Spence William Brooks
Born 27.3.1942
Passed Away 10.11.2007


Loved father of Anne-Maree, John and Aaron.  Grandfather to Carly and father-in-law to Tony.


Loved brother of Ena and Isabel and brother-in-law to Bob and Jack.

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