A Change of Plans — Christmas Upside-Down

AA ship 1 1 13 Nov 2013

WInter sunset, Felixstowe

Clive’s mobile phone rang in the early-morning darkness, with the news from one of his sisters in Australia that their mother is approaching the end of her life.

Conversations now include those phrases and euphemisms such as ‘palliative care’, ‘pain management’, and ‘keeping her comfortable’.

Clive spent the morning thinking about possible options and discussing them with me. With my full support, he decided he wanted to see his mother one more time alive, rather than at her funeral.

By way of background, his mother has been rapidly declining in recent years and for some time has not appeared to recognise Clive when we visit. However, we have felt, as many others do in similar situations, that something inside her did reflect a slight spark or awareness that it was her only son who sat beside her.

Previously, Clive had thought (and told his sister) that, when the time came, he would return to Australia for his mother’s funeral. Within a short time after receiving the morning phone call, he realised he would rather see his mother while she is still alive. As it happens, I did something similar with my father almost exactly three years ago, visiting him in the U.S. when he was dying but still able to recognise me. We said our goodbyes and, for a number of reasons, I did not return for his funeral and felt at peace with that decision.

Adding to the complexity of our current situation in the UK, only yesterday Clive’s father was discharged from hospital and is dealing with many difficult issues of his own. Clive’s parents divorced when he was very young, and although we are closer geographically to his father, his priority lies with his mother, who raised him.

So, once decided, we began the urgent processes of finding flights, communicating with Clive’s children in Australia, and letting family and friends here in the UK know of our change of plans.

We can’t help but feel the irony: in our annual Christmas letter, we talked about feeling the effects of long-haul travel, jet lag, and general travel fatigue as we circle the world seeing loved ones, and admitting we’re not quite as young as we used to be. We shared that we planned to do somewhat less travel in 2014, bringing our children to us for one visit. Now, before some friends have finished reading our letter, here we are, travelling again.

Life is nothing if not unpredictable, today’s families are dispersed geographically, and there is no timetable for illness and approaching the end of life.

As for me, on one hand, I relate deeply and totally to what Clive is feeling, as I felt exactly the same with my father’s situation. On the other hand, if I’m completely honest with myself, my first reaction after we received the early-morning call and Clive expressed his understandable desire to get to Australia ASAP to see his mother, was simply wanting to weep. We returned from Thanksgiving in the US with a huge sigh of relief, both of us weary from a year of rewarding but tiring family visits and thrilled to keep our feet on the ground for a month or two.

We’d made plans for a relatively quiet Christmas in England — a number of warmly-anticipated get-togethers with friends, our first New Year’s Eve fancy dress party with a pantomime theme (Clive was going as Jack with me as the Beanstalk), dinners for two, and cozy winter weeks by the sea in Felixstowe.

I was also going to review my photos from our 2013 travels, write a blog post or two about our times in Australia with Clive’s children and grandchildren and the visits to my mother and son in the US — all of which have been superseded by current events.

It feels churlish to say I wish we’d had more than three weeks at home before hauling ourselves to an airport again and turning all our Christmas plans upside-down. Then I remember: if it were my mother, I’d do exactly the same thing, and would be grateful for Clive’s support in this most painful of life tasks.

So we telephone and e-mail and pack and get our affairs in order and pray that we will arrive in time to say goodbye.

9 Responses

  1. This is a sad journey. But even so please give my best to Clive and my wishes to you both for safe travels. I am sure Clives family will be greatful and comforted by your presence.

  2. I wish Clive much courage. I chose to go back to Australia to see my father before he died and got there just in time but I was able to stay for the funeral as well. My mother died quite quickly in the end so we only went to the funeral but had visited a few months beforehand so I that was fine. Both occasions were traumatic and exhausting so I feel for you.

  3. Martha B thanks for your comment and yes, the upside to a sad situation like this is the possibility of seeing the rest of Clive’s family — always a plus. Rosemary, really appreciate your sharing your experience and you definitely understand, especially re making the journey back to Australia.

    Thank you both!

  4. I can absolutely identify with all you have laid out in your latest post. The desire to stay put is very compelling, and we can all understand it. And you deserve it at your advanced age! However, one of the things my husband Roger has maintained ever since we lost his parents in the 90’s is that it is vital to make sure you don’t have regrets. I have worn out the turnpikes to visit both of my parents at the drop of a hat, and I am SO glad I did it. It was grueling, but I would do it again. I believe Clive’s mother will know on some level that he is there. Once she has passed, it won’t make such a difference. Go, Godspeed, and know that you are doing the best thing. Be safe, and give Clive a huge hug for me. You will be in our thoughts.

  5. Mary, thanks so much for your lovely comment and understanding, especially so soon after your own mother’s death – really appreciated. We do feel we’re doing the right thing and Clive says thanks for the hug 🙂

    Take care and all good thoughts back to you and Roger.

  6. My heartfelt condolences to you and especially to Clive, Carolyn. I read this straight away on my phone after you posted (the alerts come to my email that you have) but it is only just now that I have had a chance to get online on my laptop and write a proper response. A certain eight-year-old boy has commandeered the laptop for Internet games, lol. This is a welcome thing, in fact, but has curtailed my own use of tech (and I have not installed WordPress on the phone, yet).

    I’m really sorry that the timing of this is less than ideal, and I am really very sorry that a good-bye is in order, but I am so pleased to read that Clive is taking this chance to say good-bye in person. It is really important I think, and I am glad he’s doing it, especially following that inner knowing to do so. It’s best to follow one’s gut in those situations.

    Reading this, I thought about the past 18 months of my own life, and how unexpected change has completely upended where I live, who I am connected to, and really who I am in so many ways. I’ve re-joined parts of myself I thought were gone forever and had to leave other major parts behind. It’s life, isn’t it? We are always having to adjust to what can feel like robbery of who and what we know, and what it is that we hope for and want out of our lives. What I love about you and Clive is you are wonderful examples of how to pick up, roll with those punches, and still be people of love and grace in spite of the adversity that may come along.

    May I suggest at some point you go ahead and dress up in the fancy dress? LOL. I say this for the purely selfish reason of wanting pictures as it sounds really fun. I hope that you can have some chances to celebrate life even through loss.

    Only Forward, and here are huge virtual hugs from Denver coming your way.


    P.S. I don’t know if you use Facebook at all, but I have been posting a lot of things going on there — including photos of the most beautiful boy in the world. If you are there, we should connect as I would love to be able to share those things with you. xoxo

  7. Dear Carolyn & Clive,

    How are you? I am sorry to hear about you both having to return suddenly to Oz. I feel for you both. I wish you strenght and send lots of love your way. I just know that you are surrounded by the love of your family. They will hold you and carry you in these most difficult of times.

    I will just say that I understand very well your challenges. Sending much love from chilly Paris down to Oz.

    God bless your Mum, the both of you and your family.


  8. Karin, thanks so much for your sweet and thoughtful comment. I agree wholeheartedly about how things change and that being part of life.

    I think I’m the last person on the planet not on FB but I plan/hope to change that soon! Will look forward to seeing photos of you and your beautiful boy 🙂

    Good on ya and thanks again for taking time to comment. All the best to you for the new year.

  9. xpat92, hello and lovely to ‘see’ you here 🙂 Thanks for your comment and I know you truly understand.

    Hope you and D. are staying warm in Paris! That’s one of my favourite places on the planet to be chilly (or warm or cold or hot …).

    Cheers and best to you both for 2014.

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