September 2003

After 6 days on the road, we’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing wrong with America is that it’s full of Americans!

We took the opportunity to take a day off before and after the Labour Day long weekend at the beginning of September, to honour Doris’s promise that would “show me the Rockies one day”.  It has been a real blessing that Stewart has done the vast majority of the driving and allowed me to sit back and relax (most of the time) and take in the scenery (and spot for bears).  He has the ability to just chill out and drive for hours, as I did when I was his age.  We covered over 2300 miles (that’s over 3500 K’s) in the 6 days we had available, as we bolted straight after work on the Thursday afternoon.  We followed the I-90 out through Eastern Washington, the top of Idaho and down through Montana into Yellowstone National Park, which is in the top left corner of Wyoming.  When we left on Monday morning, we went down through the Grand Teton National Park, over a couple of mountain ranges, across the bottom of Idaho and back in through Oregon and the Columbia River Gorge.

Yellowstone.

Doris had always wanted to see a moose in the wild.  On just the second day in the Park, there was a bloody huge moose about 25 feet away!  Any other ones we saw after that were a bit of a disappointment.

We found out that it’s very easy to get up close and very personal to a bison, especially when the herd crosses the road in front of you.

We even saw a rather confused looking coyote.

The highlight for me was the massive power of the thermal areas, to which mere photos often can’t do justice.

At Old Faithful.

Moving on.

As for the Grand Tetons, now that’s rocky!  And big!  I kept saying, “Well, Doris, I see what you mean about the Rockies.”

Leaving the park.

Something very wrong with this picture – the truck in front is towing this one backwards!

A geologist’s heaven.

Roadside fire.

Glad we’re not going in that direction.

Getting back into work “full strength” has been particularly difficult.  I’m finding it very hard to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes at a time and I take lots of long walks during the day.  I guess eventually the ratio of “real work” to “what am I doing here?” will improve.  It did over time all those years ago when I left Val; I guess I’ll get there again one day.  And I guess one day, the pain won’t be quite so all-encompassing.  I’ve done all that I can at this time to compartmentalise my life, to give as much as I have available to my work, to be as together as I can for Stewart and to give myself as much space for myself as possible.

Now is the time to set up a schedule for yourself to call us or write to us.  I am feeling so desperately lonely!  I can be surrounded by people and still feel completely alone!  Every time I receive a phone call or an e-mail message, it reinforces that someone actually cares about me, because a lot of the time, I really don’t care about myself.  I’d like to crawl into a hole for the next 3 years and sleep.

Each of my weekly session with counsellor Nancy have managed to provide me with not only the opportunity to unload in a safe environment, but also with some small practical details to enable the numbed mind to function a bit more easily.  Sometimes it’s as simple as putting out the sleeping tablet at 6:30 when I take my other stuff, so that I can tell at 8:30 whether or not I’ve taken it. Apparently I still have her “permission” to wallow in my misery for a while longer.

My day starts at 5 am (sometimes even earlier if I’m already awake) when the alarm goes off, which gives me about an hour of buffer time before I have to start getting ready for work.  Often I head for the gym downstairs for walking and weights, or if I need to start early and make up time at work and forgo the car pool for the day, I can be on the road by 6 and at work by 6:30.  On Mondays and Wednesdays, I collect my car pool buddies from Kirkland (north from here, then come straight back through Bellevue), so I’m out at 6:45.   On the other days, they collect me from downstairs at about 7:10, hence the timing buffer.

When I’m not feeling sad and depressed, I’m actually excited by some of the messages I’m getting via ESP from Doris.  Apparently I have a very bright future and she is with me to the end of my time in this lifetime.  We actually have long conversations in the shower.  Perhaps the water transmits better.  It seems that she has to slow down from light speed to be able to make contact.  “So what’s new?” I hear you say.

Meanwhile, Stewart is now working at his volunteer job at the YMCA Gym, just up the road from home and they are just delighted with him.   He has variable shifts, all starting at 10 am, so he had a reason to get out of bed every weekday.  Apparently, he has a “sassy” attitude that seems to eliminate problems before they arise.  Perhaps he learnt from Doris after all.  And when I rang there the other day, I was surprised to hear how mature he sounded on the phone.

The highlight of the work environment this week was the cricket match between BAL (Boeing Australia Limited) and the RPT (Resident Project Team, alias the RAAF people).  Guess who hit the winning runs!  No-one was more surprised than me.  The ball started out with a large crack and ended with a huge one, so it’s now with me to get it made up into an annual trophy.  I’ve asked that it be named as a memorial trophy in memory of Doris
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It looks like the rainy weather has started to make its entrance.  The last few minutes of the cricket match were rather wet and over the last few days, the rain has alternated from none to a light drizzle to absolutely bucketing down.  Today (Sunday 14th, exactly 2 months ago it all started, hmmm) it’s been fine and sunny all weekend, but I’m assured that the rain is well and truly on its way and that we should get used to it.

My life seems to be full of contradictions at the moment.  A lot of what I do is dull and boring, but I don’t have the energy for it to be exciting and challenging.  I miss Canberra, but getting back there involves starting a new job and being expected to perform like a new employee or new incumbent.  I go out for yet another walk and realise that I’m just so tired and my legs are already aching and do I really want to go walking again?  I look back on just how much we used to talk, about anything or just nothing and I realise how special it is to have someone “on tap” to talk to.  And I miss constantly touching and being touched.  Every time we were near each other, there was contact.  I run from deep depression where it’s quite obvious that no-one gives a stuff about me, through to being invited to parties or out to dinner, or hanging out with Stewart on a good day, when life is almost normal and I can be positive and look forward.

We went to the Boeing Family Day at Everett.  We had seen a TV program on the 747 plant and it really didn’t do justice to the sheer size of the place.  Boeing buildings are usually pretty big, but the hangar where both the 747’s and the 777’s are built is 4 buildings side by side with no adjoining walls.  It’s HUGE!!!  Because it was the Family Day, the production line was shut down and many of the working bits were pushed in together to make way for wide walk-through corridors.  Stewart was fascinated by areas inside, into which we couldn’t see, where clearly there would be lots of activity.  We finally worked out that these areas would be where the aluminium sheet would get bent, folded, etc and attached to the strut thingies, to make wing pieces and all the pieces would eventually get joined together and come out over the top as a complete wing, to be attached to the body making its way down the open space.  It was really impressive to see a 747 not even painted yet, in the final stages of interior fit out.

Stewart has now returned to Canberra on the 23rd of this month,  as he really needs to get out of here.  Of course, I didn’t even get as far as the airport car park before turning into a blubbering mess, but hey, that’s pretty normal these days.  Initially he’ll stay with Philippa and her family and will be working on finding somewhere for us to live.  So if you know of a nice 2 or 3 bedroom something near Civic for less than $350 a week …  And if you know of anyone needing a really loyal employee skilled in IT Helpdesk, Access databases and Configuration Management …

Meanwhile, I’ll stay on to finish my contract and do some more grieving and growing.  I still plan to fly in on Christmas Day and I already have an invitation to be collected from the airport and whisked away to Don and Deb’s farm at Burra for lunch with their family.

The “Doris Turner Memorial Trophy” has now arrived, complete with the split ball which is mounted on a support structure and the passport photo of Doris that everyone really likes.  I must try to get a photo of it before I present it.  Problem with that is that Stewart has taken the camera with him, so that he can send back photos of any accommodation that he likes the look of.

I have managed to eat reasonably regularly, although I think my stomach has shrunk, so I can’t fit in any of the larger portions, so I tend to have some fruit around for grazing in between.  Dinner is a combination of making something simple and experimenting with the local restaurants.  At least with just one of me, if it’s an expensive one, I get out of it a bit better off.  I even got invited down to Chrissie’s place downstairs one night, to watch the first episode of the new series of “The Bachelor” with the girls.

I went to the Donor Family Gathering, put on by the Eye Bank and the Tissue Center, and as arranged, spoke to the gathering for about 5 minutes.  Here’s the draft of what I had to say.

(At this point my left knee was shaking uncontrollably & I had already taken not just 3, but well over a dozen, deep breaths & they weren’t working!) Breathe. I’ve got a really great counsellor who says breathing is good.
G’day.  Where I come from, that means hello.  As you’ve probably figured from my accent, I’m not from around these parts.  I’m from Australia, specifically from Canberra, which is the national capital, our equivalent of your Washington DC.  Quick show of hands, please, those of you who know where Washington DC is.  And a quick show of hands, those of you who know where Canberra is.  Hmm, fairly normal.  It’s about half way between Sydney and Melbourne.
On a slightly different subject, quick show of hands, please, for those of you who, about 2 to 3 months after you lost your loved one, the people at work started to show from their body language, that they had unconsciously decided that it was time for you to stop blubbering, snap out of it, get over it, pull yourself together and get on with your life.  Yeah.  And did anyone actually say any of those things?  No, they probably didn’t dare come out and say them out loud.  But you could tell that’s what they were thinking.
It’s a problem we have in our Western society.  We don’t know how to grieve, and consequently, we don’t know how to help others to grieve.  In some cultures, a death is followed by huge quantities of wailing, especially by the widow and close female relatives, followed by lots of sleep.  In fact I have a theory, that in the same way that a pilot has to do his 50 hours of flying to qualify for whatever and 1000 hours for something else, we all have to do our mandatory 50 hours of crying in order to start healing.  And we can choose to pack it all into the first 3, 6, 12 months or we can spread it out over a period of many years.
This is the first and the last opportunity that I will have to join this gathering.  My family and I were only ever here in Seattle for a short period of time.  I’m on a work assignment with Boeing, we arrived in March of this year and I’m going home at Christmas.  In fact I fly into Canberra on Christmas Day.  My wife Doris was not able to work here due to visa restrictions, and she took the time to really look after herself – ladies, you’d know the story, hair, skin, nails, diet, exercise.  On 14 July, while she was exercising at home, she burst a blood vessel in her brain, collapsed on the floor, was taken to Intensive Care, and died early the next morning.  And then of course, the subject of organ donation came up.
The actual decision to donate Doris’s organs was a no-brainer, if you’ll please pardon the pun.  It was what she wanted, and I know that, because we had discussed it.  The actual signature on the form was relatively easy.  The really hard part, and I know that I’m preaching to the converted here, was ticking the boxes.  Actually having to think about which particular bits of the one you love, that you’re going to give away, was something that I really hadn’t thought about, and suddenly it was right there in my face.  I now make a point of telling people about that, when the subject comes up, so that they can have the opportunity to think about it in advance and not have to deal with it on the spot.
I have to say I’m impressed by the way that Americans manage to do things in a really big way.  Big cities, big buildings, big freeways, interstate 4-lane highways right across the country.  And you have the ability to get yourselves organised.  As soon as I had agreed to an organ donation, there was a process in place and I knew it was going to lead to an inevitable conclusion, whatever that was.  I’m sure you’ve all been through that process and you all know what it’s like.
Every time I look at any of the various organisations that make up the organ donation and transplant network here in the North West, the one thing that stands out for me is the involvement of volunteers.  Doris was a manager of volunteers in a whole variety of work environments, over a period more than 20 years.  One measure of her stature in the Canberra community was that over 300 people turned out to her memorial service, and nearly half of them had to stand out in the cold, with temperatures in the mid 40’s.  So on her behalf, I’d like to thank all of the volunteers, and the paid staff, of all of those organisations, for doing the work that you do.
You know, in all of my grief, I still have things to be grateful for.  I’m grateful that my son was home at the time and wasn’t off at the Scout camp where he could have been, because he called the ambulance, and that gave us the opportunity to spend 2 days with Doris before she was gone forever.  The other major piece of “grateful” that I have is that at least some part of Doris lives on, literally.  There are 2 very lucky men in their mid-40’s, somewhere here in Washington State, each with a new kidney, and I hope and pray that they have the courage to come forward and meet me before I leave.  And I would like to thank all of the local organisations, and in particular Life Center North West, with whom I had the most contact, who enabled that process to happen.
I talked earlier about ticking the boxes and deciding on the parts.  Whatever decision you make is, by definition, the correct one.  My step-son and I decided at the time on “internal organs only”, so my apologies to the Eye Bank and the Tissue Centre, sorry guys, you missed out.  But I’d like to make amends in some small part, by inviting Kara from the Lions Eye Bank to come forward, please, and accept my wife’s reading glasses.
Thanks for listening.

Apparently, I touched a lot of people with what I had to say.  Many of them mentioned that what I had said was what they had been thinking, but hadn’t quite formulated it into words yet.

I also went on the Walk and Talk organised by LifeCenter Northwest and did lots of walking and not much talking.  Then at the very end of the walk, I was introduced to David, who lost his only daughter Tia last year in a traffic accident.  David and family have started the T.I.A. Foundation, to raise awareness of accidents occurring at intersections.  David proceeded to ask me to lunch with the rest of his family to celebrate his mother’s birthday.  Reading this, you probably have no idea how hard it is sometimes, to just say “yes”.  Lunch lasted most of the afternoon!

I have also purchased some website space and if you’re reading this, then you’re already on it.  It has enabled me to publish a lot of the photos that were weeded out for the original site because of space restrictions and also to go back and publish the photos of our trip to the east coast in far greater detail.  I have also been able to include many of the full size original photos.  I’ll redirect the old site when my new domain name becomes active.

Meanwhile, my goal of getting to the end of a day and being able to say that I have survived another day remains the primary focus.