April 2004

Sunrise over Mt Ainslie.

The month started with a Scouts trip to Wee Jasper for abseiling and caving. As always, I thoroughly enjoyed the abseiling, although the climbing back up again is always a pain. I needed to get back before they went off to go caving.

Excellent view of the “thumb in bum” technique.

Muggins looking good.

This kid, confident as all getup on the ground, could not relax enough to enjoy himself.

One of the instructors. You can tell!

Going down again, this time with the camera.

A leader this time, flailing his right hand.

Beautiful country out there.

The team of Venturers who will be leading and coordinating the upcoming trip to Honiara.

After a few (almost) frantic days at work finishing off programs before I left, I’m now finally on the plane to the US. It’s funny being able to update this page mid-flight. Can’t post it to the site, but I can at least update it on the laptop.

Julie and I had dinner with her sister Nancy and her husband Jim on Friday evening at the Outback, which is a chain of “fake” Aussie restaurants. The waiter made the mistake of saying that “Aussies don’t come here”, and if and when they ever do, they just laugh. I did! It’s really just American food with Aussie names.

The next morning, Nancy left this message on the answering machine:

This paragraph is being updated from the home of my new daughter April and her husband Mikey, with whom I played golf for several hours today. It’s nice to know that I can still hit a ball (straight)! We’ve just finished dinner with them and Julie’s parents, Bob and Ada, Mikey’s father Michael, and Mikey’s grandmother Kay. They have a wireless network in their home – cool!

Over the past month or so, April has been badgering both of us for details of how our relationship started and developed, and last night we found out why. She had put a HUGE amount of effort into creating a scrapbook for us, which even included comments from family members and some of our work colleagues. As soon as I can get near a scanner, I’ll post a copy of one of the pages. And Julie has dug out her old photo albums, so now I can put her “album” up here properly.

Nancy and Jim have just advised us that we’re going to be Uncle Rodney and Aunty Julie in September.

Even with my newly rediscovered confidence, I have found that just the slightest mishap, like getting lost (remember this is the guy with the built-in GPS system), can completely throw me back to the middle of last year. The intensity of the emotions produced by this process still take me by surprise.

A quick trip to Alki Beach.

By far the highlight of the week has been the ferry ride in brilliant sunshine to Whidbey Island to stay overnight with Bob and Ada.

Their house overlooks Useless Bay and further out to the shipping in Puget Sound. You need to look at a map to see that Seattle is quite a long way from the ocean and all shipping enters and exits via the Sound. On the way down to the ferry terminal, I had the laptop switched on. It’s amazing how many wireless networks it picked up along the way. One of them even allowed me to connect to the Internet (briefly) as we drove past.

Our time at Bob and Ada’s place was just the ultimate in “relaxing”. By the time we walked off the ferry on the way back, we were not really wanting to crank up again and prepare for the inevitable departure. Never again do we want to be apart for this length of time. We have gathered most of the paperwork we need for Julie’s visa application and expect to have it submitted by the end of this month. Then we just wait for 3 to 4 months for the approval.

The next day, we tracked down Veterans Memorial Plaza in Lynnwood and found the tiles for both Bob and Julie.

For this event at Mike and April’s place, Bob and Ada had driven over to the mainland.

We enjoyed some more time with Mike and April at a Mariners game, which they won, 5-1.

The flight home was of course very long – all up it’s 26 hours on the go, particularly since I usually plan in longer stopovers than really necessary, but I’ve been stuck before with not enough time for transferring.

Kingsford Smith airport in Sydney.

Some of my American friends don’t believe we have real mountains here. Here’s the proof:

I keep getting loaded down with a pervading feeling of sadness. While I’m very happy with the way my life is panning out, I seem to be missing Doris more than usual lately. I’m also feeling frustrated that my memories of her seem to be fading. It’s like I want to hold onto all of them, but that’s just not possible. Combined with the ever-present ability of my mind to go blank at the most inopportune moments, it can be quite a depressing combination. And then just when I think I’ll finally get some sleep, the old brain gets itself cranked up and keeps me awake!

It’s a long weekend here for Anzac Day and I’ve been suffering from a gastric bug since Friday night. The last time I vomited was just after we arrived in the Philippines in 1991, but I’ve done it again twice in 12 hours. Not a good look! And I’m still pooping water 24 hours later. I went to doctor who gave me a jab in the bum to stop the vomiting. Just goes to reiterate the concept that when you’re emotionally drained and the tank is empty, any energy needed comes from the body itself and not from reserves. It’s completely wiped me out – everything aches and it’s very hard to do anything. Even getting out of bed is a struggle. Sunday and feeling a lot better. I really wanted to go to the Anzac Day parade, but would not have survived the walking and standing.

Meanwhile Julie is feeling pretty insecure and a little scared, facing a major move. She is going to have to do what my Dad did many years ago, when he moved out of his own house to go and live with Kath. He made available to us, a big chunk of his estate, mostly in the form of low interest loans, so that we could make use of money that he couldn’t use. While Julie doesn’t have much in the way of money, she does have lots of very precious stuff, some of it dating way back to her own childhood, that she needs to pass on. She is also very concerned about moving so far away from her parents, who are now in their 80’s. And I’m sure she is worried about where she can fit into the household here. Brave lady. But we love each other and that’s what counts.

I really learnt something from Julie at the baseball match last week and it’s taken me a while to realise it. It was during the national anthem that she showed that “the land of the free” REALLY means what it says for her. It’s made me re-evaluate my own level of patriotism, especially with the emotion of Anzac Day floating around. Do I know my own national anthem? Well yeah, I can follow along, but don’t ask me to take the lead! It’s been a heavy weekend. Julie and I are both cracking up, for different reasons.

The silver lining to the weekend has been that it gave me an opportunity to wean myself off the sleeping pills, something that the doctor and others have been pressing me to do. I have also taken the opportunity to slow down enough from the constant internal pressure to keep “stayin’ alive”, to sit back and take stock, to document in summary form where I have come in the last year, where I am now and what the future is likely to hold. Here it is.

2003/04: A synopsis

I’m writing this for many reasons:

• To put it down somewhere, so that I can clear my head from always having it processing.
• To summarise for myself the events of the last 12 months.
• To try to put some focus on what lies ahead and to begin to put together a plan for the coming months and years.

As I see it, I have these issues:

• Working through the events leading up to and including losing Doris so suddenly and unexpectedly in July last year.
• Analysing the rapid developments of later in the year, of meeting and marrying Julie and then returning home to Australia.
• Dealing with being alone in the short term, often feeling lonely and sad as a result.
• Developing further my relationship with Stewart, so that we can remain good friends.
• Developing my relationship with Julie, as well as being a support to her in all of her major changes.

Back in July of last year, I would gladly have given anything, even my own life, to reverse the events leading up to Doris’s collapse. There are times when I am really annoyed at both her and myself, that we did not give any thought to the possible ramifications of her doing such heavy exercise. It is a given for me that Doris knew that something disastrous was going to happen to her. It is quite possible that she was concentrating on getting fit and losing weight in an attempt to offset whatever it was she was expecting to happen.

I also need to come to terms with the idea that something was going to happen anyway and it just turned out the way that it did. And that there was in fact nothing that I could have done to change it. All up, I am very happy with the travels that we managed to do, which was after all one of the major motivations of going to the US in the first place. And I am glad that I did manage to teach her how to accept love unconditionally, which appears to have been my primary sacred contract with her. And I also feel very privileged to have loved and been loved by such a remarkable woman. That she chose to take an exit point in a foreign land has some interesting connotations.

She told me after she went that in terms of timing, she needed to put me into a time and place where I could deal with losing her in the shortest possible time frame, which also necessitated having very little support from well known sources. And that she would find me another partner who would help me to fulfil the destiny that awaits us, while the only way that Doris could truly be able to help me was from the other side. She certainly lived up to the first part, as Julie walked into my life less than 3 months later. I had expected 3 years. I certainly had far less support than I would have had in Canberra, where I would have leaned on friends and colleagues much more. I had to survive this myself, using my own resources, or at least those which I could muster myself, often preferring not ask too much of friends and colleagues that I had only known for a short time. And I have. It was not until I got sick last weekend and had to stop and sleep, that I was able to slow down from the grinding onward push of just staying alive, for long enough to sit back and take stock.

Meeting Julie the way I did certainly took me by surprise. Within a few short weeks, we met, decided that we enjoyed each other’s company, took it one step further to see whether we had the makings of staying together for the long time and then decided to make the commitment to really make it work. Whether we were being fair on each other to start a relationship under such adverse circumstances is probably not relevant. We did and it continues to work out, to the point where I actually look forward to her evening phone call to me at work around lunch time, just to hear her voice.

I now understand that I hurt Stewart deeply by not telling him what was developing in the US after he had gone home. I have apologised to him for this and he appears to have accepted that apology in the spirit in which it was given. I have also explained to him that there is not a day goes by that I don’t feel Doris close by, and that she is always not far away from both of us.

There are still times when I would rather just not be alive, compensated by occasional times when I am actually happy to still be here. This is a complex wave motion effect, where I am constantly having to remind myself to live in the present moment, to learn from the lessons of the past and allow the future to take care of itself. That present moment can throw me almost anywhere, even now, from admiring a beautiful sunset, and being able to thank the universe for providing it, to emotional situations that can provoke a highly emotional response, usually escalating into me bawling my eyes out. I’m OK while I’m concentrating – it’s when I finish that the thoughts and emotions start running haywire again. I tend to “think” a lot while I’m driving.

Most of the time, Stewart doesn’t see me in the more emotional moments. For his own reasons, he doesn’t want to go there and just wants to get on with his life, from a very practical viewpoint of staying alive himself and certainly not out of any disrespect for his mother. So I try to maintain a peaceful, easy going attitude towards him, so we can continue to share our house without either one of us feeling the need to push the other out. And even then, it can get pretty tense if I’m processing or he’s studying. I believe he will need me around for a kind of unspoken support for quite a while yet. At the same time, when he does little things to “look after” me, I certainly appreciate having him around me.

I firmly believe that in a convoluted sort of way, both Julie and I are going to need the next several months of not being together, as hard as that prospect seems now. I need to get through next July in one piece and in fact expect to be either still in the Solomon Islands, or on the way home, on 15 July. I just hope that Stewart can find a way to survive the day. I also need to work through all the other “stuff” that keeps thundering through my mind and to a certain extent need to keep focused on doing just that. Meanwhile Julie needs to spend as much time as she can make available with her family, particularly her parents and her daughter. She also needs to accelerate the process of effectively executing her own will, of ensuring that the various heirlooms in her house, many of which are very precious to her, dating back to her own childhood, go to those people who need to receive them. And she needs to allow herself to grieve for her grandmother and to rationalise her decision to move away from her parents and to leave her country, of which she is passionately proud.

At this stage, my plans for the future stretch to about the end of this year, including:

• Finishing the process of getting all of the paperwork together for Julie’s visa application, which she will then post to the Australian Embassy in Washington DC.
• Continuing to promote organ donation in the ACT by working with Holly and Erika, talking to community groups, etc.
• Enjoying the time working with the Venturers and Rovers in Honiara.
• Getting over to Seattle whenever the visa is approved, to help Julie to pack up and then bring her home.
• Probably moving out of the unit towards the end of the year, into something bigger for the 3 of us to live in comfortably.

For those who are interested, I have included a link to a new website called The Gift of a Lifetime, which has lots of photos and stories detailing the whole process of organ donation and transplant. Fascinating stuff, but I can only take it in small doses at this stage.