Is 2016 over yet?

It’s been quite a year for me.

In January my mother died. Diagnosed with kidney cancer in December last year, she was given four to six months to live. She refused any treatment — at 88 years old, she figured enough was enough. Besides, her brain had given way to Alzheimer’s disease and she knew she didn’t have long to go before she wasn’t herself anymore. So she was happy enough to go. It only took a month from the diagnosis before she passed away in hospital.

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After that life became different. I grieved for my mother, obviously, but the truth also struck me that I was now an orphan. And since I’d spent the previous five years as Mum’s carer and working part-time, the loss of her struck rather hard. Despite all my care and attention, looking after her as her brain died from the Alzheimer’s, she still didn’t make it. I continued to live in her apartment, and still do, since it came to me under her will.

But life wasn’t the same. Not just the loss of my mother, but just about everything else as well. Although I am now “my own man”, as some people have commented, I am still surrounded by Mum’s furniture, possessions and memories. Being my own man, no longer responsible for her basically 24 hours a day, has taken some getting used to.

Then there were other things. My workload (I’m a tutor and help schoolkids with their studies after hours) dropped off. One of my major employers halved my working hours–their right to do so, but it still made inroads into my income. And I didn’t feel much like working anyway. I kept saying to myself, and others, “I just need to get my head together”. I’ve been getting my head together for ten months now. Next year, I have promised myself, I will get back to serious work.

It’s been a weird year writing, too. After having three novels and six short stories published in 2015, this year’s haul is one self-published novel and one short story. That may sound a lot by some people’s standards, but my publisher dumped me this year as well, which is why the one novel was self-published. This didn’t make me feel good at the time. It still doesn’t.

And then last month I almost caused a serious motor vehicle accident. My fault entirely.

The thing that really sent me downhill just a short time ago was Trump winning the US election. I’m Australian, but who the US President is matters to the rest of the world, and Trump’s denial of climate change is a serious issue.

So I took a couple of weeks away from everything. No news. No social media. No conversations with people about anything remotely controversial. I dug out some storage cartons which held some of my old books. I hadn’t seen these in six years since I’d moved in with Mum. I found a lot of old friends among the books and decided to take a couple of weeks off reading, writing, working and ignoring the rest of the world.

That’s where I am now. I put myself down for the National Novel Writing Month again this year (NaNoWriMo) and haven’t kept up with it. I don’t see the need to turn my latest book into some sort of internalised competition. It will arrive in due course when it’s supposed to.

So here I am, just me and the cat and my laptop, and hoping that the year will finish up as soon as possible and I can maybe see something better next year.

To all who have wished me the best, thank you. To all you I have perhaps let down a little, maybe broken a promise or something, I apologise. I’ve been a very angry person for a long while now. My mother’s deteriorating health was one cause of that. My own stubborn character is another. I’m trying to be a nicer person.

Russell Proctor    http://www.russellproctor.com

 

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Unconditional Love – A Eulogy for Elaine Proctor

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Last Sunday (appropriately Valentine’s Day) my family had a Celebration of Life for my mother, Elaine Proctor. She died on 24 January 2016 from kidney cancer. She also had Alzheimer’s at the time which was considerably advanced. Initially diagnosed with four to six months to live, she went downhill very quickly and was dead within a month of diagnosis.

It wasn’t a thing she dreaded. Mum was happy to go. She was 87, had lived a good life and her Alzheimer’s had made her not want to continue. We respected her decision.

At her request, and our agreement, there was no funeral. not even at the crematorium. Mum didn’t want any fuss and certainly didn’t want anyone turning up in dark-coloured clothes all teary-eyed. She had told us well in advance that we were just to have a simple get-together of family and friends and have a few drinks.

So that’s what we did. A morning tea and a champagne toast. I gave the eulogy, and I thought in respect to my Mum and those who perhaps couldn’t make it, I’d put it here. So this is it:

When I sat down to write this eulogy, I wanted to be able to sum up Mum in a sentence, some concise few words that would embrace her essence, her character.

Eventually I came up not with a sentence but just two words: Unconditional Love.

Mum loved her family without question. She married a fantastic man who loved her just the same. In case you don’t speak French, the Edith Piaf song you heard at the start of this celebration , “La Vie en Rose”, is about how the love of a man and woman can make them both see the good things in life, see each other through rose-coloured glasses. That’s how Mum and Dad saw each other, through a filter of unconditional love. And we, her three sons, had the benefit of that love as well.

No matter what happened, Mum’s love was always there. She would stress over us, worry about us, try to solve our problems even when we didn’t want her to, correct our behaviour when she thought it necessary and always sought the best for us. Mum always had an opinion, but she was sometimes shy of expressing it to those outside the family or close friends. She was a woman of remarkable intelligence and ability, guided in all decisions by what she saw as the right thing to do.

I don’t know if many people knew it, but Mum kept a diary. It wasn’t a daily thing. Sometimes whole months or even years would go by without a record, but especially when we three kids were little, Mum recorded incidents and conversations which she felt summed up her family life at the time. She would show these to us, sometimes to our embarrassment, years later because she wanted to share those moments when we were too young to see the funny side.

So today, at the risk of embarrassing both myself and my brothers, and one or two other people present, I’m going to read some extracts from the early years. This then is the dark underbelly of the Proctor family during the 1950’s and 60’s.

Russell has six teeth and is crawling everywhere. I always grubby. We got the gates for the top of the stairs to keep Russell in. He promptly climbed to the top aged 8 1/2 months. He can say Dad Dad and click his tongue and never stops doing it. Such an accomplishment.

***

Jeremy and Susan [cousin] have had a field day with the car. One day’s haul was 3 rags, 2 pegs 3 ice cream sticks and a screw driver put down the petrol tank. Also on several days handfuls of dirt all over. They’ve also had my handfuls all over their respective bottoms.

***

Today Mark asked for 2 pounds of butter to hold so he could see how heavy they felt as baby polar bears always weighed 2lbs when they were born. This is the middle of the breakfast rush.

***

Tonight at dinner the children were playing guessing games. Jeremy said “Something small, beginning with ‘r’ and it lives under the water.” Russell said, “A hippopotamus.” :That’s close,” says Jeremy. “Actually it was a rabbit.”

***

Larry passed his exams and we are all pleased for him. Now we have had 5 months wonderful relaxation and he’s finding it hard to start study again. More exams in Sept. 2nd part DPM [Diploma of Psychiatric Medicine] as we have a wonderful offer of a year’s locum from Nev Parker.

***

Mark is a cub scout again and is loving it. He went to the pictures in town today by himself. I took all three on Tuesday toAlladin” and “Tarzan” and even though Russell did spend half the time among the ice cream cartons on the floor at least this time we stayed the distance.

***

Larry and I, or just Larry really, has to finance 39 years of school and university. Still, I guess we are spending our money on the best commodity available.

***

Mark loving Churchie [school]. Is captain of his football team and captain of his school class. This is his third term at Churchie. We are very proud of him.

***

The purpose of these extracts is simply to show that Mum’s family was the uppermost thing in her mind. That she wanted to be where she was, doing what she wanted. When we had grown up and fled the nest, Mum went to university to study sex therapy in order to help Dad in his career. Now she was able to earn extra income because she no longer had to look after us on a day to day basis.  She still found a way to help the family even when she didn’t really have to. She was a woman who saw the importance of a career. She’d had one before she was married, and she still wanted one afterwards.

That’s what Mum was like. She could have taken it easy, but she didn’t. Contributing to the family was always in her mind.

Neither Mum nor I are spiritual or religious. But one day, when I was still going to school, I asked her if there was a meaning to life. Why were we put on this Earth? And she came up with an answer I didn’t expect. She didn’t know about anyone else, she told me, but she was put on Earth to have the family she did. Three boys who would grow up as three very different individuals and do things that no one expected. In other words, her purpose in life was to give life. Both her own to her family, and to help create the family itself.

And the family wasn’t just her three sons. She had grandchildren, Alissa and Emma, and now great-grandchildren, Maya and Arielle, who are also part of Mum’s legacy.

So, Unconditional Love. That was Mum’s gift to us. Love to show us that giving to others, for others, was what made her happy.

It made us happy too.

I will miss the good times and the bad. I will miss Mum’s smile, the way she obsessed over Humphrey the Cat. I will miss how when I was in primary school I would read Winnie the Pooh stories to her while she cooked dinner. Many other things. But we three sons carry with us the memories that will never leave us. If we miss those things such as those incidents I read out from the diary, then it was our pleasure and privilege to have experienced them.

So what do we say as our final words to Mum? Good bye obviously, We Love you, certainly. But there is one other phrase that must be said.

Mum – Thank you.

 

 

The Stranger in Our House

THE STRANGER IN OUR HOUSE

 The day starts early,

Sweeping the kitchen floor

Because of the ants.

My mother is still asleep, but drenched in sweat,

When she wakes up I will help her out of bed

Despite the pain,

Strip her down,

Find a fresh nightgown for her,

Put her in the shower and see she doesn’t fall as she cleans herself.

 

I’ve already had breakfast,

So I make her some.

But she doesn’t eat it.

She’ll be dead soon, she says, so what’s the point?

 

The cat has been fed and watered,

So I put the laundry on,

Since her sheets needs washing after the night-bathe of sweat.

Dressing her takes a while

Because she can’t get her arms above her head,

Because of the pain,

Because the new underpants are the wrong colour.

 

I hang up the sheets,

Put her in front of the television after swallowing pills

And giving her a heat pack

Because of the pain.

Kneeling before her to tie the heat pack on is like doing worship.

 

She falls asleep in front of the television,

Which gives me a little while

To do the things that must be done

For me.

 

We spend the afternoon among her hallucinations,

Discussing her friends and our family,

Whose side am I on?

(I’ve no idea,

Since there are no sides.)

“I’m on your side, of course.”

She asks me why my mouth is black

(It isn’t, but this is her fantasy, remember)

So I wipe my mouth.

She wants to know why there were only six roses

On the cat’s grave.

(The cat is curled up asleep at her feet,

Alive and well.)

 

I make dinner, and she goes to bed early

As usual.

I keep her door open and the bathroom door and my own.

So she can wake me in the middle of the night

To help her out of bed.

 

At two o-clock we are awake again

Because her room is full of spiders

That aren’t there.

—Russell Proctor

http://www.russellproctor.com

Life and Death

My mother is dying.

This isn’t an easy concept to come to terms with. The woman who gave me life is coming to the end of hers. She has Alzheimer’s, which for those who have never experienced such a thing is utterly incomprehensible. You can learn about Alzheimer’s, you can read about it. But the only way to know it is to go through it.

It’s probably one of the worst diseases of all. Here in Australia there used to be a TV series called “Mother and Son”, in which Ruth Cracknell played Maggie Bear, a woman with senile dementia. Her son, played by Gary McDonald, spent many “hilarious” episodes dealing with his mother’s affliction in such ways as caused much laughter.

Fuck off.

Alzheimer’s is a shit disease. There’s nothing funny about it. Nothing at all. While we’re at it, let’s laugh about cancer. Let’s laugh about 89 people killed in a Paris nightclub by terrorists. That’s the amount of fun Alzheimer’s disease is.

My mother is dying, and there’s nothing I can do about it. And it tears me apart, because the disease causes disruption between myself and my mother. I’m not angry at her, I’m angry at the disease which is killing her mind. But she does things which make me angry, things neither of us can do anything about.

The worst thing is, my father had Alzheimer’s too. And my mother had to look after him for the last four years of his life. Now she has it, and while I would willingly give my life for hers, that is a totally useless gesture in the face of this killer disease.

My mother is dying.

I will be the one to discover her corpse. That sounds horrible, doesn’t it? One morning I will walk in to discover my mother dead in her bed. That’s not something I’m looking forward to, but it’s going to happen. Each morning I wake up and check on my mother sleeping in her bed and make sure she is still breathing.

Life and death. And love. Because that’s all I have left.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

Why Nothing Works

I’m going out on a limb here. I’m going to say something totally radical and see who tells me I’m a complete moron. I’m also going to see who agrees with me and who says ‘Yes, you have a point, but…’

Because all of those points of view are valid.

So this is what I’m going to say: No one is right.

That’s right. No one is right. Right?

As we grow up, various people tell us what is right and what is wrong. Most of the time, at least during our early years, these people are relations. Parents, uncles and aunts, well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) brothers and sisters and cousins unto the fourth and fifth generations. Later on, these people are teachers, and friends, and then celebrities and even later on, they are our own children and then grand-children and basically the rest of society telling us do it this way or get out of town.

But in the end, the only person you should listen to is yourself.

And here’s the rider on that last statement that completely throws caution to the wind: not even you are right.

You’re wrong, ok? And so am I. And so is my mother, and your mother, and Kanye West and your favourite teacher in primary school and that man up on the pulpit telling you what you have to believe, and your favourite song and that inspirational meme you found on Facebook this morning.

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None of them (us). Because none of them (us) has the slightest idea what they’re (we’re) talking about. And they (we) never have.

You see, life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Every single one of the 108 billion people who have ever lived has had to wing it. That isn’t to say we haven’t looked for guidance, or embraced life lessons with a fervour that has often led to misunderstanding. Religion has brought comfort to billions of those billions, and yet has also caused divisiveness on a global and catastrophic scale. Worldly wisdom is both comforting and self-contradictory. Science strives to give us answers and yet produces more questions. Even your mother (sorry to bring her up, but she is important) has changed her mind about how best to raise you. But none of them, I venture to say, has the slightest idea what they’re talking about.

And this is perfectly natural. Because every one of those 108 billion people has been an individual. Unique. As a teacher, I try to instil the art of critical thinking in my students. ‘Question everything!’ I demand. ‘Even what I’m saying to you now!’ The ability to ask questions is the single greatest ability of the human mind, which is the single greatest and most complex organ in the known universe. ‘The worst reason for believing something,’ I continue, foam often frothing in the corners of my mouth, ‘is that someone told you it was so!’

I have no idea if any of my students have ever done what I have implored. It may well be a good thing if they haven’t. Because knowing that life is basically a make-it-up-as-you-go scenario and nothing anyone has ever said actually means squat is not the most comforting way to live one’s life.

Let me give you an example. Maybe more than one.

I’m a writer. I’ve had books and short stories published. This makes me feel good. I enjoy knowing that people are reading what I’ve written. I have so far made a bit of money from my writing. Not much, but making money isn’t why I write.  If I was slaving over a hot computer in order to make money I’d be in the IT industry or something to do with computers that actually made money. That’s my conscious decision and I’m fine with that. But I’ve read a lot about how to write books, and how to promote what I’ve written and how to make sales and I’ve also read a lot about how what I read about promotion actually doesn’t work and even the Big Five publishers have no idea what they’re doing and if I listened to both sides of the argument my head would explode. So nobody knows what they’re doing.

Take elections. Any elections. Nothing divides people more completely than politics. Except maybe religion. Both politics and religion have been responsible for an immense amount of human suffering, possibly to the same degree. But let’s take politics, because if you started me on religion my head would explode, and it’s already done that once so far since you started reading this. It doesn’t actually matter what politics a particular candidate wants to follow. Because all politicians are united in one way: a politician is utterly useless unless he or she is in power. So a politician’s whole agenda is geared towards getting into power, by whatever means possible. Once in power, he or she has the sole agenda of staying in power as long as possible, because otherwise they have no meaning. So politics is pointless, because ultimately nothing they do makes any point, because their whole agenda is self-centred.

Take science. I love science. Science has put people on the Moon and created this computer I’m typing on now and even saved my life when I was nine years old and was very, very sick. I have nothing against science personally. But it really does make life difficult. It’s got hard mathematics and big words and forces people to think and let’s face it, most people don’t want to think. They want answers, and all science does is provide ones they don’t want to know about. Global warming? Way inconvenient! Vaccines are safe? But that means the ‘research’ I did on the internet about how it causes autism is wrong! Evolution? But that means God may not actually exist! Excuse me, but I’m not sure I want to know that! And then you get scientists who don’t agree with each other. Where is that going?

Take human relations. I’m divorced. I got married and it lasted less than a year before my wife and I separated. I’m not casting blame here; it was the fault of both of us. We applied for a joint dissolution of marriage and were quite amicable about it. I even remember that after the divorce we both went to lunch together to celebrate. Human relations (love, romance, sex) are so unbelievably difficult that people like me just have no idea what is going on. There are a million how-to books and websites on obtaining a mate, and dating services and copious amounts of advice from friends and relations. And in the end we end up (or don’t) with someone. They may be the person of our dreams, Most often they aren’t. But most of us end up pretty much more or less happy. Usually. Or not. Because in the end, no one has the slightest idea about how to go about finding the right person to wake up next to forever.

Take diets. No, actually, don’t. Literally.

Look, I could go on. But basically, the point I’m making is that in every field of human endeavour there is a large number of people who spout all sorts of wisdom and how-to suggestions and tell us what it’s all about and what works and what doesn’t and what we must do in order to succeed or at least not fail or avoid fiery pits of eternity and in the end none of them actually have something that necessarily applies to us. We are all individuals.

What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for you. Or me. Or anyone else. In the end, we’re all just making it up as we go.

I’m sorry if that’s depressing. But there’s nothing I – or you – can do about it.

Just do your best. That’s all anyone can ask of you.

 

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

 

 

 

 

The Search for Solitude

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I like solitude. It’s different from loneliness, which is a whole big bucket of suck. I don’t get lonely anymore, though. Not since I discovered solitude.

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary tries to put similar meanings on the two words:
Lonely: 1. Solitary, companionless, isolated 2. unfrequented 3. sad because without friends or company, dreary.

Solitude: 1. The state of being solitary. 2 A lonely place.

But what does solitary mean? Well, again according to the COD it means ‘not gregarious, without companions, lonely’. But it also means ‘single or sole’. Or, in its more extreme definition, solitary is a noun meaning ‘hermit or anchorite’.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a hermit, not in the traditional sense of living in a cave and wearing a hair shirt and throwing ashes on myself. Nor, strictly, am I am anchorite in the sense of a religious recluse. But another meaning of anchorite is ‘a person of secluded habits’. I think that comes closest to being me.

I like being alone, not being lonely. When I was a teenager I was very lonely. I had friends, but they were exclusively male. I lacked a girlfriend, a female companion. In that sense I was lonely. But even then I enjoyed being alone, as in by myself.

This doesn’t make me odd. I am naturally a shy person. This may sound strange coming from someone who loves speaking in public, who loves acting and making people laugh. I do like all those things. But that’s because I’m performing. After the speech is over, after the play is done, I want to go back into my shell and stay there.

Which puts me at odds with many other people, those who like to party, who thrive on companionship and crowds, who love being with others. Sometimes they can’t believe I don’t want to socialise, that I am happiest when alone and doing things I enjoy, whether it be reading or writing or bushwalking or just sitting and thinking. I don’t need – indeed, I don’t want – anyone else to do those things with.

A neighbour asked me just a few minutes ago if I went to the Christmas Carols in the city hall last night.

‘No,’ I replied.

‘Really? Everyone was there.’

Well, patently not everyone. I wasn’t. But I let the generalisation slide.

‘Why didn’t you go?’

‘Because I didn’t want to.’

And that’s what she found hard to believe. That I wouldn’t want to go and be with thousands of others, including a plethora of children, to listen to songs I’ve heard playing in the shopping centres too many times already. I don’t deride others for wanting to do such a thing; I’m sure a good time was had by all. The thing is, if I had gone I wouldn’t have had a good time. And it’s not that I’m against Christmas carols or the holiday itself. I just would not have liked it. Too many people, too much commitment to pretending to be pleasant.

Maybe I’m weak. Maybe I’m selfish. Maybe I enjoy being alone simply because I don’t like being told what to do, and couldn’t care about anyone else. Maybe. I don’t know.

But solitude is good. I’m not married (I was, but I got better). I have no children. I don’t owe anyone any money. I have a career I love. I write books and tutor school students. I enjoy all that. I have problems, too, of course. Not everything is roses. But I enjoy being who I am.

Just because I don’t want to share that with others most of the time is nothing against them.

Solitude is when you can hear yourself think. It’s when problems are solved. It’s when the silence surrounds you and you can listen to it for a long periods of time. But it isn’t loneliness.

‘Don’t you get bored?’ people ask when they learn of my lifestyle. No, I don’t. Well, I do – everyone does – but I don’t need the company of others to relieve that boredom. I find things to do that amuse me.

So give solitude a go. Solitude is different to loneliness in that you can resolve solitude voluntarily – go and find someone to be with if you want. Loneliness is a horror, and not to be recommended.

I like my solitude. It’s personal space and time. And it’s mine.

Russell Proctor    http://www.russellproctor.com

https://www.facebook.com/writerproctor

 

Osteomyelitis goes to the bone.

When I was nine years old (like way back in 1966) I had osteomyelitis in my left ankle. This is a severe bone infection which causes pain, swelling and fever. I just woke up one morning and found myself limping. Fortunately, my father was a doctor and he got a surgeon friend to diagnose me and within days I was operated on. Normally, the treatment for osteo involves antibiotics, and we did those, except cleaning out dead bone tissue is also usually necessary.

As I was only a child at the time, there was some fear that my left leg would stop growing and I would now be an adult with an under-sized leg. This didn’t happen, mainly because Dad’s friend got to it in time, for which I am eternally grateful.

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It wasn’t a pleasant time for me. I was in hospital for what seemed like forever, then at home in bed with a cast on my leg for more months. I missed most of that year of school. My teacher supplied me with work so I could keep up. But it was a lonely and painful time. I became intolerant of people, I quickly grew tired and bored when friends came around to play – after all, I wasn’t in any position to run around the backyard with them. My family was great and caring and loving, but I still remember that time vividly. I still also have a scar on my left ankle that is very sensitive. It is directly over a nerve that still occasionally tingles and if I bump that area the pain is excruciating and debilitating for a while.

One night in hospital the nurse refused to give me pain medication (morphine) even though I was in desperate pain, and despite the doctor having ordered the nurses to give me medication as I requested it. She said I just had a broken leg. I have nothing against nurses: quite the contrary, they are an amazing (and under-paid) branch of the medical profession. But this nurse didn’t do me any favours. The doctor found out the next day and made sure I had as much medication as I needed.

Not everyone appreciated my condition. When I did finally go back to school I was on crutches for a while. My teacher was under orders from the principal to ensure that I wasn’t jostled or bumped trying to go up or down the stairs when class was let out. He didn’t. Mum arrived one day to see me trying to limp down the stairs with other kids crowding around me. I remember one day the principal (who had the delightful name of Mr Death – true story) carried me down the stairs himself.

Other kids could be unthinking, too. I was bullied, hassled, laughed at because I was weak and on crutches for most of that year. Not everyone can understand these things, especially at nine years of age.

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Still, I got over it all – physically, at least. I still feel some of the mental anguish of that time. It wasn’t easy being the bookish kid in the class in the first place, but to be the bookish kid on crutches with a box under the desk to put my foot on and having the principal carry me down the stairs was asking for trouble. I didn’t stay at that school much longer and went to another one where I could make a fresh start and no one knew about what had happened to me.

So if you know a person who has been ill for a long time, give them a hug and ask them what you can do to help. My family was great, but not everyone is as fortunate as I was. Try to see things from their point of view. The world is just that much harder when you are fighting just to be normal.

If you yourself have a long-term illness, I empathise with you. Stay strong and try to find thing sto make you smile. Every little triumph is a major step forwards.

 

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com