Some time ago my friend Sue, from Eagle Reach, paid $20 to Del-Marie for four little pink Breast Cancer Bears. They are particularly cute, and I had run short when handing them out to Group 33 friends at our last Breast Cancer Support Group luncheon. The money raised goes to the National Breast Cancer Research Foundation. I was happy to purchase them knowing that funds raised go towards prevention, as well as finding a cure for cancer. A quick phone call to her today led to a full day's outing, as well as providing the opportunity for me to pay the money I owe and collect the bears. Sue had a list of 'jobs' to be done at Maitland. I decided to go along for the ride. While browsing the isles of Coles Supermarket I was delighted to pick up Acid Free Sheet Protectors. I had no idea they were available; I now have the perfect way to store those letters from the past. Whoohoo...
Although I managed to 'last the distance' with Ray, it would be dishonest of me not to admit that there were difficult times. Times that I actually thought Ray would outlive me. I wonder now just what was going through my head at those times. Ray was 51 and would 'celebrate' another birthday on 18 March. I was not unduly worried when he was prescribed antibiotics by the doctor on Tuesday 8 March, 1994. Coincidentally, it was the very date in 1990 [four years previously] that Mum arrived in Melbourne, from Dubbo. Ray had been referred to Damien Jenson at the Alfred Hospital after a CT Scan showed a large brain tumour. He was scheduled for neuro surgery at the Alfred Hospital on 9 March, 1990.
Fast forward four years. On 9 March, 1994, we opened the blinds in the lounge room to enjoy the early morning sun rising in the East. The day appeared perfect. Ray sat in his comfortable chair, with the sun streaming through the window warming his back, while I made his morning coffee. For the 27 years of our marriage, Ray had taken his tea and coffee black and, for reasons I do not remember, he found he loved his coffee made with milk. He was looking forward to the pleasure of that early morning 'cuppa.'
Writing about these times brings the memories flooding back; like reminiscing on yesterday. It took no time for me to realise that there were changes going on at that moment that Ray did not understand. He had the cup to his mouth and, as he went to lower it, his actions stopped. Literally! This movement appeared to be in slow motion. The coffee cup, removed from his mouth, on the way down, only to find it stopped midway. I am unable to explain the reasons for these changes, it seemed unimportant to ask the doctor later exactly what had taken place. I know that I was alone with Jeremy, our 11 year old child, and we had a situation that required action. I gave no thought to calling for assistance when I realised that Raymond was no longer able to do for himself. It seemed his body had simply 'shut down.' No discomfort of any kind. A cup of coffee only half drunk.This makes me smile now when I think about the saying that 'an optimist sees the glass as half full while the pessimist sees it as half empty.' This was neither; it simply was.
I asked for help from Jeremy and, together, we lifted Ray from the chair and carried him into our bedroom. There we lovingly placed him into bed. In hindsight, I could have made the bed with fresh linen but that thought did not enter my head at the time; I simply wanted Ray to be comfortable. Somewhere in my sub- conscious, maybe I was expecting him to make a recovery of sorts. It is a task I had never invisaged asking my youngest child to undertake. Ray was no longer able to communicate. It was something that, even to this day, I do not fully understand.
It was this day that we also lost a very close personal friend. I had worked with Val Crowe at GMAC and her husband Tony was Godfather to our firstborn son Damian. Val had succumbed very quickly to her pancreatic cancer.
I recall the phone call to my Mother in which I asked her to come to Newcastle. She replied that it would not be until Monday. Something made me say that I thought that would be too late. Thankfully, she agreed to catch the coach from Dubbo and would arrive Friday the 11th.
Mum's arrival gave me the freedom, and the peace of mind, to climb into bed beside Ray. I was content to stay there as the succession of family and friends called to pay there respects. Among the visitors was the local Parish Priest who administered the Last Rights. Our very dear friend Helen Staley arrived from Melbourne to stay with us. She was able to keep Jeremy occupied at this time with bike rides and movies. I will be forever grateful to her for her presence; it lightened a very heavy load. The time spent with friends was delightful as we recalled past memories and wonderful times. Close friends came and went throughout each day. I felt sure Ray was aware of everything that was said and it seemed only natural to tell tales that were uplifting.
There was one exception when Mum, wringing her hands, began crying and saying loudly that she had no idea how I would be able to manage on my own. At that particular time, Helen was holding Ray's hand, and she shared with me later that she felt him give it just the slightest squeeze. I could not help myself and asked Mum just what she meant by her words. Mum said that she did not believe I would be able to live without Ray and there is no way I could manage as a single parent. I whispered gently that it broke my heart to think that she did not know her own daughter.
On Sunday 13th Ray's breathing became very shallow. Lea Shelley, a Registered Nurse, called early after finishing a nightshift at the local private hospital. Lea's son Matthew had befriended Jeremy when we arrived in Warners Bay from Lakes Entrance. I had no idea that my darling Raymond was close to having a bedsore. Lea was absolutely amazing as she bathed Ray's body and anointed him with beautiful oils. I could not have done any of that on my own and, to be honest, was not aware of how beautiful it could be to experience a close friend tend to the body of the man you have loved for 27 years.
I was aware that I was living with a fearful headache. Apart from the odd breaks I had been alongside Ray constantly, leaving his side as little as possible. Each time I returned to the bed I became conscious that he was making some sort of super human effort to edge closer to me.
On Monday 14th March, 1994 I sat with Ray, Helen by my side, as we, once again, watched the sun rise in the East. Ray's breathing was now intermittent, and we spoke gently of times with the Radfords, Staleys and friends out of the Singapore office of International Harvester Company. We described the spectacular view of the rising sun as my beloved husband took his final breath at approximately 6.30am, just 4 days short of his 52nd birthday.