A fair few months ago I had a fabulous Saturday  – the man arrived to fix the turd grinder in the loft and although now nearly a grand worse off at least we can use the upstairs showerroom and toilet again. Amidst his suctioning I went to step class at the gym  – a longstanding feature of Saturday mornings when not injured. A lot of the loyalty hinges around meeting a group of friends beforehand and chatting, but that week with macerator man’s arrival I just sped straight to class.

I was recovering from injury and the physio had put me through my paces on the Thursday and I was still feeling it. And then the Killers’ “Human”  came on. It is one of my favourite tunes and I don’t know why but it always makes me think of Rosie. I associate it with her somehow as I did love to watch her dance (the song anthem is “Are we human or are we dancers?” ) and in my head I see her dancing to it, even though in real life I probably never did. I have no idea if she even liked the song –  it’s just my own linking of her to it.  And it makes me sad to think of her death and happy to think of her dancing at the same time. But mostly sad. And it makes me grateful to be alive and I try harder in the step class.

Came home and showered and then friends from way back arrive with two of their lovely teenage children. We reminisce, laugh and talk about parenting teens. We are quite a few years ahead of them in the parenting stakes, so they can learn from our mistakes – or at least take heart from them.

During lunch our daughter reminds us of when the two Dads would go out jogging on Monday nights. When her Dad got back she would ask how the run went, and he would regale her with ludicrous tales of how our friend would run in all different ways-  backwards, hopping, spinning, jumping. And she believed him of course . Because you believe everything your Dad says at that age.

The following day at school, her best friend Rosie would enquire how the run went – and our daughter would relay the information and they would spend the entire break recreating the high knees, the hops and skips that had allegedly taken place. It was a lovely memory of that era and of Rosie and Georgina during that innocent childhood time when so much of life is taken up by playing games, making up stories and acting them out.

I relate this story simply to say how we do remember those who are no longer with us; this particular tale is about Rosie, but posting it today is in part prompted by it being the day before the anniversary of when Anna was stillborn 27 years ago to close friends.

Lots of random things can spark a memory, or sometimes for no apparent reason at all they will pop in to my head. Tinned mandarin oranges always make me think of my Mum’s Mum. As does lavender, purple clothes, large oval sunglasses and paying more for better quality. Sugared almonds are my Mum as are potato cakes, avocados, Dean Martin and gin and tonic. Father is linked to bowties and when I cry at opera it is partly for him I am crying. His mother is recalled every time I pass the hall table that was once hers. A lad I went out with for a couple of weeks comes to mind with tractors, as does another lad in the year below. No 7 lipstick makes me think of Rosie’s Grandma (why?? I think I may have given her one once).. The list goes on.

I have blogged about the death of certain patients having a huge impact on me, but all deaths leave a mark. It is the living memories they provoke even years after their deaths that are testament to their impact as a human being. Hopefully to remind me that it could all go to shit tomorrow; no money or lifestyle choice can guarantee to prevent tragedy.


Some patients I never forget

September 30, 2012

As a medical student one has little actual responsibility for the care of the patients one sees as obviously qualified doctors are overseeing everything. We are superfluous to requirements and there to learn rather than contribute. On the whole most patients were generous enough to let me study them. In fact, I don’t remember anyone ever refusing. Perhaps they were worried the doctors wouldn’t treat them as well if they did. I hope not. It isn’t the case.

My favourite firm as a medical student was Oncology. The cancer ward. I had already done Cardiology and Metabolic Unit, and hated the latter. It was run by two dry Consultants; one an academic expert in these rare diseases we were seeing and the other old and boring. The juniors called him ‘Shifting Dullness’  – a medical term relating to fluid in the abdomen but one which perfectly described his ward rounds.

Oncology on the other hand was brilliant. The consultant was fantastic. Inspiring. And the patients were incredible. Two I remember in particular. One of our jobs as students attached to oncology was that we had to administer all the intravenous chemotherapy . Nowadays one gets gloved up and puts safety googles on to handle these toxic chemicals, but we were just sent off to the treatment room to try to work out what to do by ourselves. Some of these medicines would cost hundreds of pounds  a vial. Even then.  Nobody taught us how to draw up intravenous drugs so we didn’t realise they were vacuum packed. What that means in practical terms is that if you stick your syringe in to the bottle to try to draw up the liquid you can’t pull the plunger back as the vacuum is fighting against you. What you have to do is inject air in to the bottle to break the vacuum and then withdraw the same amount of drug as you have just injected in air. If you don’t do this correctly the whole thing can explode and spray toxic chemicals all over the room. Yes, guess who managed to do that….
So we would spend quite a bit of time on the wards with the patients and get to know them well. And of course in the oncology ward, many of them had life-threatening diseases.

The first patient to make a fundamental impression on me was a man in his 80s. I can’t tell you his name although I’d like to so that he would get the recognition he deserves. But confidentiality extends post mortem so I can’t. I can see him now. Sitting up in his bed, leaning forward trying to catch his breath. He had lung cancer and at that time there were no successful treatments for the type he had. I was assigned him and had to take his history and examine him.

He had various scars and so I had to ask him what they were from. It turns out he had fought in the First World War. He was in the battle of the Somme. He watched thousands of men be killed or mortally wounded. He was in the medical corps. He was stationed at a kind of triage post where the casualties would come or be brought and he would decide whether to send them on to get proper treatment, giving them basic first aid as needed or if there was no point sending them on, then just making them comfortable. He had administered to thousands of young men and they still haunted him. He had tears in his eyes as he talked about the horrors of war.

The more he told me the about the awful the things he had witnessed, I was amazed he had managed to come out of it, get married, have a family and a normal life. The huge burden of trauma he was still processing sixty years later was humbling. He had never talked about it to anyone, not even his wife, but now he was dying and I had started asking questions, he wanted to let people know how awful it had been. I wish I’d known more history to be able to ask more pertinent questions, but it seemed he would just talk about it without much prompting.

I only saw him a couple of times as he died within days of our starting on the ward. Much more quickly than I had anticipated. I was surprised how sad I felt, as if he were a close relative or friend. He had reminded me of something that I already knew but the arrogance of my youth had decided to forget; these ‘old people’ I was seeing were much more than simply a sum of their current symptoms and signs. They were living history and had experiences and feeling that could not be guessed at by looking at their frail frames.

The other patient from that firm (as we called our time on a given unit) who stays in my head was a 26 year old with leukemia. She was amazing. Life affirming. Positive. Wasn’t taking this lying down. Shaved her head and sometimes dyed it bright punkish colours. Had to undergo horrendous chemotherapy which I would administer in to her bloodstream and she would feel atrocious for days. She was an inpatient for a long time and as she had no working immune system one had to get gowned up to go in to her side ward to try to minimise the risk of her getting an infection. So she didn’t have lots of people popping in to see her. But she was always great. I loved going to see her as it was like seeing a mate. We would chat about all sorts; men mostly. She was always smiling and laughing but she knew she was very ill. She wasn’t in denial, but coping incredibly well. Except very occasionally she would let the mask slip. I was probably too inexperienced to be any help to her, whereas she was able to help me understand the feelings she was wrestling with. And there would be tears.

After I finished the oncology rotation I still popped up to the wards to see if she was around and have a chat. Sometimes she would be well enough to go home, which was great for her, but I would be disappointed not to be able to chat to her. She died about eighteen months later. I hadn’t known she’d been admitted and had been on a rotation up in Bedfordshire so hadn’t been in for a couple of months. I was gutted. I felt guilty I hadn’t seen her during her final days and weeks. She had been a similar age to me, a fighter, had the best possible care and yet she had been taken. It was so bloody unfair.

I realised it was nothing more than luck that I was on this earth and she was not.

Tales from the riverbank

September 2, 2012

The day we scattered Dad’s ashes in Aber, a week before Mum dies. Top lady on top form

Yesterday we scattered our mother’s ashes. Just over a year since she died. Which was one week after scattering our father’s ashes. Unlike Dad, Mum had not made any preferences known for what she wanted either at her funeral or with her ashes. It did make me reflect that it is helpful for those left behind if you can jot down a few pointers before you go. I have meant to do this since they died, but of course haven’t ( but I feel a blog post about it coming on….). But this post isn’t about me – this one is about what we did to remember Mum.

We had originally decided to scatter them where we scattered Dad’s – out at sea off the coast of Aberystwyth. We had all had a lovely day together doing that and Mum had been on top form. It also felt that they would be together if we did it in the same place. Anyway, my sister listened to her inner niggles and thought through other options in an effort to be ‘Anywhere but Wales’ – a phrase our mother had used to tell father where she would be happy to live after they were married. Of course they had spent the vast majority of their married life in Wales, so Kate thought it wasn’t fair we left her ashes to rest there too. And she was right. Cambridge was a much more ‘Mum’ kind of place.

Afternoon tea with her fellow students at Cambridge. Mum is third from left.

As with father’s, the sun shone on us for the proceedings. We met outside her College and wandered around the beautiful old buildings having never been there before. She had been very proud of being at Cambridge and had had a ball. Numerous balls. And a similar number of men. And at least three engagements. All before our father.

From the College to a meal. All of us toasting Mum – Georgina with a large gin and tonic in tribute although it would really need to have been a mega strength one to match Mum’s.

And then on to Magdalen bridge punt station where all seven of us boarded the characteristic flat bottomed boat and were guided around the backs (as that part of the river Cam is known as it passes the backs of a number of the Colleges). Beautiful, awe-inspiring setting.

Breathtaking views of Colleges from the punt

Her only grandson

We drank champagne and toasted Mum. Kate read inscriptions in two books – one from Dad to Mum and one from Mum to Dad. Literature had been a big part of their lives (and Mum had reviewed books for the Scotsman when we were small) so it seemed fitting it was part of these proceedings. I read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”), and Richard read a Dorothy Parker poem, Epitaph for a Darling Lady. It was all very moving.

Toasting Grandma before we scatter the ashes in the Cam

We had freesias, (her favourites along with sweet peas) and red roses for Lancashire to scatter in the water with the ashes and we all threw them in as we said a few personal words of rememberance and tribute.

Kate had brought the ashes from Wales and opened the disgusting plastic pot to commence the scattering. The wind started to blow them back in to the punt so I took them as was on the other side  of the boat.  I tipped the tub upside down and a stream of fine dust started to emerge. Unfortunately, the wind was not as unidirectional as one might have thought, and there was quite a bit of blow back on to Richard and Rob. As ever, mother was sticking with the men till the last.

As we disembarked, feeling that it had been a really lovely, tasteful, classy  and fitting afternoon, and one that she would have enjoyed, we felt we couldn’t simply get in separate cars and go home so we found a pub and had one final drink. And as we drained our glasses for the last time the record came on the jukebox. And I kid you not. It was  “Another one bites the dust.”  It made us laugh and will no doubt make us all think of her every time we hear that song.

Here’s to Jose Morgan – a warm, witty, wise and wonderful woman who always put others before herself.

To my Mum from my Dad

August 10, 2012

A week before she died as we prepared to scatter my father’s ashes on the sea. She was in fine form.

classic 70s wedding outfits

This week was the first anniversary of our Mum’s death so I thought I”d mark it on here somehow.  I have already blogged about the top ten things I learnt from her (Things my mother taught me – posted in May), and she had a marvellous ability to make conversation. Not to mention a Lancastrian’s need to feed everybody who came to the door. So what I give you now is in fact the toast that Dad delivered to her on their 50th wedding anniversary. As always, it is  better in the telling, but it is a nice memory jogger for those of us who knew them both. Here’s to you mother, with love as ever.

Picture my father, standing, holding a sheet of paper, arms wide and waving.

“I’ve been married to Jose 50 years who’s been married  50 years to me. That looks like a 50/50 basis. But of course it is nothing like that…when looked at in serious depth. It is more like Richard 30% Jose 70%.

Take for instance the flats and houses we have lived in…I chose the depressing boarding house and flat we first lived in, and the Old House. That adds up to 30% but the rest where we were happiest were found by Jose: Caldwell Rd, East View, Weir Cottage and Cae Ceri and that’s about 70% of our time.As for the things that make a home that was certainly 70% by Jose….and 30% by me – made up of a few paintings and shelves. Shelves were always my main contribution and to this day Jose tells me that I am Shelf Centered.

I suppose that on an income level I have the greater percentage…but that against all Jose has done and does it is but still a 30% input on my part to our marriage. It has been for me a wonderful 50 years.

I have been and am the luckiest of men but even luckier yet on the joys of being married to Jose…. Looking back over 50 years I recollect just 5 harsh arguments, 7 rows and 14 disagreements most of which were slight. But of course the percentages change to 30% were Jose’s fault and 70% mine….

But it isn’t 30/70 percent basis in all we have done together. The production of two diamonds is essentially a 50/50 coordination, and together we brought about two sparkling diamonds…our delight and pleasure and pride….Kate and Sarah of such high quality and polish….Loving Jose was and is the best that life can bring and I and Jose are so pleased to be celebrating with you today.

We’ve been married fifty years

Each year for me a pleasure

So wasn’t I a lucky chap

To wed a golden treasure.

So Jose thanks for all this time

Each year high carat gold

I loved you in my days of youth (not quite)

I love you now I’m old (not quite)

All the cards I ever found

Were worded “Your” not “Ours”

So finally I chose a card like you

A pretty bunch of flowers.


Celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in Venice

 My father was a wonderful writer of ditties. Everybody loved them and he had a marvellous way of delivering them. He loved poetry and throughout our childhood he would stride in to the sitting room or kitchen, wherever my mother was, and start reciting to get positive feedback. He never wanted (or required) crtisicism or suggestion, but he needed to say it out loud to get the rhythm and cadence right.

On a much smaller scale I have written Odes over the years to mark special events. Just for fun. Just to mark the occasion.  They are personal so it always helps if you know the recipient. And they are written for me to say out loud, especially when the scanning isn’t perfect but the words critical!

I wrote this one initially in 2007 for the 18 th birthday of a lovely young girl who had grown up side by side with one of our daughters,. We were all going round to the house to celebrate her coming of age so I read the Ode as a toast. Tragically, just over a year later Rosie died, suddenly and unexpectedly. We think of her and remember her all the time. For the funeral, I read the Ode again and added an Epilogue. I post it here so that Rosie is part of my blog, as she is part of my life. In life she made me smile and in death she has made me treasure every day. We are all merely hanging by a thread that can break at any moment.

Ode on the Occasion of Rosie’s 18th Birthday

with Epilogue

One night in dark December,

Contractions came a-pace

And there, a tiny little girl

Whose name is Rosie Grace

She was yellow for a little while,

But always blonde on top

And always oh so pretty,

And that has never stopped

We’ve watched her grow up year on year

And there are some tales to tell,

But loyalty being what it is,

Nat said ‘She just wasn’t feeling well’

Unwell?  said I in some concern

Was she coming down with flu?

No, just off her face in Lammas Park,

Coming home without a shoe

But that’s not a fair summation,

Of the woman here today,

Who is always kind and fun and game

And always keen to play

She’s party queen extraordinaire,

And tries not to be late

Hence fish pie in the carpet

And her room in such a state.

She’s sociable and affable,

Artistic, bright and ace

I’d like to raise our glasses now,

To Ms Dwyer, Rosie Grace

The Epilogue

 And now we are but one year on,

And gathered in St Paul’s

To remember and give almighty thanks

That we e’er knew her at all

For others aren’t so lucky,

They never had her in their world,

But we were blessed by knowing,

This loving little girl.

She’ll be clubbing now in Heaven

White Heat’s the standard Tuesday game

She’ll attract a thousand friends to love her

Like moths around a flame

Her flame that burned so brightly,

Shining light on all she met

We were privileged to have known her

And we will ne’er forget.

We will think of her and often,

When we party hard and long,

When we play games around the table

Or hear a much loved song

We’ll see bits picked out of bowls of food,

CDs not in their case,

And smile with fond remembrance

Of our cherished Rosie Grace

There is a website that celbrates her life, her Art (she was studying at Chelsea) and the charity her family have chosen to support in her name. www.rosiedwyer.co.uk

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