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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 69 - Lurching To Disasters

Gayle Woodward’s mother is fighting a losing battle with motor neurone disease. Her 13-year-old daughter places a hand on a hot cooking element…

“I had a feeling that my life was lurching from one disaster to another. I did not feel in control and I did not like the feeling…’’

Small wonder that Gayle’s account of her domestic life in New Zealand has won such an enthusiastic audience. She has the ability to make readers as involved in everyday events as they would be when reading a letter from a close relative.

My mother’s battle with motor neurone disease was increasingly severe.. She could not walk and had to move around sitting on an electric scooter. She was depressed and eager to try all sorts of homeopathic cures. I was still denying to myself that she would die. It did not seem possible.

Both parents left on a final and long awaited trip overseas to America to visit the parents of the exchange student they had fostered when I was in the sixth form. While they were away it was easy to pretend that she was well and whole again. But she returned with speech difficulties. Gradually her body was shutting down while her brain remained vital and alive.

Dad left work in order to care for her full time. He knew it would be relentless but was determined to care for her at home alone. It was a painful time. She could not now be the mother I had relied on. I felt helpless in the face of such an adversary as this cruel disease.

In the winter at home we were plagued for weeks by rocks being thrown on our iron-clad roof. This frightening occurrence happened during weekends only and we thought it was probably due to youths wandering the streets looking for a bit of fun. But to us the noise and clatter on the roof was often a violent awakening from deep sleep.

One night, after we had gone to bed, Jeff and his friends were sitting in the spa pool at the bottom of our garden. They were soaking quietly and talking. It was so peaceful in the neighbourhood that when the pounding and clatter of rocks hitting the roof came they were immediately alerted. Four young and tall men rushed from the spa as one and sprinted down the driveway and out into the street. There in the streetlight they saw some youths jogging away. The boys could not move fast enough as our young men, wet and barefoot, ran after them and caught up. I have not been privy as to what was said or done, but it suffices to say that the clatter of rocks on our roof never occurred again!

Mum was placed in Auckland Hospital as her jaw began to dislocate and eating and drinking became almost impossible. She had no speech and had to scrawl notes to us. Dad, however, was determined that he would care for her in the home they had shared for so many happy years. He learnt how to lift her, to reset her jaw and to prepare soft or liquid food to sustain her. It seemed now that I must accept that she did not have much longer to live. She came home again and nurses visited her regularly.

Mum began to peacefully and stoically accept the steady decline in her body processes. The grandchildren, especially the girls, would visit and delight her with their vibrant girly chatter. Karyn and her slightly older cousin, Julia, would take Mum’s electric scooter and, both seated precariously on a seat for one, drive off along the footpath and even to the local shops.

The elderly neighbours thought them to be foolhardy and rash as they ‘sped’ along. They growled at the girls. But Karyn and Julia knew that their devoted Nana would not mind. They had no idea that Nana would not be there for them in the near future.

At Macleans my colleagues in the Top Office were supportive and empathic. I felt sometimes that I was walking around in a dream. It did not seem possible.

One afternoon, when the students had been dismissed, I was called to the office to take a phone call. It was Karyn who was at home with a new friend, cooking. They had decided in their 13 year old wisdom to make pikelets. The mixture was ready, the frying pan was on the bench and Karyn had placed her palm down onto the hot element as she leaned over to read the recipe book. It did not look hot, she explained. The rings of the element had burnt whitely onto her skin. She sounded very calm, which I was not, and went on to tell me that although she had placed her palm under the cold tap for 15 minutes, it was still hurting terribly.

I left work hurriedly and sped home. I found her still standing at the sink bench with the hand under water while her friend had calmly gone on to finish the cooking. I made a quick trip to the doctor with her, to be told that she had saved herself from a deep burn by keeping the hand under water until the burning had ceased.

I had a feeling that my life was lurching from one disaster to another. I did not feel in control and I did not like the feeling.

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