Tag Archives: older women

Grief postponed

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My first day here, around the middle of last November, I didn’t think she’d make it to her birthday. I walked into the Fogies’ little house at the retirement complex, and there was noise and excitement and hellos, and a hug from the Old Buzzard, and the Girl Child finding a vase for the flowers I’d brought, and she stood quietly waiting behind all the fuss.

She looked so small.

I put my arms around her and it was like hugging a baby bird. So small. So fragile.

IMG_20151201_170217Those first weeks, when I sometimes wondered whether she’d even make it to Christmas… they were hard. There were days spent waiting for x-rays, for CRT scans, for medications to be ready to pick up. There were arguments with the medical aid, whose protocols  demanded this, that and the other painful and pointless test. There were tears and Serious Talks and figuring out what-to-do-about-Dad. There were visits to doctors who were compassionate but not encouraging. There was Hospice, a nurse who was warm and so kind, who gave us things to read with titles like “How to cope when someone you love is dying”.

There was oxygen. It perked her up. There was time working together on editing her book. That tired her out, some days we couldn’t manage more than a few paragraphs, but it made her smile. There were flowers. Visits from friends. Meals she enjoyed, at least for a few mouthfuls. A whole chocolate milkshake at the end of a morning’s shopping.

When we finally saw the oncologist (actually we waited only ten days for an appointment, but it felt like forever – Christmas was close, and I wanted, needed him to work a miracle and ensure she was able to celebrate) I pummeled him with questions. “Should we change her diet? Cut out sugar? What about exercise? Is it good or should she rather rest? We have a source who will sell us cannabis oil – she doesn’t like it but… will it help?”

He looked at her and said, so gently, “It doesn’t matter what you eat. You can eat as much ice cream as you like – and if you don’t feel like eating, you don’t have to. Exercise if you want to. Rest when you need to. Don’t let anyone bully you – you can try whatever magical remedies you like, but you don’t have to do anything that makes you feel bad. Rather, spend time with your family. Enjoy the time you have left.” And then he prescribed hormone therapy, since that worked 20 years ago during her second bout with breast cancer, along with various other medicinal compounds, and he went off on a skiing trip, and it was Christmas.

She celebrated with us.

At the beginning of January we went back to the oncologist. When she walked into his consulting room, still small and somehow fragile but walking on her own two little short stubby legs (sorry, Ma – you passed them on to me; I can be rude about them if I want to) his eyes lit up with surprise and pleasure. The x-rays showed that her lungs were almost clear of fluid, and she was breathing just fine. He didn’t stop beaming at her the whole time we were there.

When I came to Johannesburg in November, I thought for sure we’d be planning her funeral by January. Instead, we went on a road trip.

Look!

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The tiny church in Reenen

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A walk in the woods

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A stroll on Ballito beach

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Paddling in a rock pool

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A visit to my nephew’s boarding school. He played one of his own compositions, which he had written specially for her.

Last week, when we visited her oncologist again, he told her to get more exercise. He said, “You’ve been really sick, and now you’re going to have to put some work into getting better.”

Of course, technically she’s still sick. Stage 4 cancer doesn’t just go away. So she uses a wheelchair if she goes anywhere that requires a lot of walking, she takes her medications, she rests often, and she spends around 12 hours a day hooked up to oxygen.

But she’s not letting a mere disease take one flicker of the sparkle out of her life. Last week she had cataract surgery, because it looks like she’ll be needing her eyes for a while yet and she doesn’t want to miss seeing anything. On Thursday, undeterred by her eye patch, we celebrated her birthday by wrapping up the edit of her book, then we went out for dinner with the rest of my siblings. On Sunday we celebrated again with a picnic for 25 friends and family at one of her favorite places, the Walter Sisulu Nature Reserve.

Just look at her.

Isn’t she lovely?

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The joy of car hire

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Who do you see? A maiden or a crone?

Who do you see? A maiden or a crone?

One aspect of being both a mother and a daughter is, sometimes you hear your mother’s voice coming out of your mouth, and sometimes you hear your voice coming out of your daughter’s mouth. Your life is a channel, and flowing through it are all the rich juices of the savvy young woman slurping at the world’s oyster, the fuck-with-me-and-die queen bitch, and the sweet but bewildered little old lady.

And the great thing about that amorphous period called “middle age” – you know, the age you admit to having reached around the middle of your first century, and refuse to leave until you pass three score and ten – the very best thing about that phase of a woman’s life is, you get to channel all three of these gals at will.

So much for context. Now, background: Himself and I are planning a little trip to California in a few weeks to celebrate his 50th school reunion. Savvy and the Queen have been working on him pretty much nonstop to hire a car rather than adding 4,000 or more miles to our already overburdened odometer. Savvy has nattered on about how much pleasanter the trip will be in a car that’s big enough for him to stretch his legs, and for the two of us to sit side-by-side without constantly rubbing elbows. The Queen has warned of direful consequences if she has to spend any time at all sitting on the side of the road while Himself fixes the car. Even the Li’l Ol’ Lady got involved – she joined AARP to take advantage of their car hire specials, ignoring Himself’s vocal disapproval. (He doesn’t like their politics. We know nothing about their politics and care less, so long as we get a Deal. We’re principled that way.)

Yesterday, after weeks of poking about online comparing options, I decided it was time to put pedal to metal, choose a car, and reserve the bloody thing. I presented Himself with the options I had found on the AARP website. He spent several hours puttering about the interwebs, and presented me with … this.

Yes, folks, this is a detailed comparison of all the cars I found within our price range. It includes details about leg room, hip room and head room; there's a row for

Yes, folks, this is exactly what you suspect it must be: a detailed comparison of all the cars I found within our price range. It includes information about leg room, hip room and head room; there’s a row for “other nice stuff”, and there’s a lot of random technical data having to do with mileage, horsepower, and similarly magical numbers. The ones in red were his preferred picks, which he listed in order of preference, complete with an explanation as to why he preferred each one.

Last night, although tired, I was determined not to go to bed and leave this job unfinished. I plunked myself down at my computer and prepared to book the vehicle of his choice.

It didn’t go well.

So this morning I channeled the Queen Bitch and called Avis to insist, with icily businesslike courtesy, that they cancel a car hire contract that I didn’t want because their fees were excessive and their habit of keeping said fees a dark secret until the last possible minute was unethical. Further, the Queen demanded that they accomplish said cancellation without spanking her with an unreasonable and unwarranted $25 cancellation fee.

The Queen, bless her heart, completely intimidated the young man who took her call, so he referred her to his supervisor. This turned out to be a young woman whose warm, sympathetic voice brought the Li’l Ol’ Lady scurrying to the phone. It can be a little tricky when this happens, because Queen Bitch doesn’t really like giving way to the other two. There was a momentary struggle, during which I merely gibbered a bit, and then the Avis rep gently said, “Why don’t you tell me how I can help you?” Her voice was as potent as an intravenous tea infusion. The Li’l Ol’ Lady whomped the Bitch over the head with her beaded handbag and took control of the conversation.

“Oh, I hope you can, dear – thank you so much!” Li’l Ol’ Lady said gratefully. “My husband and I don’t have a lot of experience with hiring cars but I thought it would be wise this time, because we’re driving an awfully long way and I found such a good deal from Avis. I found it through the AARP, you know.”

“Oh wonderful! Yes, we value our senior customers very much,” the warm voice responded, coaxing her to continue.

The Li’l Ol’ Lady chuckled, allowing just the tiniest hint of a quaver to enter her voice. “Well, I’m not exactly a senior, myself, but my husband’s a lot older than I am, of course.”

“Oh – but of course I didn’t mean to imply you were old!” the warm voice reassured her. “But did you have a problem with your reservation?”

“Well, yes, dear! It turned out to be not a good deal at all! I’ve been researching hire cars online, you know, and I’ve learned that the only way to know for sure how much one will cost is to go all the way to the point of actually ordering it. Because you car hire people are naughty, you know – you don’t tell us all the fees upfront!”

“I know,” she sympathized. “I wish they wouldn’t do that.”

“Oh, well, I know it’s not your fault, dear. But the thing is, the extra charges on this AARP deal were really, really high! I was so shocked I accidentally clicked on the wrong place and suddenly I got a message that I’d made a reservation!”

“Oops!”

“Yes! And when I tried to cancel it – which I did right away dear – I got a message saying it would cost $25 to cancel! So I decided to make the best of it, but I had to show it to my husband, of course…” The Li’l Ol’ Lady’s voice became a little tremulous.

“Of course…”

“And he wasn’t very pleased. Especially when he found out that a lot of the fees were because I’d booked to pick it up at the airport – I just thought that would be a convenient place to get it, but there’s an extra $50 in fees for airport cars!”

“Oh dear! Yes, our airport locations do have extra costs, I’m afraid.”

“Well, I can’t imagine what they are, dear,” the Li’l Ol’ Lady said, with an edge to her tone that suggested the Queen Bitch might be leaning over her shoulder. “Anyway, while my husband was looking at all these extra fees and working out what they were for, he accidentally clicked on something and suddenly we got a notification that our reservation had been modified, and the cost had gone up nearly $100! I changed what he’d done but I didn’t get any notification that it had been modified back so … Anyway, I just need this whole thing to go away. I need to not hire this car, and I really don’t think it’s reasonable to make me pay $25, do you?”

There was a pause, and then she spoke. “Well, this isn’t a prepaid reservation. You can just cancel it.”

The Li’l Ol’ Lady was bewildered. “Really? And the $25?”

“Nope, there’s no penalty. I’ll cancel it for you right now.” Some keyboard noises followed, and a cancellation notice popped up in the inbox.

“Well … my goodness … that was a lot easier than I expected! Thank you very much, dear! I do feel rather foolish!”

The voice was warmer than ever. “Not at all ma’am. I understand – things can be very confusing these days!” She hung up.

‘These days.’ Holy cow … ‘These days’??? That young snippety … Argh! I wonder what century she thought I was born in? Well, the last one, obviously – but it was during the second half, okay?

Huffing to myself, I dived back into Google and quickly, efficiently found my way to Enterprise, where I booked the exact same car for a substantially lower price with no help at all from AARP.

‘These days’. Hmph!

Now it’s your turn! Tell me what you think of alternate personas, car hire companies, and growing old…