Remembering

Four years ago my home town was hit by a massive 7.3 earthquake. Unbelievably no-one was killed. But the city was damaged.

It was a massive shock. I was woken from a deep sleep with no idea what the hell was happening. The actual quake lasted 30 seconds and I think it took all of that for me to register it was an earthquake. All my energy was concentrating on staying in bed when the house was trying to throw me out.

I remember the noise. It was incredibly loud. It was the earth moving, rumbling and roaring. The house being twisted in all directions. And furniture being flung over. China and glass smashing.

Afterwards silence.

That was almost worst. I could not hear any other people. I was so scared for them. But like me they were just dazed. I was scared. The kids were not.

But it didn’t stop. Aftershocks kept coming. We had no power. The floors were covered in broken glass and china. It was dark. I was cold.

Andrew and I sat huddled together under the door frame in the downstairs hall, away from glass windows and broken glass. The kids sat in the car listening to the radio.

And slowly the day dawned and we realised how lucky we were.

Four years. Who knows how many aftershocks. And of course the deadly 22 February quake which killed 170 people and really did destroy the city.

Four years of living in a house which noticeably drops downhill, where spilled drinks leave juice rivers across the lounge, where the water drains off the kitchen bench into the rubbish bin, where doors don’t open or shut, and where they have been planed allow the cold winter air to course around the house. Four years of a giant crack in the lawn and under the house, of cracks in the foundation slab which makes the house feel cold and damp.

Four years of waiting for our house to be rebuilt. Four years of extra car repairs as the fine liquefaction dust stuck in the driveway shingle causes havoc with all things mechanical. Four years of roadworks, road cones, hi vis, bureaucracy.

Four years of not sleeping, of being so tired most of the time, of feeling like a moaning minnie.

Four years of being alive. A survivor. Of realising that actually possessions don’t matter, but people do.

There is no point wondering what if. This is my life now. I have to live it as best I can.

Christchurch. My home town.

Cover photo – the shops at the corner of my street, less than 100 metres from my house.

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“It is not how old you are but how you are old”

On Friday I will celebrate my father reaching his 88th birthday.

He is old. At 80 he still skied and played tennis, lived on his own and was active and alive.

Eight years on and he no longer participates in the skiing and tennis which he loves. He occasionally wander around a few holes on the golf course. And he no longer lives alone. He has a younger woman. She turns 88 in September!

Dad stoops now, his once tall six foot height a youthful memory. His hearing, always questionable, is appalling. Which means he misses out on a lot of life around him. But he still gardens, drives himself, attends U3A meetings, sings in the Cathedral choir, serves on the odd committee, and goes to concerts.

At 88 he is old, but still living.

Three months ago my 86 year old mother-in-law was old but still living. She too drove herself to the Cathedral where she also volunteered once a week. She pottered around in her garden and cooked all her own meals. She attended book group meetings and a music appreciation group, as well as being keen to keep up with her family and friends.

In May she had a heart attack. It was decided she needed an operation to insert a new valve into her heart via an artery. While waiting for the surgery the family cared for her at home. Someone slept over every night, made her dinner and then breakfast in the morning. We did her shopping and laundry. A cleaner was provided.

In June she had her surgery and it went remarkably well. She was discharged and sent home. Nurses were provided to shower her but the family committed to up to six weeks of convalescent care.

Except things did not go according to plan. The valve operation was a brilliant success and her new valve allows her heart to pump the right amount if oxygenated blood around her body.

However being 86 years old and having been brought up not to discuss such issues my mother in law failed to mention that she was not pooping. At all.

Severe constipation impacted on her whole well-being. The compacted bowel put pressure on the spine which gave her intense back pain. She began to need more drugs. Morphine which slows the bowel down more. Her bowel movements were discussed far and wide. She had to drink laxatives, eat kiwifruit and prunes. She didn’t like it.

Her nursing care was increased with the family staying over each night and visiting each afternoon to make sure medication was taken. We organised Meals on Wheels. Nurse called three or four times a day.

Pam got grumpier. Always a Pollyanna sort of person now she complained about everything.

“I am sick of blancmange for dessert.”

“I can’t/won’t get up for breakfast.”

“I don’t want to go outside and sit in the sun.”

The family were getting tired. It was three months and Pam’s health was deteriorating. Then she fell. Another visit to hospital.

More pain, this time in her groin. Doctors diagnosed sciatica. It was eventually discovered she had cracked her pubis bone and finally admitted to hospital for 10 days of bed rest.

“I have nothing to look at.”

Once a day she was taken to the physio gym and made to “work out”.

“The physios are mean to me.”

Today she is being discharged back to home. Back to nurses visiting and family picking up the slack.

Yesterday I was with her as the occupational therapist went around her house advising us what to do to minimise fall risk. I was chosen as being “the nice daughter in law”. Move unnecessary furniture to allow more room for the walker frame. Taking away piles of magazines or boxes of apples and potatoes. Making room in her bedroom for a commode for night time use. Installing extra grab handles. Taking away floor mats and rugs.

Pam was unhappy. She sat on her kitchen chair, slumped.

“I don’t want to sleep in a different room/take away the pot plants at the front door. I need the chair in my bedroom/mats at the back door.”

I was reminded of another girl in my family. My daughter. Sulking because as a toddler she wasn’t getting her own way. Stubbornly refusing something even though she must have known she was wrong. Hating change.

We used to have almighty rows with her. My mother-in-law thought we were soft – until she had to care for Juliet for a week while her younger brother was ill in hospital one Christmas. Then she said, “Sometimes that girl just wants the bottom brick off the chimney.”

So yesterday I said to Pam, “You want to live at home so you need to compromise on a few things to make it happen. It sounds as though you are wanting the bottom brick off the chimney.”

I think I just lost my status as the nice daughter in law.

The circle of life

Today as the world mourns the loss of Robin Williams, my family welcomes the next generation. Baby Boy Sewell was born today, a big cuddly 4.2kgs following an arduous three days. Last I heard he was still not officially named. I imagine his parents are still a bit overwhelmed. It was definitely labour!

He is my great-nephew. His proud great-grandmother rang us from a different hospital just after 9pm with the news. Her life is also waning. At 86 years of age things are beginning to fail at an alarming rate. And each malfunction triggers another event. At present she is in hospital on almost total bedrest to heal a fracture in her pubis bone.

The circle of life.

There is a lot of death in the world today. And much of it seems to be the result of people’s actions The Israel-Gaza conflict, Syria, planes being shot out of the sky.

And then then are people who decide to end their lives by their own actions. Like Robin Williams. Everyone is talking about Robin. About his depression. His addictions. And so I won’t.

I am going to hope Baby Boy Sewell gets the chance to grow old. I hope he never feels the need to take another person’s life. I hope he never feels the need to take his own. For all those jihadists, terroists, Isis-ists were once newborn babies filled with hope and promise. Robin Williams was once a newborn baby whose only worry or fear concerned food.

The circle of life. Let nature take its course.

Bob the Builder

10 weeks ago I had a plan, a slate roof tile off the Christchurch Cathedral and four lengths of manky 4×2.

I was standing in this dusty shabby room with six other newbies while a couple of “experts”, looking highly competent and able, industriously worked on wine racks and drawer units.

Somehow today I brought home this. A coffee table featuring my slate tile as an inset centrepiece.

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The roof tile was a gift to Andrew and me about five years ago. The Cathedral Chapter had to re-roof the cathedral and decided to sell the tiles to recover some of the costs. Post earthquake the ruined Cathedral crumbles away in the square. I found the slate tile when sorting out a cupboard. It needed to be used somewhat significantly.

The timber has been recycled from someone’s house. Someone’s home. Destroyed by the earthquake. Demolished by Cera. I don’t know where it came from but I am pleased to give it another life.

When I first cut it to length and fed it through the thickness planer I loved how the mankiness was stripped away to reveal the hidden beauty of rimu and kauri. I used the rimu laminated together for the table top. The sturdy kauri became the four legs.

I feel quite confident myself using a variety of powertools, though the skill saws still scare me slightly. But the planers, the router and the sanding machines, even the biscuit joiner – no worries, mate.

Yes, there were cock ups along the way. But they are how only visible to my own critical eye. And actually I think they add to the rustic charm.

I still need to glue the slate down in the recess. The legs need to be unscrewed and then glued and using longer screws re-attached to the table top. Finally I need to seal and finish it so we can use it as it was designed to be used. A coffee table. Not evidence that Bob (what my boys call me) is having a mid-life crisis.

My course ended tonight. I said good bye to Bruce the tutor. Some people will have to return next term to finish their projects. But my father is really looking forward to helping me finish mine. He has made a couple of pieces of furniture in our lounge. I can’t wait to add my own creation to the collection.

I am feeling pretty chuffed. And so relieved it sits flat and solid on the floor!

Family Ties

Shhhh. My family are sleeping. Andrew, my husband of 20 years, and our three progeny. All asleep in their beds. My family.

I caught up with more of my family last night. My siblings. My older sister, my older brother, and my younger brother. We do this occasionally, just us. No partners. It was pleasant. We have long abandoned childhood hierarchy and now meet as equals. Well mostly equals! We laughed and talked, caught up on each other’s news. We had fun. My brothers both surprised me with gifts for my birthday. I obviously have a drinking problem being given two large coffee cups (that’s morning drinks) and a bottle of gin (evenings sorted!)

We were acknowledging our mother’s birthday this coming Saturday. She died shortly after turning 70, almost 11 years ago.

Across this city are more members of my family. Dad lives with his girlfriend, the younger woman. I jest. Dad will be 88 in August. Noeline is a month younger. We are happy he has found someone to live with since Mum.

My mother in law has been a widow for almost 15 years. She had heart surgery last week following a heart attack a month ago. For the past five days she has been “imprisoned” in a rest home convalescing. Today her family are busting her out. She is going home. She can do this because if her family’s willingness to support her.

My brother-in-law will drive her to her appointments. My daughter will move in from today for at least two weeks, to sleep over and be there as company and in case of emergency. Other members of the family will help out as well.

One of my sisters-in-law has told my mother-in-law she cannot rely on her family for ever. Pam knows this. But apart from weakness from being unwell preceding her heart op, she is fine. She can tend to her own personal hygiene needs. Arrangements have been made to deliver a daily hot meal and for someone to vacuum, clean the bathroom, and change the bed.

The shortfall will be picked up by her family. Because they want to help her. Because she was miserable in her rest home box. Because even though it would have been better if she had moved out of the four bedroom rambling family home 10 years ago, she didn’t. It is still her home. And she wants to live there as long as she can.

It will make more work for us. It won’t be forever.

Family. Everyone has a family. You cannot be born without a mother or a father contributing those first cells. My family is very traditional. Mum. Dad. Kids. Other families are made up of different combinations. Most are connected by genetic make-up. But not all.

I may not always like my family, but I am glad to have one. To be the middle child in the middle generation. To know I have history behind me and the future ahead.

So let’s drink to family. Cheers!

(It is early morning as I write this, so I raise my coffee cup!)

Losing the labels

Hi. My name is Robyn and I like hugs.

That was a strange sentence to write. For so many years I have been Robyn who doesn’t like hugs. It was a label I gave myself. Along with shy. Fat. Frumpy. Worthless.

These labels are peeling off. The ink fading. The words no longer relevant.

These labels have been my security blanket. They have defined me in my mind as others would see me. I feel exposed and vulnerable without them. But it is time to let them drop off and be forgotten.

I have grown. Which is a good thing because it means that I am not just alive but I am living. But without any labels how will I and others know who I am.

Who am I?

Hi. I am Robyn. I like being hugged.

Hi. I’m Robyn, I am Andrew’s wife, and mum to three wonderful people.

Hi. I’m Robyn. I am a runner. Actually I am the Canterbury marathon champion! Now that’s a pretty cool label.

Hi, I’m Robyn, and I’m ok.

To sleep or not to sleep, that is the question.

Insomnia must be one of the loneliest conditions known to mankind. I should know. I have spent many a dark cold hour awake while the rest of my world sleeps.

Lately I have been better at staying in bed all night. Sometimes even staying asleep for most of it. But for the past month my mate Mr Sandman has been MIA.

Tonight I slept spasmodically from about 9:30pm until 3am. I tossed and turned for about 30 minutes and then I took action.

There was some computer work I needed to do. And so I did it. Downstairs in the office which is mostly used by our 16 year old son to play complex online games with his mates. Downstairs in the office where everything which doesn’t have a home gets dumped. Downstairs in the office where empty coffee cups, dirty plates, and chocolate wrappers litter the floor and desk surface. Phones go flat in here. Important papers become buried. Pens, scissors and sellotape are never where they should be.

I sat amongst the chaos and in the middle of the dark and lonely night I put to right a spreadsheet. And it felt good to send that off via Google drive. One less worry to weigh me down.

I have a number of worries which churn around my head at night. My mother-in-law is having heart surgery on Tuesday. Meanwhile we have been taking turns at sleeping over at her place in case she needs help in the night. It is not arduous. It is just a disruption to routine.

We also need to keep her clear of bugs. It is winter. Damp, cold, dreary winter. Bugs are thriving and picking on my boys who perhaps are not poster boys for a clean healthy lifestyle. All three men in my family have sore throats and queasy tummies. I don’t want either.

There are a few other things which have been putting pressure on me lately. Nothing major but the accumulation of little sticks soon becomes an unmanageable bundle.

On Friday I threw my toys out of the cot. Just enough to let it be known to the world that i had too much on. It felt good.

And funny enough, other people stepped up and took responsibility.

So wow. Wow for being big enough to say, “hey, I cannot handle all this.” Wow, for having people around me who understand that sometimes life does get too much and sharing the load is easier all round. Wow, for saying no and not feeling guilty.

And now I hope to snuggle down and have a little more sleep.