We are driving from the DOVE Palliative Care unit to Happy Valley in Caloundra. I look at Rani who is gazing out her window at the sky.
‘The Skeleton Woman scares me,’ I say.
‘Did you see the link at the bottom of that blog?’ Replies Rani, adjusting her morphine pump tubes.
I shuffle in my seat. ‘No. I didn’t. Sorry.’
‘It’s basically a myth told by Clarissa Estes. One day a fisherman scoops up a skeleton woman. He goes home and one night finds her looking at him through his window. He is haunted by her. Until one night he decides to accept her and he takes her bones with him to bed. He awakes to find a beautiful woman lying next to him. He marries her.’
Death is Regeneration. I indicate.
‘I like that idea Ranz. If you don’t have enough time can I finish your blog for you?’
‘Yes. That would be nice Nath.’ Rani smiles and looks out her window.
Flashback. 24th October.
I dream of diving in caves for pearls of wisdom. I dream of letting go of fear.
Awake. I’m in the reality of the Sunshine Coast University Hospital with a specialist team peering over their notebooks at Rani who lies in pain in a medi-bed. I hear their words, I have had a year to prepare myself, but not like this. This is all too soon. This is exponential.
‘Rani, you have a mutation of your cancer called B-Raf.’ Rani’s Oncologist is holding back her own tears. ‘B-Raf is very rare and extremely aggressive. This second round of chemo treatment has less than a 5% chance it will succeed, also you need functioning kidneys for the chemo to work.’
The Oncologist is a mother of a 3-year-old. Rani’s story has hit her hard too.
I look at the CT scans. Rani’s cancer has visually changed within one week. The tumour burden on her ovaries is pressing on her ureters and closing them off, causing her kidneys to ‘back-up’.
Our options are limited. Radiotherapy will blow out her ureters. A nephroscopic solution would be best described as agricultural. Two pipes in her back to drain her kidneys.
It’s not an option.
She has no options.
‘Could I have done anything differently?’ Rani searches for answers.
‘No Rani. The B-raf only applies to stage 4 cancer. The previous treatment you received would have been the same in the UK, USA or Germany.’ The Oncologist straightens up in her chair.
‘How long do I have?’ asks Rani.
‘Weeks,’ sobs the Oncologist.
I look at a floating rainbow unicorn balloon that Teo and I purchased for Rani.
Rani needs a fucking rainbow unicorn. My thoughts are interrupted by the Oncologist.
‘Do you have any questions Nathan?’
‘No. Just. Well. How do I transport a body interstate?’ I ask. I’m serious. Rani and I had been talking about it before they came in the room. We knew things were changing rapidly.
The specialist team all look at me with sterility.
‘I mean do I book her a seat next to me on the plane?’ I jest.
Rani snorts with laughter as we start to act out aircraft scenes from Weekend at Rani’s.
‘Are you going to eat those crackers Rani? No! Ok I’ll just eat them for you then’. I snicker as I pretend to reach over Rani’s plane seat to steal food from her corpse.
The team look at us blankly. Smiles start.
The next morning I’m alone driving in to the hospital to see Rani before she is taken to the Palliative Care Unit. The stereo is at decibels. Its my Deathproof playlist. I, The Creator by Monuments comes on.
‘This is the end,’ chugs the chorus.
I scream along, ‘This is the end’.
This is the end. I sob.
This playlist has carried me through the last year. A year of loss. Loss of our unborn child, then my father, then my father’s mother, yesterday my mother’s mother and now, soon to be my wife, the mother of my child. Music has carried me through all of this in all its bandwidths, I don’t discriminate.
Later in the day we are driving Rani to the Palliative Care Unit. Right next door is a sign for the Crematorium. That is just too much. It sets me off again.
Rani settles into her new bed. The nursing team work to hone Rani’s morphine pump and get the dosage right so that she doesn’t experience break-through pain. I kiss Rani. I drive home on high frequency.
That night I go through the usual routine with Teo. Feed. Bath-time. Books. Grizzle. Sleep.
I then go and grab my pen, note book and headphones. I need to write a eulogy for my mother’s mother. I listen to the Uncarved Block / Zen Aesthetics lecture by Alan Watts. It sinks deep. I feel my father, Ivan. He washes over me in a wave. I feel him digging at me.
Ah you have finally fucking found it Nath, he jests within me.
Ivan had many interests. Zen Landscaping was one of them.
Watts is talking about Zen moods. One of these is Wabi. Another is Sabi. Rani and I had always joked that she was the Wabi to my Sabi. Yin and Yang. Watts tells me the deeper meaning of Wabi.
‘It is the feeling shift from depression into realisation,’ he says.
His words fit. The epiphany that chaos provides us with the quest. Without chaos we would be in a closed loop system. Rani has chaos in her system. Chaos is an agent of change.
‘Life would be ruined by all logic and all control,’ adds Watts.
My mind starts to meander. Chaos. Cancer. Nan. Zen. Rani. Teo. Resilience.
I remember Rani teaching me that one of the analogies used for Wabi Sabi is that of the broken pot repaired with gold. Ruptured and repaired. The gold shimmering through the cracks.
My mother’s mother was a porcelain artist. I write her eulogy.
Rani and I are back at Happy Valley with Teo and Sophia. It has become a daily ritual. Rani wakes in pain. Nausea sets in. The nurses tweak her drugs. She settles. Lunch is served. She feels normal. We go to Happy Valley, which is a beach at the Bribie Island inlet. Rani settles in under the pandanus palms and feels normal for 2 hrs.
While Rani and Soph shuffle along the beach with Rani’s mobile morphine pump named Niki, Teo and I don our dive masks and ‘go diving for shells for mum’. We see a stingray, a mud crab, a flat head and big schools of whiting. I laugh at the fishermen in the wrong location up the sand bar.
‘That’s what happens when you only look at the surface of things Teo,’ I say. ‘You miss the magic that lies beneath. You hunt for things in the wrong spot’.
Teo’s a good swimmer. He loves diving.
He is learning quickly about going with currents and not against them.
We walk up the beach with a shell in hand for Rani.
‘Nath please make sure Teo joins a swim club as he gets older,’ she says.
‘I will baby. He can’t kick a footy but jeez he can swim.’
The daily ritual at Happy Valley repeats but today we are with Holly & Mike.
I watch Rani as she shuffles through the shallows. Smiling at the ocean. Looking at the ocean for the last time. Knowing.
I flash back to Alan Watts.
Enlightenment is going with death and knowing that you are going with death.
Rani is moved from the DOVE Palliative care unit to her parent’s home in Mooloolah Valley.
Rani is enjoying being back at her parent’s home. Her father and sister oversee the drug cabinet. Both are nurses, both have healing hearts, broad shoulders and loads of gumption. It’s Halloween and Teo’s Alabaman ‘Uncle Jenna’ has dressed him up in a narwhal costume for trick or treat. Rani has a day of the dead fascinator on. She shuffles from door to door with Teo. The tombstones. The corpses. The skeleton woman. Reality.
I fly to Perth for my Nan’s funeral. I’m afraid to leave Rani and Teo.
Wabi Sabi. Porcelain. Family. Eulogy.
I fly back with my mum and her father. Mum and I hold Pa’s hands to stop him from falling.
It is Rani’s 34th birthday. She is on oxygen now. Life support. She has a rough morning. She snaps at me for bringing my pre-grief into her space. The short fuse is a part of the cancer. It’s the low oxygen. I remind myself not to bite back. Fair enough she has enough on her plate let alone finishing off my meal. The plates are cleaned. Her oxygen levels lift and the day is followed by a lush afternoon with family and friends. My pa sobs as he holds Rani’s hand and wishes her Happy Birthday. Pa has Bowel Cancer too. Only his is less aggressive and he has had a great innings.
After we circle and sing Happy Birthday, Rani jokes to us all that she might do a Johnny Farnham tour on us.
Rani is grinning blissfully.
This will be her last birthday. I think about her snapping at me earlier in the day. I can’t imagine what is going through her mind. The universe has dealt her a real doozy. I’d be angry with the universe too and behind that anger lies the tears.
Rani’s condition worsens. She has moments of panic as she struggles to breathe. The drugs soothe. They mediate between the two wolves fighting inside her. Her mobility is decreasing. This is such a rapid decline. I can’t comprehend it. This is just too mad.
I take our dear friend Dom to see my mum and pa at their air-bnb. Dom is visiting and his daughter Na’ita is playing with Teo while we talk about sacred things.
Teo is not great at socialising. He gets angry quick these days. His anger distracts me.
‘What’s wrong Teo?’ I ask.
‘I’m angry,’ he replies. I’m glad that he can recognise his emotion.
‘Nita says I can’t dive,’ he mutters.
‘No. I just said you are not the bestest diver in the widest world,’ adds Na’ita who is a couple of years older than Teo. She is right. I see her point.
‘Teo you can dive but Na’ita is just saying you are not the best.’ I lecture him.
He is an amazing diver for his age.
We get back into the car and we drive back to Rani’s parents.
Deeper Water by Paul Kelly comes on the Deathproof playlist. It cuts deep. Real deep. To the bone. I tell the world.
Rani barely moves all day. She meditates through much of her anxiety. She is focused but struggling to breathe. She spends most of her day bombed out. In the afternoon her friends visit her one by one. Single file. In procession. She bombs out again. Her mother, brother, father, sister and I all have concerned looks on our faces. The kind of look where your eyes are saying ‘BRB’ and your throat is saying ‘HFS’.
Rani sits bolt upright. From the X axis to the Y.
‘I want to go for a walk. Now. Right Now.’ She sprouts.
We all surround her. The oxygen tank. The Niki. The backup wheelchair. The dog. The smiles.
We shuffle to the end of the street and back.
Rani’s breath is shallow and laboured.
‘You have to walk. Movement is life. As long as you are moving you are alive.’ Rani is prophesying.
We all look at each other with that same conflicted look.
Ordinary people are the buddha. The true buddha knows this. Watts mutters away in my mind.
This is her spirit walk.
That night Teo wakes at 2am and starts to scream.
‘Is everything ok?’ wheezes Rani from her medi-bed.
I don’t know. I’m half asleep.
I can’t seem to settle him. I carry him outside for a spirit walk of our own.
Under the stars I ask him if he is ‘sad because of mummy?’
‘Yeah’ he sniffles.
I stroke his hair. ‘Daddy is sad too bub. It is ok to be sad’.
His soul is hurting. This event is like a wrecking ball in his little temple.
I have to protect him. I have to guide him.
I look at the trees in the star light. Teo needs to fight like a tree. Bend and not break.
He finally gets back to sleep an hour later. He whimpers through the night.
Rani’s dad wakes me up.
‘Nath. Rani wants you.’ He whispers.
I rush to her. She is sitting up in bed. She hugs me. Her breathing is extreme. I sob into her shoulder. I kiss her neck. I tell her I love her. This would be the last time that we would embrace. We both knew it. She falls back into bed, puts her oxygen back on and rests. She doesn’t hinge at her hips ever again.
The palliative care nurse visits and does a check up on Rani.
‘You may find that Rani won’t open her eyes again,’ says the nurse.
Rani opens her eyes and glares at her sarcastically then closes them and drifts off to sleep.
The Johnny Farnham tour.
Throughout the day Rani slips in and out of consciousness. Her breathing becomes congested.
It is haunting.
Her grandparents arrive. She awakes to show them with her eyes that she loves them deeply.
I sit with her alone and as the tears stream down my cheeks I whisper to her.
‘He will be tall. He will be kind. He’ll be smart. He’ll be stubborn.’ I pause.
Rani’s voice crackles but no words come out.
‘He will be a good swimmer. He’ll be handsome. He’ll be well-read. He will be a deep thinker.’
I kiss her on the lips. My tears on her cheek.
‘He will be a nature lover. He will be an artist. He will be independent. He will be amazing’.
I choke up more.
‘He will be a carer. He will be happy. I promise this to you.’
Rani’s brother is sobbing next to me too.
Rani’s cousin Reuben flies in from India. He walks in the door late that arvo, straight in from the airport. Fresh from the land of the brahman. He is the last visitor that she has been waiting for.
We all surround her.
‘She is waiting for the sun to set,’ says her dad.
I repeat my evening ritual with Teo. Feed. Bath. Books. Rani’s mum rasps on the door.
‘Nath,’ she starts.
I run out the door. I turn around I grab Teo. This is it. This is the end.
We rush in to see Rani.
She is choking.
I shield Teo’s eyes. I look around the room to see if I can see Rani floating. I see nothing. I want to see her pass through the door that the magic lies behind. I want to know she is safe. I can’t. This is her journey.
I look back at Rani. These are her last seconds. I hold Teo fiercely.
Rani’s dad and sister are on the front line cleaning out her mouth and consoling her. They are my new heroes. Us newbies are freaking out. They are the veterans holding us together.
Rani passes. A peace comes over the room. Teo looks at her.
‘I’m hungry dad’ he says.
‘Mummy’s dead Teo. She is having a long sleep now,’ I whisper as I kiss his forehead.
Rani’s brother runs outside wailing and then the house goes quiet.
I take Teo back to bed and read him a book.
I feel Rani guiding Teo towards sleep.
‘Rani is in the room,’ I whisper to myself.
‘Where?’ he rouses, confused about my insensitive comment.
‘Sorry bub daddy didn’t mean it like that. Just. In spirit. Oh. Never mind. I’m sorry to confuse you.’ I regret.
He passes out instantly. I stroke his hair.
I get up from bed and go back to see Rani. Her mum has combed her hair. She looks peaceful. She looks happy. Her father is cleaning up around her and slowly we all return to be by her side. We bathe her. We dress her in her favourite dress. We joke. We cry. Rani’s sister braids her hair and I put some essential oils on her temples. Laughter and tears, Rani’s favourite emotion.
While Rani is still warm Rani’s dad lights a candle.
She has the face of the true buddha. Smiling and crying at the same time. Radiant. A Shield Maiden.
I take a lock of her hair and look around the room for somewhere meaningful to place it. I find a little green journal that has ‘Use Your Words’ embossed into the cover. This is her blog journal. I crash to sleep.
I awake at 3am.
I am a single father with a single child. I dwell on this.
I grew up a single child with a single mother. I built my mutual love with Ivan in my mature years. Now the big wheel has turned. Though changed it has arisen the same.
Eadem Mutato Resurgo.
I think deeply.
How do I teach my child to fight like a tree? To bend with the wind but never break, when I am stumped.
How do I repair him with gold? To let the gold shimmer through the cracks, when I am shattered.
How do I teach him to dive with the currents of life? To see what lies beneath and not drown, when I am out of breath.
How do I teach him resilience?
Use your words, Rani teaches within me. Use your words.