It’s almost two months since I returned to New Zealand with matters other than travel filling my days. I flew into Auckland on 7 October, exactly four weeks earlier than our original itinerary, leaving my husband to follow en schedule. My father lay in hospital having been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour, and the family was still struggling to accept this shocking news. Had my intrepid father, fast approaching his 90th birthday, not stumbled on his way back from the library and been carted off to A&E to be stitched up, we may have been none the wiser until matters had progressed another month or so. We sisters gathered at the bedside to support my shattered mother, groping for some sort of direction. While death was always going to be on the future agenda, the reality is always a surprise. I have mouthed these words in sympathy to clients, friends and family over the decades; this time I was to heed them myself.
The reality is that almost two months on; my father is still with us, the centre of attention and care demands, but with us all the same. We gather about his bed, the restrictions of which are very recent, and reminisce and fuss and adapt our own schedules. My mother clutches at the limited intimacy left between her and her husband of almost sixty six years. Carers and Hospice nurses, all with hearts of gold and years of practical experience surround us with support as we grope our way through this journey, one we have not taken before.
I spent the first four weeks staying with my parents in their beautiful apartment beside the Hatea River, enjoying the view down over the marina and Loop Walk, watching the hundreds of walkers and runners who take advantage of this wonderful feature of Whangarei’s Town Basin.
One day we ventured forth, my mother and I on either side of my father tottering along on his walker, across the Canopy Bridge and along as far as the Hunterwasser folly. We managed to shuffle him to the top of the viewpoint, hoping to observe the progress on the Hunterwasser Gallery. High security fences precluded this but we were buoyed by the fact we had succeeded with the outing, accepting this is far from the intrepid adventures these two elderly folk have enjoyed in the not too distant past; rafting down the Clarence River, bungee jumping off the Kawarau Bridge, 4WD safaris across the South Island high country, circumnavigation of these southern islands we call home, and so much more. How life is diminished at such times.
I met up with a few of my friends, all of whose lives have been complete and busy in my absence, and continue to be so. I was glad they could find time to accommodate my erratic schedule. I walked the Loop myself on several occasions and would still be doing so these days if my husband had not brought back a gift on his own arrival a month ago.
It is not the first time either of us has contracted a ‘flu like bug on an international flight, and I was very thankful that I had avoided doing so on my way back in early October. I had found my mother’s own health much depleted on arrival, and while this was due to poor medication management of her chronic condition, it took most of that live-in month to restore her to normality. Had I arrived with a bug of my own, I may have caused her early death. As it was, Chris came down within a few days of arrival with a nasty cold, which he duly passed on to me and my own dicky chest. What a pathetic lot we are!
Our children and grandchildren have not been entirely ignored since our return; we spent a couple of days with our Waihi Beach family after picking up the motorhome and getting it road-ready again. Chris and I settled back into our motorhome, relearning where our possessions are stowed and relearning routines, different from those in our caravan in the UK. We parked up in the Whangarei Central Holiday Park and have been here for a month now, joining the other permanent and semi-permanent occupants. Although we have no intention of settling here for good, its proximity to my parents’ dwelling serves us well. We can respond within ten minutes to a call for help and have done so on several occasions. It is also an easy distance if I had the stamina to make the twenty five minute walk; hopefully I will manage this soon.
One Sunday we popped down to West Auckland to collect our trailer and to catch up with our grandsons, their mother and our son and his new partner; rearranged family situations since we left in early May. We drove back up the west coast road through Helensville to Wellsford before continuing on up Highway One, a route we have not taken for several years and one which could be done in a more leisurely fashion in the motorhome, perhaps pausing or overnighting at Port Albert or the Atiu Creek Regional Park.
Today we took our Whangarei granddaughters to see the remake of The Grinch, probably appreciating it more than these reserved young ladies. We delivered them home to their parents who were clearing their overgrown garden; here in Whangarei the native vegetation thrives in the humidity, the sunshine and frequent rain.
And back in the UK our Sorrento remains unsold, the lack of active marketing the problem rather than price; I am sure we will end up almost giving it away, as we did with the caravan. However we did have three years of fabulous travel and regret nothing.