My beautiful wife Rosie passed away on 29th October 2014.
We held her funeral on November on 6th November 2014.
Rosie’s last hour – Live well, die well
Janet and Janice have told us how Rosie lived well… how she loved God, loved living life, and loved bringing hope and healing to the lives of many, many others.
I would like to tell you the story of Rosie’s last hour, the final step in her journey of not only living well but dying well also.
On Wednesday last week I arrived back at the Caritas Christi Hospice around 4pm after two mates had taken me out for coffee. I walked into Rosie’s room where she was laying back on her partly elevated bed. While she did not seem distressed, her behaviour was different from the two days before… Every few minutes she moved her head from side to side and her breathing was more labored. Her eyes needed a clean and her mouth was open and dry. I dampened a face washer and wiped her face and moistened her lips, but she gave no indication of wanting a drink when I offered her a glass with straw.
I held her and spoke to her and, in a barely audible voice, her final words to me were “I love you”.
Shortly after our favourite PalCare nurse arrived to say her final goodbyes. She commented that Rosie seemed restless and suggested I call the Caritas nurse. When the nurse arrived I asked if she could give Rosie a low dose of morphine to make her breathing easier. The nurse went out of the room to organize an IV drip.
In the next few minutes I held Rosie again and said to her a number of times, “Rosie you are free to go”. As I spoke she rolled her eyes in an unusual way and her breathing changed. The nurse returned just at that moment and said “My God, she’s dying, she’s taking her last breaths!” and with that Rosie died peacefully, with no trauma, and no distress.
On the one hand I was stunned and shocked… we were not expecting her to die until later in the week. On the other hand I couldn’t have asked it to happen in a better way. Rosie had continued almost pain free to the very end of her 16 year journey. A few hours earlier Rosie was alert enough to enthusiastically greet Sheralee, our daughter-in-law, who had just arrived from Perth. Just the day before Rohan too had arrived from Perth. Rosie had waited until all her children were together.
On the previous Sunday night, Rosie put in a sterling effort sitting up in a wheelchair for two hours to share in a family dinner at Caritas. It was a time of laughter and a time of tears as we all openly acknowledged with her that she was nearing the end of her journey, and prayed with her as a family.
On the previous Friday night, Rosie and I went to a glass plate making workshop that she was so determined to go to. Rosie sat at the work table in her wheelchair but was too weak to cut the glass, so instead of making separate plates, I cut the glass and we made a plate together. The precious result of our final team effort is on the memorial table in the foyer.
Only five weeks before, we held Rosie’s Farewell/Birthday party. Over 230 people attended. Rosie wanted to celebrate with others and say goodbye while she was still alive, instead of us holding a wake afterwards without her.
Rosie not only lived well, she died extraordinarily well too.
Rosie wasn’t perfect
But, just like you and I Rosie wasn’t perfect, and I believe it’s important to recognize and acknowledge this.
Some very famous words used by Senator Edward Kennedy when he gave the eulogy for Robert F. Kennedy have been on my heart for Rosie. I’ve adapted the words for her but I’m sure many of you will recognize them.
“My wife need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what she was in life, but be remembered simply as a God-loving and compassionate woman, who saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw injustice and tried to right it, and saw the needs of so many, many people around her and gave them love, acceptance and hope.
As she said many times (not in these words but by how she lived) “Some people see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”
Those of us who loved her and who celebrate her life today, pray that what she was to us and what she wished for others, will continue on in our own lives and the lives of those we touch.”
Rosie need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what she was in life. Just like you and I she wasn’t perfect… but that is the very thing that gives us hope, and the inspiration to love those around us! Rosie had absolutely no doubt that God loved her regardless of her limitations and imperfections, and she worked so hard at sharing that love with so many people in so many practical ways despite her illness. She set an example of what we too can do even though we too are not perfect.
For many of you it may come as a surprise that Rosie and I did not have a perfect fairytale relationship. Up until a few years ago I suffered severe depression. For almost half our married life we lived with the stress of Rosie having cancer. She and I were like two different jigsaw puzzles thrown together to make a single picture. After 33 years of marriage we were still struggling to make some of the pieces fit and there were gaps that we had simply decided to live with. But we loved one another, were very committed to each other, and we worked hard at our relationship… and we made the distance.
So what are the things that I treasure about Rosie?
- She loved me unconditionally, in fact she adored me and accepted me for who I was. After decades of married life she said her heart still leapt when I walked through the door. How good is that?
- Rosie had a huge heart for other people. Together we made a home that was open to other people, including many with deep needs… and many people’s lives were touched and changed. I know now however that sometimes our home was too open and our children a paid a price for this.
- Rosie gave me freedom. When our children were young Rosie and I gave each other a separate night off each week. Later this became a separate week off each year… Rosie would go to a timeshare resort and do her beloved paperwork; I would head off bushwalking. Most important of all however she gave me freedom to walk my own faith journey. Over 20 years ago I stopped going to church. The deep conflict between my Christian faith and my life experience was tearing me apart and so I began a new journey which I am still on today. Rosie gave me freedom… she never tried to pressure me back into Christian faith; she fully respected and accepted the journey that I was on; she encouraged me to stay true to my own integrity, and constantly reinforced that God still very much loved and accepted me regardless.
Grief cannot suppress a profound sense that life is good
Today is a day of profound grief for all of us.
For me the last few weeks of Rosie’s life, and this past week since her dying, have been especially tough. It’s been a whirlwind of people and activity that has constantly prodded the pain but kept it at bay at the same time.
However, in the moments where I have stopped to reflect, alongside the many deep emotions which have yet to break the surface, there is a voice welling up within me that refuses to be silent. It is a profound sense that despite the pain of this time, life is still good, that I have a real hope for the future, and can look forward to new things to come, and that I today I can celebrate with pride and joy the life of my amazing Rosie.