How do you celebrate your loved one's life and include elements of 'Celebrating Her'? I needed to let everyone know that I wanted to find the joy in our lives together and to let go of my pain and suffering. I needed their help.
I woke up the next morning and sent all her loved ones here and around the world this email:
My beautiful wife of 24 years passed away* last night at Calvary Bethlehem Hospital surrounded by some of her friends and family finally free of pain and medical care.
There will be a private burial first followed by a memorial service where you will be very welcome and asked to wear something green (my wife's favourite colour). I don't know when yet....
Please, no flowers. In lieu of flowers, please ask people to send champagne vouchers or Haighs chocolate vouchers to our home address, for us to share after the memorial service and with the special doctors and nurses who kept my wife alive so long!
Thank you for your support.
PS please don't post this message on Facebook etc because I haven't reached everyone yet
Social media is a very fast and immediate communication channel and I wanted to inform my brother in London, first, before he read it on some-one's Facebook feed, that his sister in law had died.
My wife and I had already chosen the celebrant, the burial, the life celebration and the wake. So organising the event was much easier and I knew what my wife wanted. It was her gift to me that we had had all of the difficult discussions before she died.
My wife chose a casket made with recyclable materials covered in eco friendly dye prints of clouds. One kind friend took a photo for me. It was cheerful and uplifting which is what we wanted as a celebration of her life. Ironically it made me smile and cry at the same time.
At the burial service, my wife's work friends had made origami Japanese paper cranes which they let go into the grave so it fell on top of the casket. It was a beautiful gesture especially because my wife like Japanese culture.
After the end of the celebration of my wife's life, everyone collected a green, helium balloon and with these words from the celebrant, we released them:
"In the spirit of Letting Go, My wife would want us to let go and not be sad. Remember the happy times, the fun times, the naughty times and smile."
My wife insisted that she wanted lots of white roses at her funeral on top of the casket. One of the ideas I had was that the roses were not to be buried with my wife. Instead everyone was asked to take one home with them after the private burial. My wife would not have wanted the flowers to be wasted!
Days and weeks later, people sent me photos of the white roses they had in their house, usually with a candle next to it. It was beautiful. Also, some funny person planted on at our front door so that I would find it the next day after the service. It made me smile.
For my child and myself, the beginning of letting go is the ability to smile and laugh again.
The day after the service, my child and I re-arranged the house furniture and removed all of the hospital equipment. I returned all of my wife's medication to the hospice. I explained that we needed to started to lessen all of the last painful memories of Mum.
My child and I started to talk openly about the wonderful and crazy times we had together with Mum, family and friends. I could no longer think nor talk about her pain, her palliative care and visiting hospitals.
What would Mum be doing now? No doubt eating lots of chocolate with my other friend who had already died.
Stereotypically, as men, we are taught by society, not to cry. In my case, it was not helpful.
I allowed myself to cry at any time and any where. And I cried and cried. Sunglasses are great in Australia for hiding 'man' grief! 😂
My child and I regularly visited the hospice for the next couple of weeks, to deliver chocolate and champagne gifts from friends and family to say thank you for the care given to my wife. The gift giving was actually taking the sting out of visiting the building where she had physically died.
Yes, we cried as we handed out the gifts and the nurses, doctors and administration teams were gracious.
I had spoken to my wife's family before her death, about donating my wife's clothes as soon as possible. God love my mother in law, she told me that there was no rush. I explained that thirteen years of waiting for this moment had lead me to believe I had to start to let go. I knew that if I hesitated, it would be another thirteen years before I would pluck up the courage. Also, her clothes could be worn by some-one who needed them.
Thirteen days later, my inlaws kindly offered to help package all of my wife's clothing, to be sent to charity shops in a suburb away from my immediate vicinity. Very thoughtful of them considering I did not want to see my wife's clothes worn by any local women. We celebrated another difficult task completed with a beautiful meal by the beach in the sunshine, talking about the good times.
I started to see the Palliative Care counsellor once a week. She was wonderful in helping me let go of my emotional pain associated with palliative care.
Very few people I knew had been through this journey and I could not talk to them. I gave her permission to talk to the palliative care nurses and doctors to discuss our unusual approach so that she would understand me better. I really appreciated this service.
OK. Now I had no more hospitals to visit. No more doctor's appointments. No more pharmacy trips. No need to contact people with bad news updates. What do I do now, I thought. 🤔
P.s. As a carer I did not want to see another bloody bunch of flowers either!
*You will notice that I used 'passed away' in the final message when my wife died. My wife asked me to do that to 'soften to blow' for some older people.