The Pits (part 1)

Perhaps Im being deliberately obtuse, or maybe the Universe is miming it’s fatalistic messages, but whatever’s happening, I’m just not getting it.

I was more or less used to the dark pit of self pity I’d find myself in every few months. This pattern has been part of my life for more years than I can recall. After the latest milestone birthday however, my time in the dark pits was becoming as frequent as a Durham coal miner.

Just happy the canary is still alive

Just happy the canary is still alive

Taking myself off to the GP for some lady bit maintenance, I extended the appointment time to discuss my current funk. The doctor asked a few rudimentary questions and I answered in the bullet point manner one can recount a frequently told story. Nevertheless, her initially dismissive “yes, we can all talk about how ghastly our mother’s were” attitude was quickly replaced with, “how do you feel about seeing a psychiatrist?”

Since my thirties, each decade has seen its quota of counselling. There have been psychologists from various schools of psycho-analysis, Reiki Masters, meditation classes, psychics and network chiropractors.

Most of them provided mental health Paracetomol; that is to say, there was some temporary relief and vague optimism. I’d abandon counsellors when I realised I was rolling my eyes and mentally urging them to get to the point. My inner dialogue was a smart arse teenager.

I left the GP with the promise of a referral to “someone appropriate’” and went on my not so merry way. A couple of weeks later came confirmation of a robust cervix but no referral. Apparently the search for ‘“someone appropriate” was proving to be quite the conundrum.

Another month passed and I called the surgery again.

“Oh hi, we were just talking about you!”

Really? [I thought] Run out of copies of New Weekly, have we?

“Just this morning the doctor was telling us that she thought she’d found the right person for you.”

Again. Really? Um, why exactly is the doctor workshopping this with the reception staff?

“But it turns out they weren’t appropriate.”

WTF?! I’m sorry, but once more, REALLY?! You mean to tell me that there is NO ONE ‘appropriate’ in this entire city of 4.4 million people? 

“We’ll let you know when she’s found someone. Have great day!”


Things took a turn for the weird when my Aunt Gerry, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer the previous year, went from apparent remission to deaths door. It was all shockingly accelerated .

There she was, one Saturday beating my highly competitive Biomum at scrabble, downloading useful iPhone apps, and drinking white wine with old mates, to being carted off to Cabrini Hospital. Despite the blinding headache she managed a limp royal wave from the back of the ambulance.

Biomum showed me the palliative care facility brochure with all the upbeat manner of someone looking into a Broadbeach time share. Faced with losing her sister and best friend, she was walking denial.

“They say that fifty percent of patients all end up back at home again.”

No, they really don’t. 

The next day she called me to say that my Aunt would not last the weekend. I drove to the hospital with a ball of anxiety lodged in my chest.

All those years ago when biomum had bolted there were a number of familial casualties – my aunt among them. For three years before he remarried, my dad would grudgingly make the annual pilgrimage to Northwest Victoria for my brother and I to see her. Gerry was fabulous – funny, loud, energetic and attractive; leaving her a week later was always a wrench. Three years later all contact was cut off with no explanation.

An imaginary fug of malady clung to the elevator interior as I made my way to the fourth floor oncology ward. I recited the room number in my head as I read the lintels above each doorway. Her son sat by the window, her daughter spoke quietly with a nurse and my mother wrung her hands in the doorway. Gerry’s features were bloated, her dental plate removed to reveal gaps in her slack mouth, her hair had begun to grow back and was plastered to her head in sweaty whorls; the bright scarves and turbans abandoned. I’d never seen her without make-up before.

I took her hand and announced myself. Her eyes, milky blue and filmed, fluttered open and remained so as I spoke. My mind was a maelstrom of fear and regret. I opened my mouth and out it all tumbled; incoherent, rambling, stream of consciousness – part plaintive confession, part goodbye. All the while my aunt levelled her unseeing gaze at me, straining with the effort to focus.

That night I went to bed and read, but the words blurred before my sand blasted eyeballs. I hit the pillow at midnight, convinced I’d sleep from sheer emotional exhaustion.

And then weird shit happened.

My body felt electric. There was a buzzing sensation coursing through me and my heart began to race. I’d had palpitations before, stress induced and haphazard, but this was different. I dismissed the thought I was having a heart attack and resisted the urge to wake spouse. With my inner monologue dialled up to hyper chat I ran through the possibilities:

  • Is it possible Gerry is experiencing this right now too?
  • I’m panicking, but I have nothing to really panic about.
  • No, I’m not panicking, I’m kind of terrified.
  • My eyes are closed, but there is light in my head.
  • When I open my eyes, it’s dark.
  • Is this what a break down feels like?
  • My heart is galloping.

While I was thinking all this, I was palpating my carotid artery which was pounding like a drum. it seemed to last an eternity. I gave myself up to whatever was happening and then just as suddenly as it began, it ceased and I immediately slept – a dreamless, heavy sleep.

I woke, it was my birthday. Sitting up in bed surrounded by gift wrapping and cards I answered my phone.

birthday cat

“Hello darling happy birthday Gerry died *beat * that’s right darling, she died on your birthday. The nurse says it happened at 12.30am, she was alone.”

So that was odd.

About Learning the hard way

Jane is of the belief that her life's purpose may well be to serve as a warning to others. She is unsure as to why she speaks in the third person...
This entry was posted in Family, Not so funny and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Pits (part 1)

  1. Debra Hauswirth says:

    Hi Jane,
    I’m glad I read this piece which is a beautiful tribute to a very special Aunt. Mine was named Mairead. I’m sure you were very connected to her and she to you. I think they are spirit guides the ones we love who pass over. Healing comes in many different forms. I am probably going to say eye rolling stuff but I do believe it is a process and you are healing. What a beautiful gift from your dear aunt.
    The most important thing is that we love and forgive ourselves.
    I wish you well Jane


    • Learning the hard way says:

      Hi Deb, Thanks for commenting. I thought you might appreciate the Jungian analyst in part 2, more…now that WAS a weird experience! 🙂


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