The Mary Valley Heritage Railway

Posted in On Tthe Road on September 13th, 2010 by MadDog
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A Major Distraction:

Now, five days since my dear wife Eunie crossed her final bridge, life is grinding on with a bizarre surrealism that I did not think possible. In fact, none of this is thinkable. Some of you out there will know exactly what I am talking about. The rest will find out soon enough.

Fortunately, my friends, really my propper-uppers, recognise my need for distraction and have continued to drag me out for “walks” and provide me with videos in the evening and valiantly attempted to keep me from brooding at the computer or, worse yet, sitting with the thousand yard stare in my eyes. Meanwhile, I’m putting on as brave a face as I can manage for their sakes and mine too, if the truth be known.

Sunday’s major distraction was the Mary Valley Historic Railway, which under happier circumstances I would have enjoyed more. Here is one of the locomotives and its tender on the turntable at the end of the line:

It is quite a contraption. The whole shebang spins around slowly until it is going back the way it came. Then the locomotive hooks up to the what was the back of the train and pulls it back to Gympie.

I’ll intersperse the misery with the fun stuff as I go along just to keep you informed and on your toes. Today, I have the chores of going to the funeral home to sign yet more papers and pay for Eunie’s cremation, going to the dentist for who knows what and having a new will drawn up. Pardon my sarcasm when I say that I have had better days. I have to remind myself that I’ve had much, much worse.

This is probably the most illustrative image of what the The Valley Rattler  is all about – a nostalgic and amusing, if somewhat rocky ride behind a puffing steam engine across some very beautiful Australian countryside:

I didn’t see any kangaroos.

This is the Club Car. The entire railway is operated by volunteers. It is really quite amazing. When you take into account all of the time and skills required to keep it going it’s hard to fathom the dedication required:

All of the money required is raised through the sale of tickets and charitable events.

Tomorrow I will go back to the funeral home to get Eunie’s ashes. In the morning there will be a memorial service at the Anglican Church. Tomorrow afternoon Rich, Jenn and I will bid farewell to Val and thank her for being a rock for us. We will then drive back to Brisbane and stay overnight. On Wednesday, the three of us will fly back to Madang – yet another thing to simultaneously long for and dread.

And here is a view into the heart of the beast:

There is roughly four hours of travel time which consumes about two tonnes of coal.

Here is a shot of the guy who drives the train. On the day we travelled with him he was celebrating his 80th birthday. Happy birthday, Mr. Engineer:

The next few days are going to be very hectic and disturbing. Every time that I think I’m dragging myself out of deep denial I find myself thinking that it simply can’t be true. It’s a bad dream. I got four hours of sleep last night – the worst night yet. I can’t stop the chatter in my head. Last year’s New Year’s Resolution was to teach myself to turn off negative, unproductive thinking – stop trying to think myself out of insoluble problems. By mid-year, I was largely successful. Now that’s all blown away like the sparks from The Rattler’s boiler.

It may be a couple of days before I get a chance to post again. I’ll be back. Hopefully, I’ll feel like writing something less sombre. We’ll see.

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Life – Act Two, Scene One – Labradoodles

Posted in Mixed Nuts on September 11th, 2010 by MadDog
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It would be a hideous betrayal of honour to my dear Eunie if I allowed my despair to envelop me and the many joyous and exciting things in life which we shared. One small thing in our shared experience of life which enriched us both has been, over the last three years, Madang – Ples Bilong Mi. She was and remains my most faithful reader.

Don’t get me wrong. There will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth yet to come. I’m starting a processes which is not unlike being run over by a freight train. Just when you think you’ve felt the last of it, along comes another set of wheels. I hope that I’ll feel better in a year. Asking more than that seems unreasonable.

Dying is a complicated game. Eunie’s passage was blessed by little pain and great dignity. To the end, her faith preserved her from fear. Oh, that we all could go with such style. When I tell the story to her mates, they will say, in the Australian manner, “Good on ya, Eunie!” – Job Well Done! However, it has left me behind with a huge mess. Stacks of unthinkable paperwork, often smudged by tears from me and my friends helping me grind through it.

For those of you who have gone through this before, you will understand my gruesome fascination with it. It seems simultaneously impossible to do and impossible to ignore. Life for the survivors depends on taking care of the mountainous cascade of insufferable minutia. If I did not have my friends to help me, I would fall down in a heap.

Which brings me to the title of this post. Some might think it a little early for frivolity and this is true. This is not frivolous. It’s serious business. I’ve always said to anyone who was in the least amused by what I say that life is like the most fantastic play that has ever been performed and you are the scriptwriter and star. That’s not to say that everything you write will be performed as written. The Director has something to say about that. However, by and large, we are expected to compose the script carefully while producing as much enjoyment in the audience as possible.

So, with this blank page before me, how to I begin the script for Act II, Scene I? Well let’s start with Labradoodles, some good mates and a fascinating new experience.

We have a dear friend in Brisbane who once graced Madang with her presence. She is a nurse and she was with Eunie in the last few days making sure that everything was tended to in the most careful manner.Tracey Lee raises Labradoodles. One of these gorgeous little critters is going to Laos and the other to The Philippines. I suppose that they must be in great demand:

Aside from the fact that they are ludicrously cute, they are also covered with the softest fur I have ever felt. Minks, eat your hearts out.

Here is another much missed vanished resident of Madang who took time from her own busy life to lighten my load, Amanda Watson:

While in Madang, Amanda was a keen diver and much fun out on Faded Glory.

Whenever anyone takes a decent photo of me, I like to hang onto it:

I seldom like the photos that I see of me, but this one works just fine. I’m your basic old dude who’s been through the grinder a few times and had the most of the rough edges worn off. My dear Eunie provided most of the labour to spin the wheel, sparks flying everywhere. In my mature years I have some to see that a good, smart woman finds some raw ingredients and bakes the man that she wants. The recipe varies from time to time, but women are infinitely patient in getting what they need.

There was a long time in my life when I felt fairly worthless and most people agreed with me. You would not have wanted me as a friend. Eunie baked me into the man I am today. Not such a bad guy. I’ll hold that in my heart, along with many other precious things until I draw my last breath.

Now, some may want to drop out at this point, because I’m going to show you a little tableau of tolerance. Eunie had the kind of love which we Christians call “Christlike” (duh). It’s not rocket science. It’s easy. You simply love everybody, regardless of their condition. The rationale is likewise easy to understand. It is only through love that we truly win hearts. Everybody knows that.

Here with Peter, Tracey’s partner, Amanda Watson, Carol Dover, Tracey and Richard Jones is Michelle Rose, A. K. A. Michael Charles Turnbull:

Michelle, as he prefers, saw us sitting at the open front of a little pub and stopped for a chat. As one might suspect, there has likely been no small portion of heartbreak in this life. Eunie would have sat down for a little while and talked with Michelle about that life. He would have felt loved.

So, what is the first line in Act II, Scene I of the rest of my life?

Well, it’s pretty much the same ol’ same ol’.

All you need is love.

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Sunset – Sunrise

Posted in Mixed Nuts, On Tthe Road on September 9th, 2010 by MadDog
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Man, this is hard. I don’t know how to write this. I just have to put one word in front of another. Eunie was one of those people who you feel like will be around forever. We know it’s not true, but we don’t want to think about not having her.

Yesterday morning, after only a couple of hours of discomfort, she asked for some stronger pain relief. Shortly afterwards she fell asleep and her breathing calmed and she was peaceful. Not long after that, her spirit departed her body.

It has been only a few weeks that we have known that Eunie was seriously ill. Eunie feared few things in life. She was one the most fiercely brave people I have ever known. She did not, however, want to have anything at all to do with pain. The fact that she left us so peacefully and without pain was a blessing to us all.

So, Eunie’s sunset in now complete. The lightning in the image above represents her amazing spirit.

After every sunset, there is another sunrise. This is the way the world turns. So it is with the spirit, as I believe. If I did not believe so, I would not be able to carry on. I carry on now because of this promise and because to falter and waste away would be a dishonour to Eunie.

Eunie’s sunrise must be truly glorious.

I have no more words for now. I don’t know what the next few days will bring. Hans is going back to his family in Canada tomorrow morning. I have my remaining support team here with me – Marg and Mick Horwood tonight at their house and Val Jerram, Rich Jones and Carol Dover who will be travelling to Gympie with me to Val’s home.

Sometime next week I will return to Madang. I both long for and dread it. I’ve never felt such conflicting emotions. To those in Madang:  you are getting back a shell of a man, but I have no fear that all will be well after a while. Life for me will never be “normal” – as it seemed before. I have to hang onto the hope that there will be a new sunrise for me.

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I was stunned to see that there were 28 comments waiting for me this morning. I can’t possibly answer each one, but I do read every one.

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Three Years

Posted in Mixed Nuts, On Tthe Road on September 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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Yesterday marked the third anniversary of Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  Today’s post will be a short one, as events are moving very rapidly here in Brisbane and I need to focus my energy elsewhere.

What I take with me today as I think of three years of this journal is the realisation of how much life can change and how suddenly that change can come about. Here in these posts, over the last three years, you have seen a celebration of life. Over the last few weeks the tone has understandably darkened

However, that does not mean that I am not still celebrating life. Though I cannot see the shape of my life to come, I must believe that I will somehow find some measure of joy again – some small measure.

Today, I give you an early picture from one of the first posts on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  when Eunie, Val and I visited the USS Peleliu as it made a goodwill stop in Madang:

It’s not a good image, but this isn’t about photography. The expression on Eunie’s face is illustrative of the way she interacts with people. With Eunie, you always feel as if you are engaged with and the focus of her attention. I’m certain that this busy naval captain will remember the attention he received from Eunie three years ago.

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Two mornings ago I had the worst day of my life, so far. My son, Hans, and I had to tell Eunie that she was not going to be going back to Madang in the body that God has given her for her journey here on Earth. It was, by far, the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

I need to tell all of you, those who love Eunie and those who come to know her through reading my journal, that her days are very likely counted now on a single hand. That is the medical opinion. Our promise to her was to keep her from pain and love her forever.

Our sadness is, of course, immeasurable. However, in our system of belief, Eunie is merely crossing the final bridge to the place where she has always belonged. She believes this absolutely and is composed beyond belief.

Surrounded by Love

Posted in Mixed Nuts, On Tthe Road on September 6th, 2010 by MadDog
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I can say truthfully that my wife of forty-six years is the most remarkable human that I have ever known. Certainly, my profound love for her biases me. However, when I examine the evidence objectively, I come to the same conclusion.

I have not the time now nor the emotional energy to catalog here all of her merits and accomplishments. Those of you fortunate enough to know her do not need this.

However, I do now want to say that her most remarkable characteristic is her infinite capacity for love. Eunie is so bursting with love that it floods out and saturates all those who come to know her. Her love is unconditional, utterly free of judgement and accompanied by wisdom that allows her to gently guide those who have lost the path and advise those in need of correction without inflicting hurt.

It is only fitting now that some minuscule portion of that love comes back to her. This is a very difficult post for me to write, because my agony is acute. Nevertheless, I can get through it because I am so full of wonder at her composure in this, the twilight of her life. Eunie is a woman of strong faith. She does not fear death.  Yet, she still speaks of getting back to the job which God gave her thirty years ago. I know that I am going to have even more difficult posts to compose in the future, but I shall see if I can get through this one and take the others one at a time.

I cannot view this image without weeping. Eunie is speaking to her daughter-in-law, Tamara, and our granddaughters Pippa and Audrey Rose in Hamilton, Ontario while our son, Hans holds the phone for her. You can see the joy in her expression:

I am so grateful that Hans was able to come for this time. I have needed much support to keep me vertical and functioning.

Eunie loves mystery novels. Here Hans reads to her to give her distraction and comfort:

Hans also reads many of Eunie’s favourite parts of the Bible. It seems strange to speak of blessings at a time such as this, but one of the many that have benefited Eunie is that she is in no pain and is receiving no pain medication. She is very weak and sleeps or drowses much of the time, but her suffering is confined to the discomfort of medical treatments.

Here we see our friends Rich Jones and Carol Dover expressing their love for Eunie:

Rich suddenly put his life on hold for a while and flew from Madang to Brisbane to be with Eunie as a sort of ambassador of love from all those who would want to be with her now to comfort her. Carol flew from Vanuatu for the weekend to give her warmth and comfort to Eunie. I wasn’t able to slow Val Jerram down long enough to get a picture of her with Eunie; she was in and out taking care of business. She has been doing so every day since we arrived at her home in Gympie. How many friends such as her do you have?

Eunie feels comforted when  I can get a chance to lie with her for a while. This post is not about me, but it’s fitting to record this image of two people who have been joined in every way – become as one:

Since we first fell in love our song has been Our Love is Here to Stay.

I’ve mentioned many others who have expressed their love for Eunie over the last few weeks in very tangible ways. If you want a lesson in love, read back a way.

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Title Unknown

Posted in Mixed Nuts, On Tthe Road on September 5th, 2010 by MadDog
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I don’t have much time to write and the title of this post says it all. I’ve always tried to keep this journal up-beat. It’s good for me and I think that it’s good for readers. However, I am in the unhappiest time of my life at the present time and this IS my journal – a record of my journey. It would be a sham if I did not record my true feelings and the events which give rise to me. My closest friends have advised me so.

Many readers will want to tune out. Others will resonate. The nice thing about the web is that you get to choose.

As ill as Eunie is, she told our son, Hans, that she wanted him to get out of the hospital for a few hours and distract himself. There was a huge festival of fireworks last night called QBE Riverfire here in Brisbane. I sent Hans out with Eunie’s camera and asked him to get some shots. He did a quite respectable job:

Hans went with Rich Jones, Carol Dover and Tracey Lee and her partner Peter. You’ve met all these friends before here in happier times.

I feel myself becoming unglued at the seams. It’s a ripping sensation. Every day brings new horrors, a fresh dose of sadness and warning lights flashing back in the control centre of my brain. I know that the one thing that I absolutely cannot do is succumb to exhaustion and crash. I know how a deer feels when it freezes in the headlights.

I’ll not burden you often with gloom and doom, but I’ll keep it honest. I long for the past, but I know that life is now in the process of changing to something else – something unknowable. We always fear the unknown.

Stay tuned, if you like. I may find happiness again someday.

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Eunie has terminal cancer. We are trying to get her back to Gympie to give her comfort there in the home of our friend, Val Jerram, until she passes. It’s likely a matter days or weeks. If you are a praying person, this should be the focus of prayer now – Pray that God get’s Eunie into good enough condition that she can be transported 2.5 hours to Gympie so that Val and I can care for her in Val’s home until she passes. This is based on the information that we have received so far from doctors.

The Strange New Journey

Posted in Mixed Nuts, On Tthe Road on September 3rd, 2010 by MadDog
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The War Council is assembling. Val Jerram is at our sides daily. Richard Jones is here now from Madang. Carol Dover is flying in from Vanuatu. Marg and Mick Horwood are providing shelter, food and their good counsel. And yesterday, after an exhausting 36 hours of travel, our son Hans arrived from Hamilton, Ontario:

There are a lot of journeys involved here.

The strangest and most difficult of all these journeys is a sort of recapitulation of life itself. We are all, every one of us, you, as you read this, on a great journey – the journey that lasts exactly one lifetime. Now, as the friends who are fortunate enough to be able to engage in the battle on the field itself gather, we are joining ranks and marching together. As Marg feeds one her pet Magpies on the veranda the bird seems to wonder why she is in such a rush:

The daily routine must be maintained, but time seems to fly past at a dizzying speed.

I’m not the General of this little army. I can feel that my capacity to cope is fading daily. I’m blessed beyond reason to be surrounded by such a capable and loving cadre.

Along with the Magpies came a pair of Butcher Birds:

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Eunie had a rough day yesterday in the noisy MRI machine. They did a general one of the whole area and a special one of the area around the liver. That’s enough medical details. The point of this is to determine whether the tumor is operable or not. Also under consideration are chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

The action seems to be moving faster. Eunie was told last night that she will be having some other kind of test today. I don’t know as yet what it is. I will be leaving for the hospital in a few minutes. I imagine that it will be a day or two before we have an answer concerning treatment.

Please understand that I may not be able to answer every comment that is left here on our jornal. The time is simply not available. I’m not ignoring any of them. I read every one and so do many other readers. I know that you will understand if I do not respond to a comment directly.

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