The ‘picture’ we built up led to our setting of goals which were determined, in part, by the health domain, such as transfusion days, and others which were less tangible, such as our wish to live life to the full and enjoy each day as deeply as possible. A goal such as giving special clothes, jewellery and possessions to family members led to the structures and processes by which these would be achieved. A goal such as having a last special holiday together led to the structures of planning and booking and then the process of selling a collection of New Zealand art to fund the holiday. Thus we went to Rarotonga.
Heart of the Grove in Rarotonga
My wife is swimming in Muri reef waters
her eyes are aglow in a give-no-quarter gaze
as she shakes water from her wondrous hair.
Leukaemia is a bastard of an enemy to fight.
I hate the obscenity of combat with an unseen enemy
and the blindness of a blood test next week that cannot
recognise the gift of this woman rising from the sea
I taught myself to cook and began assembling 50 day menus from Aroha’s mesmeric cookery books – Italian, French, Julia Child, Alexander, Roden…she would select 30 recipes and I would work through them – with none of her flair but with line-by-line determination! And so I would prepare the table, the wine and then wash up. It seemed a very small contribution to my wife who had gifted me with her hours of cooking each week till then. The structuring of meals became a new delight.
Occasionally there would be moments that caused the positivity processes to falter. I recall the night we lay in bed and Aroha said softly, gazing at the stars, “Soon I will be a star up there.” Another time I had written a brief poem after telling her of boyhood farm tasks and she whispered, “I know how that feels.”
Boy behind the plowThe amazing and sustaining truth was that self-leadership, our mutual acceptance of how we would live with leukemia, led to an even more enduring closeness. The inexpressible love that somehow became expressed with a look or a hand-clasp imbued every hour of every day. We knew that our slow coming dark was remorseless but we continued to live in delights. At times delights became muted in realities of transfusions, pain, the loss of our future, Aroha never seeing Kate and Daniel’s child…
behind the plow
by barbed wire wind
until his eyes
bled like tears
Love Song for Aroha
When you touch me lightly
a strand of wattle
stays the evening breeze.
When you smile at me
the green skins of flax
shiver deliciously at dusk.
And when you kiss my mouth
a night owl calls time
from a tracery of willows
the leading star
over slow coming dark.
One day, in spring, I planted seeds that Aroha would never physically see. Then our last summer came and passed and that lovely woman, ever a woman of grace, slowly made her way to the top of our hill gardens, where the soil was rich and soft and warmed …
The air quivers with self delight
In a home summer, it cannot help
This when vines lush with grapes
Loop on wire and the earth
Is painted brown with barefoot
Furrows grooved by a southern sky
And the deep boned soil is as
Tactile as one’s fancy
Where olive trees are so full of
Promise you could slice one open
And the green fuel would run this
Land forever, while time swings
From a suspended sun like a trapeze
Artist, giddy with enduring.
We learned and were blessed with so much through the past three years and, especially, the last ten months of the grace of grieving. We have learned that it is better for the spirit if we see cancer, not so much an attack upon our bodies but as a new opportunity for celebration of them. We became skilled, even gifted, in finding these celebrations and frolics (our specialist’s term for pleasurable activity) – be it a lunch out, coffee at Coco, cooking for the other, a note under the pillow, a DVD enjoyed together, making it to The Dell, the fresh rose by the bed, a letter, a phone call....and so much more from so many gifted hours...
We learned that you should not seek to have everything good that you want but seek to want everything good that you have. We grew to seek good in what lay in our grasp already. The good we had was immense and uplifting, whether it was the joy of each other’s presence, love of others, the rediscovery of a possession that became a refreshing joy, the garden arrays, the birds feeding...and as the pain and bruises magnified we became desirous of new messages passed through our touching fingers and feet, in cheek resting with cheek, and the utter joy of clasping hands - with mine always underneath because my hand now felt too heavy if resting on Aroha’s. Such was the pain she quietly bore.
We had bad days, particularly in October last year. Aroha’s farewells with Kate and Daniel and with Ben and Melanie, when she knew they would never see each other again, were absolutely distraught and cannot be recalled without an onslaught of tears. Conversely, Aroha had a wondrous day when Kate and Daniel arranged for her to receive the confidential note from the nurse who did their 20 week scan. Congratulations, the gender of your baby is...Aroha was the only one to know, even the parents did not. The same day she received a lovely email from my future daughter-in-law, Melanie, seeking Aroha’s opinion with information and pictures of three possible wedding dresses - I think. I wasn’t allowed to see it! Such times reflected our vision to make the most of our family. The processes were often not fully planned but fitted the vision.
The self-leadership journey became a voyage of self-discovery for both of us. Life goes on for each of those left in the void of Aroha’s physical presence. Life is short. Live it fully. Embroider the fabric of time with vibrant colour. Do not rent it with regrets. I know everyone whose life Aroha touched will always recall this woman. They will never see her like again.