The future in the distance

100_0404I know I said this would be the last instalment of my autobiography, but as it turns out, there is one more chapter to come.

 When I was in the army as a twenty- two- year old lieutenant, I had to take a detachment of my girls to help at a local fete at Stratford-on -Avon. My job was to look after John Mills, the film star, and his daughter Juliet, also a film star. They were opening the village fete.

When this not-too- onerous task had been completed, I was free to wander round the fair ground, though feeling somewhat conspicuous in my dark green army uniform. I ducked inside a fortune teller’s tent for fun and sat down in front of her crystal ball. She took my hand, and peered at it. “There’s writing in this hand,” she said. “you’re going to start writing and you’ll never stop. It’s all through the rest of your life.”

Nothing was further from my thoughts at the time, and I dismissed it as a fortune teller’s fantasy. It took another seven years before her prophesy came true, and I’m still writing! During the years of Patrick’s retirement when he was still churning out a weekly column and editing a grey power magazine, I was still writing too.

Not only did I write for his magazine – interviews, columns, and cookery articles, (all unpaid) helping him design covers and acting as courier to and from the printers, but I also checked his books before they went to the printer, thought of titles like: ‘Sons of the Sword’, ‘Dangerous Journeys’, and provided material to give them extra depths like the extracts from the Mahabharata about a nuclear explosion, when he wrote of Hiroshima in ‘Sons of the Sword’.

When he ran out of ideas for his column, I’d cook up a reader’s letter for him to discuss, or find and research a topic for him, and as he grew less able, I’d check over every column trying to re-write confused sentences and connect unconnected trains of thought. He used to get very angry with me at correcting his work, and I dreaded doing it every week, but it had to be done to maintain his credibility.

A publisher commissioned me to write sixteen illustrated books on New Zealand, I wrote for a parent’s magazine, and for my pleasure also began writing a book called ‘The Sound of Water.’ Through all the sadness and despair of the last years of our marriage this writing energised me and gave me pleasure.

Patrick had six major operations during this time, and they were always followed by complications. When we could still afford private care, it was daunting to discover that once the operation had been completed, and paid for- we were out on the street! Not even any help into the car with a severely disabled heavy patient, and there was no follow-up care.

When we had to fall back on the state health system, the follow-up care was meticulous and took a great weight off my mind; but we still had the long treks into the pain clinic, the geriatric department, the heart unit, operations for cataracts, endless visits to the hearing clinic for hearing aids, and regular trips to the doctor… I was now facing what so many women who marry much older husbands have to cope with.

When he fell over, a frequent occurrence, I would have to ring the local volunteer fire brigade for help in lifting a heavy and inert old man – it would take four men to get him off the floor, and then onto a stretcher and into an ambulance to hospital.

The army of medical practitioners involved in his care all told me that now was the time to ask for family help, ‘you can’t go it alone’. But like so many other families, mine too was spread around the globe or coping with their own burdens.

Though I was frequently ambushed with depression in this time, and so stressed that heart pains made me wonder if I was having a heart attack, the support of friends, coffee, lunch or little get- togethers kept me going. And now I discovered opera, becoming an afficionado of the New York Met’s filmed operas which showed at our local cinema regularly.

Back home I’d compare different versions on Youtube, and found solace and stimulation in this new passion. And then blogging became a hobby too – more writing! And because I always looked bright and efficient, loved my garden, books, music, clothes, good food and friends, no-one ever thought I wasn’t coping.

Once I organised a two week stay of what was called ‘respite care’ in a nearby retirement home, paid for by the health service, and Patrick’s children were appalled at my callousness. During this time, I was so exhausted I slept most of the time, which I’m told is typical for carers. I began to wonder guiltily if I would ever have any life left to enjoy, when this long period of illness and frailty was over for a husband – who in spite of all his operations and constant illness was still, it seemed, indestructible.

I began to seek comfort in the words of people like Ibsen:

‘ELMER: But this is disgraceful. Is this the way you neglect your most sacred duties?
NORA: What do you consider is my most sacred duty?
HELMER: Do I have to tell you that? Isn’t it your duty to your husband and children?
NORA:I have another duty, just as sacred.
HELMER: You can’t have. What duty do you mean?
NORA: My duty to myself.’

I found the lines in Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem gave me courage:

‘… I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.’

And Hillel’s words written two thousand years ago: ’If not you – who? If not now – when?

So in the end, after giving him a rousing eighty-fifth birthday party which all but two of the children were able to attend, I decided I had to make a decision. Three weeks later, with my doctor’s encouragement, I told him I couldn’t go on any longer, and that I’d found several good retirement homes for him, which of course he refused to consider, saying he was not ready for that yet.

It happened, and I incurred odium and ostracism from all his family and most of the people connected with him. Even during the first year on my own, struggling with too little money, a burden of guilt, and legal woes, I was happier than I’d been for years.

Patrick lived in a luxury retirement home, where his daughter was the manager. He was immediately assessed as needing to be in the hospital wing, which I felt justified my decision. Family and work associates all made the trek out to see him regularly, though no-one had bothered to do this when I was looking after him!

He was still collecting Japanese artifacts and still writing his monumental and unreadable history of Japan and the Pacific War. I moved to the Coromandel peninsula, a four hour drive away, and when I received a phone call one evening three years later, saying he was ill and unlikely to last beyond the next day, I drove through the night to see him.

He was unconscious, and I sat by his bed for three hours until I felt his daughter wanted me to go. I bent over to kiss him and say goodbye, and he opened his eyes and looked straight into mine.

He had been twenty-one when he joined his beloved Auckland Star. On its masthead back then were the lines:

For the cause that needs assistance,

For the wrong that needs resistance,

For the future in the distance,

For the good that we can do.

He faithfully and steadfastly lived those words for the next sixty- eight years of his life until he died at nearly eight-nine.

At his funeral, as the hearse was about to pull away, an elderly man stepped forward and placed a flower on the coffin. It was Arthur Thomas.


Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 This is a wonderful lunch dish for a special occasion. I found it in a magazine a few years ago, and now that spring is here, am about to dust off my quiche tin for it. Having prepared and cooked a short crust pastry shell, the recipe suggests to cook six sliced red onions in two tablesp of oil and four tablesp of brown sugar until soft. When golden leave to cool. Mix five egg yolks with three hundred g of crumbled blue cheese, 22 g mascarpone, six slices of prosciutto or thin streaky bacon and eighty g of pine nuts. Stir in the onions and spread the mixture into the pastry case. Bake at 180 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until cooked. If the top starts to brown too fast, lower the oven to 160 degrees.

I like it with half cheddar and half blue cheese, use cream instead of mascarpone, and chopped fried  streaky bacon – still good…The magazine recommends six small onions, and the quiche is double the normal size I cook, serving ten people. When I make it in a normal sized quiche tin for five/six people, I use two onions, and 100g of blue cheese plus several ounces of cheddar and a good helping of cream.. I also use five whole eggs. Hope this answers your query Nicki, from Expat Alien… I’d feel the same if I saw those amounts recommended by the magazine !


Filed under army, consciousness, cookery/recipes, family, gardens, uncategorised, Uncategorized, writing

35 responses to “The future in the distance

  1. Angela

    Have just been walking on the beach after a weekend in the garden…such beautiful spring days …..then on coming home found your wonderful words waiting. I’m so very moved by this sad & loving account of the final hard years of a special relationship. My heart goes out to you…..thank you for sharing your life story with us…I feel like I’ve sat with a friend & shared her joys & tears…..
    With much love

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dear Angela
      .thank you for your beautiful words … each word and phrase gave me such a warm feeling that you understood … and you seemed to put this instalment of my story in a really lovely context… I’m so glad that you found it a loving account …and that you felt you were sharing with a friend… which is how I’ve always thought of you… and wondered too, about your life story, I know we have been together on our journeys for years !!!
      Much love, Valerie


  2. Valerie, you are courageous. Your story is heartbreaking, not only because it is your story but also because it is the story of hundreds of others. You will know, I am sure, that there are more than 400,000 unpaid family carers of elderly, ill, and disabled people in New Zealand. Two thirds of these carers are women. In 2013 the value of unpaid carework was approximately 5% of GDP, yet the cost to the carer of this work is enormous, financially, emotionally, and physically. The laws which underpin this unpaid carework are antiquated and patriarchal. Much needs to change in order to provide the best outcomes for everyone. At the very least, the Government should consider giving unpaid carers a contribution towards their Kiwisaver, as a way to reduce income inequality between men and women, especially at retirement age. Well, that is my rant, which I am sure you didn’t really need to hear. Thank you for writing, and continuing to write.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dear Amanda,
      good to hear from you as always… I found your comment fascinating – you certainly put my story in perspective … and yes, I always knew that this stage of our relationship was one which so many others were experiencing too… I only had to look around at friends and acquaintances who were coping with the challenges of altzheimers and dementia and so many other problems.
      I read a study the other day that said that though people are living longer these days, they are living with illness. That is something I don’t intend to experience for myself !!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Brenda Wilkinson

    Thank you for sharing. Many years ago I heard you speak at St. Kentigern College and while I don’t remember the content I know I was moved by your words.
    I love your tasty recipes. Blue cheese and cream are favourites with me.

    Best wishes
    Brenda Wilkinson

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Brenda,
      Thank you so much for your comment, so good to hear from someone who crossed paths with me so long ago !!!
      I remember the St Kentigern talk well – it was to the boarders, who I used to worry had very loveless existences, with one housemaster for a hundred boys, who told me they were lucky to have a minute of his time during term…compared with the English system of housemasters, where the children were grouped into large family-type situations with a master and his wife who knew them all and was in loco parentis…
      So I talked to the boys about love !!!!
      all good wishes, Valerie


  4. eremophila

    I spent time supporting carers and providing respite and rare was the time the carer didn’t feel guilt, even though they were doing a marvellous job. And yes, it was usually a woman.
    Like you, I’ve found Oriah’s words to give me hope and courage to care for myself.
    I’m glad there’s another chapter to come☺

    Liked by 1 person

    • So good to hear from you, and I really valued your supportive thoughts…
      You are so right about the guilt… and so often family comments made me feel even guiltier… pleasing other people is something that like most women, I had to grow out of !!!
      Oriah’s words are wonderful and so affirming, aren’t they… glad you feel that way about caring for yourself, too…and thank you for your encouragement., best wishes, Valerie


  5. When we were caring for our profoundly disabled son we had loving support from family, including my mother. One day a friend of hers popped in with some food for her and said, “someone has to care for the carer”. I am so sorry you didn’t have someone to give you that help.
    This post reminds me of the aeroplane safety talk – if an oxygen mask appears, put your own on before trying to help anyone else. This is a good metaphor for life, and especially for carers – if we don’t look after ourselves we might not be able to look after anyone else and might become ill ourselves.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dear Ele,
      Thank you for your comment… what a hard road – caring for a beloved child, whose suffering you long to spare him from.. Thank heavens you had the support you deserved and needed.
      I know what you mean about the aeroplane safety talk – it’s true, but sometimes not possible !!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great story, Valerie. Never say that the autobiography is done, there should always be one more chapter!! (and write it you will). 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Riveting, with particular highlights being that prediction and the final touching tribute by the man his efforts gave back a life.
    You had a pretty tough time of it all in all, but came out of it with colours still flying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Lesley, your perceptive comments are always appreciated, especially since you are a writer, with a writer’s perspective.
      Yes, wasn’t the clairvoyant’s prediction intriguing !
      I always love it that you find this story interesting… so thank you again


  8. My brother-in-law, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s almost a decade ago, is in a home. It’s a wonderful place where much of what’s available is lost on him. His wife anxiously made the decision seeking affirmation from the family. Some of his kids felt “he wasn’t there yet” but they never came to help out. It came to a head when she couldn’t lift him when he fell and he accused her of hitting him which she didn’t (he was a good 100 lbs. heavier than her). He is much happier and there is a lot more at the facility to stimulate him. They live some distance from us but I make sure I check in with her regularly to see how she is. Most everyone asks about her husband but she is the one carrying the burden.

    Liked by 2 people

    • So good to hear from you Kate… how lovely that you support your brother in law’s wife.. you’re so right- the carer needs that support…
      there seem to be few people these days who don’t know someone or who are connected to someone with altzheimers or dementia…the scourge of a long lived civilisation…
      I read recently that we’re all living longer but not necessarily with good health…food for thought …

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I enjoy reading all your stories. Sorry there is so much hardship but I guess that makes a good writer (so I’ve heard) 🙂
    So just wondering – is it really six onions or six onion slices? Our red onions are very large so sounds like a lot.


    • hello Nicki, having huge internet problems and having to sit in a neighbour’s drive to get into my blog, so I’ve just done a hasty reply to your query, and will be getting back to everyone else when my internet crisis is over !!!!


  10. At his funeral, as the hearse was about to pull away, an elderly man stepped forward and placed a flower on the coffin. It was Arthur Thomas.
    Big Sigh!
    As for being the caregiver—my poor mother (and in some respects myself) understand…my Grandmother has Sundowners and Dementia…the last 15 years of her life was hard, hard, hard.
    You did the right thing by giving him help in the form of a retirement home with good staff and medical care!
    You also did the VERY right thing to give yourself healing, a new lease on life, and to give yourself the chance to wake-up in joy, not depression.
    Thank you so much for your story. For your approach to life. And above all for your friendship.
    Humbly your very old-old friend

    Liked by 2 people

    • Greetings to my ‘ancient’ friend!!!
      have been having infuriatingly intermittent internet problems for days… but am looking forward to writing… your last letter continues to give me food for thought …
      Thank you for all the lovely things you say about my story…
      Caring for your grandmother for such a long period must have been really really hard… I was saying in another comment, that I read recently that though we live longer these days, many people don’t have good health in those extra years …
      will be back to you XXXXXXXx

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Powerful and resilient post, Valerie. What comes to mind is another Joseph Campbell gem: “We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.” We each have a journey, set apart from even the people we love most dear. Our lives, our mission is, in many way, solitary. There will be those who prevail upon us to bend to their idea of what our mission is, but they should be more mindful of what their responsibility is to the universe. There are beginnings and endings, and beginnings again. The circle completes, but the adventures continue. Much love coming your way.

    Liked by 3 people

    • What a wonderful comment dear Rebecca, I’ve read it over and over.. as well as reading it aloud to Him…
      I Love the Joseph Campbell quote – particularly useful to people like me who feel the world does need saving !!!
      And I love your words about us each having a journey… they reminded me of a meme I saw the other day saying we all have a different map and a different set of instructions for our lives!
      And yes, one of the challenges for so many women is to give up pleasing others in order to live our own lives !
      Thank you, as ever, for your profound response to my story,
      much love, Valerie

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Juliet

    Valerie, I didn’t know about these last years and found myself cheering for you and feeling SO happy that you took this necessary action. Nothing is served by taking on such a burden beyond the reach of what your body and soul can cope with. It sounds as if Patrick received the best of care I the rest home.
    Now I’m wanting to know what new life you opened to after that release. I admire your courage and integrity so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dearest Juliet, what a beautiful, loving and supportive comment from you –
      your words made me feel so happy that you could see how it was….
      It’s been wonderful writing this stage of my life.and with the understanding and support of so many readers, to be freed from the last vestiges of guilt – to know that not only do I know that what I did was right for me, but that so many others support me in this huge decision, which cost so much…
      That Spanish proverb -” take what you want, and pay for it,” has been so true…
      Lovely to know that you want to know what happened next !!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Moved by your words. We are so often oblivious to what people are going through until we experience it ourselves, especially when they always put on a brave face. It’s important our struggles are brought out in the open and shared. Thankyou for the bigger picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Sylvia, Thank you so much for commenting, I really appreciate what you say.. so validating what you say about sharing the situation, so that others know they are not alone in their struggles…
      And yes, what you say about being oblivious to the experiences of others until we experiences it ourselves is so true, and reminded me of that proverb about walking a mile in another man’s ( womanls) shoes !!!


  14. Jane Sturgeon

    The most loving decisions are often the hardest to make. You had to make the one for Patrick, my love. Arthur Thomas’s gesture is ❤ Your story is many interesting layers, so it's not surprising that writing as you do, brings new layers to the surface. Wrapping you in love, Valerie and hoping your internet issues sort themselves out soon. More love ❤ xXx ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dearest Jane,
      Thank you for those words – that it was a loving decision… I was so soundly punished by my husband’s family, who only had condemnation, judgement and anger, that it’s wonderful to be so supported by your thoughts and the words of others…
      Internet still an intermittent and unpredictable problem, but am putting my faith in the benevolent universe!!!
      So I will be back to answer your letter !!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jane Sturgeon

        It’s surprising the energy that other’s guilt can create. I hope your internet is sorted very soon. Wrapping you in much love. ❤ xXx


  15. Beautifully written, Valerie, with great sensitivity to the varying points of views and polarised feelings – really well done! You did the right thing, of course you did, sometimes we have do do what’s right for us to simply survive. Can’t wait for the last installment…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dearest Lynne, I love your comments, which come from your sensitive and subtle writer’s perspective as well as a friend’s…
      I really valued your appreciation of the writing – what writer doesn’t!
      So thank you, thank you…
      And as a friend, you understand the effort, as a TNFJ person, to put oneself first, and to stand up to the pressure of others wanting you to do what they think is right and what you should really be doing !!!
      And yes, after fighting to survive, now I am more than surviving! That story, next week !!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Dearest Valerie,

    Those years and decisions could not have been easy. You share them with eloquence and courage. Arthur Thomas putting a flower on the coffin brought tears to my eyes.
    Love to you and himself.

    Shalom, and hugs,



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