Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Death Comes - But Life Goes On

I was very quiet in regards of this blog, until today, when I decided enough had happened since my recent loss to make it a worthwhile read - at least I hope so, folks.

Pam died on Monday, 29th June 2015 and I knew a funeral had to be organised - and I seemed to the logical source/choice.  I contacted North West Funerals (because I was a personal friend of Manager Ashley) and suggested that Friday 3rd July might be suitable, if it suited them - which it did.  Ashley went on to point out the advantages of a Friday funeral, but as that date very soon had to be changed, I have actually forgotten what those advantages were.  Yes, I ran the proposed date past a number of family and friends and my daughter Sharon strongly suggested more time would be needed for some mourners to get time off work, find accommodation and/or get here in time; so I rang Ashley once more and suggested a midweek funeral on Wednesday 8th July.  And so it was arranged.

As Pam was to be cremated, I couldn't see the sense in purchasing an expensive coffin - and Ashley agreed.  Actually, Ashley was one of the best supporters of me, during this difficult time.

A viewing time was set for Tuesday 7th at 4pm.  Pam looked lovely - as only North West Funerals could do (I'm sure).  I actually took a photo, but, sadly, I don't think it's appropriate to publish it on this blog.  Prior to this, me and my two girls had sent Celebrant Annie Predeaux the text of our eulogies and I had selected the photos for display.  I also selected tunes to play as folk arrived, during the picture presentation, and afterwards.  My daughter Jeni and our friend Bernadette Robson suggested one each for the latter.

These tunes were:
  1. For Emily* Whenever I May Find Her - Simon and Garfunkel
  2. O Magnum* Mysterium - played by Foden's Brass Band
  3. Songbird - Eva Cassidy
  4. Goodbye's (The Saddest Word) - CĂ©line Dion  (from Jeni)
  5. The Cliffs of Moyer - Tina Mulrooney  (from Bernadette)
* In my eulogy, I subtly changed these names, as you will see...

Annie did a wonderful introduction and organised a beautiful program:

and inside...

She went on to provide a wonderful service.

My Eulogy for Pam was:

Pam’s Eulogy

‘Eulogy’ – from the Greek meaning “Good Words” and for my wife and best friend Pam; I can think of none other than good words to tell you about her for no other words, in truth, apply to her.
When Pam expressed her love, she meant it - she really meant it; it shone from her.

I love her too – the song you may have heard earlier by Simon and Garfunkel might well have been called “For Pamela, Whenever I May Find Her” (instead of someone called Emily).
Pamela Joy Austin was born into a farm life at Mt Moriac, west of Geelong, and shortly afterward was given a sister, Val, with whom to play and grow up.  She went to Moriac Primary School and later to Gnarwarre Primary School when it reopened (as it was closer to the Austin farm).   Eventually the family moved to South Valley Rd Highton and Pam went to Matthew Flinders Secondary College.

When I discovered her, she was a typist for 10 Medium Regiment CMF, for whom she was a “gun” typist and could type in excess of 100 words per minute on a manual Olivetti typewriter (!).  Even though she was a civilian, she was given the fun title (by the CMF staff) as ‘Gunner Austin’.
We met each other in 1968.  I had turned 19 and I told my mother that I not only intended to get a girlfriend, but I would go to Geelong’s Palais Royal dance hall in an attempt to find one, but only on three consecutive Saturday nights shall I try, said I, or otherwise I shall forever remain a bachelor.  I’m not sure whether I really meant that but, making a long story short, on the THIRD Saturday night, 25th of May 1968, I asked Pam (who had just arrived with her girlfriend) for a dance.  For me, that was the luckiest encounter I could have ever wished for.

It was a wonderful meeting back then – not only did Pam agree to dance with me, but the next dance was a progressive barn dance – and we had to constantly change partners.  When I let go of Pam, I asked her if we could meet again after the barn dance and she smiled and said ‘yes’.  However, at the end of the barn dance, convention had it that we had to dance with our last partner.  I wanted to be again with Pam, and here I was dancing with some uninteresting female in a dance that seemed to never stop.  But it did stop and I set about looking for Pam in a fairly crowded dance hall.  I looked and looked – and began to wonder if she was still there, when from behind and to my left of me I heard her say “I’ve been looking for you”.  Her LOOKING for me!?  I’m still trying to get my head around that.
When I first met Pam, I hadn’t given much thought as to how a couple should regard each other, but I declare that after I met Pam, all that mystery and ignorance quickly left me.  Pam had back then, and still had to the very end, a quality that made me really, not only to have a high regard for her, but to truly love her.
We were married at St. John’s Anglican Church Highton on 5th September 1970 and after our honeymoon, lived in Flat 10, 50 Eastern Beach Geelong.  In 1972, we had a house built at 12 Glengarwyn Rd. Leopold, but at the end of 1973 we decided to move to Mildura for a year or two.  I had been working as a Mechanical Engineer at Alcoa Pt Henry, but I had been in receipt of a teaching studentship throughout my study years at the Gordon Institute of Technology.  The Education Department required me to become a Maths/Science teacher to fulfil my obligation to them, so I left Alcoa at the end of 1972 and went to Teacher’s College for 12 months - and at the end of that, with Pam’s permission, accepted a first posting at Irymple Technical School as it was then known.  That was 1974.  Pam and I moved from Leopold to ‘Fishers Flats’, Flat 4 5th St. Nichols Point.  That was paradise for us both and in 1974; Pam became pregnant with Sharon, who was born in Feb 75.  Cal Fisher made it clear that our one-bedroom flat was not suitable for a baby, so we’d have to move into one of his two-bedroom flats.  Instead I asked some teachers at Irymple Tech and in 1976 we purchased a house at 24 Brian Crescent Mildura.  In this house, Jeni arrived in that year.  We moved to 36 Birralee Ave in 1984, and Pam was diagnosed with MS two years later.  We moved to our current address of Unit 3, 6 Amelia Crt. in 1995, and Pam made each place SPECIAL.  I accepted a redundancy package from TAFE in 1996 and used some of it to pay off the mortgage on that unit.  That’s when I became Pam’s proud Carer.

She had an ability to see a cause of difficulty and yet let it take its course unless it got too difficult, only then would she use the most disarming sweet words and matching attitude to quickly calm the situation.  Pam did this in a most natural, yet persuasive way – every time, for the few years that the need required (as our girls got over their difficult years).
She had an attitude that allowed her to quickly accept her medical diagnosis of Progressive Multiple Sclerosis in 1986.  As devastated as we all were – the girls were not yet in their teens – Pam had an attitude that calmed us all; in spite of the terrible diagnosis.

Everyone who has dealt with Pam’s recent decade or more of caring needs are universally floored by her saying “Thank you” for each and every step of whatever one was currently doing to help her. 
For example, while transferring Pam from her lifter to her lounge chair, I might simply need to move her left hand out of harm’s way prior to the lift – and every time I did this, she said “Thank you”.  Mildura Base Hospital staff has often commented about Pam’s lovely attitude, siting this frequent courteous remark among many other comments of gratitude of which she constantly gave and surely meant.

In hindsight, my lovely skeptical wife declared that she probably had MS symptoms prior to our first meeting; she just didn’t know what those little symptoms meant.  I’ll declare that that knowledge would have made not a slightest scrap of difference to my resolve about loving her.
Pam wrote a book called “Rambling Reminiscences of My Early Years” containing wonderfully informative memories of the first 30 or so years of her life.  It’s got many pages and many pictures and gives a wonderful account of whom and what she was.  We had four beautifully bound copies made, one for each of our children, one for us and a forth to lend out to interested friends.  In a sense, Pam will be alive and available to us as long as those books survive.

I’ve maintained a blog about Pam’s MS progression over many years, and if you want to know more about her and what’s happened to her, simply type ‘Pammy MS blog’ at the Google level and take the first hit “My MS-Battling Pammy” – then use the archive and expand it to look around.  I strongly recommend that if you do look at it, read it from the beginning, which is at the bottom of the expanded archive.
Pam and I have many people to whom and organisations to which we want to offer sincere thanks for what they have done for us both.  Firstly the DHS for funding significant home modifications, appliances and respite relief.  Peta Weber from Bendigo Health has managed those funds for many years with TRIO Support Services and they have, for many years, provided talented respite-carers so that I could still get out and about in an attempt to keep me sane.  I could try to name all the ladies who came, but that would be folly, lest I omitted some.

For the ‘Family Slide-Show Of Memories’ part of this service, Pam and I have chosen an appropriate tune to accompany it (played by a brass band, as you’d probably expect) which had a strange and profound effect on both of us when we first heard it; and before either of us even knew what it actually was.  I call it ‘O Pamela Mysterium’, and it seemed to be telling a story of our family; about me and our two (then) teenage girls, as there were occasional loud bits.  But what follows in this tune, is that after every loud bit, I can hear a cornet soloist playing/saying on Pam’s behalf “Oh it’s OK, I understand, please let it go” or something to that effect.  To add to this theory, the next musical phrase seems to be saying “Oh yes we will behave”.  Pam ALWAYS mysteriously knew how to kindly and sweetly calm us all down.
It’s a tune that has really captured our interest and if the playing of it gets a bit loud in places, let it be so – it’ll soon calm down again; my darling Pammy asked it to…

I managed to say all this without breaking down, except for the last phrase - that's when I let go a bit.

Sharon and Jeni were up next with their Eulogy, they took it turns, reading paragraphs...


Jeni and I would like to share some of our fondest memories of our mum, Pam Fiesley.
Mum, named at birth as Pamela Joy Austin, was born at some time in the night of 28-29 September, 1949.  We’re told that the matron on duty had allegedly removed the call bells, had a tipple, and gone to bed herself.  Gran was therefore left to give birth to her firstborn completely unassisted and, as Mum was discovered in the morning of the 29th, that was declared her birthday.  Mum grew up on a farm “Wheatlands” on the outskirts of Geelong, with her parents Arnold (dec) and Mary (dec), and younger sister, Val.

Mum had a career as a typist in the army, but after moving to Mildura and the subsequent arrival of her daughters, her career was that as a stay-at-home mum.   She was dedicated to her family.  She was the rock that kept the home organised – she ensured Dad could get his work done, including all the after-hours work that teachers must do, and pursue his interests with the Brass Band.  She kept us kids on track with school, homework, and our early pursuits – Brownies, band, and Jazz ballet. She took us to the Carnegie Library regularly for story time, activities, and of course to borrow books.  She encouraged us to have pen-pals, and take up hobbies.  She took us to the Merbein Easter Arts and Crafts fair regularly.  We would browse the paintings, pottery, and needleworks, and would often come home with a little knick-knack that caught our eye.  One year it was a cluster of brightly painted pebbles glued onto a larger rock, with “Rock Concert” written beneath!  Another time it was a small scene of “gumnut people”. But our favourite would have to be colouring in a bookmark or similar with Hobbytex!
We loved coming home from school to discover Mum had been baking!  She baked all sorts of goodies, but cakes were a favourite.  She’d bake a double batch – one for now¸ and one for the freezer for another day.  Of course, we got to lick the beaters!  She loved pavlova, and made an awesome roast dinner.  Her Chow Mein, and Golden Syrup dumplings were always a hit!  Birthdays were always a fun and special occasion.  She would often make us a birthday cake of our choice, from the Woman’s Weekly Birthday Cake book, and her efforts were amazing!
But Mum also had her own interests.  She loved to sew and knit.  She made tapestries and cross-stitches, for which she won awards at the Mildura Show.  She occasionally sketched and painted – I fondly recall a painting of a violet that she did, “just mucking around”, which at the time I thought was amazing, and my recollection of it now still impresses me.  She loved to read, and write letters. We fondly remember Mum sitting in her favourite chair, reading a thick novel, or writing one of her famous long letters, with a steaming cup of tea nearby – white, with one, if I remember correctly. She played the piano beautifully, and enjoyed playing netball at Mansell Reserve.

Mum loved to potter in her garden.  She would often take us to nurseries (which, as young girls, we found quite boring!).  I remember wondering, at one trip, why she would bother buying sticks in a bag, but she assured me that they would grow into rose bushes, and indeed they did!  As we got older, trips to the nursery became an enjoyable event - Jeni would often take Mum out to the nurseries on a Saturday, and enjoy lunch together.  Over the years Mum was less able to be directly involved in her garden, but she still enjoyed dictating what plant should be purchased, and where Dad/someone should “bury” it!  Her eyes would light up, too, when flowers were picked and brought in for her to admire.

Mum had a very generous, community-minded spirit.  While we were young, Mum took on Home Child Care for a few years.  She loved kids, and we loved having playmates over at our house!  Later, Mum spoke publicly at schools, on radio, and to newspapers, about living with MS.  She wanted to raise awareness and offer hope and support.  She always was more concerned for other people than for herself. She vary rarely complained, stating that someone, somewhere, was worse off than her. She always remembered special events, birthdays, anniversaries, dates that pets were brought home, dates that her daughters moved into their homes….she was a great listener, and had a sharp memory.  She often farewelled us with the same parting words: “Have you got your puffer and emergency phone money?”, even well after we’d moved out of home!  Also, she’d always ask us to ring her when we got home, so that she’d know we’re safe.  She was always worrying about us and wanting to make sure that we were ok.  As teenagers, Mum sat us down and emotionally asked that we treat her just like any other Mum.  She didn’t want her illness to rob her of being a mother.  She loved us so much and there’s nothing that would stop Mum once she put her mind to it.  She was very strong-willed. Perhaps right up to the moment she passed away.  In her final words to Jeni, she expressed how lucky she was to have such wonderful people taking good care of her and told her she loves us and is proud of us.  She said she couldn’t have done it without us, along with Dad.  She told her she’ll never be far away.

Mum was a remarkable lady who kept her poise throughout her illness and personal challenges.  She became famous for her health miracles – overcoming what no-one thought possible on numerous occasions, and always with a smile!  Some of her miracles included:
  • Surviving pneumonia and stroke in 2009 – she was so seriously ill that she was flown to Melbourne, and we were all called in to say our goodbyes;
  • Regaining her voice following her stroke (phone calls that could barely last 1 minute eventually could last 30 minutes or more!);
  • Surviving MULTIPLE bouts of aspirate pneumonia since then;
  • Surviving various surgeries;
  • Surviving bowel cancer!
  • Surviving lengthy hospital/respite admissions that left her deconditioned and with pressure sores.
  • She survived ICU so that she could go home with palliative care (she had previously expressed her wish to die at home, if given the choice, but we didn’t think she would make it there);
She survived long enough for one last visit with her sister.
She has lived with MS far longer than anyone anticipated, living long enough to watch her children become adults, and to meet all four of her grandchildren, whom she adored and loved to spoil.  Kira, Erika, Ellie and Teo loved their Granny just as much, and were always excited to visit.
Mum was noted for her strength of character, but this was equally matched by Dad’s.  He always said that it was easy to care for Mum because she was so easy to love.  And it was obvious to everyone just how much he loved her, and how she loved him.  We would like to share a few words written to Dad, by his long-time friend Ross Dawson: 
“Pam’s death leaves us feeling sad beyond words.  A truly beautiful person – by nature and by action – no longer decorates and brightens her circle of family and friends, no longer mystifying all with her stoic acceptance of her lot.  A luminous woman.  Pam’s towering love for you was plain for all to see.  Her face softened, her eyes relaxed, her creases eased and the wreath of smiles appeared whenever you entered her view.  Achingly beautiful to see as we were privileged to do.  Everyone could see the strength of [your] loving bond.  She was besotted [with you] from the beginning – and the feeling was mutual.  The loss of the love of your life was looming for a long time.  You could not possibly prepare for the loss of your soulmate – merely steel yourself.  You will now no doubt be feeling an awful emptiness; the abyss of loss looms large before you today.  A melancholy time, but know we feel the better for having known your lovely Pam.
Pam was our inspiration, our hero, our best friend.  She was Dad’s number 1 fan, and our beautiful, graceful mum.  She really was someone very special.  Not just because she was our mum, but because of the person she was.  Our happiness was her happiness.  She loved us all so much.  Both Jeni and I have told her, at various times over the years, that we’d be very happy to be half the woman she was.  It makes us so happy and proud to realise that we ARE half her, and how lucky we are to have had this wonderful woman as our mum.
You may be gone now, Mum, but you’ll never be forgotten.  So many wonderful memories of the amazing woman you were will remain with us forever.
We will always love you.

Aditionally, Pam's sister Val also wrote a Eulogy, but unfortunately did not get to Annie with sufficient notice and wasn't read out.  It's a beautiful insight into Pam from an early age...

Val's Eulogy for Pam (...intended)
Pam came into the world with just Mum and no help until morning.  I believe the strength Pam showed then to survive as the same strength that she has got through all the battles she has had to overcome, since.
My first memories of my big sister was from the farm when we would go gathering mushrooms together, picking fresh peas but eating more than what went into the bucket, collecting the eggs or watching the baby chicks hatch.  Taking a basket full of food over to the shearing shed for the shearer’s lunch and feeding our pet lamb at the back gate with Teddy Bear biscuits.  Riding our bikes to school even though I was too young to go to school, but of course I had to do everything Pam was doing.  Typical little sister, I guess.
Our move to Highton was a bit of a challenge at first.  Coming from a very small country school to a school that had about 300 students was a bit of a shock.  I think Pam found more difficult than me, but she soon had made some really good friends.
Our Dad had become a bus driver and during the holidays, we were off on a “Drive” as Dad would put it.  We would be off to Sydney, My Gambier, Canberra, Adelaide, Broken Hill, Surfer’s Paradise and even a bus trip to Tassie.  Pam and I would share the back seat on these long trips in the car and no air-conditioning in those days.  I can’t remember Pam and I ever having an argument either.
Pam was the talented one being quite a piano player; mind you that was after hours and hours of practicing scales and set pieces of music.  It was lovely to hear Pam play her favourite pieces though.  This wasn’t her only musical talent; I wonder how many people here knew Pam was a member of the choir at St John, Highton.
Pam went on to Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary School in Geelong where she obtained her Intermediate Certificate, which these days is a Year 10 level.  Pam then completed a Secretarial course at the Gordon Institute of Technology.  The course wasn’t just a lot of tying but also office management, deportment, etc.  Pam excelled in all these areas.
This led Pam to her job as Secretary at the Army Drill Hall in Geelong, where she was the only female.  Pam was very good at her job and occasionally she would travel to Melbourne for typing exams, which she always passed and took her to the next level.
One of Pam’s hobbies as a young teenager was to draw house plans (just like her Great Niece, Ella) and then get paint and fabric swatches to show haw each room was to be decorated.  Unfortunately our parents never encouraged her to pursue this hobby into anything more.
Pam and her good friend Lyn liked to go to the local dances on a Friday or Saturday night, with either Dad taking them and of course I would be pestering to go too.  Often I was allowed to go, but not when they went to the Palais in Geelong that was quite the place to be, back then.  One night at the Palais, Pam met Eric and Lyn also met her husband to be.
I don’t remember Pam getting into too much trouble at home but I do remember one occasion when Pam wanted to do something and Mum wouldn’t let her.  So, Pam being much taller than Mum, just picked her up and carried her around the house with Mum screaming “PUT ME DOWN” and Pam saying “NOT UNTIL YOU SAY YES”.  I think I’ve conveniently forgotten what happened next.
Even back then Pam had one bad year, health wise.  She managed to get Whooping Cough, Glandular Fever and have her Tonsils out, all within twelve months.
When Pam and Eric were married, I was honoured when Pam asked me to be her Brides Maid.
When Pam and Eric moved up here to Mildura, we still felt very much in touch with what was happening, even though we were so far away.  Mum and Dad and Eric’s Mum would receive their weekly “BOOK” a letter of anywhere up to 30 pages long, sometimes even more, full of interesting information about what they were doing and when the girls came along, all their news as well.  Pam had a knack of making everyday things sound interesting.   Myself, other relations and friends all received slightly shortened versions of these letters.  Even when Pam found holding a pen difficult, she turned to the computer to print her letters.  Pam will also be remembered for her ability to find and send the appropriate card for every conceivable occasion.  Although I know Pam had help with this over the last few years.  When letters became too much for Pam we took to the phone.  Pam would have weekly chats with Mum on Saturday mornings and we would talk on Wednesday nights.  I will miss or talks.
On behalf of our family, I would like to thank ALL Pam’s Carers and Helpers who have helped to keep Pam at home. I’d just like to give a special thank-you to the few that I met and got to know a little, and that’s Bernadette, Jan and Therese.

I would also like to thank Eric for everything you have done for Pam for so long.  It’s been really appreciated by us all.
Well Pammy, say “Hi” to Mum and Dad for me.  I’m proud to have had you as my sister.  Love always.

Thank you Val, from me, Eric.  (If only I had known prior to the service.)
Unfortunately, the resolution of the blog image of the Program (above the Eulogies) makes it quite difficult to read the print, but the section entitled "Visual Family Tribute" was a slideshow of 93 x 4 seconds per image of Pammy (with friends and family) taken over 47 or more years and displayed randomly.  The Brass Band music being played during the slide presentation, was absolutely magnificent and Ashley had it being playing at just the right volume level - refer to the last bit of my Eulogy reading to see what I was looking for.
To me, those six minutes, twelve seconds of beautiful pictures and music were simply magic, and a wonderful send-off component for my darling.

At the end of the service, Pam's coffin was lowered and anyone who wanted to, put a flower on it prior to the cremation.

Nothing will ever make me stop loving Pammy...