The end of the journey for a much-loved family member

sunset and clouds with a flock of birds flying

I am back after a break from blogging over the last few weeks.  My much loved mother-in-law passed away after a battle with lung cancer.  I took a break to spend time with my family during her last few weeks and until after her Celebration of Life.

I have written about my incredibly strong mother-in-law before.  Gwen was given 18 months when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She far outlived any of the doctors’ predictions and lasted 3 ½ years.  Most of that time she was living independently at home with her 90 year old husband, driving, and still continuing to enjoy social outings to bingo and lunch with her friends.

From Easter onwards we noticed a decline in her condition.  She lost her energy, became very short of breath on mild exertion, and started to get more pain.  We tried hard to persuade her to take her medication to help with her symptoms but she was reluctant to take too much of it.  Her appetite had been poor since she lost her sense of taste so she was losing quite a lot of weight as well.

She had reached many milestones over the last few months – her own 86th birthday in December, Christmas, my father-in-law’s 90th and their 65th wedding anniversary in March.  There was only one last milestone to reach – a family reunion with her siblings and their families on the first weekend in May.

A Decline in Condition Leads to a Trip to the Hospital

On the 24th of April she woke in a lot of pain and could barely move due to the breathlessness.  We called an ambulance and she was admitted to hospital.  Scans showed that her cancer had progressed and she had a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in her lung).  She was now to have oxygen permanently.  During the whole course of her cancer she had not wanted treatment and was adamant about that.  We all supported her in that decision because she was very clear about her wishes.

At the beginning of her hospital stay we thought she may be able to return home so we organised home oxygen, a wheelchair, shower chair and wheely walker.  Over the next few days it became more apparent that she would be too unwell to leave the hospital.  Her family’s reunion came to her!  Quite a few much loved family members visited her in hospital.

Joy in the Palliative Care Ward

It’s not often that a palliative care ward has much joy but Gwen’s room did.  There was laughter and tears, as we all tried to make her last few days as positive as we could.  Her room radiated with love – our love for her and her love for all of us.  Even though we were well prepared, we still felt like we didn’t have enough time when she passed away.

She deteriorated so quickly on her last day we barely had time to make it to the hospital.  Most of us were there to hold her hand while she peacefully took her last breaths.  We were all heartbroken because we didn’t feel ready for her to be taken from us.  

A Celebration of Life

Gwen had been very clear about what she wanted. There was to be no morbid funeral.  Instead, she wanted to be cremated privately and a celebration of life was to be held afterwards.  She had chosen songs and told us all how she wanted to be remembered.  This made it so easy to plan her final celebration of life and I highly recommend that everyone do it.  I have now lost both parents, a sister and my mother-in-law and because Gwen had outlined everything she wanted it made it so much easier than the other deaths to plan for her funeral.

The whole family were involved in Gwen’s Celebration of Life.  It was held at my brother- and sister-in-law’s home.  My brother-in-law gave a lovely eulogy then we had a video with photos of Gwen through the years, and each of us had recorded a short piece saying our memories of Gwen. My niece created a beautiful tribute video to showcase Gwen’s life.  

Gwen and her mother on her wedding day
Gwen and her mother on her wedding day

We had a few of the things that Gwen loved on display – her bingo trophy, her favourite drinks Baileys and Scotch, and many family photos with all of her loved ones.  The video was a very moving tribute to our much loved matriarch.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the place, especially from her loving husband and family.

Grieving the Loss of Someone Special

Once the funeral was over we all felt a sense of relief.  We still grieve every day because we miss her so much.  It didn’t really sink in for me until Mothers’ Day.  Our usual family gathering was very subdued and quiet without her.  She always prepared the food and without her there it just seemed strange.

We have all rallied around my father-in-law and make sure we visit and give him the odd meal.  Luckily he can cook and he had been helping Gwen with household chores while her health declined.  He had a bad fall last year and ended up having a long stay in hospital so we suggested a personal alarm for him.  He already has services like housekeeping and lawn mowing set up for him.

Supporting Each Other Through Grief

The one positive of having 11 months off work was that I was able to spend much more time with my in-laws.  Seeing everyone come together at this very sad time and emerge from such a sad event is a testament to how strong my husband’s family is.  Comparing it to my own family it is obvious to see that some families grow stronger at times like this, and others fall apart like mine.  Any cracks that were there before can deepen into chasms if there is dysfunction in a family.

Communication and empathy are the key.  We had deep discussions as a family during this period.  Being respectful of each other, and showing kindness and compassion can help.  Everyone experiences grief differently and just being aware of that can prevent misunderstandings. 

Continuing Family Traditions

We aim to continue having family traditions like our Sunday gatherings.  Even though it’s not the same without her, those get-togethers will be an important way of supporting each other as time goes on.  My own mother passed away thirty years ago so I know that losing your mum is arguably the hardest death to get over.  Having experienced the loss of three close members of my family has given me the ability to help others through the experience.  Each loss is very different from the next but hopefully I can be the kind of support for others in the family that I know I needed while I was grieving.  It’s not a time for isolation – grieving is easier with a shoulder to cry on and a kind ear to listen.  It helps me as well.  Often a hug and a cry is what we all need and the shared experience can uplift us when we are having a bad day.

With time the deep sorrow does ease.  Some things will still trigger emotions, and anniversaries of important dates will still be hard to get through.  She will always be in our hearts, nothing will ever change that.  Her legacy is her family and our strong bond with each other. May Gwen Rest in Peace.

Shared on Weekend Coffee Share Linkup on Natalie the Explorer’s blog and Life This Week Linkup on Denyse Whelan’s blog

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An Easter Celebration With My Family

A white bowl of vegan choc-nut balls on a wooden table.

This post includes a recipe for Vegan Choc-Nut Balls

Easter is a special occasion in my family.  It is a celebration.  This year I will spend Good Friday with my in-laws and Easter Sunday with my sons.  Even though I don’t go to church any more, it is hard to break away from family traditions.  My children appreciate the effort I make to create a joyous atmosphere.

Easter Traditions – Good Friday  

I grew up in a household where Roman Catholic traditions were honoured.  Therefore, we fasted during Lent and did not eat meat on Fridays.  We went to church nearly every day during Lent. Good Friday was a solemn occasion of prayer and fasting to reflect that Jesus died for our sins on the cross.

Traditionally Good Friday is the one day of the year that all the shops are closed in Australia. Many Australians keep to the tradition of eating fish on Good Friday, even when they are not Catholic.  My in-laws have their main Easter celebration on Good Friday. They don’t exactly fast though – there will be prawns and salmon on the menu! 

Easter Sunday Celebration

Easter Sunday was the main day for celebration in my family.  This was to reflect Jesus rising from the dead.  My parents would stop at the corner shop on the way to church and buy us one Easter egg each.  These days the shops are full of every kind of chocolate Easter egg and people spend a fortune on them.  It has become more commercialised like Christmas.

I have always enjoyed creating a special Easter for my family. I love cooking their favourite food, and hiding mini easter eggs for them to find.  My husband and I are empty nesters so these family gatherings are very special to us.

Making Vegan Easter Food

My son’s girlfriend is vegan and one of my sons is vegetarian.  I have been searching for vegan recipes so that I can make some easter treats for them.  I like to be inclusive and try to make everything vegan so that everyone can eat it.  It gets a bit tricky at times.  

There are some dishes that can’t be adjusted to make vegan versions, like pavlova.  But I have found some chocolate recipes that I can make or adapt, including the recipe below.  We will have  roast chicken, and I’ll make a roast cauliflower for them. I’ll bake vegan bread and have almond milk, vegan margarine and vegan snacks on hand.

A white bowl containing vegan choc-nut balls on a grey bench.  Easy healthy recipe to have at your Easter Celebration
An easy healthy recipe for vegan choc-nut balls. May be adapted if you are not vegan.
A white bowl containing vegan choc-nut balls on a grey bench

Vegan Choc-Nut Balls

These vegan choc-nut balls are so delicious the whole family will enjoy them. They contain lots of protein so have them after work-outs.
Prep Time 10 mins
Refrigeration time 10 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Course Snack
Cuisine Healthy, Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings 40 balls
Calories 66 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 1/2 cup Rolled Oats
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup chocolate protein powder
  • 1 cup vegan nut butter
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 45 grams vegan chocolate chips Chop up small bar of vegan chocolate

Instructions
 

  • Stir together the oats, cocoa powder and protein powder in a large bowl.  Stir in the nut butter, maple syrup, and vanilla.  Stir until combined.  A food processor may be used. Add the chocolate chips and stir through.
  • Line a flat container with kitchen greaseproof papers.  Use a small cookie scoop to form balls.  Roll in between hands.  
  • Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.  May be frozen.

Notes

If you are making a non-vegan recipe honey may be substituted for maple syrup.
Keyword Healthy, Snack, Vegan, Vegetarian

Covid-19 continues to disrupt plans

The one concern this year is that a sudden lockdown could be on the cards which would prevent us from being together.  My son lives in Brisbane, where there has been an outbreak of Covid-19 cases.  My other son was going to go on a road trip to Sydney and Melbourne but the borders have closed again.  

Once again travel arrangements are up in the air and the local tourist industry is suffering.  It will be so good to see an end to this pandemic as the continual disruptions to normal life are getting beyond a joke. Meanwhile we wait to see if further restrictions will affect our Easter celebration. I hope not.

How do you celebrate Easter? Do any of your family have dietary needs that affect what you serve at special occasions? If you enjoyed this post, you may like to read:

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A Very Special Birthday Celebration

A Very Special Birthday Celebration

Celebrating a long life with joy

My father-in-law turned 90 years old last week. I would like to share with you how we celebrated this special event in this post. It was a very special birthday celebration which almost didn’t happen because of sudden changes in travel restrictions. We were so lucky that the weekend strict lockdown in Brisbane didn’t affect us.

Happy 90th birthday Cec
Happy 90th birthday Cec – cheers to a long life

A Positive Outcome From 2020

One of the most positive things about 2020 was nurturing relationships that are important to me.  Normally my life is extremely busy and I feel continually jetlagged from unrelenting shift work as a nurse.  Many of you know that I have been off work since May because of complications during surgery.  Having time on my hands has been a blessing in that I have been able to spend a lot of time with my in-laws. 

I have had time to visit for a chat and a cup of tea, and not stress about needing to be somewhere or do something on my brief days off.  I also have been able to attend all the family gatherings, whereas most of the time I work on public holidays and other special occasions.  This is something I don’t take this for granted.  I feel like I have been blessed with this time.  

Stronger Family Relationships

My relationship with my parents-in-law and my sister-in-law have been the most improved by this.  My sister-in-law and I have been able to plan some lovely family gatherings such as my mother-in-law’s High Tea surprise birthday party.  I could also help with my sister-in-law’s 50th birthday Alice In Wonderland party.  Just in general we have become closer this year, bonded by being married to two lovely men who are definitely the product of their equally lovely parents.

My sister-in-law and I share another thing in common. Both our mothers passed away when we were newlyweds in our early 20s.  I think that it is why we know that we need to create lovely memories during the latter years of our parents-in-laws’ lives.  Every birthday and special occasion has taken on new meaning as we are aware that time with them is limited.

My husband and I with Gwen and Cec, my parents-in-law
My husband and I with Gwen and Cec, my parents-in-law

My Father-in-law’s Special Birthday Celebration

My father-in-law’s 90th birthday is the latest milestone for our family. We celebrated the occasion with a lovely lunch.  The family let me organise the event which I felt very privileged to do – they needed to put some trust in my organisational skills!  I don’t have the same creative, event planning abilities as my sister-in-law (just look at what she did for my mother-in-law’s High Tea and you will see what I mean!).  But I am pretty good at organising things.

The day was a success, and the smiles on everyone’s faces were my reward.  We had the lunch at a club nearby which we have used previously for events.  

My father-in-law celebrating his 90th birthday with his sister and dear friend
My father-in-law celebrating his 90th birthday with his sister Shirley and dear friend June

Celebrating a Long Life

At 90 years old, my father-in-law has been through a lot, including serving in the Australian Army in the Korean conflict when he was a young man.  He has chronic pain from injuries sustained in a fall through a roof, and suffers from COPD.  His mind is still sharp and he and my mother-in-law still drive and live independently in their own home.  Cec is one of the kindest men you will ever meet.  To be able to organise this special birthday for him was an honour.

I was brought to tears when the whole club sang Happy Birthday to him.  I created a collage of photos of him from babyhood until now and he was “tickled pink!”.  He talked about each photo and shared his memories with us.  His sister aged 92 was able to come from Northern New South Wales. A close family friend who has been like an Auntie to my husband and his brother was also able to come.

A collage for a 90th birthday - celebrating the life of my father-in-law Cec
A collage of photos depicting the life of my 90 year old Father-in-law Cec

The Special Birthday Celebration Almost Didn’t Happen

We have been holding our breath leading up to this event. No-one knows whether the border to New South Wales will close again or we’ll be sent back into lockdown.  There was a weekend lockdown as close as Brisbane and Logan because of two new strains of the more contagious UK variant of Covid-19 being detected in Brisbane.  We have been extremely lucky here to avoid it.

Treasure your loved ones as you never know when they will be taken from you.  This year marks 30 years since my mother passed away, and 10 years since my sister died suddenly from an epileptic fit.  It’s hard for me to fathom that so much time has passed.  Many of you know that my mother-in-law is in the final stages of lung cancer so we value any time we have left with her.

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A DIY High Tea For a Special Occasion

A DIY High Tea for a Special Occasion

A DIY High Tea To Celebrate My Mother-in-law’s Birthday 

We had a DIY High Tea last weekend to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday.  The event was such a success I thought I’d share it here.  I have included instructions on creating your own DIY High Tea because this themed party was easy to put together ourselves.

A Special Birthday Celebration

My mother-in-law’s birthday was approaching when my sister-in-law and I planned this event.  It wasn’t a milestone birthday, however it was an important one.  This could be the last birthday we spend with her because she is in the final stages of lung cancer.

As a family we know the importance of creating memories.  No event has passed without us celebrating together in some way.  Our parents-in-law haven’t been in great health for a few years and, although they still live independently in their own home, we have noticed that they have slowed down considerably.  We are blessed to still have them both at age 86 and nearly 90.

My mother-in-law Gwen at her surprise birthday party looking beautiful and so happy.
My mother-in-law Gwen at her surprise birthday party looking beautiful and so happy.

Hatching the perfect plan

Michelle and I decided to make this birthday a very special celebration for our mother-in-law.  It would be a surprise party as we knew Gwen would love it.  The theme was a garden party high tea.  A few years ago we had gone to a revolving restaurant at the top of a Surfers Paradise building for high tea.  Unfortunately there are no high teas available due to Covid restrictions so we decided that a DIY high tea would be easy to put together.

The original plan was for a garden party under a white gazebo.  Unfortunately torrential rain forced our party indoors but it looked just as beautiful.  My husband and I were to pick up my parents-in-law for a surprise location.  We were to follow my husband’s brother in our car, but first we needed to go to his house.

A lovely surprise for our guest of honour

We made sure Gwen walked in first to the beautifully decorated room.  The look on her face was priceless.  Everyone was in tears, overcome with emotion.  We managed to pull off the biggest surprise birthday for the most special lady.

Gwen my mother-in-law just after she came into the room - surprise!
Gwen my mother-in-law just after she came into the room – surprise!

Here’s how to have your own DIY High Tea:

A DIY High Tea is a great theme for a special occasion. For a birthday, hens’ night, fundraiser, girls’ night out, Mother’s Day, baby shower or family celebration. Everything you need to decorate it is easy to obtain from second hand shops and discount stores, which makes it budget friendly.

Colour co-ordination

Choose complementary colours. Pink, mint and white are lovely colours that are very feminine.

Theme

As well as being a high tea, we made it a garden party – as if you are having tea with the Queen!  We bought sun hats for everyone and we all wore floral or linen.

Decorations

Most of the decorations came from KMart and discount stores.  We looked for colour co-ordinated decorations, with a floral theme to suit the garden party aspect of the theme.  All the flowers were dried or silk flowers.  My lace tablecloth was draped over pink disposable tablecloths.

A DIY High Tea would not be complete without three tiered cake stands displaying petite cakes and chocolate dipped strawberries.  Pretty teapots, cups and plates, set out on a lace tablecloth suit the feminine aesthetic.
A DIY High Tea would not be complete without three tiered cake stands displaying petite cakes and chocolate dipped strawberries. Pretty teapots, cups and plates, set out on a lace tablecloth suit the feminine aesthetic.

Tea pots and crockery 

It was nice to use our own crystal glasses and china that we had in our china cabinets.  I have a dinner set that originally belonged to my English great-grandmother – it is over 100 years old.  My sister-in-law scoured second-hand shops for teapots, milk jugs and cups.  It was a very eclectic collection which looked awesome and suited the feminine aesthetic well.

Food

This is the focal point of a High Tea.  Everything is bite sized – cakes, sandwiches, savouries and scones with jam and cream.  We bought most of the petite cakes from a French Patisserie, and supplemented that with supplies from the local supermarket.  If you are looking for a cheaper alternative, local supermarkets usually have a great selection of bite sized cakes and frozen savouries.  Pretty floral serving platters and tiered cake stands display the petite cakes beautifully. 

Drink

Pots of tea, coffee and juice on the tables.  Pink champagne in an ice bucket.

DIY High Tea Table Setting showing pretty cups saucers and tea pot, a three tiered cake stand with petite cakes and platters of finger sandwiches.
DIY High Tea Table Setting showing pretty cups saucers and tea pot, a three tiered cake stand with petite cakes and platters of finger sandwiches.

Music

A sound track of music from the 40s 50s and 60s suited the occasion.  My mother-in-law really enjoyed hearing the music she listened to in her youth.

Game

My mother-in-law loves bingo so that is what we played!  We all put $10 into the kitty and played two games with various amounts to win.  It made it more exciting.  The winner on the day was my mother-in-law which thrilled her no end!

Playing Bingo at the DIY High Tea
Playing Bingo at the DIY High Tea

A Successful DIY High Tea

The day was a great success.  It was very easy to plan, and was probably one of the easiest themed parties to source everything we needed.  I’d highly recommend giving someone special a DIY High Tea.  Even the men in the family enjoyed it. 

My sister-in-law Michelle had the initial idea, and together we expanded on it.  She missed her calling as she is so good at party planning, down to the fine details.  

A DIY High Tea for a Special Occasion - the Henry Family enjoying tea and smiling towards the camera.  Everyone has sun hats on, which suits the theme of Garden Party High Tea
A DIY High Tea for a Special Occasion – the Henry Family enjoying tea and smiling towards the camera. Everyone has sun hats on, which suits the theme of Garden Party High Tea

Credits: 

Michelle Henry, execution of the high tea plan, preparing most of the food and styling the room

Aaron Tawadros, photography

The Henry family, enthusiastically taking part in a surprise party for a very special person. Everyone was involved in some way, from setting up the room to helping set out the food.

A DIY High Tea is a great theme for a special occasion.  For a birthday, hens' night, fundraiser, girls' night out, Mother's Day, baby shower or family celebration.  Everything you need to decorate it is easy to obtain from second hand shops and discount stores.
A DIY High Tea is a great theme for a special occasion. For a birthday, hens’ night, fundraiser, girls’ night out, Mother’s Day, baby shower or family celebration. Everything you need to decorate it is easy to obtain from second hand shops and discount stores.

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What I Really Want For Christmas in 2020

What I Really Want For Christmas in 2020

Family Unity is More Important Than Gifts

My Christmas wish list is a little different this year. What I really want for Christmas can’t be wrapped and placed under the tree. Christmas is a time for families to gather, often over a celebratory meal and the traditions like gift giving.  In Australia it is one of the main celebrations of the year.  Even if you don’t identify as Christian, most families gather together.

Most mothers take on the role of organising many of the Christmas traditions such as buying the gifts and preparing the food.  It can be a busy time leading up to the day as mothers tend to take on the extra tasks so that Christmas can be a happy time for their family.

Christmas Traditions

Every family has its own traditions for this time, whether it is watching the Carols by Candlelight, eating roast turkey, or going to Midnight Mass.  There is often food that she traditionally cooks every year because it is someone’s favourite.  

Every year there are a few things that I always cook.  My son loves turkey, but it has to be one specific turkey that I cook.  I was a single mother during their teens, and my budget didn’t stretch to buying a whole turkey.  I cooked a rolled turkey thigh that was frozen – it was pretty grim.  Even though I could now cook a whole turkey, my son insists on that awful rolled turkey thigh!  Every year we laugh about it, but that is what I still cook for him!

My Christmas Wish List

As another Christmas looms, I have put some thought into the gifts on my wishlist.  This year’s Christmas is sure to be extra special as most of us will be pleased to see the end of this very trying year.  These are the gifts I would love:

  • My family to be united to celebrate Christmas
  • Security and safety for my family
  • Good health – everyone remains Covid free, with the prospect of a vaccine soon
  • My sons are happy with life and both stay employed in jobs that they enjoy
  • Our country remains free of natural disasters
  • Our leaders keep our country safe and our economy strong
  • We are free to travel and enjoy our freedom again
  • Peace and serenity, gratitude for all that we are blessed with

I am optimistic that I will receive all the gifts on my wishlist this Christmas.  Wouldn’t it be a lovely celebration if we could all receive them?  It wasn’t that long ago that we took most of this for granted, but after this year I don’t take anything for granted anymore.

The Gift I Most Desire

Time with my family is even more precious now, as both sons moved out leaving us empty nesters.  The border was closed for most of the year meaning that I couldn’t see my family in New South Wales.  Our family has had many health issues, not from Covid, but from cancer and other issues.

This year the emphasis won’t be on material gifts, it will be on celebrating together as a family.  One of my brothers will be here, which will be lovely.  

My other brother has sadly distanced himself from the rest of the family after our father passed away.  It’s such a shame as dad’s dying wish was for all of us to be united as a family.  The situation seems insurmountable as he refuses all attempts of reconciliation. 

It may be the last year we spend with my mother-in-law too, as she has reached the palliative stage of lung cancer.  We will treasure every moment we have with her.  

This Christmas Will Be Different

This Christmas has taken on a different meaning for all of us.  We now don’t take for granted that we can cross the state border, or gather together as a family group.  Our health has been our focus and we no longer take that for granted either.  It will be a relief that we made it through one of the most challenging years any of us has ever seen.

I am so grateful for a Christmas celebration with the most precious thing, my family.

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