I have written in bits about Adrian’s cancer but I haven’t written about the beginning. This was the very start – 18 years ago …. but I remember it like it was yesterday!
I was teacher aide in a Special Education Unit. I hadn’t been confident to return to teaching since BabyBoy had arrived. Being an Aide was a good start and the kids were interesting and unpredictable. I liked unpredictable. Not knowing what I would get out of the taxi each morning, when they arrived. It was exciting and challenging and just what I needed.
Adrian was also working at the same school. He had decided to concentrate on music teaching, so it wasn’t unusual for us to meet during the day. A wave, during class changeover or a smile, as I passed him while on playground duty. We had been through a few tough years in our marriage but things were okay and we had learned that together we could face most things.
I was surprised, however, when the principal came into my room and told me that I had earned an early mark and that my husband was waiting by the car to take me out for afternoon tea. Now that was unusual!
We drove to the coffee shop in silence. He had said that he wanted to talk and as it was a light afternoon at school, we could both afford the time off. I was happy to be there with him and was looking forward to catching up, as we had both been busy.
We found a table and ordered iced chocolates and it was only then that I noticed he had a smallish, white dressing on his right thigh. I asked what had happened and he replied that he had been to see our doctor. Words began tumbling from his mouth but they seemed to be missing my ears. I could hear parts of sentences and odd words –
at the Gym …….. pulled muscle …….. lump …….. doctor ……. a few weeks …….. needle …….. biopsy!
Then I heard one word, clearly – CANCER!
It was imperative that I tuned in, I told myself. This was life and death we were talking about. My 42-year-old husband had just told me that the doctor thought he had cancer and that we needed to take it seriously. My world stopped. I felt strangely still and calm on the outside but inside I was the duck with it’s feet paddling madly in the hope staying afloat.
This was not supposed to be my life. He was strong and fit and I needed him because we had three sons between the ages of 6 and 16. No thought at all for what he might be thinking or feeling. It was about me! Me! Me! I didn’t want my life to change. It shouldn’t change, it can’t change – was all I could think of saying.
We sat holding hands as he told me what the next steps would be. He had known for a day or so but I was in shock. I was embarrassed. How could I have not known? I should have noticed but I didn’t. I felt ashamed ….. He was to go to a Specialist the next day. He was never to go to an appointment alone again, I told him. We were a team and team could beat anything.
My life no longer had a direction. It was no longer predictable. Wasn’t that what I liked in life? Unpredictability?
Do you know that my husband would have been 60 years old had he still been alive?
Do you know that I thought he would have been 59? Yes, I forgot how old he is. Only gone 6 years and I can’t even remember his age!
All week I have been working hard to be positive during this hateful, painful time – where we get to remember both Adrian’s birth and his death in the same week. I have purposefully concentrated on the happy memories. How we met and fell in love, our wonderful sons and the music he loved! This year, for the first time in 6 years, I didn’t shed a tear on the anniversary of his death. Well, good for me! Whoop de doo! I must be moving forward in this slow grief process. Onward and upward! Great stuff – just ask everybody. They tell me that is a real step forward and I believed them and myself – it was.
Today, Adrian’s birthday, I forgot how old he was going to be! I can’t believe that after only 6 years I have forgotten how old my husband was to be? I mean to say, we celebrated 28 birthdays together and now I forget?
The tears started ….. and then I realised that there were indeed other things that I failed to do this year. I hadn’t spoken to his mother on the anniversary day! How could I NOT do that? I had visited his grave but unfortunately there was a burial right next to his grave, which meant I couldn’t really have any alone time to arrange the non snapdragon flowers on the grave. Yes, only BabyBoy was able to find snappies to put on the grave but not me …. I left looking too late.
I feel shame today. I feel ashamed today. If moving on means forgetting – I don’t want to move on! I want to stay stuck in the middle of my grief …. at least I remember then!
My life was empty. Finding that special someone was proving difficult. Many of my friends were married, engaged or living with their special someone, but me – I had a few broken hearts but no-one that I felt I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I was soon to begin my teaching career and not long after, turn the magical twenty-one but no boyfriend! That was old to still be single in 1979, in New Zealand. I was walking a fine line, between my love for Jesus and my love of partying. I was embracing my favourite of Martin Luther quote –
“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”
It was the last weekend in October and my church was hosting approximately 100 young people for the yearly national youth convention. I was in charge of housing, feeding and transporting the visiting youth over the 3 day weekend – so I was busy! On top of this, my Nana in Australia had suffered a stroke and my Mum had flown out the day before. Maybe frazzled was a better word for my state of mind!
When a bus load of tired and hungry attendees arrived very early in the morning, I put on my cheeriest smile and welcoming voice as I directed them to food and drink. After making sure everyone had something to eat, I looked around for any new faces or people sitting alone, that I could introduce myself to, that might make them feel special and a part of the wider group. I saw a blond, sun tanned guy, sitting alone that I hadn’t seen before. I introduced myself with a “Hi! I’m Mandy!” and was totally unprepared for the “Yeah? Well I’m eating my spaghetti at the moment!” – that was rudely muttered in my direction. He hadn’t even looked up at me!
Okay ….. moving right along then!
My weekend continued, making sure everything ran smoothly on the food and transport front – as well as being a part of all the activities that had been organised for the weekend. I did, however, make it my place to find out who the rude blond guy was ….. it came as no surprise when I was told he was the trainee Vicar from Australia, as his reputation as a bit of a player had preceded him. Great! No single, nice guys to think about for the weekend. In a similar vein, Adrian (because that’s who it turned out to be), had been teased about meeting me, who also had a bit of a reputation (I have absolutely no knowledge why) most of the way up during the tedious bus trip! Even to the point of being sung the hit of the day – Mandy! There was no way he was going to pursue that little black duck!!!
So things didn’t sort of go to plan for either of us. We both had busy leadership roles that whole weekend but every time we seemed to have a spare moment, we found ourselves enjoying each other’s company! We chatted and got to know each other and discovered that we had both been misrepresented by the masses. We had things in common. We were both committed to Jesus, we both struggled with our committment at times, we were both musical, loved sport, were nearing the end of our studies and getting ready to embark on our chosen careers. Most importantly, we had both stopped looking for the one but were still lonely and hesitant about our futures.
A connection had been made…. when we had least expected it. Apparently, I had patted his butt at the dance on the Saturday night and that was the sealer!!!! I really don’t remember, as I had just got the news that my Nana had passed away.
All too soon, Adrian was back on the bus for the 6hrs 33min journey to Palmerston North, where he was to spend the final 3 months of his vicarage, before returning to Australia for his final year of study. He said he would write …. and he did …. every day that we were apart, until we were married 12 months later!
We had the opportunity to see each other again, a few weeks later, when I had to travel, by bus, to Palmerston North for a meeting. Adrian’s parents were visiting from Australia but as he hadn’t told them that he had met a girl, they were shipped off on a tour of the South Island, so that we never met!! He arrived to pick me up from the meeting in his tennis gear and I was smitten – big time! We spent the rest of the weekend at the beach talking and making plans for Adrian to come and spend Christmas with us therefore extending his stay. It felt like something important was happening and that we needed more time together, to find out exactly what that something was.
A holiday in a caravan is not the best place for a traditional family to meet a new boyfriend – especially a boyfriend that I already knew was going to be in my life for a long time – even after only knowing each other for a couple of weeks and having only spent 5 actual days together! It probably needs to be said that my sister and her husband went together for 6 years before they got engaged! Plenty of time for Dad to get used to that idea! Whereas, I was driving back with my Dad when I blurted out something like …..”You know that guy you met the other day, Dad? Well, I think I’m going to marry him!” To which my father replied, “Has he asked you?” My answer of course was,”No but he will!”
The proposal happened on New Years Eve 1979, at another Youth Camp. We were standing in the middle of a pond (don’t ask me why?) but Adrian made me wait until it was midnight, Australian time – 3 hours after midnight New Zealand time. We had known each other for a whole 2 months and had spent a total of 9 actual days together!
We were in love and it would last forever! We bought my engagement ring on 26th January 1980, with money borrowed from my Mum. Adrian always remembered the date because it was the Australia Day holiday, which as a New Zealander, had no significance to me at the time. We celebrated a joint engagement / 21st party in early February, after which Adrian returned to Australia to complete his studies and I began teaching in New Zealand. We had set our wedding date as 13th December 1980. Still the letters came….
In May 1980, I flew to Aussie to meet his parents and friends. The 2 weeks we spent together were intense and wonderful and awful at the same time. Continuing to get to know each other and never wanting to let each other go but knowing that all to soon we would once again go our separate ways. The September school holidays were much the same, but add to that having my wedding gown made by Adrian’s aunty, choosing material for my sister who was to be my maid of honour and now also lived in Australia and the death of my Australian Grandfather – emotion was high!
The next time we saw each other was 2 weeks before our wedding in New Zealand and my dearly beloved had grown a massive beard in the interim, and forgotten to tell me! Needless to say, we travelled home from the airport in different cars and Adrian, never a morning person, was up at 6 am shaving! The remaining time before our wedding was tense – with me finishing up my teaching year; nerves setting in; introducing our parents for the first time, the night before the wedding; my sister just fitting into her gown (we found out later that she was pregnant with my nephew); extreme happiness at our approaching marriage and extreme sadness because soon after, I would be leaving my home, family & friends forever and moving to our first parish in Queensland!
Our wedding was everything we had wished for. We loved every moment of our day and to this day, I would not change one single thing. We were in love. We were married –
to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.
We were married for 28 years, 4 months and 1 day. We used up every part of our marriage vows – even when we really didn’t want to anymore. Our love was enduring, committed and real. Our marriage ended on 14th April 2009 but this was our love story.
When you have been married to a Preacher Man, no matter how many years ago, when he dies, your memories good and bad will always be tied to those special Christian festivals.
I love the holiday celebrations. They have always been my thing. It started as a child for me, when my hard-working parents couldn’t afford many extras during the year but at birthdays and Christmas and Easter we were spoilt with gifts and food and church festivals. Don’t get me wrong – we never went without anything on a day-to-day basis – but excess was often the go at holiday time! Rituals were begun and followed. Like the yearly Christmas visit to my Dad’s brother’s place, where my Aunty always had her tree decorated with lollipops! Or the fact that Mum always included a religious gift with our Easter eggs. I remember with delight a beautiful pink twinkley cross to wear around my neck and my Living Bible that was all the rage in the 1970’s. Christmas was church and carols and Advent Dinners and beaches and new dresses for the Sunday School Nativity.
I grew up in Auckland, New Zealand in a church with many European nationalities. Each of those wonderful families brought a lot of their home culture to my Mandy Christmas tradition that was being moulded. Candles were always important, as was music, food, and seasonal colours. A real tree was much-loved and decorated with the symbols of God’s gift to us. The Advent Wreath, that dripped candle wax on you, at Communion time, if you were not careful. And Carol singing will always begin in my mind with
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
and end with
Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
So it was not surprising to me, that I chose to get married during Advent to my Preacher Man. The church was decorated with the previously mentioned Advent Wreath and there were pine fronds in the church flowers. I was presented with a beautifully decorated rolling-pin to carry from a Swedish family, which I cherish to this day.
And so my own family tradition began! Adrian’s family were not much on tradition, so it took few years to train my Preacher Man up on what was expected. A real tree was found and decorated with love and family heirloom decorations. If money was tight, as many presents as you could buy for a set amount must be bought and each item must be wrapped individually! The Advent Dinner must be full of purple and candles and Carols. Then as our Boys arrived, more traditions developed with decorations galore, many with a European touch and presents opened on Christmas Eve, after church, as a nod to both of our German heritage. The Boxing Day test match on TV was never missed. Our family celebrated the Christian holidays with gusto – both Christmas and Easter.
They were our favourite ….. and then Adrian died …… on an Easter Monday!
How to go on? Not only on a day by day basis but those special holidays that were all of a sudden raw and full of pain. He would want us to celebrate. After arriving in our marriage with little or no Christmas celebratory spirit, Adrian, in his last years questioned why the Christmas tree couldn’t stay up all year long! He loved it!
I go through the motions of Advent – the season of anticipation and preparation for the coming of the Christ Child but also the coming of another wedding anniversary – spent alone. I buy and wrap each gift with love and thoughtfulness but when I sign the card from Mandy or Mum or Aunty Mandy and not Mandy & Adrian or Mum & Dad or Aunty Mandy & Uncle Adrian, there is always a lump in my throat and a sadness in my heart. I decorate the tree using the old and much-loved family decorations, wishing it could stay up all year long.
The same occurs at Easter time where my heart is grateful for God’s sacrifice of his Son but empty at the loss we experienced at this time almost six years ago. But my Preacher Man would want me to continue the traditions we forged as a family in the 30 years we spent together. For our Boys and their future families and for those around me that help me through these times. I try to continue making meaningful rituals that symbolize that life continues and we take our memories with us as we move on.
I am grateful for the reminders of God’s grace and love and the certainty of being reunited in eternity. I can acknowledge the peace that passes all understanding but I give myself the permission to struggle through these wonderful celebratory days, with my heart brimming and my eyes glistening with love and loss. And if I choose to be quiet and withdraw from life some days – that’s acceptable too!