Purple is the colour of sorrow

I don’t know whether it was my husband or one of my children who planted a Hardenbergia Violacea– otherwise known as a happy wanderer –along our side fence.

I noticed it just now, given its flowers break the monotony of a winter garden.

Purple flowers, the colour of mourning.

Someone once told me when I was little that yellow and purple went well together and when placed side by side, these colours represented grief.

The priests wore purple vestments with gold embossing at funerals and at Easter time before the Sunday when we were supposed to be mourning Christ’s death on the cross.

So, maybe it was a religious reference.

Purple is also the colour preference for a group of grandmothers in Australia who stand up on behalf of refugees, so maybe it’s also associated with age  and activism.

In any case, I’ve always connected the colour purple to sorrow.

Winter, and I hung out the sheets and pillow cases this morning early in the hope that what little sun we get today might dry them.

As I spread them over the line and contemplated which sheet and pillowcase should go where –all those small decisions a person makes when hanging out washing – I considered the number of years I have done so.

At least once a week and more often than not, on weekends.

It is my weekly chore and one I resent, but I imagine when I am no longer able to reach up to peg clothes to the line, I might miss the practice.

Hanging out washing, like ironing, is one of those tasks long delegated to women, though there are many men I have known who iron and hang out washing, though none I know who have done so as regularly as me and many of my female friends, who hang out, not only their own washing, but that of their partners and families as well.

Washing has traditionally been women’s work, and still is I expect. And it’s soulless.

I’ve written elsewhere about my grumpiness at Helen Garner’s tribute to the writer Elizabeth Jolley, wherein Garner writes about the honour of making up someone else’s bed.

‘It is a privilege to prepare the place where someone else will sleep.’

Bed making is another task like hanging out clothes on the line. It might be an honour to some but to me it’s drudgery.

If Helen Garner had needed to make up other people’s beds regularly, year in, year out, or worked as a nurse or nurses aid in a hospital where they change beds several times a day, she might not then consider bedmaking such an honour.

It might be a literary honour to be able to write about making up a bed for someone you love, but the day to day grind of regular washing or ironing and bed making is anything but tedious.

I have begun to resent so many of these chores in life.

Even the business of showering and teeth brushing seems a burden.

Is it because as the years drag by and with each passing day, these regular tasks become more monotonous. Not that I could abide my body unwashed, my teeth unbrushed.

Still, as my husband sometimes jokes, I wish someone else would do it for me.

Then I think back to my mother who, during her last five years on this earth, had lost the ability to shower herself and so a helper came three times a week to help her in the shower.

My mother never told me how she felt about this. She accepted the task with good grace.

But I can remember the one time after I broke my leg and stayed in hospital for a couple of days when a nurse offered to help me in the shower. I declined the offer.

As long as I could sit on a shower chair with a plastic bag over my plastered leg, I could manage alone.

So, as much as I might begrudge these daily life chores, the thought of not being able to tackle them appals me.

Which brings me back to my purple happy wanderer.

Some time ago, my husband strung a wire along the side fence, onto which he might twine the plant’s tendrils as they grew.

I pulled the tallest of my happy wanderer’s coils out for length, hoping to weave at least one through the wire and so train it into place, but they were too short.

At this end of my life, I’m struck again by the part of me that still wants to force things into happening too soon.

For years, I imagined myself as one year older than I was and until more recently I have a more accurate sense of my age as I’m living it.

Still, the older I get, the more I feel the layers of time behind me, with fewer layers ahead, and more and more I begin to imagine what life might be like without me in it.




You can say goodbye to your dignity here.

I long for this fracture to heal. I long to have my leg back again. Last night as I lay in bed and flexed my good leg up and down, I wondered that I could have ever taken my legs for granted before. How much I need them.

The house is a mess. The carpet needs vacuuming, the sink needs a wipe, the bench is cluttered with things that should long ago have been put away. I wish I were able to rise from this couch and like Mary Poppins snap my fingers and every out of order item would return to its rightful place in cupboards, behind doors, under benches and the room might shine again.

But I cannot. The best I can do at the moment is turn a blind eye. My children, my husband help as much as they are able. Mostly they are gracious in their helpfulness, but from time to time the strain tells on them, too. They get grumpy at all the extras they must do in order to keep this ship afloat.

It is a small thing in the scheme of things, a broken leg, and yet it has derailed my life. Then I am reminded of all those worse ailments and I want to scream for the banality of these thoughts.

My scalp itches for want of a wash. My hair feels drack, the curls on each side cling together and the back of my hair is flattened from lying too much on a pillow. Not that I spend my days in bed now. For the past two days I have taken up residence on the kitchen couch, the one that sits under the bay window and looks out into the garden. It is the place I moved to, almost by instinct, when I first came home and it is where I now choose to sit.

The red bricks in the garden are slick with rain. The pin oak is yet to come into bud. Last year the catkins were already dropping at this time but we have seen a better winter this year; a winter that can be called winter, cold, wet and rainy. A winter that takes away all the delights of summer and replaces them with the cruel necessities of life – the rain water to turn the drought around and relieve us – at least temporarily, of the fear that we here in Australia will eventually run out of water.

This morning I read an article in the New York Times – thank you, Mim – about delirium in the elderly, delirium induced through the experience, not simply of surgery with all its intrusiveness, but in some instances simply on the basis of the hospital experience itself.

My cup of tea this morning is a disappointment, not enough milk in it and I do not want to ask my husband for more. Not used to multi-tasking in the way my daughters are, he tackles one job at a time, and they pile up to the point where he feels persecuted and I become even more so. I become reluctant to ask for all the tiny things that make my incarceration on this couch less unpleasant.

It strikes me from the New York Times article that it is this, this restraint and constraint, the unfamiliarity, the sense of helplessness that must fuel dementia.

I fear I have become an old stick-in-the-mud preferring the quiet of home to the hurley burley of life outside. What it is to be trapped inside a body that refuses to function as it once did?

Apart from the occasional purple iris that stands tall above the otherwise bare shrubs there is not much colour outside. The white arum lilies have popped up in abundance along with a few white magnolias. Arum lilies are funeral flowers. The whiteness adds a touch of austerity. My daughter has thrown out piles of withered flowers, which she took home a week ago from the formal. These are mostly in oranges and yellows, still colourful against the black soil, but they lie inert on the ground and reinforce the sense I have of winter time and of death and decay.

I tell myself every day that this time will pass. This enforced immobilisation and that I should make myself enjoy it. At least I can write. At least I have access to the Internet and to my blog and fellow bloggers. At least I am not alone. I have my family. But I hate the transformation I detect in my own usually confident and competent self. I hate the way I can no longer take charge of a situation and get things rolling. I resent the way I cannot tidy my own house, not that I do so much of that these days, but at least before I broke my leg, if the fancy caught me, I could in fact get up the momentum to wipe the benches and put away dishes and clothes.

My older sister visited yesterday and reminded me of what it was like when we were children. In those days she did all the housework, ostensibly because our mother worked away from home for money, but more so, I think now, because our mother did not like house work herself and her oldest daughter was driven to try to create some sort of order in an otherwise chaotic household.

So my older sister took it upon herself – or was she asked, or required – to do all the washing, the cooking and cleaning, a veritable Cinderella. She took on all my mother’s tasks including my mother’s relationship with my father, but that is another story and one to be glanced over, as it might offend.

I ask myself why it should offend. Why is it possible to write in a blog about all manner of disturbing events in life, and not feel the inhibition that I feel should I mention my older sister’s role in my family as my father’s wife?

It is a secret. Role reversals such as these are kept secret because they are outside of the natural order. My sister told me, as much as she did these things, she did them under duress.

One day my father was home sick in bed. He called for my older sister. He needed her help to get to the toilet.
‘Do not be frightened of my penis,’ he said to her. My sister did not want to look at his penis. She could scarcely bear to touch the body of this six foot three man who leaned on her heavily as she steered him to the toilet.

This memory came to her after I had asked her a series of questions about what it had been like for her when we were children.
‘All the times when our father walked around the house naked’. I remember this too, the sight of his aging, naked body.

Why is it that children find it hard to see their aging parents naked?

In the hospital, as the nurses wheeled Elsie back to bed after a shower on the shower chair, her nightgown hung loosely down across her knees but bunched up around her waist at the back. I watched her stout and naked torso glide past me, stuck like a pink pudding on the base of the wheelchair, mottled with cellulite.

Why should it disturb me so much? Is it because we hide our bodies from one another as we age, such that the sight of the creased and wrinkly skin is reduced to the face, the wrists, the ankles only? When we see the full figure of aged nakedness, is it a reminder of the garden in winter, the bare trees, the sense of death on the horizon.

I do not know. I only know that the sight of Elsie, part naked in her wheel chair, caused me to want to cast my eyes away, just as I wanted to look away as she vomited into the green kidney dish hour after hour. A line of black stuff belched from her mouth and I thought of a film I had seen as a young woman, a film by Federico Fellini, The Satyricon. To me this film is all these human indignities.

‘You can say goodbye to your dignity here,’ Lois said to me when I protested at the possibility of having a young male nurse help me with my shower. No, I was not yet ready for that. As it was, I needed help only to drag the green plastic rubbish bag up the length of my leg and seal it with tape to keep out the water. Once ensconced on the shower chair I could manage the rest by myself. I did not need this bright young man to see me naked, to wash me down, to cause me to feel like an object under his averted gaze.

It is the objectification of one’s self and one’s body that disturbs me. The dehumanisation in medical treatment, as in childhood sexual abuse. The one is designed to help, however much it might fail, the other to exploit.