Sheila Wesley-Smith, 1916-2010

When this blog started, on July 27 2009, Sheila was 93, had a failing heart, and seemed close to the end of a long and beautiful life. Its purpose has been two-fold: to report regularly on the state of her health, and to publish tributes, reminiscences, information about her life, and so on - the kind of thing usually written after death - by her family and friends. Sheila died at 1.40pm on February 5 2010. Tributes to her are being published here (separate page) - if you would like to contribute, please write to Martin at PO Box 6159 Kangaroo Valley NSW 2577 Australia or, preferably, email him here.

April 28 2010: Sheila's remains have been cremated, after a private family ceremony, and we've now hosted, in Kangaroo Valley and Adelaide, two celebrations of Sheila's life, both beautiful occasions at which many of her friends were able to say their goodbyes.

There have been a lot of requests for copies of the poems that Harry wrote to Sheila and that were read at both the wakes. They can be read/downloaded here. Click here for the hilarious howlers that we found in Sheila's papers after she died, and which Peter read in Kangaroo Valley and Adelaide.

We wish to acknowledge the support given to Sheila, and to us, over the past few months from so many people and services. Many thanks to all!

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bulletins: March 24 2010 | 12 | Feb 28 | 24 | 17 | 05 | 04 | 03 | 02 | 01
Jan 31 | 30 | 29 | 28 | 27 | 26 | 25 | 23 | 21 | 20 | 19 | 18 | 17 | 15 | 13 | 11 | 10 | 07 | 06 | 04 | 02 | 01
Dec 31 2009 | 29 | 28 | 26 | 25 | 23 | 21 | 20 | 19 | 18 | 17 | 15 | 14 | 12 | 10 | 9 | 8
Nov 28 | 25 | 19 | 17 | 14 | 13 | 4 | Oct 28 | 18 | 4 | 3
Sept 23 | 22 | 8 | Aug 27 | 17 | 13 | 12 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 4 | July 30 | 27
Sheila's life | photos | Harry | Jerry | Rob | Peter | Martin | more photos
pdfs: Sheila is my mother-in-law | The Sheila Harry Married | Poor Sheila | My Friend Sheila
Sheila | Fairy Tale | Sheila, My Aunt | Ah, Sheila | An inspiration ...
An enchanted garden | Question time | Our Dear Lord
post-death tributes (separate page)


Wed March 24 2010:

Last Saturday, Sheila's obituary appeared in Adelaide's The Advertiser. Click on the image at left to see a larger, readable version (thank you, Stuart Innes).

The Adelaide Celebration of Sheila's life (Sunday April 25, Belair Uniting Church Hall, Sheoak Rd, Belair) will start with buffet-style finger food at 6.30pm. Proceedings (oral tributes, an audio-visual tribute, music, poetry, and so on) will start at 8pm and be over by 9.30pm. If you plan to attend, please, for catering purposes, let us know! Call Martin or Peter on 02 4465 1299 or email us here.

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Fri March 12 2010:

The Adelaide Celebration of Sheila's life will be held on Sunday April 25th - ANZAC Day - in the Belair Uniting Church Hall, Sheoak Rd, Belair. More details to come ...

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Sun February 28 2010:

We had a beautiful get-together in Sheila's honour last night. 80 or so people gathered in Upper River Hall, Kangaroo Valley, for an informal tribute to Our Mum. Lovely ...

I'm going away today for a week or so, and will be out of action re maintaining this blog. When I get back I'll post some of the nice things people said last night, plus a description of the events, plans for the Adelaide event, and so on ... [MW-S]

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Wed February 24 2010:

If you're planning to come to this Saturday's celebration of Sheila's life but have not yet indicated this to us, please do so today!
Call (02 4465 1299) or email.

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Wed February 17 2010:

Since February 5 we've had a private family ceremony to say goodbye to Sheila, and her mortal remains have been cremated. When the family is together here again, we will spread the ashes over a new garden Peter has created.

Many thanks to all those who have written to express their condolences, and the admiration they hold for Our Mum. Their tributes can be read here.

On Sat Feb 27 we - Rob, Peter & Martin - are hosting an informal get-together in Upper River Hall, Kangaroo Valley, to celebrate Sheila's life. Starting at 6.30pm, we'll have a buffet-style dinner then share reminiscences, some oral tributes, an audio-visual tribute, music, photographs, and so on. All welcome, but if you're intending to come, please RSVP (02 4465 1299, email) by Wed Feb 24 so that we know beforehand how many to cater for.

We intend to put on something similar in Adelaide, but because of something that has come up it will be later than first planned. Details to be advised.

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Fri February 5 2010:

* SHEILA'S LAST DAY *

Last night the small choir that I sing in - The Thirsty Night Singers - came here, crowded into Sheila's bedroom, and sang her a couple of songs. We did Irish Blessing and Sinead O'Connor's In This Heart, both beautiful songs that we'd sung in concerts in Canberra and Yass last December. Mum these days is not able to react to things, but I'm sure she heard us. What's more, I'm sure she loved hearing us: having come to many of our rehearsals during the past couple of years, and silently sung along, she'd become an honorary member; she would've relished the chance to hear us one last time, just as the choir relished the chance to say goodbye.

Irish Blessing

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
May the rain fall softly on your fields
And until we meet again, until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand

"God" in this context is a generic God, one who is whatever you want her/him to be. I like the idea that Sheila is about to embark on a journey and that one day we'll all meet again (don't know where, don't know when ... mmmmm, there's a song in there somewhere ...)

The Thirsties consist of Nell Britton, Janette Carter, Peter Morgan, Patsy Radic, Peter Stanton and me, with Peter and/or Rob sometimes joining in. Last night was the first time we've sung without soprano Alex Holliday, who for personal reasons has unfortunately had to leave the group.

After the Thirsties left last night there was a huge thunder storm accompanied by c.100mm (4") of rain. Yesterday palliative care nurse Amanda told us that the hours between 3am and 5am seem to be a favoured time for people in Mum's state to let go, so Peter sat with her through this period as the storm raged overhead. Sheila slept through it. This morning she's awake, seemingly aware of one's presence. Her breathing is shallower than it was, but still strong. Life, amazingly, goes on ...


Later: And then, suddenly, it doesn't: at 1.40pm, Sheila passed away. As far as we can tell, she was comfortable, not in pain, and was in a beautiful place. Her heart simply stopped beating.


click on the photo for a larger view of Sheila as a schoolgirl






we're publishing tributes to Sheila here

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Thurs February 4 2010:

Almost a year on from Black Saturday, when the thermometer hit 45 degrees in parts of Kangaroo Valley, we're experiencing lovely cool wet weather. We had so much heavy rain last night that Community Nurse Joanne, who was coming today to look at Sheila's leg and to provide palliative care, rang to say that she doesn't have a four-wheel-drive car and thus wouldn't be able to make it along the dirt road to our place. We are, however, trying to get a nurse here today, for we need assistance in coaxing Mum to swallow some fluid. At 10am she's still asleep after not making a peep all night.

left: Sheila, January 22 2010. Shot taken by Leigh. Click on it to see Sheila with Peter.

A friend wrote to say that when her sister was dying:

... we gently sprayed warm sweet tea into her mouth just to keep her mouth moist and comfortable once she found it too hard to sip and swallow. I'm not sure if this would be helpful for Sheila but I thought I'd mention it in case ... (her) doctor said that once her system started to slow down she no longer needed the fluid, it was just to keep her mouth comfortable.

Later (12 noon): Sheila still hasn't woken up. She appears to be comfortable, and her breathing is regular - she must be catching up on the sleep she didn't have yesterday and the night before.

2pm: We've just had a visit from palliative care nurse Amanda - wonderful! She took us through what to expect and told us what to do. Together we gave Sheila a bed bath, changed her, moistened her lips, massaged her, put new sheets on her bed, then put her into a new position with a pillow between her knees and ankles.

Amanda thinks that it might be at some point in 24-48 hours' time that Sheila will slip away. In the meantime we will talk to her, massage her fingers, change her pants when necessary, play her music, and generally make her as comfortable as possible.

From Jean Kenny, today:

I am reminded that when Harry was dying and I went to visit him, he was listening intently to the Beethoven violin concerto, which he said (or Sheila said - can't remember which now) was a great comfort to him. I also remember Sheila telling me that it had been suggested to her to tell Harry it was OK for him to let go and allow nature to take its course.

Sounds as though Sheila is at peace and will pass away in her sleep. And although I know her passing is inevitable, I grieve for her and for you all as you go through the process.

Peter's been reading poetry to Mum. Rob read her part of an email from his ex-partner Cesarina telling of a dream she had that included Mum and our late brother Jerry. I've been playing her my recent chamber music CD Merry-Go-Round. OK, it's hardly Beethoven, but a mother's role is to love her youngest son's music, even when she's at Death's Door. I'm quite sure she can hear things played to her, and said to her, but she can't respond. We've told her that it's OK for her to relax and let go ...

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Wed February 3 2010:

Not a good night for Sheila last night: she spent most of it talking - sometimes shouting - balderdash. A mixture of baloney, gobbledygook, hogwash and poppycock. None of it made sense to us. Sometimes she seemed to be asleep, at other times she seemed to be awake but without much apparent awareness of her surroundings. She wasn't in pain, and wasn't uncomfortable. Perhaps not even she knows what was going through her head ...

Going through some old papers today, Peter found the following yellowing old newspaper clipping:

The Spotlight Shines On-
SHEILA MARTIN, whose
engagement is announced to
Harry Wesley Smith. Sheila,
who played the spirit of South Aus-
tralia in the Centenary pageant, is
noted for her good looks and acting
talent.
She is now on the staff of her old
school, the Presbyterian Girls' Col-
lege, and Harry, well known in
University and athletic circles, is on
the staff of King's College.
Sheila's ring is a beautiful white
gold one, with a large diamond.
Geoff Bridgeland and Peggy
Mengerson gave a tea-party at the
University refectory to celebrate the
engagement.

Its source was not recorded, and it is undated. What a shame that Sheila didn't pass on her good looks and acting talent to Jerry, Peter and Rob!

Rob writes (c.6pm):

All the way down from Darwin Monday night by plane and morning via train, then for a while driving with Mart to an appointment and doing a big shoppe, I was wondering if Mum was still alive - not sure when I asked. But about 2pm I went in to see her, she wasn't dead, she said 'Rob', and was clearly delighted (my observation!). Mart and I shifted her position in bed a little, and she had another nap. Sometime in the arvo she ate very small portions of the gruel I had been served, some Yoghurt, and sucked up 2 gobfuls of water, twice. She hasn't got her upper teeth in, so there is some suggestion she looks a bit like the friendly witch (not my suggestion of course, well ...) Perhaps she could articulate better with them in their usual place.

Family friend Susan arrived, Peter might say she is HIS friend, later WWOOFer Amy (Jo). Both are great with Mum; Amy was reading to her until she (Mum that is) fell asleep but Amy finished the story anyway. Lots of good advice and checks on her welfare, and of course Martin's blogging skills are to the fore, even if his comments re moi are a bit french! Suzie from up the road suggested Martin's blog would be good reading to many people dealing with such a predicament (hence I'm being cautious!) Chris and Susan washed her on the bed and changed some clothes and bedding, without any help from blokes.

It's true that she had a rugged night (Tues/Wed), and this morning, vocalising a lot, but usually with some recognisable words. If one hit on what she was saying and asked her, one got a good response. I mean, like: do you want water, Mum? Head shake, or 'yes'; Or do you want yoghurt? Similar. Do you want the bed raised or lowered? Maybe a suggested response, but when it's done, an indication of satisfaction or alarm. This arvo she was calling out or vocalising a fair bit, usually one word at a time, and a little cry with every breath. It has been raining off and on, and she articulated 'rain' on a notable occasion. She also was more alert this arvo, and her eyes would clearly take in some sights - like my face! Gee, I'd better shave!
Mart came in and we straightened her out on one issue - of how she was lying in bed - two hands each, and just moved her up and the legs followed. Then she went to sleep, and it is still quiet in there.

I feel she has some things to say much of the time, but finds it tiring and difficult to articulate the full schemozzle.
Right now she is still asleep, and unguarded by her loyal friend Flash, who is keen on his dinner. Her carers mostly need a decent sleep too, except Flash. That reminds me, dinner ...

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Tues February 2 2010:

Yesterday's sleep wasn't Sheila's last after all! After waking for a while last night, she went back to sleep, waking again at 7am. She drank a little juice, swallowed a little mashed-up muesli with yoghurt, then surrendered again to the Sandman ...

We received this email this morning:

Dear all,

Just read yesterday's bulletins, and am deeply saddened to hear that Sheila has embarked on the final stage. I remember sitting continuously with both (Dad and Mum) throughout the process, and can understand what you and Sheila are going through. I fully concur with what you have been told about the likelihood that people can often hear and understand what is going on around them despite other systems shutting down one by one. In Dad's case, that was certainly evident; in Mum's case it was less certain. We worked on the basis that it was at least possible and said those things that still needed to be said.

Sheila has led a magnificent life and is much loved by all who had the privilege of getting to know her. The world is a better place for her having been here. There is no better epitaph than that.

(We) are thinking of you and Sheila and hoping that the end is peaceful.

Much love to you all ...

Pete replied:

Sheila is still with us, an astonishment to medical science; as I awoke this morning, having been in to see her at 2am and 6am, when she was asleep and whimpering to herself and not responding when I spoke and held her hand, she'd already had a sip of tea and a couple of mouthfuls of muesli. Perhaps we'd better not make any further predictions on the blog: there are people all over the country logging in each day expecting to hear of her demise!

Mum's quality of life ain't great, although she's not in pain and is as comfortable as could be expected. She has many times in the last few months said she's happy for the final curtain to come down - she's clearly not trying to hang on. But her old ticker keeps tick-tick-tickin' away ...

From an email received today from a Kangaroo Valley friend:

(When Sheila's) awake she is aware that her boys are by her side - and perhaps while she's sleeping, too. It seems that Rob's arrival will be timely. For many of us long-time orphans, Sheila has been our second mother and we certainly will miss her when she finally breathes her last. Just knowing she's around, and especially being in her presence, has always been such a positive. Even having her there with us in the room when we visited recently added to the gathering: a contained, beautiful soul. It's hard to imagine she's ever made anything remotely like an enemy in all her long life.

Later: Sheila was able to recognise Rob when he arrived today from Darwin. She even registered some delight at seeing him! Dr Bob called in. He is going to arrange for a palliative care nurse to assist us when the time finally comes ...

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Mon February 1 2010:

At about 3.30 this morning Sheila was coughing a lot, muttering to herself, and having difficulty breathing. I put her on her side and made her comfortable, and she went back to sleep. Now, at 8.30am, she is in such a deep sleep that we don't want to wake her, even though she's usually awake by now. Chris from Home Care came at 8am but suggested she come back at 12.30pm or so. As I write this, Peter is sitting with Sheila so that he will be there when she wakes up ...

later (1.30pm): Mum is still asleep. I spoke to Dr Bob, who suggested that this might well be her last sleep - that her breathing might start getting increasingly laboured, then spasmodic, eventually reaching a point where there are no more breaths to be had. We've had false alarms before, but it certainly seems to us that Mum's end is nigh. Feel free to send her love and nice thoughts ...

Pete writes (7.30pm):

You'll all be pleased to know that my home-handyman chores have been successfully completed, last night, fortunately, because today I've spent at Sheila's bedside. She woke up about ten minutes ago and has tried to say something, but I've not been able to decipher it. The doctor came at 5.00pm, to pronounce what we've assumed: that this is the last bit of the end game. He'll come back if Mum shows real distress, rather than the irritation she's currently displaying, to give her something medicinal, but we don't expect that will be necessary. Friends have advised that she can probably hear even if she appears unconscious, so I've tried to reassure her and tell her I and so many others love her; whether she comprehends what I say is moot. When I ask her to squeeze my hand there's no response. It's a painful process for her family, perhaps less so for her, and if she can have an imminent stress-free death I think we'll all be pleased, including her, though I doubt she'll be aware of it.

Mum's not in a coma, as some have assumed, but is very very tired. She seemed to wake up a few minutes ago (at 8.10pm). We moved her from her side to her back, then fitted her out with nice clean dry pants - looking good! We're told that this phase could last a few days, so death might not be quite as imminent as it looked this morning ...

From emails received today:

So sad to hear that the marvellous and seemingly indestructible Sheila is failing.

Our love and thoughts are with you all in these next hours and days ... Please give Sheila a hug from me and let her know I love her ... How blessed she is to die such a relatively peaceful death, free of pain and fear, surrounded by loved ones, after such a long, happy and productive life. Wouldn't we all wish to just drift gently away holding our loved ones hands! ... Keep talking to her, I'm absolutely sure she will hear you on some level and this will help ease the way for her.

Maybe that special place for Sheila is ready. Thinking of you so much.

There's a photo here of Sheila, in happier times, having a dancing lesson last year from two members of the Thirsty Night Singers, Alex Holliday (left) and Nell Britton (242KB). Here she is at the same party, with Louise'n'Peter Morgan's dog Evie (Sheila and dogs tend to get on very well together). 249KB. This shot was taken last March (98KB). Here she is at her home in Hawthorn, Adelaide before she came to live with us in Kangaroo Valley (241.5KB). Many will have good memories of Sheila, cup of tea in hand and ready for action, in her kitchen (167KB). Here's a familiar look (in Kangaroo Valley with nephew Terry Wesley-Smith's wife Pam; 224KB). Finally, in this selection, here's Sheila with WWOOFer Pinky in January last year (135.5KB).

More pics from Jean Kenny. Click on the photo of the cool dude at left to see another view of the men and women in yesterday's offering. Jean's father Don McDonald can also be seen here and here.

Rob has booked to fly from Darwin to Sydney tomorrow morning, arriving at 6am. He will then catch a train to Bomaderry Station, where one of us will pick him up. He told me that when Harry died, there was a period like the one Mum is going through when those present (I was in Sydney) talked to him and said their goodbyes. There was a nurse there who said he could probably hear and understand at some level, even though he couldn't respond.

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Sun January 31 2010:

Sheila's much the same today: feeble, unable to express herself, hardly eating anything, sleeping fitfully ...

Click on the photo of Harry, left, to see a photo taken sometime during the 1930s, sent today by old family friend Jean Kenny. Her father, Don McDonald, is at top left, with Harry third from left. Anyone in the family know who the others are? Jean thinks it might've been taken before Sheila, and Jean's Mum Bertha, were on the scene. Rob thinks that the bloke on the far right, next to Harry, is Harry's younger brother Brian.

Later: Terry, Brian's son, begs to differ ...

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Sat January 30 2010:

Peter writes (4pm today):

Saturday hasn't been a great success so far. Sheils slept alright, and seemed lucid on waking, though somehow she had managed to remove her nightie ("it just got off", she said with the makings of a grin when I accused her of going nude). She's been confused ever since. She poured her tea into the breakfast bowl, for no good reason. Peg Frayne, an old friend from Adelaide, called but Sheila wasn't able to speak to her. Chris Nobel came over and delivered a foot massage, getting nothing coherent in response (she helped me dress the patient and put her into the wheelchair while I changed the sheets). Sheila is now back in bed, not sleeping much, mostly muttering to herself. She's so utterly weak it doesn't seem possible that her dicky old ticker can keep on ticking. Martin is away down south but returns tonight and Olivia will visit shortly from where she's holidaying in Mollymook. Meanwhile I'm trying to do some home carpentry, not one of my strengths, but enough said about that.

Later: I've come home to discover, again, that home carpentry is indeed not one of Pete's strengths. I think he should stick to what he does best, which is ... er ... um ... well, I'm sure there's something he does best, isn't there?

Mum barely recognised me. In the day I've been away she seems to have taken another step in her shuffle towards the door ...

I didn't have time on Friday, before going away, to get back on line to acknowledge tha amazing generosity of Kangaroo Valley artist Larraine Hahlos, who gave Sheila one of her original oil paintings. Called Shoalhaven Gorge, and worth hundreds of dollars, it's now on the wall next to Sheila's bed. Thanks, Larraine!

Rob has sent news of the death in 1996, at age 83, of American songwriter Larry LaPrise, who wrote The Hokey Pokey. The most traumatic part for his family was getting him into the coffin. They put his left leg in - and then the trouble started ...

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Fri January 29 2010:

Peter writes:

I'm glad of this period as a carer: it's training me up for when I have to care for Martin in his old age. He's relying on Olivia, who promised when she was six years old to look after him for ever, but that's totally unenforceable. Since I'll outlast Mart by some years, I suppose it will fall to me to get him out of bed and onto the potty etc when his faculties fail, or, should I say, when their current state of deterioration is carried further towards its logical conclusion.

Thanks, Pete - jolly decent of you! I have no doubt that Olivia will come on board - Alice, too. That makes a team of three, which should be just about enough.

Sheila goes up, and down, then she comes back up again. She's a yo-yo ma. She has staged a little mini-recovery today, looking and feeling much better than she was yesterday, even this morning. She's currently sitting up in bed eating a boiled egg and drinking a cuppa tea, without assistance, something that just yesterday was unthinkable ...

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Thurs January 28 2010:

Peter writes:

Amazing! Last night Sheila scarcely stirred: no mutterings to herself, no weird utterances about people she thought were here, no phantom needs for the commode. And I slept, awaking to wonder if The End had come. It hadn't. Nurse Joanne came this morning to dress the wound on Mum's left leg. Mum's in bed, seems comfortable, has had breakfast and pills and tea, and will probably get up soon to watch a bit of tennis on the telly.

I've nearly finished composing an Elegy for Mum's Leg (that's L-E-G), which is good timing because according to Joanne her leg has nearly healed. Featuring lots of mooing sounds (coming from her calf), it will be played at a brisk tempo (Allegro) and will be a lasting tribute, I hope, to her legacy.

Later: Sheila has been so weak today that she can hardly find the energy to speak. She sat in her wheelchair watching tennis - but she dozed for most of the day. Yet when we put her to bed at c.6pm, she was exhausted. What's more, her leg had started weeping again (as did Peter when he read the preceding paragraph ...)

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Wed January 27 2010:

Peter writes:

Sheila was awake virtually all last night, muttering to herself, hanging on to the hand-hold thingo above the bed, legs pushed over the side, worrying incessantly about invented matters: preparing soup with neighbour Don, dealing with a two-blanket set which home-carer Chris had brought, and so on. Nothing we said or did diverted her from her concerns. We don't know whether to tell her she's confused or to go along with it but try to reassure her that the soup isn't needed anymore. It's very easy, especially when woken at hourly intervals from 2.00 am, to speak crossly with her and demand that she stop being silly and go to sleep, as one might address a recalcitrant child, but there must be a better way. Or perhaps there's nothing much to be done when she's so convinced of the reality of her delusions. Chris has been here this morning and reports that Sheila's even frailer than last time, and of course the old girl's had hardly any sleep. Perhaps with a good nap today she'll recover some lucidity.

It must be said, incidentally, that Susan is a wonderful resource: she has great empathy and also very practical ideas (eg drinking straws, which make it much easier for Sheila to drink and which greatly minimise the risk of spillage). Sheila adores her. (I think she's alright too.)

We're fortunate to have many other friends who have contributed to Mum's welfare (to ours, too). Prominent amongst them is Patsy, who has lent us her professional expertise (she's an occupational therapist) and personal support since the day Mum arrived in Kangaroo Valley from Adelaide. Thanks, Patsy. Thanks, Susan. Thanks all!

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Australia Day

Invasion Day

from Songs of Australia,
for choir, piano & percussion [1988]
words: Peter Wesley-Smith
music: Martin Wesley-Smith

Our nation's pride is in our flag
In every warp and weft
Australia fair or foul or beast
Our country right or left
Last refuge of the scoundrel
Land of the long weekend
Australia is a new beginning
Australia is the end
Good on yer, proud Australia
Australi-bloody-ar

from Black Ribbon,
for soloists, choir & orchestra [2001]
words: Peter Wesley-Smith
music: Martin Wesley-Smith

Bradman, Ned Kelly
Phar Lap, Dad 'n' Dave
That bounder the kangaroo
Echoes of Dreamtime
Resound from the grave
Waltzing Matilda, she'll do
Ginger Meggs, Gallipoli
That Snowy bloke's ride
Each flamin' Aussie boy's shed
These are our symbols
Of national pride
Enough said ...


Sheila spent most of the Australia Day holiday in bed, coming out to the deck in her wheelchair (over the new ramp!) to have dinner. Not much change in her condition: a little less lucid, a little more lethargic ...


More family shots taken by Annie on Boxing Day:

Sheila 1, Sheila 2, Sheila 3, Alice, Olivia 1, Olivia 2, Olivia 3, Martin

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Mon January 25 2010:

Here's another shot of Sheila, taken by ex-daughter-in-law Annie on Boxing Day:


[click on photo to see larger version (250KB)]


see her favourite carer, showing the strain,
and niece Bron

Peter writes:

"Not just because I've become one, but because I have a first-hand appreciation of the difficulties, I want to express my admiration for full-time carers. Sheila is probably fairly undemanding, and anyway the carer duties are being shared between Martin and me, but jeez it's a challenge. The caree is unable to walk significantly and tends to become apprehensive of falling when being moved from bed to wheelchair or commode; although she's only a slight little thing it requires a huge effort to lift her or pull her up in the bed; sometimes she is confused as to what she wants, can't recall when she asks for a drink that she's just had one, gets her legs tangled up with each other a bit and can't untangle them, rarely eats more than a mouthful, and so on, the kind of thing with which carers are no doubt familiar. We're doing alright, I think, but occasionally the annoyance and frustration can be almost overwhelming and they are invariably followed by feelings of remorse and guilt - and we're caring for a saintly old mother whom we much admire and love. Perhaps it's also the contrast with Sheila in her prime - busy, capable, constantly helping others with no regard for her own interests or desires (helping others has been her principal avocation) - and now she's totally dependent and will always be. It's not right, of course. She's still a dear sweet lovable woman, but seeing her as she is now is painful and adds to the burden of looking after her. She's actually not bad at the moment: no pressure sores, no pain, just a split in the skin of her leg which oozes fluid. As I write, Chris has arrived to shower her, which she enjoys, and we're looking forward to a good day. Chris reports that Sheila is particularly frail this morning; we're nevertheless anticipating a quiet and incident-free day. Alice has just gone back to Sydney but Susan is staying at least until tomorrow and is currently preparing Mum's breakfast. The respite person Lee-Anne will be here shortly, Gail - a nurse - is coming soon to look at the leg, and Dr Bob is calling in later in the day. Martin and I haven't earned any yet, but spare some sympathy for carers who do it much tougher than we do!"

Nurse Gail was pleased with the way the cut on Sheila's leg is healing. She left some more dressings, and said she would be back next Monday. Dr Bob came. He explained that poor circulation, which is to be expected, is causing not only the coldness Mum often feels in her fingers but also the episodes of mental confusion she's experiencing more and more. Adrian, a carpenter employed by DVA, came to construct a ramp at the front door to make it easier for Sheila's wheelchair to go in and out.

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Sat January 23 2010:

Sheila loved yesterday's visit by Brian, who's Chief Justice of the Northern Territory, and Leigh, who drove from Canberra for the day (they are there for a judges' conference). We put on lunch, also inviting next-door neighbour and acting judge Jane and her house guests barrister and ex-judge Jack, barrister Mary and their nearly-two-year-old daughter Roma, who's not a judge yet. Sheila's not one either, but she tort them a thing or two. We now have another legal person - Conita from Hong Kong - as a house guest, with barrister Susan arriving later today. Fortunately the legal vibe here will be relieved this afternoon by Sheila's granddaughter Alice calling in on her way back to Sydney from a film and photographic shoot in the Snowy Mountains.

It was hot yesterday, with the forecast 38 degrees feeling more like 40. Today's forecast is for 34, with a cool change coming tomorrow.

Later: both Alice and the cool change have arrived. Good friend Ross has sent a contribution to the Our Dear Lord discussion - see page 6.

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Thurs January 21 2010:

The wound on Sheila's leg seems to be healing well, the python has moved on, Peter has responded to Anon's contribution to the Our Dear Lord discussion - see page 3 of the 52KB pdf document - and Jean Kenny has put in her two bobs' worth - see page 4. Community Nurse Lee has been and has pronounced that the pressure sore on the Mum-bum is now healed. She dressed Mum's leg, and left us with dressings and bandages so that we can look after things till Monday, when she will return.

Sheila's very happy to see family and friends: her granddaughter Olivia called in briefly on her way from Sydney to Mollymook, and she's looking forward to a visit tomorrow from her nephew Brian and his wife Leigh.

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Wed January 20 2010:

Chris Maguire, who came this morning to give Sheila a shower, said she thought Sheila was particularly "chipper", more so than she has been for a while. Patsy Radic, who's an Occupational Therapist, came this afternoon to give Peter and me a few tips re lifting and transferring our patient (these days Mum is tiny, but in certain positions she can be surprisingly heavy). At one point one of Mum's legs suddenly started leaking a watery yellowish fluid through what looked like some scar tissue between ankle and knee. It appears that pressure had been building up till a weak area of skin gave way. As it happened, Helen George, who used to be a nurse, and hubby John were coming for dinner. Helen applied an antiseptic to the wound and bandaged it. Then we wheeled Mum out to the dinner table. When we put her to bed the wound looked OK - but we have a community nurse coming tomorrow to check Mum's pressure sore, so we'll add "leaking leg" to the ailment list.

After dinner, Peter discovered that a large python had set himself (herself?) up by the back door, patiently waiting for any passing rodents, chooks, careless carers etc.

Sheila's niece Anne Sims has written a response to Peter's rave about "Our Dear Lord" (see yesterday's entry) and Carl's poem. Read it here. If others would like to contribute to the discussion, please email me your thoughts and I'll collect them all together and publish them here (if you don't want them published, please say so, or perhaps indicate that you would be happy to have them published under a pseudonym). Later: someone has indeed sent in something under a pseudonym (Anonymous). It appears at the end of the Our Dear Lord document.

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Tues January 19 2010:

Peter writes:

Sheils is having a good day after an incident-free night; she's currently watching Open tennis. It was cold last night and she feels it, of course; this morning I got her a hot-water bottle and she's been wearing gloves. There have been periods when Mum has had nightmares or become otherwise confused: the night before last she thought she was on a train, and when I said no she was in her bed in Kangaroo Valley she wondered why people weren't getting off at the local station; yesterday she was sure there was a group of women visiting, perhaps from Hong Kong, who talked all the time, and she even wondered if I was one of them (!).

I can't help musing about Our Dear Lord in relation to Sheila. Mum has been a good church-going Christian for most of her life, though for the last ten years or so she has expressed scepticism about God. By any measure she has been an almost saintly person - well, actually saintly if we could back up a couple of her miracles - yet, like saints and Popes and missionaries, her end days are spent in discomfort and anxiety and frustration. Why? The Christian God - omnipotent, omniscient, merciful - doesn't seem to intervene on her behalf, the only explanation apparently being that God's methods are too mysterious for us to comprehend. The alternative view dismisses the very concept of the Christian God as incoherent. When Sheila dies, however, there will be well-meaning people in the community who will give thanks to The Lord and praise Him or Her. This is all certainly very mysterious to me. Why has The Great Designer condemned human life to deterioration leading to death? Is it that the universe isn't designed at all, or that God doesn't care much? Mystery upon mystery. I know it's not considered polite to challenge conventional religious views - sorry! - but occasionally these Big Questions need to be asked.

Carl Leddy emailed to say that he wrote a poem - Question time - today, then read Peter's musing on religion (above): "It was something of a surprise to (see) a similarity between the questions we were both posing." You can read the poem here (thanks, Carl).

Chris Nobel came over this afternoon and gave Sheila a massage.

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Mon January 18 2010:

This morning our dog, Flash, had more exercise than he's had in years welcoming not one but four separate visitors, one after the other: 1. Home Care worker Chris, who helped Sheila have a shower; 2. community nurse Lee, who inspected her pressure sore and pronounced it virtually healed; 3. home respite worker Lee-Anne, who stayed with Sheila for three hours while I did some weeding etc and Peter did a tip trip (er, made a trip to the Waste Transfer Station); and 4. Dr Bob. Mum had so much more energy than she had just a couple of days ago that Dr Bob - who said a few months ago: "I think we're talking weeks, not months" - was amazed.

A few days ago we replaced the doors to the shower alcove with a curtain, enabling Chris to use the DVA-supplied transfer bench to get Mum into the shower more easily and safely.

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Sun January 17 2010:

For a large part of yesterday, Sheila was so out of it (drowsy, breathless, confused, unable to stand) that I thought she must've been heading for the exit. But later on she rallied, and was able to eat a bit of dinner.

Friends Diana and Teresa came to visit. Jed and Sally and the boys went home to Sydney with a bag of fresh tomatoes, basil, parsley etc from the garden. Susan cooked eggs for breakfast. I finished the new version of the song for male quartet (Recruiting Song) and sent it to Adelaide. We had more rain. Fluffy is still broody. The green beans in the garden appear to have finished already. The sunflowers - eight feet tall! - are magnificent. Peter discovered that a red-bellied black snake has taken up residence in our compost heap.

Later: I've let the chooks out to free-range for the day. They're loving it - but I'm a nervous wreck worrying about passing foxes, eagles etc. Meanwhile the #1 chook is safely tucked up in bed, still lacking energy but in a better state than she was in yesterday.

Later still: All the chooks are safely back in their pen, tired but happy. Sheila's OK. Susan has gone back to Sydney. Tonight I went to see the film Bran Nue Dae: not a great film but I enjoyed it, a lot. I got home to find an email, sent in response to the song I sent to Adelaide, saying that it "is quite inappropriate for our (show)." There you go ...

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Fri January 15 2010:

The pressure sore on Mum's bottom is still there, but today she received a pressure mattress from DVA, which will help reduce the incidence of such sores in the future. Patsy came to advise on its use, and on the use of the pressure cushion on the wheelchair, explaining the need to check Mum's bony prominences regularly to make sure that her microcirculation is functioning properly. Dr Bob has still not been able to come, but I managed to organise a visit by a community nurse for next Monday. Jed and Sally, and their boys Oskar and Bassy, plus Oskar's friend Ben, popped in on their way back to Sydney after a camping holiday down the coast. They are staying the night, as is Susan, who's still buzzing after her recent adventures sailing from Hobart to Sydney with Peter on Krakatoa II (she said that the "extraordinary seamanship" to which he referred was his managing, finally, to pee off the stern without splashing his boots).

Peter has submitted the following for consideration for posting on this site:

Sheila now has a hospital bed, with electric controls to raise or lower it and bend it in the middle etc, a pressure mattress, a pressure cushion, a bedside commode, a transfer bench for the shower, a home carer three times a week, and a nurse every now and then. She can still be difficult to manage. Although only about 35kg she's difficult to lift or to get out of or back to bed - how obese persons in her situation are cared for I can't imagine. Sheila's taken to barking orders to her poor suffering carers and constant whingeing - yet she was once the most obliging person on earth and quite incapable of uttering a complaint (except when Martin behaved intolerably as a child, or adult). And she occasionally gets something unreal into her head (eg she's going back to Adelaide, which worried her because she knew she'd sold the house) and can't easily be persuaded of what's sensible. Calls came in today from Margaret Hodge in Adelaide and Rob in Darwin as well as from a couple of Kangaroo Valley friends. Rob might visit one day soon. I think Sheila is stimulated by phone calls, if she's able to take them, and short visits from friends.

Today was the funeral of local identity Patrick Green, who was buried in the local cemetery. He was a lovely man and a great supporter of the concerts we've organised down here. He'll be long remembered.

I will decide on Monday whether or not to post it here. It will, of course, need drastic editing.

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Wed January 13 2010:

Dr Bob was crook yesterday and couldn't come to see Sheila, as he usually does on Tuesday afternoons. With luck, and a good dose of self-medication, he will come tomorrow instead. The main thing we need looking at is a pressure sore on Sheila's bottom, which at times causes her great grief. We rub cream on it, and have put a dressing on it, but it needs expert attention. A positive step, however: today we received from DVA a pressure cushion designed to help prevent pressure sores.

It was quite cool today after the heat of yesterday - phew! We've even had some rain (later: actually, quite a lot).

Local poet Carl Leddy wrote, today:

Along with many others (do you have a visitor count on your site?) I have been keeping up to date on Sheila's condition ... I thought you might appreciate the feelings and commentary about life and death in my poem An enchanted garden.
I have attached a copy for you and in the meantime we should all vibrate the ether with positive thoughts for an improvement in Sheila's health.

Thanks, Carl. An enchanted garden can be read here.

Talking of bottoms, the visitor counter is at the bottom of the page. Click here.

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Mon January 11 2010:

Mum ain't too flash today. She seems a bit weaker than she was yesterday, and is easily confused about things ... We had a two-hour in-home respite service provided this morning by Leeanne of Stanhope Healthcare Services, funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). That will expand to three hours, and happen every Monday, enabling Peter and me to go shopping or work on things without having prime responsibility for meeting Sheila's needs. Next-door neighbour Chris came from Home Care to shower Sheila and make her comfortable.

One of the responsibilities of being a Sheila-Carer is the provision of fresh vegetables. I have shouldered this responsibility in a manly manner, spending many hours labouring to make sure that My Mother eats only the freshest and best. Yesterday, for example, I decided to make a tomato sauce that I could freeze and use in the winter months when the snow lies thick on the ground, Jack Frost is loitering, and the summer's tomato plants are happily turning into compost. First they needed to be peeled. Not a problem if they're big Romas, or similar, but when they're little button tomatoes, well, it takes foreffingever! Well, three hours, anyway, which can seem almost forever, especially when you're meant to be composing a barbershop quartet for the next Adelaide Festival. Came lunch yesterday, and I thought "I know! I'll poach some eggs in some of that tomato sauce!" So I did. Delicious! But it needed just about all the sauce I'd made (there was a bit left over that we polished off for dinner). I thought: "Well, there went days of work setting up that particular garden bed, days spent watering and weeding over a period of months, hours spent picking those little toms, then all the time spent peeling and cooking - and all I got was one lunch??!" Then I thought: "Now what are we gonna eat in those winter months? We're gunna starve!" What's more, I could've bought tinned diced tomaters - the same amount - with onion and basil, for about $2 at IGA. There you go ...

I received this email today from friends of Sheila's in Adelaide:

Thanks for keeping us so well up-to-date with all Sheila's comings and goings. We check it several times a day and are always anxious to know how she is.

She is so lucky to be in such a lovely place surrounded by so many people who love her, and especially to have you and Peter to care so well for her. I feel so sad for people who spend their last days lonely. I was relieved to hear that you two are no longer forcing poor Sheila to spend hours at the kitchen sink!!! Please give her a big hug and tell her we miss her a lot and think of her often. Tell her (our dog) misses her too. I wish so much we were closer so I could give her a hug myself. Give Olivia a hug for me too.

Love to you all ...

Popeye Pete, he of alleged "fierce winds, mountainous seas, and extraordinary seamanship", on his triumphant arrival in Sydney. Click on the photo to see the rest of the crew.

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Sun January 10 2010:

There hasn't been much of interest to report lately, and I've been busy, hence recent lack of entries on this site.

Sheila's hanging in, with no dramatic developments. Peter got back yesterday. He writes:

I came home yesterday having sailed from Hobart to Sydney aboard Krakatoa II (not Ragamuffin, as Martin, who now incorrectly blames me as the source of the error, had previously reported). Sheila seemed to have slipped a little bit: always tired, with no physical strength anymore, unable to concentrate for long. It's not much of a life, but she was watching and enjoying tennis on the telly and listened for a bit, admittedly with feigned interest, to my fascinating stories of fierce winds, mountainous seas, and extraordinary seamanship on the way to Port Jackson. The poor old duck has to be womanhandled just to get her out of bed. She doesn't read, she usually falls asleep in front of the telly, and seems to be stimulated primarily by the visits of family and good friends. Still, her last years are spent surrounded by garden and trees - except now there are more weeds than anything else, product of lots of rain and some hot dry days and I'd better get out there and pull them out!

I should point out that after he wrote the above he didn't go out there and pull them out but had a nap instead.

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Thurs January 7 2010:

Rob emailed last night from Timor-Leste to say that he's thinking of driving next month from Darwin to Kangaroo Valley via Queensland and Sydney. And Peter called this morning from Eden: he survived the Bass Strait crossing and thinks he'll be home on Saturday. Crikey! I'd better clean up a bit ...

Sheila slept in this morning after a good night's sleep. This afternoon she sat up watching tennis on television.

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Wed January 6 2010:

Not a lot to report. No dramas: Sheila soldiers on, not in great health, of course, but hanging in, most of the time not uncomfortably. Dr Bob visited yesterday: some signs are a tiny bit down from last week (e.g. there's a bit more fluid on her feet), but nothing too serious as yet; she must come from excellent stock, he said, to be able to defy such odds so cheerfully (she does, of course, as do I, although we sometimes wonder about Peter). Meanwhile we wait, and wait, for various promised services and items of equipment to be delivered e.g. 1 1/2 hours' cleaning per fortnight, extra assistance with showering etc, a pressure cushion for Sheila's wheelchair, a pressure mattress for her bed, and so on ... But I should say that we're grateful to DVA and Shoalhaven Hospital for the assistance we have received (wheelchair, commode, transfer bench etc). We're happy, as a family, to take care of family business, but if a government agency insists on helping then we're happy to accept. Later: I received a call today from a group called Veterans Home Care, who are able to provide 3 1/2 hours per week of "in-home respite" (someone comes to be with Mum while we go shopping or do other things) and the promised home cleaning. Not bad!

As we speak, Peter is sailing across Bass Strait on "Ragamuffin". Rob is in Timor-Leste, driving around in the second-hand Nissan X-Trail he bought there recently. He's planning to go to Natarbora to look for cane toads (he suspects that some arrived via containers of aid from Darwin) - if he finds any then he will advise on how to get rid of them before they become a major problem. We had more rain last night. My white chook Fluffy has been broody for several days now, resisting efforts to persuade her to rejoin the happy egg-laying community. She'd better watch out. Yesterday I was able to do some weeding in a garden being taken over by rampant pumpkin plants. But we have more tomatoes and zucchinis than we can shake a stick at (if you would like some for free, send a stamped self-addressed envelope plus a $17.98 handling fee (cheque or money order) and I'll send you some by return post).

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Mon January 4 2010:

Sheila had me out of bed at least ten times last night: she was too hot, or too cold, or she wanted this, or she wanted that - there was no pleasing the woman. OK, would you believe nine times? How about eight, then? Whatever number it was, it felt like twenty. But something must've worked: Home Care worker and neighbour Chris Maguire, who comes three times per week to give Sheila a shower or bed bath, pronounced this morning that she was in the finest fettle she's been in for a long time. Sheila, too. She did ask, however, if it was strictly necessary to put Sheila through the stress of having eight extra people for dinner last night! (We had one.)

After some fiercely hot weather before Christmas, we've had cool misty weather and a lot of rain: wonderful! It was so cool yesterday - almost cold - that I put Mum's electric blanket back onto her bed and turned it on, which was probably why she couldn't get the temperature quite right.

Olivia left yesterday - but will come back tomorrow for a couple of days. Today we lose Korean WWOOFer Amy Jo, who has been a great help during the past couple of weeks (see our WWOOF site here). This morning I went to the tip - sorry: the Waste Transfer Station - to off-load Christmas detritus etc. I thought of taking Sheila along for the ride then leaving her in the WTS shop, but she probably wouldn't've fetched much so I left her here in Amy's care.

Later: Before she left, Amy wrote in our WWOOFer book:

I am very lucky to meet Sheila :)
You are my new grandma if you accept me :)
I hope you have getting better and still have good life with your good sons ... I have learned a lot of things from you.
Ann, Alice and Olivia ... I'm very lucky to meet you, guys. They are so kind, funny and have a great personality.
Thank you everything!
... never to forget here, kangaroo valley my second home, a place dear to my heart. I love you, Martin Peter and Sheila ...
I will remember here forever in my life.

Lovely girl. We'll all miss her.

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Sat January 2 2010:

Sheila had a fairly un-happy night last night, getting confused, finding it too hot then too cold, then getting twisted up in her sheets. It appears that the bed-sore on her bottom might be coming back, or a new one is starting, which is a bit of a worry. We try to put her on her side as often as possible to reduce the risk. The pressure mattress from the Department of Veterans' Affairs has not arrived as yet, nor the pressure cushion for her wheelchair (apparently DVA patients don't have needs while the Department is closed over Christmas). I will call them on Monday and see what's what. Both items were ordered by the Occupational Therapist at the hospital when Mum was discharged.

Mum often asks these days what she can do to help, but in fact there's nothing much she can do: peel some spuds, say (but she takes forever), or top'n'tail a bowl of green beans. It's very frustrating for her, being, as she was, and as a friend wrote the other day, "such a vibrant and energetic woman". Life doesn't hold much these days - but she loved seeing Bassy, Jed, Oskar and Sally for lunch yesterday. Having family around makes a big difference.

Incidentally, and even if I do say it myself, what a lunch! We had cold shredded chicken-with-40-cloves-of-garlic in a green salad (from the garden) with hard-boiled eggs (from our chooks), Kylie Kwong's white-cooked chicken, her spicy dry-fried green beans (from the garden) with hoisin sauce and garlic, and her crispy-skin duck with blood-plum sauce. Guess who got a Kylie Kwong cookbook for Christmas!

Peter rang this morning to say that he and Susan are leaving Hobart at 11am today to sail back to Sydney. Rob sent an email from Dili, East Timor, where he's staying in the Hotel Turismo. He will be there till January 11.

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Fri January 1 2010:

Sheila has made it to 2010! She's now aiming at February, after which she'll go for March, then April, May ... and so on till she gets to 100 and receives a telegram from the Queen. She asked me to send everyone best wishes for a happy New Year.

Today grandson Jed, granddaughter-in-law Sally, and greatgrandsons Oskar (12) and Bassy (9) are calling in for lunch on their way down south to go camping.

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Thurs December 31 2009:

Yesterday Sheila's granddaughter Olivia came down here to Kangaroo Valley, replacing granddaughter Alice, who had returned to Sydney for work the night before. Ex-daughter-in-law Ann called in on her way to Mollymook. I visited some old friends at Foxground for lunch. WWOOFer Amy went to Sydney to watch tonight's fireworks on Sydney Harbour. A community nurse - Valerie - came to treat the bed sore on Sheila's bottom; she pronounced it cured, then expressed regret that as a result she wouldn't be coming here again - she loved this place, she said. Sheila's nephew Rowan called in with his two daughters. In other words, a busy day for Sheila. She had a restless night last night, but slept in till 9am. Over breakfast she complained again about being a burden on her sons: for someone who has been so active all her life, it's hard for her to find herself totally dependent on others. I gave my usual response to this complaint, which is that since my aim is to live long enough to be a burden on my children, I'm happy to accept my mother being a burden on me.

This morning Melissa Lovric, who lives in Japan, called in with her six-year-old daughter Zaia (not sure of the spelling). Melissa has known Sheila since 1986, when she stayed with her and Harry while doing graphics for Peter's and my piece Boojum!, which was presented at that year's Adelaide Festival of the Arts (to buy a copy of the double CD of Boojum! on-line for $27, click here; you will see that Melissa did the graphics on the cover and in the booklet). Peter, who wrote the libretto of Boojum!, rang today from Hobart: he and Susan will be leaving Hobart on Ragamuffin, to sail back to Sydney, either tomorrow or Sunday.

I noticed this evening that Sheila's ankles are getting swollen - a sign, I'm told, of a failing heart.

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Tues December 29 2009:

Family friend Helen Edwards has written a lovely tribute to Sheila called An inspiration to us all:

Sheila is an inspiration to us all. Born in 1916, the same year as my mum, Olive, also born in Western Australia smack bang in the middle of World War I.

Shortly after meeting Ross in 1973 at The University of Sydney Music Department, I was told about Ross's good friends, Martin and Ann and The Wesley-Smith Family. Sheila and Harry were talked about with reverence and respect, the proud building blocks of a strong, talented and united family, a kind of idealized perfect couple, model citizens of Adelaide's establishment who produced four cheeky, slightly rebellious and very clever boys. They could afford to be a bit non-conformist because they always had a firm, unconditionally loving and consistent base to come home to, Sheila and Harry.

I have a special memory of Sheila at Darwin Airport, very late at night, waiting patiently for a delayed flight back to Sydney where she would be picked up by granddaughter, Olivia. Although tiny and frail in appearance, when I asked if there was anything I could get her, a cup of tea, perhaps, Sheila, beautifully composed, attired in a dreamy, cornflower blue suit, assured me she was just fine and I believed she was. I realized this was one strong and resilient lady. I can see those same qualities in her beautiful granddaughters, Ollie and Alice.

Sheila, you are the model mum I aspire to be.

Thanks, Helen.

This morning Mum enjoyed a visit by four lovely ladies - Belinda, Chris, Diana and Teresa - bearing treats for morning tea. This afternoon her doctor, Bob Sims, called in: there's no major change in her condition, he reported, since he examined her last. She's a bit frailer - but that's to be expected. So are most of us, even (gasp!) me. He said he'd noticed a few noises in her chest that he hadn't heard before, indicating slight worsening of her condition.

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Mon December 28 2009:

The news is good: Loyal, the maxi-yacht that Peter's friend Susan's son Ben is on, is currently fourth in the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race (a day ago it was eleventh); it has been raining here for about three days now, providing crucial relief from the latest drought; and Sheila continues to do well.

Ex-daughter-in-law Annie, who has been staying here for a few days, writes:

Good morning, and it is a beautiful one here at Road Ends. Soft rain falls as Sheila and I have been remembering lots of stuff e.g. her first memory of a sandpit that her dad had made for her with a big spider in it. She wasn't afraid, perhaps curious. That was in Perth and soon after they went to live in Adelaide.

So we sit and I bring her summer fruits, nectarine - white, of course - and mango. She eats all and then her muesli, her appetite increasing with her lust for life. We shake our heads in some disbelief as she gains colour and energy again. Bravo dear one. We are glad because it is soooo nice to have you here with us.

She holds court as we sit with her chatting and feeling good. She has that gift to give.

Last thing I would like to mention is her feeling 'such a nuisance', as she puts it. Just to reiterate, Sheils: it is time to use some of those millions of brownie points you have earned. And learn the very hard lesson - for you - of receiving a wee bit back. Bless you, sweet woman.

Yesterday we received a visit from Sheila's niece Bron and her husband Chris. Sheila loved seeing them, responding well (as she does to all family and other visitors). And she had a call from her kid brother (at 90) Keith, who lives at Victor Harbour, near Adelaide.

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Sat December 26 2009:

A great day yesterday! Sheila was able to participate in most of it, with frequent naps in her wheelchair and periods in bed. She ate more than she usually does, and showed no sign of incontinence. She loved being surrounded by family, especially by granddaughters Olivia and Alice (grandson Jed and family spent Christmas in Sydney; they will come here in the new year).

Last night Peter went to Sydney. Tomorrow he flies to Hobart with Susan to greet the Sydney-Hobart yachts. After a few days there they are going to sail back to Sydney. Nice!

Later: Sheila has just received a new bed! It has electric motors that change its shape, making it much easier for her to sit up. It's also great fun to play with: you can, with skill, tip her out of bed and onto the floor - what larks! Thanks Irene for lending it, and Ben, Dan & John for delivering it.

left: photo of Sheila taken today by Ann

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Christmas Day:

Sheila's still with us after a relatively incident-free night. Something woke her at one point - Santa's sleigh landing on the lawn, perhaps? - and she found herself twisted up in her sheets, but after Peter sorted her out she went back to sleep. At 7am, as I write this, she is still asleep.

Yesterday: we managed to get Michelle from NSW Health's Community Nursing Service to come here to investigate Sheila's pressure sore. It's very small and should be gone in a week provided Mum regularly changes position in bed so that the problem is not exacerbated.

We've now been told that an older person's skin makes it unwise for her to have more than three showers per week. This happens to be the number of showers, or sponge baths etc, that Home Care provides - as it has for several months now - through our neighbour Chris Maguire. Thus the daily visits we were promised by the hospital have come back down to three per week by Chris plus one or two per week by a community nurse. This might be enough, depending on how the possible incontinence problem pans (so-to-speak) out (so far so good). I must say that dealing with several different bureaucracies has been difficult and time-consuming. It seems to me that in a situation like this there should be one person with the responsibility to make sure all required services are provided.

Rob rang yesterday from East Timor, where he's spending a few weeks, to ask about his Mum and to convey Christmas wishes to all.

Later (8am): Sheila is now up, dressed, and sitting in her wheelchair getting into festive mood and eating breakfast. She says:

Thank you everyone for your good wishes. And for all the cards and letters. Here I am, still going! This is my 94th Christmas, or so Martin tells me. Fancy that! I'm looking forward to a lovely day.

Christmas greetings and love to all.

Sheila

There will be eight of us today for a Christmas lunch of prawns, oysters, snapper, sashimi tuna, fresh salads (from my garden) and champagne - not bad, huh? If this turns out to be Sheila's last Christmas, we want it to be a memorable one. How lucky we are to be able to have it with our beautiful Mum.

Next goal: to make it to the end of January, when Brian and Leigh are coming to visit from Darwin. We will then aim for a 95th Sheila Christmas (my computer desk-top calender tells me today that it's "365 days till Christmas"!).

Peace on earth, goodwill to all men, women, WWOOFers, dogs, donkeys, ducks, chooks and children. No goodwill to ticks and leeches. Or to snakes that bite our dog Flash.

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Wed December 23 2009:

Things are turning out a little differently from what we expected. For a start, Sheila is not being provided with seven visits per week, just the three she was getting before her latest heart attack: it seems that the private company Nursing Group, that was gonna add four mornings per week to Home Care's three, does not have a nurse who is prepared to drive to Kangaroo Valley. I think, however, that some other mob is sending someone for two days, meaning that Peter and I will have to handle Sheila's personal hygiene etc issues on weekends. We can do that, but Mum would obviously rather a nurse or home care worker do that if possible. It's a dignity thing.

Mum has a bed sore, or a pressure sore, on her bottom, which has to be dealt with. And the incontinence problems she experienced in hospital may be surfacing again. We're trying to deal with these issues ...

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Mon December 21 2009:

Sheila is home! During the past couple of weeks we've been on a bit of a roller coaster ride, and there were days when we wondered if she would come home at all. But today she passed all her tests and was given the all-clear. I packed up her belongings, helped her climb up into the ute, turned the egg nishner up full bore, and tootled home across the mountain. Flash the dog, fully recovered from his recent losing battle with a snake, was over-joyed to see her again. Sheila returned the sentiment, although she can't wag her tail very well these days.

From now on, Home Care will be sending someone to help Sheila with showering etc seven mornings per week (previously it was three). Dr Bob Sims will continue to call in once per week. There are other services we can access should we need them. All in all, we think that with help we can handle whatever Mum throws at us, at least for a while.

We've been very impressed by the Shoalhaven District Memorial Hospital staff and the care and attention they've lavished on Sheila. Many thanks to all those who have enabled us to get our Mum back!

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Sun December 20 2009:

Another false alarm: this morning a nurse at the hospital rang to say that Sheila was crook and that the end was nigh - but Peter and Susan rushed in there to find that she had improved and was relatively well. When I went in, a bit later, she told me she thought she would die either tonight or tomorrow morning - but there was no obvious reason for thinking that. She was comfortable, and not at all confused.

She might come home tomorrow. Or Tuesday.

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Sat December 19 2009:

Sheila will be coming home on Monday, probably. While she's pretty well physically - although she needs assistance now to walk anywhere - mentally she swims in and out of lucidity. For example, yesterday she suggested I pop in to a shop in North Terrace to buy some dumplings for dinner. But North Terrace is in Adelaide. Patsy, a friend of ours who works at the hospital, visited to find Mum chatting animatedly on the phone. But the "phone" was the remote control of her television set. But when Susan called in last night, Mum made perfect sense, showing no sign of mental confusion. It may be that when she's a bit stronger, and back home, the mental confusion will disappear.

Yesterday, Peter and I visited one of the local nursing homes, just in case she needs better care than we can give at home. It was horrible! We will do everything we can to keep her at home.

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Fri December 18 2009:

These days Sheila - who has moved from Room 11 to Room 14 - sometimes gets a bit confused about things. Yesterday, for example, she kept on and on about Peter being lost, even after she'd been assured, several times, that he wasn't - and had in fact seen her that morning. At other times she's as with it and together as anyone. The first signs of some sort of dementia, perhaps?

OT Leslie came yesterday to inspect the house, and will make some suggestions re changes that will make things easier for Sheila when she comes home. We will, however, inspect some local nursing homes, just in case providing full-time care is beyond us or if it is seen as crucial for Mum to be close to medical help (we're a bit remote here). In the meantime, she charms everyone she meets, with several nurses independently telling us how wonderful she is and what a pleasure she is to nurse.

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Thurs December 17 2009:

Yesterday Mum was about the same as she was the previous day. She seems to be enjoying aspects of her hospital stay, and has a good relationship with some of the nurses. One nurse took us aside and said how gorgeous she thought Mum is and what a delight it is to nurse her.

Hospital Occupational Therapist Leslie Solomon ("Lel") is coming today to check us out, make recommendations re any changes that might be necessary to the shower recess, decide whether or not a hospital bed would be preferable to the bed she's been using, and so on.

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Tues December 15 2009:

Today Peter and I met with occupational therapist Leslie, physiotherapist Keira, social worker Dominic, a member of Sheila's medical team, and Sheila herself to discuss where she should go now that her condition has stabilised and she is able to leave hospital. Her preference is to return home to Kangaroo Valley despite the possible risk involved in being a long way away from medical help. That's fine by us - our preferred option, in fact - although we might need some additional help e.g. Home Care person/next-door neighbour Chris Maguire, who has been coming three mornings per week to get Sheila up, shower her, massage cream on the occasional bed-sore, and so on, and who lives next door, might be able to come five mornings per week. We're pursuing all options in the next few days, during which Mum will stay at Shoalhaven Hospital, where the care has been excellent and the staff wonderful (except for that woman in the canteen).

Sheila was totally with it today: animated, sensible, in control, lucid - beautiful! She's now happy to accept, should she have another heart attack, a primary level of intervention, although basically she's happy, even eager, for Nature to take its course. I think we're going to enjoy at least one more Christmas with this amazing sheila.

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Mon December 14 2009:

For someone who a few days ago was at death's door, Sheila is doing remarkably well. She has enjoyed having lots of visitors - but not the hospital food, which she thinks tastes the same no matter what it is. (Actually, I quite like it. If I go to visit 'round lunchtime, I get to eat it. Saves money.) Mum seems to eat a little less, and shrink a bit, every day. This is pretty alarming 'cos she's already tiny. Not much more than skin and bone. She again today expressed a desire for her life to fade out ... We were going to have a meeting today to decide what should happen next, where Sheila should go, what support services she will need, and so on. For various reasons it didn't happen but will probably be held tomorrow. We would like her to come back home, but if it is thought that she would be better off in a nursing home then we'll consider that.

I arrived home last night after a concert with the Thirsties in Yass. Our dog Flash was also in hospital: on Saturday he was bitten by a snake, requiring emergency treatment. He came home today, a little worse for wear but basically OK. Phew!

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Sat December 12 2009:

After a scare last Thursday night, Sheila has pulled through! It must be said that she is not absolutely thrilled about this, for she had decided that her time had come and was looking forward to drifting off into the Void. She did drift off, but then she drifted back again, much to her annoyance. Since then she has been relatively comfortable. Her ex-daughter-in-law Ann came down yesterday from Sydney to see her, and Ann's friend John, and today granddaughter Olivia too, with granddaughter Alice scheduled for tomorrow. But not me (Martin): I'm in Canberra, where last night the little choir I sing in and conduct, The Thirsty Night Singers, sang at a concert. We will do another performance here this afternoon, then one tomorrow afternoon in Yass before going home. Last night went well. It was for Sheila, really: she'd been to so many rehearsals of the group that she'd become an honorary member. She insisted that no matter her circumstances I was to go to Canberra and do the gigs.

Peter is in Kangaroo Valley, holding the baby. It's a great help for us to have two WWOOFers there at the moment - Elizabeth from Luxembourg and Alexandra from France - who are pretty self-sufficient (can get their own meals when required), and who are watering the garden and feeding the chooks while I'm away and Peter's with Mum.

"Why", asked social worker Dominic, "did the toilet roll roll down the stairs?"

To get to the bottom.

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Thurs December 10 2009:

Sheila has now moved to the general medical ward, room 11, of Shoalhaven Hospital (02 4421 3111). She's doing pretty well, although still tired. Friend Rosemary Stanton has sent us this:

Pete and I visited Sheila yesterday afternoon. It was lovely to see her. We didn't stay too long as I thought it might have been stressful for her to do anything except half-doze. However, while we were there, I did notice the colour return to her cheeks and while she wasn't what you'd describe as 'chirpy', she was seemed happy and content to see us. She was slightly vague about what had landed her there and was a bit concerned in case she had been driving at the time, but overall, she was quite lucid.

A social worker called Dominic - lovely bloke - visited Mum this morning. He asked what she was in for, and I told him she'd had a heart attack. He said "Woh, cool!" - that's the first time I've ever heard a heart attack described as cool! He had a riddle for Mum: "Why did the toilet roll roll down the stairs?" Answer tomorrow ...

It's likely that she will stay in hospital over the weekend and that there will be a meeting on Monday of her main doctor, the physio, social worker Dominic, Ward OT Leslie, Peter, me and Mum to decide what next.

later: at 6pm this evening I was cooking dinner when a call came from a young doctor at the hospital, who said that Sheila's heart was racing and that the signs were not good. We took that to mean that Sheila was going downhill, fast, and that it was time to say our goodbyes. Peter pulled out of his tennis team's semifinal match, I postponed my choir rehearsal, we left our two WWOOFers to finish cooking dinner, and we went in, heavy of heart, to hospital to see Our Mum, probably for the last time. But although she was ready, willing and wishing to go, she was unable to. Frustration! Eventually they removed the tubes and wires that were monitoring her heart beat, blood pressure etc so that she would be more comfortable. We left so that she could sleep.

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Wed December 9 2009:

Sheila is comfortably ensconced in the cardiac unit of Medical Ward A of Shoalhaven District Memorial Hospital in Nowra, being well looked-after. Tel: 02 4421 3111 (negotiate the options to get to Medical Ward A). She's doing pretty well considering that she'd experienced what was described today as a major rather than mild heart attack. She's still a bit confused about things, but less so than she was, and she again expressed a desire to go to sleep and not wake up - but I think that that's more to do with not wanting to be a bother than with not wanting to live. Peter and I had a meeting today with the ward OT (occupational therapist) to discuss post-hospital options, with another meeting likely to happen tomorrow.

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Tues December 8 2009:

Early this morning Sheila had chest pains, and was having difficulty breathing. We rang the Emergency Department of Shoalhaven District Hospital and were told by a doctor that we should get her in there, preferably by ambulance. She was given some medication on the way to hospital, including some morphine to ease the pain. Her heart was racing, at one stage hitting 150 beats per minute, but by the time we left (c.5.15am) it had come down to 68 or so. There was no obvious sign of a heart attack. We anticipate receiving a call later today saying that she can go home ...

later (12 noon): A doctor rang to say that Sheila had indeed had a mild heart attack but was comfortable and would probably - depending on a Registrar's examination - be moved to a general ward later on today. I spoke to her on the phone, and will see her this afternoon.

later (11pm): Peter and I saw Sheila this arvo. She was confused about some things, and very tired, but she was hanging in. Not long after we left she was moved to the cardiac unit in Medical Ward A - to the same room, in fact, that she had when she last pulled this heart attack caper back in July. Peter went back in after dinner (I was at a choir rehearsal) and spent some time with her, but she was sleeping soundly. Tomorrow or the next day we will discuss with hospital staff how best to proceed from here.

MORE NEWS LATER ...

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Sat Nov 28 2009:

Yesterday we had an unexpected but very welcome visit from Terry and Scruffy Wesley-Smith, who drove here from Canberra. Then Occupational Therapist and friend Patsy Radic came to make adjustments to a new wheelchair that Sheila received the other day. Yesterday's final visitor for the day was Belinda Webster, who wrote in a subsequent email: "I was a tad shocked at how thin Sheila has become (markedly so since I last saw her)." Sheila is indeed very thin these days - not much more than skin and bone, despite us trying to get as much food into her as possible.

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Wed Nov 25 2009:

Rob's gone back to Darwin, Pete's on his way to Hong Kong, and I'm here with Sheila and two German WWOOFers, who are both called Daniela, as it happens, which means I have to call just one name, not two, when dinner is ready. Saves time. My cousin Terry Wesley-Smith in Canberra has written a warm tribute called Ah, Sheila:

Sheila, you treated everyone with dignity ... Your home was constantly full of young people who loved visiting "Mrs Wes", which was surely a measure of the way you treated other people. And the relationship you had with our beloved Grandma Wes was something to behold ...

read more here

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Thurs Nov 19 2009:

Sheila's other niece called Anne is Anne Hodge, who has contributed a wonderful tribute called Sheila, My Aunt. It includes:

Music was always a large and important part of any family gathering and Sheila was the wonderful accompanist on all occasions for the many and varied items performed ...

read the full tribute here

It was h-o-t here today. We said au revoir to Martin's daughter Alice, who has been staying here for a few days, and took delivery of two things: a new second-hand old caravan (an extra bedroom we can use for visitors), and a 75,000 litre tank to store water for the garden and to use to fight any bushfire that might have the temerity to threaten us. After dinner, Martin conducted a Thirsty Night Singers rehearsal of Songs of the Dispossessed. Tomorrow Jed's wife Sally and son Bassy are coming to stay for the weekend. Rob has booked to fly back to Darwin next Tuesday, and Peter flies to Hong Kong on Wednesday for a HKU Law School Alumni dinner (he's going to have to plant a lot of trees to compensate for that!).

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Tues Nov 17 2009:

Rob writes:

Mum appears to me to be fairly stable at present, and Doc Bob, who has come here each week for the last few weeks, thinks so too.

If she is happy to lie in bed for a goodly part of the day, then her heart has less pumping to do and so is ready for the big tests i.e. Sheila walking, or sitting upright. Dr Bob removed all her evening pills, like the one for cholesterol - hardly a big issue at this stage, one would think - and since then she has gradually, with some down days, improved (certainly the cough has mostly gone), IMHO (in my humble opinion ...'IMHO' is a handy shorthand as I need to use it often).

Mart and I took her up by ute to see the covered garden and associated miracles, but while still admiring things she simply had to sit down; fortunately we had a plastic chair handy, but we ended up carrying chair plus Sheila back to ute. It wasn't even very heavy!

When I first came down this trip, 5th Sept, it seemed like she might die overnight, any night. Now she doesn't appear like that at all, so I am heading home to Darwin early next week I reckon. Martin's daughter Alice is here at present, and doing a great job. Maybe Mum will lose form when she goes, or when I go even? Ah well, dem's the breaks. Martin will have to shoulder all the burden on his musician's and gardener's shoulders! You should see how his garden has grown, and the chooks rarely give less than 6 eggs/day.

cheers

Sheila's niece Anne Sims has written to Sheila in the form of a delightful fairy tale. It begins:

Once upon a time, long long ago and far far away, there was a little girl who lived quietly with her family deep in a eucalypt wood. Every few years, as was their custom, the family made the long, uncomfortable journey to the centre of the universe ...

read the entire tale here

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Sat Nov 14 2009:

Family friend Elizabeth Silsbury, in Adelaide, has written a lovely letter to Sheila. Excerpt:

My happy (and sad) memories of you and Harry and your wonderful boys span pretty well the whole of my adult life ...

read the whole letter here

Sheila had visits today from Suzie Ballinger, Helen George, John George, Louise Morgan and Peter Morgan. Other recent visitors have included Diana Jaffray, Teresa Keyzer and Chris Nobel. On Monday, grand-daughter Alice is coming to stay for a few days.

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Fri Nov 13 2009:

Peter writes:

Sheila appears to be fading quite fast. She frequently says she thinks she's near death, and she has no desire for her life to be greatly prolonged. While still getting up each day and being wheeled around in her wheelchair, and enjoying sitting out in the sun or watching DVDs, she's increasingly frail. No one expects her to get better or to survive for more than a few weeks more at most, though of course no one can say when she might die.

I think her immediate family are quite accepting of this. We don't wish her to suffer pain and indignity. Her own wishes are plain. She's had a long, satisfying, and rewarding life and she does not fear death. Our attitude does not indicate apathy or lack of love: her devotion to her family, her unconditional commitment to our welfare, the regard in which she's held by all who know her, her achievements in early childhood education and music and broadcasting, all these qualities and more make her a very special woman, and we love her dearly.

I have inquired about (a) backyard burial and (b) do-it-yourself funeral arrangements. The first is possible but, in this area, a development application is needed for a private burial ground with public access etc, and this isn't feasible. The second could be done, but the bureaucratic and other impediments make them just too hard; funeral homes seem to have a lock on the market. Our current thinking is to have Sheila cremated - which she prefers - with a minimalist and private ceremony. We'll organise memorial events later, one in Kangaroo Valley and one in Adelaide.

Of course she might hang on for months or years yet!

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Wed November 4 2009:

Sheila was paid a visit today from Kangaroo Valley doctor Bob Sims, who reviewed the medications in her Webster pack and recommended some changes. We will monitor her condition over the next few days. This afternoon, Rob and I took her to see and admire the new covered garden here, and the chooks in their chook pen. She said she hopes to live long enough to eat some of the fruit from the fruit trees we've just planted. But she has her doubts: a few nights ago, when I was tucking her into bed, she said "If I don't see you in the morning, thanks for having me." I said "C'mon, Mum - thanks for having me!" Every now and then she says something like "Oh I'm such a bother. Why don't you put me in a home?" We respond with something like "But you're already in one!"

Peter arrives back here from Macau tomorrow.

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Wed October 28 2009:

Rob's back from Bega, Peter's in Macau, and Martin's frantically trying to catch up with some tax returns he inexplicably overlooked. Sheila's new wheelchair has been a great success (thanks, Patsy!). She sits in it on the deck, moving herself into and out of the sun as she pleases. She sometimes sits out there and watches a DVD on her new DVD player (recently she has watched and enjoyed several Maggie Smith movies and television shows, several Jacques Tati movies, including Monsieur Hulot's Holiday, and several more Dibleys). It has to be said, however, that her health is steadily declining: she sleeps most of the day and night, eats like a sparrow, and is increasingly lethargic ... We're currently getting her a commode so that she can avoid the walk to the dunny in the middle of the night (although she says she will refuse to use it).

We've had more good rain lately: beautiful! Martin's chooks are thriving and seem to be enjoying themselves. There are six of 'em: Baker, Beaver, Chuck, Fluffy, Vera & Zorro. We were getting six eggs per day till Zorro went broody on us (she has since been cured of that pointless - when you don't have a rooster - condition). Most of the plants in the new covered garden are surviving, with some (coriander, a tomato, some comfrey, beans etc) going like the clappers. In between gardening, chooking, tax returning, cooking, choir conducting, and Sheila-looking-aftering, Martin has been working on a piece for choir & cello called Songs of the Dispossessed (words by Peter), to be premiered in Canberra on Friday December 11 (repeated next day and, again, in Yass on Sunday December 13). The performers will be David Pereira, cello, and Kangaroo Valley's Thirsty Night Singers. For details, click here and scroll to the bottom.

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Sun October 18 2009:

We've just had Sally, Oskar and Bassy staying for a coupla days. Olivia is here for the weekend. Rob's gone to Bega, and Peter's in Hong Kong on his way to Macau for his annual lectures in international law at the University of Macau. We've recently had two young French women staying and working here as WWOOFers (WWOOF stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms - see our WWOOF page here). Sheila enjoys all the comings and goings, particularly visits from her grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. Her health remains much the same, although she has recently been taking antibiotics for a bad cough. Her breathlessness - exacerbated by the heart attack she had in late July - forces her to spend most of her time in bed, from where she barks orders at her support staff. Yesterday we got her a portable DVD player so that she can watch DVDs in bed (mainly episodes of her all-time favourite television show The Vicar of Dibley). For someone who has spent most of her life being incredibly active, staying in bed is difficult, and she often says things like "I think it's time to shuffle off", but she's still enjoying life in general. Tomorrow we're getting her a wheelchair to make it easier for her to visit our chooks and to observe progress on the covered garden (we're planning to attach the chair to the ute with a tow rope to make it easier to get her around the paddocks).

When Sheila and Martin were in Darwin a year ago, after Rob's fall, Sheila's greatgrandniece (?) Darcy was born. She's now rapidly approaching her first birthday (see her party invitation here (jpg, 556KB)). For those into these things, Sheila's brother Keith and his wife Neeta begat Brian who with Leigh begat Joanna who with Russell begat Darcy, a sister to Ellery. Cute!

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Sun October 04 2009:

Rob has written a letter to Mum, for publication on this website. To read it, click here (pdf, 24.8KB).

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Sat October 03 2009:

Yesterday was Rob's birthday (he's a youthful 67 already!) We had a family birthday lunch, at which we gave him his present (an egg-cup), and went to a birthday dinner at next-door-neighbour Jane Mathews' house. It was a most pleasant occasion. Sheila thought she might stay in bed, but decided to get up, put on her red Chinese dress (we think she was paying tribute to 60 years of rule by the Chinese Communist party), and join in the celebrations. She was a little lethargic, and she's suffering at the moment from a persistent cough, but she ate well and generally enjoyed herself.

The particularly good news here is that - at last - we've had some good RAIN! For a few months now we've been wondering if we would ever see the stuff again. Our creek had stopped flowing, there was little or no feed for animals, and we were contemplating having to buy water in order to survive. But yesterday the heavens opened! Mind you, we need a lot more than we've had so far, but the forecast is for more over the next few days, so the situation is looking good. Of course, there's a downside: we can now expect a lot more weeds than we've had so far this Spring, and this morning your correspondent found, on his leg, the first leech he's seen for half a year or so ...

Peter was recently in Adelaide with Susan. See them, here (608KB), with Charlie, who lives with Pip'n'Anne across the road from Sheila's old house in William St, Hawthorn. Click here for a smaller version (264KB).

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Wed September 23 2009:

Hullo everyone! Sheila here. I want you all to know that I'm happy, and very grateful I'm being looked after so well. I have three sons here, all helping. My friends in Kangaroo Valley are incredibly kind to me. This is a beautiful part of the world - even covered in dust, as it was this morning - and I love living here. The boys have been busy building a garden. It's always a thrill to get letters from friends and family, although I can't always answer them - I get a bit lazy these days. Love to all!

Tues September 22 2009:

No news is good news! It's fair to say that Sheila is not making great progress, but she's comfortable and seems quite happy in the circumstances. She's enjoying having someone from Home Care - our neighbour Chris Maguire - coming three mornings per week to help her with showering etc. She was recently booked in to see a dietician, but she didn't feel up to the trip (and, anyway, she eats what she wants - usually not much of it - simply refusing to do what she's told ... tsk tsk ... but what can a man do?).

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On Sun Sept 13 we went to lunch at Cambewarra Lookout, near here. As you can see from the photo Susan took, Sheila was looking pretty good (better, in fact, than a couple of her sons). Click on the photo for the complete picture (l to r: Rob, Martin, Peter & Sheila).

Not long after that we had a visit from a friend who happens to be a cardiologist and who made some recommendations regarding on-going care ...

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Tues September 08 2009:

I took Mum to see a cardiologist, Mark Ryan, the other day: he said her heart sounded the same as it did two years ago when he previously examined her. He didn't think there was anything more that could be done for her at this stage, as surgery to fix or replace her dodgy heart valve was out of the question.

Unfortunately she didn't feel up to an outing last Sunday week ago, for she would have enjoyed a concert of Irish songs, which I organised, featuring soprano Annalisa Kerrigan. Wonderful concert!

Rob arrived last Saturday to stay for a few weeks. He agrees that Mum seems close to the end: she's very lethargic now and struggles for breath at the slightest exertion. But she's sleeping well, is still able to have a shower by herself, and most days manages to walk, with her four-wheel walker, out to the deck, where she enjoys sitting in the sun (fortunately the python that a few weeks ago used to curl itself up under her favourite chair has moved on).

Old family friend Jean Kenny has just sent us a wonderful appreciation (pdf, one page, 36KB) of Sheila - thanks, Jean! To read it, click here. She also sent some fascinating photos - click here for a shot of Jean's mother Bertha, Harry's brother Brian, and Harry, swimming in 1919, and here for a shot of them on the same occasion with Jean's grandfather E. H. Hall.

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Thurs August 27 2009:

On Tuesday, Martin went to Sydney for a coupla gigs, and Ann, Alice and Olivia came down to stay the night and see Sheila. On Tuesday night, Sheila was near the dining room table when she suddenly fell to the floor. She couldn't say what had happened - whether she'd blacked out or tripped over something - but apart from a bump on her head, now a lump, she was quite OK. It probably looked more serious than it actually was, for she reached out to the wine rack to steady herself and knocked over a bottle of red which smashed on the carpet ... Apart from that, she's been pretty well. She still spends quite a lot of time in bed, but she gets up at some point every day, often walking outside with her red four-wheel walker to sit in the sun on the deck.

Last Sunday morning she had a visit from three local ladies - Belinda, Diana and Teresa - who brought with them a marvellous cooked breakfast. Mum was delighted!

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Mon August 17 2009:

We were flat out here over the weekend with a lot of things on, including The Seventh Annual Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Festival, which Martin organised, and a party afterwards where we sang a few numbers in a little local choir (The Thirsty Night Singers). We had planned to get someone in to sit with Sheila while we did the show and post-show performance, but she announced that she would be perfectly happy staying at home alone for a few hours, with just Flash (our dog) and Janet (our alpaca) for company and protection. No worries. Yesterday we had guests for lunch: Sheila spent most of the day out of bed, cheerfully joining in. As I type this, she's standing at the kitchen sink, having re-discovered it, and is washing dishes, even though we now have one of those newfangled electric dishwasher thingies. In other words, she's just about back to normal!

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August 13 2009:

Yesterday I took Sheila to the GP Jamnagarwalla. He pronounced that the leg ulcer has now heeled (I think he meant it has healed) - a wonderful outcome for which Teresa Keyzer deserves much credit. He agreed to refer the patient to the local cardiologist, not for anything in particular but obviously the specialist, whom Sheila has consulted before, should stay on the case. An extra dose of Ramipril has been prescribed. The effort of getting in to Nowra and back is still rather tiring - for Sheila as well as for me - but probably good for the old girl and she's spending more and more time out of bed, still not doing much but her appetite has improved and she seems to be enjoying herself. What's not to enjoy about being constantly looked after by such charming young men as Martin and me? [PW-S]

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August 12 2009:

Mum continues to do well. She's going to see Dr Jamnagarwalla today for a check-up and to have the dressing on what's left of her leg ulcer changed - tomorrow we'll issue an update ...

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August 8 2009:

Nothing much to report. Sheila had a good night last night, which is good news for her, and for us, but it makes for a boring blog ... I think that from now on we'll issue a bulletin only when there's something interesting to report ... I've recently added links to some photos of the old family house in Hawthorn, Adelaide, plus a recent one of Sheila and one of Sheila's extended family in Darwin - see bottom of page.

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August 7 2009:

Sheila went to see her GP this morning, mainly to see about the ulcer on her leg (an ailment pushed into the background since her heart attack). There's good news here: it is almost completely healed! Most of this is due, I believe, to the unstinting efforts of Teresa Keyzer, who performed lymph massages on Sheila's leg and regularly dressed the wound with various things such as honey, golden seal, and aloe vera. Thanks, Teresa!

Sheila, who these days is not much more, physically, than a much-loved bag of bones, was reminded by Jamnagarwalla of the need to eat more! We're currently adding Sustagen to whatever we can in order to increase her protein intake.

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August 6 2009:

Sheila is sleeping well and is in good spirits, and has an adequate appetite for soft foods (stewed fruit, rice pudding, yoghurt etc). But she's staying in bed all day, without any convincing reason for doing so. We're trying to encourage her to get up, walk around, sit in the sun, get some exercise, wash the windows and vacuum the floors etc. She has mentioned a couple of times that Shirley wondered why she was lying about in bed, but she couldn't give a reason. She's not depressed, or incapable (she showered herself this morning). I think she just likes it, and finds it a pleasant relief, after a lifetime dedicated to the needs of others, to be waited on arm and leg. I'd probably stay in bed all day myself if someone would look after me ... [PW-S]

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August 4 2009:

Sheila is still spending most of her time in bed, but is comfortable, eating well, and generally enjoying herself. She has started making short forays around the house, using her four-wheel walker. For the past few days we've had Peter's friend Susan Phillips staying here and doing a great job helping out with Sheila's needs. Other friends are helping a lot, too. On Sunday we had lunch on the deck with Susan and guests Ann (Martin's ex-wife), her friend John, Martin's daughter Olivia, and our cousin Terry and his wife Pam. Sheila sat up in bed with the door open so she could listen to what was being said and occasionally contribute.

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July 31 2009:

Martin took Sheila to see her GP - Dr Mustafa Jamnagarwalla - in Nowra today. The doc said that Sheila's heart has "had it" and that we should be prepared for the worst. We knew that. But Mum is recuperating well after her heart attack, has defied earlier predictions of doom, and could well keep going for months yet, if not years.

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July 27 2009:

We took Sheila in to Shoalhaven Hospital on Saturday morning after she'd been getting increasingly breathless and lethargic. When she arrived, her heart was racing (170 or so beats per minute). Medical staff brought that down, then performed various tests that indicated that she'd had a heart attack, possibly that morning. She was admitted to a medical ward then moved overnight to the intensive care ward for observation. Yesterday morning one of her medical team rang to say her heart was "closing down" and what did we wanted done when it stopped altogether? We discussed it with Mum, who said that when her time came she didn't want to be resuscitated. In fact she indicated that she didn't particularly want to keep living - but then Martin's kids (Jed, Olivia & Alice), grandkids (Oskar & Bassy) and Jed's wife Sally walked in. Immediately Sheila perked up and within minutes was sitting up in bed chatting and laughing like there was no tomorrow, so to speak. Last night she had a good night's sleep. Today her medical team said they could hardly believe the recovery she'd made and discharged her from hospital!

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Sheila on her wedding day. Click on the photo to see a larger version of a shot that includes her sister-in-law (Harry's sister) Sheila Draper, left, and fellow bridesmaid Molly Osborne. Sheila on her 90th birthday. Click on the photo to see a larger version of a shot that includes greatgrandson Sebastian Wesley-Smith (Bassy), then aged 5.

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Born in 1916, Sheila (nee Martin) has lived for most of her life in Adelaide, South Australia. She was married to Harry [1914-1986] and raised four boys: Jerry [1940-2006], Rob [b.1942], who has lived in Darwin since 1967 (?), and twins Peter and the talented, charming and good-looking Martin [b. 1945], who live in Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales. A couple of years ago Sheila moved there to look after them, I mean, so that they could look after her. She has three grandchildren: Martin and Ann's Jed (b. 1970), Olivia (1973) and Alice (1980), and two greatgrandchildren: Jed and Sally's Oskar (1997) and Bassy (2000). Her brothers: Keith, Les (dec) and Peter (dec). Keith and Neeta (dec) had three children: Ann, Ronald & Brian; Les and Shirley also had three: Tim, David & Philip; and Peter and Sheila (dec) had Geoff & Andrew. Sheila's nephews and nieces on Harry's side: Anne, Bronwyn, Greg, Jim, John, Margie, Rowan, and Terry.

The Australian Women's Register says this about Sheila:

Sheila Wesley-Smith was born in Western Australia and the family moved to Belair when she was five. She enjoyed riding and music. Wesley-Smith went to the Kindergarten Training College in Palmer Place, North Adelaide and opened a kindergarten at Blackwood. She and her students were involved in the pageant for the South Australian centenary in 1936 and Wesley-Smith was the Spirit of SA. She became the Director of the Franklin Street free kindergarten and then taught at the PGC in the junior school. She married Harry Wesley-Smith and in 1939 left for England. World War II broke out so they returned to Australia in 1942. Her husband joined the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) and Wesley-Smith raised their four sons. Wesley-Smith joined the Kindergarten of the Air and worked on programs for five years in the 1960s. She was involved with community work with handicapped children and people in nursing homes.

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Sheila herself writes (see http://www.unisa.edu.au/alumni/netwk/delissa/newsletters/October2003.pdf, page 3):

As a long time admirer of Anne Dreyer and 'Kindergarten of the Air' I was delighted when the chance to follow in her footsteps came. In 1960 the program was advertised in Adelaide and after some hair-raising auditions I was given a trial - it became a twice a year term as the 'Kindergarten Lady'!

It was a time of hard work, research, script writing, rehearsals, recording and replying to the many letters.

I treasure the memories of the reactions to the programs, such as the small boy, an avid listener, who came in as I said "goodbye children". He dived into the speaker box demolishing it and shouting "come back, come back"! Or another small boy who, after a story about a little Koala who ate gum leaves exclusively, responded to the question, "how would you like to eat the same food all the time?" with "No, I don't even like gum leaves!". In my time there were three wonderful pianists and a number of actors and artists who added effects to my singing and story telling.

I made one potentially serious blunder and was called to the manager's office ... but that's another story!

"Goodbye Children"

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Left: Sheila's husband Harry, who died of cancer in 1986. He retired from the University of Adelaide in 1979 after a distinguished career as Academic Registrar. Click on the photo for a larger view.

Right: Harry with singer Kamahl in Sydney in 1976. "(Kamahl) was almost ordered out of Australia because of the immigration policy of the day. The timely intervention of Adelaide University Registrar, Harry Wesley-Smith, and Bill Schneidder in Immigration nipped this in the bud ..." more

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With such good-looking parents, how come my brothers turned out the way they did?

Left: Sheila's eldest son Jerry, who died in 2006. He was a brilliant jazz musician (piano, bass, voice etc) and composer who once said his sole ambition was to play the perfect version of Sweet Georgia Brown. He earnt a diploma in violin (later a Bmus degree) from the University of Adelaide. For his final exam he played the solo part of the first movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, put his violin in its case - and never took it out again. He sang for a while with The Adelaide Singers then played French horn for several years in symphony orchestras around Australia before giving up that, too, and concentrating on jazz.

Click on the photo for a larger version showing Jerry with Sheila and Harry in the late 70s.

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Left: Sheila's second son Rob, commonly known as Wes.

East Timor activist, ex-agronomist, and general rat-bag, Rob was recently in Kangaroo Valley making sure Sheila did the physical exercises she needs to do for general fitness and to help get rid of a leg ulcer she's had for the past year or so. And he built a covered garden for his kid brothers. He has lived in the Darwin area since 1966.

Click on the photo for a larger version showing Rob with Martin, Sheila and Peter at the National Film & Sound Archive, Feb 22 2008. Read about his recovery from near death last year in the roblog.

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Left: Sheila's third son Peter, commonly known as The Squire. He owns vast land-holdings in Kangaroo Valley, where he is President of the Community Association. He likes to be referred to, simply, as "Pres". He has finally honoured a pledge to his Mother: he has bought a dishwasher! Sheila can now get out of bed without fear that she'll have to stand in front of the sink doing dishes for hours ... Peter's a recovering academic, a gardener, and a writer of children's verse, academic tomes, song lyrics, libretti etc.

Click on the photo for a larger version showing him with two barramundi he claims he caught in Darwin a few years ago. Some of us think he's fibbing, or, at the very least, skiting.

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At last we come to Sheila's fourth and favourite son Martin (left): bon vivant, wit, sportsman, choral conductor, cook, concert entrepreneur, composer, and the main writer of this blog. He alone has provided Sheila with grandchildren (that we know of, anyway). A kindly man, he is always ready, with a smile, to help people - little old ladies to cross the street, for example, or poor urchins who love to receive a gay "Gidday!" or, preferably, a lolly. His current projects include trying to become an all-round better person, completing and planting the garden that Rob built, and whipping local singers into shape.

Martin keeps a regular blog. Read about two of his recent fund-raising events here and here.

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Sheila and boys

growing up ...

grandkids

Oskar in 2005

Bassy in 2005

cheers!


an appreciation by Annie Wesley-Smith: Sheila is my mother-in-law ...: "Sheila is my mother-in-law. I still consider her that. And I love her to tiny bits'n'pieces ..." more (pdf, 36KB)

two relevant texts by Peter: The Sheila Harry Married (pdf, 32KB) and Poor Sheila (pdf, 28KB)

three shots of Sheila's garden in Adelaide (the property was sold in 2007), by Annie: the drive (384KB), front lawn 1 (336KB) & front lawn 2 (334KB); a shot of the path at the side of the house by Sally: side path (400KB); another shot by Sally: Sheila reading to Bassy (268KB)

for a recent Belinda Webster shot of Sheila feeling a bit blurry, click here (424KB); for one of Sheila a couple of months ago, with friends Marjorie Skidwell and Chris Nobel, click here (300KB)

click here for a shot of Sheila in Darwin last year with (l to r) brother Keith, son Rob, grandniece Joanna's partner Russell, son Martin, Joanna (three days before producing Darcy), greatgrandnephew Ellery, Russell's son Mackenzie, nephew Brian's wife Leigh, Brian, and Russell's son Cambell; click here to see Darcy nearly one year later

click here for an appreciation of Sheila, called My Friend Sheila WS (pdf, one page, 36KB), by old family friend Jean Kenny; photos: Harry, (right), in 1919, with Jean's Mum Bertha and Harry's brother Brian, and Harry, Bertha & Brian with Jean's grandfather E. H. Hall

read 1. Elizabeth Silsbury's "Letter to Sheila", Nov 14 2009, 2. Anne Sims' "Fairy Tale", Nov 17 2009, 3. Anne Hodge's "Sheila, My Aunt", Nov 19 2009, 4. Terry Wesley-Smith's "Ah, Sheila", Nov 25 2009, and 5. Helen Edwards' "An inspiration to us all", Dec 28 2009.

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page last updated April 28 2010

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