My mother in law, close friend, mentor and feisty lover of life, is dying. She's 80 and she is being ravaged by an unkind cancer that has resulted in an open wound below her neck that has now worked itself to the bone. The pain is becoming more intense and the discomfort is evident. And in spite of all of this Doreen Magness is the epitome of grace under fire.
Once an ample, healthy and always handsome woman, she is now but a mere slip of a body. But there is so much more to her than that. She has chosen to end her days with us. You'd have thought that a dying octogenarian required intensive attention. Yes there are things that need to be done, but there is this beaming light in our house that speaks volumes about accepting the inevitable but more importantly, taking each day at a time and making the most of what we have.
Doreen as always has been a gentle but persuasive binding force in our family. Wherever she is, family tensions and gripes subside and she is a magnet for all. No less so now. For a number of weekends, family from near and far have made the trek to Fongerosa and hung around. The focal point has always been food. An Asian fusion that only Eurasians like us understand, but is also enjoyed by the friends of cousins, nephews, nieces. Doreen's an active participant and her 'special' pork is a most revered delicacy.
She has taught us that there is no 'inner circle'. When I first met my wife's Eurasion and significantly mixed family, the first thing I understood was that amahs (servants) were also welcomed as a part of the family and ate with us at the big table. And of family, the strays that wandered in and out of her and husband George's house .... most gave up working out whether they were really family or not. And in the end, if the were accepted and contributed as family, they were.
So as the endless number of ppl wander through our house, to visit Doreen or to come as a friend of a member of the family, or turn up because they just do, so too the Fongerosa seems to have become that place that I first visited when first courting Barbara. And Barbara has very much become that generous welcoming spirit that her mother was.
Its a thing at Fongerosa on the 26th December. Our sons Luke and David have for some time developed a tradition where all of their school buddies would come around to Fongerosa and just eat (Fongerosa is famous for Barb's fusion cuisine and she has inherited her Mum's attitude of always cooking for an army) be happy and enjoy in a safe haven. These kids are not school kids anymore. They are young professionals, transforming into ppl in relationships, families, jobs, mortgages ... and for the first time this year ... a kid.
But they still come. Almost religiously. And they are not just Luke's and David's friends anymore; they're ours, and such good friends they are. This year we threw a GoPro around the place Part 1 here and Part 2 here) and it captured a snapshot in time which I hope they will one day show to their children.
There is a spirit and a culture. An inexorable one that has reached into the souls of our children. It didn't come from my parents (another story for another time) so it most certainly came from Barbara and her family.
There is no sense of sadness in our house. Doreen's family come in and out. No hiding what is happening; but its not about anything else but living one day at a time and making it count. So Doreen continues to be a hub of activity for a sometimes disparate and sometimes confusing family.
Late at night I sometimes sit on the floor by Doreen's bedside and I hold her hand. And we talk. Honestly. Sometimes starkly. No truths are cloaked, and there is no time for niceties. But if I have learned one thing from my dear friend Doreen, nor is there time for regret or mourning. As she is slowly dying, there is a cursory and realistic acknowledgement of that and then an engaging dialogue about family, future, the well being of our next generation and, rightfully, fond reflections of life and family. Not a word of regret or sadness.
Doreen lost her husband, George, 3 months after we were married, in March 1985. A massive heart attack and he was dead before he hit the floor. The whole family were naturally devastated. Barb was inconsolable. I remember when his body lay in the house, Doreen talking quietly to him, not out of denial but saying things she never had the chance to say to him had she been given the chance. When George was finally buried, she collapsed in the most abject outpouring of grief and bereavement I have ever seen. They had been through hell and back together, had successfully brought up a family of five successful kids, and she loved him so much.
She never remarried. Instead, as a well respected ex headmaster, she dedicated her efforts to welfare through the local church and set up an "orphanage" for kids of imprisoned convicts and drug addicts who, in the then climate of a country that hung drug dealers for the smallest of sales, found it hard to escape. the work continues today, although Doreen's initiative appears to have slipped from acknowledgement. Her care factor on the acknowledgement is predictably low.
Doreen is by no means a spent force. And we have no intention of doing anything else except helping here do what she wants to do, namely enjoy each day at a time. And we have stopped asking if she's OK. She threatened to get a T-Shirt saying "I'm OK". She's dying, she won't see another Christmas. But she definitely is OK. And she still likes to dance.
None of us are looking forward to that inevitable time when she slips away, but nor are any of us (including her) dwelling on it. Even if we did she wouldn't let us.
So this still beautiful, compassionate, intelligent and articulate woman continues to teach us about life, about bringing people together, about enjoying simple things like sharing food amongst 'family' and having as loose a definition of family as possible.
Thank you Doreen. I'm enjoying your company and I am enjoying the fact that you live to your fullest at Fongerosa.