Skip to content


“Extended weeks,” said my palliative care doctor when I asked for my prognosis.

“Expanded?” cried my daughter. “What does it mean?”

“That means we can’t be more specific,” she replied.

Meanwhile, Chris and I were stunned speechless. Weeks! We thought I would drift down the path I drift endlessly. I have to say that was a few (extended) weeks ago now, and things are pretty much the same.

I’m wobbly on my feet and limp like a penguin. Yesterday we went to Bronte beach where we had fish and chips and I sat in the car and watched Chris throw the ball for our dog Donnie. When we got home and the family tried to get me out of the car, my legs gave out and I fell to the sidewalk like a sack of potatoes, with a hysterical scream that brought the neighbors out. . Chris lifted me to my feet (I’m worried about this man’s back); my daughter rushed in with a wheelchair and they pushed me back inside, where I went straight to bed to recover.

Yet every day I wake up and wonder if today is the day, the beginning of the end.

But other than the extreme wobbling and weak legs, I eat like a horse and seem relatively sturdy. I spend a large part of my days sleeping, receiving occasional visitors and trying to write. What can I write about? My favorite subject, it seems, which is dying. I stopped taking any medications except painkillers. So why am I not dead yet? When does this happen? And how will it be? I hope peacefully and comfortably, quaintly lying on my bed, an expression of sweet wisdom on my face, my family closely together. I have pretty baby dolls in the works.

“Three weeks,” my GP told my daughter. Hush. I think at that point we may have stopped asking.

That was at least three weeks ago.

At night, Chris lies next to me and we reminisce about the adventures we’ve had over the 40 years we’ve been together. This is probably my favorite moment of my day. Then he begins to fall asleep and I get mad at him, because I want to keep reminiscing endlessly. I don’t have much else to discuss.

Sometimes during the day one of the girls slumps next to me and we chat and do a bit of online shopping, or my mum takes this place when she gets back from Melbourne, and we talk about her family, including including the aunt with the brittle bones that broke every time you hugged her, which is much less fun (why was it still fun?) now that I have brittle bones.

We have a neighbor named Mel, a nutritionist, who cooks dinner for us most nights. Last night was homemade pizza and pavlova (she knows I love pavlova). She bakes sourdough and banana bread for us and on Anzac day she baked Anzac biscuits for the whole street.

We’re a little worried about the money she has to spend on groceries to cook for us every night, but she won’t take any pay from us. We bought him a restaurant voucher as a token of appreciation, but it felt like a meager reparation for such incredible kindness and generosity. And it wasn’t like we knew her very well before I got sick – just a wave in the street as we walked our dogs. Now it has become a big part of our lives. She even takes care of our vegan daughter Emmeline. We have to be careful not to take it for granted: “What is Mel up to us tonight? we start thinking around 5 o’clock. We knock on the door around 6:30 p.m. and she comes in with our dinner.

I often wonder, would I have even thought of doing the same thing if our roles had been reversed?

I’m not that worried about the “extended weeks” prognosis these days, as I seem to stay pretty much the same. The latest is rib pain on my left side that hurts when I take a deep breath. Then I let out one of my “Urrgghh!” cries and the whole family comes to attention. What a drama queen I have become. I sleep a lot.

Every day I wake up and wonder if today is the day.  Why am I not dead yet?  |  Shirley Barrette
Shirley Barrett, writing at her desk in 2016. Photography: Karl Schwerdtfeger

“I need a project”, I lament. Chris suggests that I write about some of our travel adventures. It occurred to me that I could write about us in 2006 driving innocently, like the unfortunate Griswold family, past burnt-out buses in Oaxaca, Mexico, which was the scene of major civil unrest after a teachers’ strike . We had been there for the Day of the Dead celebrations, but it seemed like all the gringos had wisely gotten rid of. Except for us. Instead, we arrived with two young girls in the car. Buses full of armed feds passed us along the way.

Chris and I looked at each other and thought, “What the hell have we gotten ourselves into?” Violent eruptions erupted in the street, and I rushed the girls out the doors, cursing myself for being naive enough to put the kids in a situation we didn’t understand.

Usually I keep a travel diary, but in this case I didn’t. I regret it because I forgot so much. So it’s up to Chris and me to reminisce, and I try to squeeze in as many memories as possible.

What do I like to remember the most? Well, aside from the girls and some of the antics they did, I like to reminisce about our various marine adventures: seeing killer whales swimming in the wild, swimming with whale sharks, and the biggest highlight of all, swim with humpback whales in Tonga. How do you describe jumping out of a boat with your snorkel and seeing a huge barnacle, as big as a bus, popping out from under you? At one point we were caught up in a ‘heat race’, where male whales fiercely compete for a female. I remember poking my head underwater and seeing about eight whales swimming beneath me at full speed in pursuit. Yuck, I thought. “This is no place for me.” I got back on the boat as fast as I could.

So I come back to my question: why am I not dead yet when my remaining days were counted in weeks? And how will I know when the big day is finally looming?

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.