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The Chronicles of the Weezie and the inflatable turtle
Weezie's random ramblings!!! Wahaaa!!
Cancer-related deaths: Round 2
So my last entry was back in June, talking about how Mum died. And then, I haven't got around to updating anything since then.

So, has much happened?

...A LOT.

So, just to recap first of all. In December last year, the same month as when me and Taina got engaged, Tai's brother Vinnie was diagnosed with leukemia. While it was bad news, and a shock to everyone, the general outlook at the time was positive. He was young, he was 25 at the time, he was healthy aside from the cancer, and it had been diagnosed soon enough that he would be able to undertake a full course of chemotherapy.

Me and Taina had visited Vinnie a lot throughout his first few trips in and out of hospital, but then after a few months, his chemo visits were mostly just during short periods in the day, and also we became busy, with work, wedding planning and then from April onwards, with Mum being in hospital and such.

At the end of June, not long after Mum died, Vinnie was finished with his chemo. Test results looked good. He was in remission, he was ready to put his cancer behind him.

He was a bit weak from the months of chemo, feeling nauseous and getting headaches a lot. He'd lost his hair and was wearing a wig a lot of the time. But, it was all the normal things one expects from a cancer treatment survivor.

He'd been told by doctors throughout the treatment that it was important not to contract any kind of infection, because his immune system would be severely weakened and unable to handle it. So he had to try and avoid being around people who might have colds or flus, and be careful of open cuts and sores and such.

But at the beginning of this month, he contracted an infection of some sort. It seemed to be based mostly in his spleen, and he was taken to hospital. The doctors were hopeful that keeping him in hospital, with a strong course of antibiotics, would help him to fight it off. They did tell him however, that the worst case scenario, if the antibiotics didn't help, was they may have to operate and remove the spleen altogether. At that stage, though, they were very hopeful it wouldn't come to that.

Two days on, and the infection wasn't improving. So the doctors and Taina's parents made the call to go through with the surgery to remove the spleen.

It was a Sunday afternoon. Taina received a text from his Dad, all casual, just informing him that Vinnie was being taken in for surgery. His Dad didn't act like it was anything to be overly worried about, so Taina didn't seem to be too worried either.

Sunday evening, dinner was in the oven, and me and Taina were just sitting down on the couch, ready to eat dinner and watch a documentary about the '90s on the National Geographic channel, when Taina got another text.

He read it. He immediately put his phone down. And he turned to me and said, "We have to go. Now."

He sounded pretty serious so I dropped everything, turned the oven off and we got into the car. On the way we picked up Taina's older brother Dallas from his place in Petone, and drove into Wellington Hospital.

Taina explained to me on the way that Vinnie had got through surgery, had come out but not woken up yet, but doctors were concerned about how he was doing and had advised him to bring in all the family just in case he didn't make it.

'Just in case.' So the chances are still pretty good he'll be fine, I thought to myself.

We got to Wellington Hospital. Because of the nature of the surgery and Vinnie's health state of still recovering from chemotherapy, he was in the Intensive Care Unit, where he could be monitored closely throughout the surgery recovery process.

We got to the ICU, the Intensive Care Unit, and the protocol with this was we had to sit outside in the waiting area until someone from inside came out and let us in. We sat for several minutes waiting, me, Taina and Dallas, and then Taina's Dad John came out.

"Vinnie didn't make it. They tried to save him but they couldn't."

We went in. Taina's Mum Debra was crying. For the first time ever, I gave her a hug.

There was Vinnie, lying on a bed. Still. No breathing. His skin a yellowy colour, like a beige/yellow leather, not like normal human skin when life flows through it. Cords were still sticking out his nose and mouth where he had been hooked up to machines in the ICU.

What had happened was the strain of the spleen removal surgery in his weakened state had caused his kidneys to fail. The doctors had been trying to set him up on dialysis but before they could do it, his heart gave out and he was gone. They tried CPR for several minutes, but they couldn't bring him back.

Tai's youngest brother Shyro arrived soon after, along with his girlfriend Carol. We all sat there in the hospital for a long time really, crying, looking at Vinnie, talking about Vinnie and about what had happened. Doctors came in every so often, some hospital chaplain person came in to say a prayer or whatever (the family's not especially religious but I think the idea of prayers helped Debra a little) and then eventually we left around midnight.

Me and Taina were starving, as we had of course missed out on the dinner I had cooked at home. So we grabbed some food from the McDonalds in Newtown on the way back. We didn't go home straightaway, we went around to John and Debra's place for a while, to sit, and talk, and stuff.

The next day me and Taina had a bit of a sleep-in, and then came back around to his parents' place. Tai's older sister Aniwa had arrived, down from Auckland where she now lives. A couple of Tai's aunts were there too.

I didn't really know how the next few days were going to play out, and Taina didn't seem to be able to give me any definite answers either, and I think that made me a little nervous. But nevertheless, I went with the flow as best as I could. That day, Monday, we went to the funeral place to set up details, like choosing a coffin, and what time the funeral service would be etc, so that the funeral directors, Gee & Hickton, could put it in the newspapers.

It wasn't new to me, as I had been through that process just several weeks earlier, when me, Dad and Nick had to organise Mum's funeral. So Tai's parents kept asking me questions, finding out what we had picked for Mum to help them decide what was best for Vinnie. I was glad to feel I could be helpful.

The funeral was to be held in the Orongomai Marae, here in Upper Hutt. Maori culture has a lot of traditions surrounding death that are very different to what those of us brought up with European culture expect.

Rather than just the funeral service on a particular day, Maori have a tangi. With the tangi, the body goes to stay at the marae for the days leading up to the funeral service. So Vinnie, once the funeral directors had tidied him up, and the family had helped dress him and he was displayed in a coffin, got taken straight up to Orongomai Marae in the hearse that Monday afternoon, and we all followed.

We couldn't go straight in to the marae. The people who ran the marae gave us an official welcome, involving women calling out in Maori while we slowly walked up to the entrance, took our shoes off (you can't wear shoes in a Marae), and then sat down in the marae at the front beside Vinnie's open casket.

Then an older Maori man gave a long speech in Maori, and then the people from the Marae sang some songs, and then we all got in a line (and the Marae people got in a line across from us) and we went along, one at a time, hugging each person or doing a hongi (where you press your nose against the other person's nose). Then we all went and sat down.

It's not that it was entirely new to me. I went to Orongomai Marae once back when I was at school. I think it was when I was at Intermediate, we went for a class trip, learned about the Marae and stayed the night there. I remember I thought it was fun because it was like a giant sleepover with the whole class there.

Plus when you're a born and bred New Zealander you grow up being taught about certain things about Maori culture, even if you're white like me. For instance, I knew already that you can't wear shoes into a marae, and I already knew about what a hongi was, and that it is commonly used to greet people or as a sign of affection, like hugging.

But nevertheless, those next few days were hard. In a tangi, the body in the marae can't be left unattended. Someone has to stay there to watch over it at all times. Typically, the family will stay there the whole few days until the funeral service/burial, even staying overnight with each other in together in the marae. So, that's what all the family did. Tai's parents, his brothers and sisters and their partners, Tai wanted to stay too so so did I, and then all his millions of aunts, uncles, cousins and his two Grandmothers all came down from around the country and all stayed at the marae together.

So in other words, there I was, grieving a little for Vinnie (although not as much as Tai and his parents and siblings), still not really over Mum's death yet, staying in a marae, not really knowing the expectations and protocol and being worried about doing something wrong, also having to meet all Tai's extended family for the first time all at once (a nightmare for any introvert like me), and at the same time being concerned about Taina and wanting to help him as best as I could with being too clingy and keeping him from catching up with family and doing whatever the family needed him to do to help out.

It definitely wasn't my ideal scenario, but I tried to be as tough as I could for Taina's sake.

Sleeping at the marae was difficult. We all laid mattresses on the floor, all...fifty? seventy maybe? of us. A lot of Tai's cousins are older than him and have young kids, babies, toddlers, primary school age kids. So nighttime involved a chorus of babies crying and babblings, mingled with coughs and sneezes and giggling teenage cousins, and Tai's parents and siblings staying awake practically all night chatting.

That's one thing I don't know if I'll ever get used to with Taina's family. They're all such night owls. And I'm definitely not. The only one in their family who ever understood my appreciation for a decent night's sleep at a normal, regular time each night was Vinnie.

Some fun stuff happened during the days at the marae. The family helped prepare meals together in the kitchen, so me and Tai helped out a little. Me, Tai and his cousin Charles had to peel like a million potatoes, and Charles complained the whole time, which I found pretty funny.

On Tuesday afternoon, it was pretty sunny, so me and Tai took his niece Tyler (Dallas' daughter) around the corner to play at Maidstone Park. That was pretty fun, we went on the flying fox. I wussed out on playing on most of the other stuff at the playground, but I helped with spinning the spinny thing Tai and Tyler went on. Tyler started this game where we had to come up with songs involving spinning in the lyrics, like "You spin me right round, baby, right round" etc. Then we ran out of songs with spinning actually in them, so we started changing lyrics to other songs to make it like they're about spinning. I enjoyed that game.

On Wednesday I was so tired from the lack of sleep in the marae that I went home for a little while in the morning to nap. Wednesday evening was fun though. Vinnie used to like going to the karaoke club at the Upper Hutt Cossie Club, so a lady who runs it who was a friend of Vinnie's brought a karaoke machine to the marae on Wednesday night so we could sing karaoke for a little while.

I sang "Noone But You," a Queen song written by the other band members of Queen after Freddie Mercury died as a tribute to Freddie. The lyrics seemed quite appropriate for Vinnie, plus Vinnie loved the band Queen as well (something else we had in common).

A few other people sang songs, and finally we had a group finale of Bohemian Rhapsody which was cool.

Thursday we had the service. Lots of people came, many I didn't know, but I recognised some people from Heretaunga College. My Dad and Nick came, although they didn't really know Vinnie, they wanted to show their support. Luke (Workman) came. I guess seeing as he and Taina have been friends for so many years, he came to know Vinnie pretty well too.

We followed up the service with a burial at Akatarawa cemetery. Taina had his guitar with him, so he decided to perform a couple of songs while various guys in his family were busy shovelling dirt into the grave. Tai played the guitar and I did most of the singing, with slight help from Tai when I forgot the words. We sang David Bowie's song Space Oddity, and then the song 'What's Up' by 4 Non Blondes. You know, that early '90s one-hit-wonder that goes, "I said, hey-ey-ey-ey-ey, hey-ey-ey. I said hey- what's going on?" The songs had no particular significance, they were just songs Taina knew how to play on guitar well and that I knew most of the words to.

Anyhoo, so once that week was over, it was back to work. Which was all okay, but we're definitely not back in a normal routine yet, even now, nearly three weeks out from the day Vinnie died.

Tai has been wanting to spend a lot more time with his parents and siblings than he usually does, so we don't get to be alone together much at the moment, or spend much time chilling at home. I'm pretty the vegetables in our fridge are going off because we're never home to cook and eat dinner. I feel a really strong urge just to get back to normal life, you know, work, come home, watch TV and eat dinner, chat about my day with Taina, go to sleep. Get up and do the same the next day. But Taina doesn't seem to want to get back into normal routine yet.

And there's still stuff to deal with. My dispensing course through work for one. I'm meant to finish it by November, as that's when the final practical course in Gisborne is held, where we sit the final test for the course. If I don't finish all the assignments and tests before then, I can't go, which means I can't finish the course this year, and have to pay course fees for another year. Which I doubt my boss David will be willing to pay for.

But with everything going on this year, I've gotten a bit behind on course work, so now it's a struggle to catch up. I asked my manager Richard if I could get a couple of days off as leave to catch up. He said I had tons of leave owing, and should take all week and possibly next week too, and not just use it for study but for relaxation and wedding planning too, as the wedding is now just over five months away.

So here I am, at home, instead of at work like I would normally be on a Friday. I've been going to the gym a lot this week, seeing as I can actually get to the classes I like going to now I'm not restricted by work hours. I've done some study, and sat a test on Wednesday, but there's still a lot more to do. But, I'm doing alright. And I'm looking forward to the next few months. Finishing the course. My birthday in November. Christmas. New Years. The wedding. And then lying on a beach in Rarotonga for our honeymoon. Perfect.

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