Elly McDonald


Diary of my Dad’s dying


When my father was dying, across the Australian summer 2016/17, I wrote frequently on Facebook about what was happening.

I am very aware that there are people who consider it completely inappropriate, abhorrent, to post on Facebook about intimate family matters. There are people who find it distasteful to post about deaths.

I am, obviously, not one of those people. I use Facebook to post to my friends about my daily life. My daily life across those months centred on death – my father’s.

One of my friends, John Power, who has himself since died, asked if I was collating my Facebook posts as a diary. He said there was a book in it.

I have no urge to write that book, but there will come a day when I delete my Facebook account, and unless I collate those posts elsewhere, the record of those months will be lost to me.

This is not a blog post intended for a broad audience. This is me ensuring that what I wrote and the images I selected during these crucial 11 weeks in my life, the 11 weeks of my father’s dying, are retained.

A NOTE ON FORM: Perversely, I have set this in reverse chronological order. Like Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal – in my beginning is my end.

3 September 2017:

“I have two favourite children. Guess what? You are one of them. I have adored you both always! Angus”

Love you this Father’s Day and always 💌


29 May 2017:

Funnily enough, reading this article at the reference to Lear I immediately thought not of Shakespeare’s king but of Edward Lear.

Dad and I sat together every day, and he, too, quoted Lear:

“We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness.
So we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news, and we’ll talk with them too—
Who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out—
And take upon ’s the mystery of things
As if we were God’s spies.”

My father had 11 weeks’ notice of his death and, although he was not religious, his and our preparations were very much as Phillipe Aries describes, minus the overtly religious elements.

We certainly would not have preferred a quick, sudden death, or a medicalised death ending in hospital.

Sorry not sorry to anyone bothered by me harping on about my father’s death.

15 May 2017:

Angus’s “proper” plaque is in situ. Cathy has planted pigface.

Visiting with offerings of Rocky Road. Now I’ll have to eat it on his behalf, here in the autumn sunshine with a cold sea breeze.


12 May 2017:

Digital art by Cathy McDonald – ‘Sisters’ series






9 May 2017:

To Melbourne to see the family financial adviser about my legacy from Dad. Feeling entirely awful and exhausted beyond belief. My psychologist suggests the exhaustion might be grief.

I’ve been reading H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald’s remarkable memoir of grief (and birds, and history, nature, poetry, photography), but my ability to concentrate is not great. The upside of today is that as of this week, my usual restricted cashflow is unchanged but my broader financial setup is suddenly quite grown-up. Possibly for the first time ever. Strange.

24 April 2017:

The NBN installers are due any minute. I have a flu-like cold and Liz, Cathy and I have a lawyer’s appointment this arvo about probate.

More nightmares: a final year English exam, to be done in our own individual apartments in a kind of grand hotel, except I’ve just moved my belongings into mine and it’s piled high with stacks of books and a dog knocks the pile where I put the exam paper and I can’t find the exam paper again and I can’t find an invigilator and I only wrote one sentence and I don’t know how long I’ve got and it’s so unfair because I know the texts backwards and the questions are a doddle, if only I knew what they were, in the absence of the paper, the paper that is lost…


18 April 2017:

Note from my reclusive octagenarian retired GP neighbour discovered today scrunched up and wet in my letterbox (the note, not the neighbour).

Despite 1/3/17 date, I could swear it hasn’t been there previously.

People are strange. Sometimes wonderfully 💝

John's letter

… strong possibility: he put the letter in Unit 1’s mailbox, and no one clears that mailbox because Unit 1 is a holiday rental, but it’s been cleared now because a buyer’s contract has just gone through.

16 April 2017:

Liz has Angus’s wearable clothes prepared for the Op Shop and has offered me my pick.

Not the best night to do this. Tired and sad.

She’s worrying a nuclear bomb will drop on Hong Kong while we’re there 😯

Angus clothes

I formally ended my friendship with my first ever ‘best friend’ after Dad’s death. She was the first person I contacted with the news of his diagnosis. She responded with a breezy text about everyone having to go at some time and said she’d find a time in her busy schedule to be in contact later. 20 weeks later she texted me happy birthday greetings (my birthday is the same week as hers). I told her in the meantime Angus had died at home in my arms, was dead, buried, there’d been a commemoration, and I was so disappointed I hadn’t heard from her. Nothing since.

I remember sitting in the Bayswater Brasserie in Kings Cross carefully composing a letter to her father when *he* was dying 30 years of so ago.

the day after Dad’s death I Unfriended a longtime FB friend in the U.S. who I’ve never met but who I like(d) very much. She has difficult life circumstances and mental illness and quite frequently posts suicidal thoughts or about hospitalizations. I always sent prompt responses I hoped were supportive and appropriate. My bro-in-law the shrink abd my sister would point out how aggressive it is to post suicide threats and attempts on FB, and how distressing for readers with issues of their own, and had been advising me to Unfriend her for some time.

That day she posted that she had razor at her throat. I didn’t see her post till hours later and I was blunt: Don’t kill yourself. Today I watched my father die in my arms spewing black blood. Life is precious.

She wrote a long response about how some day, some time, the inevitable ultimate ending to her story MUST be that she kills herself. No reference at all to my father’s death.

I told her I wished her well but I cannot remain her friend.

Very, very grumpy today. Watching Cats v Hawks (Cats bloody better win) and just adapted a line from The Rocky Horror Show, “There’s a spar-ar-ar-ar-ark [sic] BURNING IN THE FIRE PLACE” … remember breaking into that over dinner with parents one time and them both staring, and Dad saying, “Whatever THAT was, DON’T EVER DO IT AGAIN”.. 😻

14 April 2017:

After an uncharacteristically work-filled week it’s hard to get up, get dressed, and get to Geelong for church.

But after attending last night’s Tenebrae (Maundy Thursday) service – after a late shift – I’m reminded of the Christian significance of Easter by the words of minister Peter Gador-Whyte: “He shares our frailties to restore our dignity”.

Seems I’ve lived this recently.


How empowering is it for me to put myself in the place of Michelangelo’s Mary 💛 (That’s not a question)

… going to church dressed as an Italian widow. Some of us are incorrigible. (An Italian widow in sheer see-through fabric; limited black options in my wardrobe 😎)

8 April 2017:

Happy birthdayI am 56 today and last night my sister gave me a birthday card from my Dad.

It reads: “I have two favourite children Guess what? You are one of them I have adored you both always! Angus”

Cathy bought multiple cards when Dad got sick and asked him to write birthday and Christmas greetings into the future in them. He never got round to it. So she trimmed a note he’d written on scrap paper and stuck it inside a birthday card for me.

When it’s her birthday, I’ll transpose the love note to a card for her 👭

Favourite children

25 March 2017:

I dreamt my Dad wasn’t dead.

Instead he was entangled in the doona on my parents’ king-size bed, not well, but bright-eyed and smiling.

“Hello,” I said. “I thought you were gone.”

Angus interim plaque

19 March 2017:

Sisters 👭


16 March 2017:

All is well. In fact all is good 🌞

Enjoying cappuccino catch-ups with friends who live locally. Back at work at the Gallery. Gardening. Swimming 🐋

Thank you for all the well-wishes (and the fishes)

Go to the beach

6 March 2017:

Yesterday’s celebration of Angus was everything we could have hoped.

I cannot express how grateful I am to my FB (and real life) friends who were able to be there: in no particular order: Penny, Jen, Lou, Heather, Ian W, Ian R, Adrienne, Gail and Sonia, Vikki and others who are not on FB but who I love very much and whose presence is appreciated. I hope I haven’t dropped out anyone’s name. Please forgive me if I have.

I also very, very much appreciate all the care and patience other FB friends have shown me over this past 3 months since Dad’s diagnosis. I won’t name you. You know who you are. I am very thankful and I will not forget.

Much love to you

Angus portrait

We’re embarrassed that some people who planned to be there stuck with the initial tbc date 12 March and didn’t see the subsequent notices advising 3rd March. There were 150+ guests, maybe 200, with standing room only, and it really wasn’t possible to update individuals ahead of time, but sad some people – like Dad’s favourite of Cathy’s exes – missed out 😯

3 March 2017:











3 March 2017:

Singing this on the way to the crematorium.

Previous song was Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold singing I Remember It Well (from Gigi), which made us cry

3 March 2017:

Liz has tidied Angus’s closet. It never, for one moment, looked REMOTELY like this in his lifetime 😂

Angus's closet

2 March 2017:


2 March 2017:

Flowers and card from my workplace

Hand delivered by my wonderful colleague, Lydia Cover, who had me sing the Aaronic Blessing for her 💗

Flowers from my workplace

1 March 2017:


1 March 2017:

Notices from the Geelong Advertiser and flowers from our family dentist 🌞






Flowers from Dentalspa

… and also in The Age






1 March 2017:

The alternative history – a tribute

28 February 2017:

The format for the wake on Sunday has Peter as MC, short eulogies from me, Cathy, then Liz, lots of food and drink and conversation, and all Dad’s favourite music, with slideshow visuals of family.

This is a draft. It’s short. I’ve told Cathy she can do the timeline history of etc.

Anyone and everyone is very welcome – details published with Angus’s death notice in The Age and the Geelong Advertiser tomorrow (Wednesday)

27 February 2017:

Seems the wake is now confirmed as THIS Sunday, 5 March – 2pm at Point Lonsdale Bowls Club. All welcome.

I need to get that eulogy written, fast.

The private funeral is 11am this Friday.


There won’t be any religious element – just Peter as MC, short eulogies from me, Cathy and Liz, the music he most loved, eating, drinking and socializing.

26 February 2017:

Donald Angus McDonald
d.26/2/2017 at 1pm

at home with his head on my lap and his family around him.

… I think Cathy and I were feeling pretty good relatively speaking except since Dad’s death mum has been difficult and Cathy lost it with her and Hugh has been harassing us with multiple phone calls about his planned visit and taking us to task for how we announced the death (an email I wrote sent in Liz’s name) and our arrangements for the funeral and the wake and even accusing us of misinforming people of the date and time Dad died. Pretty sure it was 1pm Sunday; I was 100% present. I was holding him, I took his pulse, checked his breath, cleaned his body. Hugh thinks it was 3pm Saturday and somehow thinks his opinion matters.

I was so angry by Hugh and his partner’s 6th phone call within 24 hours I had to remove myself.

I’m trying to not let it affect me. But he’s coming for a week and now that Dad’s gone there’s no reason for him to stay at Cathy and Peter’s rather than in Lonnie and removal will be hard. The saving grace is with the wake now so soon NEITHER he nor Athena will be there. (I presume)

24 February 2017:

We watched cricket together. Lots of sleeping.

Angus plays cricket

24 February 2017:

Daddy’s girl

Still waiting for paramedic vehicle to bring him home

Update: he’s staying in hospital on a morphine pump, might come home on pump in the middle of the night, might not

Angus w Elly 3






Liz w Elly

24 February 2017:

Angus and Liz young

24 February 2017:

Cathy, Peter and I have spent the afternoon in St John of God emergency dept but in keeping eith Advanced Care plan Angus is now being sent home dosed heavily with morphine.

I went ahead to locate after hours Palliative Care contacts but CANNOT FIND the palliative care info folder or A.H. tel’s

Will be off FB for a bit now xxx

Palliative care manual

… the home visit nurse on Friday took it with her. It’s back now

24 February 2017:

It’s agreed: I will sing the Aaronic Blessing to my father’s coffin before it exits.

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face to shine upon you
And be gracious unto you.

The Lord lift up his countenance upon you
And give you peace.

It’s only 19C and overcast, but it’s low tide (I wrote ‘tired’) and Dad has been dry retching sputum and blood and shaking violently, so I am heading to the sea for a swim 🏊

Photo taken by Angus on Wednesday when he and Cathy drove down the Surf Coast.

Angus's last photos


24 February 2017:

Family getting-to-know you meeting 11.15am today with my friend Michael Nolan, in his capacity as celebrant for Angus’s funeral.

Dad has micro-managed the wake. Properly speaking Mum gets the deciding say on things to do with the private family part, at the funeral. Dad got a little over-anxious a few days back and started dictating the details but I think, based on how well we’ve been doing, we’ll have consensus xxx

… he was really, really sick this morning. Too sick to participate. Community nurse arrived about an hour ago.

1 February 2017:

Liz’s friend Bev got knocked down by a kelpie on the beach and will need 6 months rehab to repair torn ligaments. She won’t be back at the beach.

Some of Liz’s beach friends whose dogs have recently died have decided they’re too old to walk dogs and are not getting replacements. Liz is very sad that her supportive beach network is evaporating, just as she most needs it.


21 February 2017:

Elly’s nightmares:

Heather you and I were to appear on TV and I didn’t have a thing to wear. Here’s how we decided to style me:

Pale primrose granny-pants, worn as hot pants
Sunshine yellow singlet, worn without bra
Mauve Isadora Duncan scarf
Dark red chunky plastic Pop Art ring

Minutes before we were due in the studio I was worried strong camera lighting might be unkind OMG 😨😨😨😨😨

Elly's nightmare

19 February 2017:

From Liz’s hidden photo albums – Angus 1972, and the first photo I ever took, Angus 1972 or 1973 building the retaining wall in our Adelaide back garden.






Those pants are towelling.

19 February 2017:

I’m due to meet up with an old friend from teacher training on the beach in 55 minutes but I cannot quite get vertical. (Nightmares again.)

I haven’t seen her since ’04 but saw her name as purchaser on the paperwork for the sale of my car.

Then family lunch.

I drank coffee

Parents’ house deluged with phone calls yesterday from WA family – from Perth, from Paris, from Texas. Hugh isn’t seriously sick. Low numbers on prostate count and no spread.

16 February 2017:

Birds sing

16 February 2017:

Clan McDonald sign up for their final resting places (Indigenous: weerona – the name of my great-grandfather McDonald’s property near Campbelltown).

Angus and Liz are the big upright rock (centre); Cathy and Peter are to the left; and I am the small irregular awkward stand-alone (right). I expect future vandals to pick me up and fling me. Plaques to come.

Moonah Walk

It’s beautiful. We’re thrilled. There’s a beautiful sandstone bench where a person can sit and reflect by our stones 💚

Moonah Walk, Point Lonsdale cemetery

Moonah Walk viewing

15 February 2017:

It’s official: my family ARE THE BEST 💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖

We have agreed on everything for Dad’s cremation, and the wake, and have got through all that other Very Tricky Stuff.

It’s ok to congratulate us now 💐💐💐💐💐💐💐💐💐💐

The reason life works

14 February 2017:


13 February 2017:

It’s been a very intense and painful few days with family issues as Angus gets more ill. On Friday Angus and Liz visited Kings Funerals to discuss the funeral pyre and came away with a long list of questions such as: What will Angus wear? Do we want to view him? Who will wheel the coffin? Et al

We’ll have a family get-together this week to sort through all this.

We’re a long way from being on safe ground.

Dad has decided to include a couple of religious elements after all, one of which might be Psalm 23 and another might be my friend Michael Nolan, a former Catholic priest who once explained to me the role of a parish priest is similar to being the donkey in a paddock with horses: there to help calm the skittish ones.

Very very hard to stay ok but fortunately have a few horse whisperers to hand.

We’re racing ahead on suggestions for What Will Angus Wear? Rather than playing a harp in Heaven he says he wants to play tennis, so I suggested tennis gear. Angus rather fancies being buried in full Essendon Bombers supporters gear: then we could say the Essendon Saga killed him. It would have the dual benefit of disposing of the Essendon scarf I knitted him with decency.


12 February 2017:

[During family turmoil I won’t record here]

Laughing while watching Mulan:

Mushu: “Hey, c’mon, you did it to save your father! Who knew you’d end up shaming him and disgracing your ancestors and losing all your friends…”

You did it to save your father

5 Februay 2017:

Cathy did an icon-making workshop this weekend and made this icon of St Mary (me) and St Elizabeth (Cathy) hugging each other.

She wanted to make St Elizabeth’s robe blue but the specialist told her Greek Orthodox symbology requires that it be green.

We look very worried.

Sisters icon by Cathy McDonald

The other images are from the Nag Hammadi Library and a copy (the darker one) in St Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, Roanoke, Virginia.






1 February 2017:

Things turned pear-shaped shortly after this pic. Very bad day. Angus off to GP.

Angus with Bella

Feels like a turning point. We’re poised for the down slide. Dad has apologized in advance to me and Cathy for when he’s angry or short-tempered over coming weeks.

We had a Monty Python moment where Cathy was trying to talk up how well he is and Dad and I were having Absurdist paroxysms lol

He was [calm and at peace in this photo]. He’s calm most of the time anyway, doesn’t have the energy to get agitated. As opposed to Liz, who was a nightmare yesterday. I had an awful day and an awful night and now I’m lolling in bed just dreading a future with my mother. Luckily Adrienne expects me paddle boarding with her at Barwon Heads at 9am so I have a distraction.

31 January 2017:

Since I keep having these horrible nightmares, I’m pondering what I can do with them creatively.

Take last night: my dream about Sarah. Sarah is a little person, a dwarf. But she has some kind of cultic significance that’s causing her to be hunted down to enrol her against her will in an ominous ritual. Sarah is trapped in a large house that’s designed to maximize surveillance, with mirrors, peepholes, angled corridors all set up to ensure she never escapes visual monitoring.

Someone remarked, “Imagine what it means to someone who’s been stalked all her life to be in this environment”. It was a voice in my ear, from outside the dream, and I thought, how TRUE!

Dad is envious of my nightmares because he never dreams. We discuss guided dreaming; I don’t think that’s the correct term but it *has* a term and it means developing the ability to direct the narrative within our dreams.



31 January 2017:



Dad and I were chuckling over this when suddenly when suddenly he became Saccorhytus and threw up very loudly for what seemed an eternity, whole body shaking. Mum is upset it was so loud the neighbours must have heard. Very distressing for everyone 😦

28 January 2017:

if you're lucky enough to get old

26 January 2017:

My sister left this card for me. She knows I’m seeing bands tomorrow – Jo Jo Zep and Sports at Melbourne Zoo – and staying over in Melbourne in hopes of doing it again on Saturday, Peter Garrett and Kev Carmody. Finances permitting.

Also tonight I’ll be on Dad’s arm as his date at his tennis group’s Australia Day barbecue 🎾

You know you're getting old

Angus waves the flag

Angus waves the flag

26 January 2017:

Reports of Angus’s weight loss are greatly exaggerated. He’s not 48kg, he’s a much more robust 63kg. Seems he leaned against the bathroom sink bench while weighing himself 😂

I did think a 27kg loss in 8 weeks was improbable, and he looks more solid than I did when I was an anorexic 47kg lol

25 January 2017:

Centrelink has lost my application for Carers Payment, mailed to them 18 Dec. So far I’ve been on hold with them for 40+ minutes and counting.

I am doing gentle yoga asana, all the seated poses and prone poses I can think of, moving into standing now. Had another ocean swim this morning and did aquaerobics too (auto spell suggests aquaerotica, which I might try another time) 💚

Boromir on Centrelink

26 January 2017:

Water dragon

23 January 2017:

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, People’s Choice Winner 2017

Mario Cea, The Blue Trail

Mario Cea, The Blue Trail 2017

Rainbow Wings, by Victor Tyakht

Victor Tyakht, Rainbow Wings 2017

21 January 2017:

Nightmare in which I performed a Wednesday Addams version of this accompanied by werewolves howling.

Marginally less scary than previous night, when radioactive tentacled indigo creatures from outer space caused people to fling themselves from top floor windows of a haunted house, in vain; and it was revealed my mother had had an affair with Vince Lovegrove.

I do not think this happened 😉 Dad’s facial expression response to my nightmare was priceless.

I think that came out of a conversation Dad and Mum and I had a few days back discussing the insurance liability implications of Grant Page dunking women from the foxline into Gill and Ron’s pool New Year’s Day 1970, 71. Reckon Liz found being dunked by Grant a bit of a turn-on 😂

20 January 2017:

Driving Dad to imaging appointment. He is a passenger seat driver.

We have marvelled at the discovery “40 zone” rhymes with “cortisone”.

We have agreed there should be a TV series called Braking Hard.

Dad has begun a verse that includes the lines ‘My underwear hurts me / course it does’ – corset does, geddit 😉 – which may go on to include the references to cortisone and school hours traffic limits.

He’s bright as a button, lots of entertaining conversation 💘






The GP just phoned to say x-ray shows no bowel obstruction, nothing bad. He said he knows the deal was he was only going to phone if it was BAD news but he didn’t want to leave us dangling. Dad so moved by that he cried.

We have agreed he will not only leave me a birthday card for my 56th birthday (he’ll be gone before April) but will write me a time-capsule birthday card to be opened on my 86th birthday. Currently he’s considering “You expected something profound? April fool”. I think he can do better.

… last night we (parents + me) were reviewing a butcher sheet filled with my writing c.1990 with headings “Angus – I like” and “I *don’t* like”. He got all happy at the “I like” list then sad at the “I *don’t* like”. I thought the lists were mine (they were all things I *would* write), but Liz and Angus believe they were lists where I acted as scribe on Liz’s behalf, mediating to save their marriage after he’d disgraced himself. Somewhere there was once a corresponding list about Liz, by Angus.

Then at bed time Mum left a card on his pillow with “Je t’aime” printed on the front and her message inside “Sleep well / Love you”. Dad and I joked today she couldn’t quite bring herself to say “*I* love you”, in English 😈

18 January 2017:

Dad and I tried to play #top10booksthatshapedmeasateen but he insists no books have influenced him, except economic theorists and the Scottish Enlightenment.

We tried #top10filmsthatshapedmeasateen but again, Angus says the only film that’s shaped him is On The Waterfront, which he saw aged 20 or 21.

I could immediately come up with one Ridley Scott (The Duellists, seen on my 17th birthday) and no less than 3 Scorseses seen as a teen (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz), but despite a youth misspent at the Valhalla Richmond I couldn’t think of others that I could say “shaped” me in teen years.

A little indie film from Canada I reviewed for The Nation Review in 1978, called Outrageous?

Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets

Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets

17 January 2017:

Shout out to all the plants

16 January 2017:

Angus with Bella and Liz

Angus with Bella and Liz 1

One might wonder, why is Elizabeth holding a breakfast tray in front of her face. Answer: she is using it to prop up her newspaper cryptic crossword 🙂






16 January 2017:

Angus has dropped from 75kg to 48kg. We’re feeding him carrot cake 💜

He has zero desire for food but more particularly, he can’t tolerate many foods, or much food. He either throws it up or has horrible digestive issues. He says he has a visceral instinct for what he can’t eat.


“Bleeding that takes place in the esophagus, stomach, or the first part of the small intestine most often causes the stool to appear black or tarry. Your doctor may use the term “melena.”

Bleeding in the upper part of the GI tract will most often cause black stools due to:

Abnormal blood vessels

A tear in the esophagus from violent vomiting (Mallory-Weiss tear)

Bleeding ulcer in the stomach

When blood supply is cut off to part of the intestines

Inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis)

Trauma or foreign body

Widened, overgrown veins (called varices) in the esophagus and stomach.”

Pretty sure I saw a small segment of blood vessel in his black stools yesterday 😦

Angus with Liz watercolour of motel

15 January 2017:

I so much enjoyed being at church this morning that I’m thinking it might be good to schedule regular weekly activities away from family and Point Lonsdale as part of my self-care program.

My initial doodles play with me having maybe a Geelong day every Friday, so I can sing with Wesley Singers Thursday evenings then stay over at Cathy’s ahead of singing with the Acabellas Friday mornings. That would mean lunch and early afternoons Fridays would be available for catch-ups with Geelong friends, if anyone feels inclined.

I might also designate Wednesday as a weekly Melbourne day, partly so I can catch films at the Nova I’d ordinarily miss out on and also art exhibitions. It would mean, too, I could do catch-ups with Melbourne-based friends on Wednesdays, it that suits. If I stay over at Cathy’s the previous night I could do a Yoga Dojo class Tuesday evenings. Alternatively, Tuesday could be the regular Melbourne day (Wednesday works better for cash flow).

In Point Lonsdale, Maureen Crawford has invited me to ocean swim with the Mermaids whatever mornings I can make it to the Springs for 7.30am. [Ian] we might be due a light lunch or coffee or a walk, too? Will message you xxx

Mostly we don't remember

Guys, I exhausted myself making plans. Will do what I can when I can [angel with wilting wings emoticon]

14 January 2017:

From the poem “Survey” by Elizabeth Willis

Survey by Elizabeth Willis

13 January 2017:

Point Lonsdale Racqueteers tennis group formally farewell Angus – Beach House, Barwon Heads.






Liz and Angus (lanyard reads ABSOLUTE LEGEND)

Liz and Angus

It was a lovely occasion 💗 Liz had an afterglow through till bedtime, which is wonderful.

Happy Liz

Glad people are actively supporting Liz now rather than waiting.

Mum was on a high all day. Dad had to stay in bed all [next] day but it was worth it 💕






The photo Dad wanted me to delete

Sad Angus

11 January 2017:

Angus’s DNA results are in! Amazingly, Donald Angus McDonald has DNA 46% Great Britain, 45% Ireland – 91% British Isles.

3% Scandinavia (but no Finland or northwest Russia), 2% Italy or Greece.

There are “trace results” (less than 1 percent, insignificant and possibly an artifact) for western Europe, eastern Europe, the Iberian peninsula and Central Asia (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan).

We’re having fun imagining him as part of the Golden Horde but… no.

Zero from Africa, America, Pacific Islander, West Asia, South Asia, East Asia and all sub-regions thereof.

White bread everywhere

10 January 2017:

January 2017

4 January 2017:

Deep breathing at the Heads

Port Phillip Heads 4 Jan 2017

4 January 2017:

Jen Clarke thank you for that beautiful letter you wrote Angus, in the beautiful card.

The back of the card says, “It is said that the kind of dog you own says a lot about your personality. […] Bill Clinton owned a labrador named Buddy.”

Which may explain Bill’s inclination to hump everything in sight?

Dad and I discussed what our dogs say about us, which led to reminiscences of all the dogs we’ve ever owned.

We discussed who and what my next dog might be.

We agreed Joshua is a little beaut. Then Dad joined Josh in Dad’s bed, with the Tosh boy graciously making room.

Btw sadly Dad can’t drink red wine, has a visceral aversion now to any alcohol (or rich foods, or almost any foods). But he will enjoy the shortbread, in delicate-sized helpings.


Angus with Josh

3 January 2017:

ECG at Cardiology, Geelong Hospital.


Lovin this CD. There There.

ECG completed and I”m happy to report my heart is a rodent: tough as 💞

2 January 2017:

Elizabeth has found a book we think my paternal grandmother Edie had when she married in 1913: ‘A Friend in the Kitchen’, by Mrs Anna L Colcord.

Mrs Colcord was a Seventh Day Adventist advocating vegetarianism, passionately.

The little essays throughout the book are gems. There2 a 4-page essay arguing the religious, moral, social case for vegetarianism.

Dad says Edie was impervious.







1 January 2017:

Land art, stone circle mandala by Katie Griersar, ‘everything changes, nothing is lost’ (2014) #womensart

Katie Griersar, 'everything changes, nothing is lost' (2014).jpg

31 December 2016:

Obviously, 2016 has had its challenges. It’s obvious 2017 will have, too.

Cathy has a practice now of asking before she goes to sleep each night, “What can I do tomorrow to be kind to myself?”

My friend Michael asks www: What went well?

I gave my mother a book for Christmas called How to Hygge – “hygge” (pronounced “hugger”) being a mode-ish Danish word that loosely translates to comfort, contentment, cosiness, safety.

We’re not big huggers in my family, but recently we’ve been trying it out. It feels good.

I thought maybe this coming year I might aim for a hug, and a hygge experience, every single day.

Other than that, I hope it’s a year of birds and flowers.

I wish you hugs, and hygge, and birds and flowers, too.

Much love


31 December 2016:


The CDs I selected to live in the car-that’s-now-on-loan-to-me-from-the-parents fit PRECISELY into the Japanese box I never quite found a use for!

It must be meant 💘

Car CDs

Dad has gifted me his immense collections of vinyl, CD and cassettes. He thinks I might get $$ putting them on eBay. Meanwhile I have all the vintage 30s-70s stuff I could ever hope for 💘

It’s a random chaotic mess, like all his stuff. Eventually I’ll do an inventory 😊

31 December 2016:

“Black cockatoos are somewhere under the sun: / Down with the mattocks, let the wild couch-grass run. / Take the gully-road, slide on the sticks and stones/ And wait for the artists of Heaven, the crested ones.” Francis Webb

Black cockatoo

29 December 2016:

Words with no direct English translation, describing states of happiness 


28 December 2016:

25 December 2016:

Cathy and Angus consider dessert

Elizabeth (in the nightie we gave her for Xmas) with Cathy.

If Liz loses any more weight we’ll mistake her for mistletoe 🎋

Small white plastic beads from the Op Shop 😉 

We went for a beach walk – while Mum was still in full Op Shop finery – and several people she’s known for years failed to recognise her in her Sunday best. Might be because she’s got so thin.

The bag in the background reads: “For Xmas lunch. Do not eat or damage.”

Angus cops a shelf of trophies for Xmas: Best Story Teller, The One and Only, Most Loved Dad Ever, Favourite Father-in-law, Point Lonsdale Racqueteers Best Player Over 85… Spottiest Frog

Angus trophies

Angus and Liz eating toast and marmalade and drinking Earl Grey tea while watching Yogi’s First Christmas on TV, Christmas morning 2016 🎄

Merry Xmas 4 2016

24 December 2016:

Today is a new day

How to get up and get dressed

23 December 2016:

Elly McGrinch gives Xmas a two-fingered salute.






23 December 2016:

Merry Christmas all 🎄

Dad can’t drink and Cathy/Liz/I won’t but there’ll be champagne tonight when the McDonalds join [people] for Christmas dinner at Queenscliff marina.

I roasted a turkey last night and had turkey with cranberry sauce, corn cob and salad solo for dinner last night. Cherries for dessert. Turkey 2.84kg so it’s cold turkey with Angus and Liz for lunch today and probably a few days to come 

It’s actually rather beautiful when we as a family get to be together. Yesterday seemed like there wasn’t a moment without phone calls, visitors, appointments – way too much, constant responding to other people, and way too much of it creating anxiety, frustration snd anger. Peace on Earth? Like, yeah.

22 December 2016:

We have MORE interstate visitors arriving any minute. These ones will be in Point Lonsdale 3 days. CAN’T THEY LEAVE IT ALONE LONG ENOUGH FOR ANGUS TO REST? And for me to clean the house.

No one welcome 1-4pm. Piss off.

Things found randomly in my Dad’s study.


7 days. One of these people I have never met, or even heard his name. Angus introduces me and he replies (to Angus), “Very attractive”. I am thinking WHAT’S IT TO YOU, DICKHEAD?

The other, the bi-polar guy given to manic grandiosity, lurches in for a hug and I am like a 7 y.o schooled in Stranger Danger: MY BODY IS MY OWN. BACK OFF.

I decline to offer them tea.

20 December 2016:

To escape having a cold, and general malaise, I am time travelling: via Justin Hill’s Viking Fire, the second novel in his Conquest Trilogy, one of The Sunday Times’ books of the year, focused on King Harald Hardrada of Norway.

Last night I was 15 years old, wounded, trekking across winter mountains from Norway to Sweden. Then I was in my 20s, gifting a leopard cub to an Empress.

I know it won’t end well, but what a journey!


20 December 2016:

Whoever gave me a cold for Xmas, I hate them for eternity. I can’t see my Dad in case he catches it. It’s been one day and he says he misses me. My mum says it’s ok, he’s robust; but he bloody isn’t.

Don’t know don’t know don’t know. Will see how I am tomorrow

18 December 2016:

Beach village desperation.


17 December 2016:

My father shocked me today when he asked if pogroms predated Hitler. He seemed to think anti-Semitism started in post-WW1 Germany. I can only think this is cognitive slippage in old age and illness, as Dad, having been a child in the ’30s, went on to be a student of economics, politics and modern history.

Yet knowledge of modern history *is* vanishing, replaced by Hollywood distortions (Inglourious Basterds), denial, and a galloping cynicism that buys into conspiracy theories and a belief that everything we’ve been told is propaganda.

When I was 22, in 1983, I went to an adult education course where my classmates included 3 older women, post-WW2 Jewish refugees. Two spoke with heavy accents and the third, after 35 years in Australia, barely spoke English at all. Her friends explained she rarely ventured outside the Jewish emigre community.

I asked if they’d encountered anti-Semitism in their early years in Australia.

“Oh darling,” one woman laughed. “No. People here didn’t know what a Jew WAS.”

I suppose part of the problem is when we can’t admit our ignorance, and *think* we “know” the stranger.

Openness to learn is more important than ever. But in a media age, what media do we trust?

17 December 2016:

Angus has met up with the palliative care doctor and the palliative care nurse. The doctor, David, thinks Dad will make it to February, and says medication can manage the pain with Angus remaining lucid most of that time.

Meanwhile both Angus and Liz are suddenly quite skinny. We need to keep them eating.

Gotta get [Liz] to EAT. I think it’s vitawheats and tea unless there are guests.

I think as a family at the moment we feel like we’re doing well 💚

But it’s not ok. This is palliative care for terminal untreatable cancer.

17 December 2016:


15 December 2016:

Dad took Mum’s old Hyundai in for servicing ahead of it being handed on to me.

He pulled the “terminal illness, no time to hang about” line to make sure he could pick up the serviced car by lunch time.

When he got back the car was ready and there was this note:


Louise Eggleston, Dad was so moved by your letter, which I won’t make public. He burst into tears and said “I wish people weren’t so NICE! I can handle anger and aggression, but I HATE kindness!”

Translation: He loves you like a daughter.

15 December 2016:

Dad is very firm that palliative care should include checking out a time of his choosing.

He says he feels sorry for me (and Cathy, assuming Peter dies first) because we won’t have family around us when we die. But he got quite angry when I told him Cathy and I both plan to check out early; not having kids and a husband means there’s no purpose in me sticking around.

He said I can stick around as long as I like: not having loved ones dependent does NOT determine the value of my life.

On a similar note:- we’ll none of hang around “because there are books to write!” Uncle Hugh is trying to convince Angus to write a memoir about dying, because “it could help others”. I told him (yes! We’re speaking!) Dad could not be less interested. Interested in writing about his childhood, his youth, his birth family, his birth home – but not about death or dying.

14 December 2016:

Someone made a reference to their after-life, playing a harp by the Pearly Gates.

I asked, “What will you be playing, Dad?”

Angus (immediate, with gleeful grin): “TENNIS!”

14 December 2016:

Sudden overwhelming need to contact my friend Lou Benson, who I grew up with in Adelaide. Thanks to the magic of Google and LinkedIn, mission accomplished.


13 December 2016:

In my ‘Death & Dying’ reading list I have now read Australian writer Cory Taylor’s Dying: a memoir.

Cory Taylor investigates the big ones: Life, and Death, and Family, and Home. Oh, and Art and Time and Desire and Love. The relations between Body and Consciousness.

At times it’s a soap opera. At one point I put it down and thought, Is that all life is? A soap opera? Then she’ll make gold thread connections. I’m not doing her justice, I’m making her writing sound portentous when it’s delicate, sensitive.

She resolves it as a screenwriter would: Fade to black.


13 December 2016:

Reading Max Porter’s novella Grief is the Thing with Feathers, which is both a response to poetry (Ted Hughes, Emily Dickinson) and is poetry.

“We are all agreed the book will reflect the subject. It will hop about a bit.”

What between the bat-shit crazy allegorical Crow and that large tub of Macha Green Tea White Chocolate Wafer ice-ceram (how did I only see “green tea”?), I am finding it hard to concentrate. The book lets me peck at it.


12 December 2016:

Today my cousin Petrana, her two kids and my aunt Marilyn made Angus and Liz – and me and Cathy – very happy by visiting from Sydney.

Noah and Liv brought artwork as gifts for Angus: the portrait is by Noah, the thing-where-the-first-letter-of-each-line-spells ANGUS is by Liv.

The sun shone and Angus laughed and Liv and Noah went swimming in the sea and took turns walking Bella the poodle.






12 December 2016:

Two years today since Toby’s death.


11 December 2016:

The well-being room: featuring Dad’s exercise bike (gifted), step, Swiss ball, off-road bike, yoga mat, block and bolster, relaxation CDs and Bach cello suites, exercise shoes, my Great Gatsby party costume for Friday (Lord how I do NOT want to do that), Andrey’s painting, Cathy’s watercolour, Leeanne’s print, the Japanese painted hanging screen, and Doctor Who on the DVD player in the corner.

Haven within home.


10 December 2016:

The McDonald Xmas tree. Decorated by Cathy.


8 December 2016:

In an ambulance being driven to hospital. Suspected heart attack. But probably not.

I hear the paramedic say, “I gave her more morphine. It made her worse.”

7 December 2016:

Another task off Dad’s ‘To do’ list:- new shade sails installed.

There was a bit of a ruckus coordinating with the neighbour over the timing of the tree surgery, won’t go into it but Dad got very, very upset, which made me very, very upset; our kind friend Greg is liaising from here.

It was very not good. V distressed Tuesday night. Yesterday much better for all.


Josh has gained a kilo when he should have lost 2kg. He has pronounced thickening on his back right knee joint which will be bothering him. Business as usual – Loxicom for the pain and Synovan as his 6-monthly anti-arthritis treatment program. Vet is under instruction to make sure Josh outlives Dad; Angus couldn’t bear Josh dying.

The betting is on Angus going first 😦

6 December 2016:

Mum and Dad’s new car. Er, Mum’s new car.

Dad left a note in the trade-in car for the new owner, because he thought the CD system might be a bit complex: “Press LOAD and insert a disc while READY indicated in green”.


5 December 2016:


The current owners of the grand house where my father was born and grew up have replied to my letter with a wonderful email updating us on their plans to landscape the grounds and restore some of the house’s original features.

They made Dad so happy by telling us they see themselves as custodians rather than owners, and that it seems to them EVERYONE in Mt Gambier knows and loves this house.

Angus has responded by immediately writing long-hand notes recounting further house tales.


Dad says this was about 1946, and that during WW2 the maintenance on garden and house fell away. When his mother was diagnosed with cancer not long after, she made it a project to revive house and garden.

4 December 2016:

Wonderful to have our very dear friends Mary Christie and Seb Dickins visit from Sydney this weekend: it meant a lot to all of us.

A few local friends are dropping by without phoning first expecting Angus to be in shape for visitors any time. They bring casseroles. Angus is barely able to eat still – or yet – and Liz frets about freezer space. Lots of love though, and I’m grateful.

Angus was so happy to have Seb and Mary here, and he held up well yesterday, but today was difficult. It’s very confronting to see how unwell he really is.

2 December 2016:

Bringing Young Angus home from hospital in 15 minutes.

[My short story Old Angus] won The Australian’s 20th Anniversary Short Story Prize for Young Writers (under age 25) in 1984.

One of the judges – an old school newspaper editor – told me he liked its naturalism. “A lot of the stories weren’t stories,” he said.

Old Angus was 86, not 90. Edie wasn’t mad: she was sometimes angry. Ila is reconfigured as Laura, as a nod to Tennessee Williams’ Laura, his fictionalised sister, in The Glass Menagerie.

1 December 2016:

I turned into a viper last night and was still baring fangs and lashing this morning.

Fortunately my very kind friend Heather complicated her day by driving to Point Lonsdale with cappuccino and brownies, and spent time in the sunshine being companionable.

I am lucky to have caring friends. Thank you.

Pictures: Viper. Sunshine. One of these is healing.






30 November 2016:

Our beach is, still, strewn with bluebottles.

One of hundreds.


30 November 2016:

Angus plans the playlist for his wake.






I’m spinning out a bit today. I’m particularly pissed off at a person who I told to phone or email if she wished but not to visit, for good reasons I won’t go into. She phoned Liz today and asked to visit.

[Later] The surgeon has phoned to say the operation went well. Angus is just coming out of the anaesthetic now. Tomorrow he’ll meet with the palliative care team and then Liz and I can collect him and bring him home.

[Later] Angus won’t be coming home today due to raised blood pressure. We don’t want to worry Liz with this.

So happy [our friend Mary] and Seb and Millie are able to visit us 💚 There’s accommodation at my place for any or all of [them] and also at Cathy’s, 30 mins down the highway.

Angus pre-surgery

30 November 2016:

Tidal (1984)

In the laundry we found a postcard

Victorian erotica

a woman with blancmange buttocks and

a tentative smile

like her

malleable curves, bovine

eyes: a Gibson

girl, in sepia tones, her body

all graceful billows, as

rich as her husband’s wheatfields

her breasts, white as orchards in bloom


featured honey-lips and now

decades later, her country child

wades through pock-coral tidal pools


he still finds relics

of a ship smashed by the bay

shards of pottery

pitted like daguerreotype

shattered, once-sharp edges smoothed

now aged, in submarine silence

he assembles the fragments for

mantelpiece display – a voyeur


he holds them with the tenderness

of her remembered



29 November 2016:

Angus update: Dad will have surgery at 6pm tomorrow (Wednesday). The bile duct has been closed by the tumour in his pancreas pressing against it; bile is not draining, Angus has turned yellow, his liver is collapsing.

A metal stent will be inserted via a tube to enable bile to flow as it ought. If this operation is successful it will have zero effect on the progress of his cancer but he will be able to eat again.

I’ve just eaten a mega-bag of Smarties and I feel sick… but Dad tells me he’s had fish and mashed potatoes, orange juice, ice cream and jelly as his hospital dinner, and so far no probs, so that’s pretty good 

He said he felt emboldened to tackle the meal as in a hospital environment he has expert support. Also, yesterday when he said he was sometimes dizzy and was having trouble concentrating I pointed out he’d barely eaten for 10 days and was starving.

Smarties really crap idea. I am stacking on heaps weight and have gone up yet another clothes size. Eating for two?

I’m a bit wrecked – woke up c.1.30am and only slept patchily after that. Bloody Smarties 😉

28 November 2016:


28 November 2016:


28 November 2016:

Angus goes into St John of God’s cancer ward at 11am Tuesday to have a stent surgically inserted in his blocked bile duct Wednesday afternoon, so that he can hold down food.

He is yellow. Angus, but yellow.

25 November 2016:

Angus main street Mt Gambier

No concerns about going public: a Probus club member knocked on the parents’ door just now and asked Angus, brightly, “How are you?”

Angus: “I’m dying. No, really. I have aggressive, inoperable pancreatic cancer.”

So the cat’s well and truly out of the bag.


There was a friend he met outside the local store who he was updating when an acquaintance walked past and overheard. The acquaintance immediately burst into tears and flung herself on Angus, sobbing and trying to hug him. Friend A has to prise the interloper off.

24 November 2016:

So. Angus has an extremely aggressive pancreatic cancer which is untreatable. Palliative care only for the short time remaining.

He will have surgery next week for a blocked bile duct on his gut which has meant he can’t keep food down.

People who know Angus and Liz: please don’t contact them just yet.

Angus will be doped up quite soon, and his time-frame is short, so friends who know him and Liz and want to make contact while he’s still compos mentis, I will let them know today. […]

I’ve arbitrarily gone public: feel free to contact them from tomorrow on liz.angus@**** or (+61) 03-**** **** – if phoning, please don’t 1-4pm when he sleeps, or after 7pm AEST. Thanks

Also, if speaking to Liz, be aware there is a touch of dementia, which she does not acknowledge, and quite a bit of anxiety and depression.

I’m thinking of moving the agave [Lou] gave me (which I found, in my garden) across to the little sun-garden outside Dad’s bedroom, which Peter and Cathy are doing a makeover on to make appealing both to look at from the bed and also to sit in ♡

24 November 2016:

Initial test results for Angus very, very scary. Prayers please.

LOL Cathy texted to say on the admissions form under ‘Existing conditions’ they forgot to fill in “prostate cancer, emphysema, asthma”… and Alzheimer’s?

He’s handling it well right now.

21 November 2016:

Supposed to be 39C today, with high winds. Dad’s with the doctor, Mum has another cardiologist consult tomorrow. The dog isn’t moving. Don’t know what to do with myself.

Ahmo's picture of Elly and Toby 2002

Angus back from GP appt where various tests were done, more scheduled, imaging appt in Geelong tomorrow alongside Liz who was already booked for imaging.

Dad has a 9.30am appt Thursday to find out what his tests showed. The test process this morning he describes as torture. He still throws up if he tries to eat and has other gastrointestinal probs too. Liz was told the risk of stroke if they try to correct her arrhythmia is too high so if she feels better on the medications then that’s all that’s required. Liz says she has a greenlight to go to HK. Angus is anxious about his test results.

Glam factor not high.

20 November 2016:

Beautiful lunch for Cathy’s 57th birthday at Gladioli restaurant in Inverleigh, followed by Angus throwing his guts up out the car window by the side of the Hamilton Highway.

Peter and Cathy drove back so Peter could do an immediate medical check. Angus is rugged up with a water bottle and paper towels and we cleaned off the mess. Peter says he needs to see his GP asap tomorrow. He has no appetite and for the first time ever almost no capacity for alcohol. He was very unwell this morning but we didn’t want to cancel Cathy’s birthday lunch.

I can’t see how they [Angus and Liz] can possibly go to Hong Kong 😦

Author: Elly McDonald

Australian-born, with English mother, has lived in several Australian cities and in London. Travelled widely. Way way back when, published widely as a poet and short story writer.

3 thoughts on “Diary of my Dad’s dying

  1. Thank you for posting this. My father died in 2007, kidney failure not cancer. It was a long drawn out deterioration. A couple of years ago a lady whose garden I tended for many years was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in October after finding herself much out of breath following a 4k walk that she often did, and no previous symptoms. She was gone before Christmas. Her husband had died of brain tumour a few years before, he was in his eighties and a good friend. Their three daughters were close to my age and did not live close but I had come to know them also. It was most distressing. My wife Lib was treated for breast cancer last year, she’s OK now we hope. All this does lead you to reavaluate. I’m about to make a major change and get house ready for sale and move to near beach where Lib wants to be in retirement.
    Bye the way Happy Birthday for last Monday, it was my birthday too. I had a good day. I have 5 years seniorority. The Cats are going well. My Demons have flopped badly.
    Go well Elly, happy trails.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carey, that is such a beautiful response. Thank you. It truly does make us think hard about our lives. All best with the beach move – I can recommend highly:-)

      Oh, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY US!

      I’m sorry you had these losses. This past few months several friends of mine have had drawn-out, hard deaths from illnesses, and my cousin, on 7 March, who turned 56 just days before his death from melanoma.

      Cats are going so well I’m secretly gleeful. Dees, a disappointing start. Let’s see what they do with that.


    • I’m nine years senior not five, I found rereading, not that it matters, just didn’t like the error. A win at last by the Dees!

      Liked by 1 person

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