Tattoo

Today is new tattoo day.

My new ink.

This tattoo honours my late father, my family, and my unique identity within it. My family’s surname is Dutch: Groenenboom, which translates to ‘green tree’.

I am thankful to be starting the new year by doing something to deeply meaningful. It is a positive way of acknowledging those who have passed, including my dad and my beloved cousin six months ago, those who remain and are still flourishing, and my connection to them all.

I spent months choosing the tree design, as there are myriad options available and many are gorgeous. I chose this one because it symbolises strength, beauty and grace. The maple leaf represents me, obviously— unique among the other leaves, but strongly connected and coming from the same source.

I am so proud that this symbol is now part of me.

The word tattoo is interesting because the one word has two completely different sets of meanings that have come from entirely distinct sources.

That makes it a homophone, a homograph, and a homonym all at the same time: as it is pronounced and spelt identically for each of its various meanings.

Tattoo.
#tattoo #tattooart #symbolism

Christmas Eve, Without You.

I’m usually a real kid about Christmas. It’s one of my favourite times of year.

This year, though, I’ve really had to try hard to muster my Christmas mojo, and I’m not sure I really succeeded.

Christmas Eve was particularly hard this year. I felt so disconnected and indifferent, and I didn’t know what to do with that.

My response was the same as always: write something!

Verbalising these feelings helped me deal with them. They were — and are
— still there, but I have been able to relax and let them coexist in counterbalance with my enjoyment of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Today is what today is. My feelings are what they are. It’s all part of the process of grieving and moving forward and reconciling conflicting emotions while continuing to live.

Image by PeggyChoucair on Pixabay.

Joy is elusive this Christmas Eve,
Anticipation is aloof.
The empty chair, the missing gift,
The place not set at the table,
All murmur a silent, sorrowful chorus
Like a incantation, warding off
The overruling spirit of the season.
The magic of tinsel, baubles and tree
Cannot dispel the indifference
Cast by Memory and Grief as they linger,
Neither out of sight nor mind
Amid the coloured lights and carolling
On Christmas Eve without you.

ⓒ2020 Joanne Van Leerdam

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Writing It Instead Of Carrying It

When this image appeared on my Instagram feed this morning, my immediate response was “Yes!”

Image text: Remember. If you are not speaking it, you are storing it, and that gets heavy. Christina Isobel.
I don’t know who created this image. I acquired it via Instagram.

This is why I have been writing and posting poetry and blog posts to help me deal with my feelings about my first Christmas without two very special people in my life, my father and one of my closest friends, both of whom passed away within five days at the end of June.

I have been doing everything I can to make Christmas joyful. Part of that has been working through my feelings and accepting the changes in life that have happened in this mixed up and turbulent year.

It is not that I have no joy or excitement. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to celebrate or focus on the positives in life. It means I need to works out how to manage the shades of guilt I experience when I feel joy, and the weight of sorrow at the very same time as enjoying the lightness of excitement and anticipation.

I fully realise that Christmas is very different for many, many people this year. Lockdowns, halted travel plans and distance have made sure of that. Like me, many people are grieving. Others are facing different sets of challenging circumstances.

The fact is, though, that it is my life that I am living. I have to manage my grief and work out how to balance things for myself. Nobody else can do it for me, and it has to be done. To refuse or fail to deal with my feelings isn’t healthy.

So, I write poetry and blog posts. I blurt my feelings and ideas down onto the page, then shape and craft them into something that both expresses how I feel and lets  others in similar situations know that they are not alone, and that their feelings are not wrong or abnormal.

That is my Christmas gift to the grieving people of the world; empathy, understanding and the room to feel as they do without judgment.

Writing It Instead of Carrying It
#emotions #grief #WritingCommunity

With Love, Me.

I wrote this poem not just for myself, but also for my family and friends who are really feeling the absence of a loved one this Christmas.

I don’t think it requires any explanation. I just wanted to share it with you here.

As always, any feedback is greatly appreciated.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Dear Santa,

I’m writing you this Christmas letter
Because I thought you should know
That there’s something that means more to me
Than presents, trees and snow.

I am missing someone this Christmas
And I’d love to have them back,
But you don’t collect from heaven
Or carry angels in your sack.

I already have lots of memories
And photos and souvenirs,
That fill my heart with longing
And flood my eyes with tears.

So there’s nothing you can bring me
That might heal my grieving soul,
And nothing you can do to make
My broken spirit whole.

But if you could work a miracle
In people’s hearts and minds,
Could you make them think of others
And teach them to be kind?

Could you make them value family
And enjoy them while they are here,
So Christmas might bring true happiness
To be remembered…

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67 Years.

This morning, my sister and I visited Mum and Dad’s grave on the 67th anniversary of their marriage.

On this date, every year since 2011, I have been purposeful in spending quality time with Dad as he spent the anniversary without Mum. He often had some tears, as did I, and we would talk about family times and happy memories. There would invariably be coffee and cake involved at some point of the day.

This year, Mum and Dad are together again, and we are without them both for the first time.

Instead of coffee and cake, we went out for breakfast together before heading up to the pretty little cemetery on top of the hill.

Nature blessed us with a beautiful morning: sunshine, blue sky, white fluffy clouds, and a light breeze. The grass is starting g to cover the grave now, so it looks less  fresh and confronting. Still, it was the first time my sister, brother-in-law and husband had been back to the grave since the day of Dad’s funeral, so in that respect it was harder for them than for me.  I quite like cemeteries, and I have been back to visit Mum and Dad’s grave on several occasions. 

Neither my sister nor I had a big howly cry, which we wouldn’t be ashamed to admit because we have both done it several times before, but we both had some tears. We’re not ashamed of those, either. Crying is healthy, and so is owning your emotions.

Christmas won’t be the same this year. For the first time in our lives, we will be doing it without our father. I haven’t bought boxes of chocolate-coated ginger or liquorice allsorts for the first time in decades.

It’s all kind of weird, and it hurts, but we are doing our best to make it positive and memorable. Before visiting the cemetery, we went out for breakfast with our husbands. We bought a little Christmas poinsettia, which Mum always loved, to decorate their grave instead of taking fresh flowers this time.

Most importantly, my sister and I are spending Christmas together. I am so enormously thankful that, after months of lockdown and closed state borders, she and my brother-in-law can be here.

There are gifts under the tree, plans for special meals and treats, and neither of us has to navigate the first Christmas as orphans on our own. Our other siblings and my nieces can’t be with us, but they will be with family. We will video call and spend time together that way. It’s not perfect, but it beats not being together at all.

As I observed in my post on Dad’s birthday, the firsts are hard. There are so many feelings, and it can be challenging to know how to mark the date without being morose. It’s good to honour the memories, but the fear of people thinking you spend too much time in Memoryville or Griefland is real.

Will they want to read another Facebook post or blog about it? The fact is, some won’t, and that’s okay. At the same time, there are plenty of others who will. We are not the only ones grieving for a loved one for the first time this Christmas.

It matters to me, and to them, that we know we are not alone in our feelings, nor are we weird or wrong for feeling the way we do. It’s completely natural, and the best thing to do is acknowledge it: cry and laugh when we need to, retell the family stories, share memories, and deal with it in the most positive and constructive ways we can.

It’s also important to be deliberate about creating new memories and treasuring our time together, so that we make this first Christmas as merry and bright as we can.

Yet Another Reason Why I Love Where I Live.

Our local council has created this gorgeous candlelight memorial for all the people in our local government area  of Corangamite Shire who have passed away in 2020.

Most of these people‘a families were very limited in how many they could have at the funeral. The way we have mourned and comforted one another has had to change. Our ability to travel and see each other has been limited or, at times, impossible.

Gestures like this help us to feel less alone, and to know that our loved ones are remembered. It’s very touching that the community as a whole is able to acknowledge their absence from the towns and social circles in which they lived.

There are 129 lights burning through the night. That’s 129 families like mine that have been changed forever. And, I’m sure, it’s 129 families who appreciate the thoughtfulness of a local government that thinks beyond budgets and logistics to stop for as long as it takes to light 129 candles, and invite the community to stop, remember and reflect.

My sister and I went to see the memorial tonight, to pay tribute to our dad and to share the sight with our family interstate via video.

Thank you to the Corangamite Shire and the local community members who helped make this happen. It is very much appreciated.

Christmas in Australia.

For my overseas friends, a few notes about how Australians celebrate Christmas.

My comment yesterday that I was playing songs full of snow even though I live in Australia generated some interest in what Christmas is like here, so I thought I might share a little about how Australians celebrate Christmas.

I’ve got some of the gifts wrapped and under the tree.

Many of our traditions are the same as everyone else’s. We sing the same songs, send Christmas cards, decorate with Christmas trees, tinsel, wreaths and lights, and hope that Santa will visit and leave us gifts. We have Christmas music in all the shops and soppy Christmas movies on TV.

There are a few key differences though.

Christmas happens in summer here. When we sing ‘Let it Snow’ and ‘White Christmas’ it’s wishful thinking— usually because it’s ridiculously hot outside. My little Canadian spruce is decked with tinsel and fairy lights, but it will probably never see snow– at Christmas, or at any other time of year.

Because it is summer, kids are on their long break between one school year and the next. Term 4 finishes sometime in the middle of December, and the kids return to school sometime toward the end of January.

This gives people the opportunity to more easily travel longer distances to visit family, or to spend Christmas near the beach or in other desired locations. While this certainly happens in other countries, Australians have made a time-honoured national tradition of ‘going away for the Christmas Holidays’.

Some of the traditional Christmas songs like Jingle Bells have been rewritten to reflect Australian conditions, and we also have some of our own songs that probably aren’t sung anywhere else, except for maybe New Zealand. Many of these are less well-known now than they used to be, partly because our culture is significantly led by American and British influences, partly because their lyrics and subjects are outdated, and mostly because they were ridiculously hard to sing.

Many of us still have traditional Christmas food like turkey and ham, but we’ll often have salads on the side instead of hot vegetables. Some people barbecue steaks and other meats instead, while others opt for seafood for Christmas dinner. The traditional Christmas pudding is often accompanied or even replaced by cold desserts like cheesecake, trifle or iconic Aussie desserts like pavlova or chocolate ripple cake.

It’s still a day for family and friends, but lots of Australians spend Christmas or Boxing Day gathered at the beach or by the pool. Christmas meals are often eaten outdoors, hopefully under cover or in the shade. It’s not unusual for Aussies to enjoy their post-Christmas-dinner nap in the cool of the air-conditioning or in front of the fan.

Our Christmas table setting last year, in our outdoor courtyard.

One of my absolute favourite Australian Christmas traditions is Carols by Candlelight. Crowds gather outdoors, often picnic style, and sing Christmas songs together. There are local events all over the country, but there is also the nationally televised showbiz charity event held in Melbourne on Christmas Eve every year. Santa usually makes an appearance, as do various celebrities of TV and the music industry who, supported by a band, an orchestra, and premium choirs, entertain and delight the nation.

You can see clips from Carols by Candlelight of previous years on YouTube, including my favourite performance of recent years: Grown Up Christmas List by Aussie singers Silvie Paladino and Anthony

Because of Australia’s longitude, we start our Christmas Day while most of the world is still full of anticipation on Christmas Eve. Only New Zealand and some small Polynesian nations of the Pacific Ocean start their Christmas before we do.

While the rest of the world is waking up to Christmas morning, Australians can often be found gathering outdoors again for a game of cricket in the back yard, or another dip in the pool or at the beach.

On the 26th, many Australians will tune in to the Boxing Day Test Match— also cricket— on the TV or radio, broadcast from the Melbourne Cricket Ground where up to 100 000 dedicated fans attend the game in person for each of the five days scheduled for the match. Don’t let that surprise you – we’re a sports-mad nation, and the cricket lovers among us are as dedicated as any.

After all the excitement of Christmas, things settle down for a day or two before we get the barbecues out and gather together again to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Undone.

Photo by Laura James on Pexels.com

This morning, I came undone. 

I had my Christmas playlist on in the car. I defamed of a white Christmas with Frank Sinatra , I shared a grown-up Christmas list with Michael Buble, and then it happened. ‘Christmas Without You’ by Human Nature began to play. I held it together for the first verse, but I also knew it was time to pull over. There would be no driving through the rest of the song. 

I couldn’t even play the whole thing. I had to turn it off because the big,  ugly, messy cry was already just about out of control. 

Knowing Christmas this year will be spent without two people I love dearly is hard. I’ve had to consciously motivate myself to do the shopping, put up the tree and hang the tinsel. This is highly unusual for me: I am generally a big kid when it comes to Christmas. . Buying and wrapping gifts is fun, but even that brings its own reminders of whose presents won’t be under the tree. 

I will keep on playing Christmas music, but I have edited my playlist for this year. I have taken that song out, along with Blue Christmas, Please Come Home For Christmas, and All I Want For Christmas Is You. There will be fewer sad songs and more bells, reindeer and snow along with baby Jesus and the angels. 

I will do my best to enjoy Christmas with my loved ones. I will drape tinsel over the broken bits, and perhaps keep some spare strong tape handy in case I come unstuck again. Bring on the merry and the sparkles. 

Undone.
#christmassongs #emotions #Christmas2020

Another Souvenir.

Yesterday, as I was unpacking and sorting the Christmas decorations, I discovered a keepsake that I didn’t even know I had.

Morris the Rainbear

It seemed odd at first when I found one of last year’s Christmas cards tucked into the bag of tinsel and other soft decorations: my elves from Canada, Morris the Rainbear which my sister gave me decades ago, some plush toys in Santa hats, and all the tinsel.
And when I say “all the tinsel”, I’m not kidding.
There’s a lot of it.
I love that stuff.

The thing is, I don’t usually keep Christmas cards. I usually give them to the pre-school or school, where the kids use the pictures on the front or, in the case of the beautiful cards made by my very clever sisters, the whole fronts of them to make cards for their families and friends.

When I opened the surprise card, realisation was followed closely by tears welling up in my eyes: it was the Christmas card my father gave us last year.

Card made by Jenny Greig.

I don’t know why I kept it.

I didn’t know then that it would be his last Christmas with us, or that it would be the very last thing I had with his handwriting on it.

When I saw his handwriting, all those mixed happy/sad feelings came rushing back. Tears from missing him so profoundly were mixed with laughter at how bad his handwriting was.

To say that Dad had lousy handwriting was no exaggeration.

If practically illegible handwriting alone were enough to qualify someone as a doctor, Dad could have been a professor of worldwide renown. It was a problem for as long as I knew him, and there were times when even he had no idea what he had written. More than once, he found that even though he had written a shopping list, by the time we got to the supermarket he had forgotten what was on it and neither of us could read it.

So, my attempt to transcribe what Dad wrote on this card may be inaccurate, but I think it says, “Jesus who came to suffer in our stead to the glory of his Father. For so was his wish.”

It’s such a classic Dad thing to do: just casually pop a little mini-sermon into a Christmas card. It’s such a lovely reminder of his love for Jesus and his desire for us to put our faith in Him, too. Among all the glitz and glitter and parties and feasting and end of year rush and revelry, the reminder of the true meaning of Christmas is as timely and important as it ever was. 

Teardrop is a collectable Charlie Bears bear.

I can tell you now, I’m keeping this card forever. It is on display on my grandfather’s bookshelf next to my chair, safely nestled in the lap of Teardrop, the bear who cuddled me throughout the afternoon and evening of the day Dad passed away, and mopped up more than a few tears along the way. .

It is an unexpected bonus having another souvenir of my Dad on display in my study this Christmas.

There Should At Least Be Cake.

Today would have been my father’s 89th birthday.

My Dad. Photo taken in March, 2020.

It’s the first time in my life that I will not be able to wish him a happy birthday. It’s the first time in many years that I will not hug him, kiss his cheek, and provide the cake, complete with candles for him to blow out while we sing that silly song.

I miss him so much. I miss his big laugh, his cheeky grin, our talks when I got home from work, our hugs, our days out together, shared dinners and coffees, cheeky afternoon teas at the bakery, and holding his hand just because I could. He was part of every day, whatever else I might have been doing.

The “firsts” are pretty awful, to be honest. The absence of someone you love on a day which you have always celebrated with them is jarring. It feels as though the world has tilted again, and everything is just a little more out of kilter. It feels… wrong.

My siblings have all experienced their first birthday without him since he passed away in June: two in September, and one just last week. I called and wished each of them happy birthday, but I also wept for them because I knew what they were thinking and feeling, even if they didn’t admit it. Some things don’t need to be put into words.

And yet, for children to bury and grieve for a parent whom they loved dearly, and who has lived a long, happy and faithful life is also so …right.

Therein lies the awkwardness of it all. We are all glad he is no longer suffering, and we would not have wanted him to linger in a realm of pain or disease or  anguish but, at the same time, I miss him so very much. The emotions are so powerful that they threaten to overwhelm, but not one of us would bring him back to go through it all again. That would be cruel and selfish.

On the first Father’s Day since his death, I chose to do positive things in his memory. Now, on the first birthday, I find myself trying to achieve that again. There is still pain and grief, though. regardless of how I try to window-dress the day, and it’s important to acknowledge those feelings and not suppress or deny them. The healthier choice is to experience them and work through them in appropriate ways.

So, a visit to my parents’ grave with flowers was my first priority for the day. I made a video message for my siblings and their families, all of whom are long-distance from me, from the final resting place of our parents. At least that way, they could share in the visit too. I chose yellow roses, because Dad loved his roses. Yellow roses are symbolic of friendship, but also of remembrance and new beginnings or rejuvenation of spirit, so they are perfect for Dad’s first birthday in heaven.

My best friend and I visited one of Dad’s favourite bakeries — the same one where I took the picture of him enjoying his coffee — and drank coffee and ate sweet things in his honour.

Later on, we will be having Dad’s favourite thing for dinner — pizza — followed by birthday cake, because there has been one on every other November 17th that I have known. 

I have also spent some time in quiet contemplation and giving thanks for my Dad. I know I am incredibly blessed to have had such a loving and supportive father with whom I got along so  well, when so many people don’t ever get to know what that’s like. I am thankful for my family, for my husband, and for my best friends, whose support helps make days like today a tiny bit easier. Again, so many people don’t have that, and I know I am incredibly privileged to have those people in my life.

I have thought, too, about what comes next. Soon there will be the first Christmas. The first New Year’s Eve, and the first calendar year that hasn’t had Dad in it. And 360 days after his graduation to heaven, I will have my first birthday without him. And then, soon after, the first anniversary of his death, and then of Helen’s.

These anniversaries and the emotions that go with them may be painful, but they are poignant reminders of deep love and the profound blessings of knowing and sharing life with such amazing people.

On such occasions, there should at least be cake. Dad would have insisted on it.