The Latest, Perhaps Greatest, Swear Word

Last week I asked my students to do something creative. 

 Today, Student A  wasn’t very impressed with the outcome of their efforts. “I tried, but it’s turned out a bit 2020.” 

“It’s a bit what?” I asked. 

“2020.” 

Obviously, I was expected to understand. 

“Mine’s pretty 2020 too, to be honest,”  Student B admitted. 

I looked at their faces on my screen. They were being serious. 

“So…” I asked, “Are we using that as a swear word now?” 

They’re right. It actually works.

“More meaningful than swearing, Miss,” said Student B.

The rest of the class concurred. 

“And we can’t even get in trouble for saying it.” Student A grinned, clearly rather pleased with that reality. 

I smiled, told them their work was way better than 2020, and moved the lesson on. 

I don’t know if they just started doing that by themselves or picked it up from somewhere else, but at least they’re finding some practical use for 2020. I may just follow suit. 

Fibro Flares and Self Care

It’s been a rough week, both emotionally and physically. Sleep has been patchy, which isn’t unusual for me, and my back pain has been relentless. 

Naturally, my fibromyalgia decided to join the pain party with some extra bass beats and neon flares of its own. 

Yesterday I chose to work through it. I’m a teacher working from home and my students are depending on me. It’s not that easy for substitute teachers to step into a remote learning classroom and make things happen the way I want them to. And, you know, I didn’t have to drive to school, which helps when you wake up in crushing pain. My classes were great, and spending ninety minutes with Genghis Khan in my Year 8 History class was a good distraction. 

When my classes finished, I had to go to town to pick up my much needed new glasses, I’ve been struggling with eye fatigue while doing so much remote teaching, and it’s fair to say that the curriculum planning and lesson preparation don’t stop just because we’re working off campus. It was a 45 minute drive, but I just went there, got my glasses, and came home. I am not interested in shopping or spending any more time around people than I need to right now. 

When I got home, I rested. Dinner was easy – the soup was already made, and just waiting for us to enjoy it with a spinach and feta bread twist. 

I really hoped the evening of rest would be enough to make the pain flare back off. 

Nope. 

So, by necessity, this weekend has to be a quiet one. 

My new glasses are great, but I’m not going to be spending much time on screen. I’d love to read a book, but my hands hurt too much to hold one for long. 

So, I will do what needs doing, and that’s it. I have a couple of new podcasts to road test, and then I’m going to indulge in an audiobook. I’ve got my recliner, my quilt, my cat, and the sound of rain falling outside.

Choosing my content is important for my mental and emotional wellbeing. I’m taking care to exclude anything negative, so I’m avoiding the news and social media. Throughout the whole Covid-19 pandemic and working from home experience, I have found that to be a good strategy for keeping my mental and physical spaces positive and healthy.

I’ve also got my pain medications handy in the drawer just beside me, because those things are my friends. It’s all well and good to be idealistic about managing pain and not relying on drugs, but on flare-up days, there is absolutely zero chance of that happening. A girl has to do what a girl has to do. 

I have good coffee and plenty of water on hand. And, at some point, I’m going to have one or two of those fabulous cookies from the care package I received in the mail yesterday.

So, here’s to a quiet weekend. I’ll be looking after myself, and I hope you are able to do the same.

At least raccoons look cute with dark shadows under their eyes.

Grieving From A Distance.

While I’ve been on my own grief journey recently, many others are experiencing grief of their own.  And in this time of social and travel restrictions in Australia and elsewhere, people’s sorrow and grief is being complicated by distance and isolation. 

I have seen this happen multiple times within my own circle of family and friends in just the past few weeks. 

My brother in Canada lost his own brother a couple of weeks ago. It was unexpected, and therefore an enormous shock. 

Talking with my brother and trying to support him via instant messaging has been a blessing for both of us – to share the pain eases it somehow, if only slightly. But what I really wanted to do was get on a plane and go there to hug him and support him in person. Even if I couldn’t go immediately, the knowledge that I’d be there at some point soon would encourage him enormously. 

Sadly, it’s just not possible. My state is in lockdown. We are under strict conditions for leaving home. International travel for personal reasons is not possible. Heck, going anywhere at all beyond my local supermarket or pharmacy in the time of COVID-19 is ridiculously problematic, and probably not really safe given my lousy immunity. As it is, I have to stay here and he has to be there. 

He knows I’m with him in spirit, but it just doesn’t seem enough. I know how hard it was to lose a loved family member and a close friend within five days of each other, and his brother was both those things to him. I know how hard it was to deal with the trauma, and I had my family around me. I’ve been painfully aware of the fact that he lives on his own, some distance from the rest of the family, and hasn’t had the close support that I’ve had. 

After losing our father in June, my sister has lost two good friends and another friend she has known for more than forty years in the space of a month. I’ve been able to talk with her and listen to her express her shock and sadness, but I haven’t been able to hug her or help her in any physical way because we’re hundreds of kilometers apart.

A friend lost his uncle this week, and be there to grieve with his family because his uncle lived interstate and our border is closed. It doesn’t matter to the authorities how close he was to his uncle, nor do they care that his uncle was a father figure for him and helped raise him. The rules apply to everyone, regardless of personal circumstance. It’s understandable, but it makes the pain and misery so much worse. 

It’s not just immediate grief that is complicated by distance, either, My beloved late friend’s husband and son have both had birthdays in the past couple of weeks, and  I would have so loved to be there to support them as they struggled with not wanting to celebrate, and not being able to see the rest of the family because their lockdown restrictions are so tight. They’re all dealing with curfews, stay home orders, and only being allowed to travel within five kilometres of home for essential purposes. It’s not so restricted here, but nobody is allowed to visit Melbourne for social reasons, so that’s that. 

The result for all of them, and for everyone experiencing grief in the time of corona, is a vicious cycle of mental and emotional distress as sorrow and isolation feed on each other. The effect on one’s wellbeing is profound. 

My heart aches for everyone in that situation. I can’t imagine how much worse it must be for those who have actually lost loved ones to the virus and haven’t been able to be with them, or with their family members as they grieve. 

We are all struggling with the impact of the virus and the social restrictions it has brought to our lives, but let’s remember that there are some who are really, really doing it tough. It certainly puts the inconveniences of wearing a mask outside of home and sanitizing our hands fifty times a day into perspective. 

It may not seem like much, but a phone call or message to someone can make a huge difference in their day and in their mental and emotional health. Being willing to care and to listen is an act of love and support of immense value. 

Upside Down.

Image: ©2020 Joanne Van Leerdam

My father and one of my closest friends recently passed away within five days of each other. In fact, Helen died on the afternoon of Dad’s funeral. It was too much loss. It was too painful. It was definitely too soon and too final. And “upside down” is exactly how I felt then and still feel now.

As always, my feelings have turned into poetry.

I wrote this poem on the morning of Helen’s funeral. It was impossible to contemplate one without revisiting the other in my mind.

So, this poem is for both of them.

Upside Down.
#grief #emotions #poetrylovers #poem #personal #blogpost

Image: ©2020 Joanne Van Leerdam

I don’t know how to do this.
I don’t want to say goodbye,
But I have no choice,
You have taken your wings,
And I have to let you fly. 

In a moment you were gone
And life turned upside down;
Too soon. Too final.
And now we gather to lay you
To rest in the lonely ground.

The grave seems so absolute,
Stark proof you’re really gone:
It’s a mystery
That your life can be over
And yet, your soul lives on.

Your life is now in heaven,
Eternal peace and rest,
My comfort is knowing
You’re in Jesus’ arms
Safely treasured, fully blessed.

Life here without you is hollow,
The days all seem so long,
I have grown weary of cliches
And platitudes
That feel so empty and wrong.

The future is bleak without you, 
I don’t know what life will be, 
But…

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Ambiguous Loss and Anticipatory Grief

I wish I had known about ambiguous loss and anticipatory grief much earlier in my life.

In yesterday’s post, I alluded to my Dad’s transition into residential aged care. 

Today, I want to share some knowledge I have gained over the past few months, because I have found it enormously helpful and therapeutic in dealing with my own experiences and feelings.  I am sure I wasn’t the only person who didn’t know these things, and my hope is that others will benefit from these insights. 

My father has become increasingly frail, and even though I knew the time was coming, making the decision to move him into residential aged care was incredibly painful. For him, it was a loss of independence, his home, his cat and my dog. His sadness was profound, and completely understandable. Still, he was very thankful — as were my siblings and I — that he could move into an excellent place where the care is consistently empathetic and kind, where the food is good, and where he can have his own things around him. 

My emotions, too, were complex. I felt guilty, even though I knew it was the right time and the right thing to do. No loving child wants to see their dad leave behind the life he has known and the things he has accumulated, and no loving child wants to see their Dad so sad. 

I experienced a very real sense of grief and loss while packing up his things, setting up his room, and helping him transition to a new phase of life, There was more to it, though, and often I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling. 

Through my research and reading, and through wonderful constructive advice from friends who have been through similar situations, I have come to understand that many of the things I am experiencing are encompassed by two terms: ambiguous grief and anticipatory grief

I had never heard of either one until recently, and I think they should both be much more commonly known.

Ambiguous Loss is a kind of grief experienced where there is no distinct end or no closure. Generally speaking, it arises from an emotionally painful or turbulent situation that one is going through, and which doesn’t have an “end date”. The reasons for grief or a profound sense of loss might be indistict, or complex, or unidentifiable at the time. Sometimes the grief masquerades as anger, frustration or overwhelm. To experience ambiguous grief is vague, exhausting and indefinite in more ways than just the timeline. 

It’s that mixed feeling of sadness at having to make big decisions that we didn’t feel ready to make, and thankfulness that things worked out perfectly when we needed them to.

It’s the sadness we felt at making decisions about what to do with his things, and asking my best friend to adopt his cat, even though he is still with us.

It’s the sadness I feel at saying goodbye and leaving Dad behind every evening, knowing he is safe and well cared for in his new home, but also that he is no longer ‘at home’. He is exactly where he needs to be, and I love it and hate it at the same time. 

Anticipatory Grief occurs when one realises or acknowledges that death is approaching, or even just a likely outcome. 

This is what I have experienced on a number of occasions when Dad had a health crisis and ended up in hospital. Most vivid in my memories was March 1st this year when I had followed the ambulance to the ER in the wee hours of the morning. When I got there, instead of being taken through to see Dad right away as I had always been before, the doctor on duty actually took me into a little room and  had “the talk” with me to made sure I understood how precarious Dad’s condition was, and that he might not make it this time. To his relief, I was fully aware of that. I suppose many people are surprised by it, or in denial, and I totally get that, too. It’s the natural reaction but, having been there more than once, it is no longer my default. There was no dozing while I sat by my father’s bed that night: instead, I spent hours composing the message I would send to my siblings, and another that I would send to other family and friends, at a decent hour of the morning. 

This is what we felt when packing up Dad’s things for his room at the home, and when sorting and cleaning out the accumulation of papers, trinkets, and household items in his house. Those are the sorts of things usually done after someone dies, not before. Still, it had to be done. 

Similarly, putting his wallet and the jewellery box containing my grandfather’s wedding ring and Dad’s much-loved pocket watches in a special spot in my own house for safekeeping felt strangely poignant and painful and incredibly sad. 

This is what I go through every time Dad has a episode of poor health, or gets an infection, or can’t express why he doesn’t feel good. It happens when he has times of vagueness or confusion, and when he can’t find his words All of those things are happening more often than they used to, so the sense of grief increases as time goes on. 

What I have learned thus far is that ambiguous grief is a very real and important part of the emotional process, and that my feelings don’t always have to be understood to make sense and be accepted as valid

In hindsight, I wish I had understood both of these realities when my mother was diagnosed with dementia, when she went into care, and when she didn’t know who I was anymore. My father, siblings and I were grieving the loss of the person she had been long before she actually passed away. When she died, it felt like it was my mother and someone entirely different at the same time. I felt so guilty about feeling that her passing was a liberation for her and a relief for us, even though my grief was as desperate and profound as ever. I was angry at myself for not knowing how to feel. 

At least this time, with experience and some knew understandings, I can accept the vagueness and complexity of my feelings, which can change from one moment or one day to the next, and just let it be whatever it is. I can cherish every moment with Dad and grieve at the same Time. I am free to laugh and cry, to tell my siblings the stories that are simultaneously sad and funny, and to live each day as it comes without having to explain to myself or anyone else why I’m a mess. 

As awkward and painful and weird as that may be, but I think it’s a healthy way to be. Still, I know I need to manage all those pesky feelings so I stay healthy, too. 

So, I try to make sure I talk honestly with my husband, siblings and closest friends about my thoughts and feelings. My sisters and brother are feeling the same things, and they all live interstate, so keeping them in the loop and encouraging them to express their feelings are hugely important, too. 
I allow myself to cry. ‘Being strong’ is rubbish. 
I refuse to beat up on myself when things are tough, or if I don’t achieve everything on my ‘to-do’  list. 
I remind myself to take each day as it comes.
I remind myself that we are doing the best thing for our dad, and that he is being expertly and compassionately cared for.

And every single day, I hold Dad’s hand and I tell him I love him. Because, throughout this whole process, Dad being sure of that is the most important thing of all.  

Different Kinds of Grief‪
#EmotionalIntelligence #emotions #grief #feelings #MentalHealthMatters  #MentalHealthAwareness‬ #personal #blogpost 

Helpful Reading: 

What Is Ambiguous Loss? 

Ambiguous Grief: Grieving Simone Who Is Still Alive 

How To Deal With Ambiguous Loss

Grief Before Death: Understanding Anticipatory Grief

Grieving Before A Death: Understanding Anticipatory Grief

Having Dropped — And Temporarily Lost — The Ball

I’ve been absent.

It seems that I haven’t just dropped the proverbial ball when it comes to blogging regularly, I’ve gone and lost the jolly thing.
I last saw it a couple of weeks ago, when it bounced a couple of times before rolling away through some very prickly bushes and falling into a seemingly bottomless hole.

The thing is, life since that drafted virus unleashed itself on the world has been tumultuous.

I could tell you I haven’t written anything, but that’s not true. I have written some really great lessons and three entire new units because what I had planned (and written) previously wasn’t going to work in an online learning environment.

I could tell you I didn’t have a quarantine project, but that isn’t true either. I’ve had two, both of which happened by necessity rather than design.

Project One: reinventing my career
Initial Observations: Teaching from home is a whole lot more work than it sounds. All that extra time online is very tiring.
Final Observations: Challenging and exhausting, but enormously satisfying. Most students engaged really well. More positives than negatives.
Verdict: Aced it.

Project Two: supporting my father as he spent a couple of weeks in hospital before transitioning into residential aged care.
Initial observations: Lots of phone calls. Mountains of paperwork. Huge emotional adjustments.
Further Observations: Decisions are hard, even when you actually have no choice. Emotions are hard. Being on one mental and emotional roller coaster while your dad is on a completely different one can only be dealt with by hanging on for dear life and completely faking any appearance of knowing what you are doing.
Verdict: Aced it. Especially the part where I looked like I knew what I was doing.

It should also be mentioned that these two significant challenges occurred simultaneously. I didn’t have time to scratch myself, much less spend any more personal time online than I did.

So really, I’ve achieved far more since mid-March than is apparent from my nonexistent output of either blog posts or fiction.

I admit that I have seriously contemplated walking away from writing and/or blogging. Even while considering that, I knew that was the stuff of emotional and mental exhaustion, because I still have ideas and plans bubbling away in the back of my mind. I am not ready to quit, and I would be letting myself down if I did.

I will get my mojo back, even if I’m not sure when that might happen.

Stay tuned, folks. I’m not dead yet.

The Upside of Isolation.

As it turns out, corona virus is not the only good reason to stay home.


I’ve ventured beyond the local supermarket, pharmacy and supermarkets once since isolation started. Last week, though, the time came when things had to be done, so I planned where I had to go, loaded up with sanitiser and prepared to social distance my way through town. 

And, sure enough, that person I would be happy to never see again walked past me in two different places that I had to visit. 

Song credit: ‘Close To You’ by The Carpenters

I saw them, but pretended I didn’t. All those years of experience as an actor paid off yet again. They looked at me, and I looked right through them like they weren’t there.

The first time I thought it was a fluke. 
The second time, I wondered. 

My skin crawling and my stomach roiling, all the while reassuring myself that it was just coincidence and doubting that at the same time, I completed the rest of my essential errands looking over my shoulder, and then got out of dodge as soon as I could. 

I would like to think it won’t always be that way, but I guess there are some things you can’t sanitise. Trauma will do that. 

Staying out of town definitely has an upside. 

I am safe at home, in more ways than one. I don’t have to watch my back, and I don’t have to worry about who is going to walk around the corner or show up in the supermarket aisle. 

I know that I won’t have that luxury forever but, while I can, I’m staying home. 

The Upside of Isolation #isolation ‪#IsolationLife #IsolationStories #StayingSafe #StayHome #SaferAtHome ‬

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

Don’t It Go To Show Ya Never Know?

We’re not on Skid Row, we’re Somewhere That’s Clean instead.

Tonight was supposed to be opening night.

But who knew, when we started rehearsing ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ in January, that it would be Covid-19, not Audrey II, that would multiply and attempt to take over the world?

So much planning and preparation and rehearsal had already gone into the show when that drafted virus reared it’s ugly, spiky head and took over the world.

So much bonding had happened between cast members: new friendships, shared experiences, mutual encouragement, and lots of laughter will do that. So will working together toward a shared goal. And so will learning harmonies, putting them together and experiencing the magic that happens when it sounds amazing.

Then, in March, we had to hit the ‘pause’ button. We promised we’d bring it back, and we will. We assured the cast it would be our next show, and they’d be in it— and it’s true. We will.

Still, it’s hard to go from being part of something to Instead being suspended in the anticipation of it yet again, yet far more tantalising than it was before we started because now we had a taste of how good it was going to be.

It’s hard to go from three rehearsals a week to staying home and social distancing.

There was so much that was hard about calling a corona-halt to the show, even though it was the right thing to do.

So, tonight, even though it should have been opening night, I am reminding myself that every one of my cast members is safe. Healthy. Not infected. Able to be in the show when we pick it up again next year.

I am reminding myself that there is still so much to look forward to. We will do this show. We will do it together. We will build on the work we’ve already done, and not one bit of our work will have been wasted.

Our bonding will continue, our friendships will solidify and grow, and we will keep on making memories as well as music.

Personally, I can’t wait!

And On The Third Night, She Slept

Never underestimate the blessing of sleep!

Two nights of almost zero sleep had left me way beyond forswunk and very near completely useless by Thursday afternoon. 

A frequent flier on Air Insomnia, I have been through this before. I’ve always been a lousy sleeper, and ever since chronic back pain and fibromyalgia became part of my life, they have always been quick to join the party and keep me awake long after I wish to be unconscious.

So, as I have done so many times before, I just kept going. I taught my classes with the same degree of professionalism and confidence that I demonstrate every other day, with the help of only marginally more caffeine than usual. 

Once classes were done and my work for the day was finished, my recliner was my refuge. I put on a podcast and closed my eyes… and still didn’t sleep. Discouraged but comfortable, I just stayed there and rested… like I had a choice. 

A very early night was definitely in order, and I made sure I got one. Still awake at 11pm, I tried not to think about the state I would be in after another sleepless night. That kind of thinking doesn’t help anyone fall asleep, ever. So, I closed my eyes, listened to my regular radio program, and tried to slow my breathing and my thoughts. 

I drifted off at some point after midnight. Seven glorious hours later, I woke up when my alarm went off. 

Such relief! I feel so much more able to do what the day demands and meet any challenges that might come along. 

There is a reason they use sleep deprivation as torture, after all. It can be physically painful and psychologically overwhelming. I’m so thankful for the sleep I got last night, and I certainly hope that particular cycle of insomnia is finished. 

And now, I go once more unto the breach, dear friends. Online classes, lesson planning and my email inbox await me, and I must imitate the action of the tiger. 

On Offending Facebook’s Community Standards Yet Again…

Apparently, yesterday’s blog post about supporting our young folk through the Covid-19 pandemic was offensive to Facebook’s community standards. They took it, and the shares people very nicely did because it was a positive and commonsense post, down. They gave no explanation except “Your post goes against our community standards”. 

What? How?

With all the rubbish stuff people are posting, I am at a complete loss as to why something constructive on an important topic was removed.  

Was it because I named the virus correctly instead of using the more generic term?  Was it because I mentioned kids and teens?

I’ll never know. The great bot overlords at FB’s censorship department don’t explain things. They’re too busy censoring the wrong posts and thinking themselves clever for it.

It is yet another reason to stick to WordPress.