Pieces Falling Into Place

A complicated puzzle became both a memorial and an allegory for my grief journey and my life.

I’ve been working on a beautiful jigsaw puzzle over the past month. I chose it in honour of Helen, because she and I often did puzzles together. In fact, this was the first jigsaw puzzle I’ve done without Helen in probably twenty years. I also chose it for my dad, who would have loved both the map and the fact it was created by a Dutchman. 

The image is an antique map of the known world, complete with solar systems and representations of the four elements; highlighted with gold embellishments. It was created by F. De Wit in Amsterdam in 1663, and the puzzle was produced by Hinkler Mindbogglers. Boy oh boy, did they get that branding right! 

It really was a mind boggling challenge. Intricate lines, many pieces that still looked almost the same, and corner and edge pieces that were almost identical to one another made putting this puzzle together quite the labour of love. 

Mind boggling, to say the least!

Piece by piece, though, it started to happen. It is no understatement to say that I felt a profound sense of achievement when I finished a section and could anticipate how beautiful the whole thing was going to look. 

Piece by piece, it started to come together…

Doing the puzzle in honour of Helen and my father gave me purpose, but the concentration it required and the distraction from other things in life gave me a sense of mindfulness and peace that really helped me in my day to day life. 

Almost there! But those last couple of hundred pieces were the hardest!

Dealing with my grief and managing tasks related to Dad’s estate were somewhat complicated by the challenges of teaching online again during Victoria’s second major Covid-19 lockdown, but working from home also gave me the space I needed to do those things and start to heal. 

In many ways, that puzzle became an allegory for my own life. I was putting those pieces together too, seeing how things fit and getting an idea of how things would look. I too have intricate lines and a complex design that needs to be observed carefully in order to achieve the desired outcome. My life is full of pieces that fit together neatly, and it’s up to me to make sure I get that right. 

So, while the puzzle on the table is complete, the puzzle that is me is still a work in progress. 

A beautiful picture indeed!

Today marks thirteen weeks since my dad graduated to heaven. Thursday marks the same interval for Helen. 

Three months seemed like an appropriate goal for completing the puzzle, and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction at having done so.

This week, I will make arrangements to have it framed. 

When it is hanging on my wall, it will be a daily reminder that doing life well is a process, not an event. It will remind me that every piece matters. And it will remind me of my love for Dad and for Helen, of their love for me.  

I am so blessed to have known and loved them both, and to have been loved by them. The pieces they contributed to the puzzle of my life have helped to make it a thing of beauty. For that, I am very, very thankful. 

I know that as the pieces of life continue falling into place and fitting back together, my grief will remain present, but it will change. It will transform to become a part of the bigger picture, while keeping its own shape and character. In time, it will be differently painful, but the picture of my life would be incomplete with out it. In its place, fitting in with the pieces that represent joy, achievement, love, and hope, it adds its own detail, texture and embellishment to the canvas. 

My Souvenirs.

Yesterday, I wrote about completing thef tasks I needed to do after my father’s passing. That included rehoming a number of his things, including two bookshelves that have been in our family longer than me, the art prints that Mum and Dad loved to have on their walls, and personal things like his bed and his walker. 

I don’t know how many times I told my siblings that I wasn’t sentimental about giving away things we didn’t need, or selling the things worth money, via buy/swap/sell groups on Facebook. There are people out there who needed them more than we did. That was mostly true. 

I have kept Dad’s hat and his walking stick. I don’t need them, but they are so iconic of him in the last few years that they are deeply meaningful to me. Those are things that he held and wore most days. They identified him at any distance, and had become part of his identity to everyone who saw him when he was out and about. 

My beloved Dad in March, 2020.

These things are my souvenirs, tangible holders of memory, and valued physical symbols of my no-longer-present, much loved father dad. 

On Eagle’s Wings.

Today’s important task was to finalise the wording for the plaque on Dad’s half of the headstone he shares with Mum, so that we could order it and have it done. 

Most of the inscription was easy enough – name, dates of birth and death, and “loving husband of Anne”. 

The challenge for my brother, sisters and myself was which bible verse to include. We knew Dad’s favourite passage was Romans 8, but that was way too long, and far too complex, to include or even simplify. We’re limited to 10-12 words, so it needed to be short but still meaningful, and reflect Dad’s faith as his final message.

There were some really good suggestions made. 

This morning I texted my siblings a list of the “top eight” for their consideration and vote. 

As it turned out, the decision almost made itself when my sister asked, “Why don’t we just continue the verse that’s on Mum’s?”

The simplicity and beauty of that idea took my breath. Mum’s side of the plaque has the first line of Isaiah 40:31 “They that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength”. 

It was the verse that Dad chose for Mum’s inscription, so we knew Dad would have approved. It was a way of embracing their unity, too. They shared 58 years of marriage, they shared five different homes in that time, and they shared four amazing and super-talented children. Now, their earthly remains share a final resting place while their souls share eternity in heaven. Sharing such a beautiful Scripture on their headstone seemed to be a lovely reflection of their shared faith.

Still, it was another reminder that Dad is gone, another challenge to meet head on, and another emotional hurdle to overleap.

Feeling the weight of the moment, I went for a drive to one of my favourite thinking places: on top of Mt Leura, overlooking Camperdown and the volcanic plains and lakes of the area, where I have sat and thought, or taken photos, or walked, or written, or listened, or prayed, or rested,  or had dinner before a theatre company rehearsal, at least a hundred times. 

The inscription we chose for Dad’s plaque.

I typed up the text of the inscription for Dad’s plaque, ready for ordering. I knew the words, and I am pro at typing, but still, that was hard. 

“Maybe I shouldn’t be on my own right now,” I whispered to nobody but me. 

I got out of the car, and walked the short distance up to the top of the lookout.

And then, for the first time ever in all the times I have been there, a wedge-tailed eagle flew overhead, soaring in the sky above me. 

It was there, and then it was gone. I was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t even manage to get my phone out of my pocket in time. I so wish I had, though. 

I’m not the biggest believer in coincidences. In that moment, I accepted it as a sign: a reminder that although I was by myself, I wasn’t actually alone at that point in time. 

Hm. I think there’s a poem in that.

On Eagle’s Wings.
#TrueStory #MyLife #grief #coincidence #eagle #personal #blogpost

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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Victory in Europe Day

Tuesday, May 8, 1945 was the day on which the Allies accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. The war in Europe was over. 
That day became known as Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day.

Today is the 75th anniversary of VE Day, and as such it is a day for remembrance and thankfulness for all who fought for our freedom. 

It is important to remember the past so that we do not allow its atrocities to occur again. 

It is important to remember that the freedoms we enjoy came at a price — and for some, that was the ultimate price of their lives. 

It is not as formal or sombre a day of remembrance as Anzac Day or Armistice Day, but I always take a few moments to stop and reflect. I think ithat’s a good and respectful thing to do. 

I also like to observe the date by sharing my favourite WWII-related image. After all the “May the 4th be with you” and “Revenge of the Sixth” Star Wars memes on social media all week, it seems only fair to return the favour with a history-nerdy meme.

I don’t know who created this, but whoever did was a genius. 

You’re welcome.

VE Day.
#reflection #WWII #VEDay #VictoryinEuropeDay #Churchill

The Christmas Truce of 1914

The story of the 1914 Christmas Truce is one that has always fascinated me and saddened me at the same time.

I know they were all fighting for their country, and most of them were fighting for something they believed in, but it must have been strange if not incredibly difficult to go back to war and shooting at the men they’d befriended the day before.

Thanks to Jill Dennison for this excellent post.

Filosofa's Word

On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for the celebration of Christmas. The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire, but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.

Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops fighting in World War I sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.

At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum…

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The Tradition Of ANZAC Day.

As my post about my local ANZAC Day ceremony generated a number of questions from around the world, especially via my social media posts, I thought I would follow it up with an explanation of the history and traditions of ANZAC Day.

This article from the Australian War Memorial explains everything very clearly, so I hope you enjoy it and learn a little more about your Australian friends through it.

ANZAC Day, 2019

101 years after the end of World War I, people all over Australia and New Zealand gathered today in remembrance of our soldiers, the nurses and doctors who supported them, and all those who served to preserve our freedom.

At our local ANZAC Day ceremony, I witnessed some lovely moments. 

Members of the CWA had knitted poppies and used them to line the path to the cenotaph. They looked beautiful, but also served as a poignant reminder of those who had given their lives during the war.

Local men who had served stood proudly, wearing their medals. There are fewer of them each year, but their number was supported by the children and grandchildren of those who have passed, wearing their forebears’ medals with pride and reverence.

One of my own former students gave a beautiful heartfelt requiem for the fallen. He spoke so well, and really knew his history. He made me really proud. 

An elderly gentleman standing near me bent down, took his restless young grandsons in his arms and explained to them why they needed to be quiet and pay respect. He then pinned his own poppy on one boy’s shirt. The smile on that child’s face as he stood quietly beside his grandfather for the rest of the ceremony was a wonderful thing to see.

Several young people of my town raised the flags of Australia and New Zealand to half mast and stood with their heads bowed during the Last Post and the minute of silence before raising the flags to full height and saluting them. 

Over thirty local groups, organisations and businesses laid memorial wreaths at the base of the cenotaph. Young members of the local Scout group carried and laid wreaths for those who were too elderly or frail to do so, keeping pace with the older folk as they walked to and from the cenotaph. 

A teenaged member of my theatre company sang the national anthems of both countries with reverence and pride. Everyone in attendance stood and sang along with pride. Not everyone knew the New Zealand anthem, but plenty of folk did. 

After the ceremony, the local Scouts carried around plates of sandwiches and refreshments for the townsfolk who had congregated. Every single one of them said “Excuse me” before offering us something to eat. Every single one of them smiled and spoke respectfully.

I have no doubt that similar things happened in every locality across Australia at 11am today to commemorate all those who served to defend our country and preserve our freedom, because that is what Australians do on April 25th.  

Why a Minute of Silence Matters.

Why do we stop for a minute of silence on Remembrance Day?

Today marks the centenary of the signing of the Armistice that ended the fighting in World War I.

It was called “The Great War” not because it was necessarily good, but because the world had never before known war, death or destruction on that scale.

It was supposed to be the “war that ends all wars”. If only it had been.

Yet the 20th century saw another “world war” and a seemingly never-ending succession of national and international conflicts that have continued into the 21st. As though World War I was not brutal enough, humans have worked hard over the past hundred years to develop even more efficient ways of killing each other.

Despite all that fighting, I live in a country that is free, democratic, and prosperous. That privilege is mine, and indeed every Australian’s, to a very large degree because of those who have fought to defend and preserve our freedom.

This morning, I paused at 11am, even though I was home on my own and there was already no noise. It was the intent of that minute of silence that was different.

We do not stop because it’s a nice thing to do, or because it’s expected of us. It cannot be a mere token, for that would be meaningless.

We do not stop for a minute’s silence to glorify the wars. We do not stop to rejoice in our own nation’s or our allies’ victories. We do not stop to continue the hate, nor to protest. It’s noot about what “side” we were on.

We stop to be thankful for those who fought. We remember tha in addition to the millions of soldiers, there were also doctors and nurses and various other support personnel who served. Many gave their lives, others came home damaged in one way or another. Not a single one of them was unaffected by what they experienced at war.

We stop to remember, because we must never allow ourselves to forget.

It is only by remembering the horrors of the past that we have any hope of not repeating them.

To all who served: I thank you from the bottom of my free and privileged Australian heart.

ANZAC Day: It’s Part Of Who We Are.

ANZAC Day is more than just a very special day. It’s part of who we are.

Today is ANZAC Day: the day on which Australians and New Zealanders stop to commemorate and reflect on the sacrifice of all those who served our countries – very often side by side – in World War I, and ever since.

113 years after the ANZAC forces stormed the beaches and clambered up the cliffs at Gallipoli, we stand in sombre silence and remember the enormous losses of life suffered on that day, and every other day, during major conflicts like the two World Wars. Every year, attendance at dawn services, ANZAC Day marches, and commemoration ceremonies around Australia grows, even though all the soldiers who fought in World War I, and many who fought in World War II, have passed away.

2018-04-25 12.13.17Peter Rock, the MC at this morning’s ceremony at the cenotaph in my local town, made a profound observation in the early moments of his opening speech: “Those who are surprised by the fact that ANZAC Day commemorations continue to draw record attendance understand very little of our national character.” He went on to speak about how and why we remember those who fought and sacrificed themselves for our freedom. Their bravery is renowned, but so is their commitment despite adversity, their mateship, and their love for their country. He’s absolutely right – those are qualities that have indeed become part of our national character. Our freedom and our mateship are the rewards of their courage and service.

That’s something my town has been reminded of in recent weeks. This time, our enemy was fire, and our battle was fought with water and fire retardant foam, not with bullets and mortars. Those who faced the danger and fought to keep the rest of us safe did so knowing they were putting themselves at risk, but that didn’t stop them. Behind the fire front, they were supported by others who worked tirelessly to supply and feed them, but also to care for those who had to flee from the fires, and for all those who were traumatised by them in various ways. Of course, it’s a very different scale to what was experienced by the soldiers who went to war, but the selflessness and the determination to serve and protect is the same.

Thankfully, no lives were lost in that particular war, although there were numerous casualties in terms of homes and livelihoods. It has been relentless and exhausting, yet our community has come together yet again to help, support, and defend. People may have lost their houses, but they are not homeless: we are their home, and we will make sure they have what they need to start over and keep going. In true Aussie fashion, our local community has been incredibly generous, as have many people from beyond the local area. There really is no better place to live.

Today’s ceremony was, as always, very well attended. Representatives from service groups, churches, local government organisations, school students and professional organisations laid wreaths in memory of the fallen. Families stood together, some wearing medals that belonged to fathers, uncles, or grandparents who served in the military and have since passed on. The flags of both Australia and New Zealand were flown at half mast until after the minute of silent reflection, and the national anthems of both countries were sung. Tears – whether of sorrow for the fallen, of thankfulness for the freedom we enjoy, of patriotic pride, or a combination of all those factors – were shed.

 

This afternoon, there’s a big concert being held on the local football ground, not just to raise funds for fire relief, but also to give some joy and celebration back to a community that has done some really hard yards over the past six weeks. Talents from both the local area and further afield will be performing. Local businesses are providing catering, entertainment, and every other service that’s needed.

And you can bet your bottom dollar that the locals are going to turn out in force to support that concert, and each other, because that’s what we do. We stick together in times of trouble, and we cheer each other on in our victories. In doing that on ANZAC Day, we will continue to remember the lessons we learned from the ANZACS and all our other diggers.

At the going down of the sun, just as we did in the morning, we WILL remember them.