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. 

Good Grief! Getting Through My First Father’s Day Without My Dad.

The challenge: dealing with my feelings on a day I’ve always enjoyed celebrating before.

Over the past few weeks, I found myself growing heartily tired of advertisements and posts about Fathers’ Day. 

I sincerely wish all the dads out there and their kids a very happy Father’s Day, and I truly hope they can spend some quality time together. I hope kids of all ages cherish their dads and make the most of every opportunity to spend time with them while they still have them. 

For me, though… it just hurts. This is my first Father’s Day without my dad after 53 years of having him in my life. It has only been 11 weeks since he died and I miss him enormously every day. 

Dad enjoying a great coffee at Camperdown Bakery in March 2020.

I have so much to be thankful for. Dad was wise, and funny, and encouraging, and consistent, and caring, and always there when I needed him. I loved being able to care for him and provide for him, to spend time with him every day, and to take him to the places he needed or wanted to go. We were father and daughter, but also great companions and partners in laughter, day trips, good coffee and sweet treats. 

All of that is why I miss him so much. And while everyone else is celebrating their dads as they absolutely should, it feels empty for me. 

So, I spent part of my day commemorating my father. 

I went to visit the grave where both my parents are now buried. I placed flowers there, took some photos, and had a big howly cry. 

There was a young guy nearby, placing something on a grave — maybe his own dad’s or grandfather’s resting place, I don’t know. He approached me gently and asked, “Are you okay, miss?” We we’re both wearing masks, but his eyes were kind and I could see he was genuinely concerned for me. I thanked him and explained it was my first Father’s Day without my dad as he died in June, and he nodded. “He was lucky to have a daughter who would cry for him,” he said. Then he patted my arm and walked away. What a kind, compassionate soul! 

As I calmed my breathing and emotions, I took some photos for the family. 

My next stop was the Camperdown Botanic Gardens. I love walking there. It’s so pretty and there is always something lovely to see. It was the perfect place for reflecting and mindfulness as I walked.  Surprisingly, I was the only person there: everyone else was missing out, because it was an absolutely glorious day. There were blossom trees covered in buds and blooms, new leaves on limbs that have been bare all winter, a glorious grove of bluebells, pretty tulips and cheerful daffodils and jonquils. They were all sights that were good for the soul. 

My third destination for the day was the nursery: I wanted to buy a tree to plant in memory of my dad. There were some lovely options – silver birches, ornamental pears, weeping cherry blossom, and a range of decorative blossom trees. In the end, I couldn’t decide between the crabapple and the Persian witch hazel, so I bought both. They both have leaves that change with autumn colour, and pretty blossoms to give cheer in late winter and early spring. 

There was one funny moment when the lady who runs the nursery suggested a maple tree. I had to confess to her that I adore maples — they are my favourite tree— but I couldn’t get a maple this time because nobody would believe I bought it to remember Dad. A maple would definitely be just  for me. 

It has been an emotional roller coaster of a day, but I have tried to fill it with positive things and happy memories instead of dwelling on the past or wallowing in misery. I experienced a beautiful moment of kindness from a stranger, enjoyed fresh air and sunshine on an absolutely cracking spring day, and I have two lovely new trees that will brighten the garden and my life. 

The crabapple has been planted, and the Persian witch hazel is just waiting until tomorrow evening for its turn. 

Counting my blessings instead of my tears is definitely what Dad would have wanted me to do.

So, once again, job done.  

A Day For Healing.

Today was a day for healing. 

After several absolutely brutal weeks, my bestie and I headed out to spend the day together— a day just for us. 

We didn’t talk about grief, or death, or funerals, or wills, or medical treatments. We just enjoyed each other’s company and pretended as much as we could that the rest of life and corona and lockdowns and work and pretty much everything else was not happening. 

Don’t get me wrong, though. We sanitised , we distanced, we avoided people as much as we could. We’re neither stupid nor irresponsible. 

We drove up-country and visited places we haven’t been to before. 

We stopped in a little country town, took some photos, bought a Coke, and kept going.

We stood on top of a mountain — well, technically it’s a dormant volcano, albeit not a very big one— and saw as far as we could see. We watched in silence as a wallaby fossicked for sweet blades of grass to eat, then hopped away. We listening to birdsong and tried to work out how many different birds we could hear. 

We visited a bookstore, as we always do on our expeditions, and we both found a couple of new treasures to bring home with us. 

We visited two different waterfalls about 9 kilometres apart on the same river, and looked at rocks and water and cascades and lichen and soil profiles. 

We ate lunch as we watched the water running and leaping its way down the rock face, and as we watched other visitors walk all the way down to the river bank and back up again. That’s a great way to wear out the kids during school holidays! We packed up our rubbish, along with some left behind by some other less considerate visitors to the park, and put it in the car to bring home with us, then returned to the falls to take photos. 

We watched the most delightful older couple walk hand in hand as they explored the park around the waterfalls, obviously as delighted with each other’s company as they were when they first met. She used a walking stick with her other hand, and he carried two umbrellas. The way they looked at each other was just adorable. 

We looked at trees and enjoyed their beauty, their shapes, and their different profiles. Then we drove down country lanes where the gum trees on either side almost made a tunnel and commented on how magical and beautiful that felt.

We found a campground we want to go and stay at. It’s nestled in the bush near one of the waterfalls, and it’s just natural and quiet and beautiful. 

We met a lady with a gorgeous little dog named Milo, who insisted on wrapping his lead around my legs not once, not twice, but three times. We laughed. 

Oh, it felt so good to laugh. It felt so good to breathe fresh air, to not feel pressure from time or commitments or places and things that reminded me of my losses. 

It felt so good to just be. No responsibilities, no demands. Breathing deeply, enjoying the moment, and feeling refreshed. I can’t remember the last time I was able to do that. 

I am so blessed to have a friend with whom I can share days like today, but who has also supported me so faithfully through the trauma of the past few weeks. She has been an absolute rock for me, and I am thankful.

I am blessed to live in a place where I can go and spend time in nature and feel at peace there. I’m very blessed to not be in an area that is locked down, as Melbourne has been once again. 

Today didn’t make all those other things go away — far from it. But it gave me time to breathe, and it was very good therapy. 

A Day For Healing.
#therapy #emotions #grief #trees #waterfalls #personal #reflection #blogpost

Vetiver Oil: A Grass Roots Therapy For Better Sleep

If you suffer with insomnia, or if you have trouble relaxing at night, you might find this post helpful.

An Aussie Maple Leaf, adrift on the wind...

One of my most consistent problems with sleeplessness is that I can be totally exhausted, but still unable to actually drop off to sleep. 

That’s mostly because of my fibromyalgia, but it is complicated by back pain on those nights when my pain relief medication fails to cut the mustard, as it sometimes does.

Because I know from past experience that prescription sleeping medication causes my whole system to lag, and because of the strong pain killers I need to take for my back as well as my fibro, I feel very strongly about not having those other drugs in my regime.

So,I recently visited my friendly local alternative health practitioner and asked, “What can you suggest to help me sleep?”

She suggested Vetiver Oil, diluted in fractionated coconut oil. The instructions say to apply it under both big toes and to the wrists, to inhale deeply on going to…

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‘Les Mis’ and the Night Tigers

‘Les Miserables’ is among my favourite books of all time, and it is also one of my favourite musicals. 

I saw a fabulous production of ‘Les Mis’ last night at the theatre in Warrnambool. 

My major achievement for the evening was not singing along out loud— which took more self-discipline than you might ever realise. 

I was moved to tears by the emotion and beauty of the performances, but also— as always— by the power of the lyrics. 

There are many moments and several songs in the show that I love, but my absolute favourite lines are sung by Fantine: 

“But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder…”

‘I Dreamed a Dream’


Those words are so profound.I find them powerful because I know that whatever it is that a person struggles with – pain, grief, depression, anxiety, worry… those tigers visit more often at night, and stay for longer, than they ever do during daylight hours. 

One of the reasons I began taking my writing more seriously a number of years ago was because I found it an excellent way of dealing with my night tigers and answering their voices with my own.  

That’s why many of my poems deal with themes of  mental health, pain, depression, grief, and resilience. Its also why I insist that writing is the most effective therapy I have ever had. It hasn’t cured me or solved my problems, but it has certainly helped to heal me and enable me to deal with the challenges I face in life in a much healthier way. 

Those tigers still come at night, but they have discovered that I, too, can roar. 

A Mutual Kidnapping.

Today, my best friend and I have kidnapped each other. 
We’re going to spend the whole day doing whatever we want to do. 

Our phones are on silent. 
We haven’t told anyone what time we’ll be home. 
We haven’t even decided where we’ll go. 
We’re winging that part.

We might visit somewhere new. 
We might go on an adventure. 

But we did both bring a book, just in case. 

How Self Publishing Improved My Mental Health

Lucy Mitchell’s experiences, as she describes in the article reblogged here, are not uncommon. Many writers, artists and musicians use their creativity to help process and deal with their mental health issues.

I share this author’s experience of gaining motivation, encouragement and purpose from writing and self-publishing my works.

Withdrawing my first book from its publisher and taking control of my publishing journey as an Indie author was incredibly empowering. Producing not just good writing but excellent books has been as source of both pleasure and pride for me, but it has also been fabulous therapy. 

Every poem I write, whether it’s about mental health or a medieval princess saving herself and taking control of her destiny is evidence of my strength and resilience, even at those times when I am not feeling particularly strong or resilient. 

The fact that I can write about my own mental health in a way that others relate to and find powerful is both liberating and encouraging. 
And every time I kill someone fictionally, it saves me bail money and keeps me out of jail because I haven’t actually laid hands on anyone. That’s a system that has worked extremely well for me so far, so I will stick with it. 

Every book I have published is testimony to my survival. This is, perhaps, most true of A Poet’s Curse, which was written indirect response to evil behaviour and nasty people. Publishing that little volume, to which I like to refer as my “dark little book of hateful poetry” really felt like I was taking my life back from those who tried to destroy me, and I celebrated it as such. 

At this point of my writing and publishing career, I can say that I am incredibly proud of what I have achieved. That in itself is positive and motivating, and encourages me to keep going. There are still a lot of ideas bubbling away, and there’s life in the old girl yet. 

And where there’s life, there’s hope. 

All of this is proof of how far I have come from those very dark times that almost destroyed me, and of my determination to never go back. 

I hope you appreciate and enjoy the insights from Lucy Mitchell as much as I did.

Reblog: How Self Publishing Improved My Mental Health by Lucy Mitchell via the I Write. I Read. I Review blog.

Things For Which I Am Thankful Today

Today, I am feeling very low. So, I am trying to focus on things for which I am thankful. 

I know it won’t fix things, but it’s a positive distraction from my own misery. 

Most of these are in no particular reason, although the first four are in the right place at the top of the list of what I am thankful for today: 

  • My best friend. For so, so many reasons that I can only barely start to count. 
  • Encouragement from friends. Even when life really sucks, they have my back. 
  • My dog. Abbey the Labby always knows when I need extra love. 
  • Scout Kitty purring on my lap. She, too, has been extra attentive. 
  • The lovely quilt with which I have wrapped myself. It was a gift from my best friend at Christmas time, and given that I can’t hug her today, it’s the next best thing. 
  • The audiobook I’m listening to. It’s good to give my mind something else to do. 
  • Peanut butter on toast. 
  • Coffee. In all honesty, I am thankful for coffee every day. You all should be, too… because even if you’re not drinking it, I am. 
  • Downtime, and the fact that I got all those exams and reports done. I really don’t think I could have maintained that pace much longer. 
  • The fact that I do not have to sit upright on stupid courtroom seats for one single minute of today. My spine has been brutalised this past week. 
  • Pain medication.  Enough said.
  • A Poet’s Curse. I’ve been reading it for therapeutic reasons last night and today. It helps. 

A Change That Is Long Overdue.

Sometimes, you reach the point where enough is enough.

I have reached a new landmark in my journey of self-acceptance and self-care:  I have finally decided to stop saying and thinking horrible things about myself. 

When I posted this image last night, a friend responded with the observation that ” The trick is to catch it and recognize it. That’s the hard part.”

What she says is true, but the fact is that I’ve already been recognising it, and it’s something that has been bugging me for a while. 

For me, the hardest part is that I see my flaws and failures much earlier and more honestly than anyone else does. I know I’m valued and loved, and I know I have talents and abilities that others admire, but I am much quicker to comment on my mistakes and shortcomings than on anything good or positive that I might do. Sadly, this is the habit of a lifetime. 

It’s often said that we’re our own worst enemies. When it comes to cruel words, I think that’s definitely true of me. 

I write poetry that moves people and touches their souls. I write horror stories that chill my readers to the bone. My books get good reviews, and readers tell me they love my work. I teach teenagers, and from time to time, some of them tell me I’ve had a positive impact on their life. 

At the same time, I know full well that not everyone loves me. That doesn’t actually bother me: I don’t like everyone else, either. None of us do. 
Yet it seems that my most consistent critic is none other than myself.  It’s fair to say that on some days, even the people who really, really don’t like me – and they do exist – would be hard pressed to say worse things about me than I do.

Why do I accept it from myself, when I never would from anyone else? Why do I allow words about myself that I refuse to hear my best friend say about herself? I don’t allow my students to talk about themselves or others that way. I’ll unashamedly call someone out for putting another person down, and remind them that they don’t get to talk that way to other people. 

I’ve written previously about having to learn to be patient and kind toward myself physically, especially since my back injury. Now, I’m taking the challenge to master the words and thoughts I use, and to be as quick to defend myself as I am when it’s others on the receiving end. 

I know that making this decision is only the first step, and that actually doing it will be harder than writing about it. I do hope, though, that putting it into writing makes my commitment more binding and less of an impulsive thing that I can forget about. 

This is a change that is long overdue. And no matter how flawed or prone to error I may be, it’s a change that I really need to make. I deserve better treatment than I have been giving myself, and today is the day I will start to make it happen.

A One-Off Inscription.

There is more truth than most people realise in the jokes about authors killing people off in their books.

Yesterday I signed a paperback copy of my latest book for my best friend. I have written something personal and unique to her and our friendship in her copy of every one of my books.

Yesterday’s effort was by far my favourite.

2018-09-22 13.40.06

You should understand that this is not a promise I’m willing to make to just anyone. Anyone who has read ‘A Poet’s Curse’, for example, will have worked that out very quickly.

Jokes are frequently made about authors putting people in a book and killing them, but most don’t realise just how satisfying and therapeutic that can be.

Oh, we change the name and some minor details, but the important thing is that we know who we’re finishing off, even if the rest of the world doesn’t. And you know, it is important to conceal the true identities of our victims because, in the end, nobody wants it to backfire or get ugly.

I have, in fact, had a number of people ask me if a particular poem or story was about them. Rather than confirming or denying anything, I’ve gone the “self-examination” route. Each of them received the same answer: “If you think that’s a possibility, I suggest you to take a long, hard look at yourself and how you treat people. It might be time to do some repairs.

As an author, I can have my macabre little cake and eat it, too. And as an extra reward for good behaviour, I get to keep my best friend. Bonus!