Mourning Song

Image by Joanne Van Leerdam. June 24, 2020.

I wrote this poem back in 2016.

These words have been in my mind again the past couple of weeks, following the death of my father and the passing of one of my closest friends on the day of his funeral. Losing them both within five days of each other was more painful than I can describe.

Photo artwork by Joanne Van Leerdam. June 24, 2020.

Tears fall,
Can’t stop them,
Can’t hide them.
You’re gone,
Can’t bring you
Back again.
Why am I always the one who is feeling
The pain of the wrenching and tearing of leaving?
Why must this pain be so raw deep inside of me?
My heart
Misses you
Desperately.
Please say
That you won’t
Forget me.
I can’t imagine my life without you in it,
Bereft of the light and the joy of your loveliness,
Every room filled with the echoes of memories.
Never
To be the
Same again.
Tears fall,
Into the
Loneliness.
You’re
Gone.

©2016 Joanne Van Leerdam

Mourning Song.
#poetry #grief #Emotions #poetrylovers #personal #ReadAWrite

This poem is included in my collection titled ‘Leaf’.

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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

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.

Down, But Not Out.

When people prove disappointing or worse, don’t let them drag you down to their level.

It’s fair to say that I’m glad to see the weekend. 

Earlier this week I found myself disappointed again by someone else’s basic inability to be a decent human being, and stunned by the willingness of others to simply accept it and look the other way. 

Sadly, it seems you can go the extra mile a couple of dozen times, give of yourself and your time to achieve a common goal, and support and encourage someone as much as you possibly can, but they’ll still cut you down and leave the knife in your back when it suits them.

I know, I know. I made the same old mistake – trusting that someone else would operate on the same principles of basic decency and human understanding that I do. I should know by now that the fact that I *should* be able to trust certain people is irrelevant. I’ve been hurt that way countless times before, and It seems I still haven’t learned. 

Still, I refuse to beat myself up for that. I’m feeling disrespected, under-appreciated, taken for granted and consequently emotionally bruised enough as it is. 

I don’t know the reasons for it, and I probably never will.  That knowledge wouldn’t change anything anyway. As much as it sucks, it is what it is. 

I know at some point – hopefully not too far in the future – the hurt and frustration I feel will diminish. Maybe I’ll even find there’s a blessing in disguise in the situation. It’s always a possibility. 

I feel as though I have shed enough tears, ranted sufficiently, and discussed the situation with my husband and best friend to the point where I can resign myself to the way things are, Being at peace with things isn’t out of the question, but I’m not there yet. I’m still hurt, and I’m still angry.

What I need to do is focus on healthy ways to deal with how I’m feeling. To that end,  I’ve immersed myself in things I love: rehearsals for ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ with the most wonderful theatre company on the planet, reading great books, spending time with people I love, and cuddling with my fur babies. 

This is all just another reminder that we can’t always have what we want, or insist that things be the way we want them. We can’t stop people from being horrible human beings, and there are many things in life that are beyond our control. 

It’s important to remember, though, that there are plenty of things I can control. First and foremost on that list is the way in which I choose to respond to challenges, conflicts and adversity.

I refuse to seek revenge.  I refuse to hit back, or be manipulative, hurtful and cruel to that person in response. That would make me as low as them. 

At the same time, I refuse to let that person take advantage of me again.  I will not let that person have more control over my life or my feelings than they have already had. 

I refuse to allow this situation to keep me down, dampen my spirit or harden my heart. 

In addition to all the other emotions I’ve experienced this week, I’m determined that I am not going to allow that person, or this situation, to undo me. If they think they’ve won, they have seriously underestimated me. There is, after all, more than one way to win in any given situation.

I’m going to keep doing what I do. I’m going to make the most of my opportunities.  I’m going to shine, and succeed, and accomplish everything I set out to do.

Given that I have managed to do exactly that thus far while living with fibromyalgia and chronic back pain, a little opposition from a sulky so-and-so isn’t going to stop me.

And if they, or anyone else, want to criticise, I don’t care. If they happen to be jealous or intimidated by what I achieve, that’s just too bad. I’ll be over here, living my best life, wearing my sassy pants, and not worrying about what petty people think or how puerile they are. 

Superficial

I wrote the poem titled ‘Superficial’ two years ago.

I remember feeling both hurt and angry, but mostly just plain tired of being made to feel as though I continually failed to reach the arbitrary standards expected of me by certain people.

This weekend, I have realised it is still far too relevant. It’s still just as true as when I wrote it.

You know, that’s just rubbish. It was rubbish then, and it’s rubbish now.

In fact, the only thing that has changed is how much I care — or actually don’t — about whether publishing it will confront the people who inspired it, and how they might respond to being called out.

The thing is, they should be called out. Their comfortable, conformist jusdgment is not okay. They don’t get to decide who is “worthy”. Their ideas of what is “acceptable” or “normal” are as subjective and as anyone else’s.

I am who I am.

I matter, and so do my feelings.
I am enough.

And I deserve to be treated with respect, whether they like me or not..

I wrote this poem two years ago. It’s still far too relevant,

Too bright, too individual, too funky, 
Too wild, too unafraid, too chunky, 
Too short, too loud, too bold, too dyed—
When will you ever look inside? 
It’s so easy to label something as sin
Ignoring the gems concealed within—
Love, passion, talent, loyalty, art.
Yet you say God looks at each person’s heart
For faith, service, and integrity:
Why can’t you look that way at me?

©2018 Joanne Van Leerdam

PS:
I saw you looking at my ears
And all my pretty piercings there;
Your distaste was almost palpable
And I still don’t eally care

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A Crisis of Confidence

If you think kids are the only ones who suffer ‘back to school’ anxiety, think again.

On the evening before school starts back for the year, I usually hit a patch of anxiety that keeps me awake into the wee hours of the morning. 

Today, my brain has hit fast-forward and has dumped me in that patch just about as soon as I woke up. 

I know it’s not logical. I know I am good at my job. I love my workplace, and a number of my colleagues are also my good friends. I love teaching. I’ve done my preparation.I know that I will go back tomorrow and everything will be okay. 

Today, however, my brain is playing a different tune. I am plagued with anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. I am fearful of nothing in particular and everything in general. I know I can do it but I feel as though I can’t. 

This is what happens when anxiety, introversion and impostor syndrome get together for a wild party: they don’t get messed up, I do. 

What many people don’t realise is that many of their own kids’ teachers go through the same thing every year and every term. Some experience it much more frequently, even daily. 

To look at them, especially at work in the classroom, you’d never know it. But it is real, and it is genuinely awful. 

I don’t know what the solution is. The only thing I know how to do is hang in there, try to take care of myself, and keep going like I always do. 

Smoke In Our Eyes.

Two years ago, it was my town threatened by bushfires. It was my community losing homes, livestock, and family farms. Now, it feels as though half the country is burning, or has already burnt down.

The horrific and disastrous bushfires this summer have triggered so many feelings and memories. I remember how gut-wrenchingly awful it was then, and cannot comprehend the exponential scale of the current catastrophe my country is experiencing. 

I took this picture today. Even hundreds of miles from the fires, western Victoria is blanketed by a pall of smoke. 

Like then, I have friends who have lost everything except the few things they managed to take with them as they evacuated. My heart breaks for them, but I am so incredibly thankful they got out when they did. 

I feel so useless. It seems as much as one donates and supports and cries and prays for an end to the fires, it never feels like enough. 

Add a few layers of grief, empathy, and occasional despair, and you get something of an idea about how many Australians are feeling at this point. 

I wrote this poem, and a number of others, in the aftermath of the St Patrick’s Day fires of 2018. It seems an appropriate poem to post at a point where a large proportion  of eastern Australia is either on fire, has burnt, or is blanketed in acrid smoke. 

It is a recollection of an actual conversation among locals in my town back in March 2018, and bears witness to the resilience and the empathy of Australians in the face of adversity. 

This poem is included in ‘Smoke and Shadows’.
All profits from the sale of this book between January 1 and June 30 are being donated to ongoing bushfire relief.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

There are many things I have learned to do again, albeit differently, since my spinal surgery 15 months ago. 

It seems, however, that stairs are still my nemesis. I can manage one or two steps if I go slowly and carefully but, as I discovered tonight, walking up a whole flight of stairs still causes me significant pain. 

We went out for dinner with friends, who had booked at a first floor restaurant that had no elevator. It did, however, have a beautiful circular staircase. 
Beautiful… and an enormous challenge.

I went very slowly, but by the fifth or sixth stair my lower back was screaming. Before I got to the top, I could feel the sciatic pain in my butt and staring to extend down my legs. I couldn’t stay there, so I had to either keep going or go back down. Slower still, and even more carefully, I made it to the top.

The first thing I did was hit my friends up for whatever analgesics they had. One had ibuprofen, the other had paracetamol. I took both, as my doctors have instructed me to do when I need to. I also chose not to sit until my meal was delivered, even though standing up in a large room of diners made me feel very self-conscious.  

It didn’t help that some people were quite obvious about the way they looked at me – and all I was doing was standing up. Once again, it reminded me of how much harder it must be for those whose differences or disabilities are more obviously noticeable.  

Dinner was delicious, but as soon as I had finished, I stood up again. We took the rear door out of the pub, as it opened onto the driveway. Even through it was quite a slope, it was still easier than the stairs. 

It’s disappointing that the establishment had not been more thoughtful about accessibility. An assumption that everyone who visits is able-bodied enough to use the stairs is ignorant at best. Perhaps if there were a “disabled access” sign pointing to the rear of the building, I might have been able to enjoy my meal and the great company without either kind of discomfort. I cannot imagine I am the only person who would benefit from that, 

And, if you’re ever out for dinner and there’s someone standing up for most of the evening, or doing anything else out of the ordinary, just know they have their reasons and be kind enough to pretend you haven’t noticed.

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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Is The Novel Dead?

The title of this blogpost caught my attention this morning.

“What?” I thought. “How could anyone think that?”

For me, the novel is most certainly not dead. There is still nothing as wonderful as escaping into a book and finding myself immersed in its setting, caught up in its action and carried away by the story.

Short stories and novellas are fabulous when life is busy, because I can achieve those escapes in the time I have available. But when time to read is more plentiful, a good novel is a marvellous thing.

The novel will never be dead as long as there are great books to read. I’m fairly confident that, given the quality of the new books I have been reading, it’s not likely to be happening in the foreseeable future.

And on that note, I take exception to the original writer’s suggestion that self-published books are rubbish, and therefore partly to blame for the demise of the popularity of reading. Blame the obsession with screens of whatever size, and with the Internet and social media, and I’ll gladly concur, but leave Indie authors out of it. As I’ve said plenty of times before, I’ve read some absolutely brilliant self-published books, and I’ve read – or attempted to read – some tragically bad traditionally published ones. Let each book stand or fall on its own merits, I say.

I feel sorrow for any reader who is so disillusioned by their reading that they believe the novel is a thing of the past. More than likely, they have simply been reading the wrong books.

If you’re interested in great Indie book recommendations, follow Book Squirrel.

Richie Billing

A couple weeks ago, an article by writer Damien Walter grabbed my wandering attention. The title: I STOPPED READING NOVELS LAST YEAR. I THINK YOU DID TOO.

I was curious. So I had a read and discovered that Walter is a professional book reviewer, even had a regular sci-fi column for The Guardian. He’s experienced and well-respected and fed up of the novel.

Why?

For Water, the novel lost its magic. It no longer has the same magical feel as it did when he was a kid, “spending afternoons at the local library, selecting books as though I was selecting magical portals to step through. Then I would rush home and lose myself in the magic for hours, days at a time.”

Walter recognises the influences modern-day phenomenons have had on us. Here are some of my favourite quotes from his piece. I’d recommend reading in full too. He’s an…

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