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. 

Is English A Salad?

Today’s English class was the most fun I have had in a long time. I wanted to exercise the kids’ minds and get them thinking laterally. I also wanted them to enjoy it. A lesson with a difference seemed to me a great way to start our final week of term and inject some interest into our online classroom.

I began by presenting my students with the contention that a box of chocolates is a salad.

This was not a popular suggestion. 

“No it’s not!” one student said… quite defensively, I might add. “Salad is salad. Chocolate is chocolate. You can’t ruin chocolate like that!”

But, I asked, what is a salad if it’s not simply a mixture of vegetables? Chocolate comes from beans… and if you add nuts, or fruit, or herbs like peppermint, then it’s definitely a salad.

We spent quite some time redefining food, presenting the most persuasive arguments we could think of, and debating the nature of reality. 

Every time it sounded like the students might be in danger of reaching a consensus, I made another suggestion. 

Ice cream, on its own, may just be ice cream – but the minute you put it in a cone, or add fruit or chocolate, it’s a salad. 
Coffee, like chocolate, is made from beans. It’s a salad.

“No!” was the response. “Coffee is hot – it can’t be a salad.”

So then I really twisted it up.

Is coffee soup?
Is cereal soup? Or is it a salad with too much dressing?
According to one student, and I quote, “Soup is not what soup is.”

Is the English language a metaphorical salad? Because it’s a mixture of a whole bunch of languages, right? The flavours are all mixed, but the parts are still recognisable if you know what you’re looking at.

Is the English language a sticky weed? Or velcro? Because you know, it takes something from every other language it swipes past. Maybe it’s double sided tape… 

I am not ashamed to say that I really had fun. Despite their groans and protestations, I think they did, too. 

Perhaps the most satisfying moments, though, were two comments made by different students: 

“You’ve just entirely ruined the English language.”

and

“These have been the most problematic fifteen minutes of my life.”

What started out as a brain tease turned into a really interesting discussion about how we use language and define things in our own ways, and often assume that everyone else understands what we’re talking about, and that everyone else agrees with us.

It’s safe to say most of them enjoyed it… but it’s also safe to say that I enjoyed it more. 

A Sweet Act of Kindness.

Today I received a mystery package in the post.

Well, this was intriguing!

It turned out to be a box full of kindness from a former student who read Sunday’s post about my first Father’s Day without my dad. 

Beautiful cookies by @adornedbybeth on Instagram

The cookies were accompanied by a lovely note.

In case you’re wondering… yes, I cried.

In that moment, I felt so cared for. I felt valued and understood. 

What a blessing to receive such kindness. 
What an honour to know that a former student likes and respects me enough to do something so sweet and generous. 

Highly recommended.

Finally, those cookies! They’re sensational – and almost too pretty to eat.

Only almost, though. 

Happy National Teddy Bear Day!

Happy National Teddy Bear Day!

This is a celebration I can get right behind, because every day is Teddy Bear Day in my house!

I actually have a beautiful collection of Charlie Bears, who not only adorn my house but help me market my books on Instagram.

To see all my beary bookish posts, follow the hashtag #abearandabook on Instagram.

They are beautifully made and delightful to hold, and their faces are so expressive!

Some of my bears mark special occasions. Others are rescues, having been adopted from other people who no longer want them. As I keep telling my husband, our home provides an important service as a refuge for orphaned bears. And others, I have bought because I just fell in love with them when I saw them.

Benson: my first Charlie Bear.

If you’re interested in seeing my bear collection, there are photos of them all on my Pinterest board titled ‘Bear Collection’. There are some that are not Charlie Bears, because I already had a small collection of other bears before I discovered Benson, my first Charlie Bear, in a shop and was forced – forced, I tell you! – to bring him home with me and love him forever.

In additional acts of service to teddy bears, I’ve inspired my cousin and my sister to start collecting Charlie Bears. Between us, we’re saving the world, one bear at a time.

And in case you were wondering, the collective noun for teddy bears is a hug.

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.  

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. 

Job Done.

Today my best friend and I went to visit my parents’ grave to see the new plaque that has been added for my dad.  It signifies another landmark, of you’ll pardon the pun: all of my responsibilities for Dad’s funeral and memorial have been met. All the jobs are done. 

Photo: Joanne Van Leerdam

The past few weeks have seen the dispersal of the last few things that needed to find new homes. Dad’s bed and walker went to an elderly chap who will benefit from them as much as Dad did. The last things to go were some bookshelves, some framed art prints, an organ stool, a couple of shower chairs, and an odds-and-sods collection of Tupperware containers that are too good to throw out but surplus to our needs. 

The plaque was the last thing that needed to be finished. It looks lovely, and matches Mum’s plaque perfectly. It’s completion leaves me with a profound sense of achievement and satisfaction, but also one of being at a loose end. Those tasks have kept me busy and feeling like I could do something useful to help process my grief. When I took the photo of the finished headstone this morning, and placed one of my own beloved wombats beside it, I knew it was all done. 

And now I don’t know what to do with myself. Oh,  I have work and books and all the demands of life to keep me busy, just as I have always done. But that sense of purposeful mourning has run its course, and I am not sure what comes next. 

I guess I am about to find out. 

This afternoon I was talking about these feelings with my best friend as we drove home. We were blessed with the most beautiful, bright rainbow — not in the distance, but touching the side of the road as we drove. At one point, we could see the whole rainbow just outside the front and side windows of the car, but I couldn’t successfully take a photo of it. 

Image Joanne Van Leerdam

“After today, and everything I was just saying… it’s like God telling me everything is going to be okay. It sucks that Dad is gone, but I’ll be alright.” 

“it absolutely is,” she said. “You’ll be alright. We all will.”

And when we got home, we were greeted with another rainbow.  

Image Joanne Van Leerdam

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

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

Meet My Home Office Team

I’d be lost without the support of my brilliant team.

In my endeavours to work and teach from home, I am supported by a highly competent and very specialised team. It’s fair to say my home office environment would not be the same without them. 

Human Resources Manager: Scout

Scout’s vision is to head an organisation that exists to serve. Not one for sitting on the fence, she is unashamed about demanding efficiency and expecting 100% compliance. She is an expert manager of her Human Resources and is proficient at making them do exactly what she wants them to. Current levels of isolation and social restriction have made little difference to her management style, and she continues to dispatch any unwanted guests of the smaller variety with impressive alacrity. 

Scout started here as a junior in July, 2006, and has leapt from height to height since then. She proudly acknowledges that she is, in fact, the cat’s whiskers around here.

Office Manager and Head of Security: Abbey 

Abbey has a range of responsibilities, but dislikes being described as a ‘general dog’s body’. She oversees security, makes regular inspections of the yard and monitors all entrances and exits with careful attention, Abbey takes motivating all team members almost as seriously as ensuring that every meal and snack is thoroughly Lab tested. Abbey consistently demonstrates a level of loyalty and commitment that goes above and beyond the call of duty. She is also a most excellent listener, and regularly provides great counselling and support. 

Abbey started here as a junior in November, 2007, stepping eagerly into the role sadly left vacant by her predecessor, Chiara. At this point in time, she has no plans to retire, and we embrace her presence here for as long as she is willing and able to stay.

These wonderful team members have a very strong rapport and consistently demonstrate genuine mutual admiration and respect. They work really well together, each bringing their unique talents and abilities to the job and complementing one another perfectly. 

I’m sure you’ll agree, I have a sensational team! 

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay