Remembrance, Always.

Always & Remembrance: are the two Willow Tree figures I have chosen in memory of two significant people in my life: my father, and one of my closest friends, who graduated to heaven five days apart.

These two lovely figurines now have pride of place in my special cabinet to remind me daily of these beautiful people and the incredible love I have for them both.

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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A Dark And Stormy Night

Image Credit: Mylene2401 on Pixabay

I generally love a good thunderstorm. Tonight, I appreciate it even more than usual.

Growing up, I loved seeing Snoopy start his stories with “It was a dark and stormy night”. I used to giggle at that clichè long before I understood the deeper allusion to the fact that authors sometimes use the weather to reflect or foreshadow what characters in their stories feel or experience.

This is a literary device known as pathetic fallacy. It is used to set mood and tone in a piece of writing or art, emphasising emotions and heightening reactions. Rain can be used to reflect sorrow or misery, dark clouds can suggest anger or resentment, and a storm can suggest conflict, inner turmoil or violence.

If you’ve ever read ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte, you will have experienced pathetic fallacy being used so expertly that you may not have even noticed. Blended seamlessly with gothic imagery, turbulent relationships and the isolation of the Yorkshire moors, Bronte’s use of snow, rain, storms, cold and dark makes for incredibly powerful writing. Who can forget Cathy at the window during that storm, begging Heathcliff to let her in? It’s legendary because it is powerful, emotive writing that embeds its imagery in the consciousness of the reader.

My other favourite example of pathetic fallacy is Shakespeare’s King Lear shouting at the snowstorm, “Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!” Lear has literally been left out in the cold by his daughters Goneril and Regan, who have exploited his love and trust before throwing him out, homeless and broke. It’s such a potent scene — the depths of human coldness are amplified by the vision of a broken-hearted old man outside in a blizzard. It is chilling in more ways than one, and possibly one of Shakespeare’s finest scenes.

At other times, pathetic fallacy seems predictable and cliched. Sometimes it is almost painfully obvious and clunky. It often appears to be overused by authors who don’t have the finesse required to make it work — possibly because when authors do have that skill and it is done well, it it works as it is intended to without irritating the reader.

Tonight, nature is doing the author’s work for me. Outside, it is indeed a dark and stormy night. It has been raining steadily for hours now, thunder rolls and reverberates every now and then, and a draught of wind occasionally howls at the door. I am sitting in my father’s hospital room, having been called in late at night because he has been distressed and agitated. I have shed tears while talking with family members or sending messages. My emotions are all over the place. I’m both incredibly tired and wide awake.

A rainy night with the occasional rumble of thunder is most fitting.

Ambiguous Loss and Anticipatory Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helpful Reading: 

What Is Ambiguous Loss? 

Ambiguous Grief: Grieving Simone Who Is Still Alive 

How To Deal With Ambiguous Loss

Grief Before Death: Understanding Anticipatory Grief

Grieving Before A Death: Understanding Anticipatory Grief

Having Dropped — And Temporarily Lost — The Ball

I’ve been absent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned, folks. I’m not dead yet.

More.

How people respond to adversity speaks volumes about their character.


Yesterday a friend posted on Facebook that living in quarantine conditions “turns people into a**holes”. 

My response was that this was true, but only for those already so inclined. 

Thinking more about it since then, I have come to the conclusion that this extended quarantine/lockdown is proving to be an intensifier. It brings out the true colours that underlie each person’s character and makes them more evident.

Those who are inclined to be selfish have been increasingly inconsiderate of others.  Those who sulk at not getting their own way have done exactly that, usually all over social media. Those who tend to be angry have been. Those who tend to resist being told what to do have defied the rules and done as they pleased. 

On the other hand, we have also seen plenty of evidence that recent adversity has brought out the best of humanity, too. 

Those who tend to be generous have definitely been so. Those who advocate for the underprivileged have done so relentlessly. Those who are kind and thoughtful have shown more kindness and thoughtfulness, often to the very great surprise and gratitude of others. The levels of commitment, giving, service and going the extra mile have been inspiring.

What we are seeing is more of each person’s true colours. 

It’s also becoming evident that we will see even more of the same while social restrictions and slowed economies continue. 

It is important to understand this because we should not be making excuses for anyone’s bad behaviour. We should not be dismissing things we would not normally accept or shrug off. And we certainly shouldn’t respond to appalling behaviour by explaining it away with lines like “they are under pressure”. 

All that does is enable people to continue being nasty, with little fear of consequences for their words and actions. 

We are all under pressure. Many of us are struggling one way or another. We are all missing people, places and things we love.
We’re just not all being horrible about it. 

Quarantine: Bringing Out the Best And Worst In People
‪#QuarantineLife #LOCKDOWN2020 #COVIDー19 #Personality #behavior #blogpost‬

What Rolling Back The Social Restrictions Means

Better days are coming, but let’s not throw caution to the wind.

The Australian federal and state governments are, like those all over the world, currently considering how to phase the country out of strict social isolation and start getting back to business. All we know for sure at this point is that it will happen in stages, with the strictest rules being relaxed first. Each state will decide when to implement each stage.

As states roll back some of the social restrictions we’ve been living under, there are a few key things we must all remember. 

Easing restrictions doesn’t mean the virus is gone. It means that the levels of infection in the community are low enough that the hospitals will have capacity for anyone sick enough to need a bed and a ventilator. 

We will still have to socially distance for the foreseeable future. That’s probably not an entirely bad thing. 

Hygiene will still matter. In fact, hygiene has always mattered. I have often marvelled that is 2020, despite how sophisticated and advanced we may think we are, it has been necessary to tell people to wash their hands and not to cough or spit on people. 

People matter more than convenience or entertainment. Some of us might be itching to get out to the football, the pub, or the cinema. Others just want to not get sick. Restrictions are being lifted in stages to balance so that the interests and priorities of both groups, so it’s important to still follow any rules that remain in place. 

Some people have thrived while working or learning from home. The opposite is also true All those extroverts who are dead keen to get back to “normal” need to realise that any anxiety they have felt while having to stay home was actually a very real case of the shoe being on the other foot. Introverts and people who suffer from social or workplace anxiety had had something of a reprieve over the past few months and might be dreading work or school going back to the way it used to be. 

Patience and consideration of others are crucial life skills for everyone. Even when the need for isolation has completely passed, we all need to be understanding of how others feel. 

What Rolling Back #isolation #restrictions Means. #StayHomeStaySafe #BeKind #SocialDistancing

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

Don’t It Go To Show Ya Never Know?

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

Tonight was supposed to be opening night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personally, I can’t wait!

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

A Reflection on Teaching From Home: Week 1

While online classes may not be ideal, things could definitely be worse.

I wrote in Tuesday night’’s post that the first day of teaching my classes remotely/online was challenging. 

I thought it would be good to follow that up at the end of the school week with my insights after a few more days’ experience.

Things definitely got better as the school week progressed. 

All of my students seemed to relax and interact more normally as the week progressed. I think some of them found it really awkward and a bit artificial at first, and many others— myself included— just didn’t know what to expect. 

I had to make my expectations for behaviour and interactions super clear via email to a couple of kids. 
I actually made an explicit list of what I expected and what they were not welcome to do.  This helped to set boundaries for them, and they changed their attitude accordingly. Things were a lot better after that. 

My students have done some great work this week, and I have been able to give positive and constructive feedback to encourage them. 
This also encourages me: I can do this. The kids appreciate my effort and input. My classes are benefiting from the structure, the lessons and the encouragement I have given them. It doesn’t matter if I feel it’s not the same or not enough, or as though I am treading water. 
I am good enough. My teaching is valuable. I can do this. 

I am so thankful for  my school and its  consistent, uniform approach to the delivery of lessons and learning material. I’m also super glad we have followed the same routines and timetables. 

In times of turmoil and change, schools, teachers and students all have the greatest chance of success when everyone is on the same page and things are kept as consistent and stable as possible

In my discussions with friends and family who teach elsewhere, I have learned that this isn’t happening elsewhere. Timetables and class sizes have changed for some, some have new classes they’ve never had before, and others have no streamlined or consistent method of delivery or assessment. One poor soul is trying to deal with all of those complications and more. 
I am trying to be as supportive of that particular friend as I can be, and have suggested that if the school has left it completely up to him to manage, he might follow the practices my own school has implemented so that his students have some structure and consistency with his classes at least. He’s going to do that, and suggest those same things to his colleagues. 

Teachers worldwide are struggling with the same anxieties, challenges and logistics that I am. 
I am note alone. 
Nor are my students. 

We should not be discouraged if we don’t get through the regular program, or if things don’t always work the way we’d like them to.

Our online classrooms provide valuable connection and communication for the kids. It helps them to feel less isolated and cut off, and gives them regular opportunities to think and talk about life beyond corona. 

Ultimately, my students are safe and healthy at home, and learning every day. Those are blessings that should not ever be taken for granted in this strange coronaverse of 2020. 

I can honestly say I am looking forward to another week of positive, encouraging lessons and interactions after a well-earned rest this weekend.