Writing It Instead Of Carrying It

When this image appeared on my Instagram feed this morning, my immediate response was “Yes!”

Image text: Remember. If you are not speaking it, you are storing it, and that gets heavy. Christina Isobel.
I don’t know who created this image. I acquired it via Instagram.

This is why I have been writing and posting poetry and blog posts to help me deal with my feelings about my first Christmas without two very special people in my life, my father and one of my closest friends, both of whom passed away within five days at the end of June.

I have been doing everything I can to make Christmas joyful. Part of that has been working through my feelings and accepting the changes in life that have happened in this mixed up and turbulent year.

It is not that I have no joy or excitement. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to celebrate or focus on the positives in life. It means I need to works out how to manage the shades of guilt I experience when I feel joy, and the weight of sorrow at the very same time as enjoying the lightness of excitement and anticipation.

I fully realise that Christmas is very different for many, many people this year. Lockdowns, halted travel plans and distance have made sure of that. Like me, many people are grieving. Others are facing different sets of challenging circumstances.

The fact is, though, that it is my life that I am living. I have to manage my grief and work out how to balance things for myself. Nobody else can do it for me, and it has to be done. To refuse or fail to deal with my feelings isn’t healthy.

So, I write poetry and blog posts. I blurt my feelings and ideas down onto the page, then shape and craft them into something that both expresses how I feel and lets  others in similar situations know that they are not alone, and that their feelings are not wrong or abnormal.

That is my Christmas gift to the grieving people of the world; empathy, understanding and the room to feel as they do without judgment.

Writing It Instead of Carrying It
#emotions #grief #WritingCommunity

With Love, Me.

I wrote this poem not just for myself, but also for my family and friends who are really feeling the absence of a loved one this Christmas.

I don’t think it requires any explanation. I just wanted to share it with you here.

As always, any feedback is greatly appreciated.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Dear Santa,

I’m writing you this Christmas letter
Because I thought you should know
That there’s something that means more to me
Than presents, trees and snow.

I am missing someone this Christmas
And I’d love to have them back,
But you don’t collect from heaven
Or carry angels in your sack.

I already have lots of memories
And photos and souvenirs,
That fill my heart with longing
And flood my eyes with tears.

So there’s nothing you can bring me
That might heal my grieving soul,
And nothing you can do to make
My broken spirit whole.

But if you could work a miracle
In people’s hearts and minds,
Could you make them think of others
And teach them to be kind?

Could you make them value family
And enjoy them while they are here,
So Christmas might bring true happiness
To be remembered…

View original post 34 more words

There Should At Least Be Cake.

Today would have been my father’s 89th birthday.

My Dad. Photo taken in March, 2020.

It’s the first time in my life that I will not be able to wish him a happy birthday. It’s the first time in many years that I will not hug him, kiss his cheek, and provide the cake, complete with candles for him to blow out while we sing that silly song.

I miss him so much. I miss his big laugh, his cheeky grin, our talks when I got home from work, our hugs, our days out together, shared dinners and coffees, cheeky afternoon teas at the bakery, and holding his hand just because I could. He was part of every day, whatever else I might have been doing.

The “firsts” are pretty awful, to be honest. The absence of someone you love on a day which you have always celebrated with them is jarring. It feels as though the world has tilted again, and everything is just a little more out of kilter. It feels… wrong.

My siblings have all experienced their first birthday without him since he passed away in June: two in September, and one just last week. I called and wished each of them happy birthday, but I also wept for them because I knew what they were thinking and feeling, even if they didn’t admit it. Some things don’t need to be put into words.

And yet, for children to bury and grieve for a parent whom they loved dearly, and who has lived a long, happy and faithful life is also so …right.

Therein lies the awkwardness of it all. We are all glad he is no longer suffering, and we would not have wanted him to linger in a realm of pain or disease or  anguish but, at the same time, I miss him so very much. The emotions are so powerful that they threaten to overwhelm, but not one of us would bring him back to go through it all again. That would be cruel and selfish.

On the first Father’s Day since his death, I chose to do positive things in his memory. Now, on the first birthday, I find myself trying to achieve that again. There is still pain and grief, though. regardless of how I try to window-dress the day, and it’s important to acknowledge those feelings and not suppress or deny them. The healthier choice is to experience them and work through them in appropriate ways.

So, a visit to my parents’ grave with flowers was my first priority for the day. I made a video message for my siblings and their families, all of whom are long-distance from me, from the final resting place of our parents. At least that way, they could share in the visit too. I chose yellow roses, because Dad loved his roses. Yellow roses are symbolic of friendship, but also of remembrance and new beginnings or rejuvenation of spirit, so they are perfect for Dad’s first birthday in heaven.

My best friend and I visited one of Dad’s favourite bakeries — the same one where I took the picture of him enjoying his coffee — and drank coffee and ate sweet things in his honour.

Later on, we will be having Dad’s favourite thing for dinner — pizza — followed by birthday cake, because there has been one on every other November 17th that I have known. 

I have also spent some time in quiet contemplation and giving thanks for my Dad. I know I am incredibly blessed to have had such a loving and supportive father with whom I got along so  well, when so many people don’t ever get to know what that’s like. I am thankful for my family, for my husband, and for my best friends, whose support helps make days like today a tiny bit easier. Again, so many people don’t have that, and I know I am incredibly privileged to have those people in my life.

I have thought, too, about what comes next. Soon there will be the first Christmas. The first New Year’s Eve, and the first calendar year that hasn’t had Dad in it. And 360 days after his graduation to heaven, I will have my first birthday without him. And then, soon after, the first anniversary of his death, and then of Helen’s.

These anniversaries and the emotions that go with them may be painful, but they are poignant reminders of deep love and the profound blessings of knowing and sharing life with such amazing people.

On such occasions, there should at least be cake. Dad would have insisted on it.

Bereavement.

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

I’ve been thinking today about different words we use to communicate to others that we are grieving. It seems to me that in the 21st century, we talk more about ‘personal loss’ and one’s ‘grief journey’ than we do about bereavement.

Bereavement, although old fashioned, is a beautiful word. To me, it evokes a sense of that sense of deprivation that remains after the immediate, more aggressive emotions of immediate have subsided, and acknowledges that phase of grieving in which deep sadness fills the space left by the person who has passed away.

‘Bereave’ is a very old word. In Middle English, the word was ‘bireven’, and before that, the Old English word was ‘bereafian’, both of which meant to deprive, to steal, or take away by violence. It shares a common Germanic root with similar words in many other old languages. Old Frisian had ‘biravia’; Old Dutch had ‘berooven’; Old Saxon had ‘biroban’; Od High German had ‘biroubon’ and Gothic had ‘biarubon’.

Today, Dutch still has ‘beroeven’ which means ‘bereavement’. German still has rauben meaning ‘to rob’ and ‘berauben’ to mean ‘deprived’.

In English, ‘bereave’ has come to refer primarily to loss of life or loved ones. It can also be used in relation to the loss of something that has immaterial value, like love or hope or joy. It has been used that way since the mid 17th century. The past tense form ‘bereaved’ applies to these senses of loss.

English also has the past tense word ‘bereft’ which is used to describe the kind of grief and sadness that comes from loss or diminution of one’s personal circumstances, such as the loss of wealth or home or possessions.

Sources:
Macquarie Dictionary
Online Etymology Dictionary
Wordhippo

Bereaved.
#words #language #emotions

The Appeal of Poetic Justice

Why is it so satisfying to see horrible people get what’s coming to them?

Image by pixel2013 on Pixabay.

Poetic justice is the idea that someone will get, or has got, what they deserve as a consequence of their behaviour. It can be either a reward or a punishment, and these are sometimes thought of as two sides of the same coin: a perpetrator will suffer while their victim has the satisfaction of seeing that justice has been served. 

It is similar to the concept of karma, by which one’s intent and actions have a direct effect on their future and wellbeing. 

Another related idea is divine retribution: a divine being or the universe itself punishing someone for their actions. 

Of course, these concepts are highly subjective. What someone deserves or not depends on one’s perspective. If person A has suffered as the result of Person B’s actions, then A is able to interpret B’s bad fortune as poetic justice or karma, while B might well consider that they are a victim and have reason to hope for their own vindication. Realistically, those two people may never join the same dots. 

So why is the idea of poetic justice so appealing?

It can make someone going through a bad situation, or wearing the scars of previous suffering, feel that they are less alone. It can give them hope that and that someone or something somewhere might notice their situation and act in their favour. Ultimately, we would probably all want God or the universe or the supernatural or the powers that be to be on our side and rule in our favour. 

The thought of someone having to pay or suffer for what they’ve done to us or to others we care about is powerful. It’s also relatable: as much as we decry revenge and know that it doesn’t solve anything, it’s still an attractive prospect— particularly if we haven’t had to actually do anything to make it happen.

Hoping for poetic justice, or karma, or divine retribution, can also function as a passive way of taking back some control from those who have hurt us. How many of us can honestly say that we haven’t thought “Well, he had THAT coming!” when something bad that has happened to a horrible person?

They are natural thoughts and feelings, and they need to be acknowledged and worked through. 

Still, as understandable as those feelings may be, we cannot afford to unpack and live there, no matter how much some of us may want to. It’s not a healthy place to stay. We have to move on and find a way to prevent our feelings about someone else from controlling our behaviour and attitudes.  

Perhaps that’s why seeing poetic justice delivered to fictional characters— or, indeed, to public figures who behave badly—  is so satisfying. It may not be happening to our own nemesis, but at least it’s happening to someone else’s. 

The Appeal of Poetic Justice
#PoeticJustice #Karma #Retribution #satisfaction #observation #blogpost

Several of my books explore themes of poetic justice and seeing people who behave horribly punished for their actions in one way or another.
They are available via jvlpoet.com/books and in all digital stores. Paperbacks are also widely available via Amazon and Book Depository.

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

Tristful.

Image by huskyherz on Pixabay.

Tristful is an archaic word that means to be melancholy or full of sadness. Like forswunk and forwallowed, it is a word which is said to be obsolete now, but it is so beautiful that I want to bring it back. 

It came into the English language, as many words did, courtesy of the Normans and the Plantagenets, in medieval times.  The Latin word tristis gave French the word triste, which gave English trist meaning sad or gloomy, and thus tristful. 

I discovered this word today while looking for words to describe my feelings and state of mind at this point in my grief journey. Over the past few days, I have been feeling as though everything is too hard, and I just want to withdraw into my cocoon and wallow. I’m not angry, nor am I ungrateful, but I am definitely not numb. My emotions are very close to the surface, and at times I am unable to hold back the tears. 

I know all of that is completely natural, and I know I need to accept it and work through it. I know it won’t last forever.

But I also needed the words to understand and express my emotions. 

I have been using the term ‘melancholy’ a lot, and it describes my condition perfectly. However, I know that while one cannot actually wear a word out, it is entirely possible to cheapen it with overuse. Melancholy is a word that I love because it is so expressive, and because it’s beautiful to say and to hear, so I would hate to be guilty of turning it into a cliche. 

Sad isn’t deep enough. Miserable would be appropriate, but it feels more temporary and somehow more minor than what I am experiencing. 

I very quickly rejected morose and in a funk because both suggest sullenness or a bad mood, which is not reflective of my feelings or state of mind. Moody was no better.

When I saw tristful listed in my thesaurus under the entry for melancholy, I had an immediate sense of having discovered a gem that most people had laid aside and forgotten about. As I researched its meaning and etymology, I knew I had discovered the perfect alternative. 

Tristful: to be melancholy or full of sadness. #words #emotions #etymology #English #blogpost

Balancing Positive and Negative Emotions

Today’s professional development day at school focused on Positive Education and how we can help our students and our communities to flourish. 

One of the aspects I found most thought-provoking was the discussion about positive or comfortable emotions and negative or uncomfortable emotions. It was particularly relevant to many of the things I have been experiencing and observing about life in recent weeks, and I want to share my observations and reflections on those things with you here.

Before I go any further, though, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not a medical or psychological expert or professional. I am, however, a high school teacher of 30 years’ experience, so I have had time and opportunity to make some observations about the things that happen in life and how we deal with them.

More personally, as someone who experiences chronic physical issues and mental health challenges, and who has experienced many conflicting emotions recently due to profound personal loss, I’m confident I know at least a little bit about dealing with adversity, and I’ve learned a few things about the importance of balancing negative emotions with positive ones. 

Both positive and negative emotions can be powerfully motivating.  Fear of failure or embarrassment is as strong, or stronger, in some people as desire for success is in others. 

Negative or uncomfortable emotions can motivate and fuel positive outcomes such as creativity, empathy, and relationship building.

Positive and negative emotions can actually be highly effectivecompanion emotions‘.  I don’t expect that this is a scientific term at all, but it seems to me a useful term that describes how contrasting emotions experienced at the same time can provide some healthy balance and perspective. 

I can testify from the past few weeks that gratitude can moderate grief, and enjoying a few quiet moments in the beauty of nature can transform abject misery into much gentler sadness.  

In different contexts, fear can be a healthy addition to awe or wonder – think of a child at the zoo, for example, for whom interest and desire to engage with the animals should always be balanced with both respect and a little fear or mistrust, so that the child and the animals all remain safe. In yet another situation, a little anxiety or nervousness can actually heighten deliberate preparation and performance if it is paired with intentional and thoughtful preparation, because it can stop one from making rushed or careless errors, or from taking success for granted. 

Life is not about always avoiding the feelings that make us uncomfortable or sad. Hoping to do so isn’t realistic at all, given that there are many situations that we can neither actually control or entirely avoid. 

Instead, it’s crucial that each of us learns to manage those negative or uncomfortable feelings and use the situations in which we encounter them to develop and consolidate our personal strengths and resilience.  Learning to look for the positives in life and choosing to find a balance for the negative experiences or emotions we encounter is how we grow and move forward in life. 

“Whether dealing with a major lifeshattering event or a small bump in the road, we can use gratitude to help boost our happiness and change our outlook. While gratitude won’t change our circumstances, experts say gratitude can change how we feel about them.”

Paula Felps in ‘Your Brain on Gratitude’ by Paula Felps 

That’s certainly what I’m seeking to do while working through my grief. It’s okay to take the time to mourn my losses, but I can’t afford to unpack and live there. Finding a constructive way through my pain will enable me to heal, and come out stronger at the other end. 

In being honest about how I feel and what I’m thinking in my posts on this blog, my hope is that my words will help and encourage someone else get through their personal challenges, whatever they are, and to deal with both their circumstances and their feelings.

I have no doubt that knowing we are not the only ones going through grief or pain or whatever trial it is that is burdening us actually helps us to start to heal. That’s why empathy and compassion are so powerful. That’s why the support and love of family and friends is what we yearn for and seek out when things are hard.  

Tonight, as I reflected on these ideas and considered the fact that I had no evidence for my inexpert assertions, I did find a number of articles that show my conclusions are consistent with current science and research surrounding emotional and mental health. 

Of those articles, some were quite wordy and far too academic to be accessible, but I did find two easily readable and very interesting pieces that discuss the ways in which positive emotions such as gratitude and self-compassion can help individuals deal with adverse situations more constructively.  They are:
‘Your Brain on Gratitude’ by Paula Felps via livehappy.com
’The Reason You Make Unhealthy Choices’ by Mandy Oaklander via time.com

“Being kind to yourself, as opposed to tearing yourself down, leads to fewer bad feelings and, in turn, healthier actions.”

Dr Fuschia Sirois, quoted in ’The Reason You Make Unhealthy
Choices’ by Mandy Oaklander
, via time.com September 25, 2014

Balancing Positive and Negative Emotions
#emotions #feelings #psychology #thoughts #reflection #personal #blogpost