Another Souvenir.

Yesterday, as I was unpacking and sorting the Christmas decorations, I discovered a keepsake that I didn’t even know I had.

Morris the Rainbear

It seemed odd at first when I found one of last year’s Christmas cards tucked into the bag of tinsel and other soft decorations: my elves from Canada, Morris the Rainbear which my sister gave me decades ago, some plush toys in Santa hats, and all the tinsel.
And when I say “all the tinsel”, I’m not kidding.
There’s a lot of it.
I love that stuff.

The thing is, I don’t usually keep Christmas cards. I usually give them to the pre-school or school, where the kids use the pictures on the front or, in the case of the beautiful cards made by my very clever sisters, the whole fronts of them to make cards for their families and friends.

When I opened the surprise card, realisation was followed closely by tears welling up in my eyes: it was the Christmas card my father gave us last year.

Card made by Jenny Greig.

I don’t know why I kept it.

I didn’t know then that it would be his last Christmas with us, or that it would be the very last thing I had with his handwriting on it.

When I saw his handwriting, all those mixed happy/sad feelings came rushing back. Tears from missing him so profoundly were mixed with laughter at how bad his handwriting was.

To say that Dad had lousy handwriting was no exaggeration.

If practically illegible handwriting alone were enough to qualify someone as a doctor, Dad could have been a professor of worldwide renown. It was a problem for as long as I knew him, and there were times when even he had no idea what he had written. More than once, he found that even though he had written a shopping list, by the time we got to the supermarket he had forgotten what was on it and neither of us could read it.

So, my attempt to transcribe what Dad wrote on this card may be inaccurate, but I think it says, “Jesus who came to suffer in our stead to the glory of his Father. For so was his wish.”

It’s such a classic Dad thing to do: just casually pop a little mini-sermon into a Christmas card. It’s such a lovely reminder of his love for Jesus and his desire for us to put our faith in Him, too. Among all the glitz and glitter and parties and feasting and end of year rush and revelry, the reminder of the true meaning of Christmas is as timely and important as it ever was. 

Teardrop is a collectable Charlie Bears bear.

I can tell you now, I’m keeping this card forever. It is on display on my grandfather’s bookshelf next to my chair, safely nestled in the lap of Teardrop, the bear who cuddled me throughout the afternoon and evening of the day Dad passed away, and mopped up more than a few tears along the way. .

It is an unexpected bonus having another souvenir of my Dad on display in my study this Christmas.

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.

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. 

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

87, Not Out.

Happy 87th Birthday to my Father.

My father was born on November 17, 1931.

Just for context, the world was still in the grip of the Great Depression, Hitler had not yet risen to power in Germany, Thomas Edison had just passed away, and Al Capone had just been sent to prison for tax evasion. Don Bradman was playing cricket for Australia and Phar Lap had won

My father grew up in Rotterdam in The Netherlands before moving to Australia with his parents and sisters. Life was certainly different after WWII, and even more different on the other side of the world where the seasons were back to front, everyone spoke English, and water swirled down the drain in the opposite direction.

If someone had told Dad in 1951 that those were not the biggest changes he would encounter in his life, he probably wouldn’t have believed them. There was, however, so much more to come, such as:

Marriage. Dad and Mum married in 1953 and enjoyed almost 58 years together.

December 19, 1953.

Four amazing and incredibly talented kids.

Yep, that’s me giving the photographer the stink eye. Cute, eh?

Colour TV.
Electric typewriters.
A change of career from industrial chemistry to bookstore owner.
Computers.
The CD.
Mobile phones.
The Internet.
Smart phones.
Digital books and music.
Studying online.

Dad has taken it all in his stride. He hasn’t let new things scare him off or make him feel obsolete. Time after time, he has shown his willingness and aptitude to give something new a red hot shot.

He hasn’t always found new technology easy, but once he’s got the hang of it, he’s proven that he can send a text or an email, make a call, and waste time on Facebook and Instagram as effectively as anyone can. He has been studying Biblical Hebrew online. He has the Kindle app on his iPad, on which he reads the books his daughter has written, which he has purchased online from Amazon. He also uses the iPad to listen to his son’s sermons and keep in touch with his relatives around the world. His grandchildren send him pictures of their kids via instant message, and he saves them on his phone to look at them again later.

I’m proud of my dad. Things aren’t always easy for him now, especially health-wise, but he’s still going and he’s still doing his best to enjoy all those things that make his life interesting and entertaining.

At the age of 87, he is not only the father of four but also grandfather of seven and great-grandfather to six.

He’s had a quiet day today, but he has been spoilt with a few special treats and received some phone calls from friends and family that he has really enjoyed. We’ve enjoyed some time together, too, and I treasure the moments where we can still just hang out and enjoy each other’s company.

I know it won’t last forever. Nothing does.
But my dad is still on the wicket with a score of 87, not out. Howzat?

My Favourite Escape.

When life takes an unexpected turn, there is no better place to escape than into a book.

What a week!

It was the first full week back at school with students after the summer break. New students, new classes, new schedules, new demands.  Not only was I ready, I was keen! I was determined to get through the week without falling in a heap.

The first day was great.

Then, just after recess on Wednesday, I got a call from my local medical clinic. My elderly father was unwell – again – and was on his way to hospital in an ambulance. Everything stopped except my mind: Is this it? Is this the beginning of the end? Must let the others know. Must tell the boss that I have to leave work. Must keep breathing. Can’t breathe. Okay. One thing at a time. Call the boss. Explain. No – don’t fall apart now. You don’t have time. 

I got to the hospital half an hour ahead of Dad because I work in town and the ambulance had a 45 minute trip, plus some road works to negotiate. I completed the necessary paperwork for him, and sat down to wait.

Waiting rooms suck on a major level. You sit there, surrounded by other people’s pain and misery, feeling alone and fearful, and trying to keep everything under control in your own overactive imagination – it’s quite some challenge.

reading-wonder.jpegSo while I sat and waited, I took refuge in a book. It didn’t stop me from looking up every time an ambulance rolled in, wondering if that was Dad being wheeled in. It didn’t stop me checking my phone and answering messages and questions from my siblings. But it did give me somewhere to go.

For the six and a half hours that I sat by Dad’s bedside in the Emergency Department, with medical questions answered and initial treatment under way, I escaped back into the book whenever I could. Dad knew I was there, but he wasn’t up to conversation. Reading someone else’s story kept me from focusing on my own, and it kept me from being overwhelmed by the flood of emotions that threatened to sweep me away while witnessing the pain and distress of my increasingly frail father.

After a somewhat tearful journey home, I thought I might be exhausted enough to fall asleep as soon as I got to bed. Nope. No such luck. Yet again, it was a book that came to the rescue. It didn’t put me to sleep, but it did relax me enough to be able to rest.

Taking refuge in a book is something I have often done in the troubled times of my life. Over the past couple of years, that has taken the form of both reading them and writing them. There are times, though, when I can’t write because the pain and fear is actually too close to think about at that level of depth. Wednesday was one such day.

Thursday was a blur of medical consultations, visits with various physical therapists, and further tests for Dad. Thankfully, at the end of all of that, I was able to bring him home again. It will take time for him, and for me, to recover. There will, undoubtedly, be further moments when I feel the need to make the world around me stop by escaping into a book.

Today, I’ve tried to catch up on the things I’ve let slide over the last few days. I haven’t quite managed yet to pick up all the threads again. I use Buffer, so my Twitter feed has kept on rolling, but many other things, including my writing, are at a standstill. Social media has only had the occasional cursory glance. I’ll get there – but not today.

For now, I’m thankful that Dad and I both survived the week, and that things are starting to return to normal.

And to the authors who continually craft such brilliant stories for me to escape into: thank you, from the bottom of my heart.  Your gifts mean more to people than you realise.

 

 

 

My Father’s Childhood Memories of Christmas

Today, I took the opportunity to ask Dad what Christmas was like for him when he was young.

I spent some time in the car with my father today, and as we travelled the presenter on the radio was asking people to call in and talk about family memories and traditions at Christmas time. This was a great opportunity to ask Dad what Christmas was like for him when he was young, so that’s exactly what I did! 

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My father grew up in Holland during the Depression and World War II. His family were not really poor, but neither were they rich. My grandfather worked very hard to provide for his family, and both he and my grandmother managed their resources carefully. 

The house was usually not decorated much for Christmas, but they did have a Christmas tree lit with candles. Dad also remembers the large fir trees that were put up in the churches, almost as tall as the roof.  Some were lit with electric lights, but most were lit with candles. As many churches were built of wood, this was a cause of many fires. I can understand how the sight of such a big tree, lit and decorated, in a church would imprint itself on the memory of a young lad. 

Christmas was a time when family would visit and often put on Christmas plays for one another. It was usually the children, but sometimes grownups too, who  would act out  the story of the first Christmas or plays about Sinterklaas and his companion, Swarte Piet.  A play like this was usually the only observance of the St Nicholas tradition in my father’s family, although for some Dutch families, Sinterklaas is almost as big a celebration as Christmas itself. By the time Dad was a teenager, it was more common for people to listen to stories or plays on the radio than to perform them at home for their relatives.

 

Gifts were generally not exchanged by adults, but the children received a book as a gift.  Dad also remembers that this was the time of year when children of a certain age – probably 11 or 12 years old – were presented  with a Bible of their own by the Sunday School of their church. 

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I can’t imagine how strange their first Christmas in Australia must have seemed to them in 1951. Even then, it would have been such a world away from how we celebrate Christmas now. Commercialism and materialism have seen to that.

2013-12-24-19-07-20.jpgHaving just turned 86, Dad celebrates Christmas on the other side of the world in the heat of summer, with trees illuminated by LED lights, a plethora of Christmas movies and ‘Carols by Candlelight’ concerts on TV . Family is still a focal point for all of us – my grandparents’ values have been firmly imprinted on us in that way, even if we do indulge in giving and receiving gifts that are generally luxuries. Dad, his sisters, and their families are spread across this enormous continent, so visiting happens via Skype and phone calls, while photos and news are shared on social media. 

I do like to think, though, that there is still a sense of wonder at a pretty Christmas tree being lit up at night, and I hope that people stop to hear and reflect on the story of Christmas that goes beyond reindeer, presents and “being good”.