On Realising How Awful I Look. 

A day with family, holding a brand new baby, can make you see things from a new perspective.

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I spent most of today with family, welcoming my new great-nephew to the family. It was a day full of love, laughter and baby cuddles… and lots of photos. 

Holding my beautiful baby boy made me overflow with all sort of love. Seeing my 86 year old dad holding him made us all more than a little emotional. Another picture of four generations – my dad, my brother, a niece and a baby boy – is a wonderful blessing that many families don’t see. 

I have also observed multiple times today how awful I look. That has been my first reaction to every photo I am in. 

In addition to chronic pain and depression, too many months of anguish, stress and anxiety have taken their toll. I have cried every day for at least 250 days. I have feared and I have despaired. And it shows. 

BUT I have also survived. It doesn’t really matter how crapful I end up looking. I’m stronger than everything that has tried and still tries to bring me down.

My heart and soul have bled onto pages and screens, but my words have touched, encouraged and inspired people on the way. My writing have been praised, and my books have won awards. 

So when you look at me or see pictures and think I don’t look so great, you just remember that I’ve earned it.

RIP George Michael et al 2016

“RIP George Michael,
Another favourite gone…”

RIP George Michael,
Another favourite gone.
First Bowie, then Prince and Rickman
And then it was Leonard Cohen.
But Donald Trump is alive and well –
What drug has this year been on?

Oh, Paris.

My heart is breaking for the people of Paris, the nation of France and all those who are grieving or sharing others’ grief because of the events that are unfolding there right now.

While we don’t know all the details, we do know and must remember these things:
Not every Muslim is responsible.
Not every refugee is responsible.
We must not engage in vitriol against either group of people;
nor should we tolerate others engaging in hatred against them.

To do so would be to lose our own integrity by lowering ourselves to doing exactly what the perpetrators hope we will do.

These heinous acts are down to a few extremists who hate freedom and resent anyone who dares to have it. It seems that in their world view, they are the only ones who should be allowed to do as they please.

I hope that Justice and Karma act swiftly. Whichever of them gets to those responsible first, that’s okay with me.

The Other Kind Of Journey.

I’ve had enough of hospitals. Waiting, wondering, hoping, fearing. Staring at walls in various shades of white, surrounded by people in scrubs who are all hurrying to be somewhere else. Steeping in the tension and quietness of suspense, strongly brewed.

I’d like to be somewhere else. Of course, I have preferences, but I wouldn’t be too choosy about a change of locale right now. Perhaps not jail, though.

Yet I am held here by forces stronger than my desire to be gone: an eclectic mix of fear, grief, loyalty, duty and belonging, amongst which the balance of power alternates at a sometimes giddy rate.

I belong here with the family, yet I know it’s different for me. I’m the only in-law here, but he’s my dad too. I’m still as afraid as they are.

I know what it’s like to lose a parent, to say goodbye that last time while still not wanting them to go at all. The others don’t know that yet. I think they all realise, though, that whether he lives or dies, they will never be the same again.

They’re blessed to be here together. When my mum died, it was just her and me. My sisters and brother couldn’t get there in time, although they desperately wanted to. It was me who watched and waited and wept in that quiet room. I sang her hymns and prayed with her. She held my hand, even though she was not conscious, and even though she had long forgotten who I was, I knew something buried deep inside her remembered me. How I longed for my siblings then. It was unfair for all of us. I had to do it on my own, but I had precious, awful time with her that they did not.

I thought about that day a lot yesterday when I knew the others were together. I’m glad they can keep each other strong. I’m glad I am here with them today.

The ominous, helpless heaviness of waiting has wrapped its dreadful cloak around us. There is nothing to be done except remain there.

To mourn with those who mourn…

To mourn with those who mourn…

On Wednesday, February 12, Luke Batty was killed by his father on a cricket field in Tyabb, an outlying suburb of Melbourne. The tragedy unfolded further when the boy’s father threatened police with a knife and was shot in self-defence. The entire scene played out in front of horrified onlookers including the boy’s mother and a number of his friends and schoolmates.  Thankfully, most of the children who had participated in cricket training had already gone home. 

My heart breaks for Luke’s mother, family and friends. I have no words for their loss or their pain. 
I mourn for the loss of innocence of his school mates and all who witnessed his brutal death. Things will never be quite the same for them, especially school and cricket practice.

I also grieve for the police officers who had to attend such a horrible event, witness the death of a child, and shoot a man in self defence. They are traumatised, too.

Luke was a student at the school where four members of my family work.  I grieve for each of them. I grieve for his teachers and for everyone in that school community. It has rocked the whole community – and so it should.

I spent today at my school’s swimming carnival, looking at the kids having fun, playing around, swimming races, encouraging and cheering each other on… and I thought, “You know… that could be us. How would we deal with it? How on earth would we hold our school community together after such an event?”

The answer: only by the grace of God, with the love of God. 
And there, but for His grace and love, go we. 

I wanted to tell every one of the kids at the swimming pool today how amazing, how unique, how special they are.  Most of them hadn’t heard about what happened to Luke. They would have either thought I’d gone slightly mad or been more than a little freaked out by it.  So I kept my grief and my feelings to myself, save for one friend I confided in. I smiled at the kids, encouraged and praised them, and did all I could to give them a great day.

It may seem odd to grieve over someone I’ve never met and who I didn’t even know existed until yesterday, but the death of this young boy is a reason our nation and our whole society should mourn. 

Love your children, people. Cherish them. Make memories with them. Nurture and encourage them. Fill them with hope, courage, strength and love. 

God knows, it’s a sad, sorry, broken world we live in.

How will you be remembered?

The first time I remember hearing that someone famous had died was Elvis Presley in 1977.  I was ten, and had already learned to love his music. I watched Elvis movies on TV on Sunday afternoons. I sang along with his songs. I cried when I saw on TV that he had passed away. 

I remember quite vividly the time I was watching TV and the newsreader told me that John Lennon had been shot and killed. Again, I loved his music and the magic of lyrics that touched my soul, even as a thirteen year old. I always was into poetry, lyrical or otherwise.

I remember when Princess Grace of Monaco died in a car crash in 1982. I was shocked, and felt deeply for her family, especially her daughter Stephanie who was in the car with her when it happened. I knew of her as the elegant and sophisticated First Lady of Monaco, but I had also loved her in ‘High Society’ and other movies. 

That same year, a friend of mine was killed while riding his bike to visit his new workplace. He was hit by a drunk driver. He was just a regular guy. He was funny and sweet. He had so much talent and his life as a young adult was just opening up for him. His horizons were bright. He was gone far too suddenly, too soon. 
The grieving among his friends and family was intense. There were no news bulletins, magazine stories or headlines. Social media didn’t even exist. But there was a large church packed full of people who loved him and wished with all our hearts that he hadn’t been taken.

There were things we all wished we had said. Moments that we had allowed to slip by without acknowledgement or appreciation. We would never get another chance. 

This was my first experience of death among my friends. It was followed by several others over the next few years. All of them were young men – healthy, talented, funny guys who were genuinely loved by their family and friends.  Even now, I think of each of them when reminders pop up in conversations, on Facebook, in places we used to know. 

I remember being in the car, on the way to church, when I heard on the radio that Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, had been killed in a car crash in Paris. I was incredibly sad – more so for her sons and her family than anyone else. I watched her funeral on TV. I watched Charles and his boys as they walked slowly in the procession to Westminster Abbey.  The image of the wreath of flowers from William and Harry on her coffin, with a note that simply said, “Mummy”, broke my heart. That was when I really wept. 

It is completely understandable that people get upset when a beloved movie star, singer or other celebrity dies. 
Someone they admire, respect or aspire to be like has passed away. Their unique blend of personality, talent and beauty, be that physical, intellectual or spiritual) has been lost to those who remain behind. 

Last night the news was that Paul Walker, star of various movies, had died as the passenger in a car that hit a pole and burst into flames. The driver, his friend, was also killed. 

There has been a huge outpouring of grief on social media for Paul Walker, but what of his friend?
There were two men who died in that crash. 
Most likely, there were numerous other young men who were injured or killed in car crashes this past weekend alone. They were important, too. They were someone’s sons, brothers, cousins, friends, boyfriends, employees, students, teammates. Surely their lives are just as valuable as the celebrity?

Many families grieve every week for these reasons.

It can happen to anyone.  It can happen to anyone’s family and friends.
Young men in cars are more likely than anyone else to be injured or killed on a weekend.  

Life is so fragile, even though most of us tend to live as though we are invincible. 

In your grieving for those who have achieved fame for their talent or beauty, please think about and acknowledge the others who remain faceless and nameless to most of us.  They are no less important.  Their families also need prayer, support, condolence and encouragement.

It’s really important that we learn to use our grief as a reminder to make sure that our family and friends know we love them and appreciate them. Create positive, lasting memories so that there will always be a legacy of love when someone is gone. The memories and love are invaluable.

Our legacy of memories and love to our family and loved ones is far, far more important than fame. 

Letting go.

Today a dear friend of mine passed away.
I wrote about her on Friday. She was young and vibrant and had the most beautiful heart for other people that I’ve ever experienced.
She leaves behind her two young daughters, a husband, a mother and a father (who also has Alzheimers), an extended family and a wide network of friends. All who met Rebecca were touched by her spirit and her joy.

We knew she was dying. We knew that her battle with the cancers that attacked her colon, liver and abdomen was drawing to a close.  As soon as the news that Bec had passed away was delivered, the Facebook pages of her mother and sister were flooded with messages of love, support, sympathy, and grief.

It’s so hard for us to let go of someone we love. Nobody wants a member of their family or a friend to die.  It’s so hard to grieve and to let go.  It hurts. We cry. We hold each other, we promise ourselves that we will stop taking our loved ones for granted.  We take comfort in the belief that our loved one is in a better place, where there is no more sorrow or pain.

How blessed we are that the death of a friend or relative can still come as a shock.  How blessed we are that we often know it’s coming, and have a chance to say goodbye. How blessed we are if we live in a nation where the death of a child or a teen due to unforeseen circumstances is still unusual.

People from war-torn nations live with this on a daily basis.  They don’t know when their time will come. It may come in the form of a bombing, a military raid, arrest and subsequent imprisonment or disappearance, or genocide.

It’s no wonder some of them make the decision to flee the danger. Sometimes, an entire family or village will pool their very limited resources to spirit one young member of their family away in the hopes of them finding safety and building a life in a different place – a place where there is peace, and hope, and a future.

These are the people who get on the boats that belong to the people smugglers who bring them to Australia. They take the risks that they do because whatever danger lies ahead, it’s nowhere near as bad as the danger they leave behind.
All they want is a chance at a new life… to live somewhere where life is valued, where people are protected, and where the army and police are not the enemy.

I cannot imagine how a mother feels when her child flees a war zone and starts on a journey into the unknown.  She, too, will most likely comfort herself with thoughts of them going to a place where there is no sorrow, no war, no oppression, and where one really can enjoy peace.  Friends, too, would be sorry to see them go but hopeful that their new life will be much better than the one they leave behind.

Who do our political leaders think they are to say, “No, you can’t come in! We want to keep our country to ourselves!”? What on earth must the rest of the world think of the Australian Government’s latest decision – to rule out the possibility of any asylum seeker who tries to get to Australia ever being allowed to live here?

I could probably have a pretty good guess at what the asylum seekers think.
Heartless.
Cold.
Ignorant.
Selfish.

That’s what I think too.

Please don’t think that I’m saying that my friend Rebecca’s life means less than one of these asylum seekers. Nothing could be further from the truth.
However, each of those asylum seekers is someone’s brother or father, mother or daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, uncle… and their lives are just as valuable as those of the people who already live in this very wealthy, productive and vast land.  Knowing Rebecca as I do, I can confidently say that she would absolutely agree.

There has to be a better way – a more humane and compassionate way – to solve the problem of people smugglers endangering their lives.

I don’t know what that way forward it. But I know this – it must not involve denying the opportunities our nation offers for anyone who wants to live here and become an Australian.

“Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”

I’ve heard this said so many times, and I do believe it.

The line comes from Tennyson’s poem, ‘In Memoriam’.  It’s a long poem  in which the poet struggles with grief and loss, and all the other emotions and questions of faith and life that accompany them. His thoughts and feelings are very much like mine at this point in time.

“I hold it true, whate’er befall;

I feel it, when I sorrow most;

‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.”

When a friendship ends or when a loved one dies, it’s really hard to be the one that is left behind. It hurts… a lot.

Both kinds of grief have happened to me in the past couple of weeks. It’s also two years today since I sat with my mother, held her hand, and watched and waited as she died.  I’m sure the anniversary is adding to my pensive mood today as I consider the grief I have experience more recently.

A friend who means a very great deal to me turned on me and said he never wanted to talk with me again. I still don’t know what brought that on. I probably never will. He’s made his decision and I have to live with that, no matter how much it hurts, and no matter how much I really don’t like it.

We had been such close friends. We talked about everything. We shared hopes and dreams, happiness, pain, sorrow, loss, disappointment, and elation.  He told me often that I was one of the best friends he had ever had. He told me that he valued me as a friend, as a confidante, as a sounding board.
Yet he allowed his anger over something that someone else had done to poison our friendship. He told me that he knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, and that he knew I couldn’t do anything to change it… but he couldn’t let it go. He cradled his hurt, fed it with resentment, and it grew into obsessive anger.  He fertilised it with bitterness and self-pity, and it grew to be so big that it became a barrier between himself and everyone else.  Then he blamed me and pushed me away.
I observed to a mutual friend at that time that it’s worse than when a friend dies because you know at least they wanted to be with you and they cherished your friendship. Being apart is not what either of you wanted. When it’s someone’s choice, and you are the one who is rejected, that’s really hard to accept.

Two weeks later, I’m faced with the imminent death of a dear friend who I care very much for.
She’s young, vibrant, spirited, loving, and one of those beautiful souls that touches the heart of everyone she meets in a very special way.
She has two young daughters and a husband who loves her very much.
Her family all adore her. She is the eldest daughter, the big sister, a loving aunt, a treasured cousin, a precious niece.

Never mind my grief. It’s nothing compared to theirs.
What are they going to do without her? How will they cope? How will they move on and keep on building their lives?  I know their lives will be filled with the sentiment of “I wish she were here to see/experience/enjoy this”.

I am really struggling to deal with my grief. I don’t want her to die. I don’t want her daughters to have to grow up without their mother. I don’t want her struggle, our friendship, and the prayers of everyone who has supported and loved and cared for her to end this way.

I know cancer doesn’t actually choose its victims. I certainly don’t believe that God inflicts cancer, or any other disease, on people just for the hell of it.
My struggle is seeing someone beautiful and sweet and kind being eaten alive by this evil disease, while others who abuse and rape women and children, or murder people, or prey on the powerless for their own gratification, live healthy, long lives in relative comfort.
How is that fair?

These thoughts flood my heart and soul with anger and a strong desire for the world to be different, for the endings to be different, for evil diseases to only happen to the people who don’t love or appreciate or care for others, even while I’m trying to stem the tide and just deal with my personal grief.

I’ve always had a strong sense of justice and it’s just screaming now for relief and for something miraculous to happen.

Then I think about the friend who walked away, and I want to tell him that people aren’t disposable. Friendships are not about convenience or personal comfort, to be abandoned when things get a bit difficult.  Loyalty, love and compassion in a friendship aren’t things you should just be able to walk away from… especially when friends like that can be taken away from you at any moment.

I want both of them to come back. I want to be able to talk and laugh and play and cry and tell stories and listen and drink coffee and relax with them.

I don’t want them to be gone.