Pieces Falling Into Place

A complicated puzzle became both a memorial and an allegory for my grief journey and my life.

I’ve been working on a beautiful jigsaw puzzle over the past month. I chose it in honour of Helen, because she and I often did puzzles together. In fact, this was the first jigsaw puzzle I’ve done without Helen in probably twenty years. I also chose it for my dad, who would have loved both the map and the fact it was created by a Dutchman. 

The image is an antique map of the known world, complete with solar systems and representations of the four elements; highlighted with gold embellishments. It was created by F. De Wit in Amsterdam in 1663, and the puzzle was produced by Hinkler Mindbogglers. Boy oh boy, did they get that branding right! 

It really was a mind boggling challenge. Intricate lines, many pieces that still looked almost the same, and corner and edge pieces that were almost identical to one another made putting this puzzle together quite the labour of love. 

Mind boggling, to say the least!

Piece by piece, though, it started to happen. It is no understatement to say that I felt a profound sense of achievement when I finished a section and could anticipate how beautiful the whole thing was going to look. 

Piece by piece, it started to come together…

Doing the puzzle in honour of Helen and my father gave me purpose, but the concentration it required and the distraction from other things in life gave me a sense of mindfulness and peace that really helped me in my day to day life. 

Almost there! But those last couple of hundred pieces were the hardest!

Dealing with my grief and managing tasks related to Dad’s estate were somewhat complicated by the challenges of teaching online again during Victoria’s second major Covid-19 lockdown, but working from home also gave me the space I needed to do those things and start to heal. 

In many ways, that puzzle became an allegory for my own life. I was putting those pieces together too, seeing how things fit and getting an idea of how things would look. I too have intricate lines and a complex design that needs to be observed carefully in order to achieve the desired outcome. My life is full of pieces that fit together neatly, and it’s up to me to make sure I get that right. 

So, while the puzzle on the table is complete, the puzzle that is me is still a work in progress. 

A beautiful picture indeed!

Today marks thirteen weeks since my dad graduated to heaven. Thursday marks the same interval for Helen. 

Three months seemed like an appropriate goal for completing the puzzle, and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction at having done so.

This week, I will make arrangements to have it framed. 

When it is hanging on my wall, it will be a daily reminder that doing life well is a process, not an event. It will remind me that every piece matters. And it will remind me of my love for Dad and for Helen, of their love for me.  

I am so blessed to have known and loved them both, and to have been loved by them. The pieces they contributed to the puzzle of my life have helped to make it a thing of beauty. For that, I am very, very thankful. 

I know that as the pieces of life continue falling into place and fitting back together, my grief will remain present, but it will change. It will transform to become a part of the bigger picture, while keeping its own shape and character. In time, it will be differently painful, but the picture of my life would be incomplete with out it. In its place, fitting in with the pieces that represent joy, achievement, love, and hope, it adds its own detail, texture and embellishment to the canvas. 

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. 

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.

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by L.M. Montgomery

Among its feisty, quirky main character Anne Shirley and the entire delightful cast of characters, the wonderful story and animated storytelling, and the magnificent Prince Edward Island settings which I have visited in person, there is nothing about this book that I do not adore. 

Anne taught me that it was a wonderful thing to love books and poetry more than anyone else I knew, and that it was better to be myself than to try to be someone else. She showed me how to embrace my quirks and to disregard the criticism of those made uncomfortable by them. 
This is a wonderful story, beautifully told, which I have loved since I first read it when I was seven years old. Yes, I was a prodigious reader even then, having started reading for myself at the age of three! Like Anne, I started out in the way I was destined to continue.

My vintage copy of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ and the postcards I bought at Green Gables on Prince Edward Island.

This vintage copy came to me courtesy of my favourite book rescue shelter, Spectrum Books in Warrnambool. It is the same vintage as the set I inherited from my mother although, sadly, her copy of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ has been lost.

I remember that her book had an original bookplate inside the front cover which she had drawn and painted before adding her name and the date. For me, that is the saddest part of losing her book: her art is lost, too. This is her work inside the cover of the sequel, ‘Anne of Avonlea’, which she received along with the first book for Christmas when she was thirteen years old. 
Her full name was named Shirley Anne – named after both Shirley Temple and Anne Shirley of ‘Green Gables’ fame. 

What’s In My Head?

A memory that has become a family tradition.

I love a good family story or tradition, especially one that gets etched into the conversation patterns and banter for years to come. A moment of humour or a funny experience becomes part of who we are, both individually and collectively.

One of those stories half belongs to our great friend, Lindsay. He is a super nice person, and we’ve been friends for at least twenty years.

On one particular occasion maybe fifteen years ago, maybe more, he and I were outside doing some work on the farm that my husband and I were living on, and where Lindsay was a regular and most welcome visitor. I can’t remember what were talking about, but I remember this part of the conversation vividly.

We laughed. We told my husband the story. And it stuck. We still “do the routine” at least once a week. It honestly never gets old.

Monday was one of those days. After the lines were said and the laughter was had, I thought for a while, as I have often done before, about how clever a comeback it was.

I also thought about exactly what I am full of. It wasn’t much of a surprise to me when those thoughts began to turn into a poem. That’s what my thoughts do.

You can read the poem titled ‘Full’ at WordyNerdBird Writes.

A Glimpse Into A Writer’s Mind.

Today’s instalment of ‘truth is stranger than fiction’.

When I was growing up, there was a girl with whom I was friends most of the time. Our parents were friends, too, which meant that we saw each other outside of school and church activities. She left school two years before I did, and I only saw her briefly a handful of times between then and when I left Sydney in 1989. We have some friends in common, but I haven’t ever pursued reconnecting in any way.

2016-02-11 21.54.33-1At 3.47am today, my brain woke me up to remind me that her birthday was March 2nd.

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”.

 

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.