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. 

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

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.

Having Dropped — And Temporarily Lost — The Ball

I’ve been absent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned, folks. I’m not dead yet.

Don’t It Go To Show Ya Never Know?

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

Tonight was supposed to be opening night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personally, I can’t wait!

Jokes That Fall Flat In Church #2973

Other person: I need a broom.

Me: I didn’t ride mine here today so I can’t help you.

Everyone else: *crickets*

They love me, really.

How To Not Make Someone Feel Worse Than They Already Do

Despite having worked hard, going more than one “extra mile” and achieving some good things, I have spent much of the past  few days feeling absolutely, irretrievably inferior. Totally sub-standard. An awful disappointment.

It’s not a new experience, by any stretch of the imagination. It happens far more often than most people will ever know or realise. Even so, it is never pleasant feeling as though most of the world thinks you’re rubbish. 

It’s not as though any of us is perfect. I certainly make no claim to be… which is a good thing because I am most definitely not.

And yet, when others discover a flaw or weakness, or find I have made a mistake, they very often speak or act as though they feel they have a right to be outraged and judge me for my imperfection. 

So here’s a news flash. 

I am not perfect. 
Neither are you. 
Everyone makes mistakes. 
Everyone misses a beat every now and then. 

But you know what is more hurtful than someone making a mistake? 
Treating them as though they are less than you. 

Because, you know, they’re not. 

If someone does something that bothers you, or offends you, and you feel the need to talk to them about it, for goodness’ sake, be kind. And if you can’t be kind, then wait until you can. 

And please, please, oh please, go to them and speak to them rather than anyone else. Going behind their back and kvetching about it is only ever going to cause more complications and trouble, so unless that is your actual intent, it is a response that should be avoided.

Similarly, there is nothing achieved by being judgemental. In fact, it is entirely counterproductive. 

Sure, they might comply with what you ask or insist of them. But they might do that if you simply asked them to do something to resolve the issue, too— especially if you ask nicely and say please.

The saying that “you get more out of people with honey than you do with a stick” became a proverb for a reason: it is generally true. It is certainly true of how I respond to people. 

If someone treats me with kindness, I will do everything in my power to not let them down. 
If they dump judgement on me, I am just going to keep on beating myself up over it, because if someone tells me I am not good enough, I will believe them. I will also probably never again fully believe that they have any respect for me at all. 

And if someone else, completely unknown to them and in different circumstances, tells me the same thing, I will believe both of them, twice as hard and twice as long. 

It’s not deliberate, and it doesn’t matter if that is not your intention: that’s how I am wired. 

The consequence is that it makes everything I need to do in a day more difficult. I doubt myself and second guess everything, even the things I know I am good at. 

To be honest, life is actually hard enough without that. It’s bad enough knowing that I made the mistake in the first place, or that someone resents me for not measuring up to their standards. Add chronic pain, anxiety and depression into the mix, and it very quickly becomes both exhausting and excruciating. 

It’s almost certain that that doesn’t just apply to me, either. Many people have internal battles or burdens of one kind or another that they keep hidden, but which add another level of complexity to whatever else they have to deal with in a day. 

So when someone screws up— and we should all understand that everyone will, from time to to time— be kind. Tell them gently, person to person, and let them fix it, or at least try to. 

Please. And thank you. 

Ducking Out For A Break.

I try to spend some time each day away from screens and away from work of any description.

It’s good therapy to walk, listen, and breathe, far away from such demands.

It refreshes me, body and soul, and boosts my creativity and concentration.

One of the places I like to visit is the small lake in my town. It has a walking track, an exercise circuit, benches to rest on, barbecue and picnic tables, a playground, and a friendly group of ducks.

Just now, as I wrote “a group of ducks”, I began to muse over which was the correct collective noun for ducks. I suspected that “flock” was used when in flight, and that “brace” was used when they were on the ground, but thought I should check.

A little research in the interests of accuracy yielded surprising results. Did you know there are more than a dozen different collective nouns used for ducks?

According to collectivenounslist.com, those are:

  • Badelynge
  • Badling
  • Brace
  • Dopping
  • Flock
  • Flush
  • Paddling
  • Plump
  • Pump
  • Raft
  • Sword
  • String
  • Team
  • Twack

Some of these terms are more commonly used than others, and I cannot help but think some of them are archaic words. Badelynge definitely looks like the kind of spelling one finds in Chaucer or other Middle English texts. I also suspect that this word has been transformed into “badling” as language and spelling evolved over time.

How, though, are we not commonly calling a group of ducks a “twack”? It’s highly expressive and so delightfully onomatopoeic! Furthermore, it couldn’t possibly be mistaken for a term relating to any other creature.

From now on, ‘badelynge’ and ‘twack’ are the terms I’ll be using to refer to my ducky friends at the lake. Hey nonny nonny!

A twack of ducks! With a badelynge of ducks in the water beneath the boardwarlk!

Prejudice Is Ugly, Kids.

I was saddened to read what happened to Sharon Cathcart the other day in response to a blog post about racism. Nobody should have to put up with another person’s bad behaviour simply because they are standing up for what is right. 

Sadly, there can be no doubt that racism and white supremacy are still living and active in our world. 

We see their outworking on the news, on the streets, on social media, and in the actions of hateful people. It can be public or private. It can be overt or concealed. 

It seems the only thing it cannot be is eradicated. 

I do try, in my own sphere of influence, to teach and challenge others to embrace equality, acceptance, and empathy for what others have endured, and what is still experienced by many. 

I try to make people aware of what white privilege is, and why it’s wrong to perpetuate it. Yes, I’m fully aware that I’ve been a beneficiary of it all my life. I’ve had advantages others haven’t, simply because I’m white. That doesn’t mean I am willing to sit back and allow it to perpetuate.  

This is why I teach my students about the effects of European settlement of Australia on the indigenous people, then and now. It’s why I teach my students about segregation, oppression, and the Civil Rights Movement, and have them listen and respond to speeches by Martin Luther King Jr and JFK. It’s why I thave them study texts such as ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ and ‘No Sugar’. It’s why I teach about inequality, wellbeing, and social justice. And I make sure they understand that for everything that has happened in the USA, Australia’s track record is no better. 

It’s why I challenge people who tell racial jokes, or call people names, or avoid people who don’t fit their ideal. 

It’s why I object to the way in which my country continues to detain people who are legitimately seeking asylum on small third-world islands nearby. It’s why I object to policies and practices that continue to discriminate against indigenous Australians. 

And it’s why I write blog posts like this. 

I do not ever claim to be perfect, but I detest prejudice, discrimination, and everything that goes with them. It’s not just about race: nobody should be excluded, abused or marginalised for being different in whatever way. 

I, too, have had hateful messages left on a blog post or three. I know they are intended to upset me, and to deter me from posting something similar again.

Sadly for those responsible, it has the opposite effect. I always figure that if someone is vehement enough to threaten or abuse me over something I have written, I have probably touched a nerve that deserved touching. As my grandfather used to say, “If you throw a stone at a pack of dogs, the one it hits will yelp the loudest.”

He was a wise man, my grandfather. That statement was never made about actual rocks, nor about actual dogs. It was invariably made about bullies, and various other sorts of horrible people, and the way they would always lash out or blame someone else in response to any accusation or opposition directed at them.

That’s the same reason people leave nasty messages on blogs and social media. They resent the fact that someone is calling them out on their hate.

It’s okay for them to say what they want, though. They have rights, you know.

Sharon E. Cathcart

I was coming back here to write about something else, and found that I had a threatening e-mail (via my contact page) and comment (permanently deleted) from a white supremacist in reference to the link I shared about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Suffice it to say that this individual now has the rare distinction of having been blocked.

This is what white supremacy looks like: threatening anyone who dares to show support for people of color, or to speak out about what happens to them.

And that is actually what I came here to write about. When my dad died, I mentioned that he had given away the bride when one of his African-American students, Joe, married a white woman. Her own family refused to attend.

Anyway, we tried very hard to find Joe in time for Daddy’s funeral. The number my mother had was disconnected, and the…

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