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.

A Much-Needed Break

COVID-19 restrictions were recently eased in our area, just in time for us to make the most of us both having four days off work.

We took the opportunity to sneak away for a break and headed down the coast with our friends, caravans in tow, phones switched onto silent, and four days’ worth of food, drinks and comfy old clothes ready to go.

At this point of 2020, we fully realise what a luxury four days away from home really is. After months of staying home, teaching from home, and only leaving home when absolutely necessary, the change of scenery was most welcome. Of course, Melbourne and its surrounding area are still under restrictions, so this is a privilege most people in my state do not have. I do feel sympathy for them, but not sufficiently to forgo the pleasure of my first real break since January.

We are camped at the little coastal hamlet of Yambuk on the south-western coast of Victoria. It’s a picturesque little spot, overlooking a lake that is kept separate from the ocean only by sand dunes. We can see the ocean beyond the dunes, hear it murmuring all night as we rest, and easily walk to the beach whenever we so desire. The lake has a bird population of a dozen gulls and one magnificent pelican, while our campsite has several blue wrens that keep us entertained.

Not that I need much for entertainment. I’m happy to gaze at the sea, or the birds, or watch the sun dip behind the dunes as dusk cloaks the countryside with a blanket of almost-but-not-quite-darkness, illuminated by stars and a full moon so bright you could almost read by it.

I had planned to record and upload a couple of spooky stories for Halloween, but the phone signal is so low, I can’t even upload images to Instagram unless I drive twenty minutes to a bigger town. This would usually frustrate me but, this weekend, I really don’t care. So, I put my phone down and decided I would also take a good break from screens.

I have taken the opportunity to walk, to nap, to read books, to do puzzles, and to sit in companionable silence with my friend. I have managed to get a few nice photos. I have taken time to contemplate the huge differences in my life between last January and now. I don’t know if this year has changed me, but it has changed lots of things for me.

I suppose I am stronger, but I don’t feel it. It’s going to take more than four days to heal that amount of damage, but at least I’ve made a bit of a start.

I’m very thankful for this beautiful place and the time off that made this little getaway possible.

Most of all, I am thankful for the people who are willing to nourish me physically and spiritually, and to hold my hand or encourage me while giving me time and space to work on myself. I am blessed to have some of those people right here with me this weekend, while others are still on the other side of closed borders. It may have been one of the most rubbish years ever, but I am richly blessed to have some amazing people in my life to help me get through it.

This post and its pictures actually uploaded after who-knows-how-many attempts. I had actually given up and put my phone down again, and noticed some time later that it has uploaded. And they say miracles don’t happen!

Shadows of You

Today is Helen’s birthday.

This poem says it all.

Image by Karen_Nadine on Pixabay

There are so many things
I wish I could tell you,
So much I want to say:
I love you.
I miss you.
I want you back.
I wish you were here today.
Life is not what it used to be,
My wishes are nothing but air,
The emptiness aches.
The quietness moans.
Shadows of you are everywhere.
I weep with depth of longing,
Miserable, lonely, bereft:
I love you.
I miss you.
I want you back,
And the memories are all I have left.

ⓒ2020 Joanne Van Leerdam

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Uhtcare

Uhtcare— pronounced oot-care — is a lovely Old English word that dates back to the Anglo-Saxon poem ‘The Wife’s Lament’, and was probably used throughout medieval times.

I heard it for the first time today in the Something Rhymes With Purple podcast by Susie Dent and Gyles Brandreth.

Image by pasja1000 on Pixabay

Uhtcare translates to ‘dawn care’ and relates to the anxiety of lying in bed worrying about the coming day before it has even really started. It comes from the OE words uht meaning before dawn and cearu/caru meaning anxiety.

It wasn’t just the beauty of the word that struck me, but also the timeliness of hearing it today. Completely forwallowed after a night of very little sleep courtesy of painsomnia, I could totally relate to that feeling! I was lying in bed before dawn this morning wondering if it were at all possible for me to actually make it to work today. I thought about the lessons I wanted to teach, and how much effort it always takes to ensure that a substitute teacher has everything they need to deliver my lessons effectively.I also felt incredibly guilty about the fact that we have only just returned to face to face teaching, and there I was thinking about staying home.

Still, I knew I wouldn’t be a safe driver today, and I also knew there was very little likelihood of me teaching anything effectively at all.

So, I got up at 5.45 am and made sure all my lessons, material and extra notes for my replacement for the day were loaded in the school’s system and ready to go.

Image by MichaelGaida on Pixabay

Given that we don’t really have an adequate alternative for such a useful and expressive word in today’s English, It is a shame that this word has fallen out of use. Maybe it’s time to bring it back.

Uhtcare: lying awake before dawn, worrying about the day.
Anglo-Saxon/Old English
#English #words #blogpost

Sources:
Something Rhymes With Purple podcast: Vedettes 15/9/2020

Ten Rare But Useful Words Everyone Should Know

Anglish Wordbook

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!