Undone.

Photo by Laura James on Pexels.com

This morning, I came undone. 

I had my Christmas playlist on in the car. I defamed of a white Christmas with Frank Sinatra , I shared a grown-up Christmas list with Michael Buble, and then it happened. ‘Christmas Without You’ by Human Nature began to play. I held it together for the first verse, but I also knew it was time to pull over. There would be no driving through the rest of the song. 

I couldn’t even play the whole thing. I had to turn it off because the big,  ugly, messy cry was already just about out of control. 

Knowing Christmas this year will be spent without two people I love dearly is hard. I’ve had to consciously motivate myself to do the shopping, put up the tree and hang the tinsel. This is highly unusual for me: I am generally a big kid when it comes to Christmas. . Buying and wrapping gifts is fun, but even that brings its own reminders of whose presents won’t be under the tree. 

I will keep on playing Christmas music, but I have edited my playlist for this year. I have taken that song out, along with Blue Christmas, Please Come Home For Christmas, and All I Want For Christmas Is You. There will be fewer sad songs and more bells, reindeer and snow along with baby Jesus and the angels. 

I will do my best to enjoy Christmas with my loved ones. I will drape tinsel over the broken bits, and perhaps keep some spare strong tape handy in case I come unstuck again. Bring on the merry and the sparkles. 

Undone.
#christmassongs #emotions #Christmas2020

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.  

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

Only Way Out

The blogpost ‘Only Way Out’ by Allison Marie Conway moved me powerfully.

This is me. This is the power writing has over me.
It is my therapy.
My escape.

And yet, lately, a deep, overwhelming sadness that has wrapped its weighty fingers around me, constricting my thoughts and paralysing my creativity.

“Give yourself time. Breathe. Be kind to yourself. Be patient.” I keep telling myself these things, hoping to make myself small enough and relaxed enough to slip from its grasp.

I will get through this. I will write my way out of it yet.

Perhaps this confession is the beginning.

Allison Marie Conway

Leaning over the counter top painting my toenails a deep raisin, I am wishing I were a better writer. You know like the ones who can conjure up an entire world made electric with the sweetness of wicked delicious fantasy. Most people think writing is just about writing but it isn’t. It’s so much more than that. Writing is about coming undone and dying inside over and over. It’s about becoming the person you always knew you could be without the hindrance that is most of the rest of this ridiculous life. It’s about giving a middle finger to the rest of the world because you know they are ignorant to all of your most sacred fears and why they matter so much to you. It’s about fingering your darkest secrets until they flower for you into everything that makes your gums bleed with naked desire; the way you obsess…

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On Realising How Awful I Look. 

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

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?

Tricky times.

I am so incredibly, achingly sad.

It’s the same kind of sadness I felt when my friend Rebecca was dying of cancer. We all knew it was going to happen, and we all knew that she was going to a better place. Even so, if we could have turned the wheels of time to keep her here a bit longer with her family, or turned the wheels of science and medicine to cure her, we would have. The time came; she was gone, and we all had to carry on despite our sadness at being left behind.

This time is a bit different because nobody is dying, but the deep sadness is the same. Three beautiful friends of mine are moving to the other side of the country. I fully understand why they’re going, and I know that they’re going to be a blessing and achieve wonderful things in a new place with new people. I sincerely wish them every good thing and all God’s blessings as they go.  I know we’ll be able to keep in touch via text, emails and Facebook, and heck – I might even call them sometimes and actually talk on the phone. That’s pretty revolutionary for me.

Even so, it’s not going to be the same as seeing them and working with them every day.  They’re the sort of people that everyone needs in their lives. Dynamic, honest, encouraging, empathetic and loyal to the core.  On top of that, they totally get me. That’s rare.

The knowing looks across the room, trying not to laugh at private jokes at inopportune times, encouraging smiles and fist pumps as we pass one another in the hallways, and the understanding smile of someone who gets it when life is difficult are just some of the many things I’ll miss. There’s going to be a very conspicuous absence when they’re gone.

It’s a big challenge to try to be positive in these last few days. but I really want to soak up the time I have with them, and enjoy every moment, even if it is hard to push my sadness aside and not let it pervade everything.  There will be plenty of time for misery when they’ve gone, after all.

Yes, I have other friends who are wonderful, and supportive, and fun, and all that. It’s not that I don’t appreciate their friendship – I do, and I make sure they know it.  I know life will go on, and people will always come and go from it. Sometimes that can even be a good thing. When it’s not a welcome change, though, it goes against every instinct and sense to willingly say goodbye to someone you love and let them go away to be wonderful in someone else’s life instead of mine, or ours.

So, for now at least, sadness it is.

Well, this sucks.

There are times when admitting that you can’t physically do something you desperately want to do really hurts.

Just when you think you’ve come to terms with chronic pain and the physical limitations that go with it, something new crops up to remind you, yet again, that some doors close to you when you have a physical disability.

It’s not that other people tell you that you can’t do it. It’s knowing that trying will cause you physical pain and misery, and that you’ll end up regretting making the effort the minute you realise you can’t give it 100% and do the job like you used to.  So you don’t take it on.  You just internalise the disappointment and keep doing the things you can still do, without telling anyone how much it sucks for your own body to be the source of your misery.

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.