21 June, 2021

A Musical Interlude: Finding the Words

One of the things I remember most about going through grief was not having the words to explain myself, or even to ask for help, and others around me not having the words to be able to help. In the interim, I remember how well touch helped – simple, uncomplicated touches on my arm or shoulder, or hugs. How touch said what words couldn’t; “I care” or “I’m listening” or simply “I’m here.”

It often makes me think of this song, a well known song from a New Zealand musical icon of the last 40+ years or so. His songs Loyal, Welcome Home, and Slice of Heaven are unofficial anthems, and played at the right times, can bring stiff-upper-lip Kiwis to tears. Dave Dobbyn became Sir Dave earlier this year. He deserved it!

But this song is darker, but perhaps more meaningful. It seems to express those times of grief, or stress, or depression, when we can't express ourselves, or say what we want to - or should - say. Know that if you feel this way, you’re not alone. Many of us have been there. But it gets easier. And in the meantime, we're here.

Language by Dave Dobbyn

My hands are tied
Oh I could be a victim
When my tongue won't move 
You have tied with your heartstrings

When I needed you most 
I couldn't find the language
When I needed you more 
I couldn't say a word

My hands truly tied 
Yeah I know I'm a prisoner 
When my tongue wouldn't move 
You have tied with your heartstrings again

And when I needed you most 
I couldn't find the language 
When I needed you more 
I couldn't say a word

When I needed you most 
I couldn't find the language 
When I needed you more 
I couldn't say a word

One day a heap on the ground 
Next day I'm so proud 
Today I don't know, I don't know

Your hands are cold 
That's why I try to contain you 
Now my words are cursed 
Ember from the ashes

One day a heap on the ground 
Next day I'm so proud 
Today, I haven't got a clue 
Feels like a river of tears

Today I'm gonna dry these eyes 
When I needed you more 
Couldn't say a word

Couldn't say a word


14 June, 2021

Rising from the ashes

Infertile Phoenix has written a fabulous post about life, choices, and attitudes. Go read it! She commented that she’s living her life, not someone else’s, living up to her blogger name Phoenix. It got me thinking about my own life, and about others’ lives too.

I’ve had someone tell me that I could have abandoned my parents-in-law, moved anywhere I liked, and that it was pretty much my own fault that I felt “stuck” looking after them for so long. Strictly speaking they are correct. However, who can do that? What sort of person would I be if I had made that choice? They were my husband’s parents, and all his other siblings lived overseas. We’re not heartless. We couldn’t leave them alone. We felt the responsibility, and we made their final years better. We adapted around them (and the final years of my mother’s life), lived and worked here, and travelled intermittently. And now they’re gone, and we can do whatever it is we want.

It got me thinking about parents who have adult children, yet still don’t live their own lives. Yes, I understand that their children are an important part of their lives, and grandchildren when they come along. But I remember being astounded when I met a former mentor/colleague some years ago. I’d either just gone on our five-month Lemons to Limoncello trip to Italy and other countries, or was about to leave. I was telling her about it, and she sighed. “I’d really love to do that,” she said, “but I have two grandsons.” She’d been retired for a while, and had recently scaled back on some Board memberships. Three or four months away in Italy was eminently possible for her, both in terms of time and finances, and wouldn’t be a big hole in her relationship with her grandchildren. This was a woman who had been a feminist role model for me and my peers, who “took no prisoners” at work, and had always seemed fearless. But she was trapped by her self-imposed restrictions.

I know other parents who also live their lives around their children and grandchildren, unable to conceive of a life of doing things they want to do, living where they want to live, etc. (Yes, I understand that they WANT to live near and be with their children. Yet they then express regret or jealousy of others who are doing things they’d like to do.) Some of them are very happy and fulfilled. Others are not, because they expect to play an important part in the lives of their kids and grandkids, don’t build the support networks they need, or mentally adjust, and so they feel real grief when those expectations are not met. (See my post from almost 10 years ago discussing this.) And finally, there are others who live a really balanced life, doing their own thing, seeing the world or following hobbies or their own professions, and yet they enjoy their kids and grandkids, and are available for support.

I guess that brings me back to those of us without children. There are those of us who never really rise from the ashes. They live their lives in fear, staying close to what they know, often yearning always for what they wanted but didn’t get, fearful of the unknown future. I feel so sad about that. 

There are those, like Phoenix, who embrace change – even though they may be terrified at the time – in a quest to live their own lives. They embrace the opportunities gifted to them by their No Kidding lives. And maybe some of us go back and forth between embracing the life we have and fearing the future, or live with both options at the same time. I know I do, though I try to keep the fear quotient as low as possible! Maybe that’s the best option. Fear or, perhaps more accurately, caution teaches me to prepare for the future. Freedom allows me to enjoy that future.

Thanks, Phoenix, for reminding me of that!




07 June, 2021

Leaving our mark on the world

Only a couple of weeks after I visited my elder sister in the South Island, I had to get on a flight and head south again, this time for a funeral. It's been quite the month for family losses - a cousin's husband, my aunt, and now my father’s youngest sibling has just died. I’ve missed a number of family funerals because I live here in another island, but this was one I did not want to miss. Even though 1-in-100 year floods did their best to mess up everyone’s plans.

It was a lovely funeral, even though I now feel quite weepy about it. Not, I think, because he had died. As much as it can be, his death was a good one after a long life, and he was surrounded by his family at the last. Each passing, and each funeral, I guess raises issues for me. "Who will be with me at the last?" I always wonder when I write those words. But then I think, does it matter that much? If I’m conscious and aware, yes maybe. But if not, I’m not sure. It's not the end that worries me. It's the time leading up to that. But that's a topic for another day.

The funeral however, turned out to be lovely, because we caught up with many of our cousins. For those of you who live close to family, this may not be unusual. It wasn’t unusual for my sister, who is still in the same province where we all grew up. But it was unusual for me – with some of them, I’d barely said hello since I left school. We just never really connected again; when I was down in the South Island, my focus was on my parents and sister and her family. It still is. My eldest niece moved back to the town where she grew up about 7-8 years ago, and it has been an absolute delight having more to do with her and her family whenever I’m in town.

But a few years ago I reconnected with some of the cousins I had been closer to during our childhood at a reunion, and this was another opportunity to reconnect with some others. And that was really special. Our lives have all gone in completely different directions, and I think for a long time we were quite happy with that lack of contact. But we still have that shared childhood connection, and it is a bond (however tenuous) that will remain forever. We’re getting older now, and it is as if the bond is getting stronger again. It provided me with a bit of comfort to know that.

I guess I’m writing about this here because we often worry about our old age, our deaths, and who will mourn us. It seems weird to say this, but I know my cousins will mourn me, as I will mourn them. Even if what they’re really mourning is the end of those happy days of our shared childhood. That will be enough for me, I think. It's yet another reminder that we have already touched so many lives, and will continue to do so, just by our pure presence here. We don't have to have children to leave our mark on this world, on current and future generations, recognised, or silent but meaningful.

Anyway, that all feels quite morbid, but it's not meant to be. After all, I hope we all have decades yet to leave our legacies. Besides, there are still things to do and places to go and bloggers to meet!

31 May, 2021

Life meanderings

 As some of you will know from my other blog (A Separate Life), I have been travelling this last month.I hinted at it a few weeks ago in this post about reclaiming the country when the children are back at school (and their parents at work), when I said "we reclaim the shops and restaurants and roads and ferries and tourist spots, and secluded outdoor areas. Next week it's all for us! I can't wait." Perhaps you thought there was more than the usual enthusiasm for having cafes and malls and cinemas free of children? There was.

Like many people, we discovered, we waited until school holidays were over before we drove onto the ferry (conveniently berthed about five minutes from our house) and set sail for the South Island. (Or so we thought - there was a delay and the usual 3 1/2 hour trip took 6 hours!) We've spent the last 3 1/2 weeks traversing the South Island, going to places we'd been before, but never really explored. Doing some new things. Reliving childhood memories. Seeing family. Eating too much. Drinking a bit much, though we were remarkably restrained, I thought! Taking a LOT of photos. I've put just a few on Instagram (I'm travellingmali there), and I'm planning to blog about the trip in more detail either on A Separate Life or a new space.

The trip was blissfully child-free. Sure, there were children some places, and some of them were amusing, cute, or both. They enhanced our trip. But the places we went weren't flooded with them, and that made it very relaxing. I know I'm privileged to be able to travel for this long at a time of my choosing. I know not all of you can do it. So I'll stop there.

I had the inevitable "are you having a nice Mother's Day?" question at a hotel reception. It was funny, because even when she said it, she didn't look as if she wanted to. "I'm not a mother," I responded. "So ... no." She immediately apologised profusely. It made me wonder if she'd been told to ask the question of women of a certain age (what that might be, over 18?), and had - for whatever reason, objected to that. I felt for her. Her apology was very much for the question, whereas I also received (somewhere, I can't remember where) an "I'm sorry" when I said that I did not have children, which was wholly pitying. Kind, perhaps, but judgemental too. Tone of voice and context is so important.

Anyway, it's kind of nice to be home. The holiday was a good break between clearing up FIL's house and estate, and the rest of my life. I feel a little like I did when I was coming out of the grief of the permanent no-kids diagnosis. What shall I do with the rest of my life? What is the next big thing? And then I remember. Life is the next big thing. And I need to live it. We don't have the responsibilities we have had the last decade, so things can change, if we want them to. That's what I'm figuring out now. But there's no rush. 

24 May, 2021

Repost: A Reminder of What's Important

 Three years ago, I finally wrote the last post of my Gifts of Infertility series, on a Reminder of What's Important, having started it almost a year earlier.

"Most people, when asked about what is important, will say, “family.” The ones who say that are usually the ones who have family, and if the question reminds them to hang on to their family members, and to tell them how important they are, then I guess that’s a good thing. But I actually think a lot of people give that response as an easy way out of what can be a difficult issue, and a way that doesn't require further thought. As we all have observed, a focus on family can be a selfish one – ignoring all others who might need or want or deserve your attention. And a focus on family is meaningless if you had family and lost it (physically, geographically, emotionally etc), or never had it in the first place.

Ultimately, I think life is both broader and narrower than that. We are all individuals. We need to like ourselves, or change the things we don’t like, to be able to live within ourselves happily. We need to be aware – of ourselves and our actions, and of what is important to us. That way, we can begin to reach outside ourselves to find honest and valuable connections, relationships, a wider family.

Allowing myself to like myself, and to understand my flaws, has also given me space to think about what is important. As a result, I’ve solidified a lot of thoughts and feelings about life, about how I want to live, and who I want to be. I’ve learned that I value character – in myself, in my husband, my friends and family – over almost anything else. Success, focus, drive, are all nice, but if they come without character, then I don’t really admire the outcomes. Honesty that educates, or is kind, is so much better than honesty that serves no purpose. Humour is fine, but if it isn’t kind, or thoughtful, or enlightening, then it isn’t very funny. Beliefs are important, but if they come without understanding that others might believe differently, then they are shallow and self-serving. Caring out of duty or blood relationships is good – it is caring, after all - but caring out of compassion for another human says something about our true character, and delivers so much more. One-way relationships are ultimately selfish, and unrewarding, whereas equal, shared relationships – whether as life partners or simply next-door neighbours – are true connections. And it is in making these connections – in a way that honours who I am, and what I have both lost and found on this journey – that we find support, and love, and how we cement our place in and of the world.

There is much more I could say about my philosophy of life, but I think this blog, perhaps more than anything in my life, speaks the truth of who I am. This year, it will be 15 years since I learned I’d never have children. A lot has changed since then. My 25 Gifts of Infertility posts* talk about how I’ve changed, and what I value. I’m proud of that.

Finally, I think that, whilst I might have figured some of this out by my 50s anyway, my childlessness was a catalyst to thinking more deeply, as I tried to figure out how I felt about my life post-infertility, and how I was going to live the rest of my life, figuring out who I am, and what I value in my life. And that has been the most wonderful gift of all."

 And I should be back next week, posting again as usual. See you then!