30 March, 2015

Six lessons we should all learn about grief

I wish, as I was growing up, I had learned these lessons about how to respond to those who are grieving:

  1. Acknowledge their loss.
  2. Listen to whatever it is that they want to say, even if it is hard to hear.
  3. Hug them – sometimes physical touch can speak volumes, and doesn’t require difficult words.
  4. Let them know you care.
  5. Don’t ever tell them to "cheer up," or "get over it," or say “at least …” 
    It won’t help, and it denies them their grief.
  6. Don’t dismiss their feelings, especially not to make yourself feel more comfortable.

26 March, 2015

Who will inherit my things when I have no kids?

My mother-in-law is 91, her husband a few years younger and increasingly immobile, and they need to move house. They need to down-size, but they can’t bring themselves to do so. A major barrier I think is the effort of sorting out her possessions. She has collected small treasures on her travels, and some lovely wedding gifts. Her possessions are not worth any money, by and large, but they are valuable to her personally. She walks around her house, and sees her life reflected back at her. And she’s not ready to let go of that.

She worries aloud, “who will want my things when I’m gone?” She worries that her precious belongings will end up at the tip (landfill), thanks to the unthinking son who told her that’s where most of her things will go. (Men!) She understands that the younger generations have very different tastes these days, and knows that we won’t value her things in the same way she has. Or that we will value different things. And she feels bereft, even before she gives anything away, knowing that the meaning of these possessions will die with her.

She has four sons, four daughters-in-law, and seven grand-children, and still feels this way.
Ironically, perhaps, I am the only one of her sons or daughters-in-law who has any of her things. Years ago, I discovered she was going to give away all of her crystal bowls and (not many) glasses. She assumed that none of her daughters-in-law would want her crystal, perhaps because we haven’t purchased any ourselves. But her crystal is beautiful, most of it wedding presents, though a beautiful lamp is a gift from a previous beau. She has never really used any of it, not being much of a host, and she came from the generation that thought you should save beautiful things for special occasions. When she told me she was going to take it to an op shop (thrift store), I was appalled. “Don’t you dare!” I cried. So that day, I found myself going home with several boxes filled with crystal.

A year or two later, the same thing happened with some of her tea settings, and once again I headed home with a full cargo of delicate tea cups and saucers, silver trays, and teapots. Most recently, she was caught puzzled what to do with all her table linen, most of it still in its original packaging, unused. This last time, I contacted my sisters-in-law and adult niece, sending photographs of each item, and arranging to give them anything they wanted.

It is strange though that she either assumes we won’t want her things, or she has a disconnect and just doesn’t think of her daughters-in-law as family members, people she’d want to pass her things on to. But perhaps it’s not that strange. She has found it easier to give away the beautiful things she has never used, than the tiny items she bought in Europe in the 1960s or in Thailand visiting us in the 1990s. They are the objects that seem to hold the most importance for her. And that’s what I’ve learned from all this. Her things are important to her, but not necessarily anyone else.

When I think about it, I actually now have more memories of using her beautiful crystal and silver than she does, and they’re part of my life more than they ever were of hers. A dinner party isn’t complete without using at least one of her pieces of crystal, and I think she likes the fact that I use her things. Christmas dinner features her silver trays (filled with nuts, or stacked with mince pies), crystal bowls (at least one filled with berries and another with whipped cream), and in the future perhaps her table linen. They’ve become part of my Christmas tradition, as they were never part of hers. My nieces and nephews know these things because I use them, not because they once belonged to their grandmother.

Last year, a blogging friend did what my in-laws can’t bring themselves to do. She downsized to move into a small home in a retirement community. A year on, she has some advice on the process here. She made two very important points: 

  1. Remember that you are not your possessions.
  2. Trust me when I say that most objects, once you let them go, you will never miss.

And, in a reminder that this is not just an issue for those of us who don’t have children, she said, “Don’t foist your treasures on your descendants. … Taste in furnishings is not necessarily transmitted in the DNA. Don’t take it personally.”

It is inevitable, even when we No Kidders try not to, to think about our old age and death. Aside from the perennial unknown – who will take care of us? – we also often ask the question “who will want my stuff?”

I have possessions that are important to me, that make me smile every time I see them, that bring back memories of adventure or happiness or friendship or love but are meaningless to anyone else. They may well be more important to me than they are to my husband. Even if I had children, there is no guarantee that the things I loved would be the things they would love. I’m sure I love different objects of my mother’s than she does, and I’m sure my sisters love different things again. We, all of us, love different things for different reasons; we have different emotions, different memories, different tastes, and as a result, value different things.

I accept that my stuff is important to me, but not necessarily anyone else. That makes the thought of parting with these things someday all the easier. I feel at peace too with the knowledge that, after I’m gone, there is no-one to inherit from me. I understand and accept that my nieces and nephews might not want any of the things I’ve inherited or acquired in my life-time. Maybe they will, in the way I love my crystal. Maybe they won't. It doesn't really matter. After all, as Lali said, it’s not personal.

Some of my (mother-in-law's) table linen, tea cups, silver and crystal.

23 March, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Thinking through my fingers

One of the great pleasures of blogging, and in particular, of ALI blogging, is writing a post that I really have to think about. I love reading blogs too, that confront me, and make me think. I often comment along the lines of “I’ve got to think more on this” or “I may post on this myself.” As I write a comment I start formulating a view, or see more questions that need to be asked, and sometimes have to restrain myself, or simply go away and think more. The mere act of sitting at my computer (or iPad) to write stimulates me to think, helps me formulate a position or view on an issue I’ve never considered before, maybe changes my position, or shows me that I don’t know enough to have a specific position or to write knowledgeably about a particular subject.

I love the intellectual stimulus that I get simply from reading and writing blogs, and the self-discovery I’ve enjoyed as a result.

"Writing to me is simply thinking through my fingers." Isaac Asimov

"The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe." Gustave Flaubert

20 March, 2015

Why we didn't adopt

Klara recently shared the reasons why she and her husband chose not to adopt, and invited other no kidding bloggers to do the same. Loribeth and BentNotBroken have done so, and Savannah has also shared her adoption story in a series of moving posts. I've had a post drafted for some time, and have been tossing up about how much to say. Because it’s not just my story. So I’ve opted for the short version. Here goes ...

There were almost insurmountable practical barriers to adoption:
  • Domestic adoption in New Zealand is rare these days.
  • Because of this, competition is stiff. And as older parents, chances we would have been chosen were slim.
  • International adoptions are very expensive, and can take a long time to finalise. We didn’t have time to spare.
There were also other issues that were complicated to resolve:
  • We were both feeling our age. Did we want to become new parents at this stage? Would it be fair to the child?
  • Complicated feelings towards other issues, including adopting older children (would we be able to give these children what they needed?), open adoptions (I support these but they bring their own challenges), and international adoptions (having lived in Asia, and with part-Asian nieces and nephews, we were comfortable with the idea of having an Asian child, but conflicted about some of the other ethical considerations).
  • We were tired and demoralised.
  • General misgivings/other issues.
Practically the barriers were high. Coupled with other issues, the wall was too high to climb together. These are the complicated issues that the “just adopt” brigade don’t think about or discuss. Our marriage, a partnership built over many years and forged stronger through our joint loss and grief, and our confusion over adoption, would - we knew - survive this. It would survive simply because we considered each other’s feelings, but were honest about our own. Our knowledge that we would be okay gave us further confidence not to rush into something that might not be the right decision. As time passed, we became more and more comfortable with leaving it be.

17 March, 2015

Coastal celebrations

A much-loved niece’s wedding in an exotic location (well, as exotic as Australia gets) took me away from the real world for a while. I remember her sister’s wedding (also much-loved, in my much-loved exotic Thailand) three years ago. I felt a little pang at seeing the joy in my sister’s face as her daughter got married, but it wasn’t as bad as I had feared, because I actually felt so happy for my niece and for my sister. This time I felt no pangs at all. I felt secure in my role as aunt, and maybe because this time my other sister was able to go too, I didn’t feel isolated at all, rather I felt part of a loving extended family, all there to celebrate this so very happy occasion.

The fact that we were doing all this on the beach in the Queensland made it easier. We were focused on the sun, sand, and surf, the fun we were all having – and being from New Zealand, we complained (some more than others) about the heat. My status as a childless woman was irrelevant. I was another family member there to love and support my nieces, and to get to know further my delightful great-nephew, and to swim with my littlest niece, Charlie. It just wasn’t an issue.

We then escaped further south, to hippy central Byron Bay, where we didn’t feel childless. Just old!

Queensland's Gold Coast

16 March, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: That Day Again

Yesterday was Mother’s Day (or Mothering Sunday as they call it) in the UK. I’m always caught by this, and sure enough, late last night as I was going to bed I decided to check Fb, and was surprised once again that the first five or six updates on my feed were entries about Mother’s Day. I met almost all (bar one or two) of my UK Fb friends through pregnancy loss. So they were (mostly – not all) more sensitive about Mother’s Day, and had put up statuses expressing their love for those who might find Mother’s Day hard, or for those children who had lost their mothers, or mothers who had lost children. Still, I cringed ouch at these, because they were unexpected, and reminded me once again that I was left out, and that I’ll go through this all over again in May, when other parts of the world celebrate Mother’s Day. 

But then I thought of the others who might be reading these posts – the women who live in the UK, who had to put up with two weeks of unavoidable over-the-top advertising, and had to live through this day. They were the ones who needed the love and hugs that were offered by (most) of my lovely, sensitive friends, to let them know they were not alone. And I was thankful to be reminded that wherever we are, we are not alone.

09 March, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Passing the torch

"If I'm asked one more time when I'm going to start a family, I'm going to scream!" she complained. "What am I supposed to say? That we've been off contraception for a year? That we do it every Thursday?" 

It was good that she maintained her sense of humour. 

I suggested she tell them if she wanted them to know she'd have told them already.

Now though I'm trying to decide if or how I should reach out, so she knows she's not alone. It saddens me that the next generation might also have to deal with this. I didn't want to pass the torch this way.

02 March, 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Choosing our responses

When my husband's position was made redundant almost two (!) years ago, we took some time to choose our response. Within a few months, we were in Italy for the northern summer, and the photo above was taken high in the hills of Molise.  As a result, we have a lifetime of memories, and at least two new friends from Slovenia.

When we couldn't have children, we could have retreated inside ourselves, and taken the view that our lives would forever be "lesser." Instead, we grieved then said good-bye to our grief. Herein lies our growth, and our freedom.