29 February, 2016

Time, perspective, and laughter

I’ve spent the last hour or so searching for something to write about this #Microblog Monday, but with little luck until I read Bent Not Broken’s post* about her sister’s comments as a very new mother, and BNB’s newfound abililty to brush off these comments off, and even laugh about them.

I’ve also been reflecting – all day - about a relationship that caused two people a lot of pain for years, with one in particular completely misreading the other’s behaviour, always taking the negative view.

When we’re sad and vulnerable, insensitive or misguided comments hurt, they’re personal, and too often they dig deep into our hearts, taking residence, and potentially marring relationships, perhaps even permanently.

But sometimes sooner, sometimes later, but usually with time, we become able to step back and look at what the person said more objectively. With perspective, we either figure out that they didn’t mean their comments in the way we initially received them, or we choose to no longer take offence.

After all, how we react, what we think, is so often more about us and our vulnerabilities than it is about what others say. And what they say is always more about them and their issues, than it ever is about us.

In due course, like BNB, we find we can in fact, laugh - and that is a very liberating feeling.

*   Go read BNB’s post, and celebrate with her.

26 February, 2016

The Keepers of Memories

I now have no-one living anchoring me to the past, but no-one anchoring me to the future either. You might think that I would feel cast adrift, lost and alone, but I don’t. Even through the stress of my mother’s last days, and of the funeral and its aftermath, I was surrounded by family, by sisters and brothers-in-law, by nieces ranging from a mere seven to a worldly thirty-six years old, by N, a cheeky and much-loved great-nephew, who at such a young age knows and understands loss himself (having lost his Dad not quite two years ago), by the husbands and partners of my nieces, and by little P (whose Dad loves N's mother). He too had lost his own mother, and I was conscious of that as he said so sweetly and sincerely, “I’m sorry for your loss.” I love them all dearly.

As we sorted through my mother’s things, I realised I was fast becoming the “Keeper of Documents.” My cousin D (also without children after loss, and an only child so no nieces or nephews either) found herself taking some family things too, because she felt they should be kept. Another cousin also without children is the family genealogist (although I am always forgetting to raise that with her). Cousin D wondered aloud,

“are the childless the Keepers of Memories because we look back, not forward?”

I thought about it, and agree that it is possible this is the reason. Perhaps we look back simply because we have the time to do so. But I prefer to think that, as keepers of memories, we’re doing it out of love and a feeling of connection, a belief that the past will matter to the future. That without the past, there is no future, even if personally, I am not going to be part of that future. 

And so I took great pleasure in seeing things pass down, my littlest niece inherit the cute little rabbit figurines I remember so well from the mantelpiece when I grew up. I was thrilled to see a medal from my great-uncle go to my great-nephew. With no skin in the game, I was keen to see certain sentimental items stay together, rather than any motivation to ensure that my child wasn't missing out. But more important, I was happy to see that the family treasures and memories were valued, and would continue to be valued.
Ultimately, I prefer to think that we’re the Keepers of Memories because we know how precious they are, how easily people and memories can be lost, and that once they’re gone, they’re gone. That it’s not always about the family tree, but more about the memories and connections and links.

My cousin stayed for several days, not because we are cousins, but because she thinks of me and my two sisters as her surrogate sisters, because she loved my mother, because she has fond memories of spending time with our family during her childhood. She was there because of shared experiences, and a need to maintain and nurture those connections that have been there all our lives.

I hope that one day, one of my nieces will become a Keeper of Memories. I suspect I can guess which one, but I won’t name her and put that burden on her now. I know that when she comes to do it, when it comes naturally, it won’t be a burden – whether she has children, or not.

22 February, 2016

I trust ...

In January, I started Yoga with Adriene’s 30 Day Yoga Camp. Each day has a particular mantra, something to think about as you practise, something to help you as you go through your day. Sometimes these have been helpful, and I may write about them too, but the day the mantra was “I trust” I admit that I felt a little betrayed. Because I don’t believe that the universe will provide, or that it will be okay in the end, or that “everything happens for a reason.”

As I thought about it, I realised I don’t really trust in much – certainly not the universe, a religion, my health or my body, society or politics, financial security, or even the security and stability of the ground beneath me (given there is no ground beneath me  - for quite a few metres at least -  and what’s there can be shaky).

But then I realised, I do trust in my ability to get through things – or at least, to know I can come out the other side. That’s not nothing either.

So, for obvious reasons, I’m holding on to that now - you should, too.

17 February, 2016

Saying good-bye

I'm writing this in the plane returning home, turning from my iPad to look out at rivers and mountains and wispy clouds when the tears threaten to spill over. It’s the first time I’ve been alone in the last ten days, so I’ve managed to keep them largely at bay till now. You see, I'm on the way home from burying my mother.

It was always going to be a sad trip. My younger sister and I headed south about ten days ago to see her, conscious that as she was failing fast, and if we waited any longer, she might not know us, or be able to take any pleasure in our visit. Since an operation in November, which was in itself successful, she needed full-time care and entered a rest home. But her cancer was progressing faster than we had expected, and by late January, she was unable to walk. Unfortunately, she couldn't remember this fact, and fell and broke her hip and wrist. The combination of dementia and cancer is a nasty one.

Her first days in hospital were comfortable. But as they attempted to make her ready to move to a hospital-level care rest home, and adjusted her pain medication, she began to suffer. Between my sisters and I, we fought for her. Uncharacteristically, she cried out in pain, and later, cruelly, she could remember the “terrible, awful” pain when usually she forgot everything else. She was so fearful that it might return, and utterly confused as to why it was occurring, and she cried and wanted to go home. Her daughters wept in frustration and anger to the nurses, pleading for pain relief. Finally, it came, and she was comfortable.

"I'm as good as gold really," she said to me - one of her classic phrases - in a short lucid phase, after a particularly agonising episode. My mother was an expert at the stiff upper lip, even though (or perhaps because) she had suffered (largely undiagnosed) periods of depression during her life. Long before we knew the phrase "suck it up," we were practised in its execution, with her as our role model.

Later, comfortable at last, she hallucinated – “can you see that?” she asked - chattering away to me incoherently, but still sounding like her. “Let’s have a party,” she said. I smiled, and agreed it was a good idea. Of course, it turned out that we did have a party, but it was the one party she would never be able to attend.

We knew she was failing, but the end came much more quickly than any of us had expected. But she was ready to go, and knowing that has made it easier. We had been saying our good-byes for years now, as little parts of her slipped away. Our final farewell was a lovely service on a beautiful day, filled with family and friends, and neighbours from the years on the farm, and even one or two of her old schoolmates from the '40s.

She, who never forgot she was born a Rose, went surrounded by bright, beautiful roses, some from her garden, some from my sister’s.

The radio had always been the backdrop to her life, her connection to the outside world. We, her daughters, all remembered her listening to and liking different music, so there was some of the organ music her mother used to play, along with Elvis, Beethoven, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Henry Mancini.

"Fly me to the moon," sang Sinatra, before the service.

Not quite, Mum. But close enough.

rose pale pink gay crop rotate frost
My photo of my elder sister's rose, given to her after my father's death ten years ago, featured on the front of her service sheet.

08 February, 2016

Blog posts I won't be writing

Here is another selection of the “parent” posts I won’t be writing, with - where possible - my suggestions of an alternative title, creating a suggested post that one day I might write:
  1. How is was Summer Vacation different for your kids than it was for you growing up?
  2. What grade is your child going to be in? Share a memory you have of yourself as a child at that same age at this time of year.
  3. List eight things you’re looking forward to at this time of year after the kids return back to school, and/or
  4. List eight things you are dreading about sending the kids back to school this time of year.
  5. Write a blog post from your dog’s perspective about how he/she feels about your kids going back to school.
  6. If you had more time, what is one last summer excursion you would plan for your family

04 February, 2016

Those unwanted reminders

Last night, I opened up Facebook, and saw photos of my friend’s sons, as her eldest headed off for his first day at high school. He is the same age (give or take a month) as my great-nephew. I was pregnant, briefly, at the same time as their mothers, 13 years ago.

I’m not often floored by photos, or stories. I actually love knowing or talking with these boys – though I know one much better than the other – and seeing them grow. Occasionally I think about the fact that we could have a son (or daughter) the same age. But that thought comes only as a theoretical reminder, and doesn't bring pain with it. I don't let it.

But for some reason last night - perhaps because it is on the eve of my wedding anniversary that my husband and I will today celebrate on our own - I was struck by what we could have had, and what we don’t. Emotionally, and completely unexpectedly, it bowled me over.

Though it will pass, too. This I know.

01 February, 2016

Withdrawing after loss

Jjiraffe wrote an interesting post about relationships and her social life, in which she wrote the phrase: “I just kind of withdrew and recharged.

It is easy to feel vulnerable and weak when we withdraw. I felt as if I was hiding, as if I was a coward, I questioned whether I was wallowing in my grief, and I spent a lot of time beating myself up for feeling different.

Yet now, having been taught by wise people like Sarahg (see my previous post if you haven't already), I know that it is far more accurate to say that what I actually did was withdraw to take care of myself, and protect myself from the world. In doing that, I too was able to recharge. By changing my perspective, by showing myself some compassion, I experience compassion, and I'm better able to show it to someone else. That change of perspective was (and still is) empowering.

Like jjiraffe, I don’t regret withdrawing and recharging - in fact, I am glad I did.