27 November, 2023

Grief and gratitude


I often comment that I am inspired by other blogger’s writings. Sometimes I’ll say, “I’m off to think about that more now,” and I make a note of it in a file. I might think about it and respond within a week or two. But it’s not unusual to take a bit longer. Or even five years longer!

Mel’s post about grief here popped up for me today. It’s a great post, and I’m linking it here because I know not everyone reads her blog, especially if you are triggered by mention of children.

There were two ideas from her post that I loved, and want to discuss. The first was the idea that “you are not your grief.” It is part of us, but it is not us. I really like that. It’s the same with having no children. Sure, that created grief for many of us. But we are so much more than our ability or not to have children. We are so much more than people who grieved that loss. And we are all so much more than childless or childfree or any combination of that. I like that reminder. We’re whole people. Everything we go through is just part of us. It might take time for us to get to that understanding, as initially it feels like it is everything. But we come to realise – some of us sooner than others – that we are so so much more than one thing (however huge) that we’ve been through. It doesn’t define us. We are more.

Secondly, Mel made this comment,

 “… it helped me to realize grief for what it is; something that is doing its hardest to help during a time period that only hurts.

That sentence blew my mind. Grief, as discussed in her post, is a way to get through something we are experiencing. It was an amazing idea that grief might actually help us. But when I think about it, it actually does. It helped protect myself, in terms of exposure to others or other situations that might be upsetting, but also in terms of allowing me to actually experience the feelings of grief, and to deal with them. It let me feel the grief itself, and mourn what I had lost. That was honouring my loss, my husband’s loss, and my losses themselves. It was an important ritual to go through, because I could then begin to recover without feeling guilty about not being sad enough. I’d been sad enough, but it became time not to be.

In dealing with those feelings of grief, I was able to work through each of them in terms of understanding what were rational and what were irrational or based on assumptions or stereotypes. That helped create resilience. I was able to learn what I actually thought about my situation. The grief I felt taught me more about myself, and that was really valuable. It definitely helped you.

Of course, I wouldn’t or maybe couldn’t have appreciated this at the time. But so many years later, I can see the truth of it. And even be grateful for it. Thanks, Mel.


20 November, 2023

Bittersweet Silver Linings

A lovely chat this morning with some friends reminded me that all our lives have positives and negatives. It's been three years since my father-in-law died, three years where my husband and I have been able to (within reason, and Covid restrictions initially) do whatever we want, without the duty and obligations of looking after the elderly in our family. I have to admit, this morning I was struck anew by the lifting of that obligation. That I do indeed feel lighter and calmer and freer. Of course I am. We were glad to be there for the in-laws, but equally appreciate the opportunities life now offers.

One of my friends had also been looking forward to the freedom of having no children living at home, opportunities to perhaps travel, or just to see what she can now do with her life. But elder care issues are coming into her life now too, perhaps posing some restrictions or at the very least, a degree of concern and worry about what's next. Her window between caring for children and caring for parents didn't last long, she said. I feel for her. That's really tough. I hope things get better for her.

And of course, we hear about the middle-aged squeeze too - when people are still caring for children and yet have to care for elderly parents too. 

So yes, I am lucky that this isn't my reality. 

But equally, as others talked about their parents too, the conversation once again got me thinking about our old age. We might not have made too many decisions yet. But we do need to make them, and before it is too late. We have time. But there's one thing I can do now. Swedish Death Cleaning - you're (almost) next on my list of things to do!

13 November, 2023

The rusty sword of spring

Thirteen years ago, I wrote my first ever post on No Kidding in NZ. It was about November, and titled “Double-edged Sword of Spring.” It’s worth repeating here:

“In New Zealand, November means spring. Officially, September or October are spring, but they are unreliable months, when winter still has us in its grip, teasing and taunting us with the occasional fine day, with the bloom of flowers, with pink blossoms and buds turning into delicate, pale green leaves on the willow trees that edge the Hutt River. September and October still have the power to force us back into our winter coats, to wear scarves and gloves. This year was particularly cruel, as we watched a late snowstorm in the south of the country arrive in September, bringing the sheep farming industry to its knees, its icy ferocity killing thousands of newborn lambs.

But by November hope has returned. Even though there might still be a chilly bite in the wind, the sun warms, and we begin to believe that warm temperatures will return, that long holidays, barbecues, trips to the beach, swimming, and the end of a rough year are almost within reach.

November sees hope for the future for most New Zealanders. November celebrates new life. But for me, November signals a different time. It signals a season of memories. Memories of loss, of disappointment, of the loss of innocence, of fear for the future, and of coming to terms with my own mortality. And each year, although sharp pain has faded, although acceptance and enjoyment in life has returned, each year we remember the pain.

In my house in New Zealand, even seven years later, November is a double-edged sword.”

It’s not now seven years later, however. Now, it is 20 years later. And November is no longer a double-edged sword. The sword edges are dulled, and it is rusting away. I don’t get the same dread thinking about the season of memories of loss, of hospitalisations, of pain. In fact, I only remembered that it was November in that way by happening on my first ever post in my word document of drafts and posts. Time heals. It really does. Time eases memories, and takes the sting out of them.

(That’s not to say that there is never any sting. I felt tears prick my eyes after reading something else, earlier, about “the one who was missing” and the simple, “ah, mate” comment I got from a blogger. It was unexpected indeed.)

But these days, when I think of November, I'm not thinking about pain. (Well, apart from cursing the spring winds that plague me!) In fact, now I’m thinking about scheduling in dentist and doctor appointments, dinners with friends, spring cleaning, and Christmas shopping. Sure, I will think about what was lost as anniversaries come up. But with remembrance, and love, and even gratitude. And right now, I’m thinking about happy events (well, mostly), warmer weather, activity, and hoping for some accomplishments. I’m enjoying and anticipating life. That’s the joy I probably didn’t expect when I wrote that first post.

Note: After that first post, I discovered that Loribeth also has a series of November posts.