Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Nuances & layers

Driving is thinking time for me. A lot of people ask why I work where I do when we live where we do as it requires at least two hours of driving a day. I actually like driving as it provides time to reflect, pray, listen to the radio, podcasts, enjoy music, keep up to date with news (as I don't have time for TV) etc.Yesterday I spent at least five hours driving. For work I often visit sites to provide support, mentoring, consultancy & education. It was on a long drive yesterday listening to 612ABC that I heard these two words - nuances & layers. 

They grabbed me. I love words. The sounds, the meanings, the combinations, wordsmithing and writing. No surprises there. Sunshine loves words too. We both share a love of reading and the library. One of her favourite words is, bread! She explains why she loves this word, the sound of it, the smell of  it, the image it creates. Cute. Funny how the mention of a simple word can conjure up so much, even incite the senses. Sunshine immediately imagines the smell of bread wafting through our house when the bread maker is on and imagines the loaf of freshly baked bread being popped out onto the wire rack for cooling. All this by uttering the word, bread. 

So nuances & layers in reference too? In reference to who we are as people. The commentator had just finished interviewing someone who had written an essay on our very own federal opposition leader. They had for an hour analysed his personality, his family life, his university life, his political life, from every angle possible. It did strike me that one could be so sure of someone with so little contact with them! An hour interview with reading and research. Can you really sum someone up after an hour interview and watching their performance from a distance?

After the interview the commentator made this beautiful reference to nuances & layers which I wholeheartedly agree with. As unique individuals, we are so much more than the labels people use to describe us of; black vs white, NLP vs labour, religious vs agnostic, catholic vs evangelical, conservative vs liberal, narrow minded vs broad minded, gay vs straight, political vs apolitical, democratic vs republican. We love to pigeon hole people. We are complex beings and I guess it's an attempt to simply.

Rather consider people as individuals with unique colourful nuances and multiple layers that deserve getting to know. Of accepting people as beautiful tapestries with interwoven tones of a bit of this and a bit of that. It's a reminder to not be quick to judge another. First impressions can be right, but more often are not. We can and do make assessments about people all the time, yet to be mindful that we often see people only in one small context of life i.e. at work, as presented in the media, playing sport etc. The sum total of who we are is so much more than that.

Cherishing the nuances & layers of each of my children and others today. 

Friday, 14 September 2012


 Ulysses bike club express their respect & grief en masse 

Boring title I know, but in its expression far from it. Just like the ocean, emotions are a powerful tide, so is grief. Almost like a force to be reckoned with. Having walked the journey myself many times as no doubt we all have at different phases in life, am almost in silent awe of the process that we all know as grief. It has no fool proof recipe for navigating nor is it predictable or can be fast tracked.

Much has been written, researched, sung and recommended about grief, how it goes, how to do it and how to avoid complication. When you're in it, gotta wonder if any of it matters or works. A big fan of Kubler - Ross and the famous five stages totally agree with her theory and have seen it in action in many I have cared for in my nursing career, family and lived it personally. All five can be experienced in a matter of minutes. Forget chronologically, let's call it emotional chaos!

Having knowledge about something doesn't immunise against it. Hit the wall this week, after the death of a beloved loved one having been wrapped in the wonder of how quickly it all happened and just grateful for him to be free from suffering, felt the plunge. Adrenalin keeps us going for a fair time, but not forever. When reality hits, the drop down effect can take even the most prepared by surprise. Physiologically I understand all of this, but still doesn't make it any easier.

Bear with me as I write out my grief. For me to write is to breathe is to process is to heal. Shakespeare said it well in Macbeth; Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o'er fraught heart, and bids it break.

His funeral/memorial service today was beautiful. A time to remember, a time to reflect, a time to be grateful, a time to celebrate, a time to laugh and a time to cry. And cry we did. Many of us, most of us, shared joy and shared tears. We cry for ourselves. For the loss of him. He is in a better place. For memories of him we are grateful. For our lives made better by his, we give thanks. For time to mourn, we brace.

Those who love much, grieve much. Anon

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.” 
 Leo Tolstoy

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars, 
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!” 
 Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” 
 C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Thursday, 13 September 2012


What do you think happens after death? Is there life beyond the grave? Is death just a doorway? Heaven? Hell? Are they real? You can imagine the talk in our house this week discussing death, funerals, memorials and the like over dinner. My four are used to death talk  having a palliative nurse as a mother, however It seemed to take a deeper level this week.

Sunshine claimed her brain hurt trying to imagine eternity! Forever and ever and ever..... Infinity and beyond as Buzz Lightyear would say. The whole concept of living forever one that our finite brains aren't really able to grasp because they are, exactly that, finite. It hurts mine too. Sunshine asked, "so you don't really die then, just your body, but your spirit lives forever?" I could almost see the cogs whirring inside her head trying to figure it out. Abstract thinking for an 11yr old can even be a struggle for us as adults.

Though many have written their after death stories, it still remains mostly a mystery, there is no definite science about eternity and what lies beyond the grave. Rather leave it to the realms of faith, religion and phenomenological experiences. Some believe in a reincarnation theory, personally I cannot (or maybe don't want to) believe that we come back as a cockroach or insect if we have been bad in this life. This certainly fills me with no hope!

As in life, in death we need hope. What fills us with hope? Eternity is a wonderful concept if we can imagine a life better than this one. Filled with no suffering, no sadness, no disease, relationships without pain, a life filled with love like its meant to be, true happiness and contentment. Eternity can fill us with hope if it is imagined as a gift rather than a curse.

I certainly have no concrete concept of heaven or of eternity but in faith accept that there must be life beyond the grave. That passing from this life into the next generates anticipation and hope especially when watching loved ones approaching death. And the hope of seeing them again in the after life.

However what if heaven is real, how do we have any confidence we will be there? Leave it to chance? Is it up to how good we have lived here? But is good, good enough? What if hell is real? Maybe rather than a lake of fire it is symbolic of a life without any goodness, beauty, love or relationship? Fondly remember my son, DW saying he would rather not risk it. Rather be sure either way. Live a life that will lead to heaven, just in case it's real! It was 10yr old logic at the time and gotta agree with him.

Cherishing again the circle of life. Cherishing eternity and shared moments with my beautiful four to talk about life, death and beyond the grave. Let's chat about dying.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Circle of life

Jen: "You know Amelia that Grandpa is very sick and won't be with us much longer".
Amelia (aged 3yrs): "Yes Mummy, it's ok, it's the cycle (circle) of life".

How profound and beautiful that 3 year old Amelia gets it. So simple and so accepting. Birth, life and death. Thankfully her Grandpa has been through every stage of the cycle of life, so family can be accepting that death is imminent. Not so with some deaths, when they are premature and not in old age.

Her Grandpa is my Godfather. Yesterday was one of the most beautiful days of my life. Being able to spend extended time with him and the vigil of family and friends that visited. Reflecting much on the chapters of our lives by the story telling of visitors. Each one representing a significant part of his life. The inter weavings and intersections of people and places. The people he has touched and the places he has been.

Chapters of life marked by location (living overseas & at home), by family, by work, by study, by church life, by his children's lives, by service to community groups, by music, sporting clubs, by address. The legacy he leaves behind of investing in people is extraordinary. He is an extraordinary man, deeply loved and respected by many.

Some quotes from yesterday;

He is one of the nicest men that has been in every prison in Queensland.

He was a man of few words but with a big message. 

He was Mr Workplace, Health & Safety before there was ever such a thing. He always looked out for the safety of all, even if it did seem over strict at the time, we knew he had our best interests at heart.

"Too right" - one of his favourite responses when he agreed with something. 

Motorbike stories, camp stories, youth group stories, Drug Arm stories, Crossroads stories, holiday stories, farm stories and the jokes. The jokes! He had the quickest, intelligent wit, the funniest expressions and the most wonderful way of making everyone smile, laugh or cringe with delight. His sense of humour renown by all.

Celebrating each of the memories and chapters of his life as we prepare to farewell a beloved man who in life and death inspires us. What struck me most about yesterday was the absence of sadness. Even in death there is this incredible sense of the fullness of life. The richness of his lived experiences being shared together shout out life, life, life.

How do you want to be remembered? Live it now. 

Monday, 3 September 2012

My Godfather

Can you choose your own Godfather? Well I have. In the absence of my own father growing up this wonderful, wonderful man, father of my two best twin friends became for me the equal of a surrogate Dad during my childhood. For regular blog followers, the Charlie's Angels twins who I grew up with, their Dad!  We rode to school together, played at and after school together, did weekends together, dreamed together, holidayed together, went to youth group together, grew up together. I adopted their Dad to be my own. I had either one of the twins in my class from grade 4 through to grade 12. We still stay in close contact, 35 years on.

I affectionately have called him, my Godfather. He was never officially appointed as such like at a christening or baptism but I believe he epitomises what and who a Godfather ought to be. He modelled the strength and compassion of a wonderful Dad and also represented for me and many others who God is. He taught me healthy fear of God. The kind of reverence for God that the ancients teach is the beginning of wisdom. There was something about my Godfather that made you want to please him, that oozed wisdom.You didn't want to do anything for fear of hurting or displeasing him but you always knew he was there to love, protect, teach and mentor you. It was only this Sunday, after visiting him in hospital that I thought, how do I describe him? A spiritual Dad? So I decided to give him the title, my Godfather. He is dying. I want to honour him.

After seeing him, yellow as a banana with jaundice, weak as a kitten with muscular atrophy due to kidney failure yet bright as a button, chirpy, chatty and cracking funnies as always even in the hospital bed, thought back over the years of him being the strong one, not just for his own family, for me, but for hundreds if not thousands of others, made me realise that he is truly who a Godfather ought to be. Nominated as one to care in lieu of a biological parent and intrinsically involved in your spiritual development. He did all of this without even being asked too. Just by being himself. He loves God, his family, his grandchildren, the Church, people, jazz music, motorbikes, writing, volunteering and community work. He is a character that I wish all could have the pleasure to know. To know him is to love him.

My Godfather worked his whole life here in Australia and in Papua New Guinea for the same agency. His agency existed to ensure that young men in particular were educated in the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. This work took him into prisons, hostels, schools, to the streets, to the homeless, to every imaginable environment to see people educated and aware of the ills of drug and alcohol abuse. His work relentless and devoted. His love as wide as the ocean. His calibre and generation of gentleman is fading fast.  If there is anyone that embodies the ideal father, it is him. He loves God & his family above all, lived to serve them and others. His quick wit and unique, quirky sense of humour his definite trademark. EVERYBODY loves him. He has been a surrogate father to many. Joining the Ulysses bike club on his retirement showing us all that elevated age doesn't mean you can't still have fun!

Being able to visit him in hospital on Father's Day was very special. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer only 10 days ago. His deterioration due to secondary renal failure in such a short time has been nothing short of shocking. As his adopted 'third' daughter AND a palliative nurse comes with a certain expectation that he have the 'best death' that can be arranged. We all can't get our heads around that he is not long for this life, and yet pragmatically planning care to ensure his comfort and palliative journey be guided by the most accurate information, medical attention, best advice and optimal choices. We all thought he would be here forever! Filled with memories, filled with gratitude, filled with joy and sadness rolled into one.

Cherishing my Godfather. Cherishing memories together. Cherishing life in the face of death.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Self Control

This is a blog written to myself. As parents we long for our children to demonstrate self control, to hold their tongue, not swear, cuss or tell lies, to delay gratification getting something or doing something, to put others before themselves, to always speak well of others, to be perfect right? I find as a parent that I fail many, many times so how on earth can I expect my children to do all these things.

What I love about children and find really refreshing is that they say it as it is. Sometimes being direct is too black and white for some people, but I love this no fuss approach that children seem to have. They don't sugar coat. EQ is a master of it. They haven't been so socialised that they have learnt to beat around the mulberry bush like us adults. They usually just say it straight. Even if it does come across a bit blunt. Interesting that a part of growing up is learning appropriate social etiquettes. I do wonder if sometimes it's a bit fake.

I lost a friendship recently because I dared to be direct. Everyone was talking about her behind her back feeling very uncomfortable with this and thinking I was doing the right thing dared to tell her that a group of us were all frustrated by some of her decisions. Perhaps I could have said it a little more softly, gently, made it more palatable, sugar coated it. Perhaps I did the wrong thing to even express our frustration, but I actually thought if it was me, I would want to know. It's not a crime to feel frustrated, but I guess how we express it can be. She was highly offended. I have apologised, rang and emailed, but obviously haven't apologised enough or in the right manner to satisfy. I won't apologise for us all feeling frustrated as absolutely no malice was intended, only awkward attempts at sharing what others felt  to seek a solution that suited the majority.

Maybe I am too direct, too open, too honest, too transparent, too vulnerable, too bold? According to my kids, I had a rage at Vodaphone last night. It was hardly a rage but that's the language my kids use to describe anything that involves raising ones voice above normal. Am sure most of us have experienced the immense frustrations of dealing with phone companies. Firstly navigating the myriad of recorded messages none of which relate to your specific problem, then being placed in a telephone queue to speak to a human rather than a machine, only to be passed around customer service officers telling your story a dozen times before someone can actually offer assistance. I tried to be patient. By the time someone actually helped with our problem, I was a little short with the poor person on the end of the phone. I know it wasn't his fault directly, but it was very hard to remain sweet and self controlled.

Thoughtful Princess was washing up listening to the whole conversation and after the hour on the phone it took to sort out, she debriefed with me! Talk about role reversal!!! Here she was at the kitchen sink telling me that I had been rude and fake on the phone. She was right! I lost self control. I tried to justify it, but the more I talked the wronger it sounded. DW even later bragged to his mates about his mother having a rage at Vodaphone to sort his service out! Not sure if that's something I want to be known for!

So what could I have done differently? Held my tongue. Pretended to be satisfied with their service when I wasn't? Pretend to my friend that we weren't frustrated by her choices? How do we channel our frustrations so they don't negatively impact on others? I don't have a simple answer, because it's different for each situation but I do think that I probably should have hung up on Vodaphone and rung back when I wasn't so annoyed. It serves as a lesson for me and my children in what not to do and how not to handle a situation. 

However I was very glad that my daughter recognised it as wrong and not normal for her mother to speak like that. This I take as a positive in the midst of a negative example.

Cherishing my children for keeping me accountable and for the beautiful way they continue to teach me to be a better parent!