“The tragedy of war is that it uses man’s best to do man’s worst”

When I was driving to work yesterday, on the radio there was a special Anzac Day telecast from Gallipoli, Turkey. This day marks the 100 year anniversary of the Australian Army landing at Gallipoli. For many of my generation, Anzac Day and the Gallipoli legend was an important part of our national consciousness, and one that we stopped respectfully, each year, to mark on April 25th.

When I was growing up there was no trading allowed on Anzac Day. It was an official public holiday, to mark the loss of those who had died protecting their country. The only Anzac themed merchandise available for purchase was the Anzac Pin, sold by volunteer returned service men, on train stations and in shopping centres. With 100% of the money raised used to support returned service men. [Read more…]

Getting Through Christmas After You’ve Lost Someone

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(Image via Pinterest)

Christmas can be such an amazing time, particularly if you have small children who are still living the beautiful fantasy that comes with it. But it can also be a wretched time. If you’ve lost someone important to you, Christmas magnifies their absence, and the pain of their loss is acute.

This will be our second Christmas without our Mum. Last year, she’d only been gone six months and none of us really knew what to do. So we went out for lunch, which is something we never, ever did with her. Feelings between siblings were still a bit prickly last Christmas, as the grief was still very raw and it was causing splinters between us. So going out was a good option, there was no pressure to attend if you didn’t feel like it. We could just do what we wanted to do.

But last Christmas for me, was really just about getting it over with. I guess like all the ‘firsts’ after you lose someone. So this year we are doing what we used to do when Mum was alive. Coming together, all bringing a dish to contribute to the meal, and spending the day sharing food and exchanging gifts. It’s a nice way to honour her. She loved Christmas, and thanks to her, so do I.

I hate the thought of struggling through Christmas every year because she’s not here. It’s only right that we should put in the effort to make it happy, when she made it so special for us, for so many years. This year we will pick up where she left off, and carry on the traditions that she embedded in our lives over the years. But, of course, it will be different.

If the thought of Christmas without your lost one fills you with anxiety and sadness, here are some suggestions to help you through.

If your old traditions are too painful, start some new ones. Reshape them, so there is life after your loss. It can be as small as exchanging presents in a different room, eating different food or doing something completely new. Going for a beach walk, or a bush walk with a picnic. The idea is that you are still able to celebrate the day, but by celebrating in a different way you are acknowledging that things have changed. Eventually, this new way will will become your tradition if you want it to.

Find ways to keep their spirit alive. My Mum made the Christmas pudding every year. She would soak the fruit in brandy in October and the pudding was cooked by November most years. It was her tradition to make the pudding, then she’d pour brandy on it and light it, just prior to serving it with custard and brandy cream. So this year, we’ve made the pudding, using her recipe, made in her pudding basin. It wont be the same as having her pour the brandy over it, but it will still make me happy. Because I know it would make her happy to carry on something that was really important to her.

Be ok with feeling sad, and feeling their absence. When someone was a big presence in your life, you’re going to miss around Christmas time, it’s only natural. Remind yourself that it’s ok to feel sad and feel the pain of loss. It is a reflection of the love that you shared, and still share, but in a different way. Reshaping your relationship with someone you have lost is part of the grieving process and big days like Christmas are part of that.

Talk about them, remember happy times. It’s possible that it will make you feel better. There are seven children in our family so we all have a litany of hilarious stories that we remember from when we were growing up, and of course, Mum features in most of those stories. The endorphins created from a good belly laugh will help usher you though a tough day.

Remind yourself that you are still living. And whoever you share the day with, they are still living. The day need not be finished because your special person is not with you. It’s likely that the people you spend Christmas with love you, as much as you loved your lost one. But life continues on, as hard as it is. To shut the day down does not honour their passing, it just makes those left behind feel sadder.

Lastly, be kind to yourself. Don’t expect too much from yourself or from close family or friends who are also feeling your their absence. Don’t force happiness if it isn’t there, take time to recalibrate. Sadness and pain are energy zappers, so rest if you need to. Take some time to reflect on the past, but also on the future. Try to think about what they would want for you. If you recognise that you need some quiet time in order to get through the day, plan it so you get what you need.

There’s no pretending, when a key person in your life is longer around it’s tough going, but hopefully focussing on the happier memories, being mindful about the present, but also mindful about the past, will help you get though and hopefully start building new meaning into your Christmas.

 

October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

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Image via Pinterest

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. This post is to mark the day, to help raise awareness and offer some comfort and advice to people who have suffered the loss of a baby through miscarriage, still birth or infant death. We need to keep having this conversation because it is the silence around this topic that make it such an isolating and lonely experience.

I have some experience with pregnancy loss, having lost six of my own. The one thing that made the whole dark experience even darker was the isolation I felt in my grief. Part of that was an over-arching rejection of my grief and sadness. This is not a blanket statement, there were several people who were incredibly supportive and accepting of whatever we felt, each time we lost a baby. But there were many who weren’t, and sadly some of those relationships have never recovered.

So, the experience of losing a baby in and of itself, is a terrible one. For that experience to be devalued and dismissed can be extremely damaging. For those of you who haven’t experienced pregnancy loss and are struggling to understand, some of the emotions I felt included shock, sadness, disappointment, guilt, shame, grief and fear. To name a few. However, I will point out that every woman experiences pregnancy loss in a different way. And I know from my own experience that my reaction to each of my miscarriages differed in some way, from the one before. There was always a new and surprising response with each one, but what I have listed are emotions that were consistent each time.

The grief of pregnancy loss, to me, is most complicated. There is no consolation, no looking at old photos of happy times, no recall of happy memories or funny quirks of your loved one, that while sad, will make you smile. When you lose a loved one, grief is an expression of the gap they have left in your life. But when you lose a baby that has not lived outside of your own body, there is nothing tangible to try and draw comfort from. The weight of that sadness is present, but there is no resolution. I had four miscarriages in a year, and during that time It felt like I was heaving a weighted stone around in my gut. I had a heaviness about me that only really lifted once I gave birth to my oldest daughter.

Along with the emotional ramifications, there are also the physical. The hormonal changes in a woman’s body, once she becomes pregnant, are extreme. When a pregnancy ends abruptly the body tries to recalibrate and it can take months before a woman physically feels like herself again. Combine this with a myriad of emotion and the impact on a woman can be momentous.

It’s important that this experience is not undermined and days such as October 15th – Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, are an important part of healing and keeping the dialogue open for women who may be feeling alone in their grief. It’s also an important acknowledgement that the baby they carried and lost meant something, and the sadness that they feel is justified.

If someone you know is going through this, here’s a quick 101 on what NOT to say:

– oh well, there must have been something wrong with it

– it just wasn’t meant to be

– you’ll be pregnant again really soon

– why do you keep talking about it, just get over it

– it won’t happen again, don’t worry too much

– at least you know you can get pregnant

Here are some alternatives:

– I’m so sorry to hear about your baby

– come here for a hug

– how are you feeling?

– I’m sorry, I just don’t know what to say.

These are not a prescription, you can say what feels natural to you as long as you are showing the person that you acknowledge the depth of their pain and loss.

If you have lost a baby, remember them today by lighting a candle for them, or take a moment to reflect on their fleeting presence and what it brought to your life. One thing I learnt from my miscarriages was the depth of love that is possible, so each lost baby, while devastating, reinforced this and now my living children (of which I have three) are the beneficiaries of this love.

Share this post with your friends who might take comfort from it, or share it with those who aren’t sure what pregnancy loss is all about. Supporting each other through these experiences is what will make us all stronger and better able to cope with the sadness of one of life’s inevitabilities.

 

Fear or Love – What Are You Choosing?

About a year ago I decided that life was too short to hope that one day things might change for me. Well rather than suddenly decide, it hit me like a brick, slap bang in the middle of my head. It came in the form of losing my Mum.

Prior to that, it wasn’t even really a conscious thought that I was looking for anything else. I’m blissfully happy with my husband and my children, we have everything we need. I had a job to return to after my maternity leave, as an editor in a business writing firm. That was good, great, in fact. There were things I didn’t like about it (like the commute), but mostly I was pretty happy with my job.

I’d done a Masters in Editing & Communications, so I was right on the path that I’d envisaged. Except that secretly, I really wanted to write, not edit. There were a few opportunities for me to do some writing, given it’s a writing firm that I work for, and I relished them.

But there was one issue, I was too scared to really give it a go. But those moments between my editing duties, where I got to write a feature for the website or a business magazine, I was in my element. But I had this internal dialogue going on. I’m sure some of you will recognise it.

Me: I love this writing thing. It really is what I want to do.

Other me: You’re shit! Don’t be ridiculous. Get on with your job. You have an editing deadline.

Me: I’m sure I’m not that bad, I’ve had some stuff published, surely your work doesn’t get published if you’re shit.

Other me: You’re shit. Forget it. It was a fluke.

Me: Hmmm. OK. I’m shit. Get back to your editing deadline.

And so it went. The number of times I had this internal conversation between me and myself, I can’t tell you. Then Mum died.

And yes, life really is separated into two distinct categories for me at the moment: When Mum Was Alive and After Mum Died. I got to thinking, Mum was 71 when she died; no spring chicken, but not particularly old. And I thought ‘If I die at the same stage of life that Mum did, I am over half way through my life’. That, my friends, is a very sobering thought. She still had lots of living left to do. ’Lordy’, I thought, ‘I need to make it count. From now.’

And so here I am. I still have my job as an editor, but I only do it one day a week. On another day, my youngest goes to day care and I work from home while the older two are at school, carving out my writing career. Success is elusive, but also subjective, so it’s not a metric I’m interested in measuring at this early stage. But the deep sense of satisfaction I get from doing this, I’ll boldly say, makes me a better person.

Better, in that I’m finally being honest, I can look at my husband and my children and honestly say that you must do what you love. But I can say it, and mean it, not say it but secretly wish I was doing it. It is vitally important, because you only get one chance and it is fleeting, at best.

There’s no hankering feeling anymore; and that’s a revelation. I recall a conversation with a friend, when I was telling her of my new plans to strike out on my own, doing something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I told her I was scared. Her response was simplistic, but completely accurate ‘It’s either fear or love that holds us back’. So when you don’t choose love, you automatically choose fear.

I get it that life is much more complex than this, but ultimately, when you distill all your reasons for not doing something important, more often that not, it is fear that’s in the driver’s seat.
While it’s never easy to learn from someone else’s experiences (life is best learned in your own boots) but if you’re open to it, I would urge you not to wait for your own ‘brick in the head’ moment. Put your fears aside and make the most of your transitory time here. It’s incredibly freeing. And the best thing about it? You choose.

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Diary of a (Novice) Meditator

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Everyone who meditates extols its virtues. Mental clarity, reduced stress and anxiety, better sleep: the list goes on. But when someone says “You should meditate”, it’s the same as saying “You should do more exercise” or “You should drink less”. We all know what we “should” do. Actually doing it is something else all together. I knew I needed to do something to manage my stress. Last year, I had my third child and lost my mum suddenly, in the space of four months. My husband and I were already in chaos as our baby daughter rarely slept, day or night – but when Mum died, things started to spiral. We got through it with the help of a supportive community and friends, but my pattern of thinking had changed. Lack of sleep combined with shock and grief meant my thought processes had completely changed rhythm. I needed a way to iron out the kinks, and meditation seemed to have the answers. The 21-Day Meditation Challenge, hosted by Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey, appeared at this crucial point. Once registered, each day a link to a guided meditation is sent to your inbox, and you then meditate for 20 minutes at a time that suits you. Each Challenge has a theme, and this one was “Finding your flow”. Here’s my Challenge diary.  

 

This article was first published in Sunday Life Magazine on June 1, 2014 (Fairfax Media) and can be accessed on the Daily Life website