A journey into openness and honesty… Distilling truths about ourselves, others and life from shared experiences… Learning to live consistently with that truth… Becoming free to be who we truly are…

An embarrassing experience

Some time ago my sister-in-law Janine shared an embarrassing experience she had at the pharmacy. A staff member had asked her a very personal question in earshot of others in the store. Embarrassing at the time, but very funny in hindsight.

Yesterday I had an experience that goes one better! 🙂

An adults-only post?

I was going to rate this article Adults Only, but it’s really just PG. I’ve couched it in ‘blog and facebook-friendly’ terms, and teenagers may find it helpful and enlightening. It involves a men’s health issue and a taboo subject. Hopefully you’ll have a great laugh.

It also challenges a traditional belief that research shows is completely unfounded. In fact the belief can be very detrimental to men (and women), young and old, and can seriously impact one’s mental and physical wellbeing. Yet it still clings on in some parts of society.

I also hope that what I share, as personal as it is, will be another small step towards this taboo being brought out into the open.

Some background…

Most of you probably know that as men age, things that are meant to stay upright gradually lose their ability to do so. It’s an outcome of naturally declining testosterone levels. It may be accompanied by a reduced drive, but not necessarily. Blokes can still be very keen to satisfy their natural desires.

So what’s a bloke to do? During the last five years of being single, I’ve had advice from a number of professional people… To maintain everything in full working order it’s a case of “Use it or lose it.”

There are also medications that can help.

Now for the taboo. Some people still believe that “self-love” is ‘sinful’ or harmful in some way. But none of the blokes I’ve spoken to have gone blind, and I haven’t either. Once again, professional advice says this behaviour is perfectly normal and healthy.

So how does this apply to me?

Like many other men my age, my upbringing scripted me to feel incredibly guilty. 40+ years is a very long time to struggle with an errant belief. It demonstrates that what a child is taught can impact them for life, sometimes causing significant damage.

After years of wrestling, I finally accepted that this taboo is a very harmful myth. (I still believe however, that the inherent fantasy life needs to be healthy, and that using porn is a bad idea.)

I’ve not been in a serious relationship for the past 5 years since losing my wife. However I look forward to a new relationship when the right woman comes along. And I want to be able to share the full delights of an intimate relationship with my new partner.

Casual intimacy, if such a thing really exists, is not for me. So it’s important I ‘maintain and exercise’ my ability on my own.

Back to the story…

I spoke to my doctor earlier this week. She prescribed a single tablet as a trial run and sent the prescription to a local pharmacy.

I also had an appointment with another doctor who sent two prescriptions for my regular medications to the same pharmacy.

I went down to the pharmacy to collect all three. The pharmacist was a young woman. She looked at the scripts, and as you’d expect, didn’t bat an eyelid… she’d have many blokes on the same medication.

I headed off for a coffee, then returned to the pharmacy. There was a young bloke ahead of me so I stood in the queue at the required distance. While the pharmacist attended to him, the young female assistant called out to me in the queue. I told the her that I was picking up three scripts. She found them and gave them to the pharmacist.

The pharmacist then asked, in a voice loud enough to reach me, “Have you had all these medications before?” I replied that one of them was new. In the same loud voice she asked, “Which one is new?”

I hesitated for a moment feeling vulnerable and exposed… I was about to make a very personal announcement to my new local community! Then I thought, “What the heck”, and replied in a calm, confident voice, “Viagra”.

The pharmacist and the assistant didn’t react at all (noticeably), but I wished I could have seen the face of the young bloke in front of me!

The fun continues…

The pharmacist beckoned me to the front counter and asked if I was on any other medications. I told her which ones. She informed me all was well… none of the drugs would interact with each other. She then added, without being specific, that I could however experience a little dizziness.

Dizziness from what I wondered? A reaction between my medications? But she’d just said this wasn’t an issue. Perhaps dizziness from the Viagra? To be sure I understood clearly I asked, “Which drug are you referring to?” Instead of saying ‘Viagra’ out loud, her response was, “The new one.”

Now it was my turn to laugh… to myself of course… she’d obviously realised the embarrassment she’d caused me earlier!

A happy ending…

When I got home I opened the packet… Lucky me, I got four tablets instead of one!

So here’s to a happy ending! 😉

It’s been a sobering week. I’ve had insights and learned things I didn’t want to learn. Initially I didn’t want to heed them, but now I’m very grateful.

This article contains a lot of information. It’s important information that sets the context for the insights I want to share. I believe they’re relevant to all of us. It’s also very personal, especially the most recent insight late last night… that’s at the end of the article.

We’re at the beginning of a worldwide pandemic. For most of us it’s still all ‘out there’, somewhere a long way away, dramatic events we see only on TV or online. We know it’s happening. We’ve seen the impact of panic buying, and our leaders are doing unprecedented things. But it’s still in our heads, it’s yet to really touch us. The penny has yet to drop.

I’ve been doing a lot of research for reliable data on coronavirus in the past two weeks. The data is readily available and the impacts predicted are steadily becoming harsh reality.

So what have I learned? And why is it painful?

(1) Coronavirus could kill me

I could die with coronavirus. I am over 60 and this bug is vicious. I thought having an excellent set of lungs meant I wasn’t at risk of dying, but lungs are exactly what the virus attacks.

We’re all wired to think it won’t happen to us. Dire things happen to other people, not us. But the facts are now telling us that coronavirus is very different to ‘most things’.

Coronavirus is highly contagious. If left unchecked, 50 to 65% of Australians will be infected, a staggering 13 to 17 million people. It means we’re all more likely to be infected than not. If we do, 80% of cases being mild sounds reassuring. But don’t be fooled. 20% being severe cases and 5% requiring intensive care is a huge danger when you work out the numbers.

If our country fails to take drastic, successful action to stop the virus two things are certain. Our hospital system will be totally overwhelmed. And well before that, the number of people needing intensive care will totally dwarf the number of ICU beds available.

Seem impossible? That’s a very normal response. But don’t stop reading in disbelief. Let me explain with a simple explanation of exponential growth.

The number of cases in Australia is doubling every 3 to 4 days(1). At 3 days, the number of cases will double almost 5 times in 2 weeks = 32 times! There are 5 x 3 days = 15 days in a little over 2 weeks. Double today’s number of cases 5 times and you get 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 32 times today’s figure. As at 3:00pm today 29th March, there were 3,966 confirmed cases in Australia (2).

If we allow this rate to continue, there will be up to 32 x 3,966 = 126,000 cases just two weeks from now. Two weeks later it will be 32 x 126,000 = 4 million, and in 6 short weeks it will be 32 x 4 million = over 100 million. Of course that’s impossible for a population of 26 million. But it shows how quickly we’ll reach peak infection numbers of 13 to 17 million people!

Now think about our hospital system. If just 10% of infected people need hospital that’s 1.3 million people. Our hospital system will collapse. If 5% need intensive care, that’s 650,000 people for only 2,200 beds. Our ICU capacity is minuscule compared to the beds we need. In fact it was announced on Fri 27/03 that we could run out of ICU beds in as little as 2 weeks.

This means medical staff will be forced to choose who lives and who dies. The decision criteria is already being worked out in preparation. At this point the number of deaths will dramatically increase because the vast majority of severe cases won’t be treated.

So yes, coronavirus could kill me. And it could kill you too.

And untreated respiratory deaths are not pretty. You slowly drown in your own mucus as it clogs up your lungs. It’s one of the most horrible ways to die.

(2) I really DO have to take this seriously

Clearly I MUST take the situation seriously. It’s essential for my own survival, and that of all other Australians. I must play my part and follow whatever social restrictions are implemented. At present it’s staying at home and stopping all unnecessary contact with others.

Every time I go out is another opportunity to become infected.

But that’s not the main issue. If I am infected and go out with mild or no symptoms, I risk infecting a cascade of other people. Every time I have close contact with others, every time I inevitably touch the many surfaces that lots of other people touch, I’m putting other people at risk. Think carefully about all the things you touch in shopping centres.

To reinforce the point, University of NSW modelling(3) shows at least 80% of the Australian population must stay at home to have any hope of containing the virus. For your own sake, and the sake of everyone else, DON’T be one of the people pushing Australia over the critical 20% non-compliance threshold.

If you’re younger, don’t think you won’t be a severe case or die. The severity does increase with age but worldwide there are far more people aged 18 to 64 who are infected, and far greater numbers in hospital, than people 65 and older. And ask yourself, what if the hospital system collapses before I need it?

Then there’s the death rate. The estimates vary widely. Many cases will never be detected, and of the known cases we don’t yet know how many will recover or die. Medical experts in the UK(4) predict 0.5 to 1% of the total population will die. For Australia this equals 130,000 to 260,000 people. But the final figures could be worse… we just don’t know yet.

(3) I’ve got to practice what I preach

I’d had a sore throat on and off for over 2 weeks prior to last Friday. I thought two weeks with no other symptoms meant it couldn’t be coronavirus. I decided to collect a parcel from the Post Office then go to the supermarket. When I saw the sign on the Post Office door I stopped, “Please don’t enter if you’ve got any symptoms”.

I’d stayed home for the previous 9 days because of my throat. I allowed no-one in my house, so I could not be carrying the virus. But, hold on, I’d made one exception. Two older family members came to visit after staying with their daughter’s family in the suburbs. They were keen to see my new house before returning home. I was keen to make it very clear to both of them that it was essential they minimise all contact with others. Both having chronic health conditions meant their lives could depend on it.

The second realization hit hard at the Post Office door. My sore throat had gone days ago but was back again that morning. I thought it was just a recurrence of the same bug. But what if my new sore throat was coronavirus that I’d picked up from my visitors? However unlikely it was, it actually could be coronavirus, and I could be risking other people’s lives.

I hesitated for a moment, then, sad to say, I rationalised it away. We all love picking up parcels and I allowed my desire to overrule the possible risk.

I went inside and picked up the parcel, all the while knowing deep down I’d made a choice that contradicted what I’d been passionately proclaiming to others… If you’re showing any symptoms avoid all close contact with others!  Contrite, I drove straight home… definitely no more shopping for me until I know I’m clear!

I know many of you will identify. We’re all human. We don’t like stopping activities that bring us pleasure. And if we’re honest, we often do things we know aren’t wise, especially for our health. Most times there’s no immediate consequence. But coronavirus is different. It’s no overstatement to say this is a critical moment in history. We all need to work hard on not letting our desires lead to choices and actions that put ourselves and others in danger.

(4) The reality hits home

I took a break from working on this article late last night. Only partly finished I wanted to be fresh today to finish it.

TV is something that helps my brain slow down enough to sleep. I selected SBS. You’ll probably laugh, but I love zombie movies. I find them so over-the-top that they’re hilarious and a great way to relax. “The Road to Tuhan” was on. This movie was great. Hilarious moments were interwoven with a heartwarming drama. Well into the movie, the most recent realization hit out of the blue. I had a mental picture of sitting on a precipice watching the world fall over the edge.

How could I possibly be watching something as inane as a zombie movie when the whole world is facing a life-threatening crisis? What if I’m one of the casualties and have only weeks or months left to live? Is watching a zombie movie what I want to do on one of my last remaining nights?

It sounds very dramatic, but it’s possible. In balance however, there’s absolutely no value in worrying about the worst possible outcome. Far better to ask what can I do to achieve the best outcome for myself and everyone else?

There’s a lesson I learnt from my late wife Rosie. She had a 16 year journey with breast cancer. The whole time, right up to the day she died, she remained realistic about where the cancer was taking her. Rather than hiding behind positive thinking, or allowing herself to become morbid, she faced every downward step head on. She was determined to make the most of every day, always enjoying life and being an encouraging, supportive friend to literally hundreds of people. I want to live like Rosie did.

So what can I contribute in the face of coronavirus? This article is Chapter One of my coronavirus journey. It is part of what I can offer. If I can convince just one other person to play their part, or even save a life, it is abundantly worth it.

Where to from here?

Australia has reached the stage of community transmission of coronavirus. An antiviral drug is still a long way off. The most effective, and possibly only way, of stopping coronavirus is now total lockdown.

Ideally we would have been in lockdown at least two weeks ago. But no government (apart from the Chinese) can take a whole nation from life as normal one day to total lockdown the next. It takes time to convince a whole nation that a course that devastates our economy and has severe social impacts is the best way to go! Leaders can only lead if the nation chooses to follow them.

Our leaders are not idiots. Put aside your political opinions. They are doing their absolute best to lead Australia through to the best possible outcome.

Conservative governments like ours have the economy flowing in their blood. Even with the facts staring them in the face it takes time for them too to believe that total lockdown, whatever the economic cost, is the fastest way to get through this pandemic with minimum social and economic cost. But give our leaders due credit. Don’t be quick to judge. They are only human too.

But don’t wait for the government to tell you it’s time for total lockdown. The more people who voluntarily do it now, the better the outcome will be.
Help lead the pack rather than drag your heels behind it.

Final thoughts

Think of people on the front lines

If you think total lockdown is tough, and it certainly will be, think of the people who still have to go to work so the rest of us can make it through. Health workers at every level, those keeping us supplied with food and essentials, law enforcement. They are all at higher risk than you.

Our health workers especially are at risk. They don’t want to die either, and yet they’ll make the sacrifice turning up day after day to perform very high risk roles. They may well run out of protective gear long before the pandemic is over. Look at Italy now. Many will be totally exhausted by their selfless work and traumatised for life by what they see. They will face the likelihood of taking the virus home to their loved ones after every shift.

It won’t lessen how difficult things are for us at home, but it helps get our own sacrifice in perspective.

We all need each other

Lockdown has to be longer than two weeks to beat the virus. At least 4 weeks, perhaps even months, will be necessary(5).

Social isolation is going to take a terrible toll. There will be spikes in the number of people suffering anxiety and depression. Domestic violence and suicides will rise dramatically. There will be no lack of people who need your support.

If you can, don’t despair, that will not help you at all.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking only about yourself and how tough things are for you. Endless video, binge eating, porn, or whatever you’re into will work for a while. Ultimately it will leave you bored, depressed and worse off.

Instead recognize WE ALL have an essential job to do. Think of everyone you know who could be doing it tougher than you. Think of your family and friends. Connect with other people. Make calls, send messages, or chat online to encourage and support other people. You will lift their spirits and help them through. You too will get a ‘buzz’ each time as your brain releases feel good hormones. It will help you make it through as well(6).

If you’re struggling, reach out to others. Don’t try to go it alone. People will never be more willing to support you than now.

Be grateful. Choose to enjoy life. Grasp this opportunity.

Your attitude is the key to your own emotional survival.

Be grateful for everything you can. Be grateful for your loved ones. Be grateful for the food you eat and the roof over your heads. Be grateful that the end of the crisis WILL come. If nothing else, being grateful means you’re still alive!

Keep enjoying everything in your life that brings you joy. Music, photos, books, all the things you can learn from online, things you can create, your pets, and of course, other people… the list is endless.

Use this time to learn and grow in every way you can.

Initiate new friendships. Build deep connections with others. Repair broken relationships.

You will never have another life changing opportunity like this (we hope) to achieve so much.

References:

  1. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-17/coronavirus-cases-data-reveals-how-covid-19-spreads-in-australia/12060704
  2. https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/coronavirus-covid-19-current-situation-and-case-numbers
  3. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-25/coronavirus-covid-19-modelling-stay-home-chart/12084144
  4. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-51674743
  5. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/how-to-stop-covid-19-find-test-isolate-treat/
  6. https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness

Hurting… Healing

Our words can wound others deeply.
Sometimes they hurt us even more.

Hurting

Eight years ago I was emerging from religious beliefs that held me captive for 40 years. Fear of rejection and condemnation by God had my beliefs locked in black and white. If Bible-based Christianity decreed something wrong, there was no room for argument or question.

It was my step-mother’s 90th birthday. Relatives came from far and wide to celebrate her big day. It was a great opportunity to catch up with extended family. Handshakes, hugs and kisses were exchanged; life’s latest headlines were shared; love, warmth and laughter flowed freely.

I hadn’t seen my relative Tom since he was a child. Now a grown man, all I knew about him was he was gay and in a relationship.

In those days much of the “truth” scripted into my thinking still controlled my attitudes and actions. To me, homosexuality was sin; homosexual relationships were unnatural and repulsive.

Tom and I were sitting at the same table. He introduced me to his partner Mike. I don’t remember the conversation but my feelings remain crystal clear.

Being warm and friendly is my default for relating to others. My ‘love and acceptance’ dial is normally set to ‘maximum’. This time it flicked hard off. I had no intention of being rude or hurtful, but offering Tom and Mike acceptance conflicted with my beliefs. It would be wrong to affirm their ‘sinful’ state and relationship. So instead of being warm and friendly, I was cordial and cold.

The Journey

Reflecting on the encounter later, I felt an awkward, uncomfortable stirring within me. Something about my response was wrong. The call to “love one another” had collided with “homosexuality is evil”.  I was being challenged to question my beliefs.

Withholding love from a person because of their ‘sinful ways’ was in direct contradiction of offering them unconditional love and grace. I realised that I had treated them unfairly and without love.

Ever since that time I’ve felt regret. I hoped that one day I’d be able to set things right.

Eight years later my beliefs are in a very different space. Life experience found my religious belief framework wanting. Black and white beliefs stifle healthy questions; they deny us the opportunity to learn new things and change and grow accordingly; they lead to judging other people’s actions as ‘right or wrong’. Worse still, we judge and devalue the people themselves as flawed, inferior beings. Depending on our beliefs we may see them in need of Salvation (by conversion to our beliefs).

Changing my beliefs and attitudes regarding LGBTIQ people and relationships did not happen overnight. The step by step process of letting my old beliefs go took years. I felt confused and conflicted along the way. Stepping out of a secure belief framework into the uncertainty of ‘no man’s land’ is very threatening, especially if you fear God’s disapproval and judgement. At times I felt very insecure and guilty as I let go of ‘The Truth’ and contemplated a new way of thinking.

Healing

Recently I was on a cruise to Papua New Guinea. Much to my surprise Tom and Mike were on the same cruise! We arranged to meet, and greeted each other with genuine warmth.

In the course of our conversation I apologised for my behaviour 8 years ago. Tom and Mike exchanged knowing smiles and told me I had nothing to apologise for… no doubt they’ve seen this scenario play out time and again. I am one of the multitudes journeying out of the ‘dark days’ of prejudice and discrimination against those who don’t fit bipolar views of gender and sexual attraction.

Tom and Mike felt no need of healing… thankfully they’d been loving enough to not be hurt by my behaviour 8 years ago. Ironically, I was the one who needed healing from the pain and regret that I still carried. It was me who had been damaged by the lack of love that flowed from my previous beliefs.

Live Gently

A few reflections…

If you are currently on the journey of revising your beliefs re gender preference and diversity, be gentle with yourself. It can take years for clarity, peace and a new understanding to emerge out of the disturbing questions and feelings.

If you’ve already made the leap, be gentle with others who are struggling through the transition or yet to reach the starting blocks. Keep caring for those who are not as far along as you. One of the biggest traps is to heap disdain and criticism on those who still hold conservative views. (Sadly, this is all too prevalent on social media.) Before criticising someone else, remember where you have come from, and how long it took you to make the change.

We need conservative people in society. Progressives run the risk of implementing social change without thinking through all the consequences. Our fellow conservatives raise the thorny issues that help ensure the implications of change are addressed before society lunges forward. Let’s be more gracious and less indignant toward them… even be grateful to them for the role they play.

Keep in mind some people will never change. Many will stay locked in their beliefs until the day they die. We must never stop loving and respecting these people. They have reasons for holding their conservative views. Criticising these people as “fundamentalist, conservative, religious bigots” will only reinforce their thinking. Arguing logically with them is unlikely to change their thinking; they see their logic more tenable than yours. If instead you listen to them, treat their views with respect (even though you disagree), and show you value them as people, you might just catch their attention and “love them into the new Kingdom”.

ian-dingo

 

Ian James
1st July 2018

© 2018 Ian James,
http://www.onlivingauthentically.com

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.com

All of us had a Mum… right?
Technically, yes. We all had a mother otherwise we wouldn’t be here.

But having a mother is not the same as having a Mum.

The cemetery

Healesville cemetery is a sacred place for my family. On the edge of a country town it is a beautiful, peaceful location surrounded by trees and views of the nearby mountains.

My wife, Rosie, loved Healesville. Her family holidayed there when she was young. Healesville was my home town. Rosie and I chose this cemetery as our burial place a few years before she died of breast cancer.

My parents are buried at Healesville. The plot Rosie and I bought almost directly faces their grave in the next row.

Mother’s Day

We lost Rosie just a few years ago. Mother’s Day is tough for my family.
Our hearts and minds are still raw. My children miss their Mum.

Mother’s Day afternoon I visited the cemetery with Merryn and Liam (my daughter and son-in-law). We stood in front of Rosie’s grave to remember her, and silently vocalise our feelings of love and grief.

Merryn brought some white roses from her garden. She gave me one to place on Rosie’s grave. I made a hole in the recently rained-on earth and planted the rose upright in front of Rosie’s headstone.

While Merryn and Liam continued to reflect, I turned around to face my parents’ grave. I read the plaque as I have done many times. Seeing my mother’s name, Edna Winifred James, died 12th June 1966, aged 49 years, impacted me as never before.

I was struck with a profound realization
In the 53 years since she died I’ve never grieved for my Mum, not even on Mother’s Day? How could this be??

Mum

Mum did not have an easy life. As a young woman she was beset by a condition I also share… depression. Mental health issues were little understood in those days. Depression was a shameful thing; you kept it hidden and suffered in silence. Thankfully her older brother, Bert, saw her struggling and tried to encourage her and build her self-confidence.

But depression was no stranger to Bert either, and tragically he took his own life when Mum was a young adult. I can hardly imagine the extent to which this caused her to plummet further.

Mum was married during World War II. After Dad returned from the fighting, three daughters arrived in succession. Six years later they had a son… me.

Mum’s pregnancy with me was torrid. Shortly after I was born she had a severe breakdown which put her in a psychiatric ward for months. Dad stayed home to work and visit Mum; my sisters were sent away to his brother’s family, and I was looked after by Mum’s sister.

Recently I read some letters Mum wrote to Dad from hospital in December 1957, 4 months after I was born. She was knitting a jumper for me and was so hoping to be allowed hospital leave to have Christmas with the family. I don’t know that she made it.

It saddens me deeply to think of the pain Mum must have felt during those dim, dark days of 1950’s psychiatric treatment. Separated from her family, knowing her children had been farmed out due to her breakdown, must have been incredibly painful.

Me

Mum’s recovery was very slow, if she ever really recovered at all. I spent 2½ years with my aunty; she adored me and raised like a son; no doubt I bonded to her during that time. When I finally returned home, my mother was a distant woman in my life.

Disabled with depression, Mum spent a lot of time in bed or sitting unresponsive in a chair, lost in her pain. The demanding role of raising a 2 year old was simply beyond her.

I have very few memories of my mother from childhood. If she spent quality time with me I remember very little of it.

Mum lived a short life. One Sunday night while playing the organ in church an aortic aneurism burst. Mum literally died of a ‘broken heart’.

I was eight years old at the time.
I’d had a mother for six short years.
But I never really had a Mum.

Life shaping scars

Mum couldn’t care for me after birth and had to give me up. My aunt cared for me deeply, then she too had to give me up. Infants can’t comprehend the reasons for these things. As a baby, this was rejection, not once but twice… first by my mother, then by my aunt. Infants interpret rejection as their own fault. Indelible feelings of guilt and fear of rejection were scripted into the core of my being.

These scars have shaped who I am and still affect me today. Fear of rejection and guilt gave rise to decades of depression and anxiety.

I’ve spent most of my life searching for someone or something to fix me, and fill the deep void in my spirit. Decades of counselling, medication and therapy eventually helped me to manage the depression, but the painful void remained.

I looked to God to fill the gap, but 20 years of commitment to faith tragically reinforced my fear of rejection instead of healing it. I looked to Rosie to fill the void, but no amount of love she could give was enough. Even the love of my wonderful children, and great support from close friends could not get me there.

But the picture is not all bad. Suffering teaches you things you cannot learn any other way; it can build love, empathy and compassion for others like nothing else. That said, I would never choose to suffer, but I am so grateful for the lessons I’ve learned and the people it has brought into my life.

A precious memory

The night Mum died I was at home with my sisters. I remember the look on Dad’s face when he walked through the front door. Before he spoke a word, I burst into tears.

I have other memories of that night. The pastor came around to comfort and pray for us. My sister Glenda held me; the comfort she gave me healed a childhood divide and created a bond that exists to this day.

Most profound of all is a memory from earlier in the evening, before Mum and Dad went to church. After dinner she put me on her lap and gave me a cuddle. I remember it distinctly, but why? Why would I remember something that happened before she died?

Was her hugging me so unusual? I don’t remember her ever having done it before.
Was she motivated by an inner sense that her time was at an end and she wanted to say goodbye?
Whatever the reason, this expression of her love profoundly impacted my young mind. I stored the memory away, waiting for adulthood to bring it back so I could discover the message it contained.

Finding Mum 

My rational adult brain says Mum must have loved me. But for years this meant nothing to my heart.

I knew there was no value blaming her. How could I be angry with a woman who did her very best amidst terrible suffering?  I’ve known that suffering too. Instead of anger I felt compassion, but still no sense of love, or being loved.

I always found it difficult to speak of ‘my Mum’. I felt awkward. It just didn’t fit. It lacked any feelings of warmth or authenticity. So I referred to her as my ‘my mother’ instead.

In recent years it dawned on me how tough life was for her; how incredibly painful it would have been not being able to care for me; to allow another woman to take her place because of the disabling torment within.

I realised she had little or no control over what happened. This allowed an emotional connection with her to start growing. I still have a long way to go.

The message embedded in her cuddle just hours before she died is finally reaching my heart…

My mother really loved me.
I really did have a Mum.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a time for celebrating Mums. The huge role mothers play in raising children can bring a great deal of joy and fulfilment. It is also very difficult and demanding, with more than a fair share of heartache. But the vast majority of Mums (and Dads) do the best they can.

Mums fully deserve to be celebrated on Mother’s Day.

Be aware of others

Mother’s Day is a tough day for many people. It may seem like everyone around you is celebrating, while you are feeling pain.

Many people, both young and old, have lost their mothers.
Many mothers and children are separated by distance, and fractured relationships.
Many mothers languish in nursing homes, forgotten or neglected by their families.

There are mothers who have lost children.
And women who longed for children but couldn’t have them.

And then there are those who had a mother, but never had a Mum.

Mother’s Day is a tough day for all these people.
Next year, let’s be mindful of how they feel and let them know we care.

A closing thought

Let go of your Mum.

No Mums live forever. At some stage you have to let your Mum go. When you stand by her side in her final days, as much as you want her to stay, let her know she is free to go. Firsthand experience has shown me how important this is.

There are many other aspects of letting your Mum go; it’s a process that begins in childhood and continues through our adult lives.

A vital step is realizing you are a complete person in yourself. Your fundamental value and worth do not come from your Mum, and must not be dependent on much or little she loves (or loved) you. Some of us, even as mature adults, remain stuck in childhood.

The victim narrative of ‘not having a Mum’, and the void it created, has driven me to avoid rejection by pleasing other people. It has relentlessly demanded ‘I do more with my life’ and daily told me I’ve failed. Perversely, it also became part of my identity… being a victim gave me significance, prompting care and support from others.

I’m finally realising I need to leave the victim narrative behind.

The irony is, at the same time as finding my Mum, I’m finally letting go.

 

ian-dingo

 

Ian James 20th May 2018

© 2018 Ian James, http://www.onlivingauthentically.com

It’s a tough gig to be on a panel of women at church on Mother’s Day when you are still wrestling with the grief of losing your own mum only a few years ago.
It’s even harder when it’s four services in a row in front of large numbers of people.

Along with three other women, my daughter Merryn was asked a range of questions on the topic “Women of Influence”.

Merryn’s mum, Rosie, was such a woman of influence, having significantly touched many people’s lives through her unconditional love and acceptance for people of all backgrounds and circumstances, her unfailing joy and faith amidst all life could throw at her, and the inspirational way she lived for 16 years in the face of the slow but relentless progression of breast cancer.

The questions to the panel ranged from the light-hearted to the deeply personal. Merryn was asked the toughest question of all… “What did it mean for her to have recently lost her Mum? How did she handle this?”

Church is a place I am rarely seen these days but I really wanted to hear what she had to say and be there for her, so I attended the fourth service. After three earlier services Merryn still spoke as if she was being interviewed for the first time. The question clearly still tugged at her heart and she spoke openly about the depth of pain and grief she felt. She displayed deep, authentic feelings while framing them in a very personal, safe, sacred space. Without trying to embed ‘a pastor’s message’ in her words she demonstrated a wise, practical approach to dealing with the grief of losing a loved one.

I was extremely proud of my daughter (as always!) not just because she is my daughter but because she too is already a “Woman of influence” who shares her mum’s deep compassion for others and combines it with leadership skills well beyond her age.

Go Gracie Go!

I love you heaps, Dad

ian-dingo

 

Ian James 14th May 2018

© 2017 Ian James, http://www.onlivingauthentically.com

Yesterday was a tough day. For most people it was the AFL Grand Final, but for the family and I Sept 30th is Rosie’s birthday… she would have turned 61 this year.

We lost Rosie to cancer on Oct 29th 2014. Almost 3 years have passed… so much has happened and yet our feelings still run very deep on these days.

They say time heals, and yes, it does to a point. Some aspects of grief will always remain. You never stop loving someone you loved deeply for 35 years… and that’s exactly how it should be.

So what’s it like, 3 years on?

Wrapping up Rosie’s life…

For the last two years Facebook popped up reminders for Rosie’s Birthday. For many this unexpected reminder was confronting and painful. To lessen the sting of friends being caught off guard, last year I put up a post in advance.  All this year I intended to memorialize Rosie’s facebook account before her birthday. (Memorialization means we can still see her timeline, but no longer add posts or comments, and will no longer receive birthday notifications.)

But it’s not easy doing these things… after losing Rosie I’ve had to notify so many organizations… including banks, utilities and an endless number of charity groups Rosie supported at some time. I feel grief every time… not only does it remind me that I’ve lost Rosie… closing each one is bringing to an end yet another part of her life… it almost feels like I’m betraying her… there is a painful finality in doing these things.

Recently while holidaying in WA I remembered I still had not memorialized Rosie’s Facebook account, and now her birthday was rapidly approaching. When I returned home I discovered to my dismay that Facebook can take months to memorialize accounts.

One morning a few days before Rosie’s birthday  I submitted the relevant Facebook form, hoping at best that I might receive a computer-generated request confirmation in a week or so.

That night I received a response from Facebook Support. The message literally sent me into shock… what I received was a personal, compassionate message from Facebook expressing sorrow at my loss and saying Rosie’s account had been memorialized (it had taken less than 12 hours!) While I was deeply grateful Facebook had responded so rapidly and with such compassion, I wasn’t expecting it to happen so quickly and the pain of having ‘shut down’ a significant aspect of Rosie’s life hit me hard.

Understanding Rosie’s love for me…

Rosie spent the last 9 days of her life at Caritas Christi hospice.

My last two hours with Rosie as she died are among the most profoundly beautiful and painful moments of my life. Caritas Christi has been sacred ground for me ever since. I still return there on key anniversaries to quietly remember and reflect on those final hours.

Rosie loved and deeply impacted the lives of MANY people. Her love did not discriminate… it didn’t matter where people were at in their lives, she loved and accepted them for who there were. People from all walks of life received and deeply valued her love and care. Six hundred people came to her funeral… a profound testament to her huge heart for others!

As I make myself vulnerable in the following paragraphs I ask that you treat what I say with respect.

As with all relationships, despite outward appearances, Rosie’s and my marriage was far from perfect. I am not at all saying we didn’t love one another… we loved each other deeply and were totally committed to our marriage.

Nonetheless both of us suffered deep emotional damage in early childhood. This had serious consequences for our ability to fully connect in our relationship.

For decades Rosie had to suppress severe hurt as a child in order to survive emotionally as an adult. (The childhood events had absolutely nothing to do with her family).

My childhood in turn left me wrestling with deep depression and anxiety for most of our married life. Rosie spent so many hours listening to me pour out my pain but she never gave up on me. However Rosie’s own hurts limited her ability to fully grasp and empathize with my struggles… something I desperately longed for in our relationship.

Being separated from my parents for the first two years of my life left me with a deep fear of rejection. As a result I had great difficulty recognizing and accepting the profound depth of Rosie’s unconditional love for me.

Intellectually I knew Rosie adored me… she never stopped telling me her heart still leaped for joy every time I came home! But I couldn’t grasp or accept this at an emotional level.

Three years after losing her I’m still learning how much she loved me… and it grieves me deeply that I was unable to return the utterly faithful, almost childlike love and acceptance she so freely gave me.

Rosie almost never cried (another outworking of childhood hurts). On rare occasions she shed a tear or two, but in 33 years of marriage she (briefly) cried only once with me.

Many people wanted to see Rosie in the last few days of her life. One of the tough roles I had to play was “gatekeeper”. Family had unrestricted access, but I was able to only allow a few close friends into that space.

One of these friends recently shared something which ‘blew me out of the water’. The conversation went something like this…

Friend:   “Did you know, Ian, that in my final conversation with Rosie, she cried?”

Me (my interest now in overdrive):   “No… tell me more!”

F:   “Rosie said, ‘I don’t want to leave you behind.’ “

Me:   “Wow… that was a real statement of how much she loved you.”

F (looking a bit puzzled):   “Rosie was referring to YOU, not me.”

It sent an arrow straight into my heart… Rosie had cried because she didn’t want to leave ME behind! But Rosie never cried! This was an incredibly deep and precious expression of her love for me.

I so wish I could have grasped the depth of Rosie’s love for me before she died.
I used to feel terribly guilty about this… I’m slowly learning I don’t have to. Rosie and I did the best we could in our relationship. It just grieves me that she was unable to grasp the depths of pain I carried, and I was unable to grasp the depth of her love for me.

What happens to friendships…

I’m aware that some who read the following paragraphs may find them tough, or possibly even feel guilty. This is NOT remotely my intent.

Rosie assured me many times that after she died I would have an endless stream of meal invitations from our many friends. In contrast, others I spoke to said many friends simply disappeared after they lost their partners.

The others were right. To my surprise (and sadness) most people who were friends of both of us just vanished… I had very few visits, phone calls or invitations. If it hadn’t been for my family and the top-quality blokes around me, life could have been very lonely. Thankfully these friends and my family more than adequately filled the gap and I was far from being lonely or unsupported.

Nonetheless, it raised some deep questions. How could this happen? And why did it happen to others as well?

It’s taken 3 years, but I finally understand…

It’s just too painful…

Over the years before Rosie died some of her friends became close friends of mine too, most being women and couples, with Rosie being the primary connection. These ‘secondary’ relationships were no less valuable than my other friendships.

While the primary relationship is in place these relationships have an environment in which to grow. However, when you lose your partner, this environment no longer exists and the relationships can change surprisingly rapidly.

We all shy away from things in life that cause us pain. Deep grief and the need to self-protect from pain cause people to act in ways they never intended. Catching up with me was simply too painful for many people who were very close to Rosie.

Seeing me was a confronting reminder of the one who they were missing deeply. Of the few who visited me at home, simply stepping into our house caused some to dissolve in tears. I had no option but to adjust to being in the house without Rosie… for others my house was a home full of reminders of her, but painfully empty of Rosie herself.

What I expected of these friends was unrealistic and unfair… it took quite a while for me to grasp this.

Some relationships are slowly returning. I will gladly accept those that do, but I will not rush them… grief can last a long time.

And it is okay if others never return. Things change and life moves on for all of us.  I no longer feel hurt, I’m just glad I now understand.

I could add so much more…

So many things have happened since losing Rosie.  Life events large and small, ups and downs, and many new insights. A few of the significant ones…

Losing Rosie, and much that followed, was deeply painful, but I can honestly say my life has never been better than it is today. I know Rosie would be overjoyed to hear this!

The deep depression that I feared for so many years could be back with force after Rosie died shows no signs of returning. Yes, I’ve been through some very difficult patches, but my mental state is better than ever.

I no longer have the endless emotional rollercoaster stress of Rosie’s 16 years with cancer, and thankfully neither does she.

I have much more time and energy to invest in people… especially my children, grandchildren and close friends.

Relationships have become an even more precious part of life… they have been integral to my survival, and allow me to receive and give so much of value.

Being single has huge benefits. For the first time in life I can do what I want when I want (within reason). This season of freedom is an incredibly precious gift.

Yes, I feel a vacuum, but it’s a very healthy one. For the moment I am discovering “the new Ian James” and (mostly) enjoying the adventure.

Looking forward…

Rosie was adamant that I should marry again. I greatly appreciated the freedom she gave me here. In typical Rosie fashion, she even wanted to give me a list of ‘recommended’ women!  I politely but firmly declined her offer… I’ll be making my own choices here!

I expect I’ll partner again, but there’s no hurry.
Part of discovering who I am is discovering what I want both myself and the other person to bring to a marriage.

It’s not simply a matter of finding ‘a woman who can satisfy my needs’.
Genuinely loving your partner means fulfilling their needs as well. And fulfilling one another is just the beginning. Actively facilitating growth in each other is an even better place to be.

A final word…

As profoundly difficult as losing a loved one is, life goes on.

When Rosie woke each morning she was always so excited to have another day. Her motto and legacy was ‘Live well and die well’.

Like Rosie, I want to live this new chapter of my life to the full.
ian-dingo

 

Ian James 1st Oct 2017

© 2017 Ian James, http://www.onlivingauthentically.com

People are getting angry… and angry people hurt others.

We all need to take the marriage equality vote (aka known as Same-Sex Marriage) very seriously.

We also need to go gently with everyone around us, regardless of who they are and where they stand.

Very vocal, impassioned (sometimes angry) people on BOTH sides are saying “WE have the Truth” and frequently imply “God is on OUR side”. However, while the vote may be black and white, the issue and most people’s thinking on the issue are not.

We are all on a journey that involves a major transition in our personal and nation-wide thinking. Ten years ago I would have voted No, five years ago it would have been a very difficult decision for me. Today I will vote Yes without hesitation, but that doesn’t mean I have no questions and concerns about some implications of this change.

All of us, wherever our thinking is at, need to keep respecting and listening to one another. Judging one another causes people to respond defensively and will often hinder people making the transition because they ‘dig in’ where they are at.

And be aware, some people will never change their minds… but that’s okay. Perhaps we actually need these people to help ensure we carefully address and manage the profound implications of this transition as we move into the future.

ian-dingo
Ian James 01-09-2017

© 2017 Ian James, http://www.onlivingauthentically.com

Times of darkness can give birth to moments of brightness that owe their existence to the very darkness out of which they were born. And the deeper the darkness, the brighter these moments can be.

Losing a loved friend or family member is always traumatic. Losing them tragically adds shock to the trauma. Losing them to suicide is something else again… it leaves you numb and confused, and the darkness is especially dark.

Prior to Jilly’s memorial service I went to her unit to collect some items needed for the service and her burial. It wasn’t an easy task and I was very glad to have Jilly’s pastor, Julie, with me.

As I pulled into the driveway I noticed a young woman with a little boy outside one of the other units. She saw me drive in and looked at me more intently than a stranger usually does. I wondered if this could be the same young woman who found Jilly after the event.

All we knew about the person who found Jilly was that she was a young mum with her pre-school son coming to visit her elderly grandmother in another unit. When she saw Jilly at a distance she quickly ushered her son inside, called the ambulance, and tried unsuccessfully to help Jilly, but it was long past the point anything could be done.

Since that time I have been feeling deeply for this young mum. No doubt she was deeply traumatised by the event, but we had no way of making contact with her, assuming that this was even appropriate.

I then saw the young woman enter the unit where I knew the elderly grandmother lived. Almost certainly it was her.

At this point Julie arrived and we spent time gathering the items we came to collect. As we were about to leave I noticed the young woman was in her car outside the grandmother’s unit also getting ready to leave. A deep sense of compassion welled up along with an urgency to connect with her… this was likely the only opportunity we would have.

Julie and I quickly headed over to her car and flagged her to stop. When she opened her window we introduced ourselves, and sure enough it was the same woman. What followed was very special… Julie and I expressed our sorrow and concern at the trauma she had experienced, and she in turn expressed her care for us having tragically lost a dear friend. We encouraged her to get whatever help and support she needed… if not dealt with, experiences like these can scar a person deeply for life, with long-term destructive consequences.

As the conversation drew to a close I felt moved to say to her, “If you weren’t sitting in the car, and if it was okay, I’d be giving you a big hug right now”. At that she got out of the car and we hugged each other.

It was a profound and precious moment.
The light had broken through and shone brightly in the darkness.

 

ian-dingo
Ian James 21-06-2017

© 2017 Ian James, http://www.onlivingauthentically.com

Jilly Daines was a very close friend for 25 years. On May 9th 2017 her life came to a sudden, tragic end. We held a memorial service for her earlier this week on May 30th.  I shared this reflection on her life at the service…

~~~

I’m going to tell you a story. Like all good stories it contains both the dramatic and the hilarious. None of it is fictitious; it is a very real story. It is the story of Jilly’s life. I hope it will give you an insight into who our dear friend Jilly was, and why her life followed the path it did.

I’d like to begin borrowing part of a quote used by Winston Churchill at the beginning of World War 2. He used these words in an entirely different context… nonetheless, his words provide a perfect description of who Jilly was.

Jilly was “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”.

~~~

I first met Jilly about 25 years ago when she appeared at a Blackburn Baptist Church evening service and my wife Rosie brought her home afterwards for coffee. Jilly quickly became friends with Rosie and I and from that night on she was a regular visitor in our home.

Over the years Jilly and I developed a unique bond. Both of us had experienced many years of deep depression and we often shared deeply how thing were going for us. Jilly was one of the few people who really understood my pain because she’d been there, and even more so. Whenever we talked about the tough things of life she showed a deep capacity for care and compassion.

We also shared a love of hilarious jokes and antics… although Jilly’s depression and her crazy humour both more extreme than mine!

Our times together were a mixture of deep sharing interspersed with bouncing jokes and funny life moments off each other which prompted no end of raucous laughter.

One night I affectionately referred to Jilly as “My Crazy Diamond” echoing the Pink Floyd song “Shine on you Crazy Diamond”. Jilly loved her nickname and a few days later coined the name Pink Diamond (a rare, valuable type of diamond) for me. From then on we became CD and PD.

Jilly and I were like brother and sister.

~~~

When a person’s life comes to a tragic end one of the painful questions we all ask is “Why?”

Rather than allowing rumours and speculation fill the gap I want to give you at least a broad insight into Jilly’s struggles.

Jilly’s severe depression arose out of two issues:

The first, was a deep sense of abandonment. She felt she was emotionally stuck in childhood and couldn’t move on. She tried so many types of therapy and medication to seek relief from her pain; she sought answers from her Christian faith, but found nothing that filled the yawning vacuum within.

The second was confusion about her identity which lead to her feeling socially awkward and unable to fit in or relate to others. Jilly so wished she could have married and had children but could not bear committing herself to such a relationship. As a result she ended up living alone and lonely.

Jilly’s isolation sadly grew worse with time. Over the years she developed relationships with many people who came into her life and genuinely cared for her. Sadly many of these relationships came to a sudden end. Jilly’s feelings of abandonment and inability to fit in socially frequently lead her to mistake innocent comments or attempts to help her as rejection or criticism. This often triggered a deep anger that she felt unable to control, leading her to abandon the relationship… just as she felt abandoned herself.

Some of you here today have had that painful experience… I hope this helps you to understand why.

~~~

It is very important to understand that Jilly did not end her life lightly. For years she lived on the sharp edge of hopelessness. Despite all the efforts of those supporting her, both professionally and personally, in the end she believed that no-one and nothing could ever take away her pain. At the same time she could not bear to cause deep pain for those of us left behind, in particular her family who, I know without any doubt, she dearly loved.

Jilly often expressed deep frustration and anger towards God for apparently not listening to her cries for help… she would often say in her humorous but very serious way “and God’s in the bath again cutting His toenails!”. Nonetheless I want to assure you Jilly had a very real faith in God and at the end had no doubt whatsoever God would be waiting in heaven to welcome her when she arrived. God is a big enough father to handle any childhood rage we might want to throw at Him.

~~~

But it’s important to see that Jilly was so much more than just her darkness.

Jilly had a deep empathy for others. Whenever I shared my own struggles with her she always listened attentively with love and care. She would sometimes offer her own insights but never tried to fix me. She frequently emphasized that if ever she rang I had complete freedom to not answer if I was struggling myself at the time. Jilly cared for me and loved me deeply as a brother… I am really going to miss my supportive friend.

~~~

Jilly had a unique and incredible sense of humour. But it was not just her jokes! It was her antics!

Jilly felt like she didn’t fit in the regular mold and expressed it by intentionally being different. For many years she wore odd socks every single day as a protest against the pressure to conform. She delighted in other people wearing odd socks in response and would hand out Freddo Frogs as a reward.

One evening I took her to a Woolworths supermarket to buy some groceries. She spotted a life-sized cardboard cutout of a smiling, ‘ready-to-help’ staff member being used in store at the time. She picked it up, hid behind it and walked around the store holding it in front of her. I followed her a few paces back carrying the groceries and not knowing whether to laugh or die of embarrassment. The staff had no idea how to handle it!

On another occasion a group of us took her to a restaurant for her birthday. Jilly brought a pack of confectionery snakes to share. It wasn’t long before she had a snake hanging out of each ear and one out of each nostril! Jilly didn’t allow herself to be constrained by fear of what other people thought… something we can all learn from.

Another time Jilly invited a group of us to have coffee at her favourite plant nursery. The one condition was that we had to wear odd socks in order to score a Freddo Frog. Well Jilly didn’t just come wearing odd socks… she came dressed as a fully made-up zombie! Her clothes, make-up, hair colouring and her priceless blank expressions were just hilarious. Other customers had absolutely no idea what to think as she wandered around the store at random… she carried out the role perfectly!

Having no family in Australia, Jilly often joined neighbours or friends to celebrate Christmas Day. She came to our place a number of times and one hot Christmas Day we somehow got into a full-on water fight inside the house. I remember Jilly sitting on the family room couch just outside the kitchen servery window. I part filled a bucket of water, crept up to the other side of the servery, and tipped the bucket over her… but Jilly was one step ahead of me… she’d already donned a raincoat she’d found somewhere around the house.

Jilly loved Billy Connelly and his ‘no holds barred’ humour. Billy Connelly has a brilliant sense of humour that resonated with Jilly’s own rebellion against conformity and political correctness.

When Jilly was being funny she came to life. It was like all the darkness was suspended and she entered in a joyful, hilarious freedom. She had such a unique ability to engage others and take us into that space with her.

~~~

I could tell you a lot more about Jilly’s humour and antics but it’s time to return to the beginning.

Jilly was “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”.

On the one hand she struggled with deep depression.
On the other hand she had an incredible sense of humour and the ability to draw others into that joyful space.
Wrapping up both was a deep love and care for other people.

Jilly was two extremes wrapped into one and was a mystery… even to herself.

To me though, more importantly, she was a precious sister… one who I could share anything with and never be judged… one who I could laugh with until I cried… My Crazy Diamond who I will dearly miss.

While I will never forget the depths of Jilly’s pain, what I will forever hold dear and remember her for is the hilarity we shared together. For me Jilly’s brightness will always outshine the darkness and I will remember her with a broad, cheeky smile on her face.

I hope that heaven is indeed a reality, a place where Jilly is still very much alive, and free of all the pain she experienced in this life.

When I too walk through those doors I will be longing to see Rosie, and my little daughter Anna who we lost at birth, and other family members who have gone before.
I will then be looking for Jilly and expect she’ll be longing excitedly to see me, ready for a big hug, with that huge, cheeky smile across her face!

 

ian-dingo
Ian James 30-05-2017

© 2017 Ian James, http://www.onlivingauthentically.com

Two very different life encounters touched my heart on the same day last week.
While the common thread was love, the two were in stark contrast…

A little boy’s love…

My daughter Liesel needed to be in the city until early evening and asked if I could pick up Flynn from care. When I arrived a very tired little boy was almost asleep on the floor surrounded by other children. His head was at the foot of a couch so I reached over from behind and tickled his hair. He turned around, saw me, and without a word climbed onto the couch and into my arms. He wrapped his arms tightly around my neck and gave me a hug that only a young child can give. He has given me many such hugs from a young age… the joy and deep love that surges through my heart every time never diminishes.

A little later, as we drove home, a voice from the back seat said, “I love being your kid (grandkid)”. Again he touched my heart with the innocent, uncomplicated, totally unconditional love of a child.

After we’d had a two course dinner (a bowl of Weetbix followed by a bowl of spaghetti!) my phone rang. Liesel was on her way home and we talked until she pulled up outside.

I said to Flynn, “Let’s go and meet Mummy at the front door!”. Flynn and I ran down the corridor and as we arrived at the door he said, “We can scare her!”. This was not quite what I had in mind so I suggested we yell “Surprise!” instead. Flynn responded with a precious alternative, “No, we’ll say ‘I love you!’” and, “You say it when I say it Grandad!”.

I squatted down next to him and we waited while Liesel got organized to come in. A car door closed outside. I looked at Flynn and said, “She’s coming!”. Flynn focused on the door with frequent quick glances in my direction. I’ll never forget the look on his face. He was glowing with excitement, his eyes were bright with joy, and his body was shaking as he could barely contain himself.

Soon a shadow crossed the window next to the door and the door opened. We both yelled, “I love you!” and Flynn wrapped himself around Mummy’s legs. I think Liesel melted on the spot.

How incredibly precious these moments are! The beautiful innocence and unfettered feelings of childhood pass so quickly… thankfully we have memories we can hold onto forever… provided we make time to be part of them.

An old lady’s sadness…

The other encounter occurred while I was visiting Mumma (Rosie’s Mum) at her retirement village earlier in the day.

While there I happened to sit next to a very elderly lady in a wheelchair. We got talking and she shared a little of her story over the last few days… She began with a smile, “My family came to visit on Sunday (Mothers Day) and we had such a wonderful time!”

Her face began to fall, “But since then I’ve been feeling flat.” I gently enquired why and she replied, “When I lived in independently in the village I had so many friends. Now that I’m in The Manor (the high care facility) and I’m restricted to a wheelchair I can’t move around on my own. The staff take me to the daily activities but I no longer see my old friends and it’s been difficult to make friends here.” I suspect her apparent deafness had a lot to do with this.

She continued, “Since Mother’s Day I’ve been feeling lonely and bored. I have a very nice room here but I spend so much time there alone. Very few of my family visit… most of them don’t come at all. I tried to contact one of my grandchildren two years ago but they never got back to me, so I thought I would just let them be.”

She was now quite sad. I had no words to relieve her sadness. Feeling very awkward the best I could manage was, “Yes, everybody is so busy these days, it seems they find it hard to make time to visit”. Knowing that all I’d done is tell her what she already knew, I added, “But that does not make it right”. I felt so inadequate and knew my words had only reinforced her sadness. But what else do you say??

The conversation continued a little longer but she soon drifted off onto a completely different topic.

My thoughts turned to what life must be like for Mumma, and the many other elderly people around her, all facing the same situation.

Isolation is such a problem for our elderly people. The wider family circle has long broken down in our broken society. Knowing I had no answers to offer left me with a sad heart and painful questions I want to answer.

I then thought about my own elderly years, still quite a way off, but inexorable in their approach… Will my experience be the same? What can I do now to make it different when I’m elderly?

And, food for thought… Will your experience be the same? What can you do now to ensure you don’t find yourself isolated with diminishing life quality in your elderly years?

The common thread…

All of us, young and old, have an inbuilt need to connect with others at a deep level; connection with family is especially important.

Deep connection is the essence of love and meaningful relationships. Lack of this connection stunts the growth of young children, causes elderly people to die, and creates a yawning vacuum within anyone in between.

But relationships cannot exist unless we are prepared to invest time.

We live in a society where everyone is under stress and time poor; there are so many demands, so many ‘important things we have to do’, and not enough time to do them all.

So what falls off the edge? Often it’s quality time with other people. Family get taken for granted, our children get displaced by our work, we put our elderly folk in ‘care’ homes where they risk becoming isolated and alone. Quality accommodation, good food and excellent medical care can never replace the one thing they really need… love in the form of deep connection with family and friends.

The bottom line is that all our loved ones, friends, family, young, old, need US.

I’m not aiming to create a sense of guilt or regret here. Neither of these help us resolve this problem. Instead we need to face the question of what (more correctly who… our children, the elderly, each other) is most important in our lives and how we can give quality time to those who need our time and our love.

Every relationship we have in life comes to an end at some point. The only time we have to invest in them is now.

Something worth all of us thinking about.

ian-dingo

 

Ian James

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21-05-2017