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…

Archive for August, 2015

My Birthday Gift

Today is my birthday.

As I do most Sunday mornings I’m sitting in a cafe enjoying a cappuccino or two while thinking and writing. Today is different however… it’s my first birthday in almost 40 years without Rosie.

Lots of special events are happening at the moment… Flynn’s 3rd birthday party yesterday, my birthday and family party today, tomorrow I’m off to Mount Beauty to spend a few days with Rosie’s legendary Uncle Ron who turned 95 this week, then in 3 weeks I’m off to Perth for the arrival of Rohan and Sheralee’s first baby (due mid Sept) and grandchild number 2 for me!

Each of these occasions brings an understandable mix of emotions however… the joy and excitement of life in all its variety and the grief and sadness of knowing that Rosie is no longer here to share these celebrations.

There’s a powerful life lesson in this that has only just dawned on me this morning…

Rather than allowing sadness and grief to cancel out joy and excitement the key is to allow both sets of emotions to be fully present at the same time. Allowing both the dark and bright threads of life to be woven together in their fullness creates a far richer, more beautiful tapestry than weaving it with the grey threads of negated or suppressed emotions.

I wasn’t expecting to receive any birthday gifts until later in the day… but I think I’ve just glimpsed one that is more valuable than any gift I could have asked for.

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Black Clouds… Gold Linings

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Sometimes the darkest clouds have the brightest linings…

Last Saturday night I attended the Tuxedo Junction Charity Ball… a stunning and heart-tugging experience all wrapped up in one.

Tuxedo Junction is a charity organization gathering corporate sponsorship for Cancer Council Victoria and plays a major role in funding cancer research projects undertaken by Peter Mac Cancer Hospital and other organizations.

A few months before Rosie died last year she and I were stunned and humbled when close friends from MiTec Medical Publishing, a leading medical publishing company in Australia, announced they were sponsoring a 3 year Rosie James Cancer Research Award through Tuxedo Junction!

Tuxedo Junction have an annual Charity Ball as their main fundraising event each year and this year I had the privilege of being invited to attend.

The event was held in the Regent Theatre Plaza Ballroom in the Melbourne CBD. The unpretentious entry doors on Collins Street lead to a long staircase taking you down into the foyer. When I reached the top of the staircase my breath was literally taken away. It was like walking into a stunning underground medieval castle complete with rock walls, windows, balconies and chandeliers.

Walking into the ballroom was another ‘wow!’ moment. The underground ballroom is huge, with the stone walls decked out with more windows and balconies and numerous chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. A large stage occupies one end of the ballroom with a dance floor in front of it. A second smaller stage was set up in the centre of the floor surrounded by dining tables, all set up with glittering table lights reflecting off an array of sparkling glasses and tableware. Around the sides of the ballroom an amazing collection of donated items were on display for the silent auction.

My breath was again taken away when I saw a slide including a photo of Rosie and I displayed on the large projector screens on either side of the stage… it was a photo taken at Rosie’s funeral… I was standing on the church stage sharing my reflections on Rosie with a large photo of her smiling face projected behind me.

I found the table hosted by MiTec right next to the central stage. I was relieved to find I was seated next to my friends from MiTec as I didn’t really know any of the others on our table. It turned out they were all members of my friends’ extended family who very significantly had experienced the sudden and traumatic loss of one of their own to cancer earlier this year. I was not alone… they too were on the same journey as me.

The night for me brought a wide spectrum of experiences and emotions. The venue was stunning, the entertainers were top level performers all generously donating their time, the food was superb, the drinks were included (so I indulged in two glasses of champagne… rare for me!), and the auction was ‘out of my league’ with people bidding for items going for thousands of dollars.

Early in the evening I felt somewhat awkward. The family on my table were all understandably catching up with each other … I took a few walks to take photos and check out the silent auction items to avoid just sitting at the table. As the evening moved on (and the alcohol helped bring down our social barriers!) a number of family members made a special effort to talk to me, warmly communicating their care and support while sharing some of their own painful story. By the end of the evening I felt very welcome and at home in their midst.

The photo of Rosie and I kept appearing on the big screens as the projector cycled through the sponsor logos and the major items to be auctioned off later in the evening. The final auction item was the corporate sponsorship and naming rights for a new 2016 Cancer Research Award. The accompanying slide included our photo to highlight the existing 2014-2017 Rosie James Research Award as an example. I happened to be wearing the same suit and tie as in the photo… I only have one formal outfit!

The toughest part of the evening was immediately before the main auction. A slide show of people involved in the Tuxedo Junction projects including those touched by cancer was played on the big screens accompanied by Debra Byrne singing a beautiful song to set the atmosphere. The first two photos hit me hard. The photo of Rosie and I was now displayed full-screen, followed by a beautiful photo of Rosie and her dear friend from MiTec, both beaming with smiles of delight as they often did when together. I struggled to not burst into tears… it was a painful but very special moment… I haven’t broken down and wept since the night Rosie died and I came within a whisker of doing so at that point.

When the formal part of the evening was over a great band started playing and an Elvis look-alike singer hit the stage. The dance floor quickly filled with people including most of the people from my table. While I thoroughly enjoy dancing and had no desire to be sitting at the table alone, it’s difficult at the best of times to be a bloke going up to the dance floor on your own.

I spotted my friends on the dance floor and found the courage to join them. It turned out to be the final dance of the bracket so we stood on the dance floor while the raffle prizes were drawn. I was feeling uncomfortable when the music started again and I was starting back toward our table when one the gracious women in the family grabbed my hand and headed back to the dance floor with me in tow. It was the first time I’d danced since Rosie’s passing and great to have fun with a family who had warmly drawn me into their midst.

Each time I reflect on the night I still feel the sense of wonder and blessing I felt during that incredibly special evening.  More than just a special event, it was the gift of a life experience to be remembered and treasured for years to come.

Winter Grief

It’s been a long time since my previous blog post… there’s a reason for this…

This winter has reflected my internal world… long, dark nights interspersed with cold, grey days occasionally broken by welcome stretches of warm, winter sun. Having a tough time was not unexpected… the only way to handle the grief process is to go through it… but that doesn’t make it easier.

Autumn finished with an exciting three week adventure in Perth and the beautiful south-west corner of Western Australia. I had a load of fun and it was great spending time with my son and pregnant daughter-in-law. But when the trip was over I arrived home to an empty house… not empty of kids and visitors, but empty of Rosie… yet full of reminders of her absence.

My mood sank immediately and for some weeks a dark cloud of depression hung over my head. Earlier in the year I had growing sense of freedom and excitement about moving into a new phase of life. It was gone. Instead I carried a deep anxiety telling me I had to find new purpose, meaning and activities in life and start living them out, instead of sitting there wasting my life. But I had no energy or motivation to get moving… just a deep weariness and confused grief.

Grief for me has two key aspects
As expected I grieve losing Rosie, my faithful loving marriage partner, friend and life companion for over 33 years. Not expected has been a deep grief over issues in our relationship that despite years of hard work and counselling separately and together, were never resolved.

No marriage is perfect and ours was no exception. Many issues arise in every marriage and need to be resolved… marriage is a working partnership… but sometimes in the real world of imperfect people and imperfect relationships some issues cannot be fully resolved. The key here is being able to accept these issues for what they are and keep moving on, but this does not mean it is easy. (Note: Sometimes moving on means moving on separately.)

For Rosie and I there were significant areas in which we struggled to really connect… not unusual in a marriage but painful for us both. I won’t go into further detail now… maybe it will be appropriate at a future time. (Don’t misunderstand me however… Rosie and I were deeply committed to one another and shared genuine love and deep trust.)

My grief over these unresolved issues seemed to be blocking my grief over losing Rosie, and feeling that I was stuck in the grief process was only reinforcing the depression.

I then went on a whirlwind 4WD trip across the Simpson Desert. 5000km in 13 days! New friends, so many things to see and do… an experience of a lifetime… but also very tiring! The trip temporarily distracted me from grief and depression… but it was all waiting for me when I got home exhausted.

It dawned on me that I need some grief counseling (why hadn’t I thought of this before??) so last week I spoke to a counseling administrator to assist with choosing a suitable grief counselor. I told her that the grief counseling I needed was different from normal. I needed a counselor not only experienced with addressing ‘regular grief’ (dealing with the loss of a loved one), but also capable of addressing unresolved relationship issues.

The administrator’s reply was both insightful and encouraging… one of the most common aspects of grief counseling is helping a person dealing with unresolved relationship issues. What I am going through is very normal!

My counseling sessions begin next week… I don’t look forward to facing and dealing with tough issues within myself but I do look forward to the healing and freedom this will bring. Even though the depression has now lifted (thankfully) I believe grief counseling is essential for me to rediscover who I am now without Rosie and be free to move on into a new life.

For those who pray, I’d value your prayers. For those not into praying (and to me that’s perfectly fine) I’d value your thoughts. As always I greatly value the amazing support I receive from my family and close mates and the encouragement I receive from you, my friends.

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