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 May, 2016

Death… one of life’s toughest and richest experiences

Ron

It’s 6:40am. A few minutes ago I was standing in the foyer of a private hospital ward. I had my hand on the shoulder of a man who I’d never met before. He walked into the empty foyer while I was taking a break and burst into tears. He sobbed for a minute or so as I gently rubbed his shoulder, then he turned and thanked me warmly saying “My wife just died 10 minutes ago”.

We talked for a while and he shared some of his story… his wife was diagnosed with cancer just 2 months ago… it advanced very rapidly and she had just passed away. I was able to empathize sharing a little of my story saying I too had lost my wife to cancer just 18 months ago.

I asked him if he had people around him to provide support… he has a strong family with him tonight and belongs to a supportive church. It turns out that both of us have spent decades living not far from one another in Melbourne and both of us have sisters in the same Victorian country town.

We exchanged names, shook hands warmly, and it was time to finish. Ron returned to his family in the hospital room where his wife was laying… it’s right next door to the room where I’ve just spent the night trying to sleep in a recliner chair next to my beautiful 96 year old step mum Dot.

My stepmum Dot

I’m here because Dot has reached the final stages of her life. She had a ‘turn’ a few days ago and was transferred to hospital. The nursing home staff advised us she was “unlikely to leave hospital”.

Dot is a very special woman and I love her dearly. She was the best thing that ever happened in my Dad’s life after losing my Mum.

I’m so glad I’ve been here for the night. It is a privilege to give one night of my life back to a woman who never tried to take the place of my own mother (who died when I was 8 years old) but nonetheless loved me and has been a very close friend for over 40 years.

For the most of the night Dot has been calm and peaceful, sleeping on and off. But every few hours she has grimaced and drawn up her legs, both clear signs of pain. She has also got herself tangled up in the sheets and blankets in the process. Each time I’ve been able to alert the staff who’ve come promptly to provide pain relief and make her comfortable again.

At one point she sat up and tried to get out of bed. She got her legs out between the side rails and ended up stuck precariously on the edge of the bed with her bare feet on the cold floor! I’m so glad I was here to call the staff to untangle her from the bed and settle her down again… they’ve been flat out with two emergencies for much of the night and Dot could have been stuck in this dire position for quite some time before someone came to check her on their delayed rounds. She is no longer able to speak or press the call button to alert staff herself.

Death and Life

Life can be incredibly tough but incredibly rich at the same time… sometimes we just have to be there, other times we are called unexpectedly to step outside our comfort zone to reach a loving hand out to others, and may receive a blessing in return.

If we don’t say goodbye to Dot today it will certainly be in the next few days and a very precious relationship will end.

But life goes on and the day we lose someone close to us, a new person who will become a close friend may enter our lives. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll bump into Ron again and a whole new friendship will begin.

Ian JamesIan + dingo

 

 

 

Be Brave… let yourself experience life!

I don’t normally share memes… as profound as many are there are far too many on facebook and I suspect most people, like me, just gloss over them.

This one however caught my eye.
Practicing it over recent years has enriched my life…

Experience the world around you

I saw it on a facebook friend’s timeline  (thanks Andrea) and made the following comments…

Great message Andrea… it makes me realize I’m not so crazy when I’m out walking and run my hand over the bark of trees with different textures, scrunch a handful of fresh gum leaves and breathe in the powerful eucalyptus smell, or pick up sticks and stones just to feel them in my hand.
It’s so worthwhile taking time to experience and enjoy the richness of the the world around us. 🙂 ”

I expect that most people’s lives would be enriched by allowing themselves to experience more sensory input.
Sadly our society’s definition of being a mature adult means we have to suppress ‘playing’ and enjoying the world like a child… and we deprive ourselves of so many good things as a result.”

The meme does have a major error in the first line…
Asking God? someone else? life? to give you more time to experience your world is missing the whole point. YOU need to make the choice to spend time experiencing the world around you! There’s no point waiting for someone else to magically give you time to do this. Empower yourself and take the time!

And if you find it means stepping outside your comfort zone be brave and do it. It doesn’t matter what other people think… if they regard you as weird that’s their loss not yours!

Ian JamesIan + dingo

When it all seems too hard…

The power of music…

I love music that reaches deep within my spirit and evokes strong emotions and new insights. I find song lyrics have the ability to grab my attention, raising thoughts and feelings about key issues in my life.

Songs often bring pain to the surface. The artist pours out words that echo my own heart. I feel the relief of being heard and understood by a fellow sufferer who’s “been there”, affirmed by their empathy and compassion. Knowing I am not alone encourages me to “keep hanging in there”.

Some songs are so powerful and relevant they evoke “light-bulb moments”… they bring insight and understanding, and strengthen my determination to keep working on the way forward.

The pain of suffering…

I know many people (friends and family) who are wrestling with big issues in life… bereavement, relationship issues, divorce, family dysfunction, mental illness, faith issues, overwhelming work stress, to name just a few.

I too face some of these issues… a 16 year cancer journey with Rosie, and her dying 18 months ago, decades of my past overshadowed by depression, 12 years of not working impacting my identity and self-value, wrestling with questions about God and faith…

Very likely you too are facing big issues and have experienced significant trauma and pain at some point.

We all face tough, painful situations and issues in life… unexpected trauma can strike out of nowhere, ongoing issues can plague us for months, years, decades. We can rant and rave against suffering or perhaps choose to accept and learn from it. Either way, by definition, suffering is painful and we avoid it wherever possible.

Ironically, as much as we may hate to admit it, suffering is fundamental to life.
To be human is to suffer… there is no way of escaping this truth
.

The gift of suffering…

Nobody wants to suffer.

An undeniable reality however is that is that suffering forges character traits and abilities that cannot be built in our lives in any other way.

Compassion, empathy, and the ability to support others are borne out of suffering.
It is impossible to truly identify with the pain of others unless we have experienced pain ourselves.

Suffering develops our self-understanding and skills for managing life.
It grows strength, resilience and patience in ways that nothing else can.

Suffering is a great teacher.
How can we understand joy if we have never experienced grief?
How can we understand peace if we have never been stressed, anxious or felt despair?
How can we grasp the value of relationships if we have never felt alone?
Or the joy of being loved and accepted if we’ve never been rejected?

Suffering sifts the garbage out of our lives.
Suffering helps crystallize what is really important in our lives.
For example, life-threatening traumas or the loss of loved ones inevitably shifts our focus onto what we really value: relationships, our values and beliefs, the things we really want to do with our lives.
Suffering helps us recognize our life is fragile and finite, and will soon be over (perhaps sooner than we expect). It forces us to ask what do we really want to do with our lives, instead of endlessly filling our lives with frantic, stressful activity that leaves no time or energy for following our dreams.

Suffering reminds us that what we normally value in life… material possessions, jobs, money, status… will be worth very little on our death beds. It hits home that our time would be far better devoted to family, other people, making the world a better place, and to truly loving and caring for ourselves.

The most precious gift of suffering is that it provides a path to discovering and grasping a resilient inner peace that is independent of the stress and turmoil in our own lives and the world around us. In fact suffering is probably the only path to this peace.

When it all seems too hard …

Two songs are currently touching my spirit…
They inspire me to grasp my dreams and live them,
to speak out my truth instead of remaining silent,
to no longer allow fear of failure or rejection hold me back.

Watch out… these songs just might encourage and inspire you too, and set you on the path to freedom!

They just might get you through when it all seems too hard…

Sara Bareilles – Brave

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUQsqBqxoR4

You can be amazing, you can be the outcast, or you can start speaking up
I wonder what would happen if you say what you wanna say
and let the words fall out honestly

Your history of silence won’t do you any good,
Let your words be anything but empty,
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Don’t run, stop holding your tongue,
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Show me how big your brave is

I wanna see you be brave!

Rachel Platten – Stand By You

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwB9EMpW8eY

Hands, put your empty hands in mine
And scars, show me all the scars you hide
And hurt, I know you’re hurting, but so am I
And hey, if your wings are broken
Please take mine so yours can open too
‘Cause I’m gonna stand by you

I’ll be your eyes ’til yours can shine.
And when you can’t rise, well, I’ll crawl with you on hands and knees.
Even if we’re breaking down, we can find a way to break through.
Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through Hell with you.
Love, you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna stand by you.

(Song lyrics copyright and courtesy of http://www.azlyrics.com/)

Ian James
Ian + dingo

 

 

 

 

Addendum 17/05/2016

A friend told me today she went to comment this post but burst into tears and couldn’t do it. She told me about the traumatic situation she’s currently facing … “It was just too close to home and I couldn’t write.”

My wife, Rosie, said to me repeatedly through my years of endless episodes of depression, “This too will pass”. Even though this always proved to be true and each episode did eventually pass, I hated hearing those words when I was in the ‘pits’. It is very hard to hear and accept positive statements about suffering when there is no end in sight.

Many times people tried to encourage me by explaining how suffering builds empathy and character. As much I knew this was true, I still resented hearing it when deeply depressed. My silent response was, “So bloody what!! What I need now is relief from this torment… not some ‘pat answer’ about building character!”

So, if you read my recent post and found the positive spin on suffering difficult because you’re in the midst it, I’m sorry you found it tough. I know all too well how frustrated and angry you can feel when someone not experiencing your pain says how good it will be for you!

Nonetheless I do stand by what I wrote. I just wish it were possible to develop deep empathy for others and resilience in your own life without going through times when you feel like your life is being torn apart.

 

Falling away from faith…

For those people concerned about me “falling away from faith” as emerged in my blog/facebook post 29/04/16, One big leap for a man… one normal step for mankind.

I genuinely appreciate your care.

My current perspective is that God may or may not exist and that’s ok… he is simply a mystery. If he’s real and relevant as well as loving and gracious I’ll be happy to return to a (new) faith… at this stage I’m content not knowing. The God I previously believed in for decades is gone… along with all the torment and fear he prescribed.

My aim in life is to always be open to the truth and live my life accordingly. If a loving God does exist I’m at peace knowing he does not condemn me for living according to the truth I have now.

Drawing a parallel with my own attitude toward my grandson Flynn really helps… I love Flynn to bits and whether he behaves well or in ‘naughty’ ways that come from immaturity or an inability to understand ‘adult’ things, or because he’s being outright rebellious, my love and care for him do not flinch an iota. I love him to bits nonetheless and will never reject or abandon him.

Ian + dingo

Ian James

Mother’s Day… Joy and sadness…

Mother’s Day 2016…

It’s early Sunday morning… I’m sitting in my favourite café in Warrandyte, surrounded by empty tables many of which are already set out with Reserved signs.

Mother’s Day is a day for acknowledging and celebrating the uniquely important and highly demanding role that mothers play in the lives of their children… the profound, sacrificial love required over many years to guide their children through the rollercoaster of joys, traumas and everyday experiences that transform a child into an adult.

Expectations and realities…

Our society places powerful expectations on us all on Mother’s Day … that it must be a day of joyful celebration (expertly driven by the media and the corporate world).

Thankfully there are many families for whom Mother’s Day will be joyful… giving Mum breakfast in bed, taking her out for a special lunch or dinner, taking a drive to visit her at home, or giving her flowers and other special Mother’s Day gifts will provide the opportunity to affirm the great job she has done and express the deep love held for her. The more families who can do this the better!

But let’s not forget that Mother’s Day is not like this for everyone…

Many people have lost mothers through the natural aging process, or the tragic consequences of dementia, and many have lost mothers, young and old, prematurely due to illness or accident.

Many people still have mothers but are separated from them through breakdown of their mother-child relationship or the results of parental divorce.

Still others are separated by distance… while a phone call to Mum or an internet video chat can help fill the gap nothing can replace being able to actually hug your Mum and talk to her face to face.

And don’t forget how Mum’s are feeling…

Mother’s Day can be difficult for mums for many reasons. Consider the many mothers whose children no longer take the time to care for them, or who a child who died young, or are separated from their children by circumstances outside their control.

It can be tough for Fathers too…

Mother’s Day can be tough for those of us who have lost the women who bore our children.

Balancing the sadness with joy…

While being aware of the sadness Mother’s Day can bring, let’s not forget about the joy! Mothers and motherhood are incredibly precious and it is so good that our society sets aside a day to celebrate this.

The key is to not let joy or sadness suppress the other. Sadness and joy are not mutually exclusive. Many of us are feeling both today. Both are equally valid emotions to be acknowledged, respected and where possible shared with loved ones today.

What Mother’s Day brings for me…

Having lost my wife Rosie to cancer just 18 months ago brings my own pain to the surface. Today is also raw for my children and Rosie’s family as they remember her. However when we all get together this afternoon no doubt there will be plenty of joy and laughter as we celebrate the amazing woman Rosie/Mum was and share the many hilarious family stories of which she is an integral part.

Thirty-three years ago Rosie and I lost our second child, Anna, at birth. Nonetheless I am able to celebrate the fact that Anna was born alive and was able to be officially named and recorded as one of our precious children. Anna, I hope to meet you again someday, somehow and what a joyful, tearful meeting that will be as I give you the biggest loving Dad hug I can muster!!

My own Mum died when I was only 8 years old. She was playing the church organ one Sunday night when a large aneurysm next to her heart burst. Sadly I have very few memories of her as she was ill for much of my childhood and I was separated from her for the first 2½ years of my life.

However I clearly remember two things…

The very first present I bought and gave to anyone was for Mum… I was only 5 years old and bought a plastic rose from the toy shop I walked past each day on my way home from primary school… my memory is a bit hazy but I think it was for Mother’s Day!

Mum rarely gave me hugs (an outcome of her illness) but before she went to church on the night she died she put me on her knee and gave me a hug. The memory is very clear and precious to me. Nobody knew in a few hours she would be gone… I like to think she had some form of premonition and wanted me to know how much she loved me.

Today I am privileged to have two loving mothers, both in their nineties, who I can celebrate on Mother’s Day…

I am very close to Mumma (Rosie’s Mum). At 92 years old she loves life and especially enjoys family events. She still actively participates in the hilarity we inevitably share when we get together as a family.

My step-mum Dot is 96. She married Dad when I was 14 and was undoubtedly the best thing that happened in my Dad’s life after losing my Mum. Dot never tried to replace Mum, instead she and I became close friends. She is still a loving, caring woman who greatly appreciates all members of her blended family. Even though dementia and leukemia are now taking their toll she still enjoys life and always breaks out in a big, warm, loving smile whenever I visit.

Thoughts to take away…

Today there will be a great deal of love, laughter and many warm mother hugs shared as our society celebrates Mother’s Day. There will also be much sadness and many, many tears. As joyful or painful today may be for you I encourage you to embrace all your emotions today and care for yourself in the midst of them.

If circumstances allow, let’s enjoy and celebrate Mother’s Day to the full with our own mothers, or other mothers in our midst.

Let’s appreciate the good things about our mothers present or past (even if they had many shortcomings).

And may we all be especially sensitive towards those for whom Mother’s Day holds little or no joy and let them know they are loved and not forgotten.

 

Ian JamesIan + dingo