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Archive for the ‘Death and Beyond’ Category

Losing Mumma

The grief journey

Death is still a taboo subject in our society. Nonetheless the vast majority of us experience the loss of loved ones. Hopefully we can learn from these experiences, instead of locking them away.
Death and dying have so much to teach us. There is so much we can share that will not only help us to deal with grief but help those around us as well.

We all will face our own death one day.

In the last six years I’ve lost six loved ones. Five of these were expected. It’s not any easier; but it gives you the chance to say goodbye… My dear wife Rosie, following a 16 year journey with breast cancer; three elderly relatives, all approaching 100; my very dear friend Jilly, whose life was tortured and punctuated by suicide attempts, inevitably succeeded.

The sixth was totally unexpected. My beautiful little granddaughter, born with serious health conditions, lost her fight at only 3 weeks old.

One day, I’ll write about this grief journey, and capture things I have learned, but that is for another day.

Beautiful Mumma

Rosie’s mum, who we lovingly called Mumma, passed away two weeks ago on 24th May 2021.
She was approaching 97 years old, a vibrant, caring woman with an unshakeable Christian faith, who touched many peoples’ lives over many years. As age began to take its toll on both her body and mind she was moved into high level care four years ago. Confined to bed and a layback couch, with encroaching dementia, it was clear she was ready face her own death; she had told a number of us in her lucent moments “I want to be with the Lord”.

The phone call came from Baxter Village on the Sunday morning. Mumma was fading; it was time to gather the family. These calls are always a shock, but fully expected too; it’s only a matter of time. The family were by her side constantly for the next two days and were able to say their final goodbyes. She passed away very quietly and very peacefully on Tues evening with Janet, John (daughter and son) and myself by her side.

The grief of losing Mumma brings back into painful focus the grief of losing Rosie and my other loved ones. But I also feel relief and joy. Mumma is no longer living with greatly diminished quality of life and it bring me joy to picture her reunited with Rosie, hugging, laughing and crying, together once more.

We held Mumma’s funeral last Friday at Bunurong Memorial Park, and amidst our sadness, celebrated the life of this amazing woman…

The service was streamed online as only ten people could attend with current lockdown restrictions.
Janet outlined Mumma’s life in the eulogy. My daughter Merryn gave a beautiful reflection from a granddaughter’s point of view. Both Janet and Merryn included some of the hilarious family stories that Mumma both told and was often the subject of. The service was indeed a “Celebration of the life of Nancy Mae White”.

To watch the service

If anyone would like to watch the service it is available for a limited time at:
https://vimeo.com/554603074
(If you are asked for a password use: white31052021)

Press the play icon to start the video. To go straight to the start of the service move the slider to the 12:30 mm:ss point.

I also gave a reflection sharing the last two days of Mumma’s life and the moment of her passing

My Reflection

For those online I’m Nancy’s son-in-law, Ian. My wife Rosie, Nancy’s eldest daughter, passed away from breast cancer six years ago. While the grief of losing Mumma brings the grief of losing Rosie back into focus once more, it also brings the joy of knowing Rosie and her mum are together once more.

Janet and Merryn have reflected on who Mumma was, how she lived, and what she meant to us. I’d like to share with you her final two days and the moment of her dying.

Sunday

The Village rang Janet and I on Sunday morning to say Mumma was fading and it was time to gather the family. We arrived at the Village to find Mumma still responsive but no longer speaking or able to focus. When we spoke to her one on one she would move her head and mouth and at times tried to form a smile.

Mumma had been due to go to hospital to have a painful tooth extracted and was being given medication to keep the pain under control. Each time the medication started wearing off she would move her hand up to her mouth. The staff would give her another dose and she drifted in and out of a mostly peaceful sleep.

Knowing that hearing is the last sense to go we put Mumma’s hearing aids in. We wanted her to know she was surrounded by family, and hopefully understand what we were saying to her.

“Mumma, we’re here with you, you’re not alone.”
“We love you so much.”
“Mumma, we want you to know you’re free to go. You’ve lived a long and happy life but you’ve told us many times you want to be with the Lord.”
“Mumma, we’re so excited that you’re going to be with Puppa Ed once again. Rosie will be there too, also your Mum and Dad, and your brothers Col and Les.”

Monday

On Monday morning Mumma was still with us. Janet had slept by her side on Sunday night to make sure Mumma was not alone if she passed.

Most of the immediate family were able to visit on Sunday or Monday. The Manor staff looked after us very well, providing sandwiches and offering drinks. Sometimes the room was fairly crowded and we appreciated the staff not enforcing any limit on numbers in her room.

We took turns to sit by Mumma’s side and hold her hand. Janet and Liesel sang to her a number of times.
Mumma’s breathing had slowed noticeably but remained regular, and she stayed peacefully asleep the whole day. The one exception was when Merryn, who was in NSW, spoke to her via video chat. Mumma stirred noticeably and responded to Merryn. It was a very special moment as a tearful Merryn spoke out a beautiful message of how much she loved Mumma and thanked her for the things Mumma had taught her. I think Merryn captured what the rest of us were wanting to say but had not found the words for.

Mumma’s Final Moments

On Monday evening the family progressively made their way home leaving Janet, John and myself around Mumma’s bedside.

We were telling funny stories and laughing in typical family fashion, when around 10:30pm Janet looked at Mumma and said, “I think she’s stopped breathing!” We stopped and listened and watched. Mumma had indeed passed away very quietly and very peacefully.

It was as authentic a family moment as it could be when Mumma left. She always enjoyed being surrounded by family. Funny stories and hilarious laughter have always been part of the family fabric and Mumma was often the teller or subject of these stories.

Mumma chose to go with her three children, Janet, John and myself representing Rosie, by her side. I think that’s how Mumma wanted it to be. It was a sober and sacred moment for all of us.

Do we grieve losing Mumma? Of course we do. But relief and joy sit alongside our grief. Mumma’s final years had taken their toll. She is now free of that diminished quality of life. And we feel joy picturing her hugging and laughing with Ed and Rosie and her many friends and family gone before.

Losing Rosie… 3 years on…

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

My Reflection on Jilly Daines…

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

The Threshold

A dream, a hope, a belief I hold close…

I’m standing on the threshold of this life, and what comes next,
That liminal space between what was, and what is to come,
The doorway, the veil, the light, or the darkness,
Even a precipice holds no fear.
Just one more step
Shall I fall, or float, or soar?
Or find new unseen ground beneath my feet?
It matters not
Death is no more the end of life than it is the beginning
The end of one tired journey, time to start anew.

And if this belief fails me
For no-one can know for sure
If death is truly The End of this “i am”
I will have lost all, and nothing
As “i am” will not be there to say “i was”, and grieve

But to me this makes no sense
So without shame I hold this hope
The essence of “i am” will continue on

Sunrise will follow sunset
(If indeed there is still a Sun)
A new realm beyond comprehension
That earthly words, and dreams, even imaginings, cannot grasp

What will I perceive in this new paradigm?
And how?
Will I see, hear, touch? Will I think and feel?
Or will my senses and mind be so transformed
That perceiving and being are completely new?

I wonder now how I will wonder then.

And far more crucial than What,
Who will I find?
How will we interact, and connect, and love?
If relationships exist at all.
Perhaps a myriad of “i ams” will be “we are”
Each unique, yet all as one.

But this threshold is a far horizon
Much yet to see, love, be and do
Or maybe not
I may be surprised
And next moment wake somewhere new.

ian-dingo

Ian James
05/03/2017