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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Mother’s Day joy and pain…

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

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

The Miracle of Joshua William James

Joshua William James,
my second grandson,
born 3pm Tues 1st Sept 2015!

Joshua’s arrival has impacted me profoundly…

I have rarely felt deeper joy in all my life…

I knew being a grandfather would be very special, but I never realized how incredibly special it would be until it happened… Joshua’s arrival has prompted a profound outpouring of love and joy that I have rarely experienced before. Freedom from decades of depression is allowing me to feel joy far more deeply… that is another story.

Every new baby is a miracle… Soaking up the first photos of Joshua literally fills me with awe and wonder… a new person has entered our family…a beautiful, adorable, precious little man!

For the moment Joshua is a completely helpless baby, totally dependent on Rohan and Sheralee for all his needs.
But he is far more than just a baby to be fed, changed, held and adored. He will become a boy, a teenager, a young man, and ultimately a mature, independent man making his own path through life.

The miracle we are witnessing is far more than the arrival of a helpless baby… it is the arrival of another unique human being, whole and complete in himself. Joshua’s future is an open book waiting to be written… we can only wonder what joys and hardships life has in store for him, what paths he will choose to follow, and the powerful impacts he may have on this world.

Joshua’s birth has evoked a miracle in me…

Before Joshua was born he was just a concept in our minds, an exciting event to look forward to… although I’m sure for Rohan and Sheralee, the little person growing and kicking inside her was far more than just a concept!

When I heard the news he had arrived and Rohan’s photos started flowing a miracle happened within me…
I felt a whole new space opening up in my heart just for Joshua… a space instantly filled with a profound love for my new grandson even though I have yet to meet him face to face and hold the little man in my arms.

I have no doubt others close to Rohan and Sheralee, especially family, are experiencing this miracle too… and for Rohan and Sheralee this miracle is multiplied many, many times over!

The profound insight here is we don’t have to ‘make space’ in our hearts for Joshua at the expense of our existing capacity to love others; our hearts automatically expand to fully embrace him! 

A further mystery… 

As I felt my heart open up for Joshua, I felt my love for the rest of my family expand too… Joshua’s arrival reminded me just how precious every member of my family is.

As my heart overflowed with love for Joshua, I especially felt a deep longing to be with Flynn, my first grandson… I longed to give him a big Grandad hug, and let him know yet again he is an immeasurably valuable and lovable person, who I will always love independent of whatever event or choices shape his life… that no matter how many new grandchildren his Grandad has, my love for him will only increase.

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