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Archive for the ‘Family’ 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.

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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