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Archive for the ‘Grief’ 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

Bright Moments in the Darkness

Times of darkness can give birth to moments of brightness that owe their existence to the very darkness out of which they were born. And the deeper the darkness, the brighter these moments can be.

Losing a loved friend or family member is always traumatic. Losing them tragically adds shock to the trauma. Losing them to suicide is something else again… it leaves you numb and confused, and the darkness is especially dark.

Prior to Jilly’s memorial service I went to her unit to collect some items needed for the service and her burial. It wasn’t an easy task and I was very glad to have Jilly’s pastor, Julie, with me.

As I pulled into the driveway I noticed a young woman with a little boy outside one of the other units. She saw me drive in and looked at me more intently than a stranger usually does. I wondered if this could be the same young woman who found Jilly after the event.

All we knew about the person who found Jilly was that she was a young mum with her pre-school son coming to visit her elderly grandmother in another unit. When she saw Jilly at a distance she quickly ushered her son inside, called the ambulance, and tried unsuccessfully to help Jilly, but it was long past the point anything could be done.

Since that time I have been feeling deeply for this young mum. No doubt she was deeply traumatised by the event, but we had no way of making contact with her, assuming that this was even appropriate.

I then saw the young woman enter the unit where I knew the elderly grandmother lived. Almost certainly it was her.

At this point Julie arrived and we spent time gathering the items we came to collect. As we were about to leave I noticed the young woman was in her car outside the grandmother’s unit also getting ready to leave. A deep sense of compassion welled up along with an urgency to connect with her… this was likely the only opportunity we would have.

Julie and I quickly headed over to her car and flagged her to stop. When she opened her window we introduced ourselves, and sure enough it was the same woman. What followed was very special… Julie and I expressed our sorrow and concern at the trauma she had experienced, and she in turn expressed her care for us having tragically lost a dear friend. We encouraged her to get whatever help and support she needed… if not dealt with, experiences like these can scar a person deeply for life, with long-term destructive consequences.

As the conversation drew to a close I felt moved to say to her, “If you weren’t sitting in the car, and if it was okay, I’d be giving you a big hug right now”. At that she got out of the car and we hugged each other.

It was a profound and precious moment.
The light had broken through and shone brightly in the darkness.

 

ian-dingo
Ian James 21-06-2017

© 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