A journey into openness and honesty… Distilling truths about ourselves, others and life from shared experiences… Learning to live consistently with that truth… Becoming free to be who we truly are…

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Del’s eulogy… a 96 year Cameo of Dot’s life

My 96 year old step-Mum, Dot, passed away recently on Friday May 27th.

My step-sister Del, captured her Mum’s life history in her very informative and touching eulogy at Dot’s funeral on Monday June 6th.

Thanks Del, for giving us a cameo of your mum’s life… an inspiring story spanning most of the 20th century and the early part of our current century… one that captures the personal joys and traumas of a very special woman who lived much of her early life against a background of great social and personal upheaval. Thankfully Dot’s later years settled into a period of relative peace and happiness, interspersed however with difficult and challenging life events.

Del & Dot

Eulogy for Doris Irene Tarrant
3/12/1919  –  27/06/2016

“Fear no more the heat of the sun
Nor the furious winter rages
Though thy worldly task hast done
Home art gone and taken thy wages”
William Shakespeare

Childhood years…

Doris Irene Tarrant was born in Cobden on the 3rd of December 1919. She was better known as Dot or Dorrie, “Mum” to Max. Cheryl and myself, Nana to her many grandchildren, and to her 35 great-grandchildren, Nana-the-Great. Mum’s step great-great grandchild was born recently. Great Nana-the-Great would have been a bit of a mouthful.

Mum’s parents were William George Tarrant an ANZAC and Elsie May Wickens an English girl. They married 8th March 1919 in Newbury England. Elsie, pregnant with Mum, with William, set sail from England on the troop ship “Katoomba”, arriving in Australia 22nd September 1919.

William with his dear Elsie travelled to Cobden to live with his parents.

Two months later Mum was born. The second name Irene was chosen because it means “Peace”.

From about 1921, Mum lived at 24 Warleigh Road, West Footscray.

A copper plaque “Katoomba” greeted visitors at the front door.

On August 30th 1922, her brother Ron was born, and brother Eric was born September 14th 1925.

Mum, her brothers and our Dad attended Tottenham State School. After two years attendance at Footscray Domestic Arts School, Mum qualified for her Merit Certificate, a very good qualification to enter the workforce.

Apparently the boys from Footscray Technical School teased the girls by referring to the school as the Footscray Donkeys School, and Dad still teased Mum about that when Max and I were kids.

Teenagehood, growing up…

At the age of 14, Mum left school and worked as a seamstress, using a treadle sewing machine at “Lucas’s” making corsets. She made lifelong friends there, all of whom she outlived.

Mum lived in interesting times, extraordinary times. She knew many personal hardships but her focus was always on ‘forbearance”.

She often quoted…
“Life is mostly froth and bubble
Two things stand like stone
Kindness in another’s troubles
Courage in your own.”
…and lived by that.

The first half of Mum’s life was in really tough times for everybody. One coped and made the best of things. One learned to survive without complaint regardless of distress, disappointment, sorrow or tragedy.

Mum’s childhood followed the aftermath of the Great War but peace had broken out.

Her teenage years were lived during the darkness of the ‘Great Depression”. Money was scarce. The Tarrant family lived frugally, nothing was wasted, and they were grateful for what they had.

Even at the end of Mum’s lifetime, she would often say “I don’t need that”  Nice new clothes for her when she resided at Monda Lodge was met with  “I don’t need them. I’ve still got my Fletcher Jones trousers that I bought when I went to England, and they’re still good”. Now that momentous trip was in 1979 ….is that over 30 years?

A young woman in wartime…

Mum’s young adult life was spent in wartime. Boyfriends, brothers and cousins were sent to war. War time conditions prevailed. Mail was censored for fear of interception that would advantage enemy forces. Mum only knew Dad was ‘somewhere in the Pacific’. Food, clothing and household goods were rationed and there was a perceived risk of being bombed.

Mum spoke of an air raid warning when a Japanese reconnaissance plane flew over Footscray. That was kept secret. An ammunition factory was at Maribyrnong. She scratched the glass of her very precious 21st birthday watch scrambling under her bed.

Young men of Mum’s age were conscripted into military service and were replaced women, as part of ‘The War Effort’.

In June 1942, by private arrangement, Mum became a ‘land girl’ and worked on a farm at Jancourt. She milked the cows and undertook farm work in general and loved it. With many women working on the land, a desperate Australia was able to recruit more men into military service.

While working on the farm, Mum had a boyfriend she loved very much. There is one photo of him still in her album. Some men get killed in wartime. That’s what happens.

We know he rode a motorbike and Mum rode pillion passenger. On one occasion Mum came off the back of the motor bike, rolled several times down an embankment and split her knee open.

Her knee had a long memory and had become very painful when she was only eighty years old, so she forced herself to see her doctor about it. The doctor asked if she had ever injured it. When she told the doctor she fell off the back of a motor bike when she was young, the doctor’s head spun around “like that.”

Mum was very popular with the boys. She was very proud of her natural eyebrows. She never had to pluck them and proudly told me that ‘boys could not believe that eyebrows just grew like that’. She was also very proud of her thin ankles and shapely legs and remained proud of her hair until the end.

On his last leave before moving to Queensland with the Army, Dad travelled to Jancourt to visit Mum with high hopes. He proposed marriage to her, but was turned down. Mum was just not ready yet, but she agreed to write to him. He wrote to her almost every day.

In 1943 Mum’s father became desperately ill. Mum was needed at home to help out. She again felt the need to contribute to the war effort.

New Guinea had been invaded and it was thought that Australia was under direct threat. Postal delivery on bicycles was definitely a man’s job, but more men were needed for military service. Mum became a post girl at Footscray, one of the first women to do so. Mail was delivered twice daily but only once on Saturdays. She was very proud of that contribution to the War Effort.

Mail was placed in a sack carried over the shoulders. The soldiers in New Guinea came up with a novel idea. Letters written on scratched coconuts were sent to the folks at home… that idea was soon squashed when the posties complained! Delivering letters written on coconuts was a real nuisance as not many could fit into the mail bags and that made a long day.

Mum and other posties blew the whistle three times to let loved ones know that easily identified cards from POW’s had arrived. She shared the joy. Many on her postal round came to the church to see her married.

Early married life with Len…

In January 1944, Dad was deployed for combat in New Guinea, but still managed to pen a letter every day. In July 1944, Dad  proposed marriage again…. this time in writing. Mum accepted.

Engagement rings were unavailable. Dad bought a second hand engagement ring from a mate whose girlfriend had written a ‘Dear John letter’, with the returned engagement ring enclosed.

Dad bought and posted the ring to his father, who placed it on Mum’s finger on Dad’s behalf. Later, in November 1944, Dad was posted to Bougainville. From February 1945, he was in constant combat. Following a particularly disastrous battle with heavy casualties behind enemy lines at Porton Plantation, he was granted leave to return to Australia with the expectation of returning to War.

Mum became Mrs Holt when she married Thomas Leonard (Len) Holt on 21st July 1945 at Paisley Street Baptist Church in Footscray. Their courtship and engagement had been entirely by letters, all of which had been censored by the Army Intelligence.

Mum and Dad had not seen each other for over three years. The wedding was organised in ten days. Mum borrowed her friend’s wedding dress and veil. Aunty Bev’s mother made the bridesmaids’ frocks from organdie which was see-through, but that was all that was available. Borrowed pink and blue petticoats worn underneath made the bridesmaids dresses respectable.

Wedding presents included war ration coupons to buy fabric and shoes for the wedding, and to help purchase household goods such as sheets, towels etc. which were in increasingly short supply and rationed as the war dragged on. Dad married in army uniform as he had no other clothes.

They honeymooned in Marysville. Dad returned to active duty. He had barely arrived at the Army Depot in Queensland when the war ended. He was then stationed in Brisbane and the War was over. After reporting for duty daily, he was given the day off as there was nothing to do.

Mum, now pregnant with me, travelled by train to Brisbane in September. That was an arduous trip. Dad always maintained that troop trains to Queensland were especially fitted with triangular wheels.

That time in Queensland they both described as an extended honeymoon. Dad was demobilised in November 1945.

Establishing a home and a family…

Mum and Dad lived with Mum’s parents for over 2 year due to housing shortages. I was born on 1st May 1946. Max was born 12th March 1948 and he too lived at 24 Warleigh Road. A few weeks after Max was born, on my second birthday, 1st May 1948, Mum and Dad moved into their newly built weatherboard house at 10 Cornwall Road, Sunshine. It had a brick chimney.

Dad was asked some time later, how he’d got the bricks. There was silence. I knew the answer, “Mummy and Daddy got them on the black market!” Oops!

That generation knew how to survive and appreciate the good things that came their way. Mum was a typical housewife of that era. She listened to the wireless as she ironed and sang along with the happy songs that reflected the hardships of wartime starting to disappear.

Dad and Mum were so happy. They enjoyed their garden. The world was getting back to normal again. Rationing of food, clothing and goods was fast coming to an end.  Life was simple and they were free. People were grateful just to be together as a family.

In 1953, we moved to a 40 acre property in Christmas Hills. The house was an old pioneer house with a kitchen separate from the rest of the house. The roof leaked big time when it rained.

Dad rode his BSA motor bike to work and Mum worked the farm, milking cows and feeding the chooks and ducks, fending off the crows stealing the eggs by filling the empty eggshells with mustard to burn their tongues. Crows like mustard flavoured eggs.

Our cousins still talk of their happy times staying on the farm. We kids put on concerts . I remember Dad, Uncle Ron and Mum’s cousin Jack performing their old army songs, and we kids performed songs and plays while the womenfolk sat as the audience, glad to just sit.

Mum loved the CWA (Country Women‘s Association) activities. The “Chin Waggers Association” according to Dad!  Our whole family attended the weekly Christmas Hills dance of a Saturday night.

Mum loved to make jam and preserve fruit from the fruit trees albeit that meant slaving over a wood stove in the middle of summer in a very hot kitchen. Mum loved the life of being like a pioneer, but it was a hard life. We did not have electricity until 1960.

Tough times again…

In December 1953 calamity struck.  Dad worked at a timber mill. A truck load of dressed timber fell on him and crushed and almost severed his leg. One surgeon was keen to experiment with a new idea – experimental microsurgery. He had the right patient. The surgeon ventured into the unknown. Dad was hospitalised (Max feels it was for 18 months) but he kept his leg. Mum acted as his physio and daily massaged his leg with peanut oil and fitted the calipers to his leg after milking the cows.

That accident put the family in dire straits. Things fell apart. There was financial hardship, and the stress of the injury and incapacity again triggered “War Neurosis”. Dad had horrendous war experiences. Post-traumatic stress was not understood. Life was extremely tough for Mum.

Mum secured a job sewing corsetry. Mum’s bosses were survivors of a Holocaust Concentration Camp. They were very kind to Mum and our family. They never put her under pressure and it was not unknown for her to receive a bonus every now and then.  It is appropriate to express gratitude to Mr and Mrs Zimmet and Mr & Mrs Lander. They knew what suffering was.

Mum’s mother died unexpectedly in 1959 and Mum was heart broken

Mum and Dad got back on their feet, and things were going well. Mum gave up work. On January 16th 1962, a raging bushfire – an inferno – surrounded us. We could not escape. Our house was completely burnt to the ground and nothing in the house survived. But we survived, and to this day, I don’t know how. This trauma for the family was unbelievably difficult.

For seven months we lived in a house built only to lock up stage. It was a very cold winter and there were no facilities or heating. The wind blew through the gaps, but it was better than living in a tent, and we were grateful. We moved into our newly built house in August that year.

Mum’s father died in 1964.

In 1967 notice was given that the Sugar Loaf Dam was to be built and Mum and Dad’s farm property was to be compulsorily acquired.

Losing Len…

In 1968 Dad, at the age of 47 years, developed acute leukemia and within three months of diagnosis died. He had ensured Mum was settled in Healesville, but died 2 weeks after moving into 376 Maroondah Highway.

Mum was now a widow but too young to claim social security. Mrs Lander offered her employment again. Mum traveled to Melbourne by train from Healesville each working day. Mrs Lander was a matchmaker in her Jewish community and knew of a very wealthy Jewish man who was looking for a wife and offered Mum a chance to live an easy life. That was a foreign idea to Mum. Mum believed that you only marry for love.

New beginnings…

In 1969 Dot became a grandmother… Nana.

She met Jack James. They married in 1972. Two people who had known great hardship now found stability and happiness and adored each other. Two adult families melded. Mum and Jack put life’s tragedies behind them and were happy. They belonged to many organisations – St John’s where they both taught Sunday School, Probus, the Masonic Lodge, Garden Club, Legacy – and had many friends.

The grandchildren of both families were equally adored by them.

Losing Jack…

Sadly Jack died in 1995.

Elderly life… Nana-The-Great…

Mum then adored the great-grandchildren of both families as they arrived. Mum’s focus was Family. She loved her family and we loved her.

The Craft ladies motivated Mum to create “one off” presents for family members. The coat hangers and lavender bags were legendary. Mum always looked forward to Craft Group.

She was an expert knitter and hand embroiderer.

Mum loved her garden and some of it followed her to Monda Lodge. Mum’s garden was her trade mark and that stands out in everyone’s memory.

A secret revealed…

Mum had bundles of stuff that I regarded as personal and private when she moved to Monda. When clearing her room at Monda, we found a bundle of hastily written notes sealed in plastic, that she had written to Jack. When I read them, I discovered an aspect of Mum that I didn’t know, nor did Ian who had lived with Mum and Jack for 3 years.

I just have to indulge and share two of the notes which are pretty much the same as the other notes in the bundle.

Be prepared. I think you too will discover an aspect of Mum that may surprise you.
Take a deep breath…

“Dear Jack,
Hi di Hi
Been a good boy? Weeeeell!!!!
I’ve been a good girl too.   Love you Smoogy
Dot, Dar”

It gets even better.

“Sweetie Pie, Smoogie
I hope you enjoy your dinner. It’s on the stove.
Be a good boy and don’t flirt with any girls ——or women
Love you,
Dot”

Mum always said, “I was lucky. I married two very good men.”

Thankyou…

On behalf of all the Family, I wish to express enormous gratitude to the staff at Monda Lodge. Mum was always happy there, always valued, understood and treated with dignity and respect. Thank you for all that you did that enabled Mum to live out her last years peacefully with dignity and purpose.

Thank you also to Rev Tim Anderson who ministered to Mum’s spiritual needs regularly, and gave Mum such peace and comfort.

My Mum…

Mum was a quiet, well presented, unassuming, genteel, polite, considerate and well‑mannered lady whose struggles are now over and now revealed. She never gave in to sorrow and misfortune. She lived for strong family values, loved her family and was loved.

She always just accepted her lot and rode out every storm without complaint. People have expressed that Mum had such a good life. She did, but she did not always have an easy life. Times were very tough, but that generation was resilient. They had known so much deprivation, heartache, grief, suffering and hard work. They learnt to never give in and to always value what you have and not whinge about what you don’t have. We who follow her have a lot to live up to.

The slide presentation of Mum’s early life is set to Franz Schubert’s “Litany for The Feast of All Souls” sung in German. The English translation of the chorus and one verse expresses an understanding of Mum’s life and passing.

Rest in peace, all souls
Who have done with anxious torment
Who have had done with sweet dreams
Who, sated with life and hardly born
Have departed from this world:
All souls rest in peace.

 And those happy ones in the rose garden
Tarrying with their joyous cups,
But then, in one horrible moment,
Tasting the bitter dregs at last:
All who have parted from here
All souls rest in peace.

Rest in peace Mum, rest in peace

Delyse Brown
6th June 2016

 

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Death of a loved one… Deep Grief, a Profound Gift

Preface:

Death of a loved one prompts deep grief… and offers ALL of us a profound gift.

I shared this reflection at my Step-Mum’s funeral on Monday (6th June 2016).

Following the Introduction the reflection comes in two parts.

Part One was written for those who knew and loved Dot during her 96 year lifetime. If you didn’t know Dot, but want to be inspired by the life of a very special woman, it’s also for you.
It focuses on the many gifts Dot gave to each of us as family and friends.

Part Two is for EVERYONE… Dot gave us ALL a profound gift when she died.
If you knew Dot it will touch you more deeply.
If you didn’t know Dot it may touch you deeply nonetheless… it may even change your life.

A Reflection on the life of Doris Irene James
“Dot, Nanna, Nanna-The-Great”

(Introduction)

For those who don’t know me I’m Ian James, the son of Jack James, Dot’s second husband. Today I’m honored to give a Reflection on behalf of the James side of Dot’s family.

Doris Irene James… Dot, Nanna, Nanna-The-Great… was much loved by all of Dad’s family… in fact she was much loved by her whole family on both sides.

Dot gave us many gifts.
I’d like to reflect on some of these today.

Part 1:
The Gifts Dot Gave Her Family and Friends

Her warm, welcoming smile

Dot’s picture on the screen sums it up so well.
Her big, broad, loving smile that always spread across her face when she greeted us.
A smile that said so much…
Welcome… I’m so pleased to see you… Come on in… I value you… I love you…

Every time I visited Dot she gave me the gift of that beautiful smile.

~ ~ ~

I arrived at Ringwood Private Hospital on the Wednesday before Dot died… this was the last day she was able to converse… just a little.
When I walked into her room, leaned over her bed, and gave her a hug and a kiss, she gave me her smile one last time. It was a much weaker smile this time, but it still poured out the same love and gratitude she always greeted me with.

~ ~ ~

No doubt each of you received the gift of Dot’s amazing smile many times.

Dot’s kindness and hospitality

Dot had such a generous spirit.

She knew how to love other people in practice and gave of herself in a way that created value and self‑worth in each of us.

Dot frequently expressed her kindness through hospitality toward her family and friends.
There was always a warm welcome whenever we walked through her door. After a hug and a kiss we’d sit around the kitchen table sharing a cuppa or a meal, enjoying her warmth and catching up on all the news.

Dot also reached out people who were doing it tough and needed a place to stay.
She opened her home and her heart and shared both with them.

(Glenda)

The other day my sister, Glenda, told me how very much it meant to her to be welcomed into Dot and Dad’s home for 6 weeks in a time of crisis. The practical love they gave her in this very difficult time still touches Glenda deeply today.

(Doug)

My schoolmate Doug was living in a caravan with his parents and three rowdy younger siblings. He was trying to study for our final year of High School, but it was an impossible situation. Dad and Dot came to the rescue and invited Doug to stay with us for that year. This not only allowed him to gain his Year 12 certificate… it literally changed his life.

Doug said to me the other day he had never experienced the love of a family like he experienced that year with the three of us.

What an incredible gift Dot, along with Dad (and me too), were able to give him.

 Dot’s love for her family

Dot’s love was totally inclusive of both sides of the family. There was no difference between her love for the her side of the family and the James side. We were all her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren and just recently her first great-great-grandchild… over eighty of us in total.

~ ~ ~

I invited the James family to contribute to this reflection…

Vanessa said…

The thing Nana gave me was the love of a blood-grandmother.  I have no biological grandmothers that I knew. But I never felt as if I wasn’t related to Nana or her side of the family.
Such gracious love and an enormous gift.

Ruth said…

I will always remember Nanna’s vegetable soup. The aroma would hit me as I walked in the door and Nanna would embrace me with a warm welcome.

I didn’t realise how wonderful she was as a grandparent until I married Stephen and saw how much time and effort Nanna and Granddad spent on their grandchildren. Nanna definitely surpasses all Grandmothers and I think the thing that strikes me most is that even though I was her step-grandchild she didn’t treat me or my children any differently to her own blood related grandchildren.

She really was amazing.

Ruth also added how much she valued the Source of Dot’s love…
Her quiet and gentle faith in God.

Merryn said…

When I think of Nana, I think of her pikelets with jam and cream. She always made them for us when we came around as a family. That was part of her gift of hospitality to us all.

She also remembers the many games of Gin Rummy we played with Nanna and Grandad around the kitchen table.

Dot’s love for my Dad and the joy she brought into his life

My Dad, Jack James, endured a lot of hardship in his early life

He was raised outside the family home as a child, and saw years of active service overseas in World War 2 in his youth.

His first wife Edna, my Mum, died suddenly and unexpectedly when she was only forty-nine… she was playing the organ in this same church when she died.
Dad was faced with raising three teenage daughters and myself at only eight years old .

Five years later Dot entered Dad’s life. Her love for him lit up his whole life.
She gave him a joy he had never known before. I remember the day when he confided in me that as much as he dearly loved my Mum, Dot was something else!

I can honestly say that the best thing that ever happened to my Dad… was Dot.
(This was one of the things I was able to say to her on the final day she could speak.)

Part 2:
The profound gift Dot gives us ALL

Dot has given all of us one final gift… one that has the potential to change the rest of our lives.

It may be a gift you don’t want to receive… but it’s very hard to knock it back when it’s right in front of you.

It may be a gift you’re not ready to receive… if so that’s okay.
If it’s not the right time for you, let it pass you by.

But… if this gift is for you, and it’s the right time for you to receive it, I encourage you to embrace it with your whole heart, because it is a very precious gift indeed.

(Grief)

Today as we gather together to remember Dot, we share a common emotion… grief.

Grief is one of the most powerful emotions we will ever feel.
Losing a loved one produces the deepest grief of all.

(The emotional storm)

No doubt when you heard the news that Dot had died you experienced this grief.

But grief is just the beginning. 

It inevitably triggers a whole range of emotions, initially associated with losing Dot, then it will likely continue beyond and also trigger memories of many previous painful events in our lives.

Virtually any emotion can rise to the surface.
Grief can give rise to anger, frustration, guilt and regret.
It can also trigger compassion and love, gratitude and even joy.
Over these last two weeks since Dot went into hospital I’ve experienced them all.

Grief can trigger an emotional storm within us.

My story

Dot passed away late at night Friday on 27th May… a little over a week ago.

Late afternoon the following Sunday I turned on my mobile phone and up popped a photo-memory from 4 years ago. It was a photo of Dot and my wife Rosie.

I was standing in the middle of the photo with one arm around each of them.
The photo hit me like an emotional brick… here I was with two precious women who have both passed from my life in a little over 18 months.

I couldn’t think and I couldn’t feel… I was just stunned.

Sunday evening was tough… I knew I was in pain but I couldn’t bear to face it.
Late in the evening, after I’d run out of things to distract myself, I knew I had to try to unpack what I was feeling.

I started writing… pouring out all the thoughts and feelings that the photo had provoked. Laying behind my grief over Dot was my grief over Rosie… and beyond that, a whole series of painful life events going right back to my early childhood.

When I was too tired to write any more I closed my laptop and just sat a the kitchen table.
A thought struck me… as painful as it was, Dot had just given me a profound gift.
Her passing had caused a whole range of hurt and anger in my life to resurface, each memory and deep emotion crying out for my attention.

I had just taken a new step towards resolving them… the next phase of working through these issues had just begun.

The Opportunity to Change Your Life

No doubt many of you can identify with what I’m saying.
We all have past hurts and issues… life does this to us.

Occasionally an event comes along that tears the lid off the deep emotions and memories we hide within us. 

Losing Dot did this for me.
It may be doing exactly the same for you.

Dot’s final gift to us is the Opportunity to reflect on our lives, to identify what is really important, to face and deal with the issues that her passing raises within us.
Perhaps most difficult of all, Dot has given us the opportunity to reflect on our relationships, especially those that are damaged or broken.

Like me, you face a choice.

Dot’s passing is one of the rare moments in our lives when we are offered an opportunity with the potential to change our lives.

But it is up to you to decide whether or not to receive this gift.

If you’re not ready to it, let it pass you by, that’s okay.

But be careful.

If it is your time to receive it, don’t wait too long to grab a hold of it, because after today the rawness of this opportunity will quickly fade.

If there are hurts or issues in your life that need to be resolved, or relationships that need repair, grasp a hold of this Dot’s gift, motivate you to take your first steps to begin the healing process.

To Sum it up…

Dot gave her family and friends many wonderful gifts throughout her life…
Her loving smile.
Her kindness and hospitality.
Her love for her whole family.
The love and joy she brought into my father’s life.

But in her passing she may have given ALL OF US of us the most amazing gift…
the opportunity to reflect on our lives and our relationships… and the challenge to take the first steps to bring change and healing.

Ian + dingo

 

Ian James

 

Death… one of life’s toughest and richest experiences

Ron

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

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

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

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

My stepmum Dot

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

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

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

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

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

Death and Life

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

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

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

Ian JamesIan + dingo

 

 

 

Be Brave… let yourself experience life!

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

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

Experience the world around you

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

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

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

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

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

Ian JamesIan + dingo

Falling away from faith…

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

I genuinely appreciate your care.

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

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

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

Ian + dingo

Ian James

Mother’s Day… Joy and sadness…

Mother’s Day 2016…

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

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

Expectations and realities…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It can be tough for Fathers too…

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

Balancing the sadness with joy…

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

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

What Mother’s Day brings for me…

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

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

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

However I clearly remember two things…

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts to take away…

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

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

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

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

 

Ian JamesIan + dingo

Black Clouds… Gold Linings

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Sometimes the darkest clouds have the brightest linings…

Last Saturday night I attended the Tuxedo Junction Charity Ball… a stunning and heart-tugging experience all wrapped up in one.

Tuxedo Junction is a charity organization gathering corporate sponsorship for Cancer Council Victoria and plays a major role in funding cancer research projects undertaken by Peter Mac Cancer Hospital and other organizations.

A few months before Rosie died last year she and I were stunned and humbled when close friends from MiTec Medical Publishing, a leading medical publishing company in Australia, announced they were sponsoring a 3 year Rosie James Cancer Research Award through Tuxedo Junction!

Tuxedo Junction have an annual Charity Ball as their main fundraising event each year and this year I had the privilege of being invited to attend.

The event was held in the Regent Theatre Plaza Ballroom in the Melbourne CBD. The unpretentious entry doors on Collins Street lead to a long staircase taking you down into the foyer. When I reached the top of the staircase my breath was literally taken away. It was like walking into a stunning underground medieval castle complete with rock walls, windows, balconies and chandeliers.

Walking into the ballroom was another ‘wow!’ moment. The underground ballroom is huge, with the stone walls decked out with more windows and balconies and numerous chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. A large stage occupies one end of the ballroom with a dance floor in front of it. A second smaller stage was set up in the centre of the floor surrounded by dining tables, all set up with glittering table lights reflecting off an array of sparkling glasses and tableware. Around the sides of the ballroom an amazing collection of donated items were on display for the silent auction.

My breath was again taken away when I saw a slide including a photo of Rosie and I displayed on the large projector screens on either side of the stage… it was a photo taken at Rosie’s funeral… I was standing on the church stage sharing my reflections on Rosie with a large photo of her smiling face projected behind me.

I found the table hosted by MiTec right next to the central stage. I was relieved to find I was seated next to my friends from MiTec as I didn’t really know any of the others on our table. It turned out they were all members of my friends’ extended family who very significantly had experienced the sudden and traumatic loss of one of their own to cancer earlier this year. I was not alone… they too were on the same journey as me.

The night for me brought a wide spectrum of experiences and emotions. The venue was stunning, the entertainers were top level performers all generously donating their time, the food was superb, the drinks were included (so I indulged in two glasses of champagne… rare for me!), and the auction was ‘out of my league’ with people bidding for items going for thousands of dollars.

Early in the evening I felt somewhat awkward. The family on my table were all understandably catching up with each other … I took a few walks to take photos and check out the silent auction items to avoid just sitting at the table. As the evening moved on (and the alcohol helped bring down our social barriers!) a number of family members made a special effort to talk to me, warmly communicating their care and support while sharing some of their own painful story. By the end of the evening I felt very welcome and at home in their midst.

The photo of Rosie and I kept appearing on the big screens as the projector cycled through the sponsor logos and the major items to be auctioned off later in the evening. The final auction item was the corporate sponsorship and naming rights for a new 2016 Cancer Research Award. The accompanying slide included our photo to highlight the existing 2014-2017 Rosie James Research Award as an example. I happened to be wearing the same suit and tie as in the photo… I only have one formal outfit!

The toughest part of the evening was immediately before the main auction. A slide show of people involved in the Tuxedo Junction projects including those touched by cancer was played on the big screens accompanied by Debra Byrne singing a beautiful song to set the atmosphere. The first two photos hit me hard. The photo of Rosie and I was now displayed full-screen, followed by a beautiful photo of Rosie and her dear friend from MiTec, both beaming with smiles of delight as they often did when together. I struggled to not burst into tears… it was a painful but very special moment… I haven’t broken down and wept since the night Rosie died and I came within a whisker of doing so at that point.

When the formal part of the evening was over a great band started playing and an Elvis look-alike singer hit the stage. The dance floor quickly filled with people including most of the people from my table. While I thoroughly enjoy dancing and had no desire to be sitting at the table alone, it’s difficult at the best of times to be a bloke going up to the dance floor on your own.

I spotted my friends on the dance floor and found the courage to join them. It turned out to be the final dance of the bracket so we stood on the dance floor while the raffle prizes were drawn. I was feeling uncomfortable when the music started again and I was starting back toward our table when one the gracious women in the family grabbed my hand and headed back to the dance floor with me in tow. It was the first time I’d danced since Rosie’s passing and great to have fun with a family who had warmly drawn me into their midst.

Each time I reflect on the night I still feel the sense of wonder and blessing I felt during that incredibly special evening.  More than just a special event, it was the gift of a life experience to be remembered and treasured for years to come.