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…

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

The power of music…

I love music that reaches deep within my spirit and evokes strong emotions and new insights. I find song lyrics have the ability to grab my attention, raising thoughts and feelings about key issues in my life.

Songs often bring pain to the surface. The artist pours out words that echo my own heart. I feel the relief of being heard and understood by a fellow sufferer who’s “been there”, affirmed by their empathy and compassion. Knowing I am not alone encourages me to “keep hanging in there”.

Some songs are so powerful and relevant they evoke “light-bulb moments”… they bring insight and understanding, and strengthen my determination to keep working on the way forward.

The pain of suffering…

I know many people (friends and family) who are wrestling with big issues in life… bereavement, relationship issues, divorce, family dysfunction, mental illness, faith issues, overwhelming work stress, to name just a few.

I too face some of these issues… a 16 year cancer journey with Rosie, and her dying 18 months ago, decades of my past overshadowed by depression, 12 years of not working impacting my identity and self-value, wrestling with questions about God and faith…

Very likely you too are facing big issues and have experienced significant trauma and pain at some point.

We all face tough, painful situations and issues in life… unexpected trauma can strike out of nowhere, ongoing issues can plague us for months, years, decades. We can rant and rave against suffering or perhaps choose to accept and learn from it. Either way, by definition, suffering is painful and we avoid it wherever possible.

Ironically, as much as we may hate to admit it, suffering is fundamental to life.
To be human is to suffer… there is no way of escaping this truth
.

The gift of suffering…

Nobody wants to suffer.

An undeniable reality however is that is that suffering forges character traits and abilities that cannot be built in our lives in any other way.

Compassion, empathy, and the ability to support others are borne out of suffering.
It is impossible to truly identify with the pain of others unless we have experienced pain ourselves.

Suffering develops our self-understanding and skills for managing life.
It grows strength, resilience and patience in ways that nothing else can.

Suffering is a great teacher.
How can we understand joy if we have never experienced grief?
How can we understand peace if we have never been stressed, anxious or felt despair?
How can we grasp the value of relationships if we have never felt alone?
Or the joy of being loved and accepted if we’ve never been rejected?

Suffering sifts the garbage out of our lives.
Suffering helps crystallize what is really important in our lives.
For example, life-threatening traumas or the loss of loved ones inevitably shifts our focus onto what we really value: relationships, our values and beliefs, the things we really want to do with our lives.
Suffering helps us recognize our life is fragile and finite, and will soon be over (perhaps sooner than we expect). It forces us to ask what do we really want to do with our lives, instead of endlessly filling our lives with frantic, stressful activity that leaves no time or energy for following our dreams.

Suffering reminds us that what we normally value in life… material possessions, jobs, money, status… will be worth very little on our death beds. It hits home that our time would be far better devoted to family, other people, making the world a better place, and to truly loving and caring for ourselves.

The most precious gift of suffering is that it provides a path to discovering and grasping a resilient inner peace that is independent of the stress and turmoil in our own lives and the world around us. In fact suffering is probably the only path to this peace.

When it all seems too hard …

Two songs are currently touching my spirit…
They inspire me to grasp my dreams and live them,
to speak out my truth instead of remaining silent,
to no longer allow fear of failure or rejection hold me back.

Watch out… these songs just might encourage and inspire you too, and set you on the path to freedom!

They just might get you through when it all seems too hard…

Sara Bareilles – Brave

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUQsqBqxoR4

You can be amazing, you can be the outcast, or you can start speaking up
I wonder what would happen if you say what you wanna say
and let the words fall out honestly

Your history of silence won’t do you any good,
Let your words be anything but empty,
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Don’t run, stop holding your tongue,
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Show me how big your brave is

I wanna see you be brave!

Rachel Platten – Stand By You

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwB9EMpW8eY

Hands, put your empty hands in mine
And scars, show me all the scars you hide
And hurt, I know you’re hurting, but so am I
And hey, if your wings are broken
Please take mine so yours can open too
‘Cause I’m gonna stand by you

I’ll be your eyes ’til yours can shine.
And when you can’t rise, well, I’ll crawl with you on hands and knees.
Even if we’re breaking down, we can find a way to break through.
Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through Hell with you.
Love, you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna stand by you.

(Song lyrics copyright and courtesy of http://www.azlyrics.com/)

Ian James
Ian + dingo

 

 

 

 

Addendum 17/05/2016

A friend told me today she went to comment this post but burst into tears and couldn’t do it. She told me about the traumatic situation she’s currently facing … “It was just too close to home and I couldn’t write.”

My wife, Rosie, said to me repeatedly through my years of endless episodes of depression, “This too will pass”. Even though this always proved to be true and each episode did eventually pass, I hated hearing those words when I was in the ‘pits’. It is very hard to hear and accept positive statements about suffering when there is no end in sight.

Many times people tried to encourage me by explaining how suffering builds empathy and character. As much I knew this was true, I still resented hearing it when deeply depressed. My silent response was, “So bloody what!! What I need now is relief from this torment… not some ‘pat answer’ about building character!”

So, if you read my recent post and found the positive spin on suffering difficult because you’re in the midst it, I’m sorry you found it tough. I know all too well how frustrated and angry you can feel when someone not experiencing your pain says how good it will be for you!

Nonetheless I do stand by what I wrote. I just wish it were possible to develop deep empathy for others and resilience in your own life without going through times when you feel like your life is being torn apart.

 

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 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

It’s now 18 months since Rosie passed. Alongside grief it’s been a journey of discovering the new Ian James. A great deal has happened since I last posted on my blog… Rosie’s birthday, the first anniversary of her death and funeral, Merryn and Liam’s wedding in December (a very special day laced with the sadness of Rosie’s absence), a second Christmas without her, then our wedding anniversary. It’s commonly said the ‘firsts’ are the toughest… in my experience some of the ‘seconds’ are harder.

The journey is unique to each person losing a loved one… two steps forward, one or more steps back. No‑one told me I may also feel stuck, not moving forward or back… months of this was the most difficult of all.

Nonetheless, with encouragement and support from my wonderful family, close friends, and a professional counsellor skilled in cutting to the core of key issues, my life has undoubtedly moved forward.

Standing on the threshold…

Of nine cruises to date this is my first without Rosie. Alongside times of sadness, I’m experiencing excitement, and even joy (something new for me!).

I always knew I’d cruise again… somehow it’s part of my healing process and a step in finding out who I am now. Far from being on my own I’m travelling with three people I’m very close to and love spending time with… my daughter Liesel, grandson Flynn and my honorary daughter Alexis.

There’s another reason this cruise is significant… I believe it’s time to initiate a new phase of life. Tonight I’m beginning an exciting and scary adventure… I’m going to ‘dip my toe in the water’ and go to a Singles event!

While much needs to happen before I’ll consider a serious relationship, it’s time to learn afresh what this aspect of life entails. My last ‘date’ was over 35 years ago… no doubt women, the times, and myself have all changed a great deal.

I have no doubt if Rosie’s watching she’ll be cheering me on. She frequently encouraged me to find a new partner after she was gone… in typical fashion she’d have enthusiastically given me her list of ‘suitable candidates’ had I let her! I politely but firmly refused… this part of life is mine alone to figure out!

Landing on the ground…

Fast-forward a few hours…

The Singles event is over (but my heart is still racing)! Thankfully on returning to the cabin I had two very supportive daughters eager for me to ‘spill the beans’…

The venue for the event was a dimly lit bar on the ship. I arrived a little early, ordered a drink and sat on my own in one of four empty chairs around a table. I chose the seat that was under a downlight… no point hiding my presence! I made sure I had a good view of the room… no point being unable to see others!

Shortly the host stood up and introduced the event. He encouraged people to mingle around the room and talk to one another, indicating excitedly that the process might result in one being ‘lucky’.
That was it!! No group activities, no ‘get to know you games’… just take the initiative and go for it!

So I did. Surprisingly I felt no hesitation. I stood up with my ‘security beer’ in hand, walked to a nearby table and introduced myself to the two women there. What ensued was an hour of intense, enthusiastic discussion as the three of us ‘put ourselves out there’.

Marilyn and Ruth (not their real names) were chalk and cheese from one another. Marilyn was somewhat older and her face told the story of a tough life. Ruth was about my age… her face and appearance were pleasant but gave little away.

Marilyn talked a lot and risked dominating the conversation… we heard more about her friends than who she was herself. It was very clear from the outset that there was no chemistry happening here.

Ruth was a counsellor dealing with people in very difficult life circumstances. She loves her work and was clearly a caring, compassionate person. She mentioned she’d been a pastor… interesting. The three of us then covered a range of topics… work, family, a little of the history leading us to the event. I sensed some potential chemistry with Ruth.

At the 40 minute mark Marilyn announced she needed to leave for a few minutes (relief!) and I took the opportunity to pursue Ruth’s pastor role. I soon learned she was a very enthusiastic woman of faith whose current passion is studying all the arguments proving that her beliefs are true; her motivation being to inform “lapsed believers” so they have no option but to believe again.

Having revealed earlier I had intentionally moved away from faith, Ruth’s spoke of me as one of these lapsed believers, unknowingly labeling and judging me in the process. (I find it very sad when people acting out of genuine love and compassion are unable to see how alienating and disrespectful this is to those who don’t share their particular beliefs.)

I told her with integrity that I was well beyond such ‘proofs’ and experienced great freedom as a result, having left behind a faith that had bound, confined and tormented me (my own experience, but not necessarily that of others).

Quite clearly the chemistry developing earlier in the conversation had now vanished.

Marilyn had returned by this point so I warmly thanked them both and said I was taking the opportunity to join another conversation.

Before I could move it was all over. The host stood up, thanked everyone, and announced he will ‘spice it up a little!’ at the next event. Oh wow, I can hardly wait, not! I probably will attend, but not for the reasons he seemed to be implying.

It was a relief to finish. An hour of intense conversation and high adrenaline was exhausting.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely. It was a healthy first step and a valuable learning experience. I had no expectation of an instant connection and felt no disappointment. It was a great confidence boost knowing I had the courage to go and had initiated a conversation without hesitation.

So where to from here?

Thoughtfully and carefully is the way to go…

As I’ve moved forward the benefits of being single have become more apparent. I don’t want to rush into a new lifelong partnership because it’s “the thing to do”. The freedom I now have to invest myself in a wide range of life possibilities is not to be taken lightly.

Balancing this is awareness that developing a number of close (not necessarily romantic) friendships with women (as I currently have with some great blokes) will add a new richness to my life. In time a romantic relationship will likely emerge out of one of these. I think for me a committed, loving partnership is ultimately the best place to be… being on my own long-term is not a wise option. I am inherently relationship orientated and know I have the capacity to give and receive a great deal on many levels.

As a ‘mature man’ in my fifties I’d like to think my maturity will protect me from emotion carrying me away should a woman who ‘presses my buttons’ appear. Life has taught me however that emotions can easily highjack rational thinking in decisions big and small. A steady hand is needed on the steering wheel, especially if strong attraction and passion take hold!

Finally, there’s another trap I want to avoid. Actively seeking a new relationship is not just about me! It’s not all about getting what I want and need. Relationships involve two people. Both need to care for and respect one another as they learn about each other. Committing to become partners, should this be the outcome, needs to be life-giving for both.

My motto from here is…

Be bold, be gentle and caring… and enjoy the fun and richness of life!

Ian + dingo

A Tough Season Ahead

Creating Memories

When holidaying or bushwalking in special places I sometimes collect a souvenir to remember that special time.

I keep two souvenirs on my key chain… a blue lego block I found on the beach below the cliffs at the Twelve Apostles on The Great Ocean Road… and a small metal washer that was part of the Pacific Dawn; I found it on the deck of the ship during Rosie’s and my final cruise.

Sometimes I gave Rosie a souvenir as a gift… like the alpine flower I found when I climbed to the summit of Victoria’s highest mountain, Mount Bogong.

The other day I picked up a shell as I was walking one of Perth’s beautiful beaches. There was nothing special about this shell; it was one of many similar shells scattered along the high water mark; but it captured my memories of the pristine white sand and crystal clear waters along the West Australian coast.

I then picked up a second shell for Rosie… even though I knew I could not give it to her, I sensed it was important for me to do this, even if I didn’t know why.

IMAG3833

A new season of grief

Travelling to Perth to celebrate the arrival of my second grandson was a time of joy and delight like I have rarely experienced before.

It was also a time of being exposed emotionally… alongside the joy I felt the pain of knowing Rosie was not there to celebrate this incredibly special moment with me.

The coming month is going to be tough

This Wednesday 30th September, many of us will receive a Facebook reminder that it is Rosie’s birthday. For some who were close to Rosie I know this will come unexpectedly and deep feelings of grief will resurface.

Rosie’s birthday is the beginning of a new season of grief for me too. It is the forerunner to an intense time, the first anniversary of Rosie’s death on October 29th and her funeral on November 6th. For me the awareness and pain of losing her is already intensifying and I know this will only increase as these weeks progress.

So how do I navigate this difficult time? This question has been echoing around my mind, calling out for an answer so that I don’t enter it unprepared.

The simple answer is that there are no simple answers. Grief is something you deal with by going through it; it does not readily lend itself to plans and strategies designed to manage it.

Some helpful principles…

Grief is not something to run away from, rather it is one of the dark strands of the tapestry of life that we have no choice but to weave. Going through it is not easy, especially in the first year after losing a loved one when all the ‘first anniversaries’ take place, but it is far more healthy to allow oneself to feel and experience grief when it comes than to try and suppress it.

Grief can give rise to a range of other deep emotions. For me, deep anger and frustration are also crying out to be resolved. Allowing grief and these other emotions to rise will provide me with an opportunity to work through not only the loss of Rosie, but a range of other issues that have been buried within me for decades. (Thanks heavens for grief counselling… there will be no lack of ‘grist for the mill’!)

I may not want to acknowledge it, but grief provides a unique opportunity for me to learn about life and myself, and to grow. None of us like “grasping the nettles” of painful times, but I know it can bring healing, growth, empathy for others, and equipping for the future in ways that nothing else can; grief actually has a positive side that can encourage and empower me, giving me strength to make it through.

To the extent that grief brings us pain, it also brings the choice to accept it, learn from it and find healing, or to suppress it and perpetuate it, possibly in harmful ways.

I know I am not alone

Knowing I am not walking this journey on my own is a huge blessing and comfort.

My close friends will play a key role during this time. I have the freedom to call on them anytime and know they will be there for me. Catching up with them regularly allows me to offload the emotional pressure… these friends know how to really listen, a rare skill these days.

My wider family have been supportive beyond what I thought possible over this last year, and we now share a much deeper bond as a family. I will not want to be alone for Rosie’s birthday or the anniversary of her passing. Spending time with my family on those days will be very important… I have no doubt my family will need each other too.

I may also spend time at Caritas Christi, where I can quietly reflect on being with Rosie during her final days and final moments. The hospice is my sacred place for reflection; it is here that Rosie was last alive; where she spent her final days “living well and dying well” as was her motto to the end.

A helpful metaphor

As I write this I have the two shells in my pocket… they represent Rosie and I and our relationship.

The shells are of the same type but are nonetheless unique and complete in themselves… no two shells, no matter how similar, are ever exactly the same. In a healthy relationship not only do “two become one”, they also grow as “one plus one”, complementing each other.

Together the shells represent our relationship… it took both of these shells joined together to protect the life that grew and thrived within them for over 33 years. But every living thing and every relationship one day must come to an end… this is a tough reality we all face. When that day came for Rosie and I we experienced the pain of separation and our two shells now travel their own paths through ‘the ocean of life’ here and beyond.

When I took the shells out of my pocket I found the smaller shell nestled fully within the larger one. From above, only the larger shell can be seen; turn them over and the smaller shell is revealed, hidden within the larger one. While Rosie is no longer with me physically, I will hold my memories of her deep within me for the rest of my life…

IMAG3834

On a practical note…

Being able to express in a practical way, our gratitude for who Rosie was to us, and the grief we feel at losing her, can be an important part of the healing process, not only for ourselves, but also for others with whom we share.

Rosie’s facebook page is still active for this purpose. If you would like to express your thoughts and feelings during the coming days and weeks, please feel free to do so.

IJ Icon - Blog

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.

IJ Icon - Blog

My Birthday Gift

Today is my birthday.

As I do most Sunday mornings I’m sitting in a cafe enjoying a cappuccino or two while thinking and writing. Today is different however… it’s my first birthday in almost 40 years without Rosie.

Lots of special events are happening at the moment… Flynn’s 3rd birthday party yesterday, my birthday and family party today, tomorrow I’m off to Mount Beauty to spend a few days with Rosie’s legendary Uncle Ron who turned 95 this week, then in 3 weeks I’m off to Perth for the arrival of Rohan and Sheralee’s first baby (due mid Sept) and grandchild number 2 for me!

Each of these occasions brings an understandable mix of emotions however… the joy and excitement of life in all its variety and the grief and sadness of knowing that Rosie is no longer here to share these celebrations.

There’s a powerful life lesson in this that has only just dawned on me this morning…

Rather than allowing sadness and grief to cancel out joy and excitement the key is to allow both sets of emotions to be fully present at the same time. Allowing both the dark and bright threads of life to be woven together in their fullness creates a far richer, more beautiful tapestry than weaving it with the grey threads of negated or suppressed emotions.

I wasn’t expecting to receive any birthday gifts until later in the day… but I think I’ve just glimpsed one that is more valuable than any gift I could have asked for.

IJ Icon - Blog