When to grieve and not to grieve: an Introspective

As we grow older, we gather layers of grief. Grief is a strange beast, best let have it’s way. It ebbs and flows like tidal waters under a glowing moon. It creates its own patterns to your days, the late hours, when we are tired and at our most vulnerable, are when the currents are strongest.

How we deal with grief builds resilience or swallows us whole. For me, living each day with loss means I need routine and happy habits, I need work to distract me and I need times to reflect.

Acknowledging grief is not easy to do. What is it every Australian says when asked how they are? Fine. I’m fine. Truly I am. I’m full of gratitude for my little house, my fluffy peeps, my kids, my work and my interests. I am fine. What I also am is quite lost, quite often.

I have learnt that this is okay. It waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows. A morning I have to convince myself to get out of bed and go to work can brighten into a day of laughter. A day which has started well can drag on and go downhill. I have remedies for these.

Every day I dash home from work and take my three little dogs to the off lead dog park. There we play ball, meet their doggy friends and chat with their humans. I love being down there. It’s  a peaceful piece of bush, with a brisk creek running through, which dogs and small people enjoy.

I make sure I have plenty of berries. Full of vitamin C, low in fructose and delicious, they cheer me up and ensure I don’t resort to lollies or chocolate. I ring friends to see how they are and what they are up to. It’s good to hear other people’s stories. I take myself out for coffee.

I spend time thinking about good memories with the loved one lost. I count my blessings and sometimes I cry. Not often, I don’t like crying, but sometimes it is just the thing to do. I do what I need to do and move with the flow.

Straight-talk parenting

There’s benefit to being a straight talker. People know you mean what you say and say what you mean. Even Youngest Daughter, whose behaviour has been off the charts for nearly three years.

Saturday she went to stay with a friend. I spoke to the mother to make sure it was okay. Then there was some story about the power bill not being paid and no longer able to stay there. Then, gosh, all the phones in the town were flat so she couldn’t call me to come and pick them up, so they slept on the street. Oh yes, you read that right. I was also supposed to believe that story.

I was so glad to have them safe at home, that I focussed on that. Now that some semblance of sanity has returned to YD, I have let her know how nonsensical her story was. She at least had the grace to appear embarrassed and guilty. Good grief. Sleeping on the street! Splutter!

Do you know, if you met me, you would not expect me to have a ‘wayward’ daughter. As a heroin baby, who went into foster care at 5 months for ‘failure to thrive’, then to carer after carer, until coming to me at 3 1/2, she was so angry, so mad at the world, and so full of grief that it was bare survival for both of us for the first nine months. She had thought the previous carers were her family and was absolutely broken that they had given her away. She was convinced for a long time that I must have seen a photo of her and demanded to have her. Her birth mother made it worse, so much worse.

Poor sad baby. What she does know, except when she is crazy and convinced I am exaggerating (her own favourite pass time), is that I am truthful and while she might wish that I would be less honest at times, she knows that she can trust what I say. That’s something isn’t it?

Of course, quite often this means that she tells me more than I want to know. I often feel like putting fingers in my ears and singing lalala loudly. At least she tells me. Right?

So I told her straight up that she was not going to be able to complete Year 8. Year 8, dear God. I gave her the options the meeting at school came up with and she actually chose the one best for her. Oh my goodness, thank you God for great and small mercies. We still have to apply for all the programs and cross our fingers and our toes (our eyes and our noses) that she gets in. She is happy to try to get her life back on track and get some more education (she’s at grade 5 level).

Through all the traumas and events that have happened in my life, YD is the cause of so much angst and concern, so much pain, so many tears, so much upset. I know that how she is a reflection of how she feels about herself. Whenever she is in trouble or upset, she runs straight to me. That’s got to count for something, doesn’t it?

It is so sad that she feels so bad about herself. I understand how all that has come about, all the abandonment, manipulations and abuse that has occurred to trigger that in her. What I don’t have is any way to fix it.

There is no fixing. I have to have faith. Faith in her resilience. Faith in how much I love her. Faith in her own light within.

I wish for her only happiness. To live a life she loves and is proud of.

Keep the faith.

Perspective, Perception and Expectations: An Introspective

I am thinking about the crossover between perspective, perception and expectations. How what we see is what we get. I am outside with my daughter’s 6 month old kitten and hoping that he stays in the yard. He’s had his op, his microchip, no collar (my poodle uses cat collars as handles for dragging) and I am just a little concerned he might disappear before I can catch him.

My perspective is this is an adventure that could go very wrong. My expectation is that he will want to explore too far and my perception is that I am being over anxious, especially as he comes every time I call. Oops, first stalking of a bird. He is getting an enclosure and will only ever be out supervised. See? Perception: cats are killers. Expectation: he will catch a bird if he can. Perspective: I can be a responsible cat carer and environmentalist. Does my perspective alter my perceptions and expectations? No. My perspective demonstrates my commitment to both, hence cat enclosure and supervised outdoor time. Fences, dogs next door, my own Fluffy Floozy dogs giving him a chase, keep my perspective bounded. I hope. As long as he doesn’t go under the house.

I’ll try for a clearer example. Years ago I married. A lovely young woman. I was a young woman too and I was absolutely besotted. She seemed like such fun, full of life and adventure. When we wanted to have a ceremony, because she wanted the surety of commitment, i assented and asked friends to join us. They were horrified. None of them wanted to participate. It wasn’t the wedding aspect, it wasn’t the commitment, it was her. No-one said to me, don’t do it, she’s nuts. No-one tried hard to dissuade me at all. A few did question closely why I wanted to do it. I was doing it for her. I was absolutely broken-hearted that no-one wanted to join in. Maybe some did, but my crushed expectations altered my perception of my friends and my perspective of friendship. Within a year, I had a whole new barrel load of friends and I was married.

Within 6 years I could see that things were not working. I understood that she had lied to me about numerous things to make her appear more agreeable. I came to understand that my perception of her was clouded by my perspective of relationships and my expectation of how we would travel along together. I realised that how she operated was vastly different to myself and the compatibility I had perceived was a fabrication. By whom? Both of us. Her through lying and mine through my own expectations. It took me a further 7 years to extricate myself, they were bad years and not what I wanted. I was clear from the outset that I wanted children and to grow a life together, which included a business. She said yes yes yes, until it became clear that she didn’t mean a word of it. I said we foster together or I foster alone. I’ve been on my own with the kids for 12 years now.

The young woman inside of me who fell in love with the young woman inside of her, still loves. Love is a creative energy, you can never run out. However the grown woman who looks at my ex and sees the needy person she is, so greedily grasping for people’s time, energy and refrigerators, is not someone I would allow in my life now. Now my perspective has changed. I understand that we can love someone and not allow that person in our lives because how they are choosing to live and the person they are choosing to be. My perception of myself as a individual of worth who deserves honest and respectful relationships has changed. My perspective of the landscape of my life has shifted. I never wanted to be a single parent but I would rather be on my own than shackled to a relationship where I end up unrecognisable to myself.

More recently this has occurred with my ex foster son. For ten years I raised and loved that boy, taught him (he has autism and functioned poorly when he came to live with me), cared for him and was proud of him. He showed me a young man who was caring, could love, form relationships, be insightful and would lend a hand. I’m still so proud of the steps he dug into the hill for me, closer together so I could step down them easily. He could be so very kind. Eighteen months ago he started changing but would not tell me what was wrong. There was always a nasty streak but doesn’t everyone have that? I chose to see him as my lovely boy so was much troubled by his nastiness. His desperation for a girlfriend culminated in meeting a woman online, 9 years his senior, who came from interstate and took him away. I was devastated but gave them a farewell dinner and planned to keep in touch. Over the year he morphed into someone I didn’t recognise. Someone who chose to return to calling me by my name but never had the courage to discuss it with me, who called one of his ex foster sisters an “attention seeking whore” and his youngest ex foster sister a “black slut”. This is the tip of the iceberg. I have moved through profound shock and grief over the past year as this unrecognisable person stomped in his hob nailed boots all over our hearts.

My perspective was that he was my boy. My perception of him was not that he was perfect but that he could be kind, loving, caring and thoughtful. My expectation was that he would continue to be a member of our family. I love him. He can never take away the ten years he was my boy. However I will not have the person he has chosen to be anywhere near my life. The abuse was such that I had to get my solicitor to write to them to tell them to leave us alone.

What’s interesting here is how thwarted expectations cause the most pain and it is our perspective of relationships and our perceptions of individuals that have to shift. Doesn’t mean we don’t love them but sometimes it does mean that we have to set them free.

The kitty? Yep. He’s gone under the house to explore where I cannot get him. I’m off to get a can of tuna. I perceive that he’s a cat and I know he loves tuna. I hope my expectations, of enticing him with it, are right this time.

P.S. He came out just after I finished writing. Oh, the power of food.

Letting Go: An Introspective Blog

Whoever thought letting go would be the hardest part?

When you’ve done as many years of analysing, therapy, counselling, processing, meditation, art therapy, music therapy, re-birthing (remember that?) and introspection as I have, you begin to wonder if there will ever be an end to it.

In short, no.

Those few years of childhood, confusion of your teens, followed by the fruitcake mixing years of your twenties, followed by the baking years of your thirties, upheaved by your forties (when you have to get the cake off your hips) and sliding in your fifties (when you realise it isn’t going), take a lot of getting over, on, through, out and done with. In fact, I largely suspect that we are never ‘done with’ it and spend our entire lives winnowing the chaff from the seed. How ironic that people of a certain age (and I don’t mean mine) will not recognise that saying, winnowing the chaff from the seed. This was a process (there’s that therapy word again) by which the un-useful portion of a seed head was fluffed out (technical term), leaving the heavier seed. I feel my fifties, and I’m only one year in, are my winnowing years.

There is a great deal I have learnt and even more that I have picked up through observation and careful listening. This listening is not something I indulged in as a teen or a twenty but came to grips with in my thirties when I realised all my errors. It’s quite disconcerting to realise that the know-it-all twenties don’t know much at all. I see it now in my young ones. They really do think they know everything and you have grey hair. Reminds me of when my youngest was six and became suddenly concerned that I was terribly old and would obviously die very soon. We had to have a number of conversations about my great age (I wasn’t) and what would happen when I died. I worked out that she wanted to know what was going to happen to her, she wasn’t too concerned with me. Sorted to her satisfaction, we happily sang “When I die, I’m gonna go to God and we’re gonna have a cup of tea” on many car trips.

I often tell my young ones to draw on their inner wisdom. I have persistently reminded (aka nagged), imparted sayings and my knowledge and wisdom that they must have absorbed some of it. When faced with a dilemma I ask them, what would you tell a friend with the same problem? Give yourself that same advice. I have to do this with myself too. If a friend came and said she was drowning in debt because the government had callously taken away the single parent health care card and now there are no concessions and utility bills have gone mad, what would I suggest? Oh yes, I’ll try that and let-it-go. If a friend came to me and was hurting because her child had left home, cut contact and their new partner of three months was controlling all communication, what would I say? This last one is a doozy and one I have been travelling through of late. The advice I give myself when I ask me is this, “Self”, I say, “Make it work for you. Leave the door open but don’t stand right behind it. They may come slamming back home. Just gently move back and wait for openings.” Easier said than done, but that’s all about letting go, isn’t it?

Most of the time we have distress about it situation is because we think it shouldn’t be like that. I learnt long ago that as soon as I heard me think the word “should”, look out. Sometimes situations just are like that. Now, I know my son is on his big adventure, living with his girlfriend for the first time and not actually doing anything to me. The fact that he has not called me once, only texted, is what it is. Sad and hurt is how I feel about it. The fact that I thought I was talking to him on Facebook only to discover it was his girlfriend shattered me. It seemed as though I was not going to get to talk to my son at all. (I showed my eldest the strange thing he had written, calling me by my name, and she said that’s not him but his girlfriend, speaking as him. I know, right?) Who knew that it was so painful for your child to move away and ‘forget’ you? I know I’m not really forgotten but we can only tell how someone feels toward us by their actions. Let it go.

Letting go. Not something I have been particularly good at. Not something any of us are particularly good at. I’m working on it though. My baby will be ready to leave home in just a few short (oh, so short) years and I had better be ready. Hmm, I’ll actually be child free then. What an interesting idea.

(c) CLHHarper April 2014

Sorrow’s walls come tumbling down PART 2 – A Jumbly Tale

Jumbly woke with the dawn and his eyes sought the woman. Bundled in her blanket, she was still asleep. He prepared himself, fire, breakfast and brew before she woke. The woman roused from sleep panicked, calming when she saw Jumbly on the other side of the fire. She groaned as she stood, muscles and injuries stiffening over night. Without a word, Jumbly handed her a cup of water, then the bowl of steeped herbs. She took it and tended to her wounds. The woman returned the bowl and meeting his eyes, pointed to herself and said, “Deirdre.” Jumbly smiled and burbled at her encouragingly. Her dark eyes watched him solemnly. Deirdre nodded and settled herself by the fire for breakfast.

When everything was packed and put away, Jumbly and Deirdre began their walk back to the village. Jumbly took her by the river road. It took longer but he saw that she was not ready yet for company and at the river she would have a chance to wash. They walked for hours in silence until Deirdre stumbled. Jumbly stopped and began setting up camp. Deirdre jumped up and said she could go on but somehow he gentled her and communicated that they were not in any hurry. He made their midday meal and indicated the river for a wash.

Deirdre went red with shame. Jumbly was horrified but had no way to tell her that it was not her shame. He hung his head. After a long time, Deirdre came closer and tugged on his shirt sleeve. He looked up, his eyes sad. The corner of Deirdre’s mouth lifted and she assured him that she understood that a swim was just what she needed. Jumbly beamed. Deirdre looked momentarily startled then smiled back. Jumbly found soap root for her and a place in the river that was more sheltered and private.

Once she was settled, Jumbly returned to the river near their camp and waded in for his own wash. He sang as he scrubbed and his melodic voice curled in ribbons of bright sound along the river to Deirdre. She stopped and listened. There were no words but she heard the heart of the big man in his song and the fear left her.

Deirdre returned to find Jumbly stoking the fire with a pot bubbling already. Deirdre was famished. Exhausted by her ablutions, she sat abruptly on her bed and stared at the pot. Jumbly rumbled a laugh and Deirdre turned to look at him. His clothes, which he had worn into the river and washed, were lying in the sun to dry. His spare britches were all he wore, enjoying the last of the sun on his skin. Deirdre saw a tall, very tall, well built man, with close cropped hair and kind brown eyes. His beard was neatly trimmed and his smile. Deirdre realised she was staring and sighed, looking away. Jumbly rumbled away at her and Deirdre found if she listened to his voice, not the words, and watched him, she understood him very well.

Jumbly wanted to know if she needed help with her wounds. She shook her head. Taking a breath she told him that the cuts and scratches were clean. Jumbly patted his belly, then pointed to hers. Deirdre looked away. Another deep breath. She looked back toward him and said that she was alright there too, just badly bruised and sore. Deirdre was startled by a growl and involuntarily glanced at him. He looked furious. Deirdre realised that he was angry on her behalf. She forgot to breathe for a minute. Pushing up painfully she walked toward him, patted his arm and looked straight into his gaze. “Thank you.” Jumbly breathed. The anger went out of him. He looked into her green eyes, his own dark with sadness for her. Deirdre’s breath caught. Here was a good man, a good good man. She was safe with him.

The moment passed and they busied themselves with food, drink, herbal brew and sleep. Jumbly lay looking at the stars for a long time, thinking about Deirdre. In the morning they continued on, stopping when Deirdre was too tired, letting her sleep, heal, rest and recover from her ordeal. Finally they were one night from home and Jumbly indicated they would be in the village the next day. He saw the flare of panic in her eyes, saw her master it, reason herself through it and was angry all over again about what had been done to her. It seemed to Jumbly that Deirdre was a brave, good, modest, kind woman whose life had been torn apart. He suddenly realised that while he had been taking her to his home, he hadn’t asked about hers. He was mortified.

It took awhile for Deirdre to understand what he was asking. She shook her head, eyes brimming with tears. She explained that the men who took her to use had killed her elderly father and there was nothing left for her. A great surge of pain and helpless fury swept through Jumbly. He was brought to his feet by the power of his emotion. He roared his fury into the night. Sanity returned and he feared he may have terrified her only to hear her matching roar as Deirdre screamed her loss, fear, pain and grief to the stars. Then she tumbled to the ground. Jumbly swept her up. She stiffened then relaxed in his hold. She wept, great tearing sobs that abated only when she had passed out from exhaustion.

Jumbly laid her down on her bed and bathed her poor swollen face in cool river water. He wrapped her in her blanket. She whimpered when he moved away, so he dragged his bed next to hers and held her through the night. Deirdre slept soundly, safe in his arms, for the first time in weeks since she had been taken, tortured, escaped and traveled lost and hurt.

Morning came and Deirdre felt ready to meet the villagers. She helped Jumbly tidy the campsite and they set off. All too soon they came out of the forest to the road that ran alongside the river and into the village. Deirdre moved behind Jumbly and shuffled along falling further and further behind. Jumbly stopped and looked around at her. He rumbled at her, nodding. Deirdre knew he meant to be reassuring but she just couldn’t move.

“Jumbly! You’re back!” and Jumbly’s young friend flew to greet him, fishing rod clattering behind him onto the road, barrelling into Jumbly. The Jumbly Man laughed and wrapped his young friend in a big hug. Deirdre smiled and moved closer. The lad looked shyly at her. Jumbly did the introductions which made them all laugh. Chattering excitedly, the boy looped Deirdre along with them and they lurched into the village like a drunken three legged race.

Lauren Higgenbottom, Jumbly’s very closest friend, saw him and waved, hurrying over to say, “Welcome back! We have missed you!” then noticed Deirdre who hung her head and tried to hide behind Jumbly. Jumbly hurried to explain what had happened but got so jumbled up that he just stopped.

“It’s alright, Jumbly. I can see that this young woman needs some care.” Lauren looped Deirdre, bundling her off to her house, leaving Jumbly and the lad standing open mouthed in the middle of the road. They looked at each other and laughed. Returning to pick up his rod the two talked their way down Jumbly’s path to his cottage and settled in.

Lauren, who lived vicariously, learned Deirdre’s story and soon had her soaking in an hot tub with herbs. When Deirdre was soothed and her injuries treated and bandaged, Lauren made her an hot herbal brew and bundled her off to bed. Deirdre slept the rest of the day through to morning. When she awoke she was greeted by an anxious Jumbly and amused Lauren.

“He had to see that you were alright dear. He’s been here since daybreak. Sit down and I’ll make you both breakfast.” Lauren happily bustled about while Jumbly and Deirdre smiled at each other. Deirdre sighed. She did feel better now he was here. Lauren smothered a giggle but neither of them noticed, which made her giggle all the more. She placed an enormous pot of tea and huge breakfast before them and soon they were all tucking in and talking.

“I think Deirdre should stay here for the time being, just until her wounds heal and she’s feeling a bit stronger.” Jumbly looked up in surprise and burbled a question at Deirdre.
“You’ll come and visit every day, won’t you, Jumbly?” He stared, disconcerted, looked at Lauren’s stern face and huffed his agreement. Lauren snorted in a most unladylike manner. Jumbly scowled at her which made her snort again. Deirdre looked from one to the other, perplexed, then smiled at Jumbly, poured a cup of tea and went on eating.

to be continued

(c) CLHHarper March 2014

Sorrows and Sparkles

A lot of what I have felt in my life has been sorrow. Layer upon layer upon layer of sorrows.

 

I gently remove the layers, sorrow.

 

Newborn immediately removed from my teenaged mother, fifty years ago, sorrow.

Taken away again after her tearful begging to just see and hold me for a moment, sorrow.

Waiting endlessly for someone to pick me up in the babies home, sorrow. (I have a memory of this, no words, images and feelings.)

Finally adopted after two long months and taken away from the home, sorrow.

Listening to my parents argue, sorrow.

Watching the bad old man hurt my three year old self from the top corner of the ceiling, over and over again, sorrow.

Huddling against a wall at five, waiting for my father’s strap to fall, sorrow.

Listening to my father encourage me to hit my brother, sorrow.

My parents telling me my cat had killed her kittens, sorrow.

Mum slapping hard enough to leave a welt then blaming me for hurting her hand, sorrow.

Hiding in the garden until they had stopped calling, too afraid to venture out, sorrow.

Knowing I would never be beautiful or pretty or talented, sorrow.

Humiliated by my parents in my joy of womanhood, sorrow.

Haunted by my mother’s social phobia and believing her, sorrow.

Unable to understand social mores, sorrow.

Anxiety induced stomach ulcer by aged fifteen, sorrow.

Tortured with unusual alternative medicines to ‘fix’ me, sorrow.

Finally learning at seventeen that my father was not allowed to do that and threatening him, sorrow.

Angry with everyone and everything, sorrow.

Not being able to believe anyone liked me, sorrow.

Afraid the monster within would come out and be seen, sorrow.

Absolutely and utterly lonely, so alone my heart hurt, sorrow.

Raped at twenty-one and blaming myself, sorrow.

Bloody baby bits flushed down toilet with tearing pain, sorrow.

Not being able to tell a soul, sorrow.

Unable to keep myself safe, sorrow.

Raped again at twenty-three, I broke, sorrow.

Two years crawling out of a deep dark scary place, sorrow.

Jumping at every word spoken to me, sorrow.

Dreams that kept me afraid to sleep, sorrow.

Learning to love small self within, such sorrow.

Finally falling in love but no children for me, sorrow.

Terrible pain every month endlessly, sorrow.

Partner who seemed always angry with me, sorrow.

Father sick and dying in aged Alzheimer agony, sorrow.

Mother beside herself, bitter and nasty, sorrow.

Radical hysterectomy at age forty, sorrow, deep deep sorrow.

Wound infected and splitting open, horror and sorrow.

Relationship in tatters and finally broken, sorrow.

Facing life alone, sorrow.

 

Through it all I have determined to find the ray of light through the clouds, the raindrop sparkles in the trees, the glory of autumn colour and the smell of the bush. Through it all I searched for small joys to tuck into my heart’s treasure trove and remember when life goes grey.

 

I hold my treasures to the light, sparkle.

 

Tiny girl, giggling, riding on brother’s back, sparkle.

Tiny girl all dressed up in twirly frock, sparkle.

Little girl with mum and sister making daisy chains, sparkle.

Lost in wonder inside a magical story, sparkle.

Making fairy firewood and fairy houses at the bottom of the garden, sparkle.

Imaging stories in a land of love, sparkle.

The wonder of new born puppies, sparkle.

My dolls, so many I hardly fit in my bed, sparkle.

Flying in my dreams, sparkle.

Loving kindergarten, sparkle.

Falling in love with my first Primary School teacher, sparkle.

My very first cat, soft and warm, sparkle.

Her gorgeous kittens, sparkle.

Admiring the girl next door’s beautiful four poster bed, sparkle.

Going to the library every week, sparkle.

Looking at wonder at a bald head going for an hair cut, sparkle.

Watching the cows being milked and the cats waiting their squirt, sparkle.

Being praised for my stories, sparkle.

Going on the boat to Tasmania, sparkle.

Learning singing and performing, sparkle.

Finally understanding the time, sparkle.

Riding my bicycle for miles with my best friend, sparkle.

Adventures up and down the hills, in and out of the bush, sparkle.

Knowing I was safe at school, sparkle.

Loving to learn, sparkle.

Plenty of friends, sparkle.

Learning to handle walking into a new school, sparkle.

Understanding I had to fake confidence until I felt confidence, sparkle.

Moving out of home, sparkle.

Going to University, sparkle.

Falling in love for the first time, sparkle.

Discovering sex, sparkle.

Enjoying my studies, sparkle.

Walking everywhere with my dog Z, and her arriving first, sparkle.

Taking my dog everywhere, sparkle.

Meeting someone I could love, sparkle.

Finally having someone to care for, sparkle.

Making a commitment to one person, sparkle.

Celebrating our commitment with ceremony, sparkle.

Discovering storytelling and working full time, sparkle.

Determined to have children in my life, sparkle.

Accredited as a foster carer, sparkle.

Falling in love with my children, all of them, sparkle.

Finding out that I am an awesome parent, sparkle.

Creating a job that I love and having it be successful, sparkle.

Taking up employment and making it my own, sparkle.

Feeling appreciated and loved, sparkle.

Discovering I can make it on my own, sparkle.

Moving into a new job where I am acknowledged, sparkle.

Standing strong at fifty, sparkle.

 

And now I have un-layered the sorrows, unravelled the thread that loops them together, so all my treasures, my sparkles, can shine through. Walk in Light.

 

(c) C Harper 19/12/2013