Thursday, 1 January 2015

The Year Of Living Dangerously

*Language warning*

I had a really interesting year in 2014. Actually, I had a really shitty year in 2014 I'm trying to put a positive spin on it. But shitty sums it up really well.
All garden photos taken at the family home in Pottsville September 2013
So, let me rephrase that. Lots of events happened this past year that changed me. It's no good saying something that happened was shitty, or good, or bad. As my mum said something simply is what it is, and how we choose to act and react through it either makes us a better person or it doesn't.

If that's what happens when you have a shitty year then I can say for sure I'm a better person for my 2014. My mum died, my husband Danny had a life-threatening condition misdiagnosed and had major surgery (at one point I had my husband and my mother in hospital at the same time), Danny and I became estranged from his child and as a result our grandchild, and just this last week our house valued at less than we expected putting our long-awaited plans for house renovations on the back burner. Again. Still. Thanks Westpac you arseholes. That last one sounds like a white whine, as they say, in the face of everything else and I know I'm lucky to own my home, but it's all relative, and things seem to add together to present a cumulative whole bigger than the parts. I completed the Holmes and Rahe stress scale for the last year and scored 383, which is off the scale. So good riddance 2014. You blew.

These things are all wiped out in the supernova of losing my mum. Mum died, cruelly, from an awful illness she never had any chance of beating. She gave it her best shot, but we lost her six months to the day after she was told she had six months to live, and I can tell you that was the fastest six months in the history of time. Certainly not enough time for a woman like Diana, or for any of us to come to terms with losing her. She's now been gone longer than she was ill and if there's any time appropriate to reflect on what I've learnt from this journey it's the New Year.

I haven't always been so close to my mum. Its been an interesting experience reading her diaries and seeing my young self go through all the phases: curious child; selfish, oblivious teenager; angry and self important young adult, then finally rediscovering my parents as important friends and mentors in my late twenties. Of course it is about this age that you realise every, single goddamn thing your parents ever said to you was true. So I'm lucky to have had a mum like I did who not only shared her life selflessly with everyone she waited patiently for her daughter to become her friend so they could become everything to each other. Mum wrote me a letter before she died, and in it she said how grateful she was that I was hers. That expression of primal love makes me imagine her cradling me as a newborn, full of hopes, fears and expectations.

My mum looked for the positives in everything, even her approaching death. My mother used the knowledge to tie up loose ends, say everything she wanted to say to absolutely everyone, think on and examine her life, and prepare Simon and I, and Stan, for a future without her. In her eulogy I reflected on what she had taught me during her lifetime. I want to consider here what I learned through her illness and in the mere 260 days since her death. This is by no means exhaustive; when I say this past year changed me I meant it, and in so many ways I'd be hard pressed to list them. So here's a couple of thoughts to take us into a New Year.

You can live in the now. I'm a person who likes closure; I've got an answer to every problem before the problem or sometimes the scenario even exists. In my head I'm not just a conversation away from the one I'm having I'm usually also somewhere else completely, wondering what's for dinner and thinking about my next uni assignment at the same time. I'm always thinking ahead. I'm somewhere else. And it's not about you, it's about me, so don't be offended by this. Helping to manage mum's illness brought me back to earth. We sometimes had to change what we did not only from day to day but from hour to hour. We had to be right there with her, present, because we couldn't ever predict what was going to happen next and anytime we tried we were wrong; we had to take care of the present and let the future worry about itself in the future. So I've tried really hard to be present in my life now. I have to admit I don't always succeed but I'm trying.

Have no regrets. The instant mum told me she was sick I put everything in my life on the back burner so I could pay attention to her needs. Mum didn't ask me to do this. In fact, quite the opposite. She wanted life to go on as usual but quite patently it could not. I simply stopped my life as I knew it to be by mum's side; my gracious husband, and my work, gave me the space and time to do this and for that I am so grateful. Similarly my brother just got on a plane from LAX to Brisbane and sorted the details out later. This was our mother. Of course this is what we would do. Mum taught us to have no regrets. Do the things in life you feel are right and everything else will fall into place. You might not initially like the place they fall in but it will be the right one. So I stopped my life for mum, and I have no regrets. Now more than I ever did I live with the philosophy of no regrets; I say what I think is the right thing, do the right thing for me or the situation, and let the chips fall where they may. This isn't always a popular philosophy but I sleep well at night.

On a similar topic, leave nothing unsaid. Mum told us every time we saw her or spoke to her on the phone that she loved us. She was never afraid to tell us things about ourselves that we needed to hear, more than ever in the time of her illness. I thank her for this, not sugar-coating the truth. It was not just the hard things to hear but she told us frequently how much she loved us and how proud she was of us and our various achievements. Don't think these things can go unsaid, they can't. Tell your loved ones you love them. Tell them when they are being dicks, and why. Tell them when they are magnificent. Just tell them. Don't assume they know you think this.

It's okay to feel. It's okay to cry, and swear, and be frustrated. It's okay to be happy, and joyful, and full of the gleeful love of life. It's okay to be angry at the world because it dealt you a shitty hand or finished your game up early. It's okay to be sad, and grieve, this is normal. We need to do this. It's a process. Emotions are there to be experienced, so feel them. It's not healthy or honest to yourself or anyone else to bottle up what you feel or pretend you don't feel it.

There's always a bit more in reserve. Of everything. Just don't be afraid to look for it. I had times during mum's illness, almost daily toward the end, when I would come home and lay on the carpet and say 'Danny, I've got nothing else to give anyone'. I would feel completely devoid of any scrap of courage, or consciousness, or sensibility, or strength, and I would just want to give up. But I always got up and got on with it somehow. I don't know how. Yes, I do know, it was because I had to. It was because my mum got up every day and never complained to anyone about anything; not about the pain, or the loss of dignity, or loss of physical strength, or the sheer ridiculous unfairness of it all. So the least I could do was be there for her whenever she needed me.

I miss her, but she's always with me. When mum passed away I found she had made me an editor in her Ancestry.com family tree. Doing some work in this program let me see I'm a distillation of everyone who has gone before me, of everything they did or stood for: every feeling, every love, every moment of their lives. Every memory. That's quite a responsibility. So, I miss mum, but she's always with me, because she is 50 percent of me. I really do have her with me always.

Happy New Year to you and yours from me and mine. I hope my blog brings you joy in 2015 and beyond.

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