Death & Dying

There is a vast difference between dying, and death.

I guess we are all dying – some of us take longer to do it than others.  For the past few weeks we have been watching my father-in-law move to the end stages of his long life, he was ninety two and a half.  What an amazing life he lived, although he had just been going through the motions for the last few years since mum died.  He missed her terribly every day, so although it was sad, it was also a blessing to think he is now at peace and with the love of his life at last.

Years ago I read Simone de Beauvoir’s book A Very Easy Death, in which she talked about her mother dying.  She was affronted when the nurses talked about her death as being very easy.  She didn’t see it that way, most likely because she was looking at it through the eyes of a loved one.  From a nursing perspective, there are ‘easy’ deaths, and there are difficult ones.      They weren’t being unkind when they said it was easy, just stating a fact as they saw it.

Looking back on the last few weeks of Dads life, it probably wasn’t that easy, but looking at it from a nursing point of view – when I put my old nurses cap on – it wasn’t too difficult either.   And he seemed to be at peace.   When you compare the death of an aged loved one to the sudden unexpected death of a child, they are worlds apart.

Sudden death in young people will always be a tragedy, whereas a person who has lived a long and full life is going to be an expected one.  A young death is tragic and a waste of untapped potential.  A death such as dad’s is looked on as the end of a long journey, filled with interesting experiences  – and as we write his eulogy – many stories to tell.           When we come to his funeral we will be looking back on a life well-lived.  We will share precious moments as we remember, funny ones too.  There will be sadness and probably a few more tears shed because of our loss.

However when I think back to the immediate days after Kelly’s death, we also shared precious and funny moments, but the grief was intense for a life gone too soon.  A life that still had so much living to do, and we mourned that with a much deeper level of sadness than we mourn dad.

As a mother I mourned the loss of my baby – even though she was twenty – and for the dreams and hopes I had for my child.  As a daughter-in-law I mourn at a much lighter level for a man who pined for his mate, his partner of sixty plus years and the love of his life.  We will celebrate that life, even as we celebrate for him as he leaves us to join his love.

It is simple, and something we knew would happen, compared to Kelly’s sudden end, which we are still coming to terms with after sixteen years.  We – her immediate family – will most likely still be grieving for her in another sixteen years time, whereas with dad, we will be content because he lived past his life expectancy.

We will still miss him, but he will be remembered with fondness and love, rather than disappointment and grief.

 

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Call To Action!

Yesterday I received a call from a friend I haven’t seen for a few years as she lives on the Gold Coast.  She called because a young single mum of three primary school children had taken her own life last week.

As this woman was part of her community she is devastated – although not in her immediate circle of friends – she felt that there must be something she could do to help in relation to suicide prevention.

We talked at length, and I felt that this is really a call to action for me.

Yes I have written a book on the subject – not as an expert able to rattle off facts, figures and preventative measures – but as someone who was an active participant in the flow on effects of a loved one dying by suicide.

Yesterday I felt that I haven’t done enough in the area of education in this matter.  Like anyone, I can research the latest statistics on suicide in our country – and to our shame – we have a humanitarian crisis on our hands because our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than Non-Indigenous Australians.  Seriously – that is really something we as Australians should be particularly ashamed of.

Some figures updated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in September 2016:      In 2015 there were 3027 deaths by suicide, meaning that there are 8.3 deaths by suicide in Australia every day!

76% of these were male (2,292 at an age specific ratio of 19.4 per 100,000).  The other 24% were female at an age specific ratio of 6.2 per 100,000.

While these age specific rates are lower than the most recent peak in 1997 at 14.6 per 100,000, they have increased between 2013 (10.9 per 100,000), & 2014 (12.2 per 100,000) and in 2015 to 12.7 per 100,000.

These figures only relate to Australia, and for my international readers, I’m sure that there are similar figures for your countries as well.   This is not an isolated phenomenon.

Sixteen years ago I had not been touched by suicide at all – I was someone who believed that sadly, it happened to other families – until it happened in mine.   Now I am hearing stories so often about suicide and its far reaching effects.  I’ve learnt that it is not just the family who suffers, it is the wider community who feel the effects too.

As with the conversation I had yesterday, I strongly believe that we ALL have a responsibility in this.  Yes, there are lots of agencies who are well equipped to deal with suicide and those considering the option, but it starts way before that.  As a community we need to be diligent, to be on the alert for warning signs that someone isn’t coping well.

I believe it is far better to perhaps feel a little silly by asking someone if they are considering suicide than to have to attend a funeral.  I don’t like funerals, and I would prefer not to have to go to one for someone who has died by suicide.

So, I see this as my call to action as too many families around me are hurting.  If we could all take a little bit of responsibility in this arena, then perhaps we could start turning those statistics around.

My friend talked about the possibility of introducing a concept similar to the ‘Buddy Benches’ that are being implemented in many of our schools, as a stand against bullying, and I agree that it is certainly a step in the right direction, but not without lots of education.

So, where do you stand on this?   Let me know your thoughts on the subject.  What will be your ‘Call To Action’???

 

 

Disappointment…

– or – When Life Doesn’t Go The Way You’ve Planned.
I’m sure most of us dream about the future.  Some call it day-dreaming, others think it’s a waste of time.  I often sit and contemplate the future – what I would like it to be, and what I’d like to do.  But life does’t always go to plan.  At least not to the plan that we think should be.
When my children were young, I often wondered what they would do or be in their adult life.   I wove amazing lives for and around them, not really expecting them to materialise.   Then, as they grew to adults, I watched them spread their wings bit by bit, and at times I was a little disappointed in their actions, but then, they needed to find their own ways in this world.  So I kept quiet and mentally created their lives for them, whilst I watched the real ones play out before me.
As a mother, you always want the best for your children.  There are myriads of stories about amazing feats from mothers protecting their children, and most of us would do whatever to keep ours safe. But there comes a time in life when you have to let go, to watch them make mistakes and either pick themselves up and move on to the next, or retreat to lick their figurative wounds.  When they don’t ask for your help, so you can’t give it.  That can be a sad moment when you realise they’ve grown up and don’t really need you anymore.
Still, as a mother they will always be your babies until you die.  Or at least thats what most of us know.  Until life steps in and changes your beautifully made plans, and your child dies before you.  Now that’s really unfair.  It makes you want to scream at the unfairness of it all.  It’s not supposed to happen that way.
I don’t know why we assume that this sort of thing only happens on the news, to other people and their children, as according to your dreams, it’s not going to be that way for your family.  You expect some emotional times, like when they first go off to school.  Or like the time we drove Matthew to Melbourne to wave him off on the bus as he set out on his first real solo adventure.  I cried all the way home to Geelong after that one.  Or the time we – Ross, Kelly Joshua and I drove Fiona to the station in Melbourne to wave goodbye to her as she set off on her journey to Queensland.  I did’nt cry all the way home this time, but I certainly shed a lot of tears over that one too.  But with that there was no time for self-indulgence as I had a toddler to look after again.
Kelly didn’t go off on any big adventures, she stayed around home, lulling us into a false sense of security as the changes in her were gradual.
Until she went completely off the rails.
Once again, as a mother you do everything possible to make things better, to right the wrong, but sadly it’s not always possible to fix like a scraped knee is with a bandaid.
Sometimes we have to tiptoe around our children as  adults, keeping our mouth zipped lest we say the wrong thing and upset them further.  But if we’ve done the job we were meant to do, we will have instilled our values in them as they were growing up.  Then, we can only  love them and wait to see if they remember the manners , or practice the compassion  you taught.
I like to take time every now and then to reflect on the happy times we had, and there were many.  Then mostly, I can look at my adult offspring and be proud at what they’ve done with their lives.
Then again, disappointment isn’t always restricted to your children – sometimes your life doesn’t  go the way you’ve planned.

Journalling

  Is it a diary or is it a journal?  I’m never quite sure what to call it. Whatever, I guess it really doesn’t matter much.
You could call it what you like, as long as it does the job for you.
I’m talking about writing on a fairly regular basis, not simply as a record of what has happened, although it can be that too if that is what you need.
For me it has been many different things over the years.  I suppose it first started when I got one of those diaries with the fancy lock and tiny weeny key on it for Christmas one year.
 I did start to use it, but then I was a bit suspicious about the security of that tiny weeny key, so stopped writing my secrets down.  I was sure mum would snoop and it just didn’t seem right for her to be reading my stuff – so I reasoned it was better not to write at all.
Then when I became a “mature age student”, studying for my Diploma of Nursing, we had a lecturer who required us to write a journal – with regular contributions.  it wasn’t to be handed in, but she wanted us to get the feel of writing our thoughts down.   I wasn’t too keen on the idea at first, but once I’d started I was hooked.
I found it to be so therapeutic, as I was a mother of three primary school aged children, wife, cook, had a full time job plus was studying distance education to further my career.
Computers weren’t very portable back then, so I bought myself an old – really heavy – green typewriter.  I found it to be an amazing outlet for my frustrations, and it also became a record of what had been happening in my life.
I discovered I had a passion for writing, but it was writing for my eyes only.  I kept all my records in a folder, which appeared to be just another one of my study books.  So I felt reasonably secure that nobody would bother to look at it.
Over the years my entries were rather sporadic, but whenever I sat down to write, it felt like coming home after a long holiday.
I wrote poetry as well, but for me the journalling was the best.
Then when Kelly died, I started writing her letters, to tell her what had been happening since she’d gone.  It was what I knew best, in a time of extreme uncertainty.  Plus it gave me  a connection to her in a way.  I can remember an early letter I was writing, late at night at the computer and I couldn’t see the screen for tears, but I had an urgency to write everything down.  It really helped me.
Kelly wrote a lot too, mostly poetry, some of which was rather grim and dark, but it was an outlet for her.  Sadly, she stopped writing the year she died.  I have always felt that if she’d managed to keep writing, then perhaps she’d still be with us today.
Last evening I watched Bridget Jones’s Diary for the first time – sad I know – but it was released the year after Kelly died so movies just weren’t on the radar for me then.  I was amused at the diary entries, but then when it was left out on view and Mr Darcy read it, I was  reminded of the importance of keeping your diary or journal away from prying eyes.     It is a place where you can write whatever you think, but would’t necessarily say, and that’s okay because sometimes it is good to actually get your thoughts out, or down on paper.
Several years ago my son gave me a book called The Artists Way, by Julia Cameron.  It is a twelve week program where you write ‘morning pages’ daily.  She prefers that you write in longhand and up to three A4 pages first thing each day.  There are other tasks to do too, but the writing each morning is a discipline and it is not for anyone else to read – some destroy each entry at the end of the week.  I prefer to keep mine, although I may never read them again.
After completing the program, I’m set into the pattern of writing daily and enjoying it too.  With our busy lives, it may not be possible to write longhand, but there are so many other ways to write.  You could use your phone, tablet or a computer if you can’t manage to write longhand, but just try it for a while and see where it goes.
You never know you might like it.

Colouring between the lines.

For the past couple of years, adult colouring books have been quite the rage.  Walk into any newsagent and there will be a display somewhere of them, particularly around Christmas time, Mothers Day, Fathers Day etc. as they are great gift ideas.
The idea is that they can be fun or a form of meditation, something to relax you and not just for children.
  I guess they are a great money-spinner as once you’ve bought a colouring book, then you need to buy the pencils.
Some months ago I succumbed and purchased a mandala colouring book, then I bought the pretty coloured pens and pencils.  Not content with that, I had to have a nice pencil case to keep them all tidy.
Then I sat down to do my ‘meditation’.  I had to choose which colours, being really careful so that none of the little parts had the same colours side by side.  Hmmm, starting to get a  bit difficult here – but it’s only a colouring book and I’m an adult so I can handle this with one hand tied behind my back!
So, I selected a colour and started, and discovered it really wasn’t anything like meditation for me at all, as I was paranoid about colouring between the lines.  Grown-ups shouldn’t go over the lines, because they are – well ‘grown-ups’!
I found it more difficult than I’d thought it would be as I discovered I have a bit of a neat fetish.  So in doing the colouring in, I revealed the really pedantic side of myself.
I started thinking more about it, and likened it to many of the tasks we attempt in life.
As children when we start colouring in, there is no attempt to keep within the lines, not even any pretence of colouring according to the ‘rules’.  Children have green bears – sort of – purple suns and various weird colours for things and they don’t think there is anything wrong with that.  Really there isn’t, but we make it seem so.
Then the adults come along and tell them that the sun should be yellow, the bear should be brown or black an so on.  Plus the child is praised profusely when they manage to keep within the lines.  So they learn that colouring should be done a certain way, and when it is done to the satisfaction of the adult nearby, then they are rewarded for their efforts with praise.
As adults, we often approach life tasks much like the colouring in books.  We’ve learnt that if we follow the ‘rules’, then we are praised, and most people like to be acknowledged positively for their efforts.   So if we do the ‘wrong’ thing, or go over the lines, we beat ourselves up. Feel bad about what we’ve done and often give up because it’s too hard.
People who don’t conform to society’s rules, who don’t colour between the lines and dare to be different are often looked at with suspicion.  What makes them so special that they can get away with being different?
I think too that the early stages of some mental illnesses, can be like that.  Things don’t go according to the life rules, so that means they are different from the flock.  Looking back now,  I recall Kelly going through a phase of being quite different from the Kelly we knew.  Our Kelly was precise, neat, tidy and part of ‘normal’ society.  The changes were subtle, gradually becoming obvious to us, and it was puzzling.  But not enough to make a big deal out of it – “She’s just going through a phase!”   but that continued, until she wasn’t anything like our Kelly.  She seemed to be someone quite different, embarrassing even, but now I see that it was the beginning of her mental illness and we just didn’t understand.
So perhaps we to relax and  not worry so much about conforming, and look more kindly on those who don’t seem to be colouring between the lines.
I think that the really important part is doing the colouring in the way you want to do it, not the way others  think it ‘should’ be done.