Archive for September, 2016

What have I done?

September 25th, 2016 | Comments Off on What have I done?

I turned 43 yesterday. Another year older, and what have I done?shutterstock_20903101

Co-written a musical. Co-written a book. Lost my husband. Brought myself and my children through the darkest days of our lives without losing our faith in love and beauty and humanity.

I’ve said ‘yes’ a lot: To risk. To potential failure. To help from friend and strangers.

I’ve said ‘no’, too, in what I’d dubbed a, ‘Year Of Not Getting Involved’. YONGI. No online arguments. No reading the comments. No doing things that sucked time away from the closer goals and responsibilities and choices.

Facing one of my worst nightmares, I found I was still standing. And, if not standing some days, kneeling. If not kneeling sometimes, crawling. Or lying on the floor. Still breathing, even on the worst days when thoughts of ‘this can’t be’ and ‘I can’t do this’ pushed to the surface …

I can do this. I am doing it. But what am I going to do next?

My best friend phoned from Melbourne last night for my birthday and, as always, we caught up on the things that are going on in both our lives. At one stage I said, ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing … with my life.’

It wasn’t a scary admission. It was just an admission.

She reminded me that what I’m doing is putting one foot in front of the other at the moment and that’s true. On birthdays, though, you often wonder ‘where will I be this time next year?’

It’s okay not to know. It’s okay not to have set goals and plans.

While I appreciate the methodology and know lots of people have success doing it, I’ve never been a ‘five-year planner’. Now I’m less likely than ever to take it up.

We don’t know what will happen in the next five minutes. All we can bank on is our capacity to respond to everything: the events that destroy the path we were on, and the opportunities that unexpectedly show up and can, at times, cause almost as much fear and uncertainty as the ‘bad stuff’.

So, 43. Here I am. Clueless about you. But ready to explore.

When you’re forced to reinvent yourself

1319727I moved all the furniture around in my family room on the weekend. I’d been feeling anxious in the room, as it held some negative memories, so there was a choice: avoid being in there entirely, or change something.

Nothing is now where it was. I’ve added lights and candles and flowers and switched the lounge and dining table, de-cluttered the books and DVDs and I’m even playing different music. It feels like a haven now.

The family room is just a microcosm of the larger challenge I’m facing and at its core the problem is the same. Something happened that I couldn’t control. I’m in a situation I don’t want to be in. It is 100% impossible to change the situation back, no matter how desperately I wish I could.

We all face situations like that from time to time. Times when choices are taken from us — when our deepest desires are not and will never be met. It happens when we lose someone or something important to us. It happens when we can’t have the outcome for which our hearts ache.

These are the times when life backs us into a corner. They’re the times when we feel trapped. Times when we have no options, and no way out … or so it feels.

And it’s in exactly those moments that we have an opportunity to define ourselves. It’s from that place of fear and vulnerability and emptiness that we have a chance to rise.

When we rise from those circumstances, we do things differently. We have to. There’s no going back to the way things were. There’s no going back to the person we used to be. One painful stroke of the chisel at a time, life sculpts us into something new. It’s transforms us, as painful as that process might be, into someone we could never have become from anywhere else but backed into this particular corner, at this particular time.

It’s about taking the shattered remnants of how things were and re-purposing them into a new mosaic — not because ‘everything happens for a reason’ but because sometimes things happen without any reason at all. We can only readjust and reinvent ourselves as best we can, where we are, with what we have, whether that means shifting the furniture a bit or shifting much bigger and heavier things until we finally settle into the ‘new normal’ we’d have done anything to avoid, and which is now ‘home’.

3 uncomfortable truths about asking for help

shutterstock_42362977Someone arrived on my doorstep a few days ago who I’d never met, and gave our family a meal. It’s her 40th birthday year, and she’d made a deal with herself that she would do 52 ‘random acts of kindness’ — one per week. Helping a stranger’s family with a meal presented her with another opportunity to do some good in the world, and we were very grateful, as we have been for all the help we’ve been given.

I was telling another friend about it, and we talked about how easy or difficult it can be to ask for and accept help. We wondered whether the following factors muddy the waters …

Asking for help requires confidence

Admitting you can’t do it all, and there are times when you’re not completely independent takes guts. Unless you’re in the grips of an emergency (during which you don’t care who knows you need help) there’s often a ‘what will people think?’ component. If our self-image and our relationships are built on strength and capability, rather than the arguably more challenging traits of humility and vulnerability, we can miss opportunities to bring people closer to us through offering and receiving mutual assistance.

Asking for help requires trust

“I can’t manage this myself” places us in the hands of others. That can feel precarious, particularly if we’ve learned over the years that people can let you down. Being able to demonstrate vulnerability and trust, even after being hurt, takes immense courage. Sometimes it feels easier, in the short term, just to struggle on alone. That’s not a workable plan for the rest of our lives, though. None of us can do everything ourselves indefinitely — it won’t work.

Asking for help requires honesty

“I don’t ask for help because I worry you’ll say yes, even if you’re not in a position to…”

It would be easier all around if we could all get on top of our yes-and-no’s. If we can’t do something for someone, we need to say so, honestly. We can become fearful of being a burden and that fear is created in a large part because we’re aware that many people can’t say ‘no’. We worry they feel resentful. So perhaps we’d better not risk asking …

It’s worth it

When my husband died, I made a personal rule to say ‘yes’ to all offers of help. As a result, I’ve been incredibly inspired by people’s thoughtfulness, and have had countless people express how useful it was for them to be able to feel as though they had ‘done something’ in what is an irretrievable situation at its core. The people who give help often walk away from the transaction feeling better than the receiver. Allowing people to help nearly always gives them a gift.

When this exchange works well, and when it’s part of a mutually-beneficial ecosystem and community, much of the awkwardness around helping evaporates. Be helped now. Help later. Imagine how much easier all our lives would be if we all made it that simple …

Piecing things together

jigsawstartMy husband Jeff’s last words to our five-year-old son six weeks ago were about a jigsaw puzzle depicting famous pieces from the world’s museums. He’d bought Sebastian the puzzle two days before he died. ‘When you grow up,’ he had said, ‘Mummy and Daddy will take you to see all the cool things in those museums, all over the world’.

Over the couple of weeks that followed, while we were shattered in grief and shock (and sometimes despair), we put the 1000 pieces together. Everyone who came over to help us in the early days of our grief had a go. It became a focus, and a symbol of what we were going through.

I had it framed last week. We’ll always remember this puzzle as something that bonded our past with Daddy and our future — when we do visit the museums around the world, just as he would have wanted.

I posted about this on my Facebook page and, in reply, had a beautiful email from the National Museum of Australia:

We were really moved by your recent post about how your husband and son had been working on a jigsaw puzzle featuring museum objects from all over the world.

We would like to give you a free family pass to visit ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum’, as a well a copy of the exhibition catalogue. We hope this provides some comfort for you and your family during this difficult time.

Two days later, while cleaning out Jeff’s office at the Australian Defence Force Academy, I found an invitation to the official launch of this exhibition …

The signs and synchronicity go on and on — and we invite them in. We create meaning where there doesn’t seem to be any. We look for ways to make things deeper and more special. Ways to make new memories and preserve treasured ones.

Yesterday, our first Father’s Day without him, we piled into a restored steam train and went for a ride into the country — something we’d last done with Daddy a couple of years ago. It was a beautiful afternoon.

Amidst our (frequent) tears, we’ll keep looking for chances to celebrate his place in our lives. Chances to forge new paths in directions he’d have loved to see us go.

We’ll find ways to piece together something beautiful. Always.