We Are Human

We are all human. We are not girls and boys; we are not young and old; we are not black and white; we are human. Created in a womb and buried in the dirt. We are God’s creation. Skin woven together to hold our organs in does not determine our class. We are blood, sweat and tears, made to speak emotions, not to become a job. We are human. We are united by our similarities. We run on the same energy sources and live lives with the same needs. We wake with the sun and sleep by the moon. Because we are human.

We are not homelessness or poor government choices or malnutrition. We are not words on a page, or enemies or friends. We are human. We are not the clothes on our backs or the clips in our hair. We are not the endless race of who is better and who is faster. We are not broken relationships or torn families.

We are the kindness of strangers. We are the random smiles. We are the endless love that fills new parent’s hearts. We are human. We are the species that has a heart so fragile a simple sound can shatter it. We are one but we are many. There is nothing that unites us more than the feeling of love.

There are insects that spend their whole lives trying to eat children’s eyes from the inside out, plants which can kill us with a small touch; mosquitoes that are only 3 millimetres in length which are perpetuators of some of the worst diseases ever seen; bacteria which cannot be seen, yet we watch them take the lives of our loved ones. And yet what a person has between their legs determines if they are worthy of being paid or not. A person’s age determines their apparent ability. The colour of someone’s skin is the difference between having their say in their life, or not.

We still feel that we are a threat to each other and ourselves. We are our own worst enemy; we destroy ourselves so others can’t. We set up organisations, funds and protection programs with which to save us from us. We have created a world so hateful some would rather die than be who they are.

We are human. We smile with joy, showing white teeth and cry for many reasons with clear and salty tears. Children, reproduced humanity, drink white milk regardless of the hue of the breast by which they lie. Blood, spilled, stored or shared, is still red.

When we recognise our humanity, our similarity, and reinstate dignity and equality, we increase our integrity and solidarity. We create and affirm responsibility and let go of long held, closed-minded thoughts of normality.

We are human and the sooner we realise, recognise and remember, the better for us all.

With thanks and acknowledgement to Tahlya Andersen.

Not my story, obviously.

I can see why some people aren’t sure if Sam’s story is real or not. I mean, I’m a 41 year old woman, not a 16 year old boy. I don’t have the requisite parts to have testicular cancer. This is true. And so is Sam’s story.

“Nuts, A Ball and other 4-letter Words.”

He’s a real person. Not his real name for the sake of privacy. This is his journey for a short/horrifically long period of his life so far. This is the story, too, of anyone who has been dealt the punch to the face (knee to the groin?) that cancer is. It’s also the story of winning. Of not spelling cancer with a capital C. Of making it. Of living life anyway, of growth and regrowth. Of sharing instead of hiding. Of kissing and sex. Of separation and belonging. Just Life. It’s the story of family and yet it isn’t.

I spoke to most of Sam’s family while his personal story bubbled in my head and came flowing out in words both his and mine.

I spoke to his big brother who, although uncomfortable in some ways talking to a relative stranger, made his love love for his family, even an annoying younger brother, very clear.

I spoke with his little sister, who thought I was a little crazy and made a rude comment about my shoe choices….fair call, though. The two of us forged a friendship that was close, for a while, and sang the real lyrics to Mumford and Sons’ ‘Little Lion Man’ really, really loudly, just because we could. Now she’s not a ‘little’ sister any more, but a beautiful, engaged young woman with whom a coffee date seems elusive. And I spoke with Mum.

I wondered if she thought I was odd, a teacher and mother of children of my own, befriending her kids. Apparently not, thankfully. And I loved them. Hearing their stories; getting a little into their lives.

Weird, isn’t it, how quickly that depth of feeling can come? And go. Not the feeling, just the actual spending time. It just drifts off sometimes. I don’t really know why. Happens far more often than I’d like, that sort of fading. Anyway, I’m getting morose.

So Mum let me hang out. And talk to her kids. And to her. She told me all of her experiences of Sam’s diagnosis, treatment, surgery and eventual recovery. I think I expected more tears, more drama. But you’ve already read that’s not her style. So it was fact and explanation of both circumstances and emotions.

I always meant to write the whole story. The whole truth for the whole family, but I couldn’t write Mum’s perspective. When I voiced her, my pen stopped. I, who had children of my own and knew how mums felt when their children hurt. I, who could scrawl out the story of a teenager’s masturbation and fantasy, couldn’t find the words to share this mother’s battle for her boy.

Why?

I’m sorry that I couldn’t find your voice with my pen. I’m sorry that I couldn’t express your fear, or the knowledge that you just had to do what you had to do. I’m sorry ’cause I wanted to tell of your courage, your love. I wanted to write more. I don’t think I could go there, you know, because it would have been bloody hard. I haven’t looked at my notes in years, but I have one thing that I’ve always remembered.

When mums hug their children, we often put our hands on their heads, ruffle their hair up a bit. And it’s a sign of affection, of casual ‘love ya, mate’ warmth. But for you it became more. Discreetly, under the guise of casual, you’d check your not-so-little boy’s scalp and neck for the telltale heat of fever and bumps of possible infection. I already knew how I felt when I held my ‘babies’ and I think I couldn’t find your voice cause I didn’t want to even imagine having to watch them so closely, so scared. I knew I didn’t know, couldn’t even guess and I didn’t want to do you or your feelings injustice.

So there it is. Honesty. I’ve finally made myself look at it as more than just writer’s block.

If you haven’t read Sam’s story yet, you could start here.

Love,

Mandy. 🐛<<
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House Sitting – Rules & Contradictions

As a house sitter, I’ve mopped more floors in someone else’s home than I will EVER do in my own! I’m a much better house sitter that I am house keeper and, because of that, I’ve learned a few things that I thought I’d share with you.

If you’re a house sitter, always be a better house keeper than the owner. Not ALL the time, just when you’re in their home…or at least on the day you leave.

If you’re a house owner, realise that your home won’t really look the way you left it. If you’re lucky, they might be a better house keeper than you, but…….probably not.

Communicate. This is so important for both sides. Ask questions! Lots and lots of them.

Do you want something done, or not done, while you’re away? Write it down. Write everything down. Where is the vacuum cleaner? Where on Earth is that tiny white on white button that turns on the dishwasher? What does the dog eat? Write it down.

Uh oh. Broken something during your stay? A cup? Plate? Door knob? Write it down. Text if necessary, but at the very least leave a note and an apology.

Be honest. Before during and after the experience, be honest.

I’m bringing 4 kids under 10 and our own inside Dalmatian. We were hoping to have just one person stay with our anxious Shi Tzu.

I’ll be out every day from dusk til dawn. Our pets need someone all day, everyday.

Be realistic.

If your house owner says, “Help yourself to whatever you’d like,” they don’t actually mean that you should eat them out of house and home. Sure, have at the pantry…in moderation. Perhaps don’t eat all of their chocolate stash and drink all of their boutique beer or feed yourself for the week on everything they own. If you had to shop and replace it all before you left, would the grocery bill frighten you? Hmmmm.

If you say, “Help yourself to whatever you’d like,” don’t be surprised if you come home to no milk, bread or chocolate. Say it, mean it.

Be prepared for weird.

It doesn’t seem like much to mind someone’s house and maybe pets, does it? And most times, it’s not. But sometimes…..

Last night, the little old terrier I’m hanging out with this week had a bad night. She’s been fine for the rest of the time, but last night she couldn’t sleep for some reason. Her insomnia and dementia had her pacing her garage bedroom, yipping. Loudly. She’d been fed, watered, taken outside for the necessities, but nothing was working.

So, what to do? It’s now 10pm. Let’s try it all again. Is she too warm? Too cold? Needs to go out? Needs to come in? Water, check. Food….bit more, check.

30 minutes later, it hasn’t worked.

So, what else might work?

I’d turn on the light, but she’s blind.

I’d turn on some music or white noise, but she’s deaf, too.

What to do? What to do?

I’m a mum of 4, I’ve got this.

So now it’s a little past 1am and I’m sitting by the dog’s bed, patting her tiny little self as she circles and pads and sniffles and, finally, falls asleep.

They say there are rules for this house sitting business. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some. What do you think? Tell me what I need to know for next time.

Depression – The roller coaster that doesn’t stop.

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I’m afraid to tell people about my struggle with depression because of the stigma that is often attached to it. Think of the vocabulary associated with depression. Depression, the very name itself means ‘down, hollow, flat, lower’. Mental health. Psych. Psychologist, psychiatrist, psychiatric – it’s not a big leap.  Medication.  Issue. “issue” We laugh, but it’s true. Maybe I’m seeing it through eyes of fear, and that is probably the case.  I was nervous and even a bit scared of telling you all of this today. Scared of the way you might respond.  I wanted to think of some eye opening beginning that would share with you just how hard sharing this is going to be for me.  One glorious 2am last week some time (don’t you get the best ideas at 2am?) I thought that a photo in here of me naked might most accurately represent how I feel about sharing. But almost as soon as I thought it, it was followed by, Argh! I can’t do that! I’m not comfortable enough to let go of the ‘supports’ that I have in clothes.  What about in underwear? That’s pretty vulnerable. Then I couldn’t stop thinking about did I have knickers that matched my bra? And that idea was pushed aside too.  I figured I’d tell you about it though because even though it’s funny, it’s a very, VERY accurate analogy of how exposed I feel right now.
When I tell people that I have depression I usually get one of four responses: a blank look and an uncomfortable silence which can lead to withdrawal; a ‘fix it phrase’ (more about that later); agreement – either they, or someone they know, have depression and we share our experiences or mostly; disagreement – “you’re too happy and funny to have depression!”  And although I’m telling you about other people’s responses to me, these are the very thoughts I’ve had about myself.  I want to share some of that with you today.

I’m sometimes struck by the day and night metaphors for depression. Depression is Beyond Blue or The Black Dog. Night times are often harder; that getting up in the morning, however lovely, has sometimes been a huge trial for me and how many times I’ve felt brought into the light despite depression.  I’d rocked up to an event that I was looking forward to and next thing I was feeling all teary and that’s on the days I could manage to go at all. And that’s the story of my depression through the years.
When I look back, with that 20/20 vision hindsight gives us, I believe that my depression started when I was around 17 or 18.  Yes, I’ve always been the happy, slightly flippant person that you all know and love 😜 but I was visiting a friend and for no apparent reason ended up crying for about a day and a half.  I didn’t know why and I’ve got to say I didn’t really think much about it til late last year.  At various times during my life since then, I’ve had similar experiences. After Markeri was born, we moved to Brisbane from Cairns and away from most of our family and support.  When I went to the doctor saying I was tired and teary all the time, it’s not that surprising that postnatal depression was diagnosed.  With a 3 year old and a 1 year old, what else could I expect?  It was some months after that first diagnosis that I admitted defeat and started taking anti-depressants.  I went to see a psychologist and felt particularly irritated by the whole experience; the fact was, I didn’t have anything to discuss with her – what was wrong with me? It felt like everything and nothing at the same time.  Did you hear the words I just used? Admitted defeat; irritated; what was wrong? Everything; nothing.  These are common feelings for those with depression.  They are some of the major signs.
Around the same time, the kids and I found the playgroup and the Wesleyan church at Logan, where we still go today.  At first I went to church for the children’s sake, I wanted them to have a good grounding, like I’d had.  I called myself a Christian because I’d grown up going to church, but it was not until a number of months later that I realized the truth. Logan, my eldest, was about 3 ½ and we were driving home from church after a group of puppeteers had performed.  Their theme was having a clean heart when Jesus was in it.  I can still remember the barbershop quartet of wide-eyed puppets singing “When Jesus Came Into My Heart.”  As we drove home, Logan asked me a question about the black heart and the white heart and I explained it to him.  It still amazes me that I could explain the way to accept Christ and still completely miss my own lack in doing so!  Logan got it though and I led him through a prayer to ask Jesus into his heart and even Markeri, at about 18 months of age, piped up with “Jesus my heart too.” And I still missed it.  I don’t remember the day, but I do remember being in the car at night, waiting to go to a choir practice – following the psychologist’s advice and doing something for myself – and having to lay my chair back so no one would see the sobbing mess that I was.  I’m glad that God understands because it wasn’t until then, when I felt that this was the lowest point I could possibly reach, that I prayed for myself for Jesus to come into my heart. I admitted my complete inability to do this on my own and that I needed Him.  I’ve never been sorry for that step, but it’s made me feel like a fake at times.
For years I didn’t want to tell anyone how useless I felt or about my irritability with the kids.  For someone who is usually pleasant, relaxed and competent – I was a screaming fishwife, tense and feeling like a failure.  I didn’t even admit it to Neal – hence the sobbing in the car while he was at home with kids.  On the outside I was doing well – I was helping to organize playgroup and running a number of the activities. I was worship leading at church. I was completing my degree by correspondence.  I was working part time. Neal and I were managing to make one and a bit very small incomes work and even pay for private school. I had two lovely children and I was pregnant again – watch this space! I can see some of you smiling and nodding already, you know where this is going, don’t you? And down we go again.
So many times I’ve stood at the front of the church to lead worship feeling like a complete fraud.  I was praising God that day, but it seemed that the depression meant I wasn’t happy enough with what He’d given me. If I were, I wouldn’t be feeling this way, would I? I was thinking to myself and apologising to God – if they could just see how useless I really am underneath this smile…who am I to be leading anyone else to worship?  If I could just work a little harder, trust more, have more devotional time and have more faith, I could get God to fix me.
Having convinced myself that I could and would work through this, I took on everything.  Being busy helped to squash out some of those feelings of uselessness.  And being tired from doing everything gave me some excuse to feel the way I did, even as I felt that there was no reason to cry and sleep (or not) so much.  I told myself that if I could make it through being pregnant with Toby without falling apart – and I did, as I wasn’t prepared to run the risk of taking medication with unknown effects while I was carrying him – then I could ‘fix’ myself.  Every now and then I’d again admit defeat, cry to whichever doctor I was seeing at the time and try medication and counseling again. Again, I’d feel like a failure and try to believe that the stressors of the moment – financial stress, postnatal hormones, relationship difficulties etc etc were the cause of this and if I could just work hard enough, I’d be able to fix it.  For years, and even now on occasion, I have set myself up as a bit of a “super-woman” (hands up if you are in this category too). I feel I SHOULD be able to do everything and when that isn’t the case, I feel like I’ve failed.  Repeat this pattern ad nauseum for the next decade.
Please don’t get me wrong, my life hasn’t been this massive pit of despair.  Most of the time I really do feel the way I behave. I really do feel good, happy, a little bit silly at times and I don’t want anyone here thinking that it was always a down in the dumps life. It’s just that’s what I’m sharing today, so that’s the bit you get to hear about most.  God has been wonderful to me and blessed me enormously.  He’s also made and helped me face parts of my behavior and personality that I’d just as soon have left alone, thanks very much!
It’s taken some considerable time and pain, but God is finally getting through to me and I hope He will use me to get through to others, maybe even today.  The 12 months of 201-2012 were a very weird mix of fabulous and frightful. Fabulous because I managed to lose 20 kilograms without it feeling like an effort. Frightful because I’ve got at least another 20 to go. (And have now put back on both!) Fabulous because I’ve found some answers. Frightful because of what those answers mean. Fabulous because of the very small package – young Theo – that has been God’s big surprise for us and frightful because of the horrible 9 months he cooked for.  Let me run through those last four for you – the bits about the kilograms are pretty self-explanatory.
For many, many days that year I got up out of bed with minutes to spare, honestly, only minutes, before I had to leave to take kids to school and myself to work. I became a master at showering and dressing in seconds flat and eating toast or fruit on the way. I got a few odd looks as I brushed my teeth at traffic lights and put my shoes on in the carpark.  I became more and more guilty and angry at myself because the kids were being the parent I should have been. When your 12 year old daughter wakes you up cause it’s time to go; your uniform is ironed by a 14 year old son who doesn’t iron his own and you eat a butter sandwich and apple for lunch cause that’s what your 8 year old has made for both himself and you, you know that if this isn’t rock bottom then it’s as close as you want to get.
They don’t say much about it now, even when asked, but as a mum I worry about it. I asked them to write down what they thought and felt about it, cause Neal and I did try our best to explain and I thought that I’d share that with you too.  The boys dictated theirs to me and then gave me a hug and went on playing.  Markeri wrote hers in her room and then apologised cause she wasn’t sure it was the right thing – don’t I feel great now!
Toby – when Mum had depression, I noticed that she was angrier, didn’t really spend a lot of time with people – mostly spent time by herself in her room. I felt upset and annoyed cause I didn’t really like it as it meant that I didn’t have much time with her.
Logan – Mum was often snappier with us and got angry more easily. I was often annoyed cause I was often in trouble that I didn’t think I deserved and it was hard cause I do like spending time around Mum, but when everything I did was wrong, it made that a bit hard.
In late November that year, I had a day off work for the third week in a row.  I love my job and it’s usually a case of ‘wild horses couldn’t drag me away’ but Neal stepped in a told me I wasn’t going on this day because it was the third time in as many weeks that I’d woken up crying, unable to do the simplest things without sobbing and becoming an absolute wreck.  Although there was honestly no reason for me to feel the way I did – no postnatal depression, no financial stress, Neal’s and my relationship was better than ever and I love my job – no reason at all – it kept happening. I went to the doctors’ clinic and asked to see someone as soon as possible.  A new doctor was available and when I cried and snorted through why I was there, she said something I’d never heard before.  She told me that depression like mine isn’t psychological, although, like everyone else I react to stressors, but my depression is chemical.  Like a person with diabetes who needs to top up their own insulin with injections of a created insulin, I need to top up the chemicals in my brain that keep me healthy, happy and functioning with created chemicals – hence the anti-depressants.  She’s since told me that this is likely to be a lifelong medication need for me; that my body just doesn’t make enough and when it’s gone, life as we know it is like trying to run a car on an empty fuel tank.  I felt such a weight off my shoulders just having that much of an answer.  So, I went back on my medication.

A week later, and ten days late for my period, I was back to the doctor again…surprise! We’re having another baby.  I’d have a 15, 13 and 10 year old and a new born baby – who says God doesn’t have a sense of humour?  As exciting as the idea of a new baby was, I had to make to the really tough decision not to continue with my medication for at least the first few months of my pregnancy.  The doctor was certain that the medication she’d prescribed was safe, but I knew that I’d rather struggle with my ability cope than have the worry of the baby not being ok hanging over me. I knew I’d manage that more than trying not to blame myself if anything were to go wrong.  Of course, it wasn’t just me that had to deal with the symptoms that come with the combination of baby hormones and un-medicated depression.  Neal and the kids got me through it and I’m grateful more than I can explain.

I can’t fully do justice to what tha tyear waslike, even with all the talking and writing I do.  I can best describe it as one of the worst seasons of my life.  I’ve never been as tired. I gagged and threw up so much that Toby asked me honestly if my lungs or the baby would come out too.  If getting up was hard before, it was nigh on impossible now.  My Grandpa used to tell us (A LOT) that there was no such word as can’t – but I simply couldn’t do a lot of things and if my guilt was bad before about the kids being the parents and Neal taking on so much, it was much, much worse now.  My first 3 pregnancies were boring, predictable and healthy. I now understand some of the difficulties that others have gone through.  I was sick. I was tested early for gestational diabetes (because of my weight and age – and doesn’t that make a person feel great?) and found that I did have it.  I have a severe needle phobia and had to test my sugar four times a day.  I had acid reflux, indigestion and heartburn to the point that our bed was diagonal and that wasn’t helping either. I was on medication for that and to help me sleep and did I mention the depression?? About 2 months before Theo was born, I simply wasn’t coping and I have to tell you that I felt like the biggest failure ever when the doctor prescribed me valium and three days in bed.  For me, a person who generally takes Panadol sparingly, and who now felt that if I jumped I’d rattle, this was a VERY LOW point indeed.  But, as Neal said, it was that or have him watch me like a hawk.  I think I scared him when I admitted after one utterly sleepless night that I’d looked at the door frame and considered how hard I’d have to hit my head against it to knock myself out and get some sleep.  I scared me too.  I can smile about it now because it’s over and I have the lovely small boy and my family has the relatively normal me back again – but I’m telling you this, not only for my story’s sake, but so you’ll get a little glimpse into what depression can be like.
When I’ve mentioned my depression to others, I’ve been most afraid of the three F responses. Please don’t be offended by these next definitions, they are just my way of expressing my feelings in light of some responses I’ve had.

The fixers – those who have all the answers. If I would just walk more, eat better, get some exercise, lose some weight, read this book, eat a certain type of food, not do…etc
The fragilers – those who treat me with delicacy after they know. The ones who, perhaps unintentionally, make me feel like an unexploded bomb that might go off at any moment.  I already feel a bit of a mental case, tiptoeing around me doesn’t help.
And the ‘faith-ers’ – those who believe that if I had more faith, it would all go away.  God would take it away and the devil would go away.  People don’t use those exact words generally, but the message is there.  Again, don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely certain God can give and takeaway just as it pleases Him – He’s proven that with illnesses and depression and all sorts of things since the very beginning and still does. But I think that sometimes in our hurry to help and encourage others to get closer to God, we are actually blaming the person with the illness – physical or mental.  And maybe we’re not seeing the fact that it might not be from Satan and that God is working through my depression for His reasons, whether I know about them or not.  I hope so.
I now want to tell others of my experiences and I’ve been doing that on a one-to-one basis, in front of groups and now, online.  I’m hoping God can use my experience to help other people. For those who are aware of their own depression, I hope that my sharing will help them to accept themselves more and not feel alone and useless.  For those of you to whom this is a completely new thought, that you will carefully think about your response to people who are depressed and not unintentionally cause them more hurt.  I want us all to be able to help one another. Possibly there are people reading today, or that you know of in your own sphere of influence, who need help to recognise and accept their symptoms and to take the next step and get help.  And here’s where I want to close.  That all of us, those struggling with depression and those who are not; those who know depressed people and those who don’t; those who understand how it all works and those who don’t – that we all can do for one another what God has done for us. In the words of a lovely song – He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.

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For more info:

Beyondblue

Different types of depression often have slightly different symptoms and may require different treatments. The five main types of depression are listed below.
Major depression – a depressed mood that lasts for at least two weeks. This may also be referred to as clinical depression or unipolar depression.
Psychotic depression – a depressed mood which includes symptoms of psychosis. Psychosis involves seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations), feeling everyone is against you (paranoia) and having delusions.
Dysthymia – a less severe depressed mood that lasts for years.
Mixed depression and anxiety – a combination of symptoms of depression  and anxiety.
Bipolar disorder – (formerly known as manic depressive illness) – involves periods of feeling low (depressed) and high (manic).
Is depression common?
Very common. Around one million Australian adults and 100,000 young people live with depression each year. On average, one in six people will experience depression in their lifetime – one in five females and one in eight males. If you notice any behavioural changes that last for more than two weeks in family members or friends, then it is worth asking if the person may be depressed.

Common behaviour associated with depression includes:

  • moodiness that is out of character
  • increased irritability and frustration
  • finding it hard to take minor personal criticisms
  • spending less time with friends and family
  • loss of interest in food, sex, exercise or other pleasurable activities
  • being awake throughout the night
  • increased alcohol and drug use
  • staying home from work or school
  • increased physical health complaints like fatigue or pain
  • being reckless or taking unnecessary risks (e.g. driving fast or dangerously)
  • slowing down of thoughts and actions.

It’s important to note that you can’t always identify the cause of depression nor change troubling circumstances. The most important thing is to recognise the depression and to seek help.

It’s not always easy to help someone who may be experiencing depression. It can be hard to know what to say or do. Below are some tips.

  • Talk to the person about how they’re feeling.
  • Listen to what the person says – sometimes, when a person wants to talk, they’re not always seeking advice, but just need to talk about their concerns.
  • Maintain eye contact and sit in a relaxed position – positive body language will help both people feel more comfortable.
  • Use open-ended questions such as “So tell me about…?” which require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. This is often a good way to start a conversation.
  • If conversation becomes difficult or if the person with depression gets angry, stay calm, be firm, fair and consistent and don’t lose control.
  • Often, just spending time with the person lets them know someone cares and understands them.
  • Encourage the person to seek professional help from their family doctor or a mental health worker.
  • Take care of yourself. Supporting someone with depression can be demanding. Family and friends should take ‘time out’ to look after themselves.

Veritas, Eski

The C Word

I wrote this some time ago and I felt that I’d like to share it tonight. Another leg of the caterpillar. 🐛 As always, comments are welcome.

Eski Caterpillar

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Six months isn’t very long. Not really. When you’re a little kid waiting for your birthday or Christmas, the time is utterly immeasurable, interminable. When you’ve been given six months to live; terminal.

Grandma must have known that she wasn’t well for a while. Surely that size of growth, that sort of invasion, you’d realise, if not recognise; wouldn’t you? But, while not one prone to impenetrable silence, she was never one for dramatic proclamations either. So even if she knew, we didn’t.

And then, just as suddenly, we did. I don’t remember the moment – not at all a movie moment where the thundering minor chords loudly announce the arrival of some devastating disease; not like that. We were all told. My cousins travelled out of season to see Grandma while she was still well. She made a point of doing things with them while they visited. I’m sure she did that for me too, but, shamed to say, I don’t think I noted it then, for I don’t recall it now.

For six weeks she was away for treatment. For some reason our base hospital was ill equipped (no pun intended) to offer the assistance she required. My uncle and my great-grandmother both spent blocks of time with her – ostensibly to help, but I recall overhearing that Nanna’s help was probably easier done without, although it was given in love.

I also overheard, not from Grandma herself, but my mother and aunt’s frustration and my Grandpa’s useless silence. Certainly not renowned for many outward displays of affection, he seemed unaware of the momentous happenings around him – surely they affected him most of all? I think though that he certainly was aware, and affected, but unable to express or even comprehend his emotions. We all chided him, behind his back of course; but I’m sorry for that now as I was sorry for Grandma because of it then. I never told her either how much I would miss her. I never spoke of love, or anything that might have been read as, “I’m admitting you’re dying.” It wasn’t consciously done – just unaware or unable to admit or comprehend what was going on.

I knew about the doctor’s sorrowful admission that all that could be done, had. I understood, but as for what I felt? Mum got it. She understood, then again, you would about your mother – I hope I do if ever the occasion arises – which I am praying not.

The last thing I did for Grandma; more for mum really, was buying a bedpan the day before she died. Isn’t it strange, the useless things we remember? Of everything, all the emotion, I remember that! But of course, by the time I got it there, it was too late; she’d died. For a week afterwards, I carried it in the boot of the car, not sure how to return it. No one asked any questions when I did.

Grandma died the day after / of my Grandpa’s birthday. That I felt sorry for him for, certainly no celebration to be had and always then that anniversary.

I wonder if people often feel entirely inappropriate planning a funeral. My sister and aunty visited the funeral directors only to be struck with the giggles, as we all were when they shared, by the man’s sincerely meant, but utterly inane question, “So, I understand we’ve had a death in the family?” Is it wrong to want to laugh at that? The comment still raises a smile today. I was proud of us, we weren’t wailers, we kept our sense of humour and practicality throughout the planning. It’s hard to mourn continually. The trite line, “Life goes on” is true. For the rest of us it did. Nanna understood. Considered more than a little old at 92 and particularly scatty at times, this time she understood. She discussed some and agreed on most points. Of course, we all cried here and there, I don’t remember it often. I can’t imagine having to plan my daughter’s funeral or my mother’s. I don’t want to imagine it – but that’s what they did, these amazing women. They carried on, smiling through tears and holding it together. It’s a girl thing in my family, I think.

I’d never been to a funeral before. I’ve been to three since and I’m not interested in having too many more experiences of it, thanks all the same. Grandma’s minister did what he did. We sang some hymns that none of us really knew the words to, but the church people did. I don’t remember what they were. Mum, Katie and I sang “Precious Lord”, which chokes me still, although I love it. I don’t understand it, maybe it’s just me, but there is kind of a perverse pleasure in outward displays of sorrow. We’re not an unemotional family, but we don’t dwell too much on the “negative” emotions. Anger has a limited place in our family and we’re ‘cross’ or ‘frustrated’ rather than angry. There’s a therapy session in that! Sorrow isn’t something I’ve had much dealing with and this was one of those few times. I was certainly ‘movie’ dramatic enough in that one moment. I never want to see anyone’s coffin be lowered again! Death I can cry about and cope with. Since believing fully in Jesus, I can learn to celebrate a little at times – but it’s still a hard thing. Lowering of coffins – never again!

Just for one moment, when the ropes tighten to lower the coffin and its silver handles – which have been for all intents and purposes useless at a graveside service. But you can’t have a plain wooden box for a much beloved family member – optional extras courtesy of the funeral director – waste of time and money but they assuage the guilt you’d feel if you didn’t do it. When the coffin lowers, I cry out – unintentionally – the term “wrenched from her throat” makes much more sense now. I cry out and stumble – almost to my knees. Silly really. Useless now she’s gone. But the feelings. Such conflict with my joyous mood later, when we went that night to a dress up charity collection. Odd, the things we do. But then it’s finished, and again, life goes on.

Reflecting, I think I’ve learned more about Grandma’s illness and her life as a person since she died. Even since writing this, mum and Katie and I have discussed more about that time than we did then. I don’t want to think that about my mum more than eleven years after she dies. Or anyone I’m close to – bit of a hit in the head – a wake up call. Talk to your family! Let them know what you’ve done, what you’ve felt. Share what you’re doing now and tell them how you feel. Take the time to do it now, while you can – my mum does that and I want to. It’s not morbid, it’s more important. Why not?