Giving thanks, being hopeful, loving…. and not letting the Sun set on regret

I wrote this piece in March 2015. At the time I was inspired to put my metaphorical pen to paper following a simple conversation.

During that conversation I was asked a profound question about the matriarch of a family I know,  a woman I had grown to love, respect and adore as a strong, nurturing and resilient woman.

I was asked what it was that allowed me to form such a special bond with her.  To this day I really don’t know and really it doesn’t matter.

Almost in her 97th year, that woman’s heart has now stopped beating but memories of her, her love and influence will live on. Vale Vida.

These are my original words.

Do you ever doubt your choices or feel regret about a decision?  I am not afraid to admit that I do and I’d challenge anyone who claimed that they always, unreservedly, made the right choice.

For some reason my sense of vulnerability is heightened at the moment. It’s partly about my environment, both physical and emotional; and partly about my choices. From an environmental perspective I can’t ignore the course mankind is taking.  Our leaders, in my opinion, are not making the right decisions about the key elements which sustain life as we know it; air, water and food.  I do live in hope though.

Emotionally, it’s more about my evolution as a woman and challenging myself in ways I have never considered in the past.

My choices are more measured than ever before.  Whilst family is pivotal in many of my decisions, I am giving myself permission to make choices which, whilst not selfish in the true sense of the word, are about me and importantly my wellbeing.  In terms of my vulnerability, I can’t pinpoint why I sometimes feel vulnerable but I do know it’s a feeling which will pass and I take some comfort in that.

Positively, my intuition is the strongest it’s ever been.  Like a muscle, with use it is becoming more robust, sculpted and healthy.   My honed intuition has enabled me to be more in-sync, in-tune if you like, with others around me.

I do understand and appreciate how fragile life is.  One only has to listen to a news broadcast to ponder the many pressing issues which are facing us, issues which are often a direct result of a choice or decision, informed or otherwise.

So, as I age, I comprehend more readily how the decisions and choices I make will affect me and importantly others in my circle of influence.

I was asked a profound question recently about the matriarch of a family I know, a woman who I’ve grown to love, respect and adore as a strong, nurturing and resilient woman.

I was asked what it was that allowed me to form such a special bond with her.  To this day I really don’t know and really it doesn’t matter.

The remarkable woman I’m referring to was born in the 1920’s.  She was born a twin.  She and her sister were so tiny at birth, less than 2 pounds each (about 900 grams, less than 1 kilo), and they were literally sent home by the doctor to die.

They did not die. They fought the harshest of odds and survived.  This woman survived not just her infant years through untold adversity but continues to survive to this day. This woman exudes resilience and strength beyond compare.

She worked hard from a very young age.  It was physically demanding work.  When she married, her life was not made easier by the union but rather her role expanded to that of mother, carer, farm-hand and so much more.  A compliant, faithful and nurturing woman, her family was and still is her world.

I wonder what might have been if this woman were to be born today.   

With medical advancements in our country, it would have meant that her mother would have received exceptional antenatal care.  She may not have been delivered at term but likely very close to; and would have been of a healthy birth weight.  Vaccinations would have been a blessing; her only brother was crippled by Polio.

Her early childhood through to her late teens would have been very different too.  There would have been access to an education system which would have shaped her in a very different way. 

The social norms of today would have enabled/empowered her to make choices about her lifestyle, a career (her career) and taken her on a pathway which can only be imagined.

You cannot have regrets if you don’t know what you don’t know.  Nor can you have missed opportunities if they don’t present themselves.  You can however reflect on the passage of time and wonder what might have been and then look forward in such a way to positively shape the years which follow. 

For me, I wonder what might have been if I’d studied harder and listened to advice which, at the time, seemed to be uninformed.  I also wonder what might have been if I’d had been more accepting and patient.  In essence, if I had made very different choices.

I know that the remarkable woman I speak of reflects quietly on what might have been.  I believe that she does think deeply about what path she may have trodden if different opportunities presented themselves. 

Regret is too heavy a word in this instance.  Because of her nature she would never ever perceive her life with having regrets. 

From her very being a lineage continues to grow, a piece of her character, living on in so many for perpetuity. Her morals, her beliefs, her standards and her poise are reflected in her progeny and their progeny.  It may not be evident immediately but if you scratch the surface of each who carries a piece of her DNA then a piece of her lives there.

What if she were to be born in this century? I envisage a woman who would be heavily involved in the education of others or maybe the humanities. I see a woman who would captivate and inspire on a far greater scale because of the technology which is available to us today.  I see a woman who would lead but also know when to walk beside others when called for.

In her twilight years we can learn much from her and others of her ilk.  It’s never too late to ask those pressing questions of our families’ treasured elder men and women.  It’s never too late to just sit and listen, over a cup of sweet tea poured into a fine bone china cup and learn about their life, their thoughts and what might have been. 

Voltaire said, “The one thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.”

We all live with hope and some of us with regrets….don’t we?

Perhaps this is an opportunity to learn? Talk, listen, learn and above all love…..those conversations may well steer you down a road less travelled and maybe even prevent you from having one less regret.  

The Jigsaw

Picture, if you will, a delicately engraved box; the sort that the matriarch of your family may have tucked away in a drawer containing treasures.

The box is not too big, not too small nor deep in its size.  It has a distinctive look, feel and bouquet.  It looks old and it feels velvety and its smell is that of age but it is not unpleasant but rather it’s familiar and comforting.

As these words spill across my screen, in this instance and in this moment, the box is a metaphorical one.

From time to time the box has been carefully removed from its place of safe keeping to have items added and some removed.  The items removed are never removed permanently but are taken out to be cherished, contemplated and some to be studied in a discerning way. Once reflected upon all are returned to their resting place with unconditional care.

The place of safe keeping is my heart and my soul and that box contains a jigsaw puzzle. 

The puzzle is that of my life.  The puzzle of my life is like a colourful mosaic which is yet to be completed. The artist started with a blank canvas and every day of every year, pieces are added to give life to both a picture and a narrative.   

There are pieces of my life’s jigsaw that fit together flawlessly.  Those perfect pieces include my children.  Their lives are coloured with light and shade and filled with hope and love.  Other fragments which sit naturally within me and are part of that puzzle are my memories. 

Most are pleasant to recall and some distressing but all form essential pieces of the mosaic that makes me whole.  Every day I create new memories and each finds its resting place in that box. 

The pieces of the puzzle which are missing, or rather yet to be shaped and encouraged into place, are the parts which will add to my story and one day upon my death, will complete it.  

I am not sure how the pieces will fit into my ever changing puzzle or what pieces of the existing puzzle may need to be reshaped to enable them to fit.  I do know though, that there are pieces I’d like to remove but in doing so would, like a house of cards, make the mosaic of my life crumble and become unrecognisable.

So rather than forcibly remove those pieces, I am going to let nature takes its course.  I am happy to ride what seems to be a predetermined path for now.  Slowly and methodically though, I will change course and navigate to a place I want to be rather than a place I need to be.

I accept that there are things that I cannot change but those things I can influence, I will.  If I see a piece of my puzzle within reach and can see it fitting into my mosaic perfectly and naturally, I will gently bring it to rest in its rightful place.  In doing so, that piece along with all the others will add colour and light to my life’s beautiful puzzle.

The Gift

First Published 4th January 2015

They sit comfortably as a sea breeze funnels along the verandah and touches their skin.  Chilled glasses of sparkling wine are held delicately in manicured hands.  Three like-minded women are deep in conversation.  The conversation, spontaneous in its evolution, is centred on how fortunate they are to live their mostly contented lives in Australia. 

In their circle of family and friends their children have never had to worry about from where their next meal was to come; or if their water was safe to drink; or if they had shelter from the elements.

Their children are loved and rich with possessions. Their children have access to health care; education and the ability to one day earn a living regardless of gender or ethnic background. Their children are indeed fortunate, privileged really; and it is my hope that they and the generations to follow never have to fight for survival.

I am part of this conversation. 

The children we speak of include mine. 

In a perfect world no child or person would be exposed to, or have to endure suffering or hardship but our world is far from perfect.   At any given moment in time many people on our fragile planet are being exploited, persecuted or are experiencing hardship due to the extremes of our climate.  The exceptional circumstances they find themselves in are well outside of their control and influence and they fight to survive.   I can’t begin to imagine what that would be like. 

Whilst I don’t want my children to ever have to experience adversity to the levels we see and read about in news bulletins, I do want them to be exposed to some level of hardship in a way in which they can at least begin to understand and comprehend what adversity really is and genuinely appreciate what they do have.   And if the unimaginable happens and they are placed in a dire situation, I want them to have the ability to endeavour to survive. 

I want my children to have the confidence to reach out with care to another human being in need and not be afraid of what others might think but to reach out and offer solace because it is the right thing to do.

In life, I want them to be able to act instinctively as they contribute in a meaningful way to our society. 

For our children to be the best they can be they must have empathy and compassion.  They also need to be resilient and adaptable.  These are traits which may be intrinsic but mostly they are learned.  

Education is at the heart of this message. 

You don’t have to leave our shores to encounter hardship; there are many examples of need and destitution in our own backyard. Broadly, Australian’s believe they are resilient and adaptable to change but I do question if we really have had those traits tested in recent times. 

I believe the last three generations have been fortunate in life but has our resilience and adaptability really been put through its paces, that is beyond our adoption of technological toys?  

When all is said and done are we truly able to deal with significant social and environmental change?  Could we really cope with events of the magnitude we see all too often on our TV screens? 

Australians from many cultures and diverse backgrounds, including our first peoples, have fought alongside our allies in wars on foreign and home soil.  We endured conflicts we did not choose to engage in but were rather drawn into because of our allegiances.  

We have succumbed to hardship and will continue to encounter drought, fire and flooding rain, pestilence and plague. We have risen in the face of adversity to overcome stark odds. By no means trivial, such events in our short history since colonisation have reinforced our resolve and strengthened our character as a nation and as a people. 

How do we teach, model and impart the traits of resilience and respect to our children when their level of exposure to adversity, thankfully, is non-existent?  Leading by example is one way and certainly living our life in a way which embodies empathy and compassion is fine start. 

We may have grievances from time to time but in the scheme of things, from a global view, they are largely superficial.  The next time you believe you have been dealt a cruel hand, a heavy blow or things just aren’t going your way, step back and put the situation into perspective. 

If no-one has died or is seriously ill or has lost their home, then the matter is likely one which will soon settle in the archive of your memory, a place to learn from; and to grow from.  

By all means give your children material gifts because you can, but give them a gift which money cannot buy, give them every opportunity to grow emotionally and to be able to discern the emotions of others. 

With this most valuable gift they will be able to act with dignity, grace and self-respect and in-turn earn the respect of others.  

Yellow Roses – my thoughts on Estate Planning (first published August 2016)

My choice is roses. Yellow roses; many beautiful yellow roses, some in bud and some in full bloom; but all cast adrift on the sea by family and friends.

The timing is uncertain and so it should be; but the place is definite.  This celebration and commemoration must take place in my sanctuary and it must be at sunset.  I am writing about my explicit wishes for a farewell upon my death.

Do you have a valid Will?  If you do, when was it last updated?  Does it reflect your wishes and does your family know and understand and will they respect those wishes?

This subject may be confronting for some but it need not be.  I’ve recently made the time to update a suite of important legal documents because my personal circumstances have changed.

I’ve updated my Will, my Enduring Power of Attorney and an Advance Care Directive.   There is another document I have completed and I will come to that.

Whilst this subject is very personal, I don’t have any reservations in sharing my thoughts.  Perhaps it’s because I am more comfortable and confident in my choices and decisions than I have ever been because I accept, with pragmatism, that from the day we are born we are on a trajectory towards death.

In the contest of life I have chosen to be proactive in so many ways.  It is cathartic on a spiritual and emotional level but it also makes sense on a practical level.

So what have I done? First and foremost I have sought and gained the trust of people I love and respect.  I’ve entrusted special people in my life with a very important responsibility.  I have asked them to act confidently on my behalf, in the event that I cannot.  I have legally appointed those chosen to act for me through the mechanism of an Enduring Power of Attorney.  I have also asked them to execute my Will following my death.  Importantly, they have accepted this responsibility without reservation.

I have also updated an existing advance care directive.  This has enabled me to determine what I want to happen in relation to certain personal areas of my life.  This relates to my health care, residential and accommodation arrangements, and other personal affairs.

In South Australia from 1 July 2014 the Advance Care Directives Act 2013 (SA) came into operation. This allows a person to:

  • set out values and wishes to guide decisions about their future healthcare and other personal matters
  • set out what, if any, particular healthcare they refuse and in what circumstances and
  • appoint one or more substitute decision-makers.

More here: http://www.lawhandbook.sa.gov.au/ch02s02.php

In terms of my Will – my instructions are also explicit.  In South Australia, it is important to note that if you die without a valid and up to date Will or without a Will altogether then you will have died ‘intestate’. This means that South Australian laws will determine how your estate will be distributed.

Just a few examples of what might happen are:

  • Any real estate you own may be sold instead of being left to a loved one.
  • Special personal items, such medals of service may not be given to the family member of your choice.
  • Your grandchildren may not receive the benefits of your estate.

The ‘other document’ I referenced and what I consider being the most delicate and personal decision I have made is that I have decided to be a body donor.

Put simply, in the event of my death and if my remains are deemed to be acceptable for donation, I have chosen to donate my body to the Adelaide Medical School Body Donation Program.

My reasons are many and each carefully considered.  This is not a decision I have taken lightly but it is my decision nonetheless. Importantly I have made this choice known to my family and they accept it (at least they are telling me that now).

In reviewing the information provided to me by the University of Adelaide, School of Medicine I read, “Donating your body to science is one of the greatest gifts one can give to make a lasting contribution to the education and training of our current & future health professionals and to advance science through research.”  I am pragmatic, I am a free-thinker and I agree.

More here: https://health.adelaide.edu.au/medicine/facilities/body-donation/

A recent conversation I listened to between Richard Fidler and Dr Walter Wood also informed my decision and I truly believe it is the right one.  If you are interested you can listen here:http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2016/04/14/4443060.htm

So, if you care about your death as much as you do your life; and you feel strongly about your wishes being respected and honoured, then plan now and let your wishes be known.  Make your wishes legal.  There are many law firms and legal practitioners well placed to provide sound and cost effective advice.  The cost to your family may be far greater if no plans are in place.

This blog does not constitute advice but rather I am sharing my personal opinion about the importance of estate planning.  I hope these words spark a conversation with your family or loved ones and that you consider seeking professional legal advice for your own peace of mind and that of your family.

In closing, if you have a preference to be cremated rather than buried or for a Beethoven, Mahler, Rachmaninov or Sibelius symphony to be played at your funeral service make that known too.  Your loved ones may just choose for you and my guess is that it may not reflect your very personal preference.

For me it is roses…lots of yellow roses….and for my cremated remains to be returned to nature and the sea with a beautiful symphony upon the ether, at sunset; and in my sanctuary.

In the name of the Father (first published June 2015)

 

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is investigating how institutions like schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.

The remit of the Royal Commission is to uncover where systems have failed to protect children so it can make recommendations on how to improve laws, policies and practices.

The terms of reference (Letters Patent) of the Royal Commission can be found at this link:http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/about-us/terms-of-reference

I have been following the investigations and resultant media with interest, a very personal interest.

Not long after my father was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer I decided that I wanted to tell his life story in a book, a personal family memento to hold dear.  Dad was more than happy to oblige, a gregarious story teller at the best of times, we got to work.

For the most part the recital of his life was him re-telling stories I’d heard some many times before and most delicately brushed with embellishments and augmented by old photos we poured over.  Whilst there was hardship and adversity, his life was predominantly contented.  It was a life of opportunities, which when they came knocking, were eagerly embraced.

Amongst the adversity lay a piece of darkness which was so dark no light could penetrate, Dad told me the story of his exploitation.  The abuse was perpetrated by a Catholic Priest and occurred when he was but a boy, an altar boy at St Anthony’s Church in Port Pirie.  It occurred in the 1940’s.

I know I should choose my words carefully and preface ‘abuse’ with ‘alleged’ because the claims are; and will remain unproven, indeed were almost unspoken.  However I won’t in this instance purely out of respect for my father.

Dad almost took his secret to his grave, I wonder how many have and how many will.  I told him, I promised him, I would seek answers but it wasn’t until 3 years after his death and following the airing of an ABC Four Corners program “Unholy Silence” that I chose not to keep mine or my father’s silence.

I sought an appointment with the Bishop of the Diocese in which my father spent his boyhood years. The meeting was cordial, respectful, business like almost.  I recounted the details my father shared with me and how his life was affected, immeasurably affected.

I wasn’t expecting answers or apologies but I wanted to be assured that if I, the mother of a young son and daughter, were to approach the church (any institution for that matter) with an allegation similar to my father’s claims that in this century I could be confident that the matter would be handled appropriately and impartially by the Church.

I received an expression of sorrow during the meeting which was later re-stated in writing along with findings.  My report was taken seriously and upon investigation it was discovered that there was a hearsay report about a priest in the parish in the early 1940’s, no actual report and no victim named.  It was also reported to me that a second priest was complained about for having ‘interfered’ with a young girl back around about 1920.

I was offered counselling “Towards Healing”, which I respectfully declined.  My wounds were superficial in comparison to those my father bared.

Remarkably, after the meeting and subsequent correspondence from the Bishop, I was not left with a sense of confidence that if a victim were to come forward in modern times that their complaint would be referred to the appropriate authorities for investigation.

I have tried to understand the actions of and I do have empathy for the (alleged) perpetrator.  I honestly can’t understand how a man or a woman for that matter can be expected to commit to a life of celibacy without support.  What that ‘support’ might look like is a mystery to me.

Celibacy, from the Latin, ‘cælibatus”, the state of being sexually abstinent, usually for religious reasons is, for most, is a foreign concept.  I personally struggle with how a human being can overcome the most primal urge to have sex.  I struggle with how some people of the cloth claim to practice and observe chastity but behind closed doors commit heinous crimes against innocent children to satisfy that primal instinct.

I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to choose or be asked (given orders) to take a path of chastity and in doing so how the Church cannot take some responsibility for the actions of their flock when they do commit horrendous crimes.

I accept that paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder and as such those who are diagnosed should be treated with respect as their illness is not something they fashioned but rather a disorder which can, in most cases I’m lead to believe, be treated.

What I can’t accept is the lengths the Church has gone to and continues to go to, to what I can only describe as to protect their brand, and power base.

I accept that Cardinal George Pell has been the target of many.  He has been scorned from within his Church and by the media.  That level of attack is not true justice but rather pursuit of the man and not the matter.  Despite that I do feel contempt for the Church despite what action has been taken.  For me it is personal, it is about what they have failed to do.

The total financial worth of the Church could never compensate the victims for the loss of self-worth, loss of dignity and for some the loss of their life.

I thought long and hard about writing this piece, however on this occasion I have let my heart rule my head. It is about my father, it is for my father.

I hope that in publishing this piece that if there are other men and women from my home town of around my father’s age (had he been alive today) that they may come forward in an attempt to get help and support.  Indeed anyone who has been a victim of child sexual abuse.

Maybe, just maybe they can find some peace by shining a light on their personal darkness.

If you or someone you know has been affected by child abuse there is much support available. Details of that support can be found at this link: http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/support-services