Wednesday, December 19, 2018

My 2018: A year of leaning into the suck.

With Christmas around the proverbial corner I have my usual moment of reflection of the current year and thoughts, hopes and dreams for the New Year.  I always maintain no year is good or bad in its entirety.  People often say it was the worst year ever and they look forward to the next one like somehow all the hard and painful times are past, and the new year promises to be better, happier, easier.

The secret to a better, happier year lies in our ability to deal with the challenges, our mindfulness and gratitude for the good sweet bits in between and our reaction to events, which is all we have control of.   Shit happens, it just does.

One of the things I learned this year is instead of saying I am sorry all the time, we say thank you.  Like if a running group has to wait because you can’t keep up you don’t apologize for being slow, you thank them for waiting.  It is very hard to do and remember and I was habitually about to apologize right now, but instead I will say thank you.

Last New Years Eve I was not at a party drinking champagne and counting down and being festive.   I sat at the dining room table with my mother and 2 sisters playing rummikub waiting and willing for my father to die.  At that point he was no longer conscious or aware.  I have never felt more desperate begging God to take him.  Angry at everyone and everything for the extent of his suffering and by default, ours too.   On the 1st I woke up and he was still here.   He told us January and the stubborn old bugger, being a man of his word, departed on the memorable day of January 1st at 6:10 that evening.   He was 68 years old and he had believed he would beat his cancer and live till he was a very old man.   As most of you know, on January the 1st the previous year was the day I heard Natey had drowned.   (I was out of cell phone reception the evening he died)   On the 5th of January 2017 I attended Natey’s beautiful memorial service and on the 5th of January 2018, I attended my fathers’.  It is the day Mia drowned over 10 years ago.  It is the day I was supposed to get married 22 years ago.   The 1st and the 5th will forever be significant days for me.

So to my friends and family, thank you for excusing me this year and extending grace.  I have been absent, isolated, withdrawn, a little depressed and have not engaged very much.  Thank you to my friends who have not ignored me for the whole year and loved me anyway.  For not giving up on me even though I took some of your energy and did not always return it.  I am well aware my introverted nature means I will never be the life and soul of any party.  The fact I hardly drink alcohol means I will not be dancing on your table or be loud or that fun party animal.  My usual reserved self was especially quiet this year and I lived on planet grief thinking, thinking, thinking all the time.   As I approach the 1st anniversary of my father’s death I take note of the new me, the new normal of our family.

Not working or studying this year exacerbated the sense of isolation.  Moving to a new tightly knit town even more so.  I cannot NOT work.  It is just too depressing and demotivating.  I crave that sense of purpose and meaning.  I am excited to start my new job on January 7th.  I have no idea where it will go and what it will develop into but I am keeping an open mind and taking a leap of faith. 
So what have I actually achieved in 2018?
I spoke at my father’s service and stayed strong and worthy of our name.  We did him proud.
I did the Warm Water Weekend triathlon with my mates.
I cycled The Argus 109km cycle race along with 30 000 other people and hit my goal time.
I ran two oceans half marathon and many other races
I went back to Holland on holiday with my mother to see my fab aunt and her family
I moved house after 16 years in the same home
I tried very hard to integrate into my new town
I raced Ironman 70.3 very untrained and not very fit.  It was damn hard.
I graduated my degree cum laude after 6 years of studying.  (Not practicing as a social worker is a bummer but I still hope to do that some day.)
I went back to Skiathos in Greece after 17 years with Gary and my daughters and renewed my vows.  We had an incredible holiday.
I ran my very first marathon after swearing I would never do more than a half.
I found a job which I am excited about.
I grieved for my father and the family structure that was no longer.  I was able to talk and share and feel and ‘embrace the suck’ as Sheryl Sandberg so eloquently puts it.
I mothered my 3 kids helping them navigate their individual challenges.
Unfortunately an injury means I haven’t run for months which is a big deal for me but I hope to get strong and get back to running and training.
I survived 2018 even if I did not exactly thrive. 

And next year?   I will start the year camping in Beaverlac where I will honour my father on the 1st of January in a place he loved.  I will plan and document my hopes and dreams for 2019 and get myself together ready to face the challenges a new year brings.  I will be a working woman earning a salary and learning a whole new skill set.  My word for 2018 was SYNCHRONICITY.  My phrase for 2019 is LEAP OF FAITH.   Ready, Steady, GO!

Thursday, October 25, 2018


Someone said something about my kids and then about my parenting last week that got me thinking.  The comment re my kids was clearly untrue so that fell away but the comment about my parenting was like a toothache that throbbed every now and again.   If a comment offends or upsets me I know there is an element of truth in it.  Growing and self-actualizing means I want to be better, do better, know more.  

Years ago pre my Gary I was in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic.  I don’t talk about it much or even think about it but it is relevant to the topic at hand.  When he got drunk he would become a real arsehole.  He would shout at me just inches from my face: “You think you are so beautiful.  You think you are such a model.  You are just a bitch.”   His words failed to penetrate because they were simply not true.   It was his own extreme jealousy and insecurity.   So re the comment about my parenting:   The statement was about me being super over involved in my children’s lives.  Am I?  Do I need to change this?  I genuinely try and not be the lawnmower or helicopter parent so I said this wasn’t true which evoked much mirth from said person who said I interfered all the time.  Daniel said I didn’t actually and pretty much left him to his own devices.

But then the past few weeks or even month I have been super involved with 2 of my 3 kids.   They say we are only as happy as our unhappiest child and it is so true.   They need to handle the nitty gritty day to day stuff but the biggies, this is where I step in.   I feel our kids will make plenty of their own mistakes and learn plenty painful lessons and the resilience they need for life.   But, if they are really unhappy or I can see them making some really poor choices that have long term consequences, I will step in.  I will interfere, get involved and try and help them.   I have made so many of my own mistakes, which along with my 47 years of life, have given me some wisdom to impart.

So right now I am smack bang in the thick of things trying to love, support, advise, steer and soften the blows.  We all parent the best way we know how and I would imagine many see me as way too involved.   But, I see the future picture and I see the present struggle and I know they will get there.   But not alone, their Mama will walk a few paces behind and a few paces ahead and I will probably do this all their lives when times are tough.   I have made peace with this side of me.  It’s who I am and what I do.   It’s who we are as a family and what we do.  It’s all good.   

Friday, October 12, 2018

Dazed & Confused: Bible study with no bible?

As you know I have moved to a new town and have found it somewhat lonely.  Friendships circles here are closed and long since established when kids were little and families grew.  Some of my previous friendships have proved to be less deep and permanent than I had believed them to be.  I guess they were born of proximity, circumstance and convenience and being out of sight equates to being out of mind.  I have my core girls who I love and appreciate but the daily interaction of mixing with girlfriends is something I miss living here.

So, when a girl I am friendly with invited me to her bible study months ago I was tempted but just too reluctant and it also clashed with other commitments.  Then this semester I happened to be free and decided to join.  My main motivation is more about friends than Jesus but I know He is good with that.   I was incredibly anxious but they were pretty cool and normal.  I used to go to bible study years ago but that was when I still attended church and considered myself a Christian.  Now I don't.  I am not a particular anything.  Not only do I not belong to any denomination, I don't belong at all.  My faith is called Just Jesus, and Just Love.  It has been simplified and purified and personalized. 

The bible is a book written by 40 authors long long ago.  We have learned only 1 human was perfect and that was Jesus.  Now we are saying that 40 people wrote this book and it is absolute fact and truth and the word of God.  Which means 40 people had it 100% right with non of their personal opinion and bias?  In my analytical mind this is simply not possible even without some of the stories which make absolute no sense to me.  I believe the earth has evolved over millions of years and God and science have partnered in creation.  I do not believe it is 6000 years old, or a guy built a massive boat and animals were kept in pairs in this boat while everything and everyone else drowned.  We have so many different species of each animal and it is simply not possible.  The guy in the whale?  The raining bread and all those other stories we learned as kids.  I believe in parables and the bible is full of history and wisdom but it is not the rule book by which I live my life or use to justify my actions.  Like any book, I take out what speaks to me and my truth.  And now I am at a bible study?  Mmmh, this is a tad confusing.

The other issue is when I moved house I packed my bible somewhere and I can't remember where.  And then the little snag of not having a church.  I can't see myself ever going back.  It would feel disrespectful to the people who do believe the bible 100% and follow all it's laws.  I have the utmost respect for those who believe in total faith that the bible is 100% true and God's word and it must make their life a lot simpler.  I don't believe homosexuality is a choice or a sin.  I don't believe many things that I should as a Christian.  So where does that put me then?  Someone who really loves Jesus, believes in the Holy Spirit and tries to live a life following every prompt/gut feel/nudge I get and being true to that and true to myself.  100% honest and sincere and the same.

So no bible, no church, total respect and inclusivity of all religions and cultures and differences and a critical thinker who believes we all have our own ever changing truth.  At a bible study.  I FB stalked the author of the study to see if she was a Trump supporter but I couldn't see anything.  The right wing American support and defense of Trump has left me seriously confused too.  I have no issue with republicans and I can understand how their belief in the bible and not pro choice would mean they are not democrats.  But Trumpsters?  No, I don't get it at all and I don't understand why they think he is a man of God, a man worthy of respect or support?  I read the FB threads and while the libtards/snowflakes (who I identify with) can be really over PC and lose their sense of hunour, they don't hate.  The Trump Christians on the other they can spew hate like toxic vomit.  Where does it all come from?  That extreme hatred and intolerance and disregard for anyone not like them?  Where is the kindness and Jesus love?  How can the church defend him and his cronies?  When do they hold him accountable? 

But back to my bible study.  I really liked the ladies and appreciated how they made me feel.  God can do all sorts of things with all sorts of people so I will stay open and see where it takes me.  Worse case scenario I make a few new friends.  Best, new friends and my faith grows and I find a place where I belong and can still keep my value system and stay true to my beliefs.   Can I get a Hallelujah and Amen?!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Everything comes at a price

My dad had many little quotes and sayings and this was one of them.  This has felt especially true for my mother after his passing.  She has the freedom to go anywhere whenever with whomever and come home at any time but the price of him not being there is just too great a cost.

I moved to Stellenbosch at the end of April.  It is literally the neighboring town and 20kms away.  I underestimated the impact of this move on my life.  When you first move to a new town and have a young, growing family, you make a ton of ‘mom’ friends.  It’s ante-natal classes and baby swimming and moms & tots and then its playschool and kindergarten and junior school.  You are intricately involved in the busy lives of your offspring, which is all consuming.  You engage with your community and roll up your sleeves getting stuck in.  Every time you go to the store you bump into someone you know and have a yak.  You fit and you belong and you are part of the puzzle with your piece fitting in seamlessly.  It’s comfortable and safe and familiar.  And a little stagnant too.

So after 16 years we made the move and found a house to rent close to the girls’ school and in the town where Daniel lives.  Stellies is a university town so an eclectic mix of students and families and old Afrikaans families that have lived there forever.  We own our previous home which has been renovated a few times to fit us perfectly.  This new home is a rental and for Gary, not his home.  He understands the need for convenience of being close to the schools but it is just not his home.  The girls and I are more flexible and we are happy to live in this house that has this fantasy beautiful enormous garden and pool.  It will be spectacular in the summer that creeps around in a few months time.   When your kids are teens you are less involved and mothers have long since got their groups of established friends.  I get it, I do and I try not to take it personally.

I drive up and down all afternoon fetching and carrying and being 5 minutes from school stays an amazing novelty.  In summer they can walk down although this is probably an unrealistic fantasy.   I have found a doctor and a dentist and I am building up my infrastructure network.    Just not my personal network.  I pretend to be cool and not needy so casually ask if anyone can help me out with a ride for my girls.  After no response I find one…it’s uber.  When I go down to the store I bump into no one for a random chat in the pasta aisle.  One would think this is great, being anonymous but it’s not.   But…I have running.  And not just regular running, I have the trails.  More forest and mountains than I could ever hope to cover.  I walk out my house up the road and I am in the mountains.  I have found such a fun trail group I run with on a Wednesday and Friday morning.  Another social group on a Thursday morning.  I also have a friend, a real life friend who is my Tuesday partner and we yak all the way.  When my marathon is done I will join the walking moms once a week as we head for the mountains with an assortment of over excited dogs.

Human contact and interaction and belonging with the added gift of my mountain and forest.  It is not the close network of friends who I had.  No one will randomly pop in for tea or a glass of wine and somehow my old friends don’t seem to make the 20km drive out to Stellies to hook up.  It’s the price I pay for living in this beauty.  The loss of a close spontaneous friendship circle and support.  The loss of my familiar home with its cozy fireplace and a non grumbly husband because he was happy there.   It is good practice and a reality check if I ever relocate to another country.  The lonely non belonging will be even worse. It HAS to be somewhere exquisite be it mountains, lakes, forest or oceans and I will always run and run and run.  Everything comes at a price.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The shame of my shame

I had a non stellar parenting moment the other day which I now need to try and take back.  I am finding age 16 extremely challenging.  Like hiking a mountain in heels without wearing a bra challenging.  Boy child was relatively easy back then although his then girlfriend was 16 and she was forking terrifying!  She has since grown up so light is way up ahead of teen girl tunnel.  My beautiful, smart, intelligent daughter is incredibly self-critical and sees only her flaws.  Nothing I say is taken into account as she believes my bias prevents me from seeing her how she actually is.  So I should lead by example right?   No self criticism or self sabotage.

The completion of my degree has that inevitable anti-climatic feeling.  I worked very hard for very long and felt a sense of achievement and purpose.  I love learning and the expansion of my mind and world views.  Now it is done and dusted and I want to find some kind of flexi or part time job, which so far, I have been unable to find.  If I add my 2 degrees together I have studied for 9 years.  NINE!  And I have no job or career with an income?  What even??

So we driving in the car and I say to Rebeka I am so ashamed of myself for being totally 100% financially dependent.  I feel like I have squandered my gifts and talents.  How on earth did I get to this age and not have built up a career and a respectable income?   I was smart and ambitious and hard working.  I AM smart and ambitious and hard working.   Do I sound vain?  Probably bi-polar as half of me feels unemployable and incapable, and the other half of me thinks how did I land up like this knowing I have much to offer and how fab I am?

I loved raising my children and the time I got to spend with them.  I loved working in non profit and still do.  But, I am not a career girl.  The only wheeling and dealing I do is driving to school and constantly negotiating with my daughters.   I want more and I don’t know how to get there.  I want the best of both worlds.  I still want to be that soccer mom in the afternoons and train early mornings but I also want to work and build a career and some confidence.  I should not be defined by what I do.  Yet somehow I am and I feel shame at doing nothing.  Being nothing.  Contributing nothing.  And then the shame of that shame as surely I have gained enough wisdom to know what I do is not who I am?  I am 47.  Is this some kind of mid life crises?    Do I need a Porsche or a 27 year old boyfriend?   I don’t want either.  I want a challenging exciting stimulating flexible job where I work with people and earn some money and make a difference and still have time for my kids and my training.  Hear that God?  Can you please give me some direction and leads and a little favour here to make this all happen?   Please!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Inside Out

Do you ever feel inside out?  Like all your emotions and heart and soul are on the outside totally exposed to the elements.  This is me at times, sensitive to everything both beautiful and ugly.

I would be such a good candidate for an anti-depressant.  I would feel normal whatever that is.  In the middle.  But ironically this month marks 6 years of living with dystonia which flares up when I am in this over sensitive place.  I hate, hate, hate my dystonia.  I hate the relentlessness and the hopelessness.  I am not sure if I have real toothache or if the nerves are just inflamed from clenching and pulsing.  The irony of taking something to get you out of a bleak place only to be left with something far worse.  Oh if I could turn back the clock and coax myself out of that place without meds.  But how many people wish they could go back with far worse situations than mine?  People who have lost loved ones.  Sorry, I am digressing here stuck in my pity party.

You know how you cry at everything after you have just had a baby?  That is me lately.  I can't even blame hormones as menopause has fortunately not made an appearance yet.  I don't know how to get out of this place.  Where is the exit?  Regular people will be advised to try exercise, breathing, visualization, journaling.  Ticking all the boxes there.  Gratitude, mindfulness and all the other granola therapies are also present in my life.  This extreme inside-outness means I really do see and appreciate all the beauty too.  But seeing and reading beautiful things makes me want to weep as well.  I am having an emotional acid trip and the intensity of everything is overloading my system.

It has been a crazy week, one of those where you cannot believe how much has happened in just 7 days.  People I care about are going through heartache, I wish I could make it better.  I want to make everything better for everyone.  I don't want anyone to hurt.  I know their is sweetness in sorrow, I know it sharpens us so we do see the beauty and love in all things.  But less please.  Give me a little beige, a little grey, a happy medium.  Where is the exit?

Monday, July 30, 2018

Planet Grief

Nothing much in life is certain other than the fact we are all going to die one day.  After this guaranteed fact we have various ideas of what this means and where we go if anywhere at all.  Many of us believe in some kind of after life because 'nothing' is just too bleak.   We need to believe the people we love whose souls were intertwined with ours, are somewhere and if we think about them we can feel them, we sense them and we search for proof those souls we miss, are somewhere.

Planet grief feels a lot like planet depro.  At times I have wondered if I am depressed and could quite easily tick the boxes.  But then I allow myself to look up at the vastness and mystery of this planet I now live on and I know, it is grief in all its complexities and I live here now.

Sometimes I forget and I have moments of respite and of course, many moments of joy and happiness.   If I keep busy enough and swim till my lungs burst and run and run and run I can leave it behind for a while.  Biking is different.   It is a soothing lovely side of grief where I am outside in the sun and ever constantly thinking of my father searching the sky for an eagle hoping he will visit.  I feel protected despite the constant attacks on cyclists we face in my country.  I always pray and ask God and my dad to keep me safe.  They are a team now and I listen out for their voice and wonder what they would say.  About my kids and home and future career and life in general.  My protectors.  I searched so for that eagle yesterday but nothing.  And then Sofia tells me how they were driving and one swooped right down and landed on a lamp post as she drove past.   The relief.  Because gone is simply not possible and I can't do gone.  Thanks Dad, for checking up on Sofia.  She is better as you can see.  Her spirit is lighter.  Mine, mine feels heavy.

I have all the rules in my head and recipes of how I should do this but nothing makes sense.  Those 16 months of fucking horrendous cancer trying to use up as much sad as I could, well it just multiplied.  I wanted to use it up so only relief would remain.  We are 7 months in.  Life goes on and we go on but nothing will be the same ever again.  I suppose I was lucky to have lived so long without a significant loss.  The first was Natey.  The loss of him launched me onto planet Grief like no one else in my life ever has.  Not even Bee or Aidan really took me there.  Where even breathing hurts.   Once again the rules are out the window.  Who am I to grieve this little boy who I never met?  What right do I have?  It makes no sense but it just is.  And my dad.  We were not super close.  I did not have the same connection as Tertia.  So why am I so damn sad?  Am I making it up?  Is it the melancholy side of me?   Is it real?  Do I grieve for what wasn't but should have been?  The tease of closeness of the last 6 months and easy affection I craved all my life.  My sweet, kind, accessible brave father who I got to really see when he was dying.  I don't know.  I just know I miss him and think of him every day.  I miss the unit of my parents.  I miss us being a 6 person family.  Mom, Dad, Tertia, me, Nina and Paul.  Us.  Now it is the 4 of us and Mom.  And I can't quite wrap my head around it.  We live alone on our planets.  Our different relationships and dynamics and personalities means no one grieves the same even when we lose the same person.  It is lonely on planet Grief. 

I miss my dad.