Friday, August 31, 2012

But I don't wear gold jewellery...

This morning I lost the butterfly back off my earring stud. As I dried my hair after my shower, I felt it come off, and heard it go, "plink" as it fell to the bathroom floor. But after much searching, I couldn't find it, and have resigned myself to the likelihood that it fell down the drain in the middle of the bathroom floor.

This particular stud is not really anything special, it's the single surgical steel stud that was used to pierce my right ear for the third time, and is one that I always leave in, even when I don't wear any other earrings.

When I was in my early twenties, I went through a 'rebellious phase' and got my ears pierced a second time.  
(cue for you to laugh uproariously at the concept of me being a 'rebel without a cause')

Back then, my mother had a real bee in her bonnet about ear piercing. According to her, it was ok to have your ears pierced once... as long as you were a girl. I'm not quite sure what figured worse in her books: a girl with multiple piercings (and in those days remember, we were only talking about earlobes; the more 'creative' piercing sites hadn't been conceived at that stage), or a guy with either of his ears pierced (and God help him if he had both ears pierced!).

I had been in Canberra for a couple of weeks, at a Fusion gathering, and got my ears pierced for the second time whilst there. Mum's first comment when she saw me after my return to Sydney was, "You've had your ears pierced again!" For some years, I regularly wore two earrings in each ear (back then it was kind of trendy to wear a stud in the top hole and a round sleeper or some kind of drop earring in the lower one). But after a while, I tired of it, and became a bit absent-minded about wearing earrings, and so the upper holes kind of closed up, although the lower (original) holes have always remained patent.

At some stage I decided to be even more radical, and get one further piercing in my right ear, and have always worn just a plain stud in it, never removing it. As I am still pretty absent-minded about wearing other earrings, I usually have just the single stud in, and people often tell me I've lost an earring (and I have to explain that this isn't the case, and there was only ever one earring to start with).

Anyway, it was this stud whose backing butterfly I lost this morning. Now, it wouldn't have been such a big deal to find a replacement backing for it, except for the fact that it's one of those studs with extra-thick posts used for piercing, and so the holes in the butterflies from normal studs wouldn't be big enough to accommodate the thickness of the stud (so it seems that size really does matter... in many things).

Mum plonked a little jewellery box containing many stud earrings in front of me, and told me to take my pick to replace my stud. I explained that I needed a stud that I could leave in all the time: in the shower, in bed, when I go swimming etc etc, and that had a butterfly on the back that wouldn't fall off. She said that she had a single gold stud that would fit the bill... but I explained that I don't wear gold jewellery, so that wouldn't work.

I sifted through the jewelbox, looking at the various studs; most of which were dressy, or had stones in them, and just wouldn't be robust enough for my purposes... and then I saw the gold stud. It really did fit the bill for the robustness factors that I needed, but it was gold, and I don't wear gold jewellery... or at least not much of it.

Mum's gold stud in my right ear

When my father died, nearly five years ago now, Mum gave me Dad's signet ring; an ornate rose gold shield, with a tiny ruby set in it, and Dad's initials engraved on it. Mum had given it to Dad for his 21st birthday, in April 1956, the year before they were married. I've worn Dad's ring ever since. Recently Mum told me of a conversation she had a while ago with one of my cousins. Mum had commented that unlike her, I was not at all sentimental. My cousin replied, "But she wears her father's ring, doesn't she? I'd call that sentimental." And I guess in a way, it is a sentimental choice to wear it, as it's kind of like a part of Dad that I can keep close and visible; something physically tangible to remember him by. And it's also the only piece of gold jewellery that I've worn in a very long time.

Dad's ring (the close up makes my finger look swollen :-/ )

So when I was considering whether or not to wear this gold stud of Mum's, it occurred to me that this could complement the gold ring of Dad's, so that I am carrying with me a piece of Dad and of Mum, and the specialness of these items is evident (at least to me) due to their incongruity: because I don't wear gold jewellery.. well, not usually, anyway

(and I'm not at all sentimental, ok? ;-P)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Celebrating others' successes

When I went with Mum to see the production of South Pacific at the Opera House last week I was extra-excited because I knew one of the cast members. John Xintavelonis (known as 'X' to his friends, and just about everyone who lives in Hobart) is a bit of a 'local boy made good'. When I was living in Hobart, there was rarely a theatrical production, Uni Revue or anything that didn't involve X in some way. A good actor, who at some stage discovered he could also sing; his face and voice are well known around the traps in Tassie, and have been for a long time. He's also in demand as a 'personality/MC' for various events.

In recent years his career has 'taken off' a bit, with a number of roles in big musicals that have toured mainland Australia and also overseas, and according to the Hobart Mercury, X's star is on the rise.

Now, I have never exactly been best mates with X, but we know each other well enough to say hello if we meet on the street, and we are Facebook friends, and interact there a bit. So when he got the gig as Stewpot (one of the named sailors who has his own lines) in South Pacific, I got a bit excited to see that X had scored a role in another high profile musical (and it was great to have a coffee with him after the show Mum and I attended).

I had a similar feeling of excitement when I heard that Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher novels were to be made into a TV series. Again, I'm not exactly best buddies with Kerry, but I am reasonably good mates with her partner, David, whom I've known through uni choral circles for many years. So once again, there was this sense of excitement and pride that someone who was known to me was having some success, and recognition for the great work they do.

In thinking about these little 'excitements', I was wondering, is it just so that I can namedrop?  ("Oh yes, I know the author," or "I know one of the cast"). But then my mind went back to my experience as a contestant on Millionaire Hotseat a few years ago. 

On the day of shooting, a gaggle of us contestants, from a week's worth of shows (so that's around 30 people) spent the most part of the day together. We were given instructions in the morning as to what we needed to do, then had a bit of a rehearsal, where we were split into our episode groups for a while, then came back together as a large group to have some lunch before we got to taping each show.

I was allocated to the second-last episode to be taped, so my group and I got to watch all of the preceding shows (from our room out the back), and there was a palpable sense of excitement in the room, encouragement, and much cheering if someone actually won the big money in the last round.

Even in my own episode, after I had been eliminated for incorrectly answering a question (damn you, Clint Eastwood!), there was the sense of hope that the guy who ended up in the hotseat for the last question would get it right, and win the big money (which he did... and there was much hugging and congratulatory back-slapping from all of the contestants as he came off the set).

So this got me thinking that in my excitement about being able to 'name-drop', there is also a genuine sense of joy that someone I know (even if only a little bit) is doing well and making a name for themselves in their chosen field of endeavour.

So, to Kerry, and X (and other friends who are  having 'wins' in their life and career)- congratulations for having success in something that you love doing. Celebrate your achievements, continue to enjoy what you do, and share that joy with your family and friends (and cats, in Kerry's case :-)

Supremely blessed

Today was a full day. As much as I like to have a leisurely sleep-in when I stay at nice hotels, I was up at 8am today (which is early for me), when my breakfast was delivered, and I was fed, watered, showered and out the door by 9am.

Worship at Brunswick Uniting Church was a great experience (although I'm still getting used to the different feel of the lovely light worship space since the renovations to the church building). I also enjoyed catching up with lots of lovely people whom I haven't seen for a while. I worshipped at Brunswick during the three years of my theological studies and loved being part of that large and diversely-gifted congregation.

After worship, it was off to Doncaster for lunch with some friends whom I also haven't seen for a while- we worked out that the last time was when they travelled to Hobart for my ordination, about 2.5 years ago. The kids have grown so much,and it was great that they could have fun in the special children's play area in the Doncaster Hotel, whilst the rest of us had some good grown up time together.

Back to my hotel room to put the feet up and relax for an hour or so before going out for dinner. I had dinner tonight with a couple who are actually the parents of a friend of mine, who I met through the church in Hobart. This couple were my first out of town visitors when I moved to Myrtleford, as they are avid bike riders and were in the area for a special bike ride on the March long weekend. We've kept in touch, and it's always delightful to spend time with them (and needless to say it was reasonably late when I left their place to head back to my hotel).

We talked about all kinds of things; about Mum and her progress, about news from their family, and lots of talk about relationships of various kinds; good and bad; healthy and broken; new and longstanding. We talked about the various fallouts from relationships that go wrong, and how it can sometimes get complicated when there are mutual friends, but that sometimes these difficult relationships can have beneficial side-effects when the friendships we form with others because of these relationships turn out to be something of value and support. (and they said to me, "we're glad, at one level, that our daughter married the man that she did- even though the marriage ended painfully- because it was through that relationship that we got to know you".)

So, after such a day, and so many loving and affirming conversations, I am feeling supremely blessed.
Tomorrow I will have a relaxing massage before heading back to Sydney. It's been a great few days: busy, and full of interactions with lots of people; and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity for this break, but now I'm looking forward to getting back to Mum, and seeing what the doctor has to say on Tuesday.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Death sneaks up...

As I travel with Mum on her journey through cancer towards the end of her life, it has started to feel like this path resembles a multi-lane highway, in which some lanes are for slower vehicles, and others are deemed 'the fast lane'.

Today I had lunch with a close friend who discovered quite recently that her father is dying from cancer, and has only a few weeks left to live. When she left his hospital bedside today, she said he's stopped eating, and at least one of his bodily systems seems to have shut down. The family is still in shock, and trying to process what's happening, and prepare to support each other through the days and weeks to come.

We had a good conversation over lunch, we both shed a few tears, and talked about how things are going for each of us. I'd like to think that because I'm past the initial shock of Mum's diagnosis and prognosis, I have something to offer my friend, as someone who has experienced something similar to what she's now going through, so has an idea of how things are for her. But because things are a little further down the track for me, I'm together enough (well, kind of) to offer some quiet support to her.

In talking to this particular friend about her father's illness, it's apparent that her father will most probably die before Mum does, and so it felt a little bit like Mum and I are in the 'slower lane', whilst my friend and her father and family are in the 'fast lane' in coming to terms with the approaching death in the family.

Then tonight, another friend and colleague, who was in some classes with me at theological college, announced on Facebook that his wife passed away quietly in her sleep today, leaving him and his young daughter alone. So much for the 'fast lane'- for him it's more like the 'super-fast autobahn lane'.

There has been, and I'm sure will continue to be, an outpouring of love and support, and shock at the news as his friends respond to his announcement on Facebook. And I'm sure that there will be lots of practical support for him from friends and colleagues who are closer geographically to him than I am.

I was talking to someone this afternoon about how we never can really know what's around the corner; what God might have in store for us, or what life will dish out. That's certainly true for these dear friends and their families (and for me too).

I wish I could do more to support them at this very difficult time, but have to be satisfied with surrounding them with prayers and love from a distance.

Travel gently my dear ones, knowing that God goes with you through all the pain and darkness.

Cancer and prayer

I've heard of many people who, when faced with a diagnosis of terminal cancer, pray for a miraculous healing. When I was working in pastoral care at Peter Mac Cancer Centre, I encountered a number of patients who had Christian faith, and were convinced that God would effect a miracle, and heal them of their cancer... it was all a matter of faith.

I've been thinking about my own prayerful response to Mum's diagnosis, and have realised that not once have I even considered praying for God to take the cancer away, or miraculously heal Mum, or prevent her from dying. 

Rather, my prayers have been more along the lines that Mum's death will not be a long, drawn out, agonising thing; that she will remain relatively pain-free and not suffer too much as her body fails;  that she will have no regrets, no missed opportunities. And most importantly, that she will know that she's loved- by me, by lots of other people, and by God.

Whilst I was devastated over and over again by the increasingly dire news: first that Mum had cancer, then that it was inoperable and thus a terminal condition, and then that the chemo was ineffective, so her death would come much sooner than we originally anticipated, it never occurred to me to not accept the reality that the cancer is going to kill her and she will die sooner than we ever expected.

Maybe I'm just a passive kind of person, content to let things happen around me; or maybe I don't have enough faith in the God of miracles, but I don't really see any point in praying for something that isn't likely to happen. (Or maybe I have just spent too much of my life in medical studies and research, that I can only see the medical model of things).

Whatever the reason, I am content that Mum and her life and illness are in God's hands, that God loves her and will do what's best for her. And that is enough for me.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Words of wisdom?

A lot of people post 'pictures' containing pithy sayings on Facebook. Sometimes these sayings are funny, or witty; some are inspiring or emotional. Sometimes they are just schmaltzy and I shudder at the sight of them; but sometimes there are words that seem to be wise and speak to me, and I in turn 'like' or 'share' the item on my own Facebook wall. Today I saw this quote (above), and it spoke to me in an interesting way.

I recently made the difficult decision to walk away from a particular friendship. The decision was hard and painful, but at the time I was convinced that I was doing the right thing in acknowledging the dysfunctionality of that relationship and the importance of cutting the ties, for the sake of my emotional well-being, and to allow me to focus on the important task of caring for Mum. Whilst I'm still convinced it was the right thing to do, lately the loss of that relationship has hit me again, and I've been grieving the loss in a new way (which is a normal thing to happen, and one that my therapist told me to expect, but that doesn't necessarily make it any easier). 

In the past week or so I've also seen a few of these pithy quotes around the internet that speak from the perspective of a person who has had people in their life walk away. The kind of sentiment expressed in these sayings was something like: "Don't sweat it when people leave you. Real friends will stick by you and be loyal, so if  someone leaves, they weren't a real friend to start with".

Seeing these sayings made me begin to question my own actions: had I given up too soon on that friendship? was I not a loyal enough friend to stick it out through thick and thin? was I being selfish to put my own needs before the needs of the other person (even though throughout our whole friendship it had felt like I had spent most of my time fitting in with the other person's needs and what he wanted, and he rarely ever did that for me)? 

Self doubt now mixed with the sense of grief I was already feeling at the loss of the friendship, and it wasn't fun. For the last week or so I've been finding it especially hard to sleep. Late at night all this stuff just whizzes around in my brain and won't let me rest. The darkness and loneliness close in and I keep going over and over the words that have been exchanged; the responses I wanted to make but didn't (for various reasons), what I might say to this person now if he ever contacts me... All mixed and mashed up in my exhausted and addled brain ... and sleep eludes me.

So when I saw this quote today, it felt as if the words spoke directly into my current emotional turmoil and self-doubt. Sure, it may not be the most theologically sound statement, and may not stand up to the rigorous critical evaluation that many of my deep thinking friends would want to subject it to; but it provided a little comfort and reassurance to me at a time when it was very welcome. 

And sometimes you just have to take what you can get and give thanks for it when it comes along.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Why am I here?

I've been asking this question a bit lately. Far from being the great existential question about the ultimate meaning of life, for me right now, it's a lot more mundane.

When I arrived in Sydney 5 weeks ago, Mum was in a lot of pain, feeling generally quite ill, and was in the middle of a fortnight of radiotherapy. She wasn't able to do very much apart from sit in her comfortable chair and close her eyes to the world in an attempt to block out the pain.

I cooked, cleaned (well, a little bit), washed, shopped (usually on my own, as Mum couldn't bear to sit in the car for too long, or to walk around the supermarket), brought Mum her tablets, forced food upon her when she really wasn't hungry; basically I did almost everything for her. She needed me to do all this, because she couldn't do it herself.

Now, five weeks later, Mum is feeling much better. Not only is she pain free and eating much more enthusiastically, but she's also becoming quite energetic. Most mornings when I get up, Mum has already had her breakfast, and often has also done a load of washing and hung it on the airer on the back deck. The other day she grabbed the carpet sweeper and ran around the lounge room with it (she isn't quite strong enough to manage the vacuum cleaner). She has been insisting on doing all the washing up after meals, and last night she even cooked dinner.

When I first came here, I wanted to do whatever I needed to in order to help Mum, but didn't want to become a 'helicopter carer', always hovering and fussing over her unnecessarily.  So  Mum and I struck a deal; that I would let her maintain as much of her independence as possible, and do for herself for as long as she could, but as soon as any task became too much for her, she would tell me and let me either help her with it, or do it for her. 

Right now it seems that deal is redundant, as Mum is more than capable of doing most things for herself. This is kind of ironic, as I have just received word from Centrelink that my application for Carer Allowance has been approved (and the first payment hit my bank account today), and my application for Carer Payment (a more substantial pension payment) is also likely to be approved, once the supplemental information I provided today is processed. So, at the time when my role as Mum's carer is being officially recognised, her need for my care is at its least.

However, Mum and I are both determined to make the most of her current sense of wellbeing and energy. Today she had her hair cut and picked up a new set of glasses, with stylish new frames that look rather groovy. We have arranged for the unsightly (and dangerous when wet) black fungus to be removed from the drive and side path by a high-pressure cleaner... who knows what will be next?

I know that at some stage things will become very tough, when Mum's health starts to move into that final decline, and so I should think of times like now, when things are relatively easy, as times to enjoy being with Mum, creating memories to treasure in the future, and girding my loins in preparation for what's to come. But at the same time, I can't help but feel (even if only a little bit), that I'm not really needed, and may even be here under false pretenses.

Of course I know this isn't really the case, but sometimes, especially late at night when I can't sleep, strange things circulate in my mind.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Being thankful; and thinking of others.

A few weeks ago, as I was coping with how unwell and in pain Mum was, as well as grappling with a decision to end a significant friendship, I became aware of a number of friends who were struggling either with their own health, or the health of a young child.

 As I thought about what some of these friends were going through, it made my own stresses pale into (almost) insignificance, at least for a little while. As I prepared to go to bed that night, I commented on Facebook that I was conscious of the struggles of these others, and prayed God's blessing on them.

One friend (who was also no stranger to managing health related crises in his family) wrote this comment in response to my Facebook status:

Breathing deeply in one's own chaos
allows fresh insight into others' lives!

I think there's a lot of truth in those words, and am glad that I had the opportunity to gain that fresh insight into the lives of some particular friends. 

This all happened about three weeks ago, and I was reminded of it all by a conversation I had tonight with one of these friends whose health is still not great, casting a shadow on her whole family. We talked about how we are both grateful for the support we have from those who are close to us, and for the love and prayers that so many others have offered on our behalf.

Last night I sent out an email update to members of my two Church Councils and the Pastoral Relations Committee of my home Presbytery (as I do on a fairly regular basis to keep them up to date with what's going on). This morning I received a reply from one of the PRC members, who was quite excited that things are going so well for Mum, and also delighted that Mum's current wellbeing is such a great answer to prayer. 

I mentioned this comment to the friend I was chatting with tonight, as we talked about the sense of being held before God by others' prayers. She commented that sometimes it's hard to see, when we have good days, because we forget how bad it has been.

This was all a reminder to me to be thankful for the presence of God, and the answers to prayer, and the kindness of people who pray and write and ring and care. I really don't know how those who don't have a community of people around them, caring and praying for them, can cope with hard times like these.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Bali Ha'i

With Mum's current wellbeing overflowing into all facets of life, we're keen to make the most of this special time when she's free from pain and feeling well enough to go out and socialise. 

The other night, we booked tickets to the upcoming season of South Pacific at the Sydney Opera House, and we're both looking forward to the show immensely. Mum saw a production of South Pacific with Dad a number of years ago and loved it; and she's keen to compare this new production with the other one that she and Dad saw. I am also looking forward to the show because the lovely Teddy Tahu Rhodes will be playing one of the leads, and I have heard that his rendition of One Enchanted Evening is goosebump-inducing. There's also the added bonus that an old Hobart friend is in the cast, so it will provide a chance to catch up with him too (and it's always exciting to see friends doing so well at a national level).

It's somewhat of a nice change to be planning social activities rather than medical appointments.

With Mum being so well, I'm thinking that now could be a good time for me to take a brief trip to Melbourne for a bit of a break. Mum's neighbours will be able to keep an eye on her whilst I'm away, and support her if she needs it. I'd been thinking of this for a while, and then today, I received an invitation to a friend's 50th birthday party in Melbourne later this month, which provided the perfect opportunity for me to take that trip to Melbourne.

I'm looking forward to catching up with some friends and colleagues down there, and am grateful for this chance to do it.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Shut up, Mind!

I can't sleep.

Mum's going very well at the moment; pain free and cheerful, so it's not as if I'm stressed out worrying about her right now. My mind just seems to be churning over a whole lot of other stuff, and won't let me drift off in peace.

I wish I could sleep like a normal person for a change :-(