Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sorry seems to be the hardest word…


It can be a hard word to say.

And yet, it's just five letters. It should roll off the tongue pretty easily.

Some people, well they find it really hard to say… and, sadly, you will soon see they make it all about them.

This will become all the more obvious when you lose someone you love. If it's someone you have been caring for, and they have been sick for a while and they are elderly, some people may even deem that condolences are not necessary.

'She lived a good life', they think. 'Her carer must be relieved', they think. 'Wow, looks like she's having a good time, if her social media photos are anything to go by', they think. 'She's coping well, she doesn't need me. She has lots of friends anyway, and she seems to be doing fine,' they think.

When you do speak to them, they may say one of these things:

"Sorry I haven't called you… I didn't know what to say."

"Sorry you haven't heard from me. I feel so bad. I wonder what you think of me for not having called you."

Both of the above are not about you. They are about them. And this will grate on you so much, especially when you are in that state of mind where you have a heightened sense of awareness of your emotions, which is amplified soon after the death of a loved one.

The trick, I have found, is to just keep your cool. Deflect, and move on. You are in a delicate state of mind, anything can set you off, you are highly emotional. You are in mourning.

An upcoming blog post of mine will definitely be titled: 'What mourning looks like'. Because I can tell you that mourning doesn't necessarily have to be 40 days of sadness and making yourself scarce, and not having a laugh at all. Or one year of wearing head to toe black, as the Italians do. For longer than a year, in the old days.

No, mourning is whatever you want it to be, whatever you see fit for you.

You will find that if you are a mother, especially a mother to young kids, mourning will be fast forwarded somewhat, like it or not. This is not a bad thing; it'll mean you are not moping around the house and making the whole home depressed, bringing the vibe right down, even though they are very much wiling to support you and love you, however you present to them.

Kids are resilient, yes. However, kids absorb much sadness, and you will do well to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and 'fake it until you make it.' That is, smile and laugh with them, make them smile, and you will start smiling too.

The deep, deep sadness will hit you anyway. I have found it hits me when I least expect it. At the grocery store. Talking to a stranger. Helping an elderly lady cross the road. All of these may leave you crying, no sobbing, at random. Okay… all these things actually happened to me. My grief is still deep, whatever people think, how ever well people think they know me. How ever much they see me smiling at school pick up, on a Facebook photo, or passing me on the street.

Me: I have a gazillion Facebook friends and now that the sadness filter is dialled down several notches, and I am back to the real world a little more (two months after my mum has died), it is even more obvious that some people who are apparently my Facebook 'friends' have not even offered a word of comfort about my loss. These friends are about to be defriended. They have no place in my life if they can't even step up to say, "I am sorry I have nothing to say. But… sorry. This must be a shit time for you."

That's the thing with death and mourning. You only really, truly understand it when it happens to you.

Until then, it's just a concept. A thing that happens to other people. A thing that, deep down, you are terrified of, and fear coming into YOUR life. Life without having experienced any kind of grief can be pretty selfish. And why wouldn't it be? Life is about your next adventure, your next holiday, happiness and fun and shiny new things and experiences. Life is not about that boring, depressing stuff: crying, mourning, feeling old, closing chapters, picking up the pieces.

And when your life has not been tainted by death, you don't want to be around it. It's almost like you might think it's contagious, like it might detract from your own happiness.

Or you may be one of those rare gems: a truly, to-the-core empathic person who has not experienced death first hand, but is well versed in reaching out, because that is what you have grown up around, or what your parents taught you. It doesn't matter that everyone you love is still near you and with you and you can enjoy them everyday, and pick up the phone for a chat or advice, or pop around and see them. You still get grief.

The thought of losing parents is something you are tuned in to, and you can relate to people who have already lost someone. This may be partly because you are a decent human. And partly because it scares you senseless that one day you will have to say goodbye forever to your mother and father. And so, you reach out to your friend in mourning, not knowing what you'll say, but you know it makes you feel better after you've seen them, just being there for them. And you KNOW they will be by YOUR side when your life goes to shit one day. Because it will.

I say that I am fortunate - yes I am. Although, at age 42, I have now lost both my parents and it had cut me deep, my dear mother taught me to have genuine empathy, and taught me how to care for others (it's how and why I cared for her so well until her death, I know it). And my dad taught me to step up, no matter how hard or how busy you are. When someone needs you, you go running. It's that simple. It's not about you; it's about them.


It's not hard, people.

What are your experiences on this? Feel free to share.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Carers Week 2014: Why carers are the most important people on the planet

It's Carers Week this week in Australia (Oct 12 - 18), and these are just a few reasons why I believe carers are the most important people on the planet:

- Australia's population currently stands at 22 million*. In 2012, there were 2.7 million people in Australia who were providing informal care to an older person or someone with a disability or long-term health condition, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). 

(*Australia's population now at 23 million; taken from 'The Australian Ageing Generation Handbook', by Josie Gagliano).

- Dr Paul Jelfs from the ABS says the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers ('SDAC'; 2012) captures important information about caring in our community:

"Carers not only make a huge contribution to the lives of the people that they care for, but they are also essential in supporting the formal care system on Australia"

"Being a carer can be a substantial commitment, with 40 per cent of carers reporting that they spent 40 hours or more per week providing care."

- "Alzheimer's Australia's market research suggests that some 1.2 million Australians are providing support and care for someone with dementia. This can be anything from a bit of shopping to 24/7 care." - Ita Buttrose, foreword from 'The Australian Ageing Generation Handbook', by Josie Gagliano.

"I feel blessed that we were able to share this with her. We got the chance to nurture her as she had nurtured us. We all grew so very much, my sons learned tolerance, patience, compassion and true love for their nan, in good health and bad. As for my husband, I gained a new respect for him, and deeper love as I watched him tenderly care for my mum." - Rosemary, an interview taken the chapter 'My Life As A Carer', from 
'The Australian Ageing Generation Handbook', by Josie Gagliano.

I could go on and on and on. Carers are the lifeblood of our society, people! The impact they have on making your life easier is immense. Have a think about it. If you are a caring for a parent, you are likely taking on the bulk of the role to make life easier for other siblings. That's not why you are doing it; of course. But a by-product of your sacrifices means that everyone in the family gets to enjoy your parent. Carers quietly put their life 'on hold', give up job opportunities, or take infinite sick days, or take annual leave to care for a parent out of hospital and requiring rehab when they get home.

If that person is you, happy Carers Week! You deserve all the fanfare in the world, you deserve to be acknowledged, heck… you even deserve a little break!

If you are supporting someone who is a carer - the carer's husband or wife, sibling or friend - know that the carer you love is very, very special. Don't ever forget it.

So, here's to you, dear carers!

My favourite part of my book 'The Australian Ageing Generation Handbook' is the chapter on carers. I interviewed so many beautiful people, and each story was more emotional than the next. It showed true resilience, grit, heartbreak, honesty; there are deeply upsetting stories, and deeply inspiring stories. And deeply moving stories, and what I hope is that whoever picks it up in a bookstore and has a flick through stops right at THIS chapter and says, "Oh my… this is ME. This is my story!"

If you like, you can buy the book (in-store or online of as e-book) by going to this link.