Sunday, April 8, 2018

The last day of my 46th year

Tomorrow is my birthday.  I usually love my birthday and arrange something to celebrate the day but I am not really in the birthday mood this year.  I think it's a combination of factors that have squashed my birthday mojo. 

Firstly I am moving house which is massively stressful.  It takes up all my physical and mental energy and causes my anxiety to spike.  I am also super stoked to move and have a fresh start and this massive clearout of 16 years of possessions.  I really wish we had sold our home and bought a new home to have proper closure and a real new beginning but it wasn't to be.  So I trust my tenants will look after my home and I trust we will be happy in our rented home even though it's only for one year.

Then in just a few days I fly to Holland with my mom for 10 days.  Our last trip was the day after my 40th birthday when we went to Singapore and Thailand and had such an amazing time.  We are excellent travel partners and spend most of the time laughing and looking for bargains and adventures.  We said we would go every second year but time passes and life happens and now its seven years on.  My aunt lives there and is a total hoot so we will have a fabulous time.  I can only stay for 10 days due to family and life plus the big move is on the 28th so I will have just 3 days for the last pack up.  But, I will try and not worry about that when I am there.

And lastly, my old dad who won't be calling me tomorrow to wish me happy birthday.  Its been a hard 3 months since he passed, it was a hard 16 months before that.  We miss him.  We miss our family unit intact with everyone in their places and roles.  One person is no longer there and the remaining family members are left trying to adjust to a new normal.   

My 46th year was a good one even with the losses and grief and mourning.  I finally finished my degree after 6 years.  My graduation is in June and I hope to start work in July or August.  I have treasured and enjoyed my friendships so much.  I have a tribe of incredible women in my life who I love and who love me.  I am very grateful I enjoy good health and a fit body at this age.   Healthier and fitter than I was 20 years ago, happier too.  Last month I cycled the 109km Argus, I did an olympic distance tri, a mile open water swim and ended the month with a half marathon.  All these things were totally impossible for me just 5 years ago.  The cliche of mid life crises and life beginning at 40 rings true.  It will always stay hard for me and my mind and body do not match re my goals and ambitions but it keeps me humble and keeps me pushing.

Big kids...I love having older children.  Pregnancy and babies and toddlers and little people were a fun and crazy time in our family and the role of mother was bigger than any other.  I embraced the season in my life and mothered 100% full on.  Now at age 13, 15 and 21 I get to step back and guide and protect and advise but it's less full on.  The other bits of me have more space.  It is time for my career now which is kak scary.  I question my capabilities, if I have it.  Can I do it?  I have massive imposter syndrome after my studies.  I aced my studies but now its real life and I feel insecure re if I can actually do this.  And what the 'is this' actually is???  What exactly do I want to do with my degree?  Where do I fit in?    Its like I am 18 years old and I need a career counselor to direct my path.

So 46 is done.  Another year of my life.  A big one with big scary grown up stuff.   Losing my father.  Life is a series of lost and found.  47 arrives tomorrow.  New house, exciting travels, my ironman 70.3 in June, my career.  I can't believe I am this old?  More than half of my life has been lived.  Many never get to 47 so I thank God for my life past and thank Him for my future.  I go forward with trepidation and excitement and expectation and I feel the presence of my father keeping me safe and still guiding my choices.  I am incredibly blessed and profoundly grateful for another birthday and this 47th year with all the possibilities it has to offer.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Owning the red high heels

Last weekend my youngest daughter went to a formal school dance.  It was the annual Daddy Daughter Dance at Rhenish High and we decided she would get an alone night with her dad, and her sister and her could share him the following year.

For once we were actually prepared and went shopping 2 weeks prior to the dance.   By some wonderful miracle we found the dress in the first 30 minutes at the first shop.  I hate shopping even more than I hate cleaning up vomit which gives you an idea of how not fun it is for me.  And...the dress was under budget and so pretty and not at all sexy which is the look Mom was going for and fortunately daughter liked it too.  Daughter is one of those people that are born sexy.  She just can't help it and has had a swag and star factor since she arrived 13 years ago.  Fortunately she is still pretty unaware and innocent which I hope to keep for as long as possible.

Next stop we hit the dreaded mall and I steer her to the sale section but Madame is like her Mimi and her eye falls on the most pricey pair they have.  They are red and very high and rather sexy.  She puts them on and sashays down the aisle like she has been wearing heels all her life.  Most kids her age would be awkward and fall around like a drunken Bambi but she doesn't.  She rocks the heels which match the dress perfectly.  My first instinct is no.  What will people think when they look at such a young girl in such high shoes?   But what do I think?  And what does she think?

So then I start thinking about how much we parent because we want to avoid the disapproval and judgement of other parents.  "Ooh I would NEVER let Suzie wear that, say that, go there, eat that blah blah frikking blah."  So I think haters gonna hate and we love the shoes and she looks stunning and I know who she is and so does she so Madame CAN get the shoes.   We book the leg wax and the hair appointment and she gets all ready.  She does her make-up way better than I do which is not saying much at all.  She walks out the door with her head held high looking absolutely breath taking and poised and lovely.  Of course she soon took them off and wore her adidas trainers on the dance floor but she made her entrance.

So what's the point of my story?   We are so deliberate in how we parent coming off a base where our parents did the bare minimum and we still thrived after being burnt in the sun, eating shit, driving in the car while they smoked and only had to be home when it got dark.  Our under parenting has made us over parent and the complexity of social media makes it that much harder.  Go with your gut.  You know your own kid.  Your family values.  You are their mom and that means its you, the other parental figure and the kid that get to decide.
  Here is my girl in her heels.  Feeling and looking beautiful.

Friday, February 2, 2018

My dad loved me. Always


Why is it so easy to advise others, to see them and their situation yet be blind to our own?  Maybe it's like when you hold a book too close to your face and you can see sweet bugger all at a certain age?  A little distance is needed to get clarity.

The past 17 months have been a time of so much learning and personal growth as we navigated the journey that is terminal cancer and mourned the loss of Natey.  Both tragic yet very different.   Different grief yet grief none the less.  A few days back a friend in the US wrote the sweetest eulogy for her dog Dewey.  She wrote about what a terrible, terrible puppy he was and all he had destroyed.  All he had never learned to do.  And then she wrote something like this…when I accepted him for who he was and not for who he wasn’t we got along just fine.   He was a great source of love, company and comfort for her.  And this got me thinking about my dad.

I wish I could have seen him more for who he was in my life than for who he wasn’t.  I only got to see him clearly and properly at the end of his life.  It was like the less physically present he became, the more accessible he became.  His soul and spirit and love and affection grew as his body declined.   I am very grateful I got to see him like that even though the cost was so high.  I got to love him as much as I wanted, as I possibly could.  And I felt loved in return.    One day after a really hard day I lay on his chest and he patted my back.   We didn’t speak, just connected.  I didn’t say ‘love you Dad’ at the end of a phone call.  I said ‘I love you Dad.’  The I is the important part.  The deliberate part.  He didn’t say ‘love you too.’  He said ‘I love you my girl.’ 

Yesterday on my wedding anniversary I looked at my wedding album.  I don’t know why I didn’t think he was proud of me.  Or at times felt unloved?  He looks so happy and proud in those photos.  He was not a super involved grandpa or father, that was my mom’s job.  But towards the end, that moment when Max my nephew walked into his room and he was so ill but gave that incredible beautiful smile, well it was a revelation of how much he loved his grandkids and delighted in them.  I wish I had seen all that all along.  It is a bittersweet gift, this knowing how much he loved us all, how proud he was of his family including me.  Of course me too??  How and why did I doubt that?   I am incredibly sad he is gone.  It is has been a long painful month but the end of his life was also a gift to me.  To all of his family.  I am glad we got to show our love for him in such a tangible way by caring for him.  We got to tell him and show him and he got to tell us.  It makes the loss that much more painful though.  

I told a friend the other day her father loves her in the best way he knows how.  How he is a product of his upbringing and generation.  And the same applies to my dad.  My dad really loved me, he was really proud of me.  He couldn’t really say it or show it or maybe I couldn’t see it but it was still there and ironically it took an awful disease to bring healing and clarity.  It makes his loss so much bigger.  I miss him.  All the parts of him. So much.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A new journey, a new normal?

I love traveling.  I love the planning before hand and obsessive googling.  The packing of my bag, desperately trying to pack light but never quite managing it.  The trip to the airport or the roadtrip and the actual flying or driving bit.  And then the new experiences and people we meet and memories made when time has a different quality and just seven days can bring profound change.

Life is one long journey but within the one from birth to death, we take many smaller ones.  Some last for years and years and others are shorter.  We have defining moments and experiences that provide a before me and an after me.   We have all sorts of firsts in our lives too, both good ones and bad ones.  I have just completed a really really tough journey and embarked on another and I feel like I am inside out completely raw with no protection against the elements.

My last post was about 3 weeks ago and since then most of you know we lost our father on the 1st of January.  We had been waiting for his actual passing for over 2 months and dubbed him Laz as he kept on making a come back.  The emotional toll was enormous, especially for my mother.  Now that I have gone through it I understand the real end, when you truly know its close now.  I won't go write about the last 36 hours expect to say it was incredibly tough and traumatic and I begged God to take him home on the 31st.  In hindsight it had to be the 1st of January.  In 2017 it was the day I found out about Natey and my world stood still and a new journey began.  In keeping with my synchronicity theme, this life changing date was the day my dad made his exit.

A family is like a puzzle.  Each member is a piece and has a slot and a place.  We have lost a major piece of our puzzle and the picture will never look the same again.  We are floundering around trying to keep our shape but the puzzle is broken, our family is broken and our hearts are broken.  It feels literal, this brokeness.  The anxiety is off the charts, my dystonia is awful and my speech is bad.  I feel weirdly pregnant.  (So not!)   Emotional, nauseous, fragile, achey boobs.  I am not sure if it's the worry about my mother or the absolute tenderness I had towards my father at the end of his life. 

I miss my dad.  I miss Mimi&Pops, one unit.  I miss our boring phone chats:  "Hey Dad. Hello my girl." And then talking about the kids and dogs and my mom and camping or whatever it was.  The absolute relief of the end of suffering and the shock are a buffer and then reality hits 2 weeks in and the person is not away on a trip somewhere.  They are gone, forever.  I want to make it better for my mom and my siblings and the grandkids and Uncle B and Uncle Ralph.  But I can't and we all grieve alone at the end of the day. 

So what do I do?  How do I find my new normal?   How do I get my heart to stop racing?  Its achey this grief thing.  Just so fucking painful.   And everyone has to die.  And this grief truck will hit me again as it has in the past and even though I saw it coming and longed for the end, the force of that truck has literally knocked my breath away.  I miss my dad.  I miss our family. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Endings and beginnings

I like the symbolism of the ritual of New Year's Eve.  Not the whole big party vibe which for a 46 year old non drinker like me, is a literal non event.  I like to reflect on my year past both the lovely and the not so lovely and focus on the new year going forward.

So many people say their year was the worst one ever and they think in a day things will magically change and the next year will be full of sunshine and roses.  While I remain hope junkie and will never be cynical, I know better than to expect a tra lah lah year or one with 12 months of easy peasy bliss and calm.  2017 was a painful year for me.  On this day last year Natey drowned.  I was away in the mountains with no cellphone reception so had no idea the devastation that had just occurred.  I woke up on the 1st of January to a brilliant hot day and snuck off for a trail run before we started the big pack-up after camping.  I was so damn happy and grateful that 2016 had been relatively good.  The first year after 6 hard ones characterized by loss and hard times.  It was a really good light year and even the cancer diagnosis of my father on the 27th of August although devastating, was put in denial as he was so positive and handling the chemo like a boss so I hoped and denied with him somehow thinking he could be that 1% that survived the 5 year mark. 

I ran hot and sweaty and then cooled off in my bra and panties in the coke coloured river and lay on my back and gazed at the brilliant blue sky and thanked God for all that beauty and my year of lightness I had experienced.   I would journal later and write all my resolutions for the year, my goals, my bucket list.  And then as we got down the pass I got cell phone reception and my sister phoned.  I heard the wobble in her voice and she told me she had sad news but it wasn't Dad.  Natey drowned.  Natey??  Not Natey.  That is simply not possible because he is the most beautiful adored little boy and we love his story and his family and he is this little celeb in our lives who we follow every day watching him grow up.  But it was true and it broke all our hearts and life changed for everyone who knew and loved his parents and him.  The ripple of grief spread far and wide.

It has defined my whole year.  I have not had a day when my heart doesn't ache for his parents and his brothers.  He pops into my head several times a day.  The words spoken by his daddy at his service have made me a better person, a better mother.  Nothing can make up for a loss like that but by living long days and being more present and kind and aware I feel I honour his memory and legacy.  I have had many good happy days in the year.  Its a patchwork of different experiences all making up my life.  My studies were incredibly demanding and my community work involved hundreds of interviews and observations and 30 long reports.  I wrote interesting assignments and despite the pressure, enjoyed my last year of studies.  The boys from Bright Lights made me laugh and made me cry.  I have not been around there much and when I popped in 2 days ago I felt so guilty when they were so happy to see me and had thought I was gone forever.  I gave the staff some money to take them swimming which I know is the easy way out but I don't have the capacity at present.

I am not going to write too much about my dad other than to say he has been really really sick the last 4 months and the waiting is very hard.  I am proud to be his daughter, what a fight he has put on.  I have also walked alongside my close friend as she lost her mother to cancer exactly 2 months ago.  We get it, we get each other and the impossible journey we have both had to travel and travel still.  Cancer, Natey, my studies, family, my incredible solo Zanzibar trip, triathlon, friends, camping...all rolled into one year.  Some very happy times and others full of heavy sorrow with lots of ho-hum normal every day life in between.  And that's life I guess.  Hard and easy and beautiful and ugly and happy and sad with everyday chugging along in between.  That will be my 2018 and all the years to follow.  I will stay grateful for my life and the people in it.  I will continue to live long days, to fight good fights and surrender in pointless ones.  I will challenge myself and grow and learn and love and lose and win and be.  I will stay present, mindful and grateful and figure out what and where I am gong next.  Just not right now.  Now I take some time out and be.   

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The cancer journey, losing my dad

We are at the find stage of a very long 15 month cancer journey.  Unfortunately 9 years ago I walked a cancer journey with my mother too but thank God early detection meant we could put vile toxic chemo into her body and kill the cancer and keep the Mama. 

Chemo is brutal.  When my father-in-law got cancer in his late seventies I was convinced the chemo would kill him before the cancer did but old Basil managed to survive both and is now 82 and just fine.  His girlfriend (do you have a girlfriend when you are 82?) lost her husband to cancer too.  Basil lost his wife, Gary's mom to cancer over 20 years ago.  And we lost our Bee too who was only in her forties.  My list can go on and on.

How is it possible we can facetime each other across the world?   We have all this incredible technology most of which is beyond my understanding but someone gets cancer and they die??  When Pops was diagnosed on the 27th of August last year I did what we all do when faced with news like this: google.  Google everything I possibly could about pancreatic cancer (PC) and the news out there was pretty bleak.  Its the cancer with the highest mortality rate due to the late detection and very few cases where surgery is an option.  Most people die within 3-6 months.   The 5 year survival rate for stage 4 is given at 1%.  I suspect its zero but they have to put a tiny glimmer of hope in there.   My dad at age 67 being a stroke survivor with stage 4 PC and mets to the lungs with his old patched up heart of 2 triple bypasses and numerous heart attacks was not given the best odds.  They just sent him home to die and we did not think he would make last Christmas. 

His response was a big fat f*ck you to his death sentence and he decided he was going to beat this monster.  He would throw whatever he could at his cancer because he had a whole lot of life to live and places to go.  We used the same sweet kind oncologist who saved my mom our beloved Dr Loots.   Life became about tumour markers and blood tests and numerous visits.  Bouts of grief and then mad hope junkie moments as I would get swept up in his cycle of hope.  Maybe?  Just maybe he could beat the odds.  My dad is the Man van Staal.  He is one stubborn bugger who loves a good fight like his grandson.  He should have died many times in his life. 

When the first chemo stopped working we hit the second type of chemo but this one was horrendous and left him exhausted and feeling horrendous.  And then he got an embolism which could have easily killed him too but he caught that one in time.  Unfortunately it left him too weak and we had to stop the chemo and were unable to get the port placed.

And so began his real decline and the loss of irrational hope.  Pops finally had a battle he could not win.  He became smaller and smaller and weaker and weaker.   He used to be over a 100kg, he is now 60kg.  Once again the frantic googling began of signs of death.  The not knowing when he will pass is very hard.  Every time I read a symptom and get an idea of time my dad does not follow the rules and defies the odds as always and stays the exception.  He will die at home.  I am grateful to my mom who has given him that gift, an incredibly hard gift to give.  I am also grateful they have brilliant medical aid that pay for the hospital bed and the nursing staff.

This end is very drawn out.  2 months ago he ate a few mouthfuls a day.  4 weeks ago he stopped eating completely.  Like zero food for 28 days??   He cannot even sit up he is so weak.  But still he stays?   We wait every day expecting it to be the day.  I have days when I am so very sad, I have days when I feel like I can't stand one more day of this slow suffering.  My exhausted mother cannot continue like this day after day.  Their are good parts of course.  The closeness of my family.  The humour we all share which is mostly inappropriate but keeps us going.  The sweet gentle side of my dad I never knew existed.  He is so polite and nice.  He could be a real arsehole when he was well.  And we were not close growing up with little physical affection or I love you's.

Now, now I get to rub his bony back and massage his hip and legs which aches.  I rub his arms and skinny little legs and kiss his face and old head.  Every time I leave I say 'I love you Dad' and he says 'I love you my girl.'   I want to know that is the last thing he said to me.  So we wait in limbo unable to plan anything like Christmas carefully watching my mom who has to dig so deep to care for her husband of 49 long years.  He gets very confused and talks the weirdest stuff and we stay infinitely patient with him just going along with what he says.  I love this sweet kind gentle man who I finally have access to after feeling on the outside forever.  The price to pay for that closeness is way too high and I would rather have him alive and well but I will take beauty from ashes.

My sister and brother arrive the end of December so perhaps on some unconscious level he is waiting to have all his kids around him.  I have been glad they have been spared the sight of him so incredibly thin and frail although I know how hard it is for them to be away.  I am so fortunate to have the family I have.  So grateful for my father's close friends and brother who have been incredible with him and my mom.   My Uncle Brian who keeps us all laughing.  My brave, stubborn, fighting dad who I love.  We call him Laz after Lazarus because he keeps rising from the dead.  Mom is Florrie (Florence Nightingale) as she cares for him.  Florrie & Laz, what a team.  Mimi & Pops.  Okie & Dokie.  I can't imagine the one without the other but its the end of the line now.   We salute and release our Pops and give him our blessing to step off the battlefield and sleep forever.  My Dad, what a legend. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Poverty of idleness/recreation

What I wrote on my magical holiday.  I am ready for another!

I have learned many interesting things in my 6 years of studying and 46 years of life.  Learning about poverty is a core focus in social work studies and all the different theories.  One of them is by a Chilean man called Max-Neeff who identified 10 fundamental human needs.  A lack of any of them is recognized as a poverty and causes us to act to fulfill that need.  He has the obvious ones like poverty of subsistence and freedom but then he also has poverty of idleness as well as of transcendence or spirituality which he places of equal importance.

I am typing this while on my magical little holiday on my bed with my big mozzie net all around.  Like a little tent.  Sadly the back of my thighs are on fire as I did not reapply my sunblock while snorkeling and now I can hardly sit.  Hurts like a bitch!   But back to my point:  Before my trip I had my hair done and my hairdresser remarked it was the first time she had seen me without my laptop or textbooks.  I am always working and always busy trying to fit in the 100 beans in my 80 capacity jar.   Sometimes they spill over and sometimes the pressure of all those beans threaten to crack that jar.  I knew I just had to hang on till the 30th of October this year.  I had planned a road trip with my dog Goose as my reward to myself.  I was going to be deliberate and take some time out after literal years of being busy.  Somehow the road trip became a beach holiday and I looked at Vietnam, Bali or Thailand.  With just 7 days the prospect of a 24 hour journey didn’t appeal plus I did not have lots of moola saved so I found Zanzibar.  Another good word…Zanzibar.

When I booked my trip my dad was still doing well but has deteriorated since then.  I had such angst about going.  What if, what if…??  And then just before I left Frances lost her mom who was diagnosed 2 months before my dad.  We have travelled this journey together finding solace and comfort and understanding with and in each other.  I also got really sick but my trip was booked and paid for and so I went.  And now I sit albeit gingerly with my bright pink thighs but even after such a short time, I feel myself heal and breathe again.  My anxiety and sorrow and exhaustion was over whelming.    I felt broken.  And now I feel like I can exhale. I am so so grateful.  To myself for recognizing what I needed and being brave enough to go off alone.  For my sisters and brother and mom who basically pushed me on that plane never considering I need to stay.  And Gary for understanding and my kids for being so excited for me. 

Under the layers of busy and mothering and studying and grief and worry is a person who has this enormous capacity for joy and I found her again.  I am known as a HSP.  A highly sensitive person.  I feel everything with great intensity and I am a total empath so others pain becomes my own.  I can’t drink coffee due to the caffeine or take an advil or any meds.  I am allergic to the hypo-allogeneic tape the physios use and micropore tape and the tape they use under my eyes when I have my lashes done.  My entire system is so finely wired but the plus side, is when it’s good, its very good.  A simple swim in the ocean every morning is a source of enormous delight and I literally grin as I swim up and down so frikking happy.  I know real life awaits me back home and the girls write exams but this little trip has been amazing.  Like washing my dirty windscreen so I can actually sit back and drive and not hunch over trying to peer through the window.  I won’t allow myself to get so poor again re time out.  I can take weekends off now and read books and journal and watch crap TV.  I can swim and beach and hike along with my busy life.  I don’t regret studying for a single second but I do wish I had done a short course instead of a bloody 6 year honours degree.  What an arsehole?  And every year I was in too deep to stop. 

I have loved chatting to people who I would never normally talk to.  The locals are genuinely friendly.  Not the tourist ‘have to be fake’ friendly.  My fave barman Shehe and I talk for ages about our countries and cultures.  Meeting the Israeli young guys was definitely a highlight.  We laughed a lot and spoke shit and had fun.  We will probably never cross paths again but life threw us together for a tiny moment in time and all barriers of age, language, culture and gender melted away and we were just tourists hanging out.   Today I was alone on the trip so 2 guys from the tour company joined.  The one guy is 19 and we could park off on this little boat and talk about random stuff.  That powerful human connection we so often miss because we have our people around us.  

I have 2 days left and done all the tours I want to so I plan to savour them.  My last few swims in the early morning ocean.  Hanging at the pool reading my book.  I might do another bike ride if my butt and legs stop burning.  I am not bound by any schedule or the wants, needs and desires of others.  Being alone is so vital.  Liking your own company.  I was not sure what to expect but I know this week has been an absolute gift from God/the universe/karma.  Just life in general putting back so I can stand up again.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  My gratitude knows no bounds for this precious little trip.


PS:  It’s my last night.  I can’t connect to the wi-fi on my laptop for some reason so I will post this at home.   What a magical week and what a difference it has made in my life.  I found what I was seeking but that’s yet another post for another day.