“Grief is not as heavy as guilt, but it takes more away from you.” ~Veronica Roth
For hours I’ve sat, empty.
Unable to sleep. Not even able to meditate or pray.
A friend’s twelve-year-old daughter died last night. They turned off her life support. I sat with her and her family and supported them through that awful night, and then when I could do no more I came home.
This little girl didn’t die from cancer, some terrible illness, an accident…
She died because she had been relentlessly bullied and cyber-bullied at the boarding school where her family had thought she was happy and safe. She died because she’d tried to take her own life and she did enough damage that her parents had to finish what she began.
She was twelve. Small as a bird. She’d loved horses and books and playing the violin and baking cupcakes.
Her soul is free now. She has returned to love. We found that space of love together with her last night, and the room was peaceful afterwards, and calm.
But all I can think about this morning was how tiny her body was in that large bed, and how her mother was white with grief and her father broke in front of me and I had no words to make sense of this. For them, or for me.
“If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are, here and now and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong.” ~ Masaru Emoto
Someone asked me yesterday how I came to be so strong. And how they could be stronger in facing their own challenges.
I thought deeply on this, and then I made you this list. I hope it helps.
Let your children fail, be disappointed and be let down. At the same time love them, and help them understand that the Universe does not revolve around them, and that good manners and kindness are important always, and especially so when you are losing while someone else is winning. (Thanks, Mum and Dad ❤)
Breathe and be in the moment. In the moment you can get through the next second. In the moment you are larger and stronger and more hyper-aware, and life can actually be beautiful even as it devastates.
Maintain relationships. Have a friend to phone, or a neighbour with whom you can drink tea. Many times my sister has been my lifeline. Online friendships have made the difference when I had no energy for face-to-face.
Cry. And then keep going.
Sleep. And then keep going.
Make a serious motivational music mix for those soul emergencies. PLAY IT LOUD.
Find your faith. That might be God, or nature, or love. It might be the unconditional love of a dog. It might be the stillness of meditation. Visit and sit in that space of faith often.
Meditation. I do it daily. Even a few minutes help.
Have gratitude for the small details of life. A good cup of tea, laughing, the smell of salt on the breeze, clean sheets, the shape of a cloud, sunshine or rain.
Life’s adversity gifts you the opportunity to know yourself better, and to choose how you will behave and think – even when you have little or no control over your situation or the eventual outcome. Step back from yourself, observe and learn. You’ll be amazed at how much strength, grace and courage was always inside you waiting for you to need it.
Make art, follow your dreams, and do them in the moments when you have some energy. When there is no energy for anything then dwell in your imagination with those dreams. Don’t put them down just because you are broken. We are all broken. Broken people can still live well and get stuff done.
Live. While there is breath in your lungs and a beating heart in your body stay curious, keep trying, stay open, and live.
You’ve got this. Go surprise yourself. I know you can, and it’s a glorious moment when you realise that you can live happily even when broken, wounded, dying or less than whole.
“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” ~ Maya Angelou
Our beautiful young red cattle dog, Rufous, has found a new calling.
He’s certainly at home on our farm doing his chores and rounding up the cows. But he’s also discovered a wonderful hidden talent – he’s become a hit at the aged care facility where one of our family members lives. The home is for women with moderate to advanced dementia, and it has become his favourite destination.
Rufous is a gentle boy. He’s only just turned two, so you think he’d still have a puppy-brain (and if you watched him run around like a demented pixie with his dog brother Harry here at our farm you’d KNOW he is still just a pup) but when he is in the presence of these frail elderly women he suddenly becomes attentive, caring, responsible and wise.
He seems to know when someone needs extra love and attention. In his presence, the women smile and laugh. Some of them talk to him when they are silent for everyone else. He stands so still for them to pat him or hug him clumsily, and always seeks out the shy ones who stand back and would otherwise not get a turn to say hello.
This little rescue dog has paid the favour forwards.
“It is best as one grows older to strip oneself of possessions, to shed oneself downward like a tree, to be almost wholly earth before one dies.” ~ Sylvia Townsend Warner
One of our loved ones is elderly and in care. She has dementia and numerous health problems, but until recently she has always alternated between being determined to go home to her own home or being happy to be where she is, within the walls of a place that looks after her and helps her feel safe and connected to others.
Suddenly that’s shifted. Yesterday she told us she no longer wants to be here. She is tired of living, she said. So very tired. She’s had enough. She’s miserable and is it okay that she just wants to go?
She’s lost all interest in food. She’s struggling to keep up with conversations that were okay for her even a week ago. In every way we can see her withdrawing from life.
She’s easing away from us, and as much as it breaks my heart I am also relieved for her. There’s no more fight in her. No more strength. She’s down to her last meagre reserves. Of course it’s okay if she wants to go. It’s her life, and she’ll know when she’s ready. My prayer now is that she really does just slip away.
Sending you all so much love, and my wishes for peace in your life and peace in your heart,
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ~ John Muir
I felt raw yesterday, raw and exhausted and all used up. (not sure why, read this post)
I tried to sit at my desk and work, but couldn’t find a rhythm. My overflowing inboxes were overwhelming. I didn’t have enough words left in me for writing or for guiding. So, in the end, I left the hotel and began walking.
At first I walked without noticing anything but my feet moving along the footpaths and roads.
My head was strangely full of the sudden worry of becoming old and ill and having no-one to care for me. I have a chronic degenerative illness. My husband and I have no children. My siblings have no children. My circle is small and ever-dwindling. Who will advocate for me at the end? Who will hold my hand?
Stupid fat tears kept rolling down my cheeks.
I kept walking.
The more I walked the more these worrying thoughts emptied out.
I began to notice my surroundings. Shopfronts, cafes, flower carts, old churches, street musicians, the aroma of coffee and freshly baked bread.
I began to notice people.
Suddenly I was laughing. My heart filled up with beauty and wonder. I have faced death before and in those hours strangers were there for me. Nurses and doctors and kind-hearted hospital workers.
In someone else’s trials I was there for them.
That’s how it’s meant to work. How can I trust the spiritual flow of my work and not trust that this flow will also somehow support me in my time of need?
Silly me. It’s all okay. It will always be okay.
After my long walk I came home and slept. Then I returned to my desk. There is much work to be done and I am the one to do it and that’s okay too.
“We feel most alive when we are closest to death.” ~ Nenia Campbell
I’m in Adelaide right now, staying on my own while I write and work and attend a conference. After dining with friends last night I went back to my hotel and, on a whim, decided to go and check out the outside pool and spa area even though the night was cool and not much good for swimming.
The area was in darkness, but the buildings around us were lit up and pretty and the night sky’s stars twinkled above me. It was so peaceful, there on the roof, and so I sat down in the closest chair to enjoy a few moments of solitude and connection.
‘It makes you feel small and big all at once, doesn’t it?’ said a voice quietly beside me.
I looked around to see an older man sitting in the shadows a small distance away.
‘Yes,’ I answered. Then I apologised for interrupting his peace, for I was sure that I had. I stood up and excused myself, wishing him a good night and was almost back at the door which led to the lifts when I found myself returning to the pool, my legs walking me there all by themselves so it felt.
‘I’m sorry to interrupt again,’ I said, ‘but I just wanted to check that you’re okay. Are you okay?’
‘No, not really,’ he said. ‘Actually…’ and then he paused for a long time before clearing his throat, ‘I’m not really sure how I feel.’
I sat in the seat beside him, both of us looking out at the night sky and the pretty lights. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’ I asked.
He sat there for a long time, the silence thick between us.
‘I went to the doctor today,’ he said, finally. ‘I’m from the country, about six hours drive from here and I came down to town to get my results. They’re not good.’
The silence between us changed, linking us somehow in that quiet space.
‘I knew they wouldn’t be good,’ he said. ‘But I didn’t think they’d be as bad as they are. He said I had maybe two good months left. Maybe less, and then everything would turn to shit and then I’d be gone within another month, tops. If I was lucky. He was a nice young bloke, that doctor. Kind, and I could tell he was talking straight with me, and sort of cushioning the blow a bit…’ He breathed out, a long heavy sigh. ‘But it’s a lot to take in, and sitting in my room I felt suddenly like I couldn’t breathe unless I could see the sky. So I came out here to sit and think about it a bit and try to take it in. And then you turned up.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘It must have been a shock.’ We sat there a while longer and then I reached across and took his hand. He clung to mine tightly, his hand warm and dry in mine, and suddenly we didn’t need words at all.
We sat there for an hour, just holding hands and then he said to me, ‘You’re shaking with cold. Come on, let’s go to the bar and I’ll buy you something to warm you up.’
So we sat downstairs in the almost empty bar until midnight, him nursing a fine cognac and me sipping peppermint tea, and I talked to him about dying, and about getting his affairs in order and how he could best manage what was ahead of him, given that he was an older man estranged from his only son, and with his wife passed on from a car accident nearly twenty years ago.
We talked honestly and openly and I shared all I could and on the back of a bar napkin we made him a plan. Then I gave him my phone number, hugged him and went to say goodbye.
He hugged me again, fiercely, and then he pulled me closer and whispered, ‘I was praying tonight to a God I haven’t believed in since Maggie died, and then you turned up. Thank you. I swear you were sent by the Angels, love. Bless you.’
We parted with tears in our eyes and then I went back upstairs to my lonely hotel room, threw the curtains wide so I could see that pretty night sky and I sat in the dark with a full and aching heart from the beauty and savagery and majestic synchronicity of life, and I cried.
“There is a way of being wrong which is also sometimes necessarily right.” ~ Edward Abbey
Ah, lovelies, I’m so tired just now.
We’ve been travelling endlessly back and forward between our farm and Brisbane the last two years as one of our elderly family members has become more and more incapacitated. Advancing dementia, mobility issues, deteriorating hearing and sight. We tried to keep her in her home as long as we could by sharing her care among family members, and then one day she went into hospital and the staff told us she couldn’t go home. We needed to find somewhere she could be looked after 24/7. When she went into care it was bittersweet – we cried that we had failed her but it was also such a relief to have that burden of her care lifted from us. It took weeks for her to settle in and then suddenly she was happy again and that new place became home.
Foolishly we thought life would go back to normal a little more. And then she fell.
Since then it has been an endless round of visits to her in the aged home or to be beside her bed on hospital stays where we try to visit daily to ensure that she is eating, and is comfortable and is not frightened or lonely.
Her mind is slipping. She asks us the same few questions over and over. The stories of her youth, once clear and well remembered, are merging into each other. She was a seamstress when she was young. Had loved dancing. Was courted by a young American soldier during the war, but married a local boy who played football with her brothers. We don’t correct her any more when she gets the details wrong. It just upsets her, and us. So we agree with what she says.
Even more than that we actively participate in the space she is in. In recent hospital visits she became distressed, aggressive, distrustful. All she wanted to do was go home. To the home. To her friends, she kept telling us. We could only calm her by telling her she would be released soon. Maybe tomorrow, we would say.
When she was delusional and told us she had been walking around (when she was actually lying in a hospital bed rigged up to countless machines and devices) we asked questions about where she went and what she did. Her mind created elaborate stories to explain what was happening and who these strangers were in her life. In the stories were tiny shreds of truth. We went along with it all if it seemed that it helped her to feel safe and at peace.
When the nurse came on his rounds, the same one who she said had been sent to torture her earlier in the day (she had thrown things at him, and at his fellow nurses, and threatened to call the police if they didn’t leave her alone), I introduced him as my friend – as someone new – and said he was the best and most caring nurse in the hospital. Suddenly she became polite and compliant and sweet with him. Every lie I spoke was worth it. For her and for us all. It broke my heart to see how trusting she was in what I told her. But it helped and she went to sleep calm again and comforted.
Last night she was back in hospital, less than a week after she was last discharged. For a new problem. She was in a lovely emotional space, calm and happy. The conversations we had were lucid and engaged. But she wanted to go home. Not to the nursing home, but her old home. It soothed her when we told her it was all ready for her, that it would be there when she was ready to be discharged. Even her doctor played along. Yes, she could go home soon. He was attentive and patient and repeated himself over and over with kindness and care.
Such beautiful lies. After the doctor left we talked about taking her shopping to buy a new dress or to help me choose one. We talked about Sunday roast lunches at her house and the whole family coming to visit. We talked about her independence when she gets out of the hospital. And none of it is true. And all of it made her smile and helped her settle down and go to sleep.
Such beautiful lies. And we will keep telling them until she goes to her final home, and all the loved ones who are waiting for her. It comforts her, and it comforts us, and that is all that matters.
“Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know possible.” ~ Tia Walker
We have an elderly family member in hospital right now. It’s a place she has visited frequently these past few months after her the first major fall. She is old and frail and her health is failing. Things keep going wrong. And so she finds herself alone – a tiny body in a big bed in a big empty room, far from the friendships and care of her usual environment.
She has dementia. Everything is more confusing, more confronting in this space. Each time we visit she is surly to start with. Emotional. Sometimes there are tears. Sometimes there are sharp words. We don’t take it personally. It’s just the time of day. Her mood is always worse at nightfall and in the evenings, but that’s just part of this awful disease.
We’ve learned to ignore those displays of hostility and to keep being loving and kind. We reassure her, and sit close by her, and we hold her hand. We repeat the same stories over and over, and answer the same questions over and over, and somewhere in that space she moves from distress or anger to laughter and a warm, open discussion of life and happy memories from the past.
I have learned that there is nothing like human touch to calm someone who seems otherwise unsoothable. I have learned to take lotion to rub into her hands and face, her arms and legs. To brush her hair. And always, always to hold her hand.
I have learned that she may not eat because the food is too hard to see, or she doesn’t know what it is or how to open it, or it’s too hard to cut up, or she can’t get the drinking straw or juice cup to her mouth. So an uneaten meal may not mean she’s not hungry but that she simply needs help to eat. I have learned to feed her like you’d feed a child. She opens her mouth like a little bird and I pop morsels of food in, and she smiles at me and makes me promise not to tell people I am feeding her when she could really do it herself. We pretend that is true and I keep feeding her until the food is gone or she is satisfied.
Every visit becomes a blessing. Something that soothes and restores something in me as much as it calms and reassures something in her. Once upon a time she was a woman who held herself apart. I am grateful that this illness has allowed me the chance to become close to her, and for us to find a way to say things that might not have ever otherwise been said.
Sending much love to you, especially all of the carers and those who are looking after elders, Nicole ❤ xx
“Well, I always know what I want. And when you know what you want–you go toward it. Sometimes you go very fast, and sometimes only an inch a year. Perhaps you feel happier when you go fast. I don’t know. I’ve forgotten the difference long ago, because it really doesn’t matter, so long as you move.” ~ Ayn Rand
Don’t you love the glorious blue sky (see top pic) that greeted me at breakfast yesterday on my last day in the Adelaide Hills?
I sat in a cafe and ate on my own, and spent time planning my week ahead. It was wonderful – my table was next to an open fire and I found myself with plenty of quiet thinking time and reflection on the week that was, before I went back to my room to pack and head to the airport to fly back to Brisbane.
Back in Brisbane as I waited at the carousel for my luggage I watched the people coming and going, and I marvelled that I was one of them.
In the past week I have run an evening event, conducted two days of private consultations, been out to dinner and all over Adelaide exploring with friends and then attended a very full-on three day conference that included one late night and very long days. I’ve also drunk coffee and enjoyed a few alcoholic beverages, eaten cake and chocolate and all kinds of other yummy things and managed to still feel good.
Somehow my health has held up for it all. More than that, I’ve enjoyed myself and felt like a normal human being for most of the time I was away.
Look – that’s me at the conference! (see pic below)
That might not sound very remarkable to you. But the truth of my life has been that most of the past fifteen years have been spent in my pyjamas, or in comfortable clothes – staying very close to home, and being in bed early. As someone with late-stage lyme disease and all sorts of other health complications, independent travel has not been on my radar. I’ve always needed someone with me, and I’ve needed plenty of rest and down days.
So this past week has been a glorious victory.
My brain has worked. My body has worked. And I’ve been humbled again and again to still be here on this planet when I’ve had so many close calls that I thought would have ended my life before now.
So for all of you who are currently struggling with health issues or anything else that is slowing you down I want to encourage you not to give up. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever see a day again when I’d be well enough to venture forth in life on my own. Sure I’m still working within limits, and I still nurse myself along. I’m careful in my choices. But I HAVE choices, and that’s a miraculous and incredible thing.
It’s back to herbal tea and organic vegetables and early nights and my normal routine again today. I’m looking forward to it!
Don’t give up on your dreams, my friends. Miracles happen every day.
Love you! Nicole ❤xx
(And yep, that’s me happily upgraded to business for the flight home – yippee!)
PS – Also, I just need to tell you – some days I just want to jump up and down and run around screaming I’M ALIVE AND IT’S BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
“Another way to be prepared is to think negatively. Yes, I’m a great optimist. but, when trying to make a decision, I often think of the worst-case scenario. I call it ‘the eaten by wolves factor.’ If I do something, what’s the most terrible thing that could happen? Would I be eaten by wolves? One thing that makes it possible to be an optimist, is if you have a contingency plan for when all hell breaks loose. There are a lot of things I don’t worry about because I have a plan in place if they do.” ~ Randy Pausch
this is a short and possibly sombre post, but also a necessary one.
It’s about Wills and about the fact that I want to make sure you have one.
In this last week I’ve had four clients rushed to hospital after sudden accidents or illness, and another four diagnosed with terminal cancer.
All of them have young children, pets, possessions. Of the eight, six are single parents.
Two of these single parents are in critical condition and unable to communicate. None of the eight of them have a will, or have talked with anyone about what their wishes might be if something like this was to occur.
Because, of course, we seldom think about these kinds of things when everything is going along normally.
Now the families and friends of these severely injured and incapacitated souls are scrambling to put things in place, but there is nothing to guide them.
What do these people want for their children in the event of their death?
What did they want for themselves when faced with major medical decisions?
I know it’s a chore to get organised for something like this. It forces us to think about things that all of us would prefer to ignore. But once it is done you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that your wishes can be known and that you won’t be leaving further stress and mess for the very loved ones you’d want to protect.