The Stories That Bind Us, Heal Us

“Don’t try to present your art by making other people read or hear or see or touch it; make them feel it. Wear your art like your heart on your sleeve and keep it alive by making people feel a little better. Feel a little lighter. Create art in order for yourself to become yourself and let your very existence be your song, your poem, your story.
Let your very identity be your book.
Let the way people say your name sound like the sweetest melody.”
~ Charlotte Eriksson

 

Today we farewell my friend, Angela. Family, friends and community will come together to celebrate her life, and to remember her place in our midst.

Humanity is built upon stories, and today stories will help us to heal.

I have sat at the deathbeds of twelve souls now – family and friends – as I watched and assisted with their transition from this life to the next. And in every instance it has been story that has helped the living, and the soul who is passing.

When we tell stories we embrace the magical nature of an ordinary life. What kind of stories? I have never heard a deathbed story yet about a corporate takeover, a successful career, or money made. Nor at a memorial, unless by someone who didn’t have anything except the shallowest of connections with the deceased. Those kinds of stories are tabloid news. Wikipedia entries.

No. When we love and remember our time together with someone who is dying, or who has passed, our stories are always about the journey, and our shared moments. Our ordinary everyday magical moments.

Remember that dress with the puffy sleeves you wore to the school formal? God, we thought we were soooo glamorous.

Remember the time Uncle Charlie dropped his dentures in the punch at the wedding? Your mother was furious, and Aunty Esmay just fished them out and pretended like nothing had happened.

Remember that time when we went camping and it rained and the tent leaked. And then that big storm came? And to top it off we got food poisoning. Worst holiday we ever had.

What was that amazing fish and chip shop we used to go to, down at the beach? You know the one that did the big fat homemade chips and you always just used to get two crumbed sausages even though they had the best fresh seafood on the entire planet? You used to drive Dad mad because you’d never even try the fish. It was so good. So good.

Ah, those were the days. Remember that birthday party with the neighbours when we are kids and…

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Dad worked so hard. Two jobs. Sometimes three. I never realised until years later what a big sacrifice he and Mum made so that we could have a better education than them.

Remember that year you forgot to defrost the turkey and we had toasted cheese sandwiches and ice-cream and pudding for Christmas dinner.

Sometimes it’s a place for confessions and secrets too. I never told you where I really went that day. I never told you how beautiful you looked. I still have that jumper you knitted me. Sorry, Dad. I couldn’t throw it away. Now my daughter uses the desk you made for Grandma. Even after all this time I still treasure… I wish I’d told you… I’m sorry that…

We share the small events of our lives with the one who is leaving us.

It’s a beautiful day today. One of those spring days we get, when the jacarandas are in flower and the days are hot, but the nights are still cool enough that you need a blanket on the bed. There was mist on the river this morning. On the drive over here the radio was playing that song we used to dance to, back at high school. You know the one. I saw so-and-so yesterday. Did you know he’s married now? Two kids and another on the way. I can’t believe I used to have the hots for him. I’m glad you talked me out of that one!

I just had a coffee at that corner cafe. You would have loved the chocolate cake. Good thick frosting, and a little strawberry on top. I know how much you love a good cake.

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When someone is dying, and after they have passed, we swap stories about hair styles and ridiculous fashion, places from our memories, great meals and crashing personal disasters, often with a funny edge. We remember family pets and embarrassing moments. Our first cars, our first romance. Movies and music. Books we loved. How we met. That funny thing they always said. The holiday we had. All of those shared moments.

At the end of our days, or of a loved one’s, the memories we will string like precious beads will be about love and friendship, and adventures and adversities shared and overcome. They will be homespun, with a few exotic locations and amazing highlights thrown in.

We’re almost at the end of a year. A natural time for giving pause and reflecting.What blessings can you plan for the year ahead? What richness can you mine from your ordinary life, right now and into the future? Is your life filled with at least a small amount of the things that make your heart sing? Are you doing the things that really matter to you? Are you spending time with the people you love?

It’s not too late. Life is precious, and it’s yours to do with as you wish. I know that my friend Angela would want to encourage you to live it well, using your heart as a compass. Our time here goes by in the blink of an eye, so make it count!

What story will you write for yourself? What story will you share with the world? In the end it is our stories that bind us, that heal us, and that grow us.

Image from quoteswave.com

Image from quoteswave.com

 

Sometimes The Best Way to Honour The Dead is to Celebrate

The last photo I have of Nana, taken with my Dad on my birthday, 6 September, 2012

The last photo I have of Nana, taken with my Dad on my birthday, 6 September, 2012

“We’re all ghosts. We all carry, inside us, people who came before us.”
~ Liam Callanan, The Cloud Atlas

My beloved Nana would have turned one hundred yesterday.

She passed three years ago, and I find myself missing her more as time goes on. We had a very special connection, and I still talk with her and feel her guiding presence in my life.

Yesterday I held a little celebration of her life, in a way that Nana would have appreciated. A cup of tea and a toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwich (her favourite) followed by a pink cupcake. It wasn’t Nana, but it was the next best thing. The kind of ritual we had followed in life. Her traditional choice of meal if we went out shopping together.

Homemade toasties, just like Nana used to make!

Homemade toasties, just like Nana used to make!

As I age I seem to be gathering so many ghosts to me. It’s like that for all of us, I think. Friends die. Relatives too. Young and old and in-between. So many holes in our hearts, empty places at our tables.

The dead no longer occupy physical space in our lives, but they live on in our hearts. It only takes a song, the smell of cooking on the breeze, a certain place or particular company and they are right here with me. Sometimes, they visit me as ghosts. The veil between me and that other place can be nearly transparent at times.

People have told me that time heals and that memory fades,that eventually I will forget and move on, but I have to disagree. When you truly love someone, that love doesn’t fade if they are no longer here. Hearts are big enough to love many, and keep loving. The nature of the relationship changes, but the heart remembers. I’m glad it does. Why would you want to forget someone so precious?

Yesterday was also a time of reflection for me. Only three years ago I was dying from heart failure. I was on holidays in Thailand when Nana passed in November 2012. I’d had chest pain all day. I was struggling to walk. To breathe. Everything was hard, and I felt so ill and low. I wondered if it was the last holiday I might ever have with my husband.

When I found out about my grandmother’s death I walked down to the beach, and stood in the dark with my feet lapped by the warm caress of the ocean. The sky was lit with stars and as tears rolled down my face I looked up to the heavens and asked my Nana to help me. I told her that I couldn’t keep doing this – living with so much suffering and ill health. I wanted to live, or be done with it. Not this in-between place I’d been in for so long.

Only a few days later, back in Bangkok, a friend suggested that I get my thyroid checked again when I got home to Australia. A bizarre out-of-the-blue comment that led to my lyme diagnosis and subsequent treatment that turned my health around. I truly believe that Nana heard me that night, and helped in a way she’d never been able to while she was alive.

I’ll keep celebrating Nana’s birthday each year. It brings me comfort. It helps me to hold her close. Or maybe she’s holding me. All I know is that acknowledging her birthday seems as natural and right as it did when she was still here to eat that cake with me!

Sometimes the best way to honour our dead is to celebrate their living.

Thinking of you and sending much love, Nicole <3 xx

That's me on my Dad's lap and my little sister on Nana's lap

That’s me on my Dad’s lap and my little sister on Nana’s lap