The Things That Really Matter

“Perspective is as simple as answering this question: If I had 5 months to live would I experience this problem differently?”
~ Shannon L. Alder

 

As you read this, my friend Liz and her young family are readying their bags. They are heading to the airport. They are flying to Hawaii for the holiday of a lifetime.

A lifetime that will soon be over for Liz.

Last week Liz was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Doctors think she has, at best, three or four months. They have told her that there is nothing they can do except manage her condition and pain. They have told her that the end, when it comes, will be a very sudden downhill slide.

But for now, Liz feels okay. She’s tired. She’s sore. She gets a little forgetful. But she’s upright and functioning.

After extensive talks with me last week, Liz and her husband decided to pull their kids out of school and take them on this family holiday. They want to make memories that will last a lifetime. They want these last days together to be good ones, and to make the most of these kinds of opportunities while Liz is still mobile.

Liz has already spoken to her employer, her union, her insurance company. She’s talked with the kids’ schools. I’ve helped her to access palliative care, and have connected her with an excellent social worker who is experienced with guiding people through these kinds of situations.

Why pretend life is normal when suddenly it’s not? Why cling to routine when soon it will be forever changed anyway?

While I was talking with Liz, she said something that resonated deeply with me. ‘I was living on automatic pilot, doing all the things you are supposed to do. Paying the mortgage on a big house. Paying the loan repayments on big cars. Paying off the credit cards. I was working so hard. So is my husband. We live in a beautiful new house we’ve never had time to enjoy. We run around all week doing jobs we hate, and then spend all weekend catching up on chores and housework. I really lost sight of what matters.’

‘What does matter to you?’ I asked her gently.

She burst into tears. ‘I was too worried about stuff. It’s all just stuff. What really matters is my husband and my kids. My mum and dad. My friends. Fergus, our dog. But I haven’t had time for any of that. I think we were actually happier in our old cramped home, where at least we had time for each other.’ Liz pulled herself together. ‘In the time I have left I’m going to teach my children that what matters is where your heart is. It’s your relationships and your family. It’s making memories and having experiences. It’s about slowing down enough to notice the world around you. It’s about doing things that make you happy, like cooking a meal together or working on a scrapbook, or singing Disney songs in the car with your kids, or picking flowers for the kitchen table.’

So now Liz is taking her husband and children to Hawaii, a place she’s dreamed of going ever since she was a small child. They’ll be there until just before Easter, after which they’ll come home to friends and family.

In the time left to her, Liz is going to work with her children on planning their 18th and 21st birthdays. She’ll make scrapbooks and write letters, and record some video messages. She and her husband will go on date nights. She’ll fill her life with the people she loves.

Liz has decided not to follow any last-minute anti-cancer diets, or to fly off and leave her family to search for last-minute miracle cures. She wants to enjoy good coffee, and eat her favourite foods, guilt-free. She wants to take the kids to the beach for fish and chips, or eat pizza and popcorn and ice-cream on the couch in front of a DVD.

In the time left her Liz wants to live, mindful of and grateful for every moment.

I think that’s good advice for us all.

 

The Magical Box Of Broken Dreams

“Before you can live a part of you has to die. You have to let go of what could have been, how you should have acted and what you wish you would have said differently. You have to accept that you can’t change the past experiences, opinions of others at that moment in time or outcomes from their choices or yours. When you finally recognize that truth then you will understand the true meaning of forgiveness of yourself and others. From this point you will finally be free.”
~ Shannon L. Alder

 

It was seeing my mother yesterday that finally and unexpectedly helped me to let go of something I’d been holding onto for the longest time.

I hadn’t seen mum for a while, and I was quietly shocked to see how tired and old and careworn she looked. How much like my late grandmother.

There was something else I recognised in the lines of her face, the creases of her eyes, the aging skin on the back of her hands…

Me.

There I was, in my mother’s face. In her posture and her laugh, and her sun-damaged winter-skinned hands.

Mum’s getting older, and so am I.

It wasn’t a bad feeling. It was an honest acceptance of this thing that is time, marching through our too-short lives and stealing our days whether we are ready or not.

Of course, Lyme disease has also stolen many of my days. Too many, really. But I can’t afford to look back. My power lies in living in the moment, facing forward.

Which is why, close to midnight I rose from my bed, remembering something I hadn’t thought of for a while.

It was there, shoved into the back of the linen closet. Hidden by old towels and sheets. Unused, but never able to be let go of. Just in case. I pulled it out and sat with it for a while. Not sad. Just ready to finally let go.

Many years ago, before I was even married, my nana gave me a tiny pair of knitted booties, a crocheted bonnet and a baby blanket. I was perhaps twenty at the time, and had taken a year off college because of what we thought were the post-illness complications of Ross River fever. I was actually in full-blown lyme, but that’s a whole other story. I hung out with my nana a lot that year, nana and her elderly friends. We swapped arthritis treatments and pain remedies. Despite our age differences we moved in time. Slowly. Limpingly. I was a good fit with the octogenarians. They helped me deal with my limitations, my heart arrhythmias, my exhaustion and lack of mobility. They helped me to laugh at life, and to find pleasure and satisfaction in the small details of my day.

During that year Nana gave me these tiny white treasures for my Glory Box. For when I inevitably became a mother myself.

They were beautiful with their silky little ribbons and tight neat stitches.

Paton's Royal Baby Knitting Patterns - Love Knitting Blog

Paton’s Royal Baby Knitting Patterns – Love Knitting Blog

I wrapped them in tissue paper and put them in a shoebox. A shoebox that got carted across the country and back again. A shoebox that was always crammed into the back of cupboards as I dealt with ill-health, my first failing marriage, and then the five miscarriages that accompanied my second marriage.

But I could never quite part with those tiny white dreams.

Until today.

I’m too old for children now. My dreams have shifted. My reality has changed. I am where I am and where I am is okay.

The tissue paper is musty and the once-white ribbons have the speckled stains of age. With care and a good wash they might all be made good for someone else. Or perhaps they’d be a lovely outfit for a dolly.

This morning when we take Cafe Dog for his outing, I’ll stop in at the local church and put the shoebox in the thrift shop donation bin.

If new babies are born into our family line, I shall find them bright new dreams and fancies.

We can’t carry everything with us.

I know Nana will understand.

Is there anything in the back of your closet that you need to let go of too? Courage, friend. We have today in our hands, and a new day tightly furled, waiting in the wings of this one. Life is full of amazing gifts when our hearts are open to receive.

Image from picshype.com

Image from picshype.com

Using All The Best Things!

“Start living now. Stop saving the good china for that special occasion. Stop withholding your love until that special person materializes. Every day you are alive is a special occasion. Every minute, every breath, is a gift from God.”Mary Manin Morrissey

While I was at university I went to a babysitting job. The family owned and ran the canteen at my college, and worked long hours. They were incredibly proud of their new brick home, and invited me in as if I had arrived at Buckingham Palace.

Over the white shag-pile carpet lay thick plastic runners. Plastic slipcovers encased every piece of furniture in the lounge. It was the height of summer so I was offered a seat on a towel, placed on top of the plastic-covered and uncomfortable sofa. I drank my cold drink from a plastic cup and ate my cake off a chipped old plate, while admiring the china cabinet full of beautiful glassware and a pretty dinner service. It felt like a home no-one lived in. Or a home that they were care-taking for someone else.

All the ‘good’ things – the china, the furniture, the carpet – were being saved for a special occasion.

I wonder if they ever got used at all?

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One thing I learned a long time ago is that life is short, and often unpredictable. Beautiful things are meant to be used, rather than languishing at the back of a cupboard or covered over.

If you have an expensive bottle of perfume, give yourself the pleasure of using it while it is still fresh.

Drink your tea from that beautiful cup.

Wear that gorgeous necklace of your Nan’s.

Be careful with precious things, but use them anyway. It is a natural law that some things will break or be damaged over time. That’s okay too. Don’t let fear stop you enjoying these things.

vintage-bronze-dragonfly-necklace

Serve dinner on the good plates, or create a reason to bring the special things out more often than just at Christmas or Thanksgiving. My grandmother used to bring out all the good china, silverware and glassware when we went there for dinner on a Saturday night. She’d decorate the dinner table with a lace tablecloth and blooms from the garden, light candles, and make the table look like the Queen herself was coming to dinner. Even though it was only us. And sometimes, because we were little, we were in our pyjamas…

Buy yourself flowers for no reason other than the glorious experience of being alive and able to appreciate beauty.

Let yourself live, surrounded by the things that give you pleasure and that make you happy.

Conversely, if it stresses you out to use the good china for fear you might break it – maybe sell it or give it away, and find yourself something you feel comfortable to use every day. Go find the perfect coffee mug, the pretty plates and bowls that can go straight in the dishwasher, the couch you can sink into at the end of the day.

Choose quality over quantity.

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One of my favourite forms of recycling is buying from second-hand and thrift shops, garage sales and antique centres. It’s amazing what kinds of treasures you might find and give a new lease of life. Clothes, books, furniture, homewares, trinkets and jewels…

This week, ask yourself if you are truly using and appreciating what you have. If not now, when?

You deserve to live in your life now. Don’t save things for that mystical unnamed time in the future. Memories are made in the moment, and that’s where life is lived too. That mystical future moment might never come.

Make life a beautiful journey. Don’t keep your dreams and cherished possessions locked away in the cupboard. Live, and surround yourself with what soothes and uplifts you. The everyday deserves beauty and magic as much as a special occasion.

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5 Random Things That Make Me Happy

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“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien

 

1. Little details of loveliness that show people care. Fresh flowers on a cafe table…

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2. Singing along to my favourite songs in the car!

Image from Ake Hige, Flickr

Image from Ake Hige, Flickr

3. Being lost in a book…

Image from bz55

Image from bz55

4.  Seeing shapes in clouds!

and this… (sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

5. Cooking my Nana’s pikelets. I always feel her magic in the kitchen, and that makes me smile. It also makes the food taste good.

Nana's famous pikelet recipe

Nana’s famous pikelet recipe

PS: Pikelets are also coveted by dogs. Dogs make me happy too!

Bert, sneakily eyeing off the pikelets

Bert, sneakily eyeing off the pikelets

Wherever you are, I’m wishing you some sparkles of happiness and joy today.

What little things make you happy?

Much love to you, and a big hug too, ♥ 🙂 Nicole xx

 

 

Just this moment…

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“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” ~ Groucho Marx

It started with a twinge. Just a twinge. So insignificant I might have missed it, if not for the telltale flutter, like a moth caught under my ribcage.

I stopped in the middle of the empty moon-bleached sand and put my hand to my chest.  Hello heart, I said, is there a problem? But like a shell held against my ear, all I heard in response was the gentle sigh and chuff of the ocean.

It changed the end of my holiday, and my days since. Back and forth to doctors, hospitals, specialists.  Endless opinions and possible courses of action – none of them especially palatable.

I’m good with it, whatever happens. I have become a master of managing overwhelm. In fact yesterday I was able to look at a bright-eyed doctor, flushed with the excitement of my case, and whom had just enthusiastically declared me (not me as a person, me as a collective assortment of organs and symptoms) fascinating, and NOT slap his face or take offence. Instead I felt like an old, wise Nana, smiling indulgently at a child who’s been given a challenging puzzle and who is boasting about how easy it will be.

My heart’s misbehaving. But it’s still beating, and I’m still here. (Did you hear that Universe? I’m making a declarative statement!)

No-one knows what the future looks like. All each of us can do is live in this precious moment.

Someone asked me recently what to do about the feeling of time speeding up and life slipping by. While I don’t recommend a life-threatening illness, I do know that living with your attention on what’s happening RIGHT NOW gives time a lustre and a depth that cannot be had while your mind is back in the past, or racing into the future.

Life is beautiful. Life is precious. And all we ever truly have is this moment. Don’t waste it – breathe in, satiate your body with the sights, sounds and smells of the essence of your current reality. Live it, before it slips too quickly through your fingertips. Life lived this way can never be ordinary. YOU will never just be ordinary.

Trust me on this one – the magic is in the Moment – starting right NOW…

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Don’t be a prisoner to memories…

Image by Florian Imgrund: thisiscolossal.com

One need not be a chamber to be haunted;
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place.
~Emily Dickinson, “Time and Eternity”

Memory is notoriously unreliable. Ask any detective or psychologist. Ten people could witness an event and each will have a differing version.  And that version will change over time.

Nothing stays the same. Few things end up looking like the images you store carefully away in your head like old photographs.

Have you ever been back to a place from your childhood and been surprised to find how small it is compared to what you had remembered? Memory gives a brilliance, a drama, a lustre that is added each time we access that moment in our lives. Over time we often embroider extra sparkles, or shade it a little darker.

Don’t get me wrong.  Memory is a wonderful thing. Recalling happy times, remembering and celebrating our relationships and achievements – all of that can have a positive affect on our lives if we’re only dipping into that stream occasionally.

But we can end up living far too much in our heads; wondering what might have been, or thinking about what we could have done differently, what we had, or what we lost. We can become a prisoner to our thoughts. Filled with regrets, or guilts, or suffering. We can harm or limit ourselves with our thinking, because we get stuck in our memories and lose touch with reality.

Fraulein, Roilly le Bas, 2002 by Ellen Von Unwerth

Life is lived in the Now. If we are caught up in regret about a past lover, we miss the soul mate right in front of us. We sit inside, lonely and cold on the couch, instead of running about outside in the sun. One small failure can stop us from ever again attempting the thing where we might shine. We may waste precious time mourning a relationship or situation that would never have delivered us happiness. One great moment can rob you of all of the future joy from the things you’ll never try, because of their perceived inability to match up to that one great thing.

And all the while we are in our head, life goes on, without us.

Let go of the past. Put your memories away. Life is waiting for you, right here at your doorstep. And if you run into ghosts from the past, you’ll most likely find they look nothing like you remembered them anyway.

Life is for living. Life is for experiencing and engaging. There will be time enough to live in your memories, but today go make some new ones.  Embrace life.  It’s a precious gift, and we never know just how long we’ve got, so make the most of it!

Image from bornagainsoutherner.blogspot.com

People will be who they are…

People will be who they are.

Sounds like a bit of a crazy statement doesn’t it, but if you ignore this truth it is often you who becomes crazy…

I have a friend who was in great emotional pain over her relationship with her mother. Each time they meet she came away upset, or disappointed. Her mother was always so critical. This had been going on for over fifty years. My friend kept hoping that just once her mother would be supportive, or approving.

Image from chocolate-fish.net

I have a friend who was in great emotional pain over their relationship with their partner. They went through a pattern of honeymoon and then abuse, honeymoon and then abuse, honeymoon and then abuse. My friend kept hoping their partner would change.

image from dhcs.act.gov.au

People can change.  And they can also, at times, act out of character, but…  mostly people will be who they are.

Each person is driven by their own beliefs, values, education, experiences. They will have their own pattern of behaviours and responses. Once you begin to understand this, life becomes easier. Relationships become easier. Why? Because when you accept what is, you can make choices based around truth rather than desire.

People will be who they are.  They will not be the way we hope they will be. They will not be the way we fear they will be. They will not be the way we want them to be, or expect them to be, or need them to be.

People will be who they are. This, of course, goes for us too, and this is the important bit.  We cannot change others but we can change ourselves.  We can change our responses, our expectations, our level of tolerance. We can also choose to walk away.

Knowing that someone behaves or thinks in a certain way, but wanting that to be different, sets us up for disappointment every time. Or perhaps worse.

If you are honest with yourself about the true nature of your relationship with another, you begin to create new freedoms around those old expectations.

My friend with the critical mother? She has accepted that her mother will never change.  She still spends time with her, and since she no longer waits for the approval or support, her relationship with her mother has actually improved.

My friend in the abusive relationship? Had some counselling, ended the relationship, and is now with a loving partner who treats them with kindness and respect.

image from phil-islands.com

Needing someone to be different, expecting them to change, also prevents us from loving and accepting the other person as they are, which is all anyone ever wants.

(How many times have you wished someone would love and accept you as you are?)

People will be who they are.  If this works for you, embrace it.  If it doesn’t change your expectations, or move on.

 

♥ Life is too short, and too precious, not to give yourself every chance at happiness. ♥

image from shutterstock.com