Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My year of living life differently


One year ago today, my life changed in a moment  and the future that I imagined for myself with my husband of forty years, evaporated leaving a  void in its place – a gaping hole that I had no idea how I was going to fill. It is a huge shock to lose anyone so suddenly but when that person has been part of your existence for more than two thirds of your life then the feeling is indescribable. It is not the first time that I have experienced loss but there are differences that each experience brings and there are similarities.  Almost everyone who has experienced grief will tell you that the sadness washes over you like waves. At first it’s a tsunami that takes your breath away and leaves you panic stricken and gasping for air but as time goes by the seas of life become less choppy and you manage to put yourself beyond the breakers into calmer waters.  This is my reflection of a year of living differently and the lessons that loss have taught me.
The Power of Love:  In those first few days, I didn’t know how I was going to get through the funeral, never mind life but I was carried along by an outpouring of love and caring that startled me. We thought the funeral may be well attended and prepared for a hundred guests – four times that number supported the family on that day with their presence and their prayers and I learned that the power of love is immense and that God sends us angels in human form to comfort and care for us. Things don’t matter – People do. At the end of the day what matters is how well you have loved and how well you are loved by others.
Good Grief: When we deny ourselves the time and space to grieve we will never heal. Time doesn’t heal – it’s what you think and how you process your thoughts that determine whether you sink or swim. Grief is a process and involves coming to terms with loss – it typically passes through the phases of denial, anger, bargaining and finally acceptance.  To help me towards acceptance, I had to acknowledge that life will never be the same again and not to try live life in the same way. To let go and make way for a different experience. You can and will live differently and life is still LIFE!  Let the waves of grief carry you along – go with them, don’t waste energy fighting against the tide.
Milestones not Millstones: During the first 12 months, I have experienced several firsts – our anniversary, his birthday, Christmas, my birthday and lastly the anniversary of his death. These can either be dreaded, feared and spent in a dark room or they can be welcomed as part of healing. That’s why I was on the beach to watch the sunrise on our anniversary and I chose the nearest date to Tony’s birthday for his UK memorial service.  I decided to think of all of these occasions as a celebration of Tony’s life and of our love. I still have that love – it was left with me and will stay with me forever and my heart still has room for more.  I also have welcomed a brand new life into my heart – my granddaughter Katherine. When I look at her and our other two grandies Jessica and Craig, I am reminded that life is unstoppable and that Tony lives in them too as part of their DNA.
Learning from the Past: I have always thought of life as a journey – we encounter people who will walk some of the journey with us but there is only one person who walks with you all the way – YOU! Along the way we learn lessons - there are no mistakes, only lessons. All of our experiences good and bad teach us something – the mistake is not learning from them. If death has anything to teach us it is to live each day as if it is our last for we never know if it is. Say the words that you want others to hear – let those you love know it and if there is something in your heart that needs to be said- say it! Equally, if there is something you have always wanted to do - as Nike says, “Do it Now!”  When you live your life as it was designed to be lived by our creator, then you are honouring those who have gone before you.
Think miserable thoughts and you will be miserable: If you think you are going to have a rotten day – chances are you will. I choose to think positively – sometimes it’s hard work to push worry away but I have learned positive thoughts generate energy and negative thoughts sap energy. I need energy to adapt to and conquer my new circumstances and so I make that choice every morning when I wake up and I make the same choice several times a day some days! I choose to live and not just to breathe – that is existing but it’s not living! Of course some days are harder than others to stay positive but life is good! The good is there if you look for it – in people, in situations and in everything.
Stay open to Possibility: I decided early on to accept invitations from friends and family to join them and not to stay at home alone. I know myself well enough to know that I am not designed to spend lots of time on my own. I love people and I like being with others - yes, there are times when I have wanted to be on my own but when an opportunity has come my way to enjoy myself I have grasped it with both hands. I have been told that some people feel guilty enjoying life after they have lost someone and that society has a way of judging the bereaved should they be found smiling too soon. I absolutely hate the idea that people feel sorry for me - I would rather die than be an object of pity and I would rather society find me guilty of enjoying life than be approved of and be alone and unhappy. I have been on tour with a bunch of strangers this year which proved to be an adventure and a hilarious one at that! I have traveled, made new friends, had weekends away, spent time with my camera and stayed open to the possibility of new interests, work and relationships and I have learned that, "Man cannot discover new oceans if he is afraid to lose sight of the shore." Don't let fear of the unknown hold you back - Set sail and trust that God will take good care of you!

I am truly grateful for what this year has taught me. I am truly grateful for the friends and family that have supported me during this leg of my journey and I am truly grateful that the universe has granted me the opportunity to live, learn and think differently this year.  I know that Tony would have wanted me live life and to enjoy the rest of my journey. As I set sail for the next year of my adventure i know without doubt he would wish me, "Bon Voyage!"

Friday, January 24, 2014

Read all About it!

One of the great things about being in Great Britain is reading the Great British newspaper. There are at least ten to choose from daily and today's Daily Mail is a wonderful 80 pages long - you can spend at least an hour reading it and many of the approximately 13 million people who buy a newspaper each day do!
In fact, 12,681,472 (according to ABC figures for the nationals in November this year and for the regionals in the Jan-June period this year).  The 10 London-based national titles sell an average of 9,540,993 a day. The 68 English regional dailies (mornings and evenings) together sell 2,085,116. The nine Scottish dailies sell 735,002; the six Welsh sell 183,131; and the three Northern Ireland titles sell 137,230. That is quite something!
The power of the British press is not an illusion and its obviously not a thing of the past - the news articles are generally well written and are a mix between serious news, amusing and quirky pieces, feel good stories, sports, finance pages and then of course the advertisements. This recipe seems to work for most of the papers but the ratio depends on the publication. Yesterdays Mail led with a headline "New Sex Storm Shames Lib Dems' so sex and scandal still sell papers as The News of the World proved for many years as Britain top selling Sunday paper, till they pushed the boundaries too far with the 'hacking scandal' that proved to be the scandal to end all scandals for them.
What I love to read though is not usually on the front page. I like to dig into the middle pages for hidden treasure - the hidden snippets of trivia,  like the article about the anger of South African officials about the rabbit carved in the ear of a bronze statue of Nelson Mandela unveiled in Pretoria in December last year. Apparently its the trademark of the sculptor and meetings are underway to get it removed. Really!! I think Nelson would be charmed and with his great sense of humour may suggest 'hare' spray! Then there is an article about a driver who drove through a puddle drenching parents and children on their way to school and faces a R 90 000 fine! Surely that is an April fool - except its January!
Also there is half a page about a doll that apparently promotes anorexia - Do 3 year olds know what that is I wonder! The offending doll closes its mouth and shakes its head when offered food - in a similar way to toddlers who wont eat their dinner! Having a look around the Great British public who clearly love their pies, crisps, cakes and beer - I think these dolls should be compulsory purchase! The same article shows this picture of the doll that won an award this year - Its called a Worry Eater - I think it gives a clear message that worrying gives you bandy legs and makes you a funny shape!!
There is an interesting article about PINK and how we should wear it, write in it, paint our lips and nails with it in order to prevent us losing the will to live in the depths of the Great British Winter. Earlier this week, I read that the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year in the UK and there are efforts to launch Blooming Monday on this day, and encourage people to wear bright colours in order to reduce depression and SAD syndrome (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
My favourite though was a very funny send up by Craig Brown "10 things that you didn't know about the film Zulu" - which is broadcast over Christmas every year in the UK. The piece explains how the film was nearly named 'Lulu' after the 60s singer and how cutting of one scene resulted in the loss of a really good dance number and how eventually the Zulus were repelled by a rendition of  'Men of Garlic'. We-e-e-ll, it made me want to SHOUT with laughter and is a masterpiece of satirical writing and so funny that I cannot do it justice  - click here for the link too read it.
 PS I don't think the Boer War is funny - just in case i start another scandal!
 I cant wait for the weekends papers - They are bigger better and blow me away!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Its in the bag!


Packing! I have never been very good at this and you would think with my travel record that I would have learned something. I do everything that the book says - I make a list, colour coordinate my outfits, pack dual purpose cosmetics eg – a bodywash that is a shampoo as well and just when it all looks neat and efficient, I throw in all the things that I cannot live without!

When pregnant with my first a stay in hospital was necessary – I didn’t do this with the other 3 boys, but not because I can’t pack – I packed a neat little case in my 30th week and it sat expectantly (excuse the pun) in the hallway ready for the big day. When it came I was admitted to hospital and stayed there for 3 days only to be told I was not in labour! “I am,” I protested but I was led panting out of the building and deposited at my mothers who promptly emptied my case of now worn sleepwear and washed everything. Three hours later I was rushed, panting harder, back in to the same ward with a black plastic bag of half dry nighties – hurriedly packed by a panicking husband and traumatised mother. My son was born before the washing was dry and I stayed in a hospital issue pauper gown while all the yummy mummy’s around me sat in floral sprigged splendour!

The big exodus to South Africa with a family of then six necessitated 2 taxis to get us to the airport – one for the family and one for our luggage. I could not envisage Lee or Wrangler jeans being sold in Africa nor Clarke's leather shoes so I bought enough pairs of both to last until the boys turned 16 – I was right about the Clarke's shoes! The luggage pile at check in looked as if a tour group were about to depart.

On recent trips back and forth to the UK and elsewhere, I have returned with rolls of wallpaper, brass ornaments, a silk double bed sized duvet, mirrors, teapots, silk topiary trees and once a small carpet which I was prepared to wear if the check in desk rejected my weight allowance plea.

On my last couple of trips overseas I have arrived at “the other side” with odd shoes – well they were both black and I might have worn them but they were 2 left feet! Clothes that I had shrunk in transit - well that’s my story and I am sticking to it - and I once managed not to pack any underwear at all – I simply forgot.

When I was in the UK in September I ‘lost’ the combination number to my suitcase and had to split the stitching open and pull my possessions through a hole. I never got that case opened and had to buy another one for the return journey.

Determined to get it right this time – I went online and looked for some tips. This is what I found!

  1. Choose versatile clothing and footwear that fit into your travel activities. Versatile clothing means you pack fewer items, especially if they can do double duty.No need to pack my burgundy hand painted silk skirt then – it comes everywhere with me because I LOVE it!
  2. Stick to simple colour schemes and patterns so that all clothing mixes and matches. I do this but the pile of fifty shades of neutral grey garments have to be rescued by another pile of red, purple and blue! 
  3. Separates give you lots of outfit possibilities.  Yes! But why do mine make me look like a bag lady when I coordinate them on ‘the other side”. 
  4. A packing list can help you organize the items you’re bringing. Critically look at the packing list and see where items can be eliminated or replaced with lightweight or double duty items. Done the list thing and then once I have packed everything on the list – I have to pack my favourites and the things I really really need!
  5. Do what I call a “shakedown a week or so before departure.  Lay everything out that’s on your packing list and make sure all clothing coordinates.  Try things on if necessary because you may not have access to a full-length mirror during your trip and you want to ensure all your outfits fit well.  Edit out any unnecessary items.  Note anything you might be missing. Are you MAD – a week before!!! Planning to me means packing an hour – max – 2 before I leave!
  6. Bring enough outfits to last a few days and plan on laundering clothing. That can mean doing laundry in hotel/hostel sinks, laundromats, or using a laundry service. I am going on holiday!
  7. Lightweight materials dry quicker and take up less space than bulky knits. Look for clothing made from modal, viscose, rayon, tencel, cotton blends or lightweight cotton. Avoid 100% bulky cotton clothing, it takes too long to air dry and takes up too much precious space. Everything I pick up is lightweight – it’s just when it’s all in the case that it weights 30K. I have learned about washing bulky dressing gowns by flooding more than one hotel bathroom.
  8. Wear bulky items on travel days. Items such as jeans, sweaters, boots, and coats worn on travel days keep your luggage light. No Ways!!! This article was obviously written by someone who travels in the same hemisphere. I saw a lady at the airport in PE this morning in jeans, a coat and sheepskin boots, she had obviously read this article. It was 28C and she did not look well…or sane!
  9. Choose clothes that help you layer appropriately for the weather conditions of your destination. Yes – I am beautifully layered today – the other 5 layers are in my carry on bag!
  10. Accessories increase your outfit options and keep your looks from being boring. A belt changes a look instantly, so can a scarf. Introduce colour and pattern in you accessories if you like. Ok the person who wrote this article has a waist! I have packed several scarves and pashminas and I do know that chunky accessories often with a ton!
  11. Pack double duty toiletry items. If you are carrying on luggage make sure all toiletry items meet – I have my double duty items – they added 2 K to my luggage weight. Better still buy them on “the other side” or steal your sisters!!!
  12. Keep your secondary carry on bag light as well. There’s nothing worse than lugging around a heavy carry-on in addition to your luggage. My carry on bag is full of the things that keep me in touch with myself and the world – laptop, ipad, GPS, Kindle assorted chargers and then there is just enough space for my coat and boots needed on arrival in the frozen north. I agree that it should be light though as I have been whacked in the face by several heavy ones hanging from the shoulders of ignorant travelers as they barge down the aisle!
  13. Constantly edit and evaluate what you plan on bringing. Look at your packing list after a trip and note any unused items.  This will help you pack for your next trip and become a light traveller. Oh no it doesn’t.  Remember, in your travels you'll meet two kinds of tourists — those who pack light and those who wish they had.  I obviously belong to the latter! Is there any hope for me?

Say it out loud: "PACK LIGHT PACK LIGHT PACK LIGHT."

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Such is life!

I am about to head off to the frozen north again. I know, I can hear you asking - Why swap this wonderful, warm sunshine and these clear blue skies for the wet pavements and the grey thundery clouds of the UK? Anyone who is an alien here or has lived for a significant period of time on foreign soil will understand - It's all about roots and how we need to connect and reconnect with them as we journey through life. They say never look back but I think reflection is all about looking behind you - just  as when we look at our reflection in a mirror. What lies behind me, good and bad, has shaped me into who I am today and I am more than OK with that. I look around at the faces in my home country and I think,"These are my people - my clan." and while I know right now I cant be with them I do so love their familiarity and friendliness. I love the sense of belonging that being 'home' gives me and yet I belong here too in South Africa - when you emigrate you live forever torn into two.
At least every couple of years when I am back in my homeland, I am compelled to seek out the houses that I have lived in. My childhood home, remembered as a stately home of considerable size, turns out to be just a normal semi detached with a pocket sized front lawn. The area around it is now built up but in my memory's eye, I can see the fields and the cows grazing on my dad's vegetable patch.Happy times! There is nothing to beat the nostalgia of a whiz around the country lanes past my old school and into the fields that we ran through as children with a bottle of water and a bread packet of jam 'butties' as we explored our world - which really was as vast as the horizon our young eyes could see. In the summer holidays at least one of us six children limped home sopping wet after a days fishing in the brook while the rest ran ahead with a bucket full of tadpoles! These were taken back almost immediately to avoid a plague of frogs in the veggie patch.
The first house we purchased as a married couple now appears minute and the hard work put into establishing the pretty garden a waste as I survey the brickwork that has replaced it.
I gaze with wonder at the home I brought my fourth-born home to. Surely the walls are made of elastic to have been able to hold all six of us inside. Is that really the sapling we planted grown into a tall sturdy tree that holds a swing. Did we really allow our boys to cycle outside on that busy road?
Don't get me wrong I have no desire to return permanently to these places and not all of my memories are happy ones but I do miss the sense of community that I took for granted then and I remember a life that seemed so much simpler.
Progress is about moving forward not backwards and means letting go of possessions, situations and places - leaving family and friends behind is the hardest and an everyday reality in South Africa where the political situation has seen the exodus of a whole generation of young people that has splintered families.
Home is where the heart is and I regularly tell myself that wherever I find myself is where I am meant to be. For the last forty odd years, I had a wonderful travel companion and each crossroad that we stood at as we journeyed through married life led us down a new path - some more challenging than others to travel, but all of them marked our progress. I am alone now at the crossroads but I still have my compass to give me direction. I just have to trust it and continue my journey as it has been mapped out for me.  Who knows a decade from now I may be stood looking at this house and remembering what these walls held of mine.
Such is life!