Grief like cancer…

I started writing a post a couple of weeks ago. Until today, I had totally forgotten about it. I was on a plane from Christchurch to Wellington reflecting on death and cancer – my eyes welling up with tears having only moments before just learned of my cousin’s death to cancer. Here’s what I began writing…

Sunday 8th June 2014
I just finished reading John Green’s “The Fault of Our Stars”. I finished it late last night. If you haven’t read it, I highly and thoroughly recommend it. For those of you who have read it, you may understand just how ripped apart I feel.

Everyone wants to live.
Even cancer wants to live.
But my cousin… she died.

Yesterday in fact.

It’s a difficult thing to wake up and find your facebook newsfeed so full of pictures of your cousin who only a few days ago found out she had cancer. My immediate thought was that people were wishing her all the best for her battle. But the further I scrolled, the more I could see grief, loss and sympathy. That moment was so unreal so I called my dad to ask him what was going on. It was exactly as I had feared. My spunky cousin was gone. Cancer wanted to live, so she died.

It’s not always easy to hear and discover heartbreaking and devastating news on social media sites but as I sit here on this plane reflecting, I think maybe it’s easier to tell it. The internet isn’t a face. There are no tears on your screen, apart from the ones dripping from your own face. There are no awkward questions about how she died. There are no silly stutters as people search for those foreign words of condolence. You can shout it into the void of the internet, and you can walk away. And even better, you the condolence-giver have time to search for those foreign words.

 

I’ve experienced a few deaths in the last few months that have had some effect on my inner-person. I have cried my fair share of tears this year. It’s been both emotionally and spiritually draining. I don’t hold to much faith these days. I belong to a community of people who meet together once a month – who appreciate where I’m at in my current life circumstance and we journey along anyway. Sometimes we talk about faith stuff – God, Jesus, the like. After my cousin died, I kept coming back to thoughts about the afterlife. No one can really give you anything specific – like what’s happening now for my cousin. Where is she at? But there’s this comforting idea that she’s here making sure he babies are going to be ok before she passes on to something different. There’s the comforting idea that they’re all together – all our deceased loved ones.

Before they closed up her coffin, I, a blubbering mess, whispered one thing into her ear…
“I love you cuz – please take care of my Jojack.”

If there’s anything these past few tragedies have taught me – it’s that life is soooo much shorter than we want it to be. I want to write a whole lot more about it but I feel like John Green speaks them all for me. You should just read it. At the end of the day, we get our infinities. Lots of infinities. Maybe not as infinite as that guy over there, but we have today.

I also learned that funerals aren’t for the dead but for the living. I’ve seen a few this past year and I have often wondered whether the dead person would appreciate it as an accurate reflection of their life. But the grieving process is more than just an hour long church service and a few Hail Mary’s. It’s the gathering group who sit with my endlessly sleeping cousin and sing songs to her. It’s the band of boys who gather over a beer to share stories. It’s the grieving couple who sit and reflect on what kind of personality their miscarried child might have had.

This grief, the reflection on loss, the celebration of life – they all take shape in different ways or forms. And that’s ok. Surely.

 

 

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Testing, testing, 1 – 2 – 3…

My husband is an electronics engineer. At present he works as a Senior Test Analyst for a fairly prominent radio communications company here in New Zealand. He often says I should be a tester. In fact, when we started dating, he bought me my very own crystal radio kit. It consisted of parts of a crystal radio that I got to put together using a soldering iron. He certainly is romantic isn’t he?

I guess even then, he knew me better than he thought. When I was a kid, I used to love taking apart old radios. I think I was fascinated by how they worked. Obviously not fascinated enough to do the study required to actually fix radios, so I spent more time breaking them than I did fixing them. Nevertheless, dad (a bus driver), would bring home all these old radios and when they started crapping out, I’d bust out a screwdriver (sometimes it was a knife), and I’d start taking them apart. I managed to prolong the life of about 70% of the radios simply by fiddling around with them. Of course the length of prolonging varied. Then I’d try again and eventually, they’d die. My husband tells me that Test Analysts basically break things for a living. I think I’d enjoy that.

But here’s the thing… I’m not a big fan of science.
I think I’ve learned more being married to my husband than I had when I was in high school. That said, as soon as I didn’t have to take science at school, I dropped it. It was far too technical and detailed. I thought I could become a doctor but realised that the only thing I liked about what doctors do, is helping people. So I dived into other subjects, like social studies, art, statistics, classics, etc. I love people. I love watching behaviour and hearing their stories. Social work is all about discovering certain aspects of a persons nature and behaviour. If you ask the right questions, you get the right hints. And sometimes, if you listen carefully enough, you find the right triggers.

A few years ago, when I started work as a youth worker, I took a personality test called Strengthsfinder. Three out of five of the signature themes that came back were “Connectedness”, “Relator”, and “Restorative”. Connectedness sees the “cause and effect”. It’s about joining the dots and tying together past and present. Relator likes to dig deep with people, asking questions that plunge into the heart of something bigger than a current situation. And Restorative is about fixing things… finding the missing piece and restoring them. Might not be the same as before but it’ll be differently beautiful in a sense.

So while my husband loves figuring out different ways to break a 2-way radio, I like figuring out what’s broken a person. I love the assessment phase of a social working relationship. Someone could come to me needing budgeting advice, but maybe it’s bigger than that. They have no job so with the limited income they receive, they need help rationing.
But why do they have no job? Maybe a conviction hinders them from using their skills.
Where did the conviction come from? Perhaps a drug conviction from way back.
Why did they do drugs? Broken family life.
Do they need a job? Yes.
Why do they need a job? Is it just about getting more money to contribute to society? Ex-partner has banned them from seeing their son and they want to prove they can do it.
(nb. this if a fictional situation, but could be a very real one…)

Criminals are so much more than criminals. Bad parents are so much more than bad parents. And perhaps that’s the reason I’ve never blamed my parents for their bad mistakes (and trust me, there were some pretty bad ones). Bad parenting often comes from bad parenting (note: connectedness). Bullying often comes from bullying. Vicious cycles are hard to stop. Anger & blame, alcohol & gambling were significant problems in my family growing up. So, I’m a careful drinker these days, and I have never touched a poker machine, nor have I set foot into a casino. I also haven’t bought a scratchie card since I was 17. The angry rage part is a bit harder to overcome, but it’s a journey I’m on. Sometimes I get angry and it makes no sense. Or it’s about the smallest thing and I just fly off the handle. And when I’m caught in my bad mood, everyone should stay away. My husband is a good and patient man. He handles me with such grace. It’s not all perfect. Sometimes we make choices that stop us from making negative choices that destroy our lives (and the lives of people around us), other things need more work than simply deciding. It took me a long time to give up destructive drinking.

Anyway, like I said in an earlier post… I’m not sure what to do with psychopathic behaviour. Perhaps I need to take some lessons in psychology.

Talk soon,

L

Death, dying and fighting…

It’s been almost a year since my grandma died. Of all the grandparents I had, her life and death had the biggest effect on me. I spent two years of my almost-28-year lifespan with her. And it was one of the most significant 2 years of my life. I was completing my final year of study at Laidlaw college when grandma came to live with us. She just came and didn’t leave. I was flatting at the time but decided to move home so mum would have some help. I only had classes two days a week so I could be home to give her lunch and take her to the bathroom, etc. It was a fine balance of duties as I was working at the same time in a resthome not far from home. Most of my life consisted of looking after old folks. But there’s a beauty in it ay. I listened to stories as told by this elderly generation about days gone by living on farms, designing rockets, raising children, writing stories, creating, making, living. And some of their stories were amazing… some were very very… um… tall haha.

Grandma was no different. She would tell stories of her brothers, her children, he cousins, her sisters, her parents. She told stories about her own experiences in growing up in the islands. I spent a lot of time with grandma. A lot. And I learned a few things worth holding on to. I learned primarily that regardless of how stern she was with her 30+ grandkids, oh boy did she love us. I don’t think there was anything that gave her more joy and pride than the lot of us.
She got cold and wanted to go home, so I took her home to Samoa and stayed with her for 6 months. It was supposed to be a year post-study but we ended it on bad terms. Grandma and I were fine but there were a few other relationships that got broken and never really got healed. All of us have our own version of what happened and some of us have tried to be as honest as possible (even about our shortcomings), but pride is an awful thing and a hard thing to let go of. It’s the sufferance of many people in my family and a weakness that perhaps stems from our matriarch – the proudest of them all (not always a bad thing… but definitely not always great).

So grandma came back to NZ, and after a small bit of drama, ended up living with my parents in Wellington. Then… again, she got cold and wanted to go home. So mum took her home and stayed with her for 2 years. My younger sister came and lived with me while I was working as a youth worker (from having an entire life dedicated to caring for old folks to dedicating my life to young people lol). The 2 years ended when grandma passed away at Easter weekend last year. For years I celebrated Easter at Eastercamp with a bunch of young people  but this last year and a bit, Easter consists of remember grandma.

And I guess it’s a time for remembering other people’s grandmas too. A few weeks ago, a friend lost her grandma. And interestingly, the chapel where the funeral was in Timaru, was set up quite similarly to the place we had my grandma’s family service in Samoa. I sat in a spot with my cousins similar to where my friend sat with her cousins. Pain is one of those universal languages we all speak ay.
And last week, my great-aunt died. My cousin’s (or 2nd cousins or whatever – they’re all the same to me), lost their grandma.
One of her grandchildren is currently fighting cancer. It’s been a slow uphill battle for him. 24 and fighting cancer. What do you even do with that? And before I ditched facebook, one of the glimpses I caught of him was the desire to fight for other people once he’s won his own fight. He’s inspiring me.

I guess hope is a universal language too…

Tragedy, Sorrow & Human mortality…

A little under two years ago, I began writing this post…

A week ago, I woke up early like most people in Christchurch. I went to work, like most people in Christchurch. I may have felt the odd aftershock and paid no heed, probably like most people in Christchurch. After September 4th, those of us who didn’t leave town were struck by an air of complacency. Earthquakes, pretty much the story of every Cantabrian’s life. At around midday, I had lunch with colleagues, like most people in Christchurch. After September, life took a while to gain momentum. Our central city lost its vibrance and heart. It was really only just beginning to pick up again after the boxing day earthquake. Then last week happened. And even when it did, so few of us ran for cover… complacency had taken over.

But now, part of me has been so overwhelmed by grief and sorrow that I haven’t really been sure of what to do. Writing about it hasn’t been easy. What do you say that could possibly describe the tragedy? the loss of life? the loss of livelihood? of jobs? of family members? of homes? And what happens when you have no one to blame? The earth was doing as the earth does. It was moving.

and two years later…

It’s still hard to write about.

But we remember.

❤ Christchurch