Got me thinking this week

Hi again, sorry for the lack of creativity in my title today, but honestly, it’s just something that ‘got me thinking this week’ and also apologies for the lack of posts lately, just been winding it down a little.

Back to this week’s post, I happened to chance upon a segment on the morning Today show last week, at a time when we’re normally watching Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom, (honestly one of the cuter kids shows on ABC2, you gotta love Nanny Plum!), it was a piece on Peter Harvey and the legacy he has left behind following his death.

For those who don’t know, Peter Harvey was a well respected Australian journalist of over 35 years, who quickly lost his battle to pancreatic cancer in March last year.

I watched as his daughter and a doctor from the Pancreatic Cancer Research Group, spoke about the disease that also claimed Nick’s life, and for those who didn’t know, Patrick Swayze’s too.

I admit before Nick was diagnosed, I didn’t even know what a pancreas was, or why we needed it, though google quickly filled us in.

The current stats for Australia are below:

In 2014, it’s estimated 2,890 Australians will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality of all major cancers with less than 5% of patients reaching the 5 year survival mark

Two thirds of pancreatic patients die within the first year of diagnosis, like Nick did!

Survival rates for pancreatic cancer have not changed in nearly 40 years, that’s crazy!!

Not exactly positive stuff!

Compared to other cancers, it receives the least amount of fundraising for research. They say it’s partly because the patients die before they can become advocates for the illness, unlike other cancers that have higher survival rates and celebrity backing.

It kinda sucks!

And to the point of my entry today, I feel like I have contributed to this problem!

What? I hear you say…I mean,  i’m no celebrity who could have helped raise millions for the cause, no Dad, me writing a blog does not make me famous!

But, when Nick died, instead of asking for donations to assist in pancreatic cancer research, like I now wish I had done, in lieu of flowers, I asked for donations to be made to Epworth Hospital where he’d received his care.

Now back then, we had spent so much time at the hospital, I was practically one of the staff, ok maybe just a volunteer, I had no official title, badge or anything really…

I made friendships, that almost 4 years on, I still have. It was like a second family, who knew us so well.

At the time of Nick’s death, it was suggested by someone from the hospital that they could supply donation envelopes for the funeral service, that would assist them with their fundraising.

Of course, I jumped on the idea of wanting to help my ‘family’ post Nick’s death, as a thank you for all their support.

Following the funeral, I was asked to come and speak to a representative of the hospital who dealt with the donations, to discuss where I wanted the money spent.

They had received approx $3,000, which I was impressed by, could you imagine a floral bouquet worth that much!!! I must add Toyota did provide a very sizeable chunk of that, such was their generosity!!

And i’ll also add, i’m completely positive, that people took envelopes with no intention of providing donations, but such is human nature, right?

I was given a running sheet by the hospital, as the donations flowed in, with names and amounts and another with a list of hospital items and their worth, ranging from a park bench to actual equipment.

All I knew, was that I wanted the cancer ward to receive the donation, hello 4EW! and we settled on an IV drip machine thing, that administers the chemo to the patient, the bane of our existence for those 7 months, but I mastered it in the end, I had to, that beeping drove me crazy!!

Told you I was practically staff there, I mean they never called security on me when they found me raiding their supply cupboard.

In another meeting to discuss the donation, I was told the piece of equipment purchased would have Nick’s name etched on it, so I thought that was a nice gesture and as a bonus, my daughter received an Epworth cowboy teddy for our efforts. Yay, another stuffed toy for her collection!

Months later in the mail, I received an invitation to the unveiling of some new donation plarks, Nick’s name was going on their donation wall in the foyer.

But, I couldn’t go, I was over the hospital by then, and was in my ‘i’m never travelling to Richmond or the Epworth ever again’ phase.

I felt i’d given enough of myself to them, I was spent!

I hadn’t thought about all this for such a long time, until I saw the segment on Today. Why didn’t I collect money for pancreatic cancer research instead ??

By all accounts, Epworth Hospital must be doing ok, they are a private hospital and c’mon, the other week Kanye West shut down the entire emergency department and adjoining rooms for a few hours just to see a doctor, i’m sure he would have left a sack of money for their troubles on his way out!

Hearing that pancreatic cancer receives the least amount of funding, makes me sad that I could have helped in some little way. I have though, personally donated to the cause but nowhere near the amount we ‘gifted’ the Epworth after Nick’s death.

While I don’t regret what happened then, I was still in a bit of a fog, I went with what felt right at the time, something with hindsight I might have done differently.

No obligation, but I thought i’d best add the link to donate here if you have been touched by our story and want to assist or if you just want to read more about pancreatic cancer, their website is super informative.

Got me thinking this week
Nick having chemo with his favourite girl

So that’s what got me thinking this week, hope you stayed with me til the end, this was a bit of a ramble!

Thank you too, for your continued love and support of me and this blog, even when I haven’t been writing weekly, I have still received beautiful, inspiring emails from you! They truly make my day.

Thank you also for sharing around my blog and having it find its way to other widows and people grieving, they always write to tell me how encouraging they find my posts. That truly warms my heart!

Til next time, Michela x

 

Once you bury your husband

I read a quote this week, it went along the lines of ‘Once you bury your husband, you realise you can do anything’.

Once you bury your husband
Our Wedding 22nd Jan, 2005

As I celebrated my 34th birthday this week, being already 2 years older than Nick was when he died, it got me thinking about my own life since burying Nick, and how much i’ve changed as a person.

Somehow not a lot worries me now. I’ve taken on a ‘let life happen’ approach. Because as i’ve discovered even the best laid out plans, don’t always turn out as you’d expect.

I never in my wildest nightmares, expected to be a 30 year old widow and single mum, but I was.

I’m sure if you look hard enough at your life so far, there will have been events that happened out of the blue, that threw you off your feet.

Whether a death, a redundancy at work or even a sudden break up.

We don’t always have control over situations.

Burying my husband showed me that, and gave me a new perspective on life.

I felt like once Nick died, once that unimaginable event happened, and I can honestly say now, that I am proud of the way I handled it, that it did make me feel almost invincible.

If that’s what life had for me, then everything else would be a piece of cake.

I had got through the worst possible life situation at my age, and I survived.

My friends and family, sometimes say I am too relaxed about things. They say they wish they were more like me.

A friend recently joked that if I was to have another baby, she’d be coming around a lot more, just to check I was the doing the right things, because i’m too relaxed as a mum.

Of course, we all laughed, but i’m sure there was a little truth to her comment.

Some people would think, since Nick’s death, i’d be all over my daughter, helicopter mum style. But, i’m not.

Of course I love her to pieces but, she also needs to know if she walks along the top of the couch, she might fall and hurt herself.

She’ll never know this, if i’m always behind her, ready to catch her when she tumbles. A metaphor for life really…

She needs to learn the consequences of her actions.

Since burying Nick, I don’t stress about the future, I only wonder where we’ll be in the next year, not the next ten.

If something is out of my control, then I definitely don’t stress about it.

What is the use in worrying about something, that hasn’t even happened yet.

If I spent the time when Nick was sick, worrying about when his end would come, then I would not have enjoyed our last months together.

It was beyond our control when he would die, there was no point concerning ourselves too much with it, we still had 7 months of life left together and that was far more important.

This belief of living in the moment has stuck with me ever since. I don’t like to plan things too far into the future, preferring to live in the present instead.

Because we all know life is short and our babies grow up too quickly. I want to spend as much time with my daughter now, before I blink and she’s all grown up and finishing high school.

Ok, might take more than a few blinks, but you get the point.

I have minimal time in my life for controversy, stupidity or trivial matters. One of my friends reminded me of my bluntness following Nick’s death, when she came over to vent about a boy she was seeing, lots of blah, blah, blah, I don’t know if I want to be with him stuff.

I told her to get over herself, if she didn’t want to be with him, to break it off. Her happiness was more important than spending her time crying about it on my couch.

I was blunt and direct, something I was incapable of before Nick died.

It’s like I inherited a part of Nick’s confidence when he passed.

Losing Nick, who was my rock, made me need to be more assertive myself.

There was no longer anyone else to fall back on, and though I have happily remarried, i’m still fiercely independent. I will never go back to relying on anyone else to be my backbone.

I want my daughter to know her mother is a strong, capable woman, who doesn’t need a man in her life, but instead chooses to share her life with one.

That together, John and I, are a team that makes decisions, that no one is the boss.

That she too, can be strong and independent and make her own life decisions one day, that women can be anything they choose. (Though something mum might need is always useful!)

I will also add, I like the new me, I prefer the woman i’ve become to the one I was. It’s why i’m so grateful for having had Nick in my life, who taught me the importance of independence, though at the time I was unwilling to listen.

He was right, I needed to step up once he was gone, to fill the void he left and I think i’ve done a fine job of it.

In short, you don’t need to lose your husband at 30 to gain a new perspective on life.

Don’t sweat the small stuff, enjoy time with your kids and family, know how fleeting life can be, surround yourself with positive people.

Because life doesn’t have to be hard, it’s what you make it, you can get through anything if you don’t have a ‘woe is me‘ mentality.

And on another note for this coming Sunday, a very Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there, whether here or hanging with Nick, biological or not.

On that, I hate the words stepdad or stepfather, Claudia knows she is so lucky to have two Dads that love her so much, and there is nothing step about the way John loves and cares for her. We love you John, thank you! xx

Thanks so much for reading, sharing and writing me, I love hearing from you!!

I will eventually be bringing this blog to an end sometime soon, but in the meantime, thank you for your ongoing support.

Til next time, Michela xx

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The Shrink and Me

Welcome back to today’s post, The Shrink and Me but firstly, if you’re new to my blog, you’ll probably want to start here, and spoiler alert, if you haven’t guessed already, he passes away and you can read about his last day in this post.

Moving along….

So, 6 months after Nick had died, I was still in the whirl of getting used to the idea of being alone and being a single, independent mum, whilst dealing with solicitors, probate and the bank sorting stuff, when I got a call from an old work friend. He was asking if i’d be interested in coming back a couple of days a week to assist on a short term project.

Well, I was more than happy at home and my days were filled with all the running around that’s necessary when someone dies (honestly, I was not prepared for that!!) while still sorting through my own thoughts and taking care of our then 1 year old, but I felt a little obligated to my workplace, as they’d been so amazing during Nick’s illness and time thereafter, so I said yes.

It was decided, I would return to work two days a week, flexible days and hours, depending on mine and Claudia’s needs.

Sure, it was a little soon maybe, but I was coping so well anyway, that I didn’t think anything of it really. Besides I had more than enough babysitters so that was never a deterrent to returning.

I’ve written previously about my work place and how supportive they were, even inviting me to an awards night after Nick’s death, that you can read about here, which didn’t exactly go to plan as i’d imagined it would. So, I guess getting the call wasn’t completely strange!

And so I started, just a few weeks before what was my first birthday as a widow, but I digress, back to the story…

Obviously everyone was happy to see me back, lots of sympathetic glances, quick flag down chats in corridors and strangely enough, the bathroom wasn’t out of bounds either. But, it was all well meaning and ‘good to see you back’ type conversations.

My general manager, had remained in contact throughout Nick’s illness and phoned often for updates. He was so supportive when Nick actually passed away, catching up with me a couple of times for coffee chats to see how I was going, so he was happy to see me back at work again, apparently, it was his suggestion that they call me.

But, his one gripe that came up every time I saw him, was that he wanted me to have a session with a counsellor.  Just to check in and make sure I was functioning right. He couldn’t quite believe that I was OK with what had happened, suggesting that maybe I was putting up a front.

I don’t know how I could possibly be putting up a fake side for so long, but as i’ve said previously, I just wasn’t handling my loss, the way people expected, so therefore, I must be on the verge of cracking! Right!

We were fortunate enough at our workplace to be offered free confidential counselling sessions if needed, which I guess is why he keep pushing and so at his insistence, I finally booked an appointment.

I remember in the lead up to my appointment, telling friends and family that I had one and they all seemed so happy for me, like it was just what I needed.

They’d set me right, they’d get all my emotions out!

And I do want to begin this by saying, I totally believe in getting help and having someone to talk things out with, I also think we’ve come a long way in removing the stigma attached to seeing a cousellor, therapist etc.

I just felt at the time, I was doing such a swell job of getting through it alone, that I didn’t feel the need to see anyone about it.

The day of the appointment arrived and I nervously made my way there. I was seated in the waiting room and was asked to fill in my personal information form. As I begun writing all my details down, I remember the receptionist telling me the counsellor was running a little late with a previous client, being all flustered, I remember telling her (like she cared!) that it was fine, I wasn’t an emergency or anything, I was just sent by my work.

Not sounding crazy at all, i’m sure.

She told me to just relax and that I should be pleased, I had the head counsellor seeing me today.

I couldn’t relax after knowing that, did it mean they thought I was really that screwed up, that I needed someone with the most experience to talk me off the ledge, that I didn’t even know I was on!

And after what felt like a wait of 1000 years, I was finally called in, and I mustered up my brightest, most sane smile and walked in.

Disappointingly, there was no plush couch to lie on, just two chairs in front of each other.

I took one, and the counsellor sat directly in front of me on the other. He was a middle aged guy, friendly looking with a calm soothing voice you’d expect of someone in his field. I felt at ease instantly.

He’d read my notes, so obviously knew why I was there, but began with, ‘Tell me a bit about you and your story Michela.’

And I started, I told him everything. About Nick, his illness, our relationship, Claudia, his passing, the aftermath.

In the same way i’ve written my posts, I spoke honestly and openly about it all.

I laughed, I cried, I reminisced.

He passed me tissues, but barely said a word. He wrote a few things down on his notepad.

I went on about being positive, knowing I still had a bright future ahead of me, not letting his death define me and our daughter, how I came to accept his passing and not letting it depress or get the better of me.

How we had more love in 10 years than some people can have in 40, and how I will always be thankful for that.

How amazing Nick had been throughout his illness, that it had given me a new perspective on life and no reason to complain about anything petty again.

That I was lucky to have had Nick in my life, that he had changed me for the better and i’d always be grateful for the life we shared together.

Telling him how I didn’t want sympathy for my daughter for having lost her Father, because she will always know how loved she is by him. How I planned on keeping his memory alive etc etc.

I felt like I talk for almost the full hour, it was all from the heart, honest and raw. The words were just spilling out of me.

When I was done, most likely because i’d ran out of breath, the counsellor began talking.

I’ve never forgot his words, he said, ‘Michela, you’re a remarkable woman. You have handled this better than most people handle life.’  

I blushed, it was the highest compliment i’d heard following Nick’s death. He went on, telling me I had a gift, a way of seeing things differently to most. That my way of thinking positively about something so tragic had indeed been what pulled me through the worst of it.

He said I had to do something with it.

Write a book, he suggested, or start a young widow support group, or better still, look into becoming a grief counsellor.

At the time, let me tell you, I was far from ready to write a book, thinking no one would really want to read anything i’d have to write and the thought of having 10 young widows in a room, who didn’t necessarily share my thoughts on their partners death would be difficult and more study, I wasn’t so sure about, it had been years since I left uni.

But still, I was touched that he thought I had the ability to do those things. It was the nicest compliment i’d heard in a long while.

Obviously there was no follow up appointment needed.

I left his office walking on air, he had validated that I was OK, that I had handled Nick’s passing well and wasn’t in need of fixing. That I wasn’t a cold, callous widow, that I was normal and coping in the way I knew how.

Even I had begun to think something was wrong with me and the way I was dealing, after hearing it from others, but after my session, it all clicked, I was doing just fine, in fact, better than expected!

I was exceeding expectations on how to cope with loss and that didn’t make me a bad person and it just took a stranger, to help me see it and stop making excuses for my behaviour.

I made the calls to my doubters, I was fine, the therapist had said so. I wasn’t in danger of cracking or having a breakdown. I was doing a great job, and just because it didn’t fit the ‘norm’ of being a widow, it didn’t make it the wrong way.

When I returned to work the next week, my general manager, pulled me aside and discreetly asked me how it went. I told him, but he didn’t quite believe me. I suggested he call and confirm himself, gave him the name of the head counsellor i’d seen, he couldn’t shake the thought that there was no follow up appointment.

How could I lose my husband and be ok?

Well, I was OK and I knew I’d only go from strength to strength from there on, and I did.

The Shrink And Me
Recent pic of Claudia and me

Thank you so much, as always, for reading, sharing and commenting, I love hearing from you!

And thank you for the love on Facebook, appreciate it so much!

Til next week, Michela x

Also, quick shout out to Poppy from Light of Eva for sending Claudia a beautiful candle from her range, to light in honour of her Dad. Ours is in the beautiful coconut lime punch scent, but check her out on Facebook, she has a beautiful range of hand poured, soy candles with a 35 hour burn time, I highly recommend them!!! Thank you Poppy, we love our candle and burn it daily!

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What Not To Say To A Widow – part 2

Hi again, thank you to everyone who wrote me following last weeks post, it seems to have hit a cord, so here’s the follow up, What Not To Say To A Widow – part 2.

So many widows wrote me with similar comments they received, and I was asked to include a bit more about what you might want to say instead to someone grieving.

I do want to add, i’m no expert in the matter, i’m just going on what I appreciated at the time of my loss.

I also want to acknowledge that I completely understand how awkward it is to hear of someone ‘young’ passing and not knowing what to say.

So please don’t be hard on yourself!

It is out of the natural order of death, to hear of a fit and healthy 32 year old, (as was my situation), dying and leaving behind a young daughter and wife.

We understand dying happens, we expect the elderly or our grandparents to pass away before us. We say, ‘wow, what great innings!’, ‘what a wonderful life they had’, i’d love to get to that age one day’ or ‘at least, they got to see their children and grandchildren grow up’.

We expect our parents will pass away, once we’re adults ourselves and whilst it will always be a sad occasion, it’s not beyond understanding.

They get older, just like we do.

But when a young person dies, who may be similar aged, it makes us question our own mortality.

Suddenly, we’re not invincible anymore, we question our life and what we’d do if in the same situation.

I know quite a few friends of Nick’s who took out life insurance once he passed.

The reality washing over them, that life doesn’t always follow the path you had planned for it.

I believe the same situation applies to parents who lose a child, no matter what age, it’s outside of the ‘norm’. We don’t know what the ‘right’ thing to say is. Those parents will never fully recover from their loss. Nick’s parents will live with their grief forever.

What could you say to make anyone feel better about someone’s life being cut so short in their prime? Well, not much really…

But, firstly, a few more distasteful comments that you should avoid saying, this from a widow close to my heart, who constantly heard, ‘but you look so good’, after the passing of her husband.

Just because you get up, dressed and maybe put on some makeup, doesn’t mean you are not grieving and hurting beyond belief, I heard this comment a lot too.

Society understands widows or those grieving to be disheveled in their pajamas, not well dressed and ready for the day.

We don’t want to be told we look good, we would prefer our husbands back.

The other comments I heard from a few widows were, ‘now you can get out and do things‘ or now you can start your life again‘. Not helpful, we are mourning the loss of our life as we know it, not looking forward to being alone and starting over. See what I mean ?

Now, onto what you might prefer to say in these times, well, none of the above firstly, or go and read last weeks post again and none of them either!

When I say just be there, do just that. As Christine one of my readers wrote to me, ‘I’ve had the wettest shoulders without ever saying a word‘.

Let the bereaved just talk and vent and don’t butt in and try and interject your words of wisdom.

Let them just talk it out, no interruptions.

Side story, one day as I was venting to a friend about my situation and maybe being a little irrational too, (it was about 4 weeks after Nick passed) she stopped me and said, ‘You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t with you’. 

That comment stung me like nothing else, it made me feel like I shouldn’t have said anything at all.  She shut me down so quickly, I felt like i’d best keep those thoughts to myself instead, that maybe I was being (god forbid!) difficult.

So, don’t do that!!

Don’t stop them talking, let them get out every irrational, stupid thought in their head, and make them feel safe in your company, no judgement!

Oh and bring around a tray of lasagna and maybe some wine, I promise they’ll appreciate it.

As i’ve said before, Cathryn, thank you for the pizza and wine Wednesday nights, they became my savior, I can never thank you enough for just ‘being there’.

Be normal, and talk about the person who passed, share stories, laugh at the memories, bring around photos you think they may not have seen before.

I loved hearing other aspects of Nick’s life that I wasn’t always privy to, like his work self and all the funny things that happened there or his time growing up.

I spoke about Nick all the time after he passed, it often garnered strange looks from people listening, but it’s how I coped. As much as it made others squirm and sometimes cry, it always made me smile being able to share those memories out loud.

I heard this from other widows too, that although it made their friends and family sometimes uncomfortable talking about those that had passed, it made them appreciate them all the more, and the life they had lived. It allowed them to focus on the positives instead of their new reality.

So, never be scared to mention those that have passed, use their name and acknowledge the life they had.

My favourite past time after Nick died was talking about him, I think this helped me through my grief immensely!!

Just acknowledging that although short, he had a full life and focusing on all the positives, instead of all the negatives once he was gone.

Sure, he’d never get to know our daughter, or have a chance to fulfill all his goals and dreams, but thinking this way was fruitless.

If I spent my time thinking about what he didn’t get to do, I don’t believe I would have been as accepting of his death.

Nick had a career he loved, he was in a loving, trusting marriage, he had a daughter he adored, friends and family he enjoyed spending time with, was well travelled and he was a happy guy who moulded me into the person I am today. See, all positives!

It doesn’t mean that after his passing, I didn’t wish he was around, but i’d think of the positives in his life and i’d know he was ok and it was what was meant to be.

So, don’t talk about the what they didn’t get to do, focus on the life they had instead, it’s what helped me through those early times.

To sum up my thoughts, listen without judgement, don’t interrupt, be there, use their name and bring wine, or chocolates will do too!

I hope you might have found some of this useful, know that nothing you say can ever take away their pain, but an ear to listen can go a long way.

Thanks as always for reading along and sharing, liking and commenting, I really do love hearing from you!

Til next time, Michela xx

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