Being Grateful and wanting that for others

This post is about being grateful….and wanting that for others. (However, I must make a VERY clear disclaimer here… the thoughts in this, and most likely a couple of follow-up posts, are MY thoughts, and NOT the official position or my employer)

Due to the many hats I have worn across my life I have the absolute pleasure and privilege of working alongside, with, for and on behalf amazing people like Firefighters, Ambos, Police, Doctors, Nurses, Allied Health and literally every associated profession, including cleaners, porters, administrative people etc that make a positive and ongoing contribution to the lives of people EVERY day. They all do it with out expectation of anything … simply because they are great people doing important stuff on behalf of others.

Today, I was celebrating a fellow firefighters birthday. A few drinks and feed. Then this beautiful women (no not my wife … on the left of the picture, but the one on the right in the red vest) wandered in. It is incredibly hard to explain just how much Maggie means to me and my family. This blog… really starts with the post how did I get here, and Maggie is a big part of that story. Running into Maggie today has resulted in a big chunk of reflection, and the shedding of a few tears, as I have thought about that day, the following years and the challenging experiences that came with them.

I will never get over the strength and tenacity that my wife showed on the day of Samuel’s accident. I will forever be grateful for that strength and tenacity, and her presence of mind in making an additional Triple Zero phone call and asking for a response of Firefighters as well as the Ambulance.  I will forever be grateful for our neighbours that assisted with the initial CPR and  for my fellow firefighters from 98 Stn who arrived on scene as the first emergency responders. I will for ever be grateful for Maggie, who was the first Ambulance officer to get to Samuel, to scoop him up and start our interaction with the NSW Health System. I will also be for ever grateful for the hundreds of people who then interacted with my family to care for and support Samuel and the rest of my family.

Twelve years ago, due to the strength and tenacity of my wife’s presence of mind to make an extra Triple Zero phone call, my family had access to a crew of Firefighters who trained in Basic Life Support and Advance Resuscitation, who had a truck with equipment on in it that could assist in an immediately life threatening condition like Samuel’s non-fatal drowning experience, AND they were the first ones on scene to begin providing support to Samuel and my family.

While I have written this… I’ve also been actively reflecting on just how far I should take this post…. I think on reflection that I am not going to go as far as my first thoughts… but I will leave it here, with a disclosure and a couple of questions. While I ponder how to further address the associated issues in an ethical and proper way.

Disclosure: Within my professional role I have been responsible for working on a proposed dual response model that would potentially see Firefighters responding with Ambulances to Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest calls.

The Questions: 

  • Why because of the presence of mind of my wife, and my association with a fire service, did MY family have access to a crew of firefighters and equipment that could save a life
  • Why twelve years later, does the public that I and my fellow firefighters serve NOT have the privilege of access to the same level of service
  • How many people could be walking around, or be having a reasonable quality of life, as opposed to being dead, if they had the same access to services as my family?

I know, there are HUNDREDS of questions that people can, and will ask about my families circumstances and the difference regarding availability of services.  I know, that there are hundreds of statements and arguments about “whose job is it really”, and what the REAL problem is about responding in a timely manner to medical emergencies in the community. I know there are questions about pay, about processes, about support for firefighters etc…. I know that there are hundreds of questions about the chances of people surviving, questions about increased exposure of firefighters to trauma, and about quality of life and length of survival for those who need help….   I may address these in follow-up posts… but I need to do more thinking first.

This question though, that is over-riding in my head is this……

“if it was you… or your loved one, wouldn’t you want the nearest, fastest and suitably equipped and trained response to give you or your loved one the best possible chance of survival?”

That little act of kindness in the midst of chaos

They are simple words, however they can really mean a huge amount to someone!

I have had what many around me have described as “a very tough week”. I know that the week has had an effect on me… a couple of sleepless nights, a couple of headaches. There has been some fairly extensive active reflection going on in the middle of these circumstances, ensuring that I’m being consistent with my framework for how I wish to live my life, and that the actions that I am taking around the circumstances are in the best interests of everyone involved in them.

One key observation I can make is that while intellectually I’m pretty sure I’m in an OK place around the circumstances of this week, the physical symptoms are telling me that there is definitely a gap between where my head is at, and the realities of the stress that the situation is creating. Being aware of this is invaluable, because it is a reminder that I have to look after myself in the middle of all this, and that I’ll know when I’m back in balance.

You are probably wondering why though this post is titled “that little act of kindness in the midst of chaos?”

The week has been filled with contact points with others who know what is going on and have looked out for me, and enquired about how I am going in the circumstances. That type of support is always appreciated. However it was another little act of kindness that really hit me in the midst of this weeks chaos.

A  firefighting colleague, who is no longer in the firefighting industry,  who I have not seen or had any real contact with for a LOT of years,  reached out on Linkedin by endorsing me for some skills. A little random act of professional kindness, which I immediately sent a thank you message for…. but that was not the powerful act…. it was what followed.

Several minutes later my phone rang, and it was that  colleague who reached out to say thank you. Initially it was a thank you around the story of how I got here on this blog and the work of the Samuel Morris Foundation. He let me know that via a completely unknown connection he had been informed of the impact that our work in the drowning prevention space had on this unknown contact, and he wanted to say thank you for those efforts and the difference they make, to that person and to the broader community. Then he went further, and he referred back to some ancient history of us as fellow firefighters and a particularly traumatic set of circumstances that he had found himself in professionally all those years ago. He acknowledged that one night in the midst of his own little piece of chaos I had picked up the phone and rang to check on his welfare and he wanted to say THANK YOU for all the difference that made to him in that moment.

There is no way that this colleague could have known about the circumstances of this week, or the impact that his little act of kindness via an endorsement and a phone call would have on me today in the midst of my own little piece of chaos. However, those little words that he started and ended our conversation with THANK YOU have had a big positive impact on my day.

My question to you  is…… how often do you say THANK YOU with some real meaning? Is there someone you can think of today, that reaching out and saying THANK YOU for something they have done for you (even if it was 20ish years ago!) would be valuable (because you never know what might be happening for that person right now!).

THANK YOU, for taking the time to read this post…. now go say THANK YOU to someone who made a difference for you!

Silence

Silent monkey photo by Thousan on Flickr

Silence…. a theme that keeps popping up in my mind, how many times have you asked for shhhhhh, thought about the silent gaps in time, watched and thought about the application of silence as a tool….. thought about the process of Monkey Mind and it’s constant chatter, chased silence, endured silence, loved silence, avoided silence… then this question always emerges.

Silence

Why are you afraid
of the gentle caressing
sound of pure silence ?

Truth behind the mask

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You see me with a smile and a joke, you see me making the most of tough circumstances, and you see me propping up others. In fact you often compliment me on how I have handled the circumstances that got me here and the saddest duty in life. You congratulate me on the work that I do professionally and as a volunteer and the influence it has. You tell me what a difference that makes, you tell me of the lives it has probably saved. You tell me you admire me. You see a dogged and determined person, you see me as a success.

Sometimes you see me wearing a mask.

Picking a mask

You don’t see me picking my mask…. slipping it on to present to the world. Picking a mask to protect, to hide, to conceal.

You don’t see the feeling of abject failure, you don’t see the pain that racks every joint of my body. You don’t see the weight sitting in my shoulders. You don’t see the fear that rests in my gut. You don’t see me struggling to enjoy little things in life. You don’t see my frustration and the effort it takes to do almost anything.

You don’t see the tears the well in private, the tears that wet my pillow as I drift off to sleep, or the hours of tear filled eyes watching the ceiling in the middle of the night. You don’t see the tears that accompany my solo drives.

Behind the Mask

All those things are currently lurking behind that mask that I choose to show you and the world.

The truth is that lurking behind the mask you see is the deep and dark shadow of depression. A shadow that is currently cast over everything.

It doesn’t matter how successful you may appear to be, depression does not discriminate.

Knowing it…..

I’m fortunate, my training and my history means I recognise depression for what it is…. I’m fortunate to have a wife and children that love me unconditionally. I’m fortunate that I know where to go for help. I’m fortunate that to some extent I know how to sit with my sadness.

I’m fortunate that I know that seeking help is important (as hard as it is to acknowledge that depression has a grip on you and to take that step).. I’m fortunate for a wife that guides in that direction. I’m fortunate that medication has a good effect on my depression. I’m fortunate for a lot of things.

Don’t assume

You just never know what the person in front of you is dealing with behind the mask that they have chosen to wear for you that day. You don’t know what battle they might be facing in private. Be kind, be aware.

Know where to send people…..

LifelineBeyond BlueBlack Dog Institute, SANE

Image Credit for this post Richard Jonkman

Things I’m learning about grief

SamuelandI

After performing the saddest duty of life at Samuel’s funeral life continues… but it is not, and can never be the same.Today marks four months since Samuel died, and I’m learning new things everyday about the impact of his death.  Losing a child has a profound impact.

Many families experience this pain, and there are a few families I know learning the lessons of grief too. A consequence of having a child as special as Samuel is that you get to meet and know a lot of other families with really special kids and this year our network has experienced the loss of a few of these amazing little people, and a few more are struggling with declining health.

I am learning the hard lessons about grief, I am sure there is a lot more to learn, but this is still a new way of life…  so what have I learned so far?

There is no preparation

I am no stranger to death, I have witnessed it many times in my career. However, no matter how prepared you think you are intellectually for the death of those close to you, you can never be fully prepared emotionally for the loss and grief.

Through all of the challenges that Samuel faced, and all the times that we were “prepared” for the fact that he was going to die, there is nothing…absolutely nothing that can prepare you for that moment.

There is nothing that can prepare you for the sheer flood of emotions then, and in the days, weeks and months that follow.

Grief triggers are EVERYWHERE

Yes there are all the “expected” things that you know are going to remind you. I expect to have feelings around photo’s of Samuel, around places that were important in our time with him.

But the reality is that triggers are all over the place, and they can lead to sudden outbursts of emotion, and they happen in places and at times that you least expect them to happen.

I was reading a book that included the detail of some psychology experiments that involved people washing and the impact the act of washing had on thought processes around a separate task… and before I knew it my mind had jumped to pictures of me washing Samuel for the last time before he died, and washing him after he died… both beautiful memories…. but memories that had me sitting in my office in a flood of tears, overwhelmed by a deep feeling of loss.

This reaction has been triggered by songs, by other images, by conversations… by many things.

The pain of a loss is a reflection of love

The words of poet Mark Doty are a beautiful explanation …

grief might be, in some ways, the long aftermath of love, the internal work of knowing, holding, more fully valuing what we have lost. 

You can never regret having loved someone with all your heart, and grief is teaching me just how much love I had and continue to have for Samuel, and it is certainly teaching more and more about Samuel’s impact on my life.

You grieve your past, present and future with them

Some of the grief around Samuel has been with us for a long time, we had to grieve for the little boy he was before his accident, we still grieve for that version of Samuel.

Then there was the “little stream of losses” along the way as Samuel deteriorated and was no longer able to do certain things. 

There’s the now of grieving for him. Missing him, noticing the differences that life holds without him.

There’s the future of grieving from him…. thinking of all those things that he will never be a part of in our futures.

It is messy and it is confusing.

Most people have probably heard about the “stages of grieving” by Kubler-Ross… it’s a useful theoretical model for having an intellectual understanding of grief…. but like my experience of many other models for life “knowing” something does not prepare you for it……. and when it happens it’s not that clear cut…. it’s not stage 1 followed by stage 2 etc etc…. some days it’s every stage all at once, sometimes it’s 5 followed by one followed by 3….. there is no such thing as a linear process of grief it is messy and it is confusing.

Then there is the anxiety that comes with grieving which is not something that the “models of grieving” discuss or have you expect…..the heart palpitations, shortness of breath and other anxiety symptoms that spring out of nowhere as part of the experience of grief.

You cannot compare grief and loss

With the best of intention people will try….. yes, there might be some similarity in the events, and there is certainly the shared experience of broken hearts and loss….. but each and every experience is different.

They didn’t lose Samuel… they didn’t have the relationship with him that is unique to me, the relationship that is unique to Jo-ann, or the relationship that is unique to Tanja or Taylor.

Grief is a unique and individual experience… I can’t compare my experience of it with my own wife’s experience due to the differences in the relationship between a mum and a dad and their child, we are all grieving but by necessity have to do it in our own way that honours our unique experience and relationship with Samuel

So there is no way I could even begin to comprehend another families grief and loss… I can sympathise with the sense of loss and the broken heart but I will never know what it feels like to have lost their unique child… and they will never know what it is like to have lost Samuel.

There are days when you will feel totally and completely alone

It doesn’t matter how many people are around, how supportive people are, and even in the midst of family…. the sensation of being completely and utterly alone can hit.. and nothing can shift it.

Time does NOT and cannot heal this wound……

The Rev Graham Long from the wayside chapel put it beautifully in a remembrance ceremony held by Bear Cottage. to paraphrase him

 Time does not heal the wound of losing a child, and nor would we want it too. To heal the wound would be in some way a signal that we have forgotten them, and we never want to forget them. In time scar tissue forms on the heart.. and that scar on our hearts is a reminder that they lived, a scar we WANT to carry with us because of everything it reminds us of.

 

I miss my little man every single day, with every fibre of my heart. Life does go on, it’s not the same, and it never can be…. I will always love him, and carry him in my heart…. and continue to learn to how to grieve for him.