25 years… where did it go?

25 Years

10 August 2015… an anniversary…..

An anniversary is a Day that commemorates or celebrates a past event that occurred on the same date of the year as the initial event.

This one marks 25 years in my chosen career as a firefighter. 25 years… where did it go?

It is such a significant length of time. So much has happened across that 25 years, and it is with a heavy heart that I can reflect that 25 years represents almost two and a half lifetimes for the one hero in my life… Samuel..my little man, who will forever be 10… and how nothing can ever prepare you for such a loss.

It is also 25 years that has given my family and I a lot… friends, education, stability and a lot lot more.

At the 21 year mark I reflected on some of the lessons learned to that point, and they still hold, so I’ll repeat a few of them with some extras.

Lessons Learned

I have learned how fragile human life is.

I have learned how strong and resilient the human body can be, despite what people and circumstances can do to it.

I have learned how indestructible the human spirit can be. (and sadly learned how the seemingly indestructible spirits of some of the greatest people you meet can be broken).

I have learned that there is always someone willing to help (including when you find it hard to ask for help), and some one willing to watch your back, and how to reciprocate such loyalty and friendship.

I have learned that there is strength in unity.

I have learned that life and death is a matter of millimeters and moments… where each 1 millimeter or  moment in one direction can save a live, and in the other cost a life.

I have learned….. that I have never finished learning…..and never want to.

What for the next 25?

In another 25 years it will not be a post about still working…. none of us know how long we have, in our jobs or in our lives. Very few people get to have careers like this…. but I am sure the next 25 years will have plenty of lessons in it as well.

The feel, the taste, the sensation of grief.

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There is only one way to describe it….. one of those days.

The sensation of weight, of carrying an invisible burden, the sensation of fatigue and of feeling somewhat sad, an occasional burst of what felt like a rising tide of emotion but  overall difficult to describe,  a sense of unease and not being able to put a finger on it… nothing but the option of going with it.

In part of an online retreat I watched recently,  by Teah Strozer a Zen buddhist teacher, she perfectly described the problem with grief…

“Grief is a kind of pain when someone dies …. a person you love. When you lose somebody like that there’s a kind of a grieving that is not mental; no words are going on. The body just wells up in grief. It’s painful but it’s also very cleansing, very present, very human, comes with life”

It is not mental, there are no words going on….the body just wells up in grief!

I have talked about in how to sit with sadness. Simply watching my mind, and it is always useful to follow your own advice!. It was during this sitting and watching today that an  instant recognition…. an AHA! moment  occurred.. and I found the analogy for the pain of grief, or at least an analogy for how I experience it.

The similarity of a sensation that none of us want was instantly recognisable..  this may not be the most pleasant visual picture (, but please stick this out.. it will make sense)….reflect back to the last time you vomited…. .. Can you instantly recall and recognise that rising, swelling feeling.. the sudden rush of metallic taste in your mouth and the rapid flush of heat or shivering throughout your body… No matter what you do you cannot control the overwhelming sensation that blooms throughout your senses in the moments before you have no choice but to let go…

Sure you can feel sick before vomiting, but that moment always takes you by surprise..

It describes my sensation of grief when it catches me unaware… even on “one of those days” where you only describe it as feeling off.. the sensation of grief hits. It does have the physical sensations accompanying it… it has it own taste, a feel of welling up and overtaking you no matter how you try to control it, and it reaches a point where you just have to let go and let the tears flow. Where you can no longer grasp and grasp, but must simply let go. It is not an elegant way of describing this feeling, but it really is like an emotional vomit……

As crazy as it seems Teah’s words about it being painful but also cleansing and present feel so true. It is a relief to acknowledge and feel this sensation, to let go and recognise the pain for what it is … the body welling up with grief.

My recent posts have contained a poem… written by me… but not this post… One of the other things that Teah shared in that online retreat was a poem by Anita Barrows called Questo Muro..which Anita describes as being inspired by a section of Dante’s inferno, and it being a poem about finding the courage to persist… for me it was very much about leaning into the sensation.. as I suggested in how to sit with sadness…..

Questo Muro

You will come at a turning of the trail
to a wall of flame
After the hard climb & the exhausted dreaming
you will come to a place where he
with whom you have walked this far
will stop will stand
beside you on the treacherous steep path
& stare as you shiver at the moving wall, the flame
that blocks your vision of what comes after.
And that one
who you thought would accompany you always,
who held your face
tenderly a little while in his hands—
who pressed the palms of his hands into drenched grass
& washed from your cheeks, the tear-tracks—
he is telling you now
that all that stands between you
& everything you have known since the beginning
is this: this wall. Between yourself
& the beloved, between yourself & your joy,
the riverbank swaying with wildflowers, the shaft
of sunlight on the rock, the song.
Will you pass through it now, will you let it consume
whatever solidness this is
you call your life, & send
you out, a tremor of heat,
a radiance, a changed
flickering thing?

As I am posting this just days from Mother’s Day here in Australia, I want to acknowledge the pain and suffering of all the mothers who will be doing Mother’s day without one of their children with them. I will be thinking of you.

Tainted Freedom

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There is not a single day that passes by that I am not missing my little man, or that there are not small reminders that hurt and bring to mind Samuel’s absence. I am continuing to learn many things about the “process” of grieving, and small signs that remind me that there are things bigger and more mysterious than this life to connect us to our loved ones.

Whilst on a break of a couple of days, I took the photo above of the clouds at sunset over the ocean, and while watching this scene I was thinking about the ocean and the clouds and their constant movement, their power to heal when they are a source of reflection or the power to harm when they rage together.

It was not until looking at the photo that I picked up what to me looks like hands joined together making the shape of heart, and giving my heart a twinge, and the words of this poem came to me……

Tainted Freedom

The restrictions wrought
by the confines of care,
were recognised as the reward
for the purity of our love.

The freedoms gained
are forever tainted
by the spectre of your absence.

 

An eternity one second at a time.

As another new year approaches, I could give you tips about making new years resolutions, or give you more tips on how to guarantee you fail at those resolutions… but this year I want to focus on presence.

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An eternity one second at a time

The sweeping
ticking
second-hand,
marking
the
steady
passing
of time.

Eight
Six
Four
Zero
Zero
times
a day.

Each tic
pregnant
with
promise
or pain.

Each
tic
a potential
beginning
or end.

Each tic
separated
by silence.

A brief
emblem
of the
infinite
nature
of time
yet
impermanent
nature
of being.

Each
tic
providing
a place
to panic
or
a place
to rest.

My wish for your new year and mine

For your new year I hope that each of those brief silences is an opportunity to rest, not panic. If troubles do befall you, I hope that you can learn to sit with your sadness and rest in the silence, and that you are surrounded by people who will help you to be resilient and deal with whatever the circumstances are. Overall, I hope that the new year is one of happiness for you and your family and friends.

I want to remind you of the gifts mentioned in my xmas post

To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, an example, and to yourself, respect.

I’ll be concentrating on being more present in each and every moment and trying to give these gifts throughout the year….. what will you be doing?

So this is Xmas…. Again.

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Two years ago at xmas time I exposed my grinchiness in my xmas post (although it was no surprise to those that know me well 🙂 ) and challenged those for whom the year had been lucky to think about a way to ease the burden of those less fortunate.

Last year I wrote So this is xmas…. but, as we celebrated xmas with both a sense of fear and anxiety about Samuel’s declining health, and I quoted a verse from the song “so this is xmas”….

And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong

Now I am thinking so it’s xmas time….. again… and just how wrong the world has felt this year after conducting the saddest duty of life, getting too well acquainted with the grief of losing a child, figuring out that one really isn’t the loneliest number, revealing the truth of depression hiding behind the mask and looking for little signs and dealing with different reminders.

That is not to say that it has been a completely bad year as there have been a few bright spots, like the sibling carer awards for Taylor, a win on behalf of the Samuel Morris Foundation in the Local Business Awards, and a 21st Wedding anniversary with a beautiful, strong and determined woman, delivering a couple of conference key note addresses and taking a nice holiday.

So while the year has felt wrong in so many ways…. it is a year that has also taught me a hell of a lot, and made me think longer and harder about quite a few different aspects of life, love and work.

So this years challenge from me to you, comes via some insightful words I am borrowing from Timber Hawkeye, who runs the Buddhist Bootcamp, so I challenge you to give the following gifts this xmas and into the new year…..

To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, an example, and to yourself, respect.

So from this grinch, to you and your family… Merry Xmas… be kind to yourself, and those you love and go give those gifts highlighted in the passage above!