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.

The saddest duty of life.

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In this blog I have told the story of my son Samuel… (how did I get here) and updated his journey along the way in quite a few posts. I have always been inspired by little man.

On 22nd February 2014, almost eight years after his non-fatal drowning that left him with severe disabilities, surrounded by family Samuel finally no longer able to continue his struggle, and as I held his hand and stroked his hair he took his last breath and let go of this life.

The saddest duty of life

Yesterday (7th March 2014) my family performed the saddest duty of life. Laying my little man to rest.  Prior to this we held a Celebration of his life. My family was humbled by the attendance of over 400 people at the celebration, and around 200 that attended his funeral, as well as the many messages from all over the world.

My eulogy for my little man…

These are the words I shared with those that joined us to Celebrate Samuel’s life and joined with us at the funeral.

“When my heart is breaking, and I am missing the presence of Samuel how do I pay tribute to a little man who has taught me so much?

Dr Seuss is claimed to have said  “Don’t cry because it’s over, laugh because it happened”

 It might seem like a strange thing to say while we have been shedding many tears and will continue to do so, but I want to focus on the things that we can laugh about, and smile about as we remember Samuel now and always.

 I will always carry with me the laughs and smiles of putting the key in the front door of our house and hearing Samuel come hop skipping down the hallway with a gleeful DAAAADDYYYY. Of having him leap into my arms, give me a cuddle and then immediately wriggle his way down only to take off and return to whatever it was he was doing.

 I will forever remember Samuel, from no matter where in the house he was, running into the lounge room and standing in front of the TV as soon as he heard the Simpsons theme, and his outrageous laugh as the Simpson family crammed onto the couch, and again as soon as the intro theme was over.. off he went to do whatever he was doing as he didn’t really care about the show just the intro.

 I will remember the times Samuel would wait patiently at the start of a Pixar movie, quiet and still until the little lamp jumped up and down on the big lamp, and Samuel would jump up and down in time with squeals of laughter.

 I will remember the times when Samuel would go very quiet while he was playing and I’d think where is the cheeky little monkey… Only to find him on the lounge down the back with his bum in the air and his head buried under a lounge cushion.. Sound asleep.

 I will remember Samuel fishing, showing great patience… until he decided to bang the rods on the side of the boat and when told to stop just casually looked up and then dropped the rod over the side of the boat (and did it a second time… but with his sisters rod) 

Even when I think of things after his accident I will remember him always doing things his own way. right up until his last breath. If someone predicted something about him.. he would not let that define him. From the start of his accident when they said he probably wouldn’t make the night, and he did…. when they took him off the respirator days later and told us he probably wouldn’t breath on his own and he did… when we went to Bear Cottage in March last year with the news that Samuel was not expected to make it through the weekend.. and he did for another eleven months.. all on his own without the respiratory support that he had needed for a couple of years…. 

 Samuel that was one LONG weekend! 

Even as we arrived at Bear Cottage for the last time with Samuel, he chose his timing, waiting until things had settled down and he was surrounded only by family, and then as I held his hand and stroked his hair he took his final breath and let go of this life.

Not long after Samuel’s accident in a moment of despairing about how we would look after Samuel and what would become of him a work friend said to me   “ unlike almost all of us, what you can now count on is that Samuel will ALWAYS be surrounded by people that love and care for him”.  

I did not know at the time how true that comment would be. Yes he was always surrounded by our family that loved him, but he has also been surrounded by many many people that have shared our love for him and helped to take care of him. 

From his pre-school teachers at Wishing Well that welcomed Samuel back with open arms and hearts after his accident and went on a steep learning curve with us, to the teachers at his big school Kurambee for as long as he was able to attend… to the Doctors and Nurses and other staff and volunteers at the Childrens Hospital at Westmead, to the wonderful nurses,staff and volunteers at Bear Cottage. We can never fully express our thanks to you for embracing our little man, loving and caring for him exactly the way that we wanted him loved and cared for. I know that Samuel has touched many of you and I am glad that some of you were able to join us to celebrate Samuel’s life.

I will never get to know the man that Samuel would grow to become, and my life will always be poorer for that, but Samuel is and always will be my little man.

There is a Poem called the “The measure of man” that begins 

 “Not how did he die, But how did he live,

Not what did he gain, But what did he give

these are things that measure the worth,

of a man as a man, regardless of birth”

In his ten short years Samuel has touched many hearts and minds around the world. We have been inundated with messages from New Zealand, the USA, UK, Ireland, the middle east, South Africa, Sweden and other parts of Europe, from people whose lives had been touched by Samuel in some way.  

Samuel’s story, his strength, his tenacity and his courage through all he has faced has been shared through the work of the foundation created to honour him, the Samuel Morris Foundation. His story has been shared with Learn to Swim and Water Safety teachers, lifeguards, Life Saving Organisations and Doctors through conference presentations in Australia, Ireland, Germany and New Zealand as well as online. With many people sending comments after these events about how much Samuel had impacted on them personally, and how they would be thinking about their work differently as a result.

On Sunday 2nd March, one of those touched by Samuel, the mother of another child living with disabilities after a near drowning organised a balloon release event to be held for Samuel, this was shared via Facebook and again we were amazed at how far and wide the photos of the balloon release came from and the heartfelt messages that people sent with the balloons and photos, many from people we have never had the opportunity to meet, but who were touched by Samuel.

Sharing Samuel’s story has given me the chance to explore subjects, to go places and to build relationships with amazing people that I would never have had the opportunity to do so if it was not for my little man and the strength and tenacity that he put into his almost eight year fight for life.

Samuel has given so much strength, courage and inspiration in his ten short years, there are many of us that can live a long full life and never manage to touch and influence so many people across such a vast distance.

I will never get to know the grown up man that Samuel could have become… but I know that I am a better man because of Samuel’s influence on my own life.

Don’t cry because it’s over, laugh because it happened…..So yes…in time, I will not cry because Samuel’s life here on earth is over, I will laugh because his life happened …. it is not goodbye to my little man, because I will always carry him in my heart.. so for now… it is see you again some time Samuel.”

 

Searching for the meaning of life

In Douglas Adams “Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy” we learn that the answer to the ultimate question on life the universe and everything is 42. It’s just a shame that we never did get to find out what the ultimate question was.

It is even funnier that “life the universe and everything” and the number “42” have taken on cult status across the internet, particularly when Adams says he chose the number randomly and as a joke…..

But there are some things in life for which the number 42 does have some significance.

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A Marathon?

 

Emil Zatopek, a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist (one of which is a Marathon medal, after he decided to run in the event at the last-minute) said

“If you want to win something run a hundred metres, if you want to experience something run a marathon”

 

Winning or running a marathon?

Our experience with Samuel has been an ongoing mix of sprints and marathons, somethings we have won along the way.. but the marathon of his experience is continuing….

Picking Milestones…

Last year I picked myself up and ran a half marathon.. (13.6 miles or 21.1 km) or what some people want to call a “PIKERMI” (pronounced pee-KER-mee). The name comes from the town that is halfway between Athens and Marathon. The philosophy behind choosing this name, and not calling it a half marathon, is that running  13.6 miles or 21.1 km should not be considered to be a half of anything……

I’m not one to do things by halves….

Doing my first Pikermi was an interesting experiment, but not being one to do things by half I have decided that it is time to really experience something and to run a full marathon….

While running the marathon is not going to teach me the meaning to life the universe and everything…. after all there is a slight miscalculation with the Marathon being 42.195 Km’s (26 Miles), I am sure that true to Emil Zatopek’s advice I am really about to experience something (including a lot of pain as I crank up my training).

100 Days (ish)

When I decided to do my Pikermi I had 60 days until my chosen event…. some called me crazy.. but I got there.

This year I have chosen and event that gives me a 100 day lead in time.

Where and when?

I have chosen the Blackmore’s Sydney Marathon which happens on Sunday 22nd September (a little earlier than originally planned.. but other plans have ruled out those events 🙁  )

I’ll keep things up to date with my training with an occasional post on here, and some regular updates on my facebook and twitter accounts….

 

That day finally came

Samuel_headshotUpdating Samuels picture..

In the last post I talked about our circumstances and how they felt like being in Limbo. As a family we have bent and bent.. but in some respects we can bend no more.

I have talked about looking for the fire in Samuel’s eyes, the hope of where there is a spark and the degree of difficulty about some of the questions we knew were coming at some point. As I said in one of the other posts I have had an uneasy feeling throughout Samuel’s admission and in many ways we all knew, at least intellectually, that the day was approaching where some tough decisions would need to be made.

Samuel has dictated that those decisions (or at least the first of them) needed to be made today, knowing it was coming intellectually is still no preparation for the reality and the emotion that hits you when the decisions actually need to be made.

Our incredible teams of doctors

My family will be eternally grateful for the care and guidance that many teams at the Childrens Hospital at Westmead have provided us. Care and guidance that have allowed us to give Samuel the best possible quality of life over the past almost seven years since his accident. That care and guidance continued today with Samuel’s pediatrician taking a big chunk of time to sit with Jo-ann and myself and talk through everything that has happened and to spell out his concerns about the capacity to continue to give Samuel a meaningful quality of life and the very real indicators that Samuel has very little fight left to give, along with his wish to continue to do the right thing by Samuel and us as a family.

I have no doubt that the conversation we had this morning is one of the hardest that a doctor ever has to have, but in his usual fashion Samuel’s main doctor did it in the most caring and respectful way humanly possible.

That conversation was the first a few very tough ones necessary throughout today to beginn to layout the plan to make Samuel’s last days as special as they can possibly be, to make sure that he remains as comfortable as possible and that he is always surrounded by his family and people that love him.

What does the plan look like?

Part of that plan is to stay at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead for the next few days while the first steps and changes to Samuel’s care plan are made, and then to move over to Bear Cottage.

The Bear Cottage team has been involved in helping to look after Samuel and the rest of the family over the past few years. They have  provided us much-needed respite and pampering from time to time. It is a warm, welcoming and incredibly friendly place where we will be surrounded by a team of staff that know Samuel and the family well and with whom we have discussed many things about Samuel over the years. We will also be with other families who are at various stages of the journey we have been on with Samuel. We know that the Bear Cottage team will help us make Samuel’s last days as special as they can possibly be.

Sharing the news

There is no right or easy way to talk to your children about the coming death of their sibling. Jo-ann and I are lucky to have two beautiful compassionate young women who love Samuel unflinchingly and unfailingly. Sharing the ongoing changes with them, and then getting home and sitting down with them both to have a very long chat about Samuel and what the coming days may mean was made as easy as it could be by their maturity beyond their years, and their ability to be open and honest about what they are worried about, what they want for Samuel and for us as a family. Jo-ann and I are incredibly proud parents of three children who inspire us endlessly despite the challenges that they have each faced.

Sharing beyond home

Phone calls to a few, facebook updates, a few twitter messages, the message about Samuel and his circumstances has spread far and wide including to many places around the world. How far and wide this network of people extends is an indicator of the impact that Samuel’s life has already had.

Thank You

We are really thankful for all of the messages of love and support that so many people have already sent us, and continue to send us. They are too numerous to thank individually without taking time away from other important things that we need to focus on. So please take this as our thanks to you for your love and support (of which we are sure we will need plenty of over the coming days/weeks).