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Lifestyle: #Talktome about pets when they die

What happens when your pets die?

These and other questions were asked by me today, when Hamish interviewed me about my childhood pets. We were invited by HuffPost to join the #talktome initiative, which is designed to spark meaningful conversations between parents and children. Talking to my sons, we decided on two topics; my youngest son was going to ask me about Pugs (his obsession) and about the pets that I have had over the years. My eldest son was going to talk about Harry Potter and reading.

To read the article and watch the video on Huffington Post, click here.

talktome about pets

Eat Pray Love Made me do it.

Eat Pray Love Made me do it

Recently to celebrate the anniversary of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert called for submissions to be included in a book of short stories titled “Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It”. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. My submission was not successful, and I thought that I would share it with you, so that those of you who are new to this website, can gain a sneak peak into my life, and why I am a photographer and writer. (The original article was not submitted with photographs)

Katische

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In the early scenes of the movie Love Actually, Jamie (Colin Firth) comes home to discover his semi-clad girlfriend cavorting around the lounge with his brother. Suitably devastated, he retreats to a lake house to write a novel on his old-fashioned typewriter. I too, have retreated to a lake house. With the dissolution of my marriage, I have packed my things and brought my children to a house overlooking a lake in Witta, eager to create a fresh new future.

I don’t want to move back to my hometown of Brisbane to be pitied. I know that just like death, divorce is a taboo and most people in society run from those who have failed in marriage rather than come close to support them.

I want to be alone to lick my wounds. I feel ashamed. My heart feels black with grief and I need the freedom to be in the emotion of the moment, to be sad or mad or angry, to achieve nothing other than simply getting through the day. I am now a recipient of a government pension and my ego does not like it. I refuse to live in a depressing environment. I know that if my house is hell, then my mind will descend there.

I know I need time to heal, but with two children under four and a dog, I cannot escape the country to an Ashram, so I choose to make my new life in Witta a healing adventure. I create my first blog and name it ‘Adventures with Munchkins. It is a way to document for myself the experience that I am going through. I want to write about the change in my life from an uplifting point of view. From a perspective of adventure, from the rose tinted lenses of a woman who thinks she can face fear head on and make an adventure out of the experience of being a single mother.

I know that single motherhood is one of the biggest fears married women face, and parents have for their children. It is the main reason that abused women remain victims, and others who are in a loveless marriage remain until the kids have left home.

Single mothers are blamed for everything. Bad behaved children, truancy, rises in crime and drug usage. A single mother is someone to be pitied, not inspired by. A single mother also usually earns less and works more, and holds the greatest guilt over not being a super human and giving her child every experience possible. One in four children in single parent families in Australia live in poverty.

I am determined that I will not be the object of pity. I am also determined not to let my single motherhood change my parenting wishes. I wish to be a present parent, even if that means I am a parent who remains on a pension longer.

My number one focus in life is to recover from my marriage breakdown to ensure that when I am ready to return to work, I am an asset not a liability. Eat Pray Love becomes literally my bible. I feel like Liz Gilbert is the only person in the world who understands me.

I highlight passages and every time Richard from Texas counsels her, I feel as though he is talking to me. Especially when I am sad, and then angry. Both which are natural stages of grief, experienced as a result of a separation and divorce, both equally disturbing and overwhelming.

“Groceries, you need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select what clothes you’re gonna wear every day. This is a power you can cultivate…Because if you can’t learn to master your thinking, you’re in deep trouble forever”.

And so I learn how to watch my emotions rise, and monitor my thoughts like passing clouds. At some point in time, I stop being angry, start to accept my lot in life, and starting seeing the beauty around me.

Eat Pray Love

I am filled with awe of the clouds and the fog and the mist of Witta, and how they interact with the mountain range. The mornings are filled with spectacular sunrises and the evenings with even more amazing sunsets over the lake. So begins a fascination with recording the beauty I am seeing on my iPhone.

Eat Pray Love

The day I started to see beauty in my own yard, changed my perspective on life.

I change the name of my blog to ‘The Lake House Writer’ and my journey takes on a new dimension. Each week I post images that I have taken that are blended with quote that reflects how I feel, the inspiration that I am seeking in my life. I create my first photographic video that incorporates images I have taken on my iPhone with Tibetan music and post it on the blog.

I decide to undertake a photography challenge with my friend also named Liz. We no longer live around the corner from each other, and as a way of continuing the friendship we decided to upload a photo a day. It just has to be a single photo, something that we had done or seen or eaten that day.

Eat Pray Love

From this point onwards my brain explodes. I allow my brain the space to be silent whilst my eyes filtered the experience of my life through a camera. I experience the complete spectrum of emotion through the excuse of photography. This enables me to see the emotions that I am experiencing at a safe distance, and I can correct them so that I do not go too high or too low.

I can now view my photography and say ‘wooah that was a dark day yesterday’, better make today a light one. I then simply seek an adventure where I photograph something beautiful in nature, to make my mind focus in that direction.

Eat Pray Love

I have a whole new culture at my fingertips. Living in Witta, I am exposed to the freethinking Bohemian living citizens of Maleny. People here simply view life differently. They take you as you are. They explore all facets of life, all theories of existence and all forms of healing. Nothing is too strange, too unacceptable, or too radical.

I decide that if I am going to live in the middle of nowhere, I might as well embrace it- put on the glasses of Peter Mayle for a while. It may not be rural France, and I am living in a brick rental house rather than a crumbling Chateau, but the experience for me could be the same. I needn’t travel overseas to live an adventure. This realization gives me immense freedom and tears off the tape that is binding my wings to my side.

My blog becomes the place that I explore my fascination with life in Maleny. It is the best medicine for a broken heart. I simply operate from the place of knowledge that I know nothing about repairing a broken heart and that I will take any advice, and try it. Any remedy, any alternate therapy any approach to life and any friendship that came my way. If it doesn’t work, there is nothing lost.

Eat Pray Love

And nothing is lost, because, a year later, we return to Brisbane, ready to face the world again. We face a bigger battle helping my father face an early death in the form of prostate cancer and again Eat Pray Love comes to my side to help cope with anxiety, depression and grief, all the same emotions, this time in a different form.

the hardest goodbye

When the grief passes I take Richards advice,

“Take all the time you need to heal, but don’t forget to eventually share your heart with someone”.

A couple of short relationships later, my heart has been wedged right open, and I am optimistic that in time, I will find the right long term relationship.

Eat Pray Love

Words by me, image by Russell Stevens.

My writing and my photography has been a constant for me through this journey and I’m now both a professional photographer and writer. I’ve just put the finishing touches on my manuscript, which I have been writing since that first blog as a newly single mother.

Eat Pray Love

So from the bottom of my heart, and also from my children, who have gained a mother who is passionate about her work, I thank you Liz. By taking the courage to be vulnerable and share your story, you have helped me through my darkest times and provided me with the never-ending light of inspiration to guide me on my way. Your Facebook posts have impacted and helped me on a daily basis and you Liz, have become my Richard from Texas.

 

*Note- one of the many challenges that Liz and I took was a structured challenge from Fat Mum Slim.  These photo challenges are a fantastic way to get started with photography. In time, we decided to create our own challenges, but highly recommend the structured approach to get you photographing and give you some confidence.

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I am going to die a long long time in the future…

Dying is not something we like to think about. We’ll worry about it when it happens to us. Which is a long long time in the future, because, you know, we all are going to live to 101.

Well my friends, the fact is that none of us know when we are going to die, and unfortunately for a lot of us, it will involve dementia and perhaps a battle with cancer.

Don’t close this blog yet! I promise I have a vital tool to share with you.

You need to think about what would happen to you if you had an accident or a disease that made it impossible for you to communicate your wishes for medical care. If you were unable to make decisions for yourself, how would you wish to be cared for medically?

Please don’t say- I’ll let my family worry about it. Your body is exactly that – yours and you need to step up and take responsibility for how you wish to be cared for in the event of an accident, a terminal or life limiting illness or in the case of cognitive decline.

Why? Because your family and loved ones will be stressed enough over your situation that they will find it difficult to make tough decisions. They will wish that you had made it clear for them.

Caitlin Dougherty of the Order of the Good Death has made a short video about Advanced Healthcare Directives, and why they are important for YOU.

Please note that the information contained in this video is relevant to all countries, but the specifics will vary from country to country. As Caitlin says, just google “Advanced Directive xxxx ” (Space for the country you live in). I have a whole section of my website dedicated to it:
http://katische.com/writing/advanced-care-plans which includes links to the specific forms you need if you are living in Australia.

Here’s a copy of the specific attachment that I included in addition to my advanced directive. I did this because I specifically wanted to deal with the issue of dementia. I am not saying that you should agree with my decisions in relation to my care should I have dementia. I am asking you to do the hard work and think about what it would be like to have dementia, and importantly what it would be like for your family to care for you if you have dementia.

Do the hard work. Watch some movies, read books about the topic, go visit a nursing home, talk about it with your religious leader and your family, and then make your decision.

This document should be reviewed periodically to ensure your wishes have not changed. My GP has a signed copy and it is filed and stored with my will with my lawyers. My power of attorney also has a copy of these documents.

Directive for situations of irreversible and progressive cognitive decline

Oh, and if you don’t have a will, please understand you are on Santa’s naughty list. There’s only 166 days until Christmas, so get to it!

Who Cares- book launch

There are some books which are published after you need them. These are the books that speak to your heart because they seem to understand exactly what you have been going through. Joan Wilson-Jones has written a book  called “Who Cares” which my mother and I wish was published before my father died. Her book is part memoir and part practical handbook, and is based on her experience caring for her partner, who died as a result of Prostate Cancer. She wrote the book because she could not find anything like it, when she was looking for something to guide her through the difficult job of being a carer.

Click on image to be taken to Amazon.com

Joan is having her book launch this Friday.  I can’t attend as I will be setting up my photographic exhibition for the weekend, however, I strongly urge any who is caring for a seriously ill person to attend this book launch. This book is invaluable.

Joan Wilson- Jones introducing her book and her journey at an impromptu gathering at Karuna Hospice.

Joan Wilson- Jones introducing her book and her journey at an impromptu gathering at Karuna Hospice.

 

Who-Cares-Launch2-Invitation

 

Kicking the shit out of Option B

It is never easy to watch someone suffer. It’s hard to watch their pain and to know what to do to help. Often we do what we think is helpful, yet unintentionally cause pain and suffering. Grief ticks every box in this respect. We wonder how to respond in an obvious time of pain and sadness? I don’t know Sheryl Sandberg, however, I know that what she posted on 3rd of June 2015 on her Facebook page has touched the world.

She has opened the vital conversation about grief. She has shown courage through her words, and 70,833 people responded with personal comments to her post. 394,000 people also felt so strongly about her post that they shared her words. I was so touched by the post that I both responded and shared this post on my Facebook page. I also took the time to read through hundreds of posts, and was absolutely touched by the fact that Sheryl’s vulnerability opened up the space for other people to share. There are so many comments from similarly bereaved spouses. Some lost their partners as long as 20 years ago, yet the pain for them is still real today.

What I learnt from Sheryl’s post is that in being courageously vulnerable, we give people an insight into our world. We help them understand what it is to be us, and to know, in the case of unspoken taboos, ways in which we can help. It also allows people to know that they are not alone. They are not the only people in the world who are feeling the same.

So with this in mind I share Sheryl’s post verbatim with you.

Do I have permission to repost? Technically no. I did ask her, however, as she is taking time to read and respond to each and every comment on her post, this could take a while. I’ll take a punt that she won’t mind. I hope you find this post as moving and informative as I did.

Today is the end of sheloshim for my beloved husband—the first thirty days. Judaism calls for a period of intense mourning known as shiva that lasts seven days after a loved one is buried. After shiva, most normal activities can be resumed, but it is the end of sheloshim that marks the completion of religious mourning for a spouse.A childhood friend of mine who is now a rabbi recently told me that the most powerful one-line prayer he has ever read is: “Let me not die while I am still alive.” I would have never understood that prayer before losing Dave. Now I do.I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well.But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.And this is why I am writing: to mark the end of sheloshim and to give back some of what others have given to me. While the experience of grief is profoundly personal, the bravery of those who have shared their own experiences has helped pull me through. Some who opened their hearts were my closest friends. Others were total strangers who have shared wisdom and advice publicly. So I am sharing what I have learned in the hope that it helps someone else. In the hope that there can be some meaning from this tragedy.

I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser.

I have gained a more profound understanding of what it is to be a mother, both through the depth of the agony I feel when my children scream and cry and from the connection my mother has to my pain. She has tried to fill the empty space in my bed, holding me each night until I cry myself to sleep. She has fought to hold back her own tears to make room for mine. She has explained to me that the anguish I am feeling is both my own and my children’s, and I understood that she was right as I saw the pain in her own eyes.

I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need. I think I got this all wrong before; I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was “It is going to be okay.” That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me. Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, “You and your children will find happiness again,” my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, “You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good” comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple “How are you?”—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with “How are you today?” When I am asked “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.

I have learned some practical stuff that matters. Although we now know that Dave died immediately, I didn’t know that in the ambulance. The trip to the hospital was unbearably slow. I still hate every car that did not move to the side, every person who cared more about arriving at their destination a few minutes earlier than making room for us to pass. I have noticed this while driving in many countries and cities. Let’s all move out of the way. Someone’s parent or partner or child might depend on it.

I have learned how ephemeral everything can feel—and maybe everything is. That whatever rug you are standing on can be pulled right out from under you with absolutely no warning. In the last thirty days, I have heard from too many women who lost a spouse and then had multiple rugs pulled out from under them. Some lack support networks and struggle alone as they face emotional distress and financial insecurity. It seems so wrong to me that we abandon these women and their families when they are in greatest need.

I have learned to ask for help—and I have learned how much help I need. Until now, I have been the older sister, the COO, the doer and the planner. I did not plan this, and when it happened, I was not capable of doing much of anything. Those closest to me took over. They planned. They arranged. They told me where to sit and reminded me to eat. They are still doing so much to support me and my children.

I have learned that resilience can be learned.  Adam M. Grant taught me that three things are critical to resilience and that I can work on all three. Personalization—realizing it is not my fault. He told me to ban the word “sorry.” To tell myself over and over, This is not my fault. Permanence—remembering that I won’t feel like this forever. This will get better. Pervasiveness—this does not have to affect every area of my life; the ability to compartmentalize is healthy.

For me, starting the transition back to work has been a savior, a chance to feel useful and connected. But I quickly discovered that even those connections had changed. Many of my co-workers had a look of fear in their eyes as I approached. I knew why—they wanted to help but weren’t sure how. Should I mention it? Should I not mention it? If I mention it, what the hell do I say? I realized that to restore that closeness with my colleagues that has always been so important to me, I needed to let them in. And that meant being more open and vulnerable than I ever wanted to be. I told those I work with most closely that they could ask me their honest questions and I would answer. I also said it was okay for them to talk about how they felt. One colleague admitted she’d been driving by my house frequently, not sure if she should come in. Another said he was paralyzed when I was around, worried he might say the wrong thing. Speaking openly replaced the fear of doing and saying the wrong thing. One of my favorite cartoons of all time has an elephant in a room answering the phone, saying, “It’s the elephant.” Once I addressed the elephant, we were able to kick him out of the room.

At the same time, there are moments when I can’t let people in. I went to Portfolio Night at school where kids show their parents around the classroom to look at their work hung on the walls. So many of the parents—all of whom have been so kind—tried to make eye contact or say something they thought would be comforting. I looked down the entire time so no one could catch my eye for fear of breaking down. I hope they understood.

I have learned gratitude. Real gratitude for the things I took for granted before—like life. As heartbroken as I am, I look at my children each day and rejoice that they are alive. I appreciate every smile, every hug. I no longer take each day for granted. When a friend told me that he hates birthdays and so he was not celebrating his, I looked at him and said through tears, “Celebrate your birthday, goddammit. You are lucky to have each one.” My next birthday will be depressing as hell, but I am determined to celebrate it in my heart more than I have ever celebrated a birthday before.

I am truly grateful to the many who have offered their sympathy. A colleague told me that his wife, whom I have never met, decided to show her support by going back to school to get her degree—something she had been putting off for years. Yes! When the circumstances allow, I believe as much as ever in leaning in. And so many men—from those I know well to those I will likely never know—are honoring Dave’s life by spending more time with their families.

I can’t even express the gratitude I feel to my family and friends who have done so much and reassured me that they will continue to be there. In the brutal moments when I am overtaken by the void, when the months and years stretch out in front of me endless and empty, only their faces pull me out of the isolation and fear. My appreciation for them knows no bounds.

I was talking to one of these friends about a father-child activity that Dave is not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave. I want option A.” He put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the shit out of option B. And even though sheloshim has ended, I still mourn for option A. I will always mourn for option A. As Bono sang, “There is no end to grief . . . and there is no end to love.” I love you, Dave.

 

Post by Sheryl Sandberg