my Granny Vik – for her birthday.

the kiss and stick of cold dark clay

  – I scrub the earth from my hands.

the prick of her pin at the back of my kitchen drawer

  – I push it to the dark.

the lowing of the black cow

 – out in the farthest field,

the smell of gardenias.

– Her things

keep finding me,

my old Granny Vik, she was

soft to touch, she had

an iron grip and

a sharp tongue.

So many stories.

When she was a girl, growing up in a Siberian gulag, a man came to the door on Christmas Eve. He wanted some bread and a place out of the cold. But there was no bread and no room for a strange man in the hut of four little children and their widowed mother.

The next day, Granny opened the door, and there he was, sitting on the step.

Dead.

Merry Christmas!

When we were kids she worked two jobs so she could fly us to Sydney in our holidays.

She took us swimming to the Bronte Beach.

She took us to the Luna Park and Taronga zoo.

We caught ferries from the Circular Key and visited the Opera House and walked all the way across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

It was bloody tiring, but we managed to keep up.

She wore a silky scarf over her dark hair and beautiful dark red lipstick and a camel overcoat, stockings and fawn high heels. Once someone asked her for her autograph because they thought she was Greta Garbo.

Imagine!

My Poppy was in the Czech Resistance. He would wake up screaming in the night. The ceiling above his chair was stained orange-brown from his cigarettes. He often smelled of whiskey. He was warm and witty and bitter. Once he got drunk after work and thought he was Jesus and gave away his pay packet. Sometimes he would not come home and Granny would get in a taxi and drive around till she found him crumpled under a tree somewhere, beat up, wallet gone.

Her favourite sayings:

  1. Marriage is a dark forest.
  2. All men are unfaithful. Some with women. Others with drink or horses.

Her own father died on the way to join his wife and children in Siberia. He was trying to sell their farm. He fell off his horse in blizzard. He died in the snow.

She really loved my Poppy; she always spoke fondly of him and his terrible suffering.

When I was 20 and single and pregnant and scared and everyone was ashamed of me my mum made me ring her and tell her and Granny Vik laughed a gentle laugh and said, Ah it is so. Well if anyone will do this, you will. You have this baby and go back to the university and study and have a good life. That is it.

And somehow, it was.

She always grew gardenias. In her backyard in Sydney and later in Brisbane. And little ones in pots on the balcony of her South Bank apartment. She loved gardenia talcum powder and gardenia soap.

When she worked as a forced labourer in a Bavarian factory for Mr Hitler, the girls slept in straw together. With no sanitation things often smelled a bit ordinary.

The day after Granny’s funeral, my mother’s gardenias flowered for the first time.

Those two often argued, but now Mum has a little shrine in her sewing room. Two photos of Granny, and a little vase of flowers on a doily, arranged on their own little table.

I’m thinking that it’s the most wog thing my mother has ever done.

Writing a eulogy or special occasion speech: #1 getting in touch with your feelings.

This is a bit of a change of pace for my blog – I am writing this post because a couple of people have asked me for a hand when writing a speech and I want to pop my thoughts somewhere where they are easily shared…

so, you have just been approached to speak

… at a special occasion. It may be a wedding; it may be a retirement party; or perhaps a funeral. You may have anticipated this moment, or it may be a surprise. You may be a confident speaker, you may be feeling overwhelmed. In any circumstance, if you want to give a beautiful speech, one that is real and comes from the heart, it will help to consider and bring together the following aspects:

  • yourself: your feelings and experience
  • the person you are celebrating: their life, accomplishments, and relationships
  • the people who will receive your speech: their needs and expectations.

This post talks about how to consider and acknowledge your own feelings and experiences to prepare yourself for the writing. I will link to posts that will help you get together your thoughts about the person you are celebrating and connect with the folk who will receive your speech as I publish them.

your feelings and experience

At any special occasion, you may be feeling a lot of feelings. There may be joy and anticipation. There is also likely to be a surprising element of grief. You may be about to lose a valued member of staff to retirement, a family member who is relocating to a partner’s hometown, or you may be grieving a loved one who has died. Many of us are familiar with Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief . We expect to be working our way through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, it may come as an unpleasant surprise that these emotions may hit us at a happy celebration, or that they arrive several at a time, or in the ‘wrong’ order or that some may linger, or come and come again. This is actually all normal and ok*. Kubler-Ross herself did not suggest that one needs to spend a certain amount of time in any stage, or advocate trying to rush through grieving. Nor did she suggest that there was an orderly or predictable progression through the emotions of grief.

This is important because to write a eulogy from the heart you will need to be connected to your heart, to be vulnerable, open. Acknowledgement of all of the emotions associated with your grief as you are experiencing it also allows you to more fully explore what your colleague, friend, or loved one means to you and the significance of their place in your life. There may be surprises in this.

The following exercise can help you acknowledge rather than rush through your emotions. I was introduced to it by nonviolent communication teacher, Thom Bond.** Read through the exercise fully before you begin.

an exercise to help you connect with your heart and feelings

Find a time and a safe and comfortable place where you are not going to be disturbed by noise, light, or activities around you.

Set a timer for five minutes.

Sit down, close your eyes and ask yourself: What am I feeling?

As the feelings arise, answer the question honestly and simply. “I am feeling…”

This may sound like: “I am feeling nothing, I am feeling bored, I am feeling a little upset, I am feeling curious, I am feeling anguished. I am disappointed, I am bitter, I am bitter, I am scared, I am jealous, I am ashamed, I am weary, I am feeling a deep, sweet sadness.”

You may find you get stuck on a particular feeling for the entire five minutes. You may cycle through a number of feelings. There are no wrong feelings or wrong periods of time. There is only you feeling your feelings.

Just sit for 5 minutes (or longer) and keep asking yourself: What am I feeling?

If at any time you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, open your eyes and do what you need to do to feel safe and comfortable again, then resume the exercise.

You may find yourself overwhelmed by thoughts of what you or others could or should have done/said/been. Approach these thoughts especially gently. If you find yourself berating yourself or others, acknowledge the emotion and the cause. This may sound like:

“I am feeling really yukky because I wish it was me having the baby and I would like to be happy for her, but part of me is just stuck in feeling mad and sad.”

“I am pissed off – I spent all that time training her and now she has accepted a transfer!”

“I am feeling awkward because really my brother was there to help her and I rarely called.”

“I am angry because I spent all those years looking after her and now that she is dead everyone else turns up! I wish they would acknowledge how hard that was for me instead of making excuses.”

“I am afraid. I have never lived alone, I don’t know that I have what it takes.”

I find that just acknowledging this stuff can loosen its grip on me, but I have called a counselling service a few times, when I needed help to work through something. For this reason, I have included links to sites in Australia and New Zealand where you can find information about free services, should you need them.

so, what do you do with all this emotion?

I would use it as a starting point to think about what the person I am going to talk about really means to me. You may get connected to how much the person has contributed to your workplace, to your community and your life. Some of it might make its way into the speech: “Geez, when Mary told me she was leaving, I actually panicked a bit but only because I realised how much she does around this place and I know replacing her will be impossible,” followed by a list of wonderful things Mary contributes to the workplace, of course!

However, the real value of the exercise and connecting to your emotions is that this genuine connection will underpin your speech, making it easier to be real when you are standing up in front of all the people. Please try it and let me know how it goes for you.

This post covered the first of three aspects that I believe you need to consider and integrate to write and deliver a beautiful eulogy or special occasion speech. When I write about the other two aspects: the person you are celebrating; and the people who will receive your speech, I will update this post with the links.

* this is totally my opinion, I am not a counsellor and am not qualified in any healing or therapeutic practices other than sport massage but I don’t tell people about that.

**I would totally recommend Thom’s online course – and a reminder – taking a few courses in nonviolent communication does not make me an expert, or qualified.

counselling: Australia and New Zealand

I’m happy to add more sites, if anyone wants one added, please provide the information in the comments.

Lifeline Australia or call 13 11 14

Australian National Mental Health Commission

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand

references and photo attribution

Bond, Thom. (2015). The Compassion Course online. Thom’s website:  http://www.nycnvc.org/thom-bond/

Forsberg, Samantha. Forest [photo].CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2014). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. Simon and Schuster.

Kholo creek

above Kholo creek
a pink mountain, pink grassy heads swaying gently against the setting sun.

beside Kholo creek
an imprint of her hand in the cold, wet clay.

lost in the night
three childhoods, his parents’ pride, & little sister’s fierce love.

grief

She came to me last night and asked me to take her shopping. I drove her home and she put on her shiny cream heels, her glamorous fawn coat, her dark red lipstick. She was so young and strong, beautiful and content. I took her to the David Jones, and she lingered over some hand-carved ornaments. She noticed their beauty and she ran a finger over the part where polished wood met an interesting natural edge. She wandered around the coats and jackets, feeling the weights of the fabrics, the luxurious piles, so soft! And then I was all alone, holding her bags and her things.

She is gone.

It’s not like I think of her every moment of the day. And some days I don’t at all. But sometimes I wake up and have another cry. And then I get on with it again.

Dadang Christano nineteen sixty-five

I visited my local art gallery yesterday. The exhibition: Dadang Christiano 1965 is a record of the suffering of the people of Indonesia at the coming of the Suharto regime. I learned that an estimated 1 500 000 people were murdered and many more imprisoned, beaten, raped. I also learned the reason for my ignorance: because the victims were labeled leftist sympathisers and communists (and I’m guessing because they were Asian) the West not only did nothing, they actively discouraged reporting and discussion.

Christano’s art is surely an act of faith: that despite this sorry history of denial, all people now will look and understand, will feel compassion. And so I sat for a moment in testimony, if you like. I sat and imagined ten people and then ten groups of ten people and ten times that until I worked up to 1 500 000. It was very crowded in the gallery, yet solemn, peaceful.

I can’t find an image to post that would not impinge on Christano’s copyright, but here is a link to more of his work.

life moving on

My old Granny is fading. She has been in and out of hospital for the past few months with a number of infections, including one in her chest that seems intractable. At one point it seemed she was actively dying, but it does look like we will have her for a little longer, that she can go home again at least for a bit, and enjoy all the attention she is getting from her children, grandkids and great grandkids. (And she is enjoying it too 🙂 )

Gran has started to reminisce. We all love listening to her old stories, but it is a bittersweet thing for her, to remember and to be the only one left. She has outlived all her friends from the old days, her parents, all her siblings, all those connections to Ukraine, to her childhood, her teens, her young adulthood, all gone.

Personally, I am also feeling some emotional impact, apart from the grief about Gran. That is, I keep getting washed over with nostalgia. I look at my young adult daughters and I wonder where my babies, my little ones went. Where is the girl who wrote in grade one I will be a carpenter and build my mum a house and we will all live in it and we will love each other? Where is the four year old who confidently pronounced that we could fix the shower leak with zelly zorclan (Selly’s all seal)? Where did my little miss who perched on the loo with her nose buried in her skirt disappear?

When I was a girl in primary school one of my teachers said to me you won’t believe this but your life will go by in a flash. Make the most of it! He was right. I didn’t believe him and also, here I am, 46 years and two days old, marvelling at it all. How wonderful it has been, how glorious, how hard too, and how blessed I am 🙂

when I accepted it really is just over for her and there is nothing I can do about it and that I was going to be ok and probably was ok already

When my partner and I got back together after years happily apart most of my family had the shits and one of my sisters just dumped me. I kidded myself for a bit that she would get over it and then got mad and sad when she didn’t. And mad at myself for caring about it anyway. And sad with my family because they wanted us to get over it but I didn’t know how. And sometimes scared because I was going to see her at some family thing and when I did see her I always felt like I was going to be sick. This went on for years, about five years actually. And one day after practicing nonviolent communication for quite a while I actually thought to use it and I asked myself – what is it that I want from her anyway? And the answer was so clear and beautiful – love and acceptance and a little fun. And in that very same moment I knew I had all these things already – with my partner and my daughters, with my workmates and with my friends and I just felt all warm and loved up just walking to work in the morning sunshine on a daggy concrete path, with a straggly jasmine vine climbing over a crumbly wall alongside

white foxes

my friend
there is so much that you have missed

each morning the sun still rises to touch the clouds with gold
that place that sells the good kebabs is making real lemonade again
and Sara’s baby girl giggles in her sleep

they say she couldn’t see that anymore she lived in a world with no colour

but last night, in a world bleached by fog I saw
two white foxes in the headlights
suspended

how I miss you
dear friend

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