Monday, 30 April 2012

I love holidays....

Remember the joy of school holidays, especially finishing just before Christmas with all those beautiful summer weeks stretching out before you?  Nothing to do except catch upwith friends, go swimming, read...and then towards the end, you'd say 'I'm bored' and Mum would snap 'For heaven's sake, get up and do something'!

And as a mother, I used to enjoy school holidays when the daily routine could relax, there was no homework for me to nag about, and we could have outings, meet friends, and have sleepovers.  And then someone would say, 'I'm bored' and I'd find myself echoing my mother and snapping  'For heaven's sake, get up and do something.'!

And even now, public holidays are such a relief, a break in the round of getting up early, going to work, coming home and going to bed.  A sleep-in perhaps, or going out to breakfast or a movie, visiting friends....a change in routine and a chance to refresh the batteries.

So annual leave is something special.  A chance to go away, to the country, the beach or overseas, or to undertake a project like renovating the garden, sewing (if anyone does these days), creating a new look at home by moving around the furniture, or changing a colour scheme.

Most of all these days, I like to travel, whether in Australia or overseas.  When I get on that plane, I can leave everything behind and just have a time of enjoying myself, not having to be responsible for anything more mind blowing than what I'll have for lunch or dinner, whether I'll have a snooze or a swim.

Some people I meet when travelling like to check their work emails and to keep in touch with the office.  I can't imagine doing that and then being able to relax and get the benefit of rest and refreshment.  While my staff know they can call in an emergency, they generally don't call and I trust their decision making and will back them up when I return.

With an elderly father, it is important to make sure he is monitored and supported in my absence, and that I can be contacted if necessary.  We have discussed what would happen if he died when I was away, and have made arrangements for the undertaker to care for his body until I returned.  I suspect that part of me thinks that by making such a contingency plan, I may never need to use it, but it helps me go away with a clear conscience.

So I have just had a wonderful holiday and am pleased to be back, and to be back at work today.

Monday, 9 April 2012

A subject we tend to avoid...

Whether we like it or not, death is very much part of life.  Nothing is more certain.  The only thing we don't know for sure, is when.

Death of young people is especially heartbreaking. In recent times we have followed the course of Jim Stynes' s illness and death and the outporing of emotion that marked his funeral.  On a more personal level, my 32 year old nephew died unexpectedly. With such premature deaths, we mourn them both for their lives and for the life that they haven't yet lived.  What might have been.

And parents in particular, find the death of their children something they never want to face.  It is the wrong order of theings.  And I have heard grandparents say "It should have been me, my life is nearly over anyway." And when a baby or young child dies, no one knows what to say, the grief is raw and affects everyone. 

It is hard enough for us to deal with death, especially the death of someone close, without having to explain death to children.  Perhaps it was easier in the days when religious belief was widespread, when child mortality was high and people died at home rather than in hospital, but now in the absence of these things we can be left struggling for words.There are now excellent resources to help with the task, and perhaps some of the best advice is to use the non-emotional times to start raising the issues with children eg a dead flower,  leaves falling off trees, a dead bird found on a walk.

An on line pamphlet I found particularly helpful is

There is however, no easy answer to this complex issue, because we all bring our own experiences, feelings and attitudes, but we shouldn't ignore it.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


The birthdays in our family seem to cluster together.  No sooner have we bought gifts, had the day than the next one is upon us. Then we have a big gap until the start of the next cluster.  At least that gives time to save.

But why do we celebrate birthdays?  When we are little it is exciting to be another year older, and then there is the transition from youth to adulthood at age 18 when we are allowed to drink, to drive, to vote...That is one worth celebrating.

But when we reach shall I say 'years of discretion' I'm not sure that we like being reminded we are a year older, or not until our 90s, when the countdown starts to 100, often at a time of frailty, and ill health, and not really caring.

So why celebrate the annual milestone?

Part of the reason is obviously about the day being 'special' to that person. Even if thousands of others were born on that day, the day of one's birth is the day that this person with this particular heritage entered the world.  So perhaps a birthday is a way of marking the uniqueness of the one being celebrated. (I wonder if twins and other multiple births feel this too? And what about those whose birthdate has never been recorded?)

And we are unique in several ways: our genetic heritage, our position in the family, the mix of social and environmental influences that shape our personalities, our shape and appearance.  From what I can understand of genetics, the genetic differences between people are amazingly small, yet for all that we are uniquely ourselves.  Surely that is worth celebrating.

But birthday celebrations are also about belonging: to a family , a friendship network, a community.  They bring people together not only to mark the occasion for the person, but to mark the importance of this person as a member of the group. There is a need to belong so strong that social isolation is seen as a factor in premature death and mental illness. 

I think the lesson for me is to not grumble about being a year older, but to celebrate the fact that I am alive, and that I have a place in my family and network of frineds, and that little community likes to celebrate my membership of it.  It's not the cards or gifts or candles on the cake, it is the recognition of the person and the group that is important.