The Climb

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Early this morning I climbed Mount Coolum.  I didn’t do it for myself, I didn’t even really want to do it, but I did it because my son, Tom, wanted me to.  Today it is one week since his wife, Kari-Lee, died of Cystic Fibrosis related illness and, at this stage, I am willing to do just about anything he asks me to do.

Climbing Mount Coolum is something that lots of people do.  There is a track and even stone stairs and the climb is about a kilometre.  The mountain itself is a volcanic dome that is two hundred and eight metres in height.  The climb starts easy enough but gets steeper as you go.

I have done this climb before, when my children were younger (and I was younger) and I remember how tough it was then.  I am now older and wiser (and I weigh more) so I was very hesitant to repeat the experience.  I don’t do sweat well (there is no glow) there is only red face, streaming rivers of salty perspiration and heavy breathing.  I know people run up it and then run down it and then do it again…but there is no conceivable situation in which this would be me.

thegang

The Gang

But I did it.  We started at about 5am.  There were six of us; my son Tom, Kari’s sister Tiana, Tom’s friends Zac, Danielle & Nick and then me.  I was the oldest and the most unfit.  My son runs marathons and he told me that the last time he did the climb, he did it in nine minutes.  I assured him that it would take me quite a bit longer.

As we climbed, I had a bit of a revelation (as I am wont to do at times) about the nature of living after loss.  The last week has been so hard, for all of us.  There are good days and not so good days and then there are the days when you don’t think you can go on.  There is no “getting over”, “moving on” or “getting through” loss.  How do you “get over” something like losing a wife or a child or a best friend?  You don’t, you just learn a new way of living without them; you learn a way of living with the loss.  The symbolism of climbing the mountain has helped me better understand that today and, maybe, it might help someone else.

Firstly, some days are going to be ok and other days are going to be hard.  It may not even be days, it may be just moment to moment, hour to hour, minute to minute. Climbing the mountain was like that.  Some places were easier, still challenging, but easier and other places were really tough going.  There were times that I had to stop and rest and there are going to be days when it seems almost impossible to keep going, when the pain is so unbearable that it is too hard to even get out of bed.  And that is ok.  Take time to rest, take time to give the overworked muscles a break and then, the next day, or moment, get up and keep moving.

About a third of the way up the trail, I was so exhausted I didn’t think I could go on.  I thought I had walked further than I actually had and it was discouraging.  There are going to be days like that.  Days when you think you have made progress, but then you realise you still have a long way to go.  I had a few moments like that and my son just kept on encouraging me.  “You’ve done so well” and “You’re nearly there” and “Just do this little bit more and then you can rest”.  His constant encouragement kept me focussed, kept me going when I wanted to give up.  You need people in your life that will be your encouragers, people who will show you how far you’ve come and how well you’ve done and will gently encourage you to keep going.

As I said before, my son runs marathons.  He is extremely fit and the climb for him was easy, but he chose to stay with me.  As we climbed, our group went at different paces, some going faster and further, others going at a medium pace and then stopping to wait for me bringing up the rear.  Despite my protests that he should go at his own pace and I would eventually catch up, my son modified his stride so that he could walk with me.  We need people in our lives that will go ahead and show us the way, and we need people that will go a little bit ahead of us and then stop to wait for us to catch up and we also need people in our life who will modify their stride so that they can walk alongside of us, helping us when we need help or just to keep us company.

There was also pain.  There was pain in places I didn’t expect there to be pain.  When you are walking up a steep incline, you are prepared to experience pain, but what got me was that there was pain in unusual and unexpected muscles and this made it harder.  Learning to live with loss is learning to live with pain and sometimes that pain comes from the most unexpected places and it can wear you down.  Pain is to be expected and when it gets too much, it is not failure, it is just time to rest.

halfway

The view from half way

About half of the way up, the cover of trees broke and there was a glimpse of the view and it was magnificent.  I thought I had finally reached the top and I stopped to admire the view.  But I was not at the top.  Yes the view was good, but I was still only half way.  It was tempting to stop there and not go any further, and sometimes you are going to feel that.  Sometimes you will reach a place where you think that you have come far enough, learnt enough and you will want to stop, but then you will turn around and realise there is still more to do.  Don’t be discouraged.  Take a moment to admire the view.  Take a moment to look at how far you have come.  Take a deep breath and then, keep going.

The closer to the top, the harder it got.  The trail was more treacherous, the incline was steeper and my body was tiring.  As horrible as it is to say, it will get worse before it gets better.  Navigating life after loss is going to be exhausting and you will feel like things are getting harder instead of easier, but don’t give up.  Press on, resting when you need to and pushing through the pain when you can.

We passed (and were passed by) a lot of people on the trail.  Everybody doing their own thing, having their own reasons for doing the climb.  I stopped for a rest and a lady who passed me congratulated me for doing the climb and gave me advice, “Just put one foot in front of the other.”  As well intentioned as she might have been, it annoyed me.  I know I am overweight and, yes, I was struggling, but I didn’t need her to tell me how to do it.  It may seem ironic that I am giving this advice, but here goes…People who see you along the way are going to give you advice, whether you want it or not.  It is annoying and frustrating, but they are just trying to help and encourage you.  My way of dealing with it comes from an animated Dreamworks film… “Just smile and wave boys.  Just smile and wave.”

thetop

The top of the mountain

Finally, after about thirty-five minutes, we reached the top.  And I was disappointed.  It wasn’t what I expected.  From the bottom it looks like it is covered in lush green grass, but it is not.  The fact is, it is covered with shrubs and rocks.  There is nowhere comfortable to sit and admire the view, there is no shade and there is nowhere to get a refreshing drink.  And today the view was obscured by low lying cloud.  I was disappointed.  Where was the view?  We had wanted to watch the sun rise over the ocean, but we couldn’t even see the ocean.  Yes, the fog was pretty, but it was not what I had signed up for, it was not what I had expected. Now, I have done the climb before and I have seen the view before, so I know what it looks like on other days, but it was a different view today and I felt a little let down.  What I had wanted to see, what I had expected to see and the reason I put myself through the pain was not there.  In fact, the view from lower down had been better. And that is what it is going to be like living with loss.  There are going to be days down the track when the view is magnificent and the pain you went through will feel worth it, but there will also be days when the view isn’t so great or isn’t what you wanted or expected.  That is life and at the end of the day, I was glad I had climbed the mountain.  I am glad that I got up early and went through the pain to get to the top, because even if the view wasn’t what I had expected, it was still beautiful.

theview

The view from the top

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Courage

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One hundred and ten hours ago I watched my twenty-one year old son hold his wife of ten months in his arms as she struggled to breathe her last breaths and passed into heaven.  Courage.

One hundred and ten hours ago I watched a mother, who has fought valiantly for the life of her daughter for twenty-five years, whisper comfort into her daughter’s ear as she stepped through the gates of heaven.  Courage.

One hundred and ten hours ago I watched a young woman stand at the foot of the bed, wanting with all her heart to do something, anything for her life-long friend, as the angels ushered her into heaven. Courage.

One hundred and ten hours ago I watched a dear friend, who has been touched by loss too many times, overcome her own fears by standing alongside us and buoying us with her love and support as we said goodbye to a precious soul.  Courage.

Those last moments were so very precious, but they were so very hard too.  And it is still hard.  For those first few hours after, there was a numbness. Even now, among the raging emotions and rivers of pain, there is numbness, a dulling of the senses almost, as if the heart cannot bear to deal with anymore.  It takes courage to get out of bed each day, to eat, to join the rest of the world and to close your eyes at night.

Over the past two months I have learnt a lot about courage and I have learnt about cowardice.  I have learnt that courage comes in all different shapes and sizes, but cowardice is universal.  I’ve learnt that courage causes us stand in the face of adversity, not without fear, but in spite of fear.  I’ve learnt that courage unflinchingly faces facts and still dares to hope.  I’ve learnt that courage takes the hard road when everyone tells you to take the easy road. And cowardice?  I’ve learnt that cowardice hides behind excuses.

I have also learnt that when you look into the face of someone who is courageous it exposes your own cowardice.  When confronted with your own cowardice, you then have a choice; hide behind your excuses or rise to the challenge.  Courage is infectious if you are willing to put aside your excuses and let it rise within you.

Cowardice causes us to miss opportunities, to miss life-changing moments.  Cowardice robs us of treasures that cannot be replaced, moments that cannot be relived.  Cowardice erodes our souls, weakens us and causes us to be less.  Cowardice is a choice, but it needn’t be a forever choice.

That is the thing about courage.  It is always there within reach if you dare to stretch out your hand to it. You are given the opportunity to choose courage with every single moment, with every breath.  Even if you have chosen cowardice, courage is still there, like a sheathed sword, waiting for you to draw upon it.

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point.”- C.S. Lewis

When our love is tested, courage is there.  When our faith is tested, courage is there. When there seems that hope is gone, courage is there beckoning us to lift up our eyes and see beyond the circumstances, beyond the pain, beyond the facts.

Courage underpins us, courage strengthens us.  It is more than steely determination, it is more than perseverance and it is more than bravery.  Where bravery acts without thought or fear, courage acts with the full knowledge of the consequences and whilst still feeling the fear.  Bravery acts blindly, courage acts with purpose.

One hundred and ten hours ago I stood helplessly by as a young, vibrant, vivacious twenty-five year old woman courageously took the hand of Jesus as He walked her into heaven.  Courage.  Not mine, but hers.

 

If you would like to do something practical in this time of loss, we would appreciate donations to help with the financial burdens – Click here

The Full Story: A Love Story , Diary Interrupted, How Do You Say Goodbye?

Recommended reading :

The Difference between Courage and Bravery

 Dear Kari

 I Have No Words

A New Angel

How Do You Say Goodbye?

karilee

How do you say goodbye to someone who has brought so much love and joy into your life? How do you say goodbye to someone who has become as much a part of your family as a natural born child? How do you say goodbye to the girl who made your son’s life complete?

My beautiful, precious and courageous daughter-in-law passed away today. She has fought valiantly for the last 25 years against Cystic Fibrosis, determining in her heart that it would never define her life. She has travelled the world, she loved to dance and she lived life with passion. And her last words to the world were “Love all people, Respect Others and be Grateful for the little things in life. Peace out.”

Kari-Lee and my son Tom met a little over two years ago and married in December last year. They fell in love and although they knew their life together would be not the norm, they made the best of it.

Kari-Lee was quite sick for the ten months of their marriage and in June this year received, what we thought, was going to be a life saving double lung transplant. All the signs were positive after the surgery and she recovered faster than most. Finally we thought that these two young people, who were so in love, would get their happily ever after. Unfortunately it was not to be. About two months after the transplant, at a routine clinic check up, they found a shadow on her new lungs. What followed was eight and a half weeks of alternating good news and bad.

Throughout it all Kari-Lee and Tom held strong to their Christian faith, believing for a miracle. When the doctors gave up hope and told them there was nothing more they could do, Tom and Kari kept on believing. They showed us so much, taught us so much, right up until the end when Kari took the time to thank her husband and family and friends for their support.

Throughout this journey we have been so overwhelmingly blessed by the people who have prayed, offered support and donated money. People that knew Tom and Kari through work, people he played soccer with and those who knew Kari through dance and those in their church and who went to school with them gave so much support and in return, I think, we all learned something.

We learned what love really looks like. We learned what strength and courage looks like. We learnt about joy in the midst of strife and we learnt to treasure every single moment that we have with those that we love.

It puts life into perspective. Seeing someone struggling with life and death makes you realize what is important in life. Spending quality time with your loved ones should never be taken for granted.

So, how do you say goodbye to the person who has meant so much to so many people? The person who touched so many lives? The person who changed your own life? How do you say goodbye?

Discovering the Diabetic Diet – What The Hell Do I Eat?

Discovering-the-Diabetic-Diet

With having recently being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes (see this post for full details), one of the many things in my life that had to change was what I eat.  Because of my previous bad experiences with diets I had avoided going to the doctor even though I knew I had crossed the line into diabetes.  I was scared that I could not sustain a diabetic diet and that I would fail as I had with every other diet I had been on.  I eat a fairly healthy and varied diet and as a cook and a foodie I thoroughly believe in trying to eat as much fresh food as possible and cooking from scratch wherever I can, but this diagnosis meant that I had to be more vigilant, stricter with the ingredients that I chose to cook with.  Quite honestly, I had no idea where to start.  I have preconceived ideas about what a diabetic diet looks like:

  • No Fat
  • No Sugar
  • No Salt

Basically bland and unappetising.  These three ingredients are what give food flavour and mouth-feel and isn’t that the reason we enjoy food?  This seemed devastating to me.  I am a foodie.  I love food, I love cooking and experimenting with food and I work in the food industry.  I couldn’t imagine having to forgo delicious food for the rest of my life.  I know this seems shallow and irresponsible, but the majority of my life revolves around food.  I work with it every day, I blog about it, I pin it and obviously, I eat it.  Yes, I’ve dieted before, in fact I’ve tried them all and having to restrict certain foods has always been the hardest thing.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat much fast food/junk food, but it is the other types of food that are restricted.  I love fresh fruit, but some diets tell you to restrict fruit, some even say to cut it out altogether.  I also like red meat, rare and juicy, a lot of diets tell you to avoid red meat.  There are diets that tell you to only drink powdered shakes and low card bars and cookies but these always contain chemical ingredients that go against my belief in lots of fresh food and leave a bad taste in my mouth.

My doctor didn’t give me any guidelines as to what I was to eat, just a phone number to ring to sign up for some education classes.  I am a bit of a nerd so the first thing I did was go to my friend the internet.  Now the internet is the type of friend that pretty much tells you what you want to hear, whether it is the truth or not.  I’m sure there is some sort of study that shows that the answers we get on our search engines has a lot to do with our previous searches, our interests and our social media accounts.  I can’t prove that of course, but I do believe that to get to the real answers we want, beyond our biases, we need to ask questions a whole lot of different ways and go beyond the first page of search results.  There is a lot of misinformation on the internet and I am an advocate of not believing everything you read.  Every so called “fact” and “claim” needs to be backed up by two, three or more supporting facts and claims.  I also don’t put much stock in personal testimonies of products because I know how easy it is to fake them.  It would be therefore hypocritical of me to let you read this blog and think of it as gospel truth.  I am not a scientist, doctor or other medical professional.  All I have is my own experience and my own research. I encourage you to do your own research and see what answers you find that work for you.

The more research I do the more I am finding that different things work for different people and this is not wholly unreasonable.  Our world is small now but not that very long ago it was quite a bit bigger.  People groups had widely varying diets depending on where they lived.  Before we were able to transport food products across country and across the sea, people had to eat seasonally and regionally.  Now our cultures are merged and food is a lot more readily available in and out of season and we think that there must be a single solution to the health problems we face.  I don’t agree.  I believe, from my own experience and from the experiences of others, that our bodies are so intricately complex and diverse that it only makes sense that we need multiple solutions.  When I was younger I thought that if I ate exactly what my skinny friends ate then I would be skinny.  It didn’t work.  Their metabolic rates, hormone levels and other complex inner workings were different to mine.  Why are some children naturally slim or even super skinny, and others are more robust and fatter?  It is a question which has plagued me my entire life and the only logical solution I can come up with is that we are not all cut from the same cloth.  The extension of that answer is that different bodies respond differently to the food they ingest.  But as I said earlier, I am no doctor and the real answers to these questions are beyond my limited understanding.

So armed with nothing more than my wits and my cynical scepticism, I entered the fray of the Google search.  I have long since held to the belief that the “Food Pyramid” that we were taught as children is baloney.  Unfortunately too many hands were in the pie that created that particular piece of nutritional information and what was originally meant to be a good thing was basically hijacked by special interest groups who had billions of dollars invested in the food industry (wow, that did sound cynical).  If you are interested in finding out more about how the Food Pyramid came about here are some links:

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/09/invented-food-pyramid/ – This is a clear explanation of how the food pyramid came about

http://www.liftbigeatbig.com/2012/11/a-history-of-food-pyramid-corporate.html – I don’t completely agree with everything written in this post, but it has some very valid points.  I especially like the sentences relating to farming cows on pastured land and feeding them grass instead of grain.  I have issues with the way we farm our meat sources, but that is a topic for another post.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_guide_pyramid – From Wikipedia

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/pyramid-full-story/ – This is the Harvard version of the food pyramid and a bit of explanation about how it came about.

You may notice that I didn’t include any positive links about the food pyramid.  That is because they all come from sources that have significant resources invested in it.  When you put money on the line, of course you are going to back it up. (Again the cynic in me).  If you are interested in that information (and you should be to get an unbiased view), a simple Google search on the food pyramid will give you ample results.

So with my aversion to the food pyramid idea, I cautiously began my research in the most obvious place – Diabetes Australia.  I have to say I was disappointed.  I was looking for a simple eating plan, something to get me started so I knew what foods to eat, when to eat them and approximate kilojoule intakes.  None of that was available on the website (well none that I could find anyway).  There were a few recipes, but not nearly enough for me to create a lifestyle from.  They have information regarding the food groups and how that relates to diabetics, but that didn’t actually help me determine what I should eat, how much I should eat and when I should eat.  I suppose that is what the education appointment is for, but I had a whole week and a half before I could attend a session, so what was I supposed to eat in the meantime?

I knew I had to cut out refined sugar so that is where I started.  Apart from the obvious sugary foods, there is also hidden sugar in a lot of packaged foods, so they all had to go.  I made the decision to only cook with fresh/frozen ingredients – no more bottled sauces/marinades/salad dressings, no more recipe bases or packet mixes.  I also knew I would have to avoid refined carbohydrates and other high glycaemic index foods.  Bread is my weakness.  I love bread – fresh bread, thick bread, toasted bread, bread rolls.  I have avoided bread for a lot of my life because a. I know I have a weakness for it and b. I always feel clogged up when I eat too much.  My compromise is to only eat good quality bread that is full of whole grains and rye.  The reason I mention bread is because I also realised that I would need to start eating breakfast before I went to work so that I could take my medication.  For most people this is not a big deal, but for me it meant having to get up at 3:45am instead of 4:00am and finding something that I would feel like eating at that time of the morning…toast and vegemite was the answer.  Yoghurt and muesli are also good breakfast foods.  I make my own toasted muesli using coconut oil, honey & maple syrup so I know the fat and sugar content and I only use Greek yoghurt.

So this brings me to a whole other issue…the times that I eat.  As I mentioned, I start work early, so usually I don’t eat until 9:00am or 10:00am, and then I would struggle to eat lunch but by 3:00pm I would be ravenous and then at dinner time I wouldn’t feel like eating and then I am in bed by 8:30pm.  Now I had to eat before 4:00am so I could take my tablets, which meant lunch that I was hungry again by 10:00am or 11:00am.  Not wanting to eat lunch this early, I have been making myself a superfood smoothie.  Smoothies can be a bit of a trap for the uninitiated.  If you are purchasing them from a café or shop, they can be full of hidden sugars and fat.  A lot of places use packet mixes for their smoothies, but we never have.  I have experimented with a lot of smoothie recipes and have come up with one that I find delicious and also healthy.  Based on Coconut water, I add Acai, blueberries, banana, yoghurt and rolled oats.  I also add some supplements – Supergreens powder (a mix of spirulina, wheatgrass, chlorella and barley grass) and Macca Powder.  This smoothie lets me get through until about 1:00pm when I then have lunch.

Lunch has always been a tough one for me, I never know what to eat.  If I was working from home I would normally eat a frozen meal, but with my decision to not eat pre-packaged food I had to go to the trouble of making something.  Chicken and salad sandwiches and tuna and salad sandwiches have become my go to, but it also means I am now eating more bread.  It’s a quandary!  For now, I am doing it, sometimes swapping the bread for a wrap, and I am monitoring the effects on my body.  I am making sure there are plenty of salad ingredients on my sandwich so that my body is getting more vegetables than bread, so hopefully this will be successful (so far so good).

I still have the 3:00pm blues.  I don’t know what it is, but everyday around the same time I get the urge to graze.  I have curbed this to some degree by having herbal tea – Lemongrass and Ginger.  Surprisingly this has been very satisfying both physically and mentally.  I also find a banana helps.

This brings me to dinner.  There have been both positives and negatives with my new eating resolves.  The positives are I get to experiment with fun ingredients and have produced some really delicious meals.  The down side is that it means I have to cook every night.  No more lazy night dinner, no more take away and, thus far, my husband has been too intimidated by the rules to attempt to cook.

So this is a start.  More fresh fruits and vegetables, more fish, less carbohydrates, no refined sugar.  I think the biggest change for me has been to eat intentionally…to pay attention to what I am putting in my body, not to eat automatically, but to enjoy my food, savour it and to listen to the cues my body is giving me – paying attention to how my body reacts to the foods I eat.  To date I have found the transition fairly easy, a few headaches to start with as my body adjusted, but generally I have felt pretty good and I have lost weight (nearly 6 kilograms in four weeks), can’t complain about that.

Crispy-Skinned-Salmon

Crispy Skin Salmon

Blue-Grenadier-en-Papillote

Blue Grenadier en Papillote

Crispy-Skinned-Duck

Crispy Skin Duck

Homemade Muesli

Homemade Muesli