2015 – Make it Count

Make it Count

Happy New Year!

It is January 1, 2015 and I am doing what most people are doing…I am looking back.

I had high hopes for my 2014, there was so much potential at the beginning of the year and I decided I would grab it by the short and curlies and run with it.  We had so much to look forward to – our eldest son had just gotten married, we had two thriving businesses, our youngest son was chasing his dreams in the UK and we were looking forward to being empty-nesters and pursuing opportunities that we missed by having children so young…our life was good.  I wrote a bucket list of the things I would like to achieve in the year and I set to with gusto. But life had other ideas.

My 2014 was not the year that was promised to me in those first optimistic blushes of sunrise on New Year’s Day…my 2014 is a year that I wish had turned out so differently – from near devastating financial issues to the absolutely devastating loss of our daughter-in-law – my 2014 was not the year I thought it would be – but it was life and I lived it and as much as it was painful and horrible, I would live through it again if I had to.

I wish with all my heart that things had turned out differently.  There is not a day that goes by that I don’t wish that Kari-Lee had not died – I would do anything and everything in my power to stop that from happening, but if I had to live last year again – without any changes to the outcomes – I would, because those precious months with her are like pearls of great price.  Her life and her death has taught me so much and forever changed me.

Last year I wrote a list of things I wanted to achieve during my 2014, twelve things in fact, and of the twelve I only achieved three, but that is ok.  It is ok because at least I tried.  We often look at life as destinations and milestones rather than looking at the journey as a whole.  Kari taught me that.  She taught me to appreciate every breath, every step, every attempt.  She lived with the knowledge that her life had an end date that was a lot sooner than most, but she didn’t let it stop her.  She took risks and never let an opportunity pass her by and she never let fear stop her from living. That is what I want to do too.

It won’t be easy.  My family and I are still in the grips of grief and we struggle daily with the hole in our lives, but I don’t want to give up on living.  I don’t want to let this next year slip by without appreciating what I have got – a chance to live – and I want to make it count.  I want to make Kari-Lee proud as she watches from her window in heaven.  I want to have a life that at the end I can say, “I did it all.”

This is a song by One Republic that we played at Kari-Lee’s funeral.  This song captures the essence of Kari’s life.  This is my theme song for the next twelve months – maybe for the rest of my life.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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The view from the top

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?

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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?

Diary Interrupted

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When I started journaling my experiences with diabetes I had all intentions of writing a post every week describing my trials, tribulations and triumphs as I navigated my diagnosis.  But, as often happens in life, my plans were interrupted and our family was thrown into a bit of chaos as a more imminent threat revealed itself.

My beautiful daughter-in-law received a diagnosis of her own and it was way more devastating than mine.  I wrote a post a few months ago telling hers and my sons story.  Two days after that post, Kari-Lee had a double lung transplant and everything went amazingly well.  We were all so over the moon at how smoothly everything went and over the next few months, things just kept on getting better.  And then it didn’t.  At a routine clinic appointment, they found a shadow on Kari-Lee’s new lungs.  The bacteria that had destroyed her old lungs was back. She was admitted in to hospital and they tried to beat it with antibiotics, but after a week the bacteria had grown.  Kari had to go into surgery and have two lobes of her right lung removed.  Since then we have been rallying as a family to support her through this.

As you can understand, my diagnosis took a back seat.  I could have easily become very inward looking and self focussed, but this crisis has made me look outward (and upward) and has shown me that although I thought I was being brave to face up to my own health issues, there are people out there who are braver still.  My daughter-in-law has shown me what it really means to be brave as she has decided to keep fighting when the doctors have given her very little hope.  She has an inner strength that continues to believe she can beat this and we have stood with her and joined her in believing for a miracle.  I don’t often talk about my faith in my blog, but I cannot tell this story without mentioning how we have clung to God over these past few weeks, praying and believing for a miracle.

The bacteria is still waging a war in Kari-Lee’s body but she fights on still and we, who feel so utterly helpless, stand by and fight with her with prayer and supplication to our God believing for healing and wholeness.  This story is far from over and we are committed to stand in the gap and hold up Kari-Lee when she feels weary and go into battle on her behalf.  That’s just what family do.