Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Moon and You















I saw a big round moon
Behind a clouded sky
The wind blew a shadow across its face
I wondered if it was you, passing by

I saw a setting sun
Beyond the distant shore
As the wind rippled through the waves
I thought it was you once more.

I heard a distant bird
Singing high up in a tree,
The song she sang, so like your voice,
The way you once sang to me.

When I go out walking in the darkness of the night
There is no fear inside of me,
I have you to hold me tight

Sometimes when I wake in the morning,
As I struggle from my bed,
The day ahead so heavy - I am filled with foreboding dread,
Then these words appear as if from nowhere
Inside my sleepy head
- take each day you have before you, 
- with an open heart and mind,
- move into the day with gratitude
- and love is what you’ll find. 

I know it is you speaking to me Big Sister. 
I miss you dearly and will always. 


Monday, September 20, 2021

A Sister's Love

A piece I submitted to the ABC Radio Drive Show, Changing Tracks 

This changing track story is about my eldest sister, who mothered me, in ways that our actual mother could not. But that’s understandable, given I was eight in a line of nine, and in-between giving birth to each child, our mum worked full time as a Nurse. So, out of necessity, but also because she was a natural, our eldest sister (though a brother born before her) Huitau, was the boss.  She ruled the house-hold with authority, order, and love. Clean floors, tidy beds, and big dishes of hearty food. 

There was only eight years between my eldest sister and I, so you can see how busy (or how catholic) my parents were, but also what a job my sister had with so many siblings, so close in age. Not that my other older siblings didn’t lend a hand.  Big sister trained them well, and as second-eldest sister Libby would say, she managed us all with the Rule Book, which as eldest daughter, she had the privilege of writing herself.  Neither in hard or soft-back copy, but one she knew every page of and re-wrote or edited at any time she saw fit.

As a nine-year-old I became an aunt to my eldest sister’s first born. Barely out of adolescence, she became a mother to yet another and then two more. Her first three children I baby-sat and spent much time with as an aunty-come big sister.  In their household sometimes more than my own, growing up through my own adolescence with the love and guidance an elder sister gives, when a mother is not able to. Her home, often a refuge from my own.  She provided the freedom from a controlling father, and the restrictions in which she too grew up in as a child.

Over the passing years my sister has been my home and my rock. Always there, always welcoming.  She took me in from wherever I landed, in crisis or in calm.  A full house herself with three more children, but always there was room for her little sister. Always too, a place in her heart and an ear ready to listen. Also, never short on giving loving sisterly advice alongside a word of encouragement. 

She herself moved about. From New Zealand to Australia and back again. Settling for the last 20 years or more in a spectacular part of the South Island called Wanaka. With its breath-taking beauty, the town sits at the top of one of New Zealand’s largest lakes and is flanked almost all year-round by snow-capped mountains.  My sister loved this little town.  Across the seasons, her Facebook photographs from her lounge or bedroom window, give picture to and were a metaphor of who she was and what being there meant to her. The lake her mirror, the mountains her mantle, there was always beauty in her surroundings to share with others. 

I too spent time with her and her family there.  Never for too long though, as my home is here in Melbourne, but always in her welcome, warmth, generosity, and love. 

When she died suddenly, in July this year, it was totally devastating. Here one day, gone the next, and that is the only compensatory point I hold onto from her death. That she did not suffer, is all the peace I can find in her awful and pointless loss.  Three other siblings had died before her.  Their deaths painful, and protracted. That she did not have to go through what they did, was a blessing. But that is all it was, because everything else about her death was unbearable. 

I made it over to Wanaka to be with her two days after she died and had the fortune of  participating in many of the traditional Maori ceremonies, used to mourn the dead. It was however, not until back in Melbourne lock-down, some ten days later, from the distance of a zoom camera at her Tangi (funeral), in our home-town in the North Island, (where her body was taken to from Wanaka), that I heard the song that now marks a change in the track I walk the rest of my life. 

But, to back-step for a moment - It is tradition in our Maori funeral ceremonies for family and others to mihi (tell a story about the person who has died) and then to waiata (sing). 

Before the Tangi, I had asked my sister Libby to read out my mihi when she came to give her own.  However, I was not prepared for the flood of emotion I would feel (or what would come thereafter), when she sang the chorus of Hymn for Her (Pretenders, 1986) as her waiata - in a voice strong, clear, and full of love.

“She will always carry on, something is lost, but something is found. They will keep on speaking her name. Some things change, some stay the same”, says it all.  These words give expression to the lasting memory my sister will hold in the minds and hearts of her family and all those she loved.   While life will go on, and though her death is an enormous loss for us, who she was and what she gave us remains.  My sister Libby knew how well the words of this song described what would be and what was.  She sang for us both, and everyone present.  In her voice, she carried the knowing that we would never forget our big sister. Never forget her love. 

I started my life with three sisters. I now have only one and I love her very dearly. 

Funny how death teaches us about life and living, and songs appear (sometimes as if from those who have just died) to support those lessons we must learn.  Lessons about those we have lost and how we need to live our own more fully and truer to ourselves.  The track my life was on, before my sister died, did not always serve me well.  Some of my priorities were back to front. The order that my sister taught me so well, wasn’t always working in a way that made my heart sing. Realising how important she was, is making me evaluate more closely who I am, and what is important to me. I am now discovering deeper layers of relationships with my family, friends, and others that I had never given myself time for. 

I finish my changing track story with this: the name Huitau means someone who is full of love.  

The pictures are my sister on her wedding day with our parents (in the 1960’s). Her and I on the Jetty at Flinders, during a visit she had to Melbourne in 2017 and a picture of three of the four sisters, taken in 2015.  Huitau is wearing the groovy sunglasses and that’s Libby in the middle.






 


 

 



Sunday, September 19, 2021

Riding My Way To Mental Calm

 



Everyone, including myself, is talking about the importance of self-care.  Tips and strategies abound on how to keep your cool, re-charge and re-vitalise, overcome fatigue, and get through the ins and outs (and in again), of lockdown. But when the re-charge options and opportunities are limited to a couple of hours daily exercise (if you’re living in greater-Melbourne), alongside a busy working day (even from home and especially if it incorporates schooling and managing children) can make the effort and motivation to do so, very challenging. 

This week, I’m spotlighting intentional self-care.  Not the everyday make sure you get away from the desk, drink plenty of water, eat well, maintain good sleep habits, and get outside for fresh-air self-care. No, I'm talking about self-care that may include any of these strategies, and/or something else, but is more considered and deliberate.  An activity that has the sole purpose of sustaining and improving your mental health and wellbeing. 

I use my daily lunch-time or evening bike-ride as one of my intentional self-care activities. I bought my bike midway through lock-down last year, as a way to keep fit.  No regrets on that purchase.  But it’s given me so much more than physical fitness.  Even though I get fresh-air, time-out, appreciation of the landscape and an enjoyment of riding in all the elements of our fickle weather - it’s the mental calming and feeling of grounded-ness that I ride for the most.  So, I ride for that as my intention - to seek the mental calm it brings. 

What is your intentional self-care activity?









Tuesday, September 14, 2021

It Comes and Goes in Waves



Today’s blog is about two things and comes off the back of a clinical supervision session I had yesterday with a woman I have been working with in supervision for several years.  She is an awesome professional and inspired this little piece. The first topic that springs here from my conversation with her, is the place for work when you are struggling with a personal issue. It’s not just a distraction from the stress you are going through, that work can provide.  It is also the relief from the stressful even or situation and an opportunity to take-ones-mind-off having to be steeped in that, if only for the few hours of a working day. Recently when I was back at work very shortly after my sister’s death, many people surprised at my presence at my desk (albeit through a video platform), would ask why I was at work – to which I replied how at that moment in time, it helped my wellbeing to be in the workspace. 

Of course, a reasonable concern that must be considered (and addressed) is whether or not I was  fit to work and did the death of my sister impact negatively on the job and tasks I was being paid to do. In answer, I believe I was able to fulfil the requirements of my work and role and I sought feedback from those whom I was working closely with.  The work and what it required, took me away (albeit only for the number of hours I worked that or any other day) from the pain I was going through. 

My focus became the job at hand, not the loss that had just occurred in my life. There was also however, a limit to my capacity and ability to work. Some days, I simply could not face sitting at my desk, tuning into a zoom or teams meeting, or immersing myself in a 200-page document that required review and therefore a deep level of extended concentration. Some days the politics of working in an organisation, was also not within my coping mechanisms. The trick was knowing when to step away. When to say I can’t work today, I need time out.  This beautifully expressed and with a high degree of self-awareness, but my supervisee as “I had to just not work”.  For me, it was a combination of physical and emotional weariness that signalled the need to take a break, or to not work.  And always, those  to whom I reported in the organisation I was working for, gave a  resounding, “we understand, take care”. 

My supervisee found peace in her garden, with her animals and in the healing that came from giving herself to what she was going through and the space and time to do it.  Through time out, time-to-self, and time away from the desk – one recovers.  The waves of emotion and the impact of the stress or grief beneath the emotion, become more manageable, less frequent over time. 

The second topic from the supervision session yesterday, is the how the stress and its impact on functioning is always transient. It passes, it changes. The angst of the moment, the sadness, the awfulness of emotion doesn’t last.  And, though we know that for some, if and when the awfulness does endure, there is something more seriously amiss. Something that requires more active intervention. But, when there is still the movement of emotion, that is supported by an awareness and attention to the healing required, there is change and there is growth.

Right now, there’s a song in my head – it comes and goes in waves – by Dean Lewis. That’s indeed how it can be, how the journey of my own grief has been. I wrote a little piece last year while struggling through the second lockdown in Victoria and inspired by something my sister Libby said – tomorrow the sun will rise. It reminds of the transience my supervisee was talking about. It comes, you’re in it, it’s awful and you might think it will never end. But it will. 


Tomorrow the Sun will Rise

The way you feel today, is the way you feel today.

Tomorrow things will be different.

I know today it might feel like there might not be a tomorrow, 

Or that things couldn't get worse, and this is really bad,

Or it feels like this has been forever.

But, it won't last - 

nothing does; there is always an end.

Good or bad,

circumstances will change.

So, take it for what it is, 

Keep one foot in front of the other.

Keep marching, keep working, keep hoping - if that’s what helps you.

Just don't give up.

Do give in though - to the knowing that,

Tomorrow the sun will rise. 


Thank you to my supervisee and my sister Libby, for the inspiration

tessa@beinginspiredbyothers


Sunday, September 12, 2021

Getting Out Of My Head

For those who have a propensity like me to live inside my head, you'll understand this can be an important way to make sense of what is going on around us, and in the world. We all have ways of working stuff out and the need to make meaning of and in our lives is an innate human trait.  But I also know that if I stay in my head for too long, and too often, I can over-think and complicate something that should actually be simple.  And, I can forget to reach back out into the world, to seek connection and feedback from others.  The meaning making that normally helps me understand what’s going on, can become isolative, destructive, and depleting.  

At this time in many of our worlds, there is so much lockdown fatigue and ill ease because we are missing out on those hand-to-hand, face-to-face, touching each other connections.  So, the getting-outside-of-ourselves, or even just out of the house or wherever you live,  is so important for our wellbeing and health.  So too, is continuing to find ways to have contact with others. 

Sometimes I catch myself, as I did this morning on my bike ride - a distance down the road before I realised, I had been absent from my journey and was stuck in thought about something that had happened yesterday, or last week, or last year. Or when are we getting out of lockdown. Or what were the numbers for today?

So, on a dusty unsealed road, not far from my house, in this little place called Somers, I stopped.  Got off my bike and looked at what was around me. Did a 360 and a big breath in.  Saw the open paddocks, the cows, the birds, the wind dancing through the trees. Farms houses in the distance. Big blue sky.  Fluffy clouds, huffing and puffing, pushed along by a southerly, no doubt. What a sight, what a place, in which I am lucky to live. How humble, how small, and how grateful I felt. 

I then got back on my bike (pushing through the southerly). I went home and joined a wonderful group of people, albeit on zoom, come together for the pleasure of playing ukulele. Thank you, friends, for taking me outside myself and bringing me so much joy. 

tessa@remindingmyselftogetoutofmyhead.









Friday, September 10, 2021

Rituals and Tradition

10/9/21

Writing this piece today, I feel somewhat self-indulgent, in world still reeling from the recent horror in Afghanistan and the on-going mortality and loss of this awful pandemic - my own recent distress and grief following the death of my eldest sister, seems to pale.  However, I feel moved to connect through my writing and no matter how small in this universe, there is always something to be shared and gained even through life's every-day small yet big events.  

It is accepted that the experience of grief is unique to the individual. While being a journey that many know and may share at the same time, how we travel and navigate the loss of those we love can be as different as night and day. In my culture (and many others), we have rituals and traditions that support the journey of grief. The rituals and the traditions we pass down through the generations help us express and  accept what has happened. Through the loss, there is much to be gained, much to share, much to let go of.

I made it across the ditch for some of my sister's tangihanga (funeral ceremonies) just before the recent Victorian lockdown that we are still in. While not physically present for her actual funeral service, burial, and the Maori ceremonies for those rituals (though there, on zoom), I did have 3 special days with her in Wanaka  immediately following her death.

What I write or feel today, barely touches the surface of what happened, or the ground beneath.  The connections made through the sharp and raw pain, following the loss of our family matriarch, our tuahine (sister) and the value of sharing that with others is powerful and restorative. 

I look forward to a process that helps me order the words I have created from those shared experiences, into stories and prose about my sister's life, her death, and how I travel the road ahead without her love. For the moment, much of what I write is still disordered or only forming and I know this is part of the journey.

Having said that, what brings me to the page today, is the need to acknowledge and unpack the healing from death, that comes through expression, ritual, ceremony, tradition and sharing. So many ways to do this. So many methods and mediums. No one right way, but a multitude.  And the rituals and ceremonies I have learned and practised through my life, will endure. That they have been passed down beautifully, lovingly, with care and respect, through the generations, is true and real, and will continue.

So, as I sit now, still with so much life of my own to live, while holding the experience that my dearest sister's is no longer, I of course ponder my own ending. That too is part of the journey. 


Thursday, September 9, 2021

Sunset

 














In a sunset I seek the calm,
from a weary day at my desk
Along the sand I tread in silence,
the coming twilight, up ahead.

This place I can rely on,
to unwind and prepare for rest.
The pace of a work-day now behind me,
in a covid lock-down, 
lest I forget -
The beauty that surrounds me,
only minutes from my door.
As the waves lap my ankles,
I know I am a lucky one,
to be here on this shore. 

tessie@bythesea

Monday, September 6, 2021

Getting Through Lockdown

Getting Though Lockdown

1. Be Kind – to yourself and whoever is lucky enough to live with you -  no matter how grumpy your lockdown tiredness or fatigue makes you feel.  

2. Go outside as often as you can and just breathe in the fresh air.  If you notice how good that makes you feel – walk, jog, ride your bike, bounce, or kick a ball. Just be outside. 

Set a goal of no less than 30 minutes (it isn’t much really) outdoor exercise/activity every day. 

3. Get off your chair, seat, whatever it is you sit on (and away from your computer if that’s what you work on) often.  

4. Drink more water and a little less wine or beer than you normally would. Spritz up your water, if it helps and put it in a nice glass. 

5. Use a sleep routine - every night as a way of winding down. Make it a ritual you do every night as a way of getting your mind and your body ready for sleep. 

6. Do stuff. Clean. Cook. Water the plants. Pull weeds. Wipe the bench. Ring someone instead of texting them.

7. Be grateful and remind yourself at least once a day what you have that others don't.

Tessa@gettingthroughlockdown


Saturday, September 4, 2021

The First Night Star

30/8/21 – for my late sister and my nieces, who walked with me tonight:

I walk the streets in search of you, 

To the beach I find my way,

There, on the shore you are laughing, rolling in on a tumbling wave.

I see the sky and the sunset,

The orange hues that begin to fade

And, in the dwindling light I see you smiling, 

at the closing of the day.

I climb the bank from the water,

Through the winding wind-swept path,

In the falling night,

I hear you singing, 

In the last song-bird still a flight.

Back to the street I wander, 

As the trees sway and bend.

In the wind I feel you touch me, 

your soft warm hand upon my skin.

As the cloak of the night thickens around me,

There’s a twinkle high above.

In the sky I see the first night star, 

The shining light of your love.


Tessie@asnightfalls