How staring mortality in the eye afforded one woman a deeper experience of life, love, and gratitude.
Facing the prospect of losing your loved ones is a horrid part of life and something we are never truly prepared for. So many tears, feeling helpless, and feeling life is spiralling out of control.
Back in April 2016, when Dad was ﬁrst ill, my sister , Janine and I went home to Adelaide to spend a month with our parents. At the time we did not know what we were going to face when our respective planes hit the tarmac. All we had been told was that Dad was in a very bad way and that it had already been ‘“touch and go’” a few times.
The emotions were raw. The prospect of losing Dad, our invincible Superman, was something we could not fathom.
The emotional and mental stress, fear, sleep deprivation, and raw emotions were a recipe for a self-perpetuating spiral. For me, when dealing with big situations, I feel I must ﬁnd and provide solutions to short circuit the emotional and mental stress. I plan for every possible bad outcome as if solutions will take away the bad feelings. After all, if I am prepared, surely it will not hurt so much. Inevitably the negativity ends up compounding and the situation seems hopeless.
Sometimes we need to just feel and process
When Mum, Janine, and I would sit with Dad in his hospital room, we watched him like a hawk. Every breath, every plucking action his hands made in midair, his wild eyes as he hallucinated due to the lack of oxygen in his lungs. We sat there in the hospital room, listening to nurses speaking to Dad like he was a dementia patient destined for the locked ward.
Janine, being an amazing specialist nurse in London, tried to ensure the nursing staff provided Dad with optimum care. She fought Dad’s corner with the nursing staff and doctors, ensuring they understood this was not his normal behaviour. He was a capable man who just days prior had been planning a musical programme. He’d even performed a concert for an audience at a local pensioners’ club days earlier. The frustration and anger we felt was intertwined with concern and compassion for the nurses. We could see they were often under-staffed and over-worked, and for the most part, trying to do their best.
Janine and I focused on these things to a large extent, whilst Mum worried about the prospect of life without her soul mate constantly by her side.
Listening to feelings
Outside the hospital, Janine, Mum, and I spent a lot of time in our own thoughts processing the whirlpool of contradictory emotions. We talked about what we were feeling and observing; a debrief session of sorts, conﬁrming for each of us that what we were experiencing was real. We helped each other to understand what we were feeling, allowing each other to process emotionally and mentally in a safe environment.
Whilst he returned to his lucid self, around six weeks after being initially discharged, Dad was readmitted to hospital a second time for an urgent triple bypass. The feelings of helplessness and fear enveloped us yet again. We tried to remain positive yet realistic when he was placed in an induced coma as a result of his body going into complete shock.
Mum rode the emotional and mental roller coaster on the front line for about eight weeks during this patch of poor health. Janine and I experienced things from opposite ends of the globe. Despite the geographic distance, we rode the wave together in the undulating pattern in our own ways. We felt hope, dismay, sadness, and fear, and back to hope again.
As Dad was getting ready to be discharged to a rehabilitation facility in Adelaide, I received a call from Janine in London to tell me that she had been diagnosed with a life- changing illness that we couldn’t get our heads around. (the ‘“C” word’ is still hard to comprehend).
Whilst processing my own feelings, I was the support person for my sister and my parents as they grappled with the turn of events. My family once again was immersed in feeling, processing, and acclimatising to a realisation that our lives could potentially change drastically.
Get over it and get on with it
Mortality is always such a confronting subject. Whether it is being confronted following a health-related event or by the death of a loved one. It takes longer for some people to become accustomed to a new way of being.
Some people push you to ‘“rip the band-aid off’” and tell you to ‘“get over it’.” This is perhaps because subconsciously being around you forces them to reﬂect on a situation they don’t want to dwell on. My family already felt like our insides were being ripped to shreds. Such brashness and impatience added to the stress already there. As well-meaning as these people were, it was easier for us to just to keep our emotional distance, and not readily conﬁde our feelings to outsiders.
‘Lovitude’ is a salve to the wounded soul
Whilst continuing to process what was happening and our feelings, our family understood the importance of “taking a break” from the heavy emotional stress, by getting out in nature and appreciating life’s simple pleasures.
About ﬁve or six years ago, I learnt ﬁrst-hand a wee trick about getting my head out of a negative mindset. It didn’t make it all go away. However, with a clearer head it was easier to acquire some clarity around what was happening.
Whilst going through another rough patch in my life, I learnt that taking time to appreciate natural beauty around me held the key to getting my head out of the negative, victim mentality and into a mindset of feeling blessed. I achieved this by going for long walks and taking photographs of the things I saw. I photographed views, ﬂowers, hills, trees, ponds, beaches, dogs –– anything that made me smile.
Beginning to feel a shift
During the long days being with Dad in hospital, I took myself for walks along the River Torrens. Here is where I rekindled fond childhood memories of voyages on Popeye the paddleboat and adventures to the zoo. On returning to the hospital, and on talking about my walk and the memories, the mood of my family shifted to a happier place.
Janine and I made our way from the hospital to the Central Market to feast on the sights and smells, reminisce and do our fruit and vegetable shopping. On the days Dad was feeling better, we returned to the hospital with a sneaky bag of his favourite aniseed rings. His face resembling a cheeky schoolboy as he dipped his hand in the paper bag.
As well as preparing lovely meals with fresh produce and drinking good coffee, Mum and I went for walks along the beach at sunset to marvel at the striking colours of the evening sky.
Prayer became a valuable tool for my sister who was scared witless about what the future held. My mother, also scared of the future, prayed a lot too and expressed gratitude for her blessings.
We all developed an understanding that we are all in the right place, at the right time for the optimum outcome – , whatever that may be.
Appreciating the little things
The moments of appreciating the simple things did not ﬁx Dad’s health situation. However, they did allow for re-group time so that as a family we could face the next day with a clear and rested head and fresh and hopeful outlook. We stopped focusing on the gloom and doom to take a breath and reafﬁrm how lucky we are. We felt blessed, full of love, and full of gratitude – full of ‘lovitude’!
Being a person who is naturally prone to a victim mentality and an anxious mindset, I still struggle with handling stress. Lovitude is not a ‘“cure all’” for all of your ills and anxieties, and it won’t change overnight how you deal with life on the front line of stress. However, it is a way you can take a mini holiday from your head, to take you away from sliding down the slippery slope of negativity and fear.
Janine and I learnt that, whilst the clarity helped, we need to regroup every now and then, and remind ourselves to breathe – that is how my book, “Lovitude,” was born: as a way in which Janine could remind herself to take stock when she goes through the emotional and mental hurdles associated with her illness.
The year we learnt to breathe
In 2016, my family learnt how to breathe and to really take in the world around us. Despite being a pretty dismal year health-wise for the McCormack clan, we now believe that 2016 ended up being a magical, healing year. Not only did my Dad recover from his triple bypass and get back to normality, but just before Christmas, my sister received the “all clear” from her oncologist that the treatment had been a complete success and that cancerthe “C word” was not evident anywhere in her body. As a lovely bonus, we have received the gift of learning to focus on and be thankful for the love and blessings in our lives with which we are truly abundant.
Share this post