28 May 2014

20 : The Stuff of Life - Something Blue

Stuff is just Stuff!

We have spent the past few weeks sorting, carrying, throwing and re-using loads of stuff!  When a person reaches the final stages of their life you realise that all the stuff that was once thought to be so important becomes, simply, just stuff.  Useless stuff, things that may have served a purpose once in life are suddenly no longer necessary.  My mother-in-law has just made the big move into a nursing home, it was entirely her choice and she is very content in her new safe and cosy home.  It is lovely to see her enjoying meeting new friends, being cared for 24 hours a day-but still maintaining her autonomy, and relishing the fact she no longer has to worry about the menial chores of every day living such as cleaning, cooking and paying bills.  She is still surrounded by plenty of stuff, those extra special items that survived the necessary cull to fit into a surprisingly large, but single, room.

As I enviously watch my mother-in-law enjoying her new digs, surrounded by the most special mementos of her life, it has really made me re-think just how important stuff really is.  After all we certainly can't take it  all with us when we are gone; if we could we would need a ridiculously large coffin to fit all of the stuff we collected throughout life!  Morbid I know, but that is the reality of life.  I was recently contemplating this with my 19 year old son when he reminded me that although stuff eventually becomes useless to us, we should still get to enjoy it while we can.  He is right, just because we can't take it all with us doesn't mean we should simply throw it all away or not strive to attain it. This experience has simply been a reminder to me that all the things we strive for in life, to purchase and to own, is simply stuff that will one day have to be culled. It has helped me realise that a simpler life may be more beneficial as life moves forward.

Packing up a person's life is a huge task riddled with emotion, as item by item memories are stirred and the clock suddenly winds back as if, just for a moment, time didn't exist at all.  It is both a difficult and empowering experience to realise that you don't actually need objects to remind you of life, that you already have those memories stored away ready to recall whenever you need them.

Making room for this stuff that simply was too good to pass on or to discard was also a challenge for us. This experience actually forced us to sort through our own collection of stuff and cull the many things that we realised we no longer had use for.  Our house has been transformed throughout every room, inside and out, to make room for new stuff, new memories.  It's healthy to allow for change and it is certainly rewarding to enjoy new stuff. However, what has changed for me now is the meanings that I place on that stuff, I realise more and more that objects are simply reminders of our life thus far.  However these memories are not simply attached to things, they are embedded in our minds and it is ok to let go of the stuff, doing so does not diminish the memories.

Although I have traditionally been an avid collector of stuff, believing they elicited special memories for me.  I had begun to slowly realise that there are actually many things that have cluttered my life that are just not worth taking up the physical space.  It has been very strange for me to throw away entire files, old tax returns and all the hard work I put into keeping meticulous records from previous businesses I now no longer need.  You become so used to simply keeping everything, you forget why.  Although there has to be some stuff that is worth keeping, such as a couple of my first pay slips to remind me how far I've come, and a few school reports and select childhood mementos. 

Something I could never throw away are my photo's, even though I don't look at them very often, when I do I am always thankful I have taken the time to document my life through pictures.  Photographs have always been important to me and something I can pass on to future generations.  I'm sure the huge volume of digital photo's that are produced today will not carry forward to the future, instead a select few that are printed and kept in real, rather than virtual space, may be retained.  I have already had to let go of so much stuff throughout the stages of my life that I am learning to get better at it; it is cathartic to let go.  After all, it is the experiences and lessons learnt along the way that is important, not the stuff.

When I see my mother-in-law in the nursing home she now calls home; cosy in her new room with gorgeous views from her lovely big window overlooking the perfectly manicured garden.  I realise that all the struggles, the heartache, the sheer hard work and stress will all be worthwhile in the end.  After all, I hope that one day I too will be an old lady enjoying a well deserved chance to sit back, relax and contemplate the long life I have enjoyed; reminiscing the many achievements and experiences along the way. I sincerely doubt that I will spend too much time remembering the stuff that cluttered my life...

16 May 2014

20 : Our Marley was Rusty : Something Borrowed...

From 'Marley and Me' to 'Rusty and Us'

10/4/98 - 7/5/14

The movie Marley and Me pulls at the heart strings and depicts very well how much a family pet is involved in the life of a family.  For our family, Rusty was that dog, he was with me through two marriages and six children, joining the family after my fourth child turned one.  Now as that same child turns 17, we farewell our old mate Rusty.  When an animal spends 16 years as part your life, as a constant, there is most definitely a hole left when they are gone. However, animals do come and they go, they enjoy life and affection from us and we get companionship from them.  Our family farewelled our first dog, Boxer who lived for 15 years, several years before and now it was time to farewell Rusty.

In our family we treat dogs like dogs, not confusing them as human, yet part of our family they certainly are; there through all of the growing years and life changing moments.  Our little Rusty had the body and temperament of a Jack Russell and the crazy curly long hair of a Cocker Spaniel.  He lived outside all his life, enjoying digging a network of tunnels under our deck, where he slept for many years.  We nick named him troll as he grew older, appearing only for meals and special occasions.  

Just like Marley, in the movie, Rusty was terrified of storms.  If he did manage to find his way inside the house, or up on the deck during a storm, frightened and cornered he was quick to nip anyone that dared to move him.  Wary of being nipped again we learnt not to try and pick him up for a cuddle, despite the fact he looked just like a puppy until the day he died.  Catching him, washing him and giving his matted coat a trim was always a big drama.  Even though he pretended to hate it, the ordeal was worthwhile just to see that look on his face; to see him bounding off probably half a kilo lighter, clean and fresh, only to watch him roll straight back in the dirt again.

He wasn't a pampered pooch with his own bed, quilt and fitted jacket; he was a dog, a hunter who stalked and killed many mice over the years, thoroughly enjoying the freedom to race around the yard with the other dogs.  As he aged, unfortunately our other two dogs, both Boxers, began to pick on him and eat his food.  No longer part of the pack, we rescued him and he spent the last year of his life separated from the other dogs, enjoying a quieter but safer life,well fed on his own private side of the house.  It was too late to change him to an inside dog, it didn't suit him, besides his stumpy old legs could barely lift his frail body high enough to get up the steps by that stage.  Instead, he allowed us to trim back his knotted fur, removing the burrs and caked on dirt with a fresh bath, giving him a new but shortened lease on life. 

When summer arrived, bringing with it 46 degree temperatures, another upgrade was called for.  Rusty enjoyed his final few months living like a king on top of the deck, shaded and protected from the heat, safely looking down on the Boxers from his elevated position.  He spent his summer there, gradually weakening and succumbing to the joint aches and old bones failing him. Eating right up to the end, even though I'm sure he couldn't see his bowl anymore, he hung in and he hung in and he hung in.  His nightly cries of sadness and pain, no longer eased by a full belly, told me over and over it was time.  I had wished he would just quietly slip away through the night, instead he hung on, until the bitter cold nights of autumn were too much.  On his last morning he took his final long slow shuffle along the deck to find his bit of sun, however, the warmth of the sun was no longer enough.  The pain of that walk and inability to cope through another bitter night was the final straw, he finally made me accept that it was time.  It was his time.

For a dog that had never allowed me to pick him up, there was no struggle; wrapped in his blanket like a baby, his long slow howling cries changed to whimpers of relief.  During the short car trip to the vet the blanket and warmth of my body enveloped him, his trembling eased and whimpers changed to silence.  With a long last look, he quietly thanked me for caring.

He quietly slipped away, still wrapped in his blanket, patted and surrounded by all who meant him well.  He trembled one last time, his body relaxing with unmistakable relief, quietly and peacefully letting go.  It was both a sad and proud moment to be a part of that, a privilege.  After, coming home and cleaning up the deck for the last time, removing his things, I could feel nothing but joy and happiness as his spirit twirled around me with bounding energy, thanking me for letting him go.  Now I can only imagine him running like the wind, forever chasing those mice with what I'm sure was a smile on his cheeky little face.  Farewell Rusty, RIP old friend...

06 May 2014

20 : A Skull on my Desk - Something New!

I Bought a Skull Today

I decided to buy a hand carved Howlite skull to place on my desk in my study, I was inspired to do this after recently enjoying listening to Philosopher Alain De Botton on ABC 24's Big Ideas programe.

Alain discussed the history of placing skulls on desks; during the Renaissance period it was very common for wealthy merchants to have a skull on display on their desk as a reminder that we will all die, that we are mortal.  This sounds very morbid, however, by reminding ourselves that we will die can help to re-focus priorities in our life, to realise that time is running out.  Instead of fearing death we should respect it and not allow fear to weaken our sense of resilience.

I have to say I love the idea and any previous concerns about having a beautiful sculpture of a human skull on my desk disappeared in an instant.  I already have some beautiful gemstone carvings on my desk which I love for many reasons.  However, during the search for those gemstones I came across several carved gem skulls and resisted the strange urge to buy one.  After hearing the original reason that skulls were kept on desks in our past it reignited my urge to buy one, and the search was back on.

After careful perusal I settled on a hand carved Howlite gemstone skull.  There are a couple of reasons I chose this one, it looks quite realistic yet you know it isn't as it is polished stone and a piece of art in its own right.  Also it is made from Howlite which is a soft gemstone that has traditionally been used to control negative emotions, stimulate imagination, help with reasoning, patience, observation and memory http://anamikas.hubpages.com/hub/ 

It was hard to pick just one, there were some absolutely beautiful skulls with stunning coloured gemstone, however, in the end the most realistic was the best, plus the calming affects that this object may bring to my study.  The human skull also represents how amazing it is to be human, a protective vault that encases our unique brain that separates us from animals.  Our large prefrontal cortex allows us to be human; to be able to reason, plan and utilise social intelligence.  To be human is to be self-aware, not simply biological beings, the human skull represents in it's very form how evolution has brought us to where we are today.  What better place to remind us of our potential but to place this sculpture in a space of learning.   

It may still seem strange to some but I can't wait to receive my beautiful new skull to add to the already positive, calming and inspirational ambiance of my study; a place of learning and creativity.

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