Widow Speak

Five Young Widows Speak About the Reality of Loss

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Five women talking about what grief is really like as a young widow. Thanks to Nicole at the Sydney Morning Herald for including me in this story.

"For most of us, the term widow evokes visions of an older, even elderly, woman, left to live out her days without her long-time love.  A natural, albeit devastating, part of like - after all, someone has to go first.

 

For some women, though, sudden loss of love comes much earlier than expected, bringing with it a host of surprising challenges alongside the tragedy of a young life lost."

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TedX - It's Time To Be Right Here

Do you think time controls you, or you control time? Are you really present in your day or mostly running on autopilot? Check out my TedX presentation where I talk about how we can be right here and make the most of every moment in our lives.

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Check out my TedX talk "It's Time to be Right Here".  It starts with a story about when I was volunteer teaching in Cambodia and the school got its very first laptop...

 

Beauty and Lace

We can think it's sad or morbid or even scary to plan our funeral, but I see it as planning a big party - everyone who really cares about you will be there. What do you want for that party?

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Check out my interview with Beauty and Lace here.  We talked about putting plans in place to protect your kids, should anything happen to you.  It's fantastic to see Beauty and Lace treating an 'uncomfortable' subject like a normal conversation. Just as it should be.

Are You Your Biggest Cheerleader?

What are the stories you tell yourself? Do they support you to be your best, or leave you frozen and floundering, with lettuce in your teeth?

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I was at a forum in my capital city, 1000 kilometres from my home, with property developers, mayors and other politicians.  I didn't know anyone else there and sat down to eat my lunch alone. As I munched on my salad sandwich, I heard someone say my name and turned around to see the State Premier talking to me.  I literally froze, with my sandwich halfway to my mouth.  But my mind was racing!

Why was the Premier talking to me?  What could I say to make me sound really clever?  OMG, have I got lettuce in my teeth?

Click here to read the full story on the Wild Oats website.

Postscript - Dying to Know Day

Knowing what we want when we die makes life easier for everyone

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Thanks to Postscript for helping to start conversations about what we want to happen when we die. Check out my article they published for Dying to Know Day on 8 August here.

 

  • 9 out of 10 people never tell anyone their end-of-life wishes.
  • 45% of people die without a will.
  • 70% of people express a wish to die at home. 14% get to do so.

Do you know what you want to happen when you die?  Have you talked with family about their plans as well?  It could be one of the most important (and enlightening) conversations you ever have.

Dying To Know Day

Do you have a will? Or an end of life plan? Do you know what plans your family members for their end of life?

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We all have ideas about how we want to spend our last days, and what we want (or don’t want) to happen.  However, research shows that 75% of us have not had end of life discussions and less than 10 percent of us die with an advanced care plan1. By leaving families and the people we love to make difficult decisions alone, it is no surprise that many of us struggle. 

Dying To Know Day is an annual day of action dedicated to bringing to life conversations and community actions around death, dying and bereavement.  

I learned from first-hand experience the importance of having these conversations and putting plans in place.  When my husband Stuart and I were in our early thirties, we bought a house.  As part of the process, our solicitor had us complete wills, which went into specific detail about our end of life plans, including appointing an enduring power of attorney and what we wanted for our funerals.  We even chose venue and all the songs, flowers and readings.  I thought it was silly at the time, but we treated it like we were organising one last party.

When Stuart was killed in an accident about five years later, I was so relieved to have all those plans in writing.  All the decisions about Stuart's funeral had been made, by him.  It was a huge relief for our family.  Having his wishes in writing meant we could give him the send-off he really wanted.

Knowing what you want to happen when you die makes life easier for everyone.  It's so important that we plan ahead and open up to each other about our wishes to protect the people we love.  Although this won't remove the pain when someone dies, it will certainly help to navigate through the early days.

What plans do you have?

1 http://www.dyingtoknowday.org/

When Less Makes More

When I started training to run a marathon (in Paris!) I thought I just needed to go out and run as long and fast as I could, every day. Then I got injured and learned that by doing less, I could actually achieve more.

A couple of years ago a friend convinced me to register for a marathon with her.  I had never run a marathon before but this one would be in Paris. I didn’t take a lot of persuading.   

When I started to train for it, I just went out and ran, as long and fast as I could, every day.  I thought I just needed to keep on running as much as possible until I could make the whole 42 kilometres.

In less than two weeks, I had injured my foot arches so badly I had to stop training altogether.  My physiotherapist explained that I needed to vary my training, with both easy and hard sessions.  And I had to take breaks - rest days are just as important as training days.

The same principles apply for our lives, at work and at home.  We can run around all day trying to squeeze more in and get more done but end up feeling exhausted or frustrated (or both).  The faster we run, the more mistakes we make, the more annoyed we get and the less we sleep.  Then we get up the next day and do it all again.

A researcher named Anders Ericsson did a study about peak performance and how much work we need to do to really make a difference.  He studied world class violinists and the results were surprising.  The best violinists were not the ones who spent the most time playing the violin.  The best were those who took regular breaks, got more sleep and practiced less, but in a more focused way.  Doing less work produced more results!

Trying to sustain high energy levels across a whole day pushes our bodies to the limit and wears us out faster.  We work better when we take time out to revitalise.  Then we’re more productive while we work and still have energy to keep going at the end of the day. 

We can be like the violinists too.  Here’s how you can do a little less running around and actually get more done:

  • Take regular breaks.  Set your Smart Phone to remind you every hour or two to take ten minutes to stretch, relax your thinking and replenish your energy supplies.
  • When you’re working, give it your full focus and energy.  Recognise when you work best (morning, noon or night) and make the most of your skills in that time.  If it’s not happening, take a break and come back with a fresh perspective.
  • Have you ever noticed how you get great ideas or solve a problem while you’re in the shower, walking the dog or washing the dishes?  That’s when your brain is relaxed and has space to be creative.  Appreciate the value of these downtimes and use them to your advantage. 
  • Consider the cost of staying up late to pack more into your day.  You might get more done today but you’ll be less productive tomorrow and more likely to make mistakes and get grumpy.  Having enough sleep is your best choice in the long term for getting the best results.

I followed my physiotherapist’s advice and trained hard some days, easier other days, and took rest days so my muscles could repair.  It felt like I was slacking off, but it worked!  I built up the strength I needed and was able to run the whole 42 kilometre marathon.

These strategies can help make the marathon you run every day in your busy life easier.  Breaks are not a luxury – to need them to work at your best.  Work hard, then rest well so you can get more done, and feel better while you do it.

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International Widows Day

International Women's Day is an opportunity to recognise the impact of death for women and find better ways to manage grief.

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New research reveals that almost half (49%) of young women do not have the support they needed after losing a loved one.

Meet, marry and live happily ever after is the life plan for most Australians. Sadly, life often fails to deliver this fairy tale, with almost half a million (464,849) Australian women losing their husbands between 2007 and 2014[1].

In fact, women are twice as likely (47%) to lose their spouse than men and the unexpected loss of a loved one can come at any time with almost 1 in 3 deaths being premature[2].

Startling new research shows that many young women are not getting the support that they need when grieving the loss of a loved one. The research carried out by Deb Rae Solutions has revealed that young women struggle more in the face of loss than any other age group, with those aged under 34 much more likely to encounter feelings of loss, anger and isolation during their grief. 

Sadly, almost half of young women (49%) felt that they did not have the support they needed during their grief with 1 in 4 women feeling mostly alone from the start. The research also revealed that although 82% of young women felt friends and relatives helped them through their loss, 1 in 10 felt that support had disappeared after the funeral and there was an expectation to 'move on'.

Commenting on the research findings, Deb Rae, Bereavement Expert and Author of Getting There says “The statistics show that an overwhelming number of people feel alone through their grief, with such a large number of the bereaved feeling that they are lacking the support that they need to get through their loss. Although these numbers seem high, it’s not particularly surprising given that when someone is going through a loss, their world is turned upside down and it’s very difficult to understand what support you need, let alone where to find it.”

“The best support we can give someone who is grieving is the understanding that grief is a very personal and individual journey.  It doesn’t follow a specific timeline or a pre-determined linear pattern. People often have the impression that you need to be strong, however being vulnerable actually takes much more courage and being able to express your emotions is what grief is all about.”

[1]http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/3302.02009?OpenDocument

2 http://www.aihw.gov.au/deaths/premature-mortality/

Three Signs You Might Be Over-reacting

Have you become fixated on something that you find yourself thinking about it all the time? Or lost sight of what's really true about a situation? Maybe you have the classic symptoms of over-reaction.

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When I was much younger, I worked in large organisation with lots of people I liked for several years.  One day I noticed a co-worker stealthily handing out enveloped to different staff members.  She approached each person quietly and they smiled as they received their envelope. I was very intrigued and waited expectantly for my own envelope.

But it never came.  At the end of the day, everyone left work and I still didn’t have an envelope.  What had I done wrong? I wondered.  Why didn’t I get invited to the birthday party or baby shower or whatever it was that I would be missing out on?

Later that night I was still stewing about my lack of invitation and mentioned it to my husband.  He was very surprised that I cared so much about one little envelope and couldn’t understand my confusion.  He even suggested I might be getting a bit too dramatic.

As much as I hated to admit it, I decided he was right.  I was so blinded by my annoyance that I had missed all the signs of classic over-reaction.  Just in case you ever end up in a similar pickle, this is what to watch out for.

Single-mindedness

Have you become fixated on the situation or concern?  Do you find yourself thinking about it all the time?  While it might be niggling in your mind for a while, if the concern has taken hold and isn’t leaving much space to think about anything else, there’s a fair chance it’s becoming bigger in your mind than it really needs to be.

Whenever the concern comes up again (and again), thank it for reminding you, but tell it you’ve got other things to get on with.  Visualise it shrinking to the size of a pea and flick it out of your mind.  Then deliberately put all your attention on the other things.

What’s really true?

My concern about missing out on an envelope turned into the idea that my co-workers had turned against me, they were planning how to get rid of me and had only been pretending to be my friend in the past.  Every time I thought about what happened, I piled a few more assumptions on to the situation and got my mind racing out of control.

Thoroughly assess each new thought that you have about the situation.  Ask yourself, is this true?  How do I know it’s true?  Could there be other reasons for the way the person behaved, or for what’s happened?  If you can’t get any honest answers out of yourself, ask a friend you know will tell you the truth.  

Does it really matter?

I obsessed about my missing envelope right up until the time our boss announced we’d received a new contract, which meant re-organising some of our work.  We all worked intensely together for days to develop some new plans.  When I finally remembered about the envelopes, it seemed so trivial that I soon forgot about them again.

Put the situation into perspective.  How important is it compared to other concerns you could have?   Is it worth the stress it could cause for you or others, the damage it could cause to friendships, or the rifts it could create at work?  Check out how big this concern really is in the grand scheme of your life, and only give it the attention it deserves.

Our minds will give full attention to what we decide to focus on.  Check that the people and situations you’re focusing on are the most important for you.  Get rid of assumptions and keep the situation in perspective, dealing only with what you know to be true.

I was grateful to learn this lesson when I didn’t receive an envelope.  I was very tempted to demand that my co-workers explain why I wasn’t invited to their secret party.  I thought of all the reasons I didn’t really like them anyway and was better off by myself.

Until I discovered that the envelopes held invitations to a surprise birthday lunch for me.

Now Is The Only Time

We can’t recreate the past and we don’t know what will happen in the future. We never really know when we’ll do something, or talk to someone, for the last time. But we do have full control over what we do in this present moment.

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Last weekend my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  All of my immediate family (and their families) came together for a party we’ll never forget.  Three parties actually.  We spent more than two days together reliving memories and creating lots of new ones.  It will be written in my family’s history as one of the best weekends we ever had.

In the middle of all that fun, I also realised something that flooded me with sadness.  In just a year, my family will probably look very different.  My dad’s physical body lets him down.  I doubt he’ll be able to really enjoy another party quite like this.  This anniversary was probably the last time I’d get to take him shopping for a present for my mum. 

My nephews are reaching an age of independence.  They’ll soon be too focused on their future girlfriends (or maybe even uni studies) to return to their home town.  Family members are losing jobs, building new houses and moving to different places.  We might never be together like this again. 

Change can be so confronting and cruel sometimes, especially when you like what you’ve got right now and want it to stay that way.  But it’s the nature of human beings that we grow, get old and eventually die.  I suspect that my dad doesn’t want to live forever.  He’ll probably want to leave this physical body behind when it gets too burdensome.  Even though I don’t like it one bit, my dad has his own journey and I need to respect that.  

My sadness really had the potential to wreck the party for me.  I felt sad when I looked back on all we’d done that was now gone.  I felt sad when I looked forward and saw what we would no longer be able to do. 

So I decided to stay only in the present.  To enjoy every moment with each person, right there and then.  In those present moments, we were all happy, together and full of life.  Each of those moments built connections between us that will last through all our lives, and deaths. 

We can’t recreate the past and (despite all our ‘what if’s’) we don’t know what will happen in the future.  And we never really know when we’ll do something, or talk to someone, for the last time.  But we do have full control over what we do in this present moment.  When we completely devote ourselves to what’s happening right now, we can really live our lives. 

And if it turns out to be our last time, we know we’ve fully lived every glorious moment of it. 

What Works When You're Not Working?

Being out of work is a tough time. And it calls for us to be even tougher.

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It seems that every day we hear about more struggling businesses, more workers being laid off and more people looking for work.  It’s a tough time.  And it calls for us to be even tougher.

Losing your job is about more than having to find somewhere different to spend most of your time each day.  Our work forms part of our identity and we create beliefs about ourselves around it.  It also gives us status in our family and community, and allows us to have the lifestyle we enjoy.  When we lose our jobs, we can also lose some of these other aspects of our lives.  

The first time I lost a job, I was shocked.  How could this possibly happen to me?  What would I do with myself all day now?  And how will I pay my bills? Then I became depressed.  I reacquainted myself (far too well) with the ice-cream in my freezer, watched way too much television and sometimes forgot to change out of my pyjamas until after lunchtime.  My brain turned to mush, every new rejection letter fuelled my frustration and I didn’t want to leave the house.  The negativity I felt and fed myself during my unemployed days tarnished my relationships and belief in myself and hung around long after I found another (better) job.

So first we need time to grieve.  We need to acknowledge all that has been lost, and what those things meant to us.  You might be thinking this doesn’t seem important, will be too unpleasant or that you should just forget about the bad stuff and ‘get on with it’.  Trouble is, the bad stuff usually finds you again and creates annoying problems later.  Recognise what you’ve lost, be clear about where you’re at now and give yourself you best chance of creating your new reality.

Here are some tips to help you do that well:

1.    Just imagine…

Sometimes the shock of losing your job can send you into a panic.  All the ‘what ifs’ go round and round in your mind and you work yourself into a frenzy imagining what a disaster your life will become now.  But those imaginings are only one possible outcome.  There are many other possibilities, such as finding an even better job, meeting great new co-workers or finding a whole new career path.  Try imagining some of those – they are all possible, depending on your choices and mindset. 

2.    Use all the time you have

Be realistic about how much time it may take for you to find your next job.  You’ll have to live with uncertainty for a while.  But rather than getting frustrated that nothing’s happening quickly, take advantage of the opportunities this hands you.  Take your kids to soccer practice, learn how to use some new computer software or get fitter than you’ve ever been.  Do the things you wished you had time for while you were working.

3.    Application Overload

Understand that most people don’t find a new job after writing one or two applications.  You might have to apply for a mountain of jobs, sit through lots of interviews and receive loads of “thanks but no thanks” letters first.  Be ready for this.  Know that it’s normal and part of the process.  It doesn’t reflect your capability or character.  Use every rejection as a chance to review.  Get feedback about your written application and interview presentation.  Decide you’ll do it better next time.  Then let it go.

4.    Safeguard your self-esteem

All those rejections, and lots of spare time to hang around in your own head, can really get to you if you let it.  Be aware of your self-talk.  Stop any negativity immediately.  Research proves that the path to improving your mood and boost your confidence is to:

·         Remind yourself what you’re grateful for.  Make a list of everything you already have in your life.  Review it daily.

·         Make decisions.   Maintain control of your mind and actions by making regular deliberate choices.  They don’t need to be life-changing – just clearly decide what you’ll have for lunch, how you’ll use your time this afternoon and what colour to repaint your bedroom.

·         Stay healthy.  Exercise regularly, sleep enough and be aware of what you’re eating.  Feeling sluggish will make everything else harder.

·         Stay connected.  If you’re feeling low, your first instinct may be to withdraw from others and stay home by yourself.  While this might help at first, your health, mood and chances of finding a job get better when you spend time with friends and in the community.  Make an effort to socialise.  You could even join a new club or do some volunteer work.

·         Maintain a routine.  Get up with the rest of the family and have breakfast together.  Get dressed and have a plan of action every day.  Gardening, getting groceries and taking out the rubbish are all good.  You’re staying productive, not becoming a couch potato and contributing to your household.

5.    Think outside the square.

People find jobs in lots of different ways – online jobsites, people they know or doing trials or volunteer work.  Some people use the chance to try something different and change careers, move to a new town, return to study or start their own business.  What else could you try?

Losing your job means so much more than not driving to the same workplace every day.  It creates many other losses and can affect how we think about ourselves, our health and the future we create for ourselves.  But while being without paid work can be very challenging, it also offers opportunities.  If you decide to use this time wisely, you could pick up some new skills, re-connect with your family, get healthy and strengthen your resilience to deal with whatever comes next.

And get another job too!

Your Personal Power

Just be you. It seems like such a simple thing, but do you find that hard to do sometimes?

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First, you have to be clear about who you really are, then you have to ignore nearly every ad you see on TV, online and in magazines that want to tell you how you should be, THEN you need to find the courage and belief in yourself to say what YOU really think, regardless of what anyone else says.

Does anyone else find ‘just being you’ pretty hard to do sometimes?

You can make some of that easier though – through power.  Not the kind of power you have OVER people, but through personal power, within yourself.

Personal Power is about being able to face your biggest challenges without dread, to deal with difficult stuff without anxiety, to bring your best self to what you do and have no regrets afterwards.

Anxiety or a lack of confidence are the things that squash your personal power.  But there are ways you can use your mind and your body to stop the anxiety and build your confidence so your real self can shine through.

You can probably think of times when you weren’t exercising your personal power, such as:

  • A friend says something you don’t agree with, but you find yourself nodding in agreement anyway.
  • Someone pushes in line in front of you and you think of something really clever to say to them, 10 minutes after they’ve left. 
  • You agree to go to the motorbike races with your husband when you really wanted to do anything else except that.

In these situations, you’re not being authentic.  A lack of confidence or high anxiety takes over your brain and silences your voice.  And your focus is only on yourself.

When you are focused just on yourself, you amplify all your fears and worries.  A great analogy of this is a torch, (check it out in this Marie Forleo video).  When you shine the torch on yourself, all that gets seen is you.  You look grey and old in the torchlight!  Every wrinkle is showing!  And everyone can see up your nose!

When you shine the torch outwards, you can see lots of other people who have their own stories to share.  Or you can shine the torch on an object or topic you want to focus on.

The torch can only shine on one thing at a time – the topic, the other person or yourself.   Your brain is the same.  You can’t focus on your own anxiety AND the topic of conversation at the same time – you have to choose one or the other.

This might sound difficult to do, but it's highly likely you've already done it before.  Think of a time when you had to defend or protect your kids.  Maybe they got lost, were sick in the hospital, or a teacher or another brave person questioned their behaviour.  Or if you don’t have kids, maybe you were talking about something you’re passionate about and really believe in.

In those times, you don’t care about anything else, including yourself. You could be sweating with nerves and feel sick with worry but you’d barely notice.  The torch is focused on your child or your passion, not you.  Your brain is too busy helping your child and getting your message across to take any notice of your anxiety.

There are also a couple of things you can do every day to recognise your personal power and feel less anxious.

The first one is to listen to the stories you’re telling yourself. Are you your best friend and biggest cheerleader?  Or do your stories make you feel worse about yourself?  If your stories are mean, not supportive, or just plain wrong, stop them.  Then be your own best friend and tell yourself a different story about when you handled something difficult or made yourself proud.  These stories will make you feel completely different.  They give you proof that you can do things well, and make you think and feel better about yourself.  Then you can do things better.

You can also do reduce anxiety and build confidence by using your body.  Research has proven that putting your body into certain positions creates automatic reactions in your brain.  You can do a little experiment to show this right now.  Turn the corners of your mouth up high (like a smile).  How do you feel? Now turn the corners of your mouth downwards.  Do you feel differently?  Nothing sad or happy happened.  You just moved your muscles.  When you put your facial muscles in those positions, it automatically sends a message to your brain to FEEL happy or sad and THINK different thoughts.

Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist at Harvard Business School who has researched a whole range of different poses to find which body position best taps into our personal power.   She found that one of the best poses for this is to be like Wonder Woman!  Check out Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk and the Wonder Woman pose here.)

This position expands and opens your body.  Your chin is up, feet are apart, shoulders are back and hands are on your hips.  Standing like this creates a feeling of strength, confidence and being grounded.  You’ve probably seen your kids do it too – when they imitate their hero and actually feel like they’ve BECOME them.  You can also see it in people like Oprah, Beyonce or Mick Jagger, who expand and open their bodies, take up lots of space and make themselves feel more confident, powerful and strong.

Amy Cuddy suggests that you stand like this (or with your hands up, like a victory pose) for a minute or two before a challenging situation, or at the beginning of each day.  You can do it in your bathroom, one handed while you brush your teeth, in your car or in the ladies at work.  Your body will shape your mind and you can create very different experiences in your life.

I hope you’ll take these ideas about how to squash your anxiety and build your confidence and use them every day.  Make them yours and share them with your friends and your daughters, so we can all enjoy the beauty and strength of our own personal power.

Which Side of the Bed Do You Choose?

When I was little and my grandfather was grumpy, I would be told "He got out of the wrong side of the bed". But I didn't understand - why didn't he just make a different choice and get out the other side??

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As a kid, I just loved my grandfather.  He drove me around, taught me how to do crosswords and had an answer for nearly every question I asked.  Except when he was grumpy.  My grandmother would explain those days by saying “He got out of the wrong side of the bed”.

I didn’t get that.  Surely such a clever man could see that he should just get on of the other side from now on!  Why did he waste time being grumpy when he just needed to switch bed sides??

That was one of the questions my grandfather didn’t have an answer for.  And I think lots of us often get stuck on the same thing.

It’s a long time since I was that little girl asking that simple question.  But I still think it holds some truth.  I eventually worked out that our exit point from bed doesn’t have a built in mood decider.  I also learned that we get to choose our responses.  Left or right side of the bed, grumpy or happy, it’s all up to me. 

My grumpiness comes from how I interpret events.  I’m the one with all the power, not the event.  I can choose to be grumpy about our holiday flight being delayed, or decide it gives me more time to enjoy my coffee.  I can get frustrated that my partner spends a lot of the weekend fishing, or I can use the time to learn salsa dancing.  Or go fishing too. Or find a new partner…

Even though it seems to happen so quickly, we really do always get to choose our reactions.  And whichever one we choose will determine what happens next.

Every time my grandfather got grumpy I gave him some space.  We didn’t do crosswords or go for a drive on those days.  He choice of bed-side reduced the amount of time we spent together.

I guess that was all a bit much for my grandmother to explain to me when I was little.  I’m glad I’ve learned it since then though.  Along with my grandfather, the power to choose my own mood is one of the greatest gifts I have.

Brisbane Book Launch!

The Brisbane launch of my book Getting There is coming soon!

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Great news! My book Getting There is being launched in Brisbane next month!  Anyone in the Brisbane area who wants to help someone going through a hard time - this is the place for you.  I'll talk about my journey as a young widow, the perils of writing a book, do some book signings and we'll eat cake! It's at the fabulous Avid Readers bookshop in West End on Thurs 11 Feb at 6pm. Family and friends are all most welcome to come.  You can register on the Avid Readers through this link.  

I'd love to see you there!

The Last Kiss

Have you seen Lightmakers yet? It's a website full of people's stories of working through challenge to wisdom. They published one of my stories, about cherishing what you have, for as long as your blessed to have it. Beware - it might make you cry!

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After eleven years of marriage and no kids, my first husband Stuart and I made the life-changing decision to travel the world teaching English.  We started in Poland. 

And we loved it.  The teaching was great, we’d learned some Polish and made great friends.  We worked together and socialised together, until we’d been there about five months.  Stuart’s indoor football team was having a night out and it was the first time we would be apart since we got there.  We decided it would be fine – Stuart had worked hard and deserved to have some fun.  He said he’d be home for supper, I told him to enjoy himself and we kissed goodbye. 

They were the last words we said to each other.  When he was walking home that night, Stuart was hit by a car on a pedestrian crossing.  He died the next day in a Polish hospital, ten days before Christmas.

That was twelve years ago.  I now live in a different country and have a new job and new friends.  And a new husband, Russell.  Life is good but sometimes I still get a bit scared.

Russell loves to go to the hardware store.  Every time before he goes, he kisses me goodbye and says he’ll be back soon.  But at Christmas time, I’m not so sure.  I know that anythingcould happen.  I might never speak to him again.  Was that the last kiss?

At first I was dismayed that the sadness of twelve years still haunts me.  I was also frightened by the reality that it could all happen again, after one last kiss.  And Russell was very surprised by my reaction to his plan to buy paint and tools.

But I gradually realised what a gift I’d been given.  Every time Russell says goodbye I kiss him like it could be the last time.  I look into his face and see why I love him.  Every kiss is sweet and meaningful.  We’re both right there, in that moment.  Those moments are the lynch pins of our life together.  They create a warmth that keeps us close and sustains us through the hard times, like Christmas.

I’ll never forget the last kiss I gave Stu.  Because of it, I’ll remember every kiss that I ever give Russell.  

New Year's Resolutions That Won't Stick

Got any New Year's resolutions for 2016? How will you make sure you stick to them this time? There's one key ingredient every resolution needs for it to last the whole year.

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After every New Year’s Eve, I get the urge to clean out old papers and stuff I ‘might need one day’.  This year, I came across the New Year’s resolutions I wrote four years ago.  And I still haven’t achieved half of the things on the list!  So I’d had another go at them the next year, and the next year…

At first, I put my poor achievement down to laziness or a severe case of pathetic willpower.  But while that explained the resolutions I bombed on, what about the ones I actually achieved?

I looked at them a bit closer.  The ones I actually did were things like saving more money (I wanted to visit a friend overseas), getting fitter (so I wouldn’t be left behind when I did a hiking trip with my very energetic brother) and doing a cooking course (toasted sandwiches as the evening meal was wearing thin).

I realised that the resolutions I achieved gave me something I really wanted (like a holiday) or got me out of things I didn’t want (endless toasties). Other resolutions didn’t work because I didn’t have a good reason for doing them.  They were just nice ideas, or I grabbed at them because I thought I ‘should’. 

So this year, I’ve decided to focus on what I want for myself, and why I want it.  It looks a bit like this:

·         I’ll eat healthy meals and walk every day because I want to live longer and be around for my family.  I also don’t want to look red and puffy when I walk up the stairs.

·         I’ll take breaks more often because I want to be less stressed and more productive when I’m working, and just feel better.

I know the day will come when I start to make excuses for why I should sleep instead of walk.  It’s an annual event that happens around February when my resolutions look more like fantasies dreamt up late one night at a boozy party.  Then they start to fade away…

But this year, I’ve got an answer for those excuses.  I haven’t made a vague, empty promise.  I don’t have unrealistic expectations of my willpower.  My resolution is backed by a strong purpose that will give me something I really want. 

And when I find this year’s resolutions in a pile of clutter in a few year’s time, I’m expecting a completely different reaction.

Flamingos and Hard Work

Did you know that for a flamingo to eat, it needs to turn its head completely upside down?

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When you see flamingos eating, it just looks wrong.  It can even make you feel uncomfortable. It's nothing like any other animal's idea of an enjoyable lunch.

But just because it looks or feels different, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong.  I learned this myself when I realised I have my own flamingo-like reactions to exercising.

I understand the importance of exercising regularly but it’s difficult to convince myself of that every morning when the alarms goes off.  I could easily go for a quick jog in the park close to my house, but I don’t.  I wake up with good intentions, then switch off the alarm and get back to my dream. 

So I tried something different.   Now, I get up a bit earlier, start up my car and drive to a park further away.  This park is nicer, but it takes extra effort, and sacrificing of some sleep, to get there. 

I now go there nearly every day.

It’s because of the extra effort needed that I feel more satisfied from doing the exercise.  And because it’s more satisfying, I’m more likely to do it again.  That creates more motivation every morning and gets me out of bed.

There’s a study about rats who have learned the same trick about getting more satisfaction from working for their rewards.  One group of rats were given cocaine without having to do anything to earn it.  Another group had to press a lever to get the cocaine.  When they were tested later, the brain activity for the rats who had to work for their drugs showed the highest levels of dopamine.  (Check out Alex Korb’s book The Upward Spiral for more.)

I don’t think that means you need to seek out extra work for yourself.  There’s plenty of that already.  But you can look at what you’re doing now that’s not satisfying and decide how a bit of extra effort could create much more satisfying results.

And unlike the flamingo, you can keep eating your lunch the right way up.